There’s nothing worse for the architect than the phrase, “That’s not realistic.” That simple phrase can be a shorthand for many things: it’s too costly, it looks structurally unsound, it won’t work with the program, no one will know how to build it, etc. However, the most interesting version of why something seems unrealistic is this one: “It looks weird.” In other words, the proposed architecture doesn’t reflect how reality should look. Ever since the publication of Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, but perhaps long before that as well, we’ve had reasons to doubt the mind’s ability to possess absolute knowledge. Even in antiquity, Plato describes our fate as one where we’re stuck in a world of shadows, doomed to never see things as they are. What’s interesting to me is that this has never been fully digested by our practices—all of which are built on assumptions about what constitutes the real. This is where philosophy becomes very valuable for questioning some of these assumptions. We will always have to assume some things about the real, but sometimes, our assumptions become too static and unproductive. Sometimes we need the real to change. If in fact we have no access to the thing itself, whatever we think the real is pertains more to how we think the real should look, rather than what it is in an absolute sense. Because of this, there is a representational problem with regard to the real, and this is where I think architecture is at its best. There is no other human practice that is so much about the problem of the real. Architecture is the first thing that tells us what reality looks like.
David Ruy is an architect, theorist, and director of Ruy Klein in New York City. Ruy Klein examines contemporary problems at the intersection of architecture, nature, and technology. Encompassing a wide array of experimentation, projects study the mutual imbrications of artificial and natural regimes that are shaping an ever more synthetic world. Widely published and exhibited, Ruy Klein has been the recipient of numerous awards recognizing the firm as one of the leading experimental practices in architecture today. David received his M Arch from Columbia University and his BA from St. John’s College with a concentration in philosophy and mathematics. David is currently an Associate Professor at the Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Design at Pratt Institute.
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