You are on page 1of 10

Architecture Depends Jeremy Till Table of Contents and Sample Chapters "Less is more.

" Mies van de Rohe "Less is a bore." Robert Venturi "Mess is the law." Jeremy Till Architecture dependson what? On people, time, politics, ethics, mess: the real world. Architecture, Jeremy Till argues with conviction in this engaging, sometimes pugnacious book, cannot help itself; it is dependent for its very existence on things outside itself. Despite the claims of autonomy, purity, and control that architects like to make about their practice, architecture is buffeted by uncertainty and contingency. Circumstances invariably intervene to upset the architect's best-laid plansat every stage in the process, from design through construction to occupancy. Architects, however, tend to deny this, fearing contingency and preferring to pursue perfection. With Architecture Depends, architect and critic Jeremy Till offers a proposal for rescuing architects from themselves: a way to bridge the gap between what architecture actually is and what architects want it to be. Mixing anecdote, design, social theory, and personal experience, Till's writing is always accessible, moving freely between high and low registers, much like his suggestions for architecture itself. The everyday world is a disordered mess, from which architecture has retreatedand this retreat, says Till, is deluded. Architecture must engage with the inescapable reality of the world; in that engagement is the potential for a reformulation of architectural practice. Contingency should be understood as an opportunity rather than a threat. Elvis Costello said that his songs have to work when played through the cheapest transistor radio; for Till, architecture has to work (socially, spatially) by coping with the flux and vagaries of everyday life. Architecture, he proposes, must move from a reliance on the impulsive imagination of the lone genius to a confidence in the collaborative ethical imagination, from clinging to notions of total control to an intentional acceptance of letting go. About the Author Jeremy Till is Dean of Architecture and Built Environment at the University of Westminster and a partner at Sarah Wigglesworth Architects. Their projects include the pioneering 9 Stock Orchard Street (The Strawbale House and Quilted Office), winner of multiple awards. He represented Britain at the 2006 Venice Architecture Biennale. Reviews Boldly and elegantly, Architecture Depends asserts that architecture is absolutely dependent

upon the contingent, difficult and perverse factors that architects have long tried to ignore in an effort to be pure, self-important and professional...What Tills book achieves is to set out with great clarity the territory in which the debate around future action must take place. Robert Mull, Architects' Journal Thought-provoking and important...Architecture Depends raises the question of the relationship of architecture and life to a new level. AnniVartola, Arkkitehti (Finland) Tills book is about the world he knows and how one conveys ideas behind architecture. It is a superbly written, frequently fascinating set of arguments that will support architects who wish to use the messy stuff of life for their own advantage. Tim Abrahams, Blueprint View All Reviews

Endorsements "A provocative declaration of war on utopia, powered by a fuel rich in social justice and sharp humor. Architects, hide it from your clients and your studentsit is an unusual and explosive mixture that produces difficult questions like spores. With this book Jeremy Till raises the starting price on all our discussions of architecture." Paul Shepheard, author of What is Architecture? and Artificial Love "In this provocative challenge to current architectural discourse, Jeremy Till briskly dissects and disposes of all of its myths. In their place, he proposes a newly optimistic and open-minded approach, breaking down the barriers between architecture and the world surrounding it. Short but packed with exciting ideas, this book successfully demonstrates how architecture's dependence on outside forces is its greatest strength, and how working with contingency can provide the field with the agency and ethics it desperately needs. Intelligent and incisive, this book should be required reading at all schools of architecture!" Margaret Crawford, Professor of Urban Design and Planning Theory, Harvard Graduate School of Design Architecture Depends is a highly engaging and accessible book that explores the most central of architectural ideologies--the obsession with aesthetic order and autonomy, the repression of ambiguity and the everyday. Through a mix of philosophy, history, theory, and anecdote Jeremy Till shows how the contingencies of architecture, far from being a threat, comprise opportunities for a fundamental rethink of architectural design and theory. --Kim Dovey, architectural critic and Professor of Architecture and Urban Design, University of Melbourne, Australia, and author of Fluid City

