Well, it appears that my essay “Architecture’s Geographic Turns”, a fairly straightforward critical overview of the history of geographical thought in architecture and its appearance in today’s various post-critical and research practices, has perturbed everyone.

Various research architect colleagues don’t appreciate it very much. They think of their work as marking a break with “architecture” proper, which in some ways is true. Therefore a history of cartographic imagery in architectural theory simplifies their work into a larger narrative. Admittedly, absorption is often an after-effect of narrative history. But, mind you, the historical information in my essay was based on secondary sources – by various authors also examining the reach of the geographical image in architecture.

In addition to the above, friendly email banter, a more biting piece of criticism — “In defense of design” (by Mark Foster Gage in Log, but available here online) attacked my essay and the type of work explored in my essay, calling it the “virus” that “mutated the red blood cells of architectural design”. If you thought architectural theories of aesthetic degeneracy were a thing of the distant past, you really need to read this essay! He understands research architecture as a pervasive and threatening influence in architecture schools. One would think the often difficult and critical work of an Eyal Weizman or Laura Kurgan was everywhere around us, threatening the architecture of “wonder” that Gage ultimately argues for. Anyway, it seems the author of this essay truly misunderstood my piece, which was ultimately a CRITICISM of research architecture practices, not a defense.

Finally, and ironically, the most recent criticism of Geographic Turns appeared from an editor who is publishing it in a collection of recent projects and theory writing. The editors of this particular publication asked if the criticisms of geographical imagery in architecture in the essay could be toned down, lest they offend those who map and diagram the environment.

So, you see the binds of writing subtle criticism: on the one hand you’re criticized for defending the thing you’ve actually criticized; and on the other you’re asked to soften your criticism.

“Architecture’s Geographic Turns,” which was great fun to write, ends with a proposition: What if architects stopped turning to geography as a source from which to interpret the world empirically, and instead projected concepts of architectural thought into cartographic worlds? In other words, what if they rewired the historical relation between these fields and architecture entered a new aestheto-cartographic narrative (recall Fredric Jameson argued for something similar at the end of his pomo essay).

Rather than answer that question (or the details of specific criticism) with an essay; I took on the above question in a more ambitious and total form: I just guest-edited an issue of AD that includes writings by some of my favorite geographers, historians and architects. In that issue, which will be out later next spring, we will see work that attempts to craft geographical “Territory” (versus site or autonomy) with architecture.

As always, once that issue is out, criticism is welcome.


  1. Gage’s article is one of those “why does architecture have to be so hard” essays that I find grating. In fact, I find it very hard to take anything he says seriously.

  2. dlgissen

    Thanks for visiting (and with a comment, no less!). I’m afraid that the “Defense” essay was my first “Gage”, so I don’t know his thoughts, such as they are. I think the threat of an essay like Geographic Turns, is that one cannot read the histories and then argue that geographical thought “has nothing to do with architecture.” I can agree that turning to history to explain the present has its problems; but I don’t understand the counter-move: to turn to history as a type of hand sanitizer! I think that’s the attempt in his essay; to eradicate actual history in the name of history.

    Anyway, I wish I had known about your own geographical/architectural historical explanations earlier; I would have included them in the AD or mentioned them in the Log piece.

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