Friday, September 30, 2011

The start of diplomacy


At its most basic, diplomacy is defined as being both an act of tact and of cunning. Its dialogue is at once neutral and biased. On the surface, at times, it may seem overwhelmingly prejudiced, but diplomacy requires a two-sided relationship. It is a back and forth dance between listening and being heard, between concealing and revealing. In this light we ask, how and to what extent is architecture a diplomatic actor? What ideas /ideals does it represent? What relationships can it negotiate? What positions can it influence?

This seminar begins with an investigation into the present (multifaceted) status of rhetoric in architecture. What do we say to others through the medium of architecture? And how legible is that message? In this phase we will read and debate historical and contemporary views on the legibility of architecture.

International diplomacy, as an organized institution is roughly one hundred years old. The tremendous expansion of nationhood and individual national foreign policies around the world in the last century resulted in the construction of cross-national diplomatic relationships. Notably, these relationships flourished in one-on-one partnerships. The many international couplings were supported through the construction of a significant amount of “diplomatic” building meant to represent one partner in the space of another. Significantly, unique territorial privileges had to be invented in order to establish both a building’s authority and national sovereignty abroad. In order to do their “work” effectively and meaningfully, the architecture, sites, and envoys operate in this doubled territory.

The seminar continues with research of the architecture of international diplomacy. We will analyze the development of the architecture of national diplomatic buildings in order to understand the type itself and its historical trajectory. This is intended as a deep typological investigation of this unusual model. In this phase, we will seek to understand the relationship between program (private dwelling coupled with international stage), national rhetoric (stated and not), and expression (role of the architecture vs. the role of the architect) through case studies and historical research of existing models. {NOTE: This typological study is not meant to flesh out a “fixed ideal” to be imitated or even admired. Rather, it is assumed that a thorough knowledge of the type will free the designer to redefine the type broadly under contemporary terms.}

Depending on how one counts, there are 189 to 245 nations in the world today (192 are recognized by the UN; 195 by the US State Department). This is about 30 more than there were twenty-five years ago when the term “globalization” was put into popular parlance. And it is speculated that there are as many as 200 additional regions in the world that have expressed a desire for independence. Many of these nations have good relations with each other; some have strains; some have no relationship at all. Typically, the break down in relations is over ideological or political ruptures, but sometimes its situational. Often, cultural and physical differences are vast.

The seminar will conclude with an in-depth study by each student (or pair) of a particular cross-national diplomatic relationship (real, embellished, imagined) and the proposal for a building project for the given couple. It is imagined that students will research political standings between the “states”, ideological representations, regulating policies, construction methodologies, building regulations, materials and relevant social and economic factors in order to fully anticipate a political relationship between the selected partners.