This review is from: Architecture Depends (Hardcover) Frankly, I found the book tedious - Richard Weston's review summed it up in a better way than I could : "His title may sound slightly obtuse, but Jeremy Till's argument is readily summarised. Architecture depends on all kinds of circumstances outside the architect's control, yet most of us resist or deny this contingency by retreating from the everyday world where "mess is the law". This begins in the tribal longhouse of the educational studio, where students learn an "alien vocabulary" and develop the arrogance that Till believes pervades the profession. The consequences are manifest on every hand, from declarations of architectural autonomy to reliance on "necessarily reductive" sketches; from the poverty of Vitruvian and Corbusian theory to the rigidities of the RIBA's Plan of Work; from Mies's "opportunist entanglement with the Nazis" to the vacuities of computer-generated forms. Rather than attempting to impose order on an increasingly unruly world, Till argues that architects need to embrace contingency and re-engage with everyday experience. In marshalling his arguments for this practice of architecture as transformative agency, he draws on an impressive range of recent literature. Quotations and names, many unfamiliar to me, come thick and fast -- Agnes Heller, Alberto Melucci, Johannes Fabian, NiklasLuhmann, Carol Gilligan, Roberto Mangabeira Unger and the all-pervasive Zygmunt Bauman -- but the basic argument has a familiar sixties-retro ring. Ivan Illich's critique of professionalism; Venturi's advocacy of messy vitality and Main Street; Cedric Price's emphasis on the brief and flexibility; Habraken and Hertzberger's open-ended engagement with users -- in these and other ways we have, as Till acknowledges, drunk much of his new wine from old bottles. The language of Till's emergent architecture of contingency is, however, freshly minted. Permeated by "slack space" and existing, in emulation of Joyce's Ulysses, in "thick time", it will be "lo-fi' like an Elvis Costello song, calculated to communicate via a transistor radio on the breakfast table. Rather than being preoccupied with form, Till believes that tomorrow's architects must be driven by a renewed sense of social and ethical responsibility, able to work with people to tease spatial structures out of situations, not stamp all over them. My problems begin with the dustwrapper, which features four encomiums that make the book sound like just about the most important contribution to architectural theory since Alberti put quill to paper. These anticipate the self-satisfied tone that permeates the content, from the author's eagerness to exhibit the range of his reading, via the anecdotal interjections that demonstrate his speed of observation and wit, to a list of acknowledgments that reads like a who's who of the metropolitan elite in which he moves. These don't negate his arguments but seem surprising in a broadside against the supposed arrogance of others.

It isn't just a matter of tone, however. For all his advocacy of the messy realities of the everyday, Till is far too concerned with what architects write rather than with what they do. This ranges from his facile, relentlessly ahistorical assaults on writings by Vitruvius, Le Corbusier, Mies, Rossi and others, to the dismissal of more recent interests such as phenomenology and tectonics; even the RIBA's Code of Professional Conduct is found woefully wanting. Could it really be, as he seems to believe, that we have all been so conditioned by our education and the mores of our profession that we operate with little or no regard for others? Faced with the demands of corporate clients and big developers (remember them?), it may be difficult to address the needs of what Aalto called "the little man", but it is insulting to imply that most architects, grappling day to day with the contingencies of budgets and sites, contractors and manufacturers, don't even try. Till's dislike of most architects extends to most architecture, which he appears to see as an imposition of oppressive order by those in power. In this, presumably, his ultimate master is Karl Marx. But unlike Marx, who famously struggled to understand the aesthetic enjoyment he found in the art of a reprehensibly class-based society like ancient Greece, Till seems immune to what Karl Popper called our "need for regularity". As to the character of his new architecture of contingency made with and for others, Till offers only one real clue: the straw bale house at Stock Orchard Street in north London that he designed with his partner, Sarah Wigglesworth. Anyone for Athens? "

While I consider this book ripe for a poor review, it's best to see it for the positive rewards it offers. Till's vapid close of Architecture Depends left me wanting to hate the time I had spent reading it. Between the covers rests the foundation of an argument that is left for personal reflection rather than explication through example. The book is practically a polemic on architecture but with a love of the practice beneath the frustrated rhetoric. Self reflection in the face of hard truth is always worth it, especially when the need to reassess ambition is dire. You don't have to like Till or his book, but you have to pay respect to the push that he gives to honestly address the driving forces of architectural practice.

