The 10 paradoxes of Architecture


Between subprime mortgage crises, tsunamis, massive wildfires and epidemics, the beginning of this century has shifted the challenges faced by architecture. A symbol of stability and of permanence, the art of building must now address an unpredictable future. If the twentieth century was that of prediction, the twenty-first will be that of indetermination. To transform this state of generalized uncertainty into a force behind the architectural project, we must observe, describe and understand this complex, heterogeneous and contradictory world.

This reality of our world is paradoxical. In this paradoxical state those who transform it must be able to accept the “and;” that is, to consider together and comprehensively the areas, scales, and challenges that are often distinct from one another. Adopting the sense of paradox means admitting that historic distinctions (those which were often so useful for analysis) ultimately distance us from reality. It is a transition into complex thought.

Form / Indetermination

Architectural form, opposed to other forms of art, is inhabited. Architecture therefore produces open forms, in the sense that Umberto Eco might have intended. The inertia of this art of stone, seemingly contrary to the lightness of life that moves through it, welcomes, in its permanence, the transience of human existence. Both static and potential, architecture is the art of the form in movement.

Limit / Thickness

The concept of the limit is important for understanding an art in which “enclosing” is seen as the original act. The architect’s drawing is a line drawing, one with the authority to separate the solid from the void. Its built materialization in reality, meanwhile, organizes the porosity of the world, and opens spaces of negotiation between that which is on one side or on the other. Architecture is the definition of a limit that, paradoxically, both separates and connects. Architecture is the art of the interface.

Heritage / Transformation

We tend to associate heritage with a frozen notion of history, of built inheritance. When we speak of architecture and of heritage we think of the “museumification” of historic city centers, or of the stagnant nature of historic protection policies. It is the opposite.

The project is, by nature, a projection towards the future. In architecture, inheriting is not a passive activity but engagement in a circularity of the design process. Inherit, contextualize, design, build… inherit, contextualize, design, build… The architect’s reception of heritage plays on this repetition. The architect’s practice consists of this loop. Architecture, once built, integrates the heritage of the project yet to come. Architecture is the art of static transformations.

Common / Autonomy
Beauty / Truth
Technique / Disappearance
Representation / Manipulation
Risk / Responsibility
Memory / Amnesia
Climate / Generation

By exploring the paradoxes of the architectural discipline, we transform research into an attempt at a complex reconciliation. The paradox is a logical tool that allows us to investigate seemingly contradictory dualities.

This exercise of general theory leads to rethinking the vocabulary of architecture. How, in fact, can we reflect on the meaning of architecture today with yesterday’s words? We must question the modern glossary.

To this end, we have chosen to work on pairs of words which, when placed in tension, express a paradox. These pairings consist of contradictory yet concrete words belonging to the discipline, to creation in general and its relationship to reality: Form / Indetermination, Limit / Thickness, Heritage / Transformation, Common / Autonomy, Representation / Manipulation, Technique / Disappearance, Memory / Amnesia, Risk / Responsibility, Beauty / Truth.

The written description is essential, but the question of graphic representation is equally central to our projects. If representation is always the work of an author, and if it is a reconstruction of reality, it is therefore also an affirmation – one that allows for synthesis and transcendence, for analysis and for the project, for investigation and transmission.

The laboratory draws on the studio’s experience in material experimentation and modeling. Just as the drawing and the model are integral parts of the architectural process, the lab bases its research on a practice of exploratory design.

Research in progress