At the beginning of April, Mark gave his inaugural lecture as Forbes Chair of Architecture at the University of Edinburgh. The lecture, which was titled ‘What’s Interesting? On the Ascendency of an Evaluative Term’, has now been posted online here.
Here’s the abstract:
“A celebrated aphorism – attributed to the renowned modernist architect Mies van der Rohe – runs, ‘I’d rather be good than interesting’. The phrasing suggests that, for Mies, it was possible to be one or the other, but probably not both at the same time. To be good meant to produce works of universally recognizable and enduring value, as opposed to ones that were likely to be mere curiosities, distractions soon to be passed over for something else. In design discourses today – and this is very striking in architectural studio pedagogy – this relation has been entirely overturned. What has happened, however, looks not so much like a switching around of the categories, as the complete absorption of one by the other: now it’s good to be interesting, indeed better than to be only ‘good’ (which is no longer what it used to be). Moreover, this shift has been accompanied by a kind of rhetorical ratcheting-up of the word ‘interesting’. It has been argued that past uses of interesting as an evaluative term inevitably prefix the word with a silent ‘merely’; however now we seem to be in a situation in which that implicit ‘merely’ is usually enthusiastically transformed into an explicit and not-so-silent ‘really’. Reflecting on this, this lecture will consider the rise of ‘interesting’ as a critical category, and examine the sort of judgement-in-suspension that it seems to enact, addressing what kinds of issues might be at stake in it, and what it means in relation to our broader cultural expectations of architecture. The argument will develop with reference to writers and critics that include Robin Evans, Sianne Ngai and Mario Perniola.”