"In this provocative challenge to current architectural discourse, Jeremy Till briskly dissects and disposes of all of its myths. In their place, he proposes a newly optimistic and open-minded

approach, breaking down the barriers between architecture and the world surrounding it. Short but packed with exciting ideas, this book successfully demonstrates how architecture's dependence on outside forces is its greatest strength, and how working with contingency can provide the field with the agency and ethics it desperately needs. Intelligent and incisive, this book should be required reading at all schools of architecture!"--Margaret Crawford, Harvard Graduate School of Design (Margaret Crawford ) "A provocative declaration of war on utopia, powered by a fuel rich in social justice and sharp humor.Architects, hide it from your clients and your students - it is an unusual and explosive mixture that produces difficult questions like spores. With this book Jeremy Till raises the starting price on all our discussions of architecture."--Paul Shepheard, author of What is Architecture? and Artificial Love (Paul Shepheard ) "At once a designer and teacher, a dissenter and committeeman, an academic and humorist, Jeremy Till is perfectly placed to affront, and be affronted by, the customary studio training of the architect. Architecture Depends genially eviscerates architecture of every claim it makes to autonomy -- from Vitruvius to CAD, rationalism to phenomenology -- casting it back into the world to be nourished by, and nourishing to, life at large."--Simon Sadler, Professor of Architectural and Urban History, University of California, Davis (Simon Sadler )

In Architecture Depends, author (and dean of architecture at the University of Westminster) Jeremy Till seems to be trying to head off his critics at the pass, by pointing out the books shortcomings before they can. After introducing his premisethat architects dont take into account the unpredictable forces that will change their buildings over time, from weather to dirt to other peoples alterationshe imagines a listener replying, Thats kind of obvious. (Till retorts that it may be an obvious point, but its still worth writing about, since architects so rarely confront it.) Yet the real problem with Tills premise is not that its obvious, but that its hard to imagine an alternative. How exactly would one plan for unforeseeable changes? Architecture Depends purports to answer, but Tills idea of an answer is so inchoate and oblique that its easy to forget, for pages at a time, what the original question was. First, it apparently requires redefining time and space. Readers should therefore be prepared for a steady march of sentences like the following: Space in the Kantian model is a subjective

condition of sensibility and develops from within the subject so, as Heidegger disparagingly notes, it is as if the Kantian subject emits a space out of itself. The end products of this dizzying metaphysical detour are two concepts which Till believes can lead us towards an architecture that collaborates with entropy instead of resisting it: slack space (space easily adapted to different uses) and thick time (time filtered through human experiences and perceptions). And how should architects employ these concepts? By infusing the process of design with both experiences and hopes; by reflecting on the worlds social and temporal exchanges during the design process; by taking the conditions of the everyday into account suggestions that are hard to argue with, in the same way that a cloud is hard to wrestle with. To be fair, there are a few more specific ideas to be found amidst the fog in Architecture Depends, though theyre not necessarily any more actionable. Till laments how architectural representations, from simple sketches to computerized walk-throughs, reinforce the fantasy that buildings exist in an idealized, unchanging setting. Instead, he proposes storytellingpotentially the most productive mode of communication in architectural production, he claims. So instead of informing a client, You should have your front door here because it is closest to the road, Till would have architects generate stories about future users potential experiences: We ran through the back door, steaming bodies into air dense with chip fat. Setting aside the issue of whether this suggestion is realistic, it still doesnt give any clearer picture of what kind of building design could actually account for future adaptation, soiling, or weathering. By the end of the book, Till has anticipated this criticism too. So, I hear you say, what does this architecture actually look like? he asks. But his answer is a coy demurral: If I showed you pictures it would shut down what is meant to be an open argument. Fair enough. But it would still be nice to have the sense that Till himself has any idea. y If I understand from the writer what Till is advocating, I love the idea of architects using story board to create a series of alternative uses a space needs to provide for - the best like an wedding anniversary or the worse spilling wet garbage on the floor. It would be a great way to explore how space will be used, good and bad, as preliminary to design the space. Comment by anon June 30, 2009, @ 6:24 pm y What an unfair review! While there may be a problem with Tills deferment of the final argument (but I would say this is consistent with his overall approach) it is hardly the case that the book is full of difficult sentences and metaphysical clouds. OK that one sentence that is quoted is hardly clear, but this is an exception: in comparison to most books on architectural theory, Tills writing is lucid, accessible and often downright funny. I say this as a non-architect who found lots of ideas in the book that I could transfer to my own design field.
The economic crisis's considerable impact on architectural jobs and billings in the United States illuminates the fragility of a profession responsible for less than 5% of buildings in this country. Long relying on the Vitruvian triad of firmness, commodity and delight for guidance, architects here and elsewhere are hoping for an effective way forward in the recent green building trend, pushing primarily technological solutions to that other crisis. Dean of Architecture and Built Environment at the University

