chapter  17
12 Pages

Pragmatics: towards a theory of things

Recent turns in architectural theory all share a reaction against totalizing


Hilde Heynen and Gwendolyn Wright1

‘Things’ in architecture have included buildings, obviously, but depending upon the scale

at which we observe and experience the world they also comprise topographies, cities,

streets, houses, schools of architecture and technical colleges, rooms, lintels, lavatories,

windows, lamps, escutcheons and nail heads. With the rise of the digital, however,

these solid, finite and material things are rapidly melting into air. The fluidity of the

modern world, à la Zygmunt Bauman,2 means that the traditional division between

theory and practice, between what architects one hundred years ago would have

understood as the dichotomy of ‘architecture’ and ‘building’, no longer obtains for the

world outside the narrow confines of most contemporary architectural offices and

academies. And yet we urgently need a ‘reality check’, literally understood, in order to

ground architecture, once again, in our material existence. ‘Historians, sociologists and

philosophers compile knowledge without testing it against reality’; so wrote the French

architect Patrick Bouchain,3 hero of this story, in his reclaiming of the art and craft of

building from the reaches of dry, disengaged theory.