The radicality of mimesis : towards a proposition for contemporary architecture

Stara, Alexandra (2017) The radicality of mimesis : towards a proposition for contemporary architecture. In: Copycat. Dealing with Dangerous Mimesis; 23-25 Feb 2017, Weimar, Germany. (Unpublished)


This paper proposes an exploration of mimetic practice in contemporary architecture, one which requires a rethinking of mimesis, exploring its origins in classical Greek thought. The proposed radicality lies in this revisit of the idea’s roots, away from its limited understanding in a modern context. This revisit of mimesis is part of a larger project that rethinks architectural practice today, and aims to shift it away from the polarities that have dominated it in the past two centuries. The overarching goal of the project is not theory as an autonomous discipline, but critical ideas relevant for architecture as practice, as the business of making the places we inhabit today. Mimesis is one of several interlinked ideas that compose a schema for recovering architecture’s historicity, its temporal depth and its attachment to cultural continuities. For at least two hundred years, architecture has been caught in the quintessentially modern conundrum of the drive towards radical innovation and the impossibility of escape from its inherent contingencies on place, purpose, and people. From Durand to parametrics, and from revivalism to pastiche, abstract systems have been battling with historical reference for the production of an architecture appropriate for its time. There is a loose but clearly discernible thread of architectural practice in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries seeking to tackle the modern dilemma, while avoiding ‘-isms’ on either side, accepting both the irreversibility of history and the inescapability of continuity, and working towards an architecture of interpretation rather than either invention or copy. Defined, in parts, as ‘alternative’, ‘anxious’ and ‘situated’, from different authors, it seems that a holistic and critical reconsideration of this legacy is due, in order to identify the role of creative imitation therein, and to map out the basis for its enduring influence. Picking up this thread at its current end, the paper will focus on emerging contemporary architects whose practice is founded on strategies best understood through a revisit of the original notion of classical Greek mimesis. Drawing from the work of hermeneutic philosophy and thinkers such as Dalibor Vesely, Hans-Georg Gadamer and Paul Ricoeur, the paper will discuss Aristotelian mimesis as a generative idea with significance for today’s practice. Based on the play of imagination and memory, this idea of mimesis draws from situations and actions, rather than simply form, and thus denotes a much broader frame of reference and realm of possibility. Following this first sketch of a theoretical position, the paper will consider recent schemes from Estudio Barozzi Veiga and Niall McLaughlin Archietcts, as an indicative sample of a mode of architectural practice reliant on mimetic strategies, which is gaining ground internationally.

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