Monday, September 14, 2015

Between Fact, Fiction, and Fetish: The Making of Factish Architecture

SCI-Arc Semester: Fall 2015
Instructor: Ferda Kolatan (
Assistant: Rachael McCall (  

Between Fact, Fiction, and Fetish: The Making of Factish Architecture

The word “fact” seems to point to external reality, and the word “fetish” seems to designate the foolish beliefs of a subject. Within the depth of their Latin roots, both conceal the intense work of construction that allows for both the truth of facts and the truth of minds. The construal “factish” authorizes us to not take too seriously the ways in which subjects and objects are conventionally conjoined: that which is set into action never fails to transform the action, giving rise neither to the objectified tool nor to the reified subject.
                                              - Bruno Latour, On the Modern Cult of the Factish Gods (2010)

In recent discourse the long standing principles of fact, fiction, and fetish have been significantly challenged and new concepts of understanding what determines our perception of “the real” have been offered. The once clear demarcation line between these terms has all but dissolved, leaving us with a much stranger reality of fictionalized facts and factual fictions. Speculative Realist thought questions both our world of ideas as well as what we perceive to be objectively real, thus opening up in the process a whole new paradigm for design as well as the discipline of architecture.
In this studio we will examine the above premise with an emphasis on two particular issues:

1.      The empowerment of objects. In architecture the notion of object usually falls into one of two categories. Either we describe the totality of a building as an object, in which all individual building parts and systems are being absorbed into a singular expression. Or, we see building components as objects, which only gain significance through their performative collaboration with other parts. In this studio we will seek alternative ways of understanding objects as partially factual and partially fictional, semi-autonomous entities, which can never be fully exhausted (or understood) through either expressive gesture or building ecology.

2.      The introduction of gaps. Gaps are necessary means to estrange objects from us and from each other. Estrangement in turn is a necessary means to reevaluate our notion of “a real”, in which facts, fiction, and fetish are no longer understood as neatly fenced in categories. In the fields of art, photography, and documentary filmmaking these categories have already been questioned and dissolved while architecture still mostly adheres to an antiquated view of the scientific, objective, and real on the one side, and the artistic, subjective, and fictional on the other. Gaps are conceptual (and material) tools that force a break with these preconceived categories and open up new ways of thinking and making architecture.

The studio will design a new ventilation tower for the Holland Tunnel in New York City. Ventilation towers are already estranged in many ways both from the context of the city and their own inner workings. While they foremost serve a particular mechanical function, their scale and visibility also requires them to perform aesthetically within the given urban context, thus generating a first gap between the content of the building and its exterior. Departing from here the students will formulate their own “factish” approach to the design of the tower by accommodating techniques of estrangement explored in a preliminary assignment at the beginning of the semester. Also, each student may choose to add additional program to the tower if she/he feels it necessary in order to articulate more precisely the studio goals. 

Building Site

Existing Building