Rafael Moneo, In & Out
Architecture is in crisis. So is criticism. The first, fragmented into a myriad of stories and poetics, does not finish finding its place in late capitalism. The second, ignored by the public, the media and the architects themselves, has lost the normative role that it knew how to play in its best moments. This double crisis makes the attitude of Rafael Moneo – a teacher in architecture and criticism – indispensable.
Protagonist of his time and a great connoisseur of history, Moneo has always had the generosity and, at the same time, the courage, to judge the work of his contemporaries. Not only to unravel his buildings in a compositional, cultural and even generative key, putting himself in the creator’s mind like a Stanislavski of architecture; also for trying to put the flow of works and trends that define the contemporary scene in a certain order.
Behind it, both Moneo’s unquenchable intellectual curiosity beats as well as his strong, almost insurmountable commitment to the real world, to which, however, he never gives himself completely, convinced as he is – he is, after all, a stubborn disciple of Bruno Zevi – that the present acquires meaning when viewed from the past, even the most immediate.
It is an extremely valuable attitude, increasingly rare, the keys of which the interested reader can find, for example, in Considerations on the work of Rafael Moneo, a volume edited by Francisco González de Canales, where the valuable papers are collected that specialists like Francesco del Co, Stan Allen, Josep Quetglas, Antón Capitel, María Teresa Muñoz or Carmen Díez Medina presented in 2017 on the occasion of the exhibition ‘Rafael Moneo: A theoretical reflection from the profession’.
However, it is probably not in the products generated by the small but influential ‘Moneo cultural industry’ that the teacher’s unique attitude is best appreciated, but in his own writings, especially the critics. Therefore, we must celebrate the publication of New Interests, other speeches. Rem Koolhaas, Herzog & de Meuron, SANAA, David Chipperfield, a book that includes a series of classes given in 2012 by the teacher at the University of Navarra, and that is an inquisitive tribute to the work of the four aforementioned studies and at the same time a attempt to understand what is happening in architecture today.
With this dual purpose, Moneo follows the method coined with talent in books such as Theoretical Concern and Project Strategy, also the result of classes and where Moneo deployed all his critical capacity to reel off the work of eight creators, from James Stirling to Herzog & de Meuron , in what was ultimately an attempt to identify the ruptures between the postmodern period and that of the new order of the late 1980s. In New Interests, Other Discourses,Moneo shortens the field of examination to focus only on four architects whose career he analyzes with finesse: if Koolhaas is the contemporary Le Corbusier who tries to detach himself from canonical modernity while declaring himself a privileged exegete of late capitalism, Herzog & de Meuron, alien to the great stories, they experiment with construction first and with working methods later, while SANAA works with an atmospheric poetics that transcends modern spatiality, and Chipperfield turns out to be the epitome of the figure of the professional architect, capable of giving a quality response in each of the globalization scenarios.
But, beyond the intellectual taste of reading Moneo when he analyzes these authors, the interest of the book is in its periodization of modernity, and, above all, in its verification that modern principles no longer serve to make architecture . Concepts such as the ‘story’, the ‘diagram’ or the ‘method’ have made canonical categories out of date, and the question is inevitable: in what coordinates can contemporary architecture be inscribed? Those who want to find the answers will have to read Moneo.