Hetero-architecture



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Robert Venturi Headquarters Building (1960) Darbourne and Dark Pimlico Housing (1961-8)



Heteropolis, written some 15 years after the Language of Post-Modern Architecture, is a very different book. It is at once an extension of Language and an argument against it. Certainly, the book was not such a success as Language – it has virtually been ignored by both critics and general readers – and it is interesting to consider why. Obviously, Heteropolis comes at the end and not the beginning of that ‘post-modernism’ with which Jencks has been so closely associated. It does not therefore have the sense of discovery that Language had, but by contrast an air almost of retrospective summation. In fact, Heteropolis goes further than Language. It pushes the arguments first put in that book to their limit. But it finds there a kind of impasse, in which what Jencks is saying starts to suggest conclusions with which he does not agree. It is that this point that we can see Jencks retreating, not fully accepting what he discovers. Heteropolis, in other words, unlike Language, is something of a divided work. It is not as straightforward as Language, but is more interesting. In a sense – and this is perhaps the true ‘hetero-morphosis’ (Jencks 1993, 33) the book theorises – Heteropolis argues against itself, pulls back from consequences that it denies itself from reaching, but that are nevertheless to be read between its lines.
Heteropolis: Los Angeles
Heteropolis, like much of Language, revolves around the architecture of Los Angeles, which for Jencks is the place of post-modernism par excellence. Indeed, there is always a certain play in his work on that great American myth, in which the West is where the laws and social conventions of the East Coast no longer apply. It is where ‘Europe’ runs out and America at lasts becomes itself. In Los Angeles, there are no longer spatial hierarchies within the city – the book has a section entitled ‘Periphery as Center’ (Jencks 1993, 32) – and no longer distinctions between cultures – Jencks traces the mixture in Los Angeles of Japanese, Korean, Spanish and black cultures. In a way, that is, in the first of the methodological paradoxes of the book, Los Angeles architecture is not amenable to the usual climatic, geographical or even environmental explanations. Not only within Los Angeles are there no longer the usual spatial distinctions, but also between Los Angeles and what is outside of it the usual discriminations can no longer be drawn. In Los Angeles, in the words of one of its chapters, ‘Et unum et plura’ (Jencks 1993, 100). The city takes on its singular identity through being a combination or ‘kaleidoscope’ (Jencks 1993, 104) made up of all other identities.
In Heteropolis Jencks attempts to sketch a ‘history’ of this situation, beginning with the ‘informality’ of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, moving through the representational ‘hetero-architecture’ of the ‘70s and early ‘80s, and concluding with the final ‘en-formality’ of an identifiable LA Style of the ‘80s and ‘90s. Here too, as in Language, Jencks outlines his arguments through a number of specific examples or case studies. Thus, for that first moment of Los Angeles informality, he looks at Charles Moore’s Sea Ranch (1965), which mixes the industrial and the vernacular. For its representational ‘hetero-architecture’, he looks at Frank Gehry’s Santa Monica Place (1979-81), in which one building piggybacks on top of another. And for its achieved ‘en-formality’, he looks at Morphosis’ Angeli’s Restaurant (1985), which mixes the industrial with the rustic with its support-beams that look like left-over scaffolding. But, again, in a paradox for Jencks’ methodology, no real history of what he is speaking about is possible, nor even any real examples. There is not the usual stylistic progression or development towards the situation he describes, nor can any building evidence the ‘aesthetic’ he argues for more than any other. Rather, it is notable that at the physical and methodological centre of the book is an image of he citizens of South Central LA walking past the both pre- and post-historical ‘ruins’ of a torn-down building and rubble of bricks left behind after the Rodney King riots of 1992. In a sense, this image represents the absolute collapse of distinctions, the non-site and non-architecture that is the heteropolis Jencks is speaking about. And, in fact, the real logic driving the narrative of Jencks’ book is not geography, history or architectural style but the movement between this heteropolis and its refusal or rejection. In the second half of the chapter ‘What Caused the Justice Riots?’, Jencks describes the efforts of concerned citizens to ‘wall up’ or otherwise ‘dissimulate’ spaces, to re-erect or re-introduce hierarchies and class distinctions that have otherwise been torn down, in what he calls ‘defensible architecture’ or ‘riot realism’ (Jencks 1993, 89).


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