Scripted Futures

I predict a new fascination with carelessness, a new tolerance for “whatever” in a “whatever generation” – an architecture that prides itself on neither history nor theory, to put it bluntly. This generation will take over the mantel of the “avant-garde,” and demand that it vacuate itself of purpose and thought. Mark Jarzombek, Anti-Pragmatic Manifesto

I pulled up ths quote because, first of all, it was written by a historian and, of all things, a historian blogging—on another historian’s weblog! Thus, there are several things here out of order—a manifesto, a prediction, a blog post— challenging what historians supposedly do. And I’m also interested in it because of the more recent conversation with David Gissen, also, of course, a historian.


David makes a provocative point, launching off from his recollection of a statement by geographer David Harvey. His point, responding to mine about global warming (as cautionary tale about predictive timidity), as you may recall, was that the way a crisis is imagined frames and even impinges upon prediction. (“I recall being inspired by David Harvey’s labeling of environmental crises as a crisis without clear boundaries or predictive limits.” – Gissen). Again, his well-reasoned conclusion is that panic is no basis for disciplinary readjustment. I think he’s saying we need criticality (again). And I agree on that.

Which is also, of course, what people like Kazys Varnelis and Jarzombek have been saying as well. I’m also reminded of a post that Kazys made a little while back, building up on Jarzombek’s. In this link we have a nice history of the retrenchment of historians into history in order to (counter-intuitively) avoid obsolescence. In that post, Kazys is careful to point out that historians should intercede on the present, but actually says nothing about the future. (“Soon after came the theory wars. As some theorists argued that history was outdated, now the best historians (Mark among them) argued that theory and history were deeply intertwined and that one should both historicize theory and theorize history.”) But, in most ways, what Jarzombek—and Reinhold Martin*, for that matter— call for is a new utopianism, and this brings back the question, then, can there be any utopianism without prediction? The predicament we are in right now by necessity involves prediction (even if to dethrone the future), but what I think Varnelis and Jarzombek fear is that the dominant notions of the future are monopolized by digital whiz kids (most often male ones, though not always—but a problem also for among others *ahem* the Situationists) who then come to dominate the visual regime of upcoming possibilities.

So the dividing line (a fuzzy one no doubt, at least it seems that way to me), is one between blurring the future or inching away from it. David’s point is valuable. Prediction nowadays—I agree with him on this—is deeply problematic. I think it is that way, as I believe Kazys and Mark would agree, because predictions seem to emerge fully-formed (like a Mercedes Benz Museum) out of a closed system of parameters. But that’s exactly why I think we need to take predictions back.

(Image source: Patrick Schumacher and Zaha Hadid on WMMNA)

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One thought on “Scripted Futures

  1. In the summer of 2009, a firm existed in what seemed to be a temporal glitch. The firm name VGA MJ, an acronym for Varnelis_Gissen_Arbona_Martin_Jarzombek was a play on the computer hardware component term ‘VGA’ (the last graphical standard introduced by IBM that the majority of PC clone manufacturers conformed to).

    VGA responded to a call, an opportunity and to a fear. Taped on the door of the office were the words ‘Intercede on the present, project an alternative future.’ The principals were for lack of a better description ‘historians’ involved in experiments in the architectural HTC (history, theory and criticism).

    Historians had words. Image makers had images. images vs. words. The primacy of the visual had always given the future to the image makers. VGA was aware of this disconnect and was supported by a team of image makers.

    It wasn’t about predictions. It was about projecting alternate futures.

    *this message was sent back in time from 2015. the future is grateful.

    ‘t.

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