of Westminster, Jeremy Till eschews the traditional concerns of aesthetics and tectonics and the newfound embrace of sustainability, calling for a reorientation of the profession towards an ethical stance rooted in the social and political. He believes a preoccupation with form and technique isolates architects from their fellow citizens, discounting Henri Lefebvre's aphorism that "(social) space is a (social) product." Influenced primarily by the social theories of Zygmunt Bauman, contingency is the prevailing term in Till's convincing argument, the uncertain that architects and modernism's project remove from consideration by placing order above all else. Till embraces contingency and labors to reverse the long held orderings of abstraction over reality, space over time, client over use. He does so for most of the book, making one yearn for more solution and less argument, a deficit the author acknowledges at book's end. Before that, Till details a few key suggestions: seeing professional knowledge as a network with the architect as a "citizen sense-maker" weaving together normally divergent concerns; reinvigorating the architect's role in shaping the building program; and approaching sustainability as a social/ethical problem instead of a technical one. Frustratingly for visually-minded architects, Till refuses to illustrate the book with examples of what fits his ethical architecture mold, merely naming a few who embody his principles. Nonetheless this jibes with an open argument bent on moving beyond appearances and into architecture's potential social and political embodiments. Till's anti-aesthetic views will surely receive their fair share of resistance from practicing architects, though as more professionals are pushed into unemployment lines his calls for an alternative future may look more promising and tenable.

Boldly and elegantly, in his new book Architecture Depends, Jeremy Till asserts that architecture is absolutely dependent upon the contingent, difficult and perverse factors that architects have long tried to ignore in an effort to be pure, self-important and professional. He suggests that both the makers and the users of architecture would be better off if architects could embrace the contingent (users, budget, weather, waste and so on) in the way they think and work. Surely an obvious point, youre thinking, and Till knows this. In his introduction, he relates a conversation with a sceptical architect while taking the lift together up the Arts Tower at the University of Sheffield his elevator pitch. When challenged on his thesis, Till explains to his companion that his book argues that we need to open up to dependency not as a threat but an opportunity. That the inescapable reality of the world must be engaged with and not retreated from. And that in that engagement there is the potential for a reformulation of architectural practice that would resist its present marginalisation and find new hope. By the 14th floor, the sceptic concedes that he may buy the book. If he does, I can vouch itll be worth it. I am standing in front of a fucking haystack and they are calling it the future.

