Domus magazine issue #932
People’s interest in culture and knowledge – once called “spiritual content” – is rapidly evolving. Scattered about the world, from India to the United States, the new “cognitive capitalism” seems to have recaptured a keen attention to intelligence and creativity, as techniques for deciphering the world. It is the managers and entrepreneurs themselves who assure us, while intoning the laws of the three Ts and the theory of creative classes, that if we are to survive progress, the evolutionary step forward must be taken by establishing a continuous, lasting relationship with culture, science and innovation.
I have had occasion to define this new Zeitgeist, in the geographical variations of its different shades, as “secular trans-substantiation” from material (the production of things) to immaterial (the production of ideas). In this heterogeneous coagulum of end-purposes, where public utility coincides with private interests, it may rightly be asserted that these are no longer merely good, just or ethical investments, but above all a promise for the future. It may be wondered, though, how this phase of investment in training, research and, more generally, culture can be channelled into a process of effective regeneration: into ways of launching durable, settled situations.
In fact, while invention is tied to the rhapsodic intuition of an individual, the concepts of culture and innovation correspond to profound processes that mirror the throbbing expectations of a precise environmental context. The genetic code of innovation can always be found in feedback, transitions and interactions with society, as the origin and destination of every innovative process. There can be no innovation without a dense, but fluid weft of far-reaching connections, since this occurs only through exchange, contact and viral contagion.
Culture absolutely cannot be supported and produced solely by formal and economic circuits. For it is vital to start up cycles of hybridisation, in a constant seesaw of high and low culture, between creativity with access to the market and creativity confined to underground circuits. What I am saying is that once the means and resources are settled, these cannot be all hijacked towards the capture of “finished products”. Instead, they should be disseminated, distributed and “risked”, with the proper criterion, in ongoing processes.
In order to maintain the informal fabric of culture and research, the necessary “conditions of possibility” must be created to establish the ground and the underground, the soil and the foundations of a society. What can architecture do for culture? It can help it, to be sure. But it can sometimes also damage it. If it is agreed that an effective cultural strategy should be regarded first of all as an end, and only secondarily as a means, then architecture can put itself at the service of culture and be part and parcel of it. Nevertheless, the opposite is more often the case. In other words, cultural necessities may act as a pretext for architectural velleities or, worse still, as a public boost to the prestige of city councils.
The question of architecture’s role in cultural processes arises therefore in these terms: whether it is still possible to avoid the containers of culture falling into direct competition with culture itself. And whether architecture can be transliterated through different, more discreet and efficacious codes. To aid the development of culture instead of complicating it, as sometimes happens.