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ARQ (Santiago)

versión On-line ISSN 0717-6996

ARQ (Santiago)  no.104 Santiago abr. 2020 


The Architecture of Laws

Francisco Díaz1 

1Editor revista ARQ, Profesor Asistente, Escuela de Arquitectura, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Santiago, Chile.

Modern civilization, Franco “Bifo” Berardi argues, can be understood as a colonization of reality through laws. His assertion not only included the law itself - whose rules attempted to define a norm to regulate social activity and ‘normalize’ it - but also the scientific laws that, according to this Italian philosopher, sought to “reduce the becoming of physical matter to the repetition of a model” (Berardi, 2018:40) and thus overcome natural chaos through reason and measure (which share the word ratio in Latin).

Architecture was also part of that civilizing process. The recovery of the ‘orders’ in the Renaissance and the subsequent search for types, laws and even standards for the built form were nothing else than strategies to ‘normalize’ the production of buildings. During the last century, however, such normalizing aspiration, of which architecture was part of, was questioned from very different flanks. From one extreme, the attachment to reason was criticized by currents of thought that pointed out to the interests served by standardization and normalization. From the other, a global, and at the same time atomized, market began to achieve dynamism due to a differentiated and customized offer. Finally, the vindicating politics of identity also questioned this normalizing leviathan incapable to understand the nuances that make up the heterogeneity of the social fabric.

Unfolding and understanding the diversity of critiques towards the norm can be useful to locate the attitudes with which contemporary architecture face laws. On the one hand, opposing the iconic, spectacle-architecture typical of neoliberalism, a rigorously contained architecture appears - one that finds in geometry and composition laws an aesthetic key that allows it to recover a certain territory of certainties. Another trend tries to explore, in the legal loopholes, the opportunities for an architecture that overcomes the empire of externally imposed norms and standards. At the same time, and in a more cultural than practical manner, cutting-edge research on the history of architecture has focused on revealing the interests and contradictions implicit in the laws it is subject.

All those possibilities conform this issue of ARQ. In the portfolio, Medrano and Zegers present inclusive ways to disseminate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The interview to Brandlhuber+ presents a number of strategies to use the law as a creative trigger. Hornillos takes advantage of a legal loophole to make unforeseen uses possible. Planta Studio shows us a way to take advantage of the regulations to benefit the project quality. Carrasco analyzes the ideological assumptions behind the rasantes regulations in Chile in the early eighties. DAAR proposes to use heritage laws to protect a refugee camp in Palestine. De Nordenflycht observes the inherent contradictions between the different laws that affect a heritage building. Arcada explores an intervention outside the law. Monroy and de Moraes analyze a legal conflict between the state and a community of artists. Recetas Urbanas shows us the contribution that architecture can make in situations of illegality. Ciudades de Octubre details the laws and decrees that determined social segregation in Santiago. Paralela offers an alternative so that profitability does not go to the detriment of the city. Pezo von Ellrichshausen proposes an architecture that generates - and ascribes to - its own laws. Finally, in the debate, we analyze two views regarding the analogy between the house and the constitution, based on the current discussion in Chile.

Because if the law is the framework that allows a civilized and egalitarian coexistence - in theory, we should be equals before the law - the constitution is the architecture housing that equality. Such architecture can be restrictive or liberating; rigid or flexible; it can promote community or individuality; it can be solidary or subsidiary; authoritarian or civilizing. The exact proportion of all these characteristics is what determines the qualities of social life and the development opportunities of a country’s inhabitants. By defining possibilities and impossibilities, and by being the law that governs all the other laws and institutional agreements of a country, the constitution is, after all, the space in which society can move.

In fact, albeit for different reasons, the last two issues of ARQ have been produced under a state of emergency2. This temporary suspension of legal order shows that there is no space for exceptional moments in the constitution, to the point that it must suspend itself to maintain order. Hence, the importance of the process of constitutional change that will reopen in the spring (when winter passes and hopefully the pandemic with it): for the first time in Chilean history, we will have the opportunity to discuss a new constitution in a democratic and representative way. It is an occasion where our capacity for civic dialogue will be put to a test that, hopefully, we will know how to pass. Only then can we show how civilized we are.


BERARDI, Franco, Breathing: Chaos and Poetry (South Pasadena, CA: Semiotexte, 2018). [ Links ]

Creative Commons License Este es un artículo publicado en acceso abierto bajo una licencia Creative Commons