The philosophical term “autonomy” redefined the formal, and thus disciplinary, parameters of architecture and polarized architectural theory during the second half of the 20th century. The assumption that autonomy implied detachment (isolation) rather than engagement (commitment) was symptomatic of a debate that focused on the history of architecture and relegated the history of autonomy. In contrast, this dissertation mainly studies the culture inherent to “autonomy” and the alliance between autonomy and urbanism.
Despite the relationship between architecture and the city is historical, the urban implications and the cultural roots of a critical autonomy have been barely studied. This theoretical effort introduces the term “autonomy” into the urban consciousness of the 21st century whose critical reflection has been left behind by a frantic reality that does not conform, exclusively, to the rationality of a formal reasoning.
The autonomy of architecture postulated the return to the discipline within an increasingly polarized architectural discourse after the functionalism of Modern architecture failed to tackle the cultural challenges of the cities destroyed by the two Great Wars. The philosophical synthesis of autonomy furthered the formal character of architecture by means of the immanent values of reason during the 20th century. This formal synthesis excluded the ephemeral, the unpredictable and the new—thus it excluded urbanism as condition.
The scientific foundations of architecture and urbanism, as disciplines, discriminate what escapes the limited power of reason for the sake of a dubious truth. This disciplinary oppression disregards our practical daily experience which, paradoxically, does not escape a rational explanation—a traffic accident, unusual heavy rain, the psychic automatism of surrealism, the fragmentation of cubism and film, madness, or death.
Unlike the critical antagonism of a disciplinary architecture, this dissertation argues that contemporary underpinnings of autonomy and urbanism reveal that the rational and the irrational—the will to form and the will to formlessness—do not exclude each other. As explained by Theodor W. Adorno: “The more rational and reasonable we become, the more convinced we become of the objective irrationality and alienation of the world.” The agonism inherent to this paradoxical dependency constitutes the deepest cultural structure of autonomy, triggering the self-critical method that has yet to be developed by the theory of architecture and urbanism.
The commandments of architectural autonomy, written in stone, excluded the axioms of the visionaries of the autonomy of urbanism. The debate of architectural autonomy disregarded the aesthetic sensibility of Gustave Flaubert who categorically asserted that “there is more to Art than the straightness of lines and the perfection of surfaces. Plasticity of style is not as large as the entire idea…. We have too many things and not enough forms.”