Close
search
Un-built
Imaginary
Interviews
The Dissident Architect Andrés Jaque. Reflections on Multimedia, Transscalar and Transspecies Architecture
Andrés Jaque on his participation within the 6th Tallinn Architecture Biennale exhibition "Edible", his understanding of a post-anthropocentric architecture and the future of the discipline.

The very foundations of architecture are rapidly changing, in this interview the head of OFFPOLINN and the newly appointed Dean of Columbia GSAPP Andrés Jaque tackles this challenging and pressing topic. He believes that architects should concentrate on establishing forms of care between humans and towards non-humans. The radically political architecture that emerges from these relations is then plural, hence takes into consideration a variety of living and non-living actors – as in the case of his Rambla Climate-House Project. It is also transscalar and connects, for instance, the geological to the microscopic – as in the case of his Transspecies Kitchen exhibited in this year's Tallinn Architecture Biennale (TAB). The new understanding of a post-anthropocentric architecture discussed in this interview also suggests original considerations on the present and future of domesticity, a central topic in Jaque’s research, and inspires his present and future action as Dean at Columbia University.

1/3

KOOZ I would like to start this interview with a question on OFFPOLINN’s contribution to the Tallinn Architecture Biennale. Your Transspecies Kitchen “dilutes the boundaries between cooking, eating and decomposing, in a continuum of molecular progression”. What does it mean and how does it respond to the Biennale’s main theme “Edible: Or, The Architecture of Metabolism”?

ANDRÉS JAQUE This work reflects on the possibilities of life itself being highlighted by the processes that we live by. We wanted to focus on the fact that digestion is fundamentally a process that unfolds as an interspecies alliance. If we look at the stomach, we see that it is an ecosystem that allows for different species to benefit from their mutual capacity to metabolise each other. That is often understood as a set up process that is enclosed in the intestines, but we looked at it as a continuum. A large part of cooking practices is very much expanding on those processes, such as the use of fungi and different ways to introduce material transformations where raw organic material is processed to facilitate digestion. We could conceptualise that it is a way to externalise and understand digestion as a process that is distributed and collectively produced beyond the confinement of the body. Hence our bodies are shaped only by interiority but also by externality. Conceptually, this is how we understand digestion: eating, cooking and decomposing are fundamentally the same process.

We understand digestion as a process that is distributed and collectively produced beyond the confinement of the body. Hence our bodies are shaped only by interiority but also by externality.

The second aspect of this project is that life itself is transitioning, or it could be defined as the transition across scales of time, space and materiality. We could look at geologies as very slow forms of life, but they are not fundamentally different to cellular activity. This is crucial, because from that perspective geology is also a form of digestion, a very slow form of digestion that is intrinsically imbricated in affecting human digestion. On this subject there are specific politics that came from the traditions of political ecology and cosmopolitics that help us understand that digestion is a transscalar process. The work that we presented at the Tallinn Biennial puts in a position of equality the management of both geology and mushrooms. Geology, mushrooms and human life are all forms of existence that are entangled with each other and there are political questions that emerge from those entanglements that are the ones that we wanted to address in this work.

We could look at geologies as very slow forms of life, but they are not fundamentally different to cellular activity. This is crucial, because from that perspective geology is also a form of digestion, a very slow form of digestion that is intrinsically imbricated in affecting human digestion.

1/3

KOOZ The Transspecies Kitchen is the core of the curatorial exhibition’s “Metabolic Home”, that we called in our review “an unintentional manifesto for a more-than-human domestic space”, opening towards what could be considered a post-anthropocentric architecture. So what do you think is the state of post-anthropocentric thinking in architectural design today?

