Book Review: Radical Games

Radical Games: Popping the Bubble of 1960s' Architecture by Lara Schrijver, published by NAi Publishers, 2009. Paperback, 248 pages. (Amazon)

Even though the 1960s are now nearly forty years old, the decade's impact on all sorts of cultural production, including architecture and urbanism, still resonates. TU Delft professor Lara Schrijver sees the lingering influence of the Situationist International, Archigram, Venturi and Scott Brown, and others as problematic, since she sees these groups' projects as reactions to modernism and therefore incomplete alternatives to modernism's failings. In three chapters (city, technology, architecture), Schrijver examines the radical critiques of the above three groups respectively. While many readers might be familiar with the output of each in that decade, primarily at the level of text or drawing in each case, the author's hones in on the relationship of their critiques to modernism, reaching the above conclusion. The basic argument of the book is that contemporary practice needs to develop its own approaches to today's problems instead of emulating the admittedly optimistic and revolutionary period four decades ago.
Schrijver's writing is academic but still readable by a wider audience interested in architectural theory. Beyond the situationists, the Archigram group, and Venturi and Scott Brown, the references stick to about a handful of influential voices, such as Alan Colquhoun, Henri Lefebvre, Bruno Latour, and Marshall McLuhan. These polemical blinders, if you will, actually strengthen Schrijver's argument, while also allowing those unfamiliar with them to glean some insight into their writing. But even though she illustrates how at least these three groups critiques of modernism were limited by their oppositional stance to the movement, the book's conclusion seems detached from the preceding. Discussing critique, "projective architecture" and the theory/practice rift in architecture, Schrijver's alternative for contemporary practice is more grounded in Richard Sennett's most recent book instead of her own. If critique and projective architecture are eschewed only because they share the oppositional stance of the sixties movements, is that enough of a justification for another alternative(s)? Maybe not, but Schrijver's call for craft, in Sennett's sense of the term, will find sympathies with a number of architects, including this one.