The building trade didnt react well to Tills straw-bale wall at Interbuild 1997 Architecture Depends is Tills first book since he swapped his professorship at Sheffield for the post of dean of architecture and the built environment at the University of Westminster. Densely argued, it articulates and re-articulates the ideas, debates and insecurities that run through architectural education and practice. Tills achievement is to nail these conversations down, to give them intellectual bottom and to make them entertaining. He does this by providing intellectual jump leads between fields of reference and practice that rarely engage with each other. He collides the world of writer James Joyce and sociologists Henri Lefebvre and Zygmunt Bauman with the more base spheres of waste management and quantity surveying. He quotes Peter Guthries maxim that all architecture is but waste in transit and reminds us of the powerful part that time plays in the production, inhabitation and reuse of buildings. Till tilts at virtually every aspect of architectural culture. One of many skirmishes with convention, he considers the drawing, the photograph and the computer, and the way they can distance architecture from the temporality of the world. As an alternative, Till promotes the value of storytelling as a way of capturing and working with the complexities of an architecture that can live with, and exploit, the contingent. And what a great storyteller he is. In a less serious typeface than the main text, he introduces his own anecdotes throughout. These stories are often where the argument is at its most immediate. This makes it conveniently (or contingently) possible to skim through the densely referenced text, in the serious typeface, and go straight to the dirty bits: Till having a gun pulled on him while searching for stones to fill gabions at his and Sarah Wigglesworths straw-bale house in London (2001), where the gunman apologises, only joking, mate, just thought you looked a bit of a wanker; or the reaction of the building trade to their sample straw-bale wall at Interbuild in 1997: I am standing in front of a fucking haystack and they are calling it the future. Expounding on lo-fi technology, Till introduces an anecdote about singer Elvis Costello to illustrate how the reader should embrace the complicated world of contingency. Costello would develop his tracks in the technically pure world of the recording studio but then judge them by how they played on a cheap transistor radio over breakfast. Till wants us, like Costello, to become adept in both pure and fuzzy contexts. In a chapter he describes as plain tough, Till discusses ethics. He attacks the codified ethics of the ARB and the RIBA and the sanctimonious sentiment that allows architects to enter into a comfort zone in which they believe that they are doing good by doing what they do best, namely making beautiful things. Instead Till advocates architectural intelligence rather than architectural knowledge and transformative agency rather than problem solving. He restates this central point, writing that architectures dependency, far from being its weakness, becomes an opportunity, with the architect acting as open-minded listener and fleet-footed interpreter, collaborating in the realisation of other peoples unpolished visions.

Just like the straw-bale house, this book is bursting with ideas. To criticise this is to miss the point. The bewildering density of thought and breadth of reference seem to simulate the complicated, contingent world that Till asks the reader to enjoy. Like his writing style, the form of practice Till describes is generous, humane and enduring. Ultimately though, it is unclear if Till is really rejecting the idealist and the formal or not. Bets are hedged, and in the final page Till even concedes that my argument could never be complete anyway, because this would presume to all the certainty and universality that this book has resisted.

Bets are hedged, and in the final page Till even concedes that my argument could never be complete anyway, because this would presume to all the certainty and universality that this book has resisted. Robert Mull

But because circumstances are changing fast, this last caveat is appropriate. In the deepest recession since God knows when, Tills contingent is not a clever stick with which to question the pretensions of the architectural club, but a reality that threatens the whole structure and the livelihoods of all of those in it. Surely, like the man in the lift, no architect can doubt anymore that the profession is highly dependent on factors beyond its control. Those factors have shown themselves with brutal clarity. Equally, no one can still wholeheartedly believe that they can be fully protected by any of the strategies of separation that Till has described. To survive the recession, it could be argued that a reinstatement of the purest, most elite form of practice based on the object could be the professions best form of resistance. Conversely, engaging with and reshaping the contingent could be the route to survival. Who knows? What Tills book achieves is to set out with great clarity the territory in which the debate around future action must take place. Ironically, those who have lived with the contingent for so long without time to reflect, may now at least have time to read a book. Architecture Depends would be a good place to start. Architecture, Jeremy Till argues with conviction in this engaging, sometimes pugnacious book, is dependent on things outside itself. Despite the claims of architects to autonomy, purity, and control, architecture is buffeted by uncertainty and contingency. Circumstances invariably intervene to upset the architect's best-laid plansat every stage in the process, from design through construction to occupancy. Architects, however, tend to deny this, fearing contingency and preferring to pursue perfection. With Architecture Depends, architect and critic Jeremy Till

offers a proposal for rescuing architects from themselves: a way to bridge the gap between what architecture actually is and what architects want it to be. Mixing anecdote, design, social theory, and raw opinion, Till's writing is always accessible, moving freely between high and low registers, much like his suggestions for architecture itself. The everyday world is a disordered mess, from which architecture has retreatedand this retreat, says Till, is deluded. Architecture must engage with the inescapable reality of the world; in that engagement is the potential for a reformulation of architectural practice. Contingency should be understood as an opportunity rather than a threat. Elvis Costello said that his songs have to work when played through the cheapest transistor radio; for Till, architecture has to work (socially, spatially) by coping with the flux and vagaries of everyday life. Architecture, he proposes, must move from a reliance on the impulsive imagination of the lone genius to a confidence in the collaborative ethical imagination, from clinging to notions of total control to an intentional acceptance of letting go.