AJ In our office we have been working for a long time on design practices that could be seen as compositional, that is practices that are contributing to the making of solidarity and continuity between different forms of life and existence. This is incredibly different to the notion of architecture as a container, or the notion of architecture as a practice. For me, architecture is intrinsically constituted by heterogeneity and how it is composed together politically, or through politics. Those are material politics that have to do with flaws, infiltrations, metabolisms or the way things flow as they are metabolised and transformed through these interactions and with threads of material entanglement. This is a quite different notion of architecture, very different to modern architecture or to postmodern thinking. It is about addressing the question of togetherness as radically plural, transscalar, as radically multi-dimensional. But that is not an option: this is the way existence is composed together, it is given in different times, scales, forms of life. Building up togetherness is the starting point of new design practices.

This is a quite different notion of architecture, very different to modern architecture or to postmodern thinking. It is about addressing the question of togetherness as radically plural, transscalar, as radically multi-dimensional.

According to Rosi Braidotti both capitalism and capitalism’s dissidents can be explained through this frame. Being transscalar, or the awareness and acknowledgement of a transscalar condition is not in itself a form of dissidence. Dissidence, instead, is the recognition that transscalarity is a site for politics, is itself political. It is also important to understand that an acknowledgement of life as more-than-human requires new forms of justice that are not based on centralisation and colonisation, on extractivism, but rather on notions of mutual care. This is the key point here; the notion of a more-than-human life requires a different understanding of politics as new forms of dissidence and activism are activated.

These reflections also characterise the Transspecies Kitchen project. It acknowledges that there is an alternative way of building up digestion as collective. It, first of all, acknowledges that digestion operates, expands as larger processes are incorporated - from the geological to the molecular and beyond. These reflections ultimately need to be acknowledged and affirmed as the terrain of the political today.

1/4

KOOZ Given your long standing intellectual and creative engagement with the subject of the home, what could be post-anthropocentrism’s implications in the design of future domestic spaces? OFFPOLINN’s Rambla Climate-House Project is a very interesting case, for instance.

AJ The Rambla Climate-House is climatic or could be considered as climate itself: That is what I mean by “climate house”. Climate is the result of the interdependency of numerous systems. So, climate architecture is intrinsically a relational entity, an entity that can only be explained as an ecosystem of articulations and that is what I would propose as a notion of domesticity. It is not as a milieu or a space, but rather as a distributed and multiple entity. A house could be seen as an object, but when you look at how it is enacted it becomes a setting where different presences negotiate their coexistence. In particular, this coexistence is preserved by politics of reparation. The Rambla Climate-house is then an intervention on an existing assemblage. In the last centuries it has been the site of evacuation, flattening and mass urbanisation, where many parts of the “spectrum of the possible” have been removed. It means that this flattening basically eliminated the topographical veins, the ramblas (ravines) where life is nurtured, biodiversity is accommodated and climate is produced. As a result of this flattening and the disappearance of these ravines other forms of life and climatic constructions have been eroded. So, once again, we were not building an object but intervening in those relationships and inserting strategies to repair, to be part of the relational capital that was shut by this flattening. We did it by providing space for the unfolding of different daily dynamics in which the family becomes a producer, a provider of conditions for biodiversity to be brought back or repaired.

Climate architecture is intrinsically a relational entity, an entity that can only be explained as an ecosystem of articulations and that is what I would propose as a notion of domesticity.

It is important to understand that architectural form can only be understood from a relational perspective, looking at the way that it operates beyond its confinement, in alliance with others. As such, it engages with specific processes by which the “spectrum of the possible” can be extended. When I mention the expansion or the multiplication of the “spectrum of the possible” I am referring to Isabella Stengers’ notion of cosmopolitics as the expansion of this spectrum. In that respect, I think that the climate house is first of all climate because it operates relationally, or operates in the intersection of very diverse systems, but it is also cosmopolitical in the way its overall function is to provide broader interspecies representations or, better, presence.

To go back to the question, domesticity now - and this comes from observation and research - cannot be reduced to typological development, nor to design as kind of a style, and definitely not as the making of interiors. All these categories could be predefined, so that they could be interesting, but as they are normally understood they are helpless in defining what domesticity is.

