The record reads Raimund Abraham stating that "Architecture doesn't necessarily have to be built; it can also be written." This, not in a lecture, but in an interview. It is these informative chats that capture the essence of a seminar as one compares the record of the three collected in Technology, Place and Architecture: The Jerusalem Seminar in Architecture, edited by Kenneth Frampton (Rizzoli, 288 pages, no price listed).
It is the 1996 seminar that gives substance and its name to the collection. The Jerusalem Seminar has been the site of exchange between architects, and that exchange has been about the architect at the interface of politics, economics, and aesthetics: the who, the how, and the what of the métier. The 1992 seminar on public buildings, and the 1994 one on history and memory lack the interviews, provide only edited excerpts and the concluding commentaries, and read more like editorials than sustained responses. But this is only natural, since the publication plans were not there at the inception.
The topics presented here are perennial. The themes not only inform numerous gatherings, but also shape this book's many rooms-modular and mobile rooms. Set Canadian Patricia Patkau alongside the Australian, Glenn Murcutt, and one finds similar sensibilities to the workings of climate and the needs of clients. Set A.J. Diamond's paean to staircases alongside Jean Nouvel's fantastic experiments in the control of light, and one discovers alongside the distinctive contrast of their built work, an elegant counterpoint between the ephemeral and the enduring which both exemplify.
Commenting on the Vancouver Library, Moshe Safdie articulates an ambivalence towards public referenda to decide competitions: trusting public wisdom and fearing the negation of the possibility of the avant-garde. And of course, the delicate matter of taste points to the education of a public, the reading skills of an audience, the scholarship of a community.
The writing of architecture may be optional. However, it is imperative that architecture be written about. In this collection, landscape architect Peter Walker comments on the need for practitioners to engage in critical writing that reaches a broad audience beyond the bounds of a particular discipline.
It is such a calling that guides the animating spirits of the seminar. That leads them even into the less than satisfactory section on memory, tradition, and history-not because of the projects presented, but because the reader travelling consecutively page by page will miss the record of interviews and audience interventions. It's the frustration of knowing that there has been a dialogue, but being unable to locate the traces. So the reader must turn explorer and consult the libraries and information banks. Or stop and read the collection of text and pictures in reverse chronological order from the present toward the past. Or blithely ignore the plan. Written architecture has no walls.
Doors, entrances, exits. Elements of common theme replayed in various tones by what Robert Oxman so aptly describes as a series of expert witnesses brought together to explore an intellectual territory. Yet, somehow, the momentary meeting continues to vibrate as the edifices, great and small, of human fabrication move through time.