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New book shows ferment brews great architecture

"Certain Agendas in Architecture," a new book edited by assistant professor of architecture Alexander D'Hooghe and then-graduate student Sarah Dunbar (MArch'07), offers a sampling of work done in the MIT department of architecture and planning during calendar year 2006. Its lavishly illustrated 300 pages are organized into five chapters, and each chapter consists of an examination of two opposing belief systems or perspectives that flourish within the department.

As architect and architecture department head Yung Ho Chang points out in his introduction to "Certain Agendas," the renowned MIT design, planning and building community is "not trying to achieve a unified voice, since we are much too diverse to have one.'

The Fight Club, spirited public debates promoted within the department during the winter of 2006, inspired the creative-conflict format for the chapters of "Certain." For instance, one chapter surveys a vigorous discussion by Chang and D'Hooge of the conflicting approaches of monumentality and fabric in the design of cities.

An excerpt from the D'Hooge-Chang exchange shows how tension between two perspectives can clarify and inspire more ideas.

D'Hooghe, on behalf of monumentality: "The idealization of fabric is nothing else than the outcome of a belief system which is fundamentally totalitarian. I wouldn't want to live in a city dominated by a single system. Fabric installs a kind of homogeneity that tries to include and imprison everything that is different and succeeds in imposing a tyranny of the majority."
Chang, on behalf of urban fabric: "The problem with monuments is that they internalize urban life and kill it. The point is to weave public and not-so-public spaces within a certain fabric, to see how interior and exterior space start to be organized. In a city of monuments, leftover space is just residual. In a fabric city, surrounding spaces are…part of urban life."

Other chapters in "Certain Agendas" explore tension between notions of Project versus Mapping, Propaganda versus Process, Reconciliation versus Trauma and Metabolism versus Type.

The book also includes 31 pages of posters and photos reviewing the rich array of activities in the department during the year, including lectures by Thom Mayne, Rem Koolhaas and Steven Holl, as well as by leading architects, artists and engineers from Switzerland, Poland, Holland, Taiwan, Denmark, Japan and China.

"Certain Agendas" was published this spring by the new SA+P Press, whose mission is to highlight the widely divergent worldviews that thrive in MIT's Department of Architecture.

The publication of the book is an invitation to architects and intellectuals worldwide to chime in on the discussions. Copies are available now for $20 each at the headquarters of the Department of Architecture, MIT 7-337, 77 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge MA 02139.

Note: A full transcript of the D'Hooge-Chang debate has been published in Thresholds 33 'Formalism'. To locate a copy, visit Subscriptions are also available online at

Peter DePasquale, Rebecca Edson, Kathleen Flynn, Coryn Kempster, Marika Kobel, Stephen Perdue, Morgan Pinney, Casey Renner and James Shen were also involved in producing "Certain Agendas."

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