We conducted research for a number of years on Grindr and we understood that domesticity was something much more complex than just space provision, or the making of a stylish stage for daily life. It operated through the agency with online apps where bodies expanded into other bodies or were infiltrated by other bodies. It did it also through online systems of distant interaction technologies that operated at a planetary scale versus events that happen at the scale of the body: sweating versus mining silica, for instance, that is what is making possible for the borosilicate surface of the phone to become a proxy of skin, or kind of delegate or ambassador of a particular skin. When you put that together, domesticity can only be explained as those interactions. Moreover, the definition of a body is inseparable from the definition of those interactions.

These projects have progressively moved to a dimension in which domesticity is no longer a question about space, but more about the cosmopolitics that make bodies operate at the intersection and in solidarity with other bodies and with other forms of life.

This is the starting point, and once acknowledged it we have to go much more in detail of how this happens, what does it imply and what are the politics that operate within it. I want to say that domesticity is so much more than that. For 15 years now we have looked at IKEA as on-familiar domesticity, Grindr as a form of online-offline interactions with the bodies, the Pornified Homes to understand coloniality as a means to turn bodies into trans-territorial entities, and many others. But all these projects have progressively moved to a dimension in which domesticity is no longer a question about space, but more about the cosmopolitics that make bodies operate at the intersection and in solidarity with other bodies and with other forms of life, with other entities at large. These reflections emerge from a series of political activism paradigms. On the one hand, of course, the whole context of the STS (Science and Technology Studies), on the other, the traditions of political ecology, feminism, queer studies and post-humanism. When you look at how all these different paradigms are articulating and changing the way life is enacted in the world we see that there is a reconstruction of the principles by which we live and by which our collective life is negotiated, and that is happening right now. It has very much accelerated in the last months.

When Marina Otero Verzier, Lucia Pietriusti and I published the book More-than-Human (2021), the topic was very new and strange. We realised that there were a number of intellectual traditions that were emphasising the notion of the more-than-human as central to their thinking and their ontologies. My impression is that perhaps because of this book a common ground has been established and it informed many forms of knowledge, activism and practices. I am happy to know that we facilitated this process and that we have somehow, together with many others, pioneered this topic in architecture.

1/5

KOOZ Your transscalar approach to architecture and urban design often engages with transmediality, I am thinking about the video “Transscalar Architecture of COVID-19” or your essays on “Queer Archiurbanism” and “Transmedia Urbanism”, among others. What role does transmediality play in your research practice and perhaps, more in general, in architecture?

AJ Climate has been mobilised as a medium. We never see climate, we see climate as a media or something that is rendered visible through technology, through content or intermediation. Even weather, which is only a small part of climate, is something that it seems to be quite invisible to us as it is forecasted, it is measured, it only exists as a mediated reality through technology and channels of communication. The same happens with sex, it is something that is not the equivalent to genital intercourse. We looked in detail at how sex is enacted and we realised that it is mediated by apps, by images that are produced by fashion, editorial practices, photography or activism. We also looked at fertility, that is the result of the production of images that could create trans-national consensus, or systems of aesthetic and sexual values. I can mention infinite examples but everything that is important to us unfolds as transmedia, to the extent that at this point it is impossible to separate technology from nature.

Sadly Bruno Latour died not long ago, but his work on claiming the need for a rearticulation of nature, culture, politics and technology as inseparable is more needed than ever. The climate crisis or inequality unfold as multimedia realities to the extent that they are becoming a medium where the physical and technological, the communicational and the compositional are impossible to separate. This medium also requires different architectural methodologies, first of all because there is no possibility of a tabula rasa, the medium already exists, so architecture necessarily unfolds as multimedia and, once again, I do not think that this is an option.

I can mention infinite examples but everything that is important to us unfolds as transmedia, to the extent that at this point it is impossible to separate technology from nature.

