To say that the architecture and work of DOGMA is subtle might seem like a stretch. As those who are familiar with their work and career know the radically leftist position that DOGMA’s work takes. How, might one ask, is it possible for an architecture office today be so far to the left and yet think of practicing architecture at all?
DOGMA’s way to deal with this question -besides all the historicity that drives their works- is to turn to ‘formalism’. What is the most important trope for DOGMA’s work? It is ‘disconnection’. Disconnect from ‘context’ -which is the embodiment of radical capitalism. Disconnect from current forms of lives -which is soaked in excessive reproduction. By disconnect it does not mean to move out of the context but to be “withing and against” the context. The term of choice in Aureli’s writings is finite. As when Aureli writes in The Possibility of an Absolute Architecture: “The possibility of an absolute architecture is thus both the possibility of making the city and also the possibility of understanding the city and its opposing force -urbanization- through the very finite nature of architectural form.” In fact, the first chapter of the book starts with the following quote:
“If white and black blend, soften, and unite
A thousand ways, is there no black or white?”
-Alexander Pope, essay on Man, 1733.
Formalism in architecture for DOGMA is a necessary tool, primarily because for DOGMA it is of utmost importance that we consider architecture as an autonomous discipline. Formalism becomes a way to establish one’s own terms to engage with the practice of architecture. It would mean that it is necessary to do architecture for architecture’s sake -first of all. This is another kind of disconnect we see in their practice and formalism is a wonderful tool for such disconnections. Another aspect that is crucial about formalism for DOGMA is its non-personal aspect. Which means, formalism, understood as a work governed by its own rules erases the question of authorship in the work. This aspect of erasing oneself is of importance for DOGMA -as authorship often floats in the same ocean as the copy-rights, capitalism. As Aureli briefly remarks in his short essay titled ‘how to erase oneself?’ : “Choose a simple geometrical form (square, rectangle, etc.) and than work out its further articulation from the logic of the initial form. The object of the exercise must be a building and the organization of plans and elevations must be the logical consequence of the first step.” However, we will see that for Aureli, this is only one of the steps. Equally important aspect is that of life and living and its relationship to architecture.
This brings us to the second focus in DOGMA’s work, domesticity. Domesticity for DOGMA is the place where politics plays out in its most subtle, and yet radical manner. Domesticity, understood as set of everyday practices, our daily routines of production, consumption, reproduction, rest and so on is, for DOGMA, precisely the site of proliferation and stronghold of capitalism. In that sense, architecture becomes sort of a background which frames domesticity. The project of architecture then becomes a twofold project: 1) to bring attention to the background that is framing domesticity and 2) to domesticity itself. This intention to rework the background frame can be seen as a consistent theme in DOGMA’s work right from the beginning of the studio’s career.
This is sharply, and wonderfully, illustrated in each of the collages and drawings that DOGMA has produced. Particularly, those illustrating the practice of inhabitation / domesticity. These illustrations, which have become super influential among the architecture circles -to an extent that one can say this movement of architectural illustration has even reached a mannerism phase already- have clearly revived an interest in the Surrealist artists among architects-particularly from and around Brussels where DOGMA’s office is based. This form of architectural illustration has in some sense become a hallmark of the group of architects discussed here. But at the moment, what is interesting about these illustrations is the way the attention of the viewer is constantly brought to the background architecture. This is done sometimes, by literally not drawing the architecture at all -architecture literally becomes the background canvas. What is illustrated is just domestic and work objects scattered in the room in a manner that suggests human inhabitation of the space. Even the humans are not drawn, more often than not, in the illustration. The absence of both architecture and even humans is able to powerfully alludes to the presence of both architecture and the humans -including the capacity of architecture and domesticity.
To that extent, the most important architectural tool for DOGMA is the plan. Plan, which lays out the frame in which life would take place. Hence, any architectural intervention ‘within and against’ the given context -capitalism for DOGMA- must begin from the radical reorganization of the domestic space -or home. One of the ways that DOGMA does this is by restructuring the house plan with respect to the contemporary forms of work becoming part of domestic life and vice-a-versa.
In my reading, this trope of disconnectedness brings their work very close to the Object-Oriented Ontology. Among other things, what is of great importance to Graham Harman and other OOO thinkers are autonomous objects, discontinuity, formalism (but with human ingredients). By mixing abstract formalism with domesticity DOGMA’s work illustrate another way to manure around the non-human part of formalism. Perhaps, an unintended consequence of DOGMA’s work is to demonstrate a way to engage with some of the key ideas of OOO with a left leaning architectural practice.
As Peg Rawes puts it in Is there an Object-Oriented Architecture? “I am aware of current conversations about autonomy going on around Pier Vittorio Aureli’s teaching at the Architectural Association at the moment. It is an attempt to deal with a political architectural identity. I am sceptical about this approach, however, and I do not think it is the way forward. This version relies on the classic universal male; it relies on an avant-gardism that assumes there is a post-critical scenario, which again I do not agree with.” While there is some truth to this statement, one should not forget that more often than not several of DOGMA’s collaborators are women architects and theoreticians. Besides, whether or not this is the way forward, it would be difficult to discount the systematically developing, and sharp, body of work of DOGMA in the future understanding of architecture.