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Sensitive theorist

18 of August '23

The review is from A&B issue 7-8|23

Catherine Ingraham's book is a fascinating study of architectural theory and its multifaceted relationship to practice. The essays prove that the path from what is conceived to what is realized is more winding than is usually assumed. And that sometimes happy exceptions confirm the rule.

Catherine Ingraham is a professor of architecture and urban design at Pratt Institute in New York, and has also been a visiting lecturer at Harvard University. Her contributions to architectural culture can perhaps best be summarized as an expansion beyond traditional disciplinary domains, which consequently helps redefine architectural discourse.

In her latest book, „Architecture "s Theory,” Ingraham delves into the complexities of twentieth-century architectural thought through a wealth of scholarly knowledge and an engaging writing style, revealing the diverse ideologies that shape the built space of our everyday lives and that will shape our future. Her voice is special in that Catherine Ingraham is part of architectural history not only through her profession and education, but also because of family connotations. The fact that she is one of Frank Lloyd Wright's great-granddaughters is certainly not indifferent when analyzing her philosophical thought. The question that immediately arises is whether this unique legacy should be seen as an advantage, an obstacle, a duty, or perhaps a challenge? Being a descendant of Wright may introduce certain expectations and pressures, but at the same time it provides an opportunity to understand and continue this legacy more deeply in the context of a multifaceted discipline such as architecture.

Ingraham herself explains in the introduction to her latest book that locating Wright's work within an architecture-philosophy-theory framework is extremely difficult. Wright was a revolutionary figure, his designs were not only aesthetic masterpieces, but also carried deep philosophical and theoretical messages. The architect emphasized harmony between man and nature, experimented with new materials and technologies, and sought to create spaces that had a positive impact on the lives of their inhabitants. Wright also pioneered an integrated approach to architecture, combining function, form and context into a coherent whole—ideas that today are beginning to be seen as standard in the context of sustainable design [however, one should remember the destructive impact on the landscape of such projects as the famous Fallingwater house—ed. note]. Ingraham comments on his relationship with his great-grandfather as follows: "I personally consider Wright and Mies [van der Rohe—editor's note] to be two of the most amazing architects of the last hundred years. Gradually, however, I came to the conclusion that while I find Wright's buildings infinitely interesting, his theoretical work on architecture is so unsettling, so close to evangelicalism, that it is almost unreadable."

„Architecture "s Theory” consists of seven chapters, each devoted to a specific topic or concept within architectural theory. Ingraham's writing style is accessible and thorough. The author deftly combines theoretical frameworks with case studies, historical analysis with personal anecdotes, creating a balanced and engaging narrative that keeps the reader engaged throughout the reading.

The book begins with a reproduction of the Palace of Culture in Warsaw as seen from a bird's eye view. In the essay „Slow Dancing: circa 1987,” the author explores the dangerous relationship between architecture and nostalgia, citing the reconstruction of the Old Town in the Polish capital as an example (she also cites Frankfurt). „The function of nostalgia in a decimated Europe is understandable. Using elements of Western civilization, such as the myth of origin or the role of history in shaping identity, nostalgia wants to reclaim what has been lost through the reconstruction of urban and architectural orders. In this way, narratives that guarantee the continuity of history are rebuilt. However, it always reaches a point where the entire nostalgic edifice—exactly like Warsaw's Old Town—betrays its scenographic nature. The lesson here is that there are situations in which you can't go back to a home lost.” Ingraham thus decries the preconception of architectural practice, offering a more organic, here-and-now view of the field. In the essay, he also writes about the tension between the Old City and the Palace of Culture: "The Old City, as an attempt to reclaim the pluralism of the market in the 1980s, lies figuratively in the shadow of the Palace of Culture and literally in the shadow of what the Palace of Culture represents. Like Roland Barthes' tart comment that Maupassant eats lunch under the Eiffel Tower every day to avoid looking at it, it was popular in postwar Warsaw to say that the best view of the city was from the Palace of Culture, because only from this vantage point, the Palace itself is invisible."

„Architecture "s Theory” also includes chapters on topics such as the politics of architecture (the author explores the complex relationship between architecture and politics, showing how power dynamics, cultural values and social ideologies influence the design and development of space), the experience of space (Ingraham delves into the phenomenological aspects of architecture, highlighting the importance of human experience within urban space), gender and identity (he highlights gender-related aspects of architectural theory and practice, analyzes the historical exclusion of women from the architectural profession and challenges traditional notions of gender roles in design), postmodernism and its derivatives (Ingraham analyzes the postmodern movement and its impact on architectural theory, critiquing its inherent contradictions and examining the alternatives that have emerged in the post-postmodern era). The book also takes a global perspective, analyzing the impact of cultural, economic and geographical contexts on architectural theory and practice. Ingraham presents a number of international case studies, offering insights into how different societies shape their built spaces and the challenges of globalization in architectural production. Finally, „Architecture "s Theory” describes the impact of technological advances and sustainability concerns on architectural theory. The author examines the role of digital design tools, parametrism and sustainable practices in shaping contemporary architectural discourse, highlighting the potential of technology to stimulate new forms of expression and concern for the environment.

„Architecture "s Theory” is a significant contribution to the field of architectural theory, providing a comprehensive overview of perspectives and debates. Ingraham's interdisciplinary approach combines theory and practice, offering an understanding of the complex relationship between architecture, society and culture. The book encourages critical thinking and dialogue, while being an invaluable resource.

Anna Diduch

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