There is a big difference in affirming or not the way architectural practices operate. I do not think that the architecture of my office is multimedia, it rather affirms itself as multimedia. Any architecture is necessarily operating as multimedia. If you think, for instance, of the architecture of health, it is an architecture that necessarily connects bodies with machines, with hormones that are produced by animals… but people that design hospitals are not necessarily acknowledging that are part of the making of a complex reality, they are not capable of affirming how their architecture is in cooperation or conflict with others and is producing a reality that is beyond of what they are capable of acknowledging. What I think is unique about our practice is not that it operates as multimedia, but rather that is making an effort in acknowledging it and taking responsibility for how we operate in a multimedium paradigm. That is what I think is crucial because by affirming it, it is then possible to act politically with certain degrees of engagement. If practices are not considering how they are part of collective realities that go beyond their capacity to control, then it is very difficult to affirm politically or take responsibility for your political choices.

1/4

If practices are not considering how they are part of collective realities that go beyond their capacity to control, then it is very difficult to affirm politically or take responsibility for your political choices.

KOOZ To conclude, deep congratulations for your recent appointment as Dean at the GSAPP at Columbia University. I am wondering how much of your experience in your research practice, along with your transdisciplinary and ever-expanding understanding of architecture influenced or will influence your choices as Dean?

AJ My impression is that we are inheriting structures of the past that respond to worlds that do not necessarily exist, and I think that it is a great moment to question what are the disciplinary categories by which we operate. That is what Columbia GSAPP has historically done; To question and very responsibly manage collective change. In this case, I think that change is needed in how disciplines define the object of their work. It is something that requires engaged experimentation, not just experimentation for the sake of speculation but rather as a form of situated experimentation that allows us to engage with specific realities and question how to operate politically within these realities. It requires our field to evolve and to reconstitute itself. Engaged experimentation is, therefore, the first point.

My impression is that we are inheriting structures of the past that respond to worlds that do not necessarily exist, and I think that it is a great moment to question what are the disciplinary categories by which we operate.

The second priority has to do with politics itself. We are facing a moment in which our practices, like anything else in this world, need to go through urgent processes of decolonization. Racism, exclusion and inequality need to be confronted are indeed being confronted at GSAPP. We have the responsibility to understand these aspects now, it is important to engage in a process of confrontation. It is also important to acknowledge that they are a structural part of societies and ecosystems, and this is a process that we need to undertake collectively and requires large structural changes in the way we speak, the way we teach and learn, the way we practise. It is not a rapid process, it is really something that will shape our worlds in the next decades.

There is also a question about technology and mediation. We need to understand technology as intrinsically connected to life and the enactment of politics. Technology is then seen not as a neutral sphere but as a site for political action. This is crucial in places like Columbia GSAPP where there is a long tradition in computational practices, and we have some of the most important voices in the world with us.

The last point pertains to this notion of “world” and how to decolonize the way in which we operate both transnationally and transterritorially. Columbia has been engaged in this aspect, in the last months, for instance, we engaged in conversations with people like Raven Chacon who is looking at the long history of land-making as site where conflicts of the past are still present, or the participation here of Cecilia Vicuña that has been thinking of the collective role of menstruation and forms of dissidence. Through these conversations, discussions, experiments new worlds are emerging and we want to tackle them.

The articulation of these realms is incredibly exciting and I hope that my deanship will help the school to empower these new dynamics and paradigms that are already emerging within faculty and students, administrators, staff and non-human actors, of course.

Bio

Andrés Jaque founded the Office for Political Innovation in 2003. He has brought a transectional approach to architectural design; practising architecture as the intervention on complex composites of relationships, where its agency is negotiated with the agency unfold by other entities. Andrés Jaque is director of the Advanced Architectural Design Program at Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. He has also been visiting professor at Princeton University and The Cooper Union. Andrés received his PhD in architecture from the Escuela Técnica Superior de Arquitectura de Madrid, where he also received his M. Arch. He has been an Alfred Toepfer Stiftung’s Tessenow Stipendiat and Graham Foundation grantee. In 2018 he co-curated Manifesta 12 in Palermo and he is the Chief Curator of the 13th Shanghai Biennale, Bodies of Water.

Interviewee
Interviewer
Published
19 Nov 2022
Reading time
15 minutes
Share
Related Articles by topic Tool for Critical Thinking
Related Articles by topic Ecology