Thursday, November 14, 2019

Not Interesting

Not Interesting: On the Limits of Criticism in Architecture
Andrew Atwood
ar+d (Applied Research + Design), October 2018



Paperback | 7 x 9 inches | 230 pages | 100 illustrations | English | ISBN: 978-1940743530 | $29.95

Publisher's Description:
Not Interesting proposes another set of terms and structures to talk about architecture, without requiring that it be interesting. This book explores a set of alternatives to the interesting and imagines how architecture might be positioned more broadly in the world using other terms: boring, confusing, and comforting. Along with interesting, these three terms make up the four chapters of the book. Each chapter introduces its topic through an analysis of a different image, which serves to unpack the specific character of each term and its relationship to architecture. In addition to text, the book contains over 50 case studies using 100 drawings and images. These are presented in parallel to the text and show what architecture may look like through the lens of these other terms.
dDAB Commentary:
It's hard not to say it, but Andrew Atwood's Not Interesting is very interesting. The professor at UC Berkeley and designer at First Office, frustrated with the overuse of the term "interesting" in architectural crits, wrote a book that explores other domains of architecture: the boring, the confusing, and the comforting. I'll admit that reading the introduction to Not Interesting made me realize just how often I've succumbed to saying "it's interesting" when somebody asks me what I thought about a building, a book, or something else, or writing that something is interesting instead of being more accurate about my thoughts and pulling from the wealth of words available to me. Often used to express where one's attention lies and what is calling for it in a design, the inexact nature of "interesting" in architectural circles is summarized by Atwood when he recounts that someone told him one thing was interesting because it was "smart" and another thing was interesting because it was "dumb." If practicing architects and students of architecture are designing buildings to be interesting -- to grab the attention of journalists and professors, respectively -- what about buildings or parts of buildings that are not overtly interesting? Does "interesting" prioritize certain formal approaches over other concerns, and certain peoples over others? It's an interesting (sorry) approach to how buildings are designed and how they're critiqued.

Atwood defines a coordinate system with the x-axis veering from ambiguous to discernible and the y-axis ranging from same to different, which in turn defines four quadrants: interesting, boring, confusing, and comforting. The three chapters that follow the introduction focus on everything but interesting: not interesting! The text for each chapter is written in a style and with a format that follows from the "modes of attention," such that the chapter on confusion, for example, has notes that parallel the main text and often confuse which is which. Atwood uses examples from his own practice (with Anna Neimark) to help explain the modes, though they also make it clear that the current generation of young architects is designing in a way that departs from the attention-getting trend that has been at the fore in architecture for at least a couple decades. In turn, Atwood's text provides some theoretical reasoning for him and his contemporaries. The same can be said of the many color renderings that are between the chapters, a few examples of which are below. A wide range of buildings and natural formations -- Diller Scofidio + Renfro's Blur building, vernacular buildings, even the sun -- are represented in flat blocks of color, often in frontal compositions as in the Johnston Marklee building below. With the selective exclusion of certain details and the emphasis of context in many cases, what's left are images that are difficult to comment on. But I think that difficulty is the point. "That's interesting" has come to be a lazy shorthand both for thinking about architecture and designing it, and Not Interesting shows that now is time for a more critical stance and an openness to other modes of attention long neglected.
Images:


Author Bio:
Andrew Atwood is an assistant professor at UC Berkeley. His work centers on techniques of representation as historical and conceptual instruments and how they specifically relate to the production of architecture and architectural pedagogy. His machines, drawings, and other works have been exhibited widely.
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