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TitleThe Singular Objects of Architecture
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Page 1

I ,,,.,,""" ...... " .. ,," ........... -"" ..
Jean Baudrillard and Jean Nouvel

, i
1 translated by Robert Bonon"o foreword by K. Mi<hael Hays

Page 2

The University of Minnesota Press gratefully acknowledges transla-
tion assistance provided for this book by the French Ministry of

Culture.

The publication of this book was assisted by a bequest from Josiah H.
Chase to honor his parents, Ellen Rankin Chase and Josiah Hook
Chase, Minnesota territorial pioneers.

Originally published in French as Les objets singuliers: Architecture et
philosophic, by Jean Baudrillard and Jean Nouvel. Copyright 2000 by
Editions Calmann-Levy.

English translation copyright 2002 by Robert Bononno

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced,
stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any
means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or other-
wise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

Published by the University of Minnesota Press
III Third Avenue South, Suite 290
Minneapolis, MN 55401-2520
http://www.upress.umn.edu

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-publication Data

Baudrillard, Jean.
[Objets singuliers. English]
The singular objects of architecture! Jean Baudrillard and Jean

Nouvel; translated by Robert Bononno.
p. cm.

ISBN 0-8166-3912-4 (alk. paper)
1. Architecture-Philosophy. 2. Aesthetics. 1. Nouvel,

Jean, 1945- II. Title.
NA2500.B3413 2002
720'.I-dc21

2002008024

Printed in the United States of America on acid-free paper

The University of Minnesota is an equal-opportunity educator and

employer.

12 11 10 09 08 07 06 05 04 03 02 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

I
'I
I

Contents

Foreword K. Michael Hays

Acknowledgments

I. First Interview
Radicality-Singular Objects in Architecture-Illusion,

Virtuality, Reality-A Destabilized Area?-Concept, Irresolution,
Vertigo-Creation and Forgetfulness-Values of Functionalism-New York
or Utopia-Architecture: Between Nostalgia and Anticipation-(Always)
Seduction, Provocation, Secrets-The Metamorphosis of Architecture-
The Aesthetics of Modernity-Culture-A Heroic Architectural Act?-Art,
Architecture, and Postmodernity-Visual Disappointment, Intellectual

Disappointment-The Aesthetics of Disappearance-Images of
Modernity-The Biology of the Visible-A New Hedonism?

II. Second Interview
Truth in Architecture-Another Tower for Beaubourg-A Shelter for

Culture?-On Modification: Mutation or Rehabilitation-Architectural
Reason-The City ofTomorrow-Virtual Architecture, Real Architecture-
Computer Modeling and Architecture-lightness and Heaviness-What

Utopia?-Architecture as the Desire for Omnipotence-Berlin and
Europe-Architecture as the Art of Constraint-Transparency-light as
Matter-Disappearance-What Does Architecture Bear Witness To?-
Singularity-Neutrality, Universality, and Globalization-Destiny and

Becoming-The Idea of Architecture and History-Another Kind of
Wisdom-The Question of Style-Inadmissible Complicity-

freedom as Self-Realization

Page 24

32 [] First Interview

in dualistic terms. If beings from another place were to appear,
there would be a renewed possibility of interaction, but even
here, no interaction is possible on the level of the code, of genet-
ics, basic elements, et cetera. There is no more interaction. True,
there is infinite combination, and we'll go as far as we can in that
direction-not despairingly, of course. No, quite the contrary.
There's even a kind of collective fascination with the image
that this reality offers us in return. But we can no longer claim
that some notion of happiness or freedom will ultimately be
involved, because they've disappeared, they've volatilized into
that analytic research we've been talking about. So is that the
end of modernity?

A New Hedonism?

J.N. We can have a more optimistic vision of things ... especially
once we manage to dominate matter in such a way that it enables
us to resolve practical problems, problems tied to certain kinds
of pleasure, even if the initial pleasure is perverted by excess ....
The wireless telephone is a good example. You can call anywhere
in the world from any other point in the world, just as it's pos-
sible today to press on a piece of glass and make it transparent
or opaque and feel your hand warm up on contact. Everything
takes place over a surface of a few millimeters .... Such techno-
logical innovations are heading in the direction of new sensations
and added comfort, in the direction of new forms of pleasure.
So maybe the situation isn't as desperate as all that!

lB. I wasn't talking about despair. I simply find that there is a
strange attraction, a fascination with such things .... Is fascina-
tion a form of happiness? For me it is, but it's not the happi-
ness associated with seduction; it's something else. The vertigo
that pushes us to go further and further in that direction exists,
clearly, and we all share in it collectively, but we have to make
sure that when we reach the boundaries of our explorations, we
don't trigger processes that are completely obliterating. When
we reach the micro-micro, even in biology, we end up triggering
viruses. They may have been there all along, but we've managed

First Interview [] 33

to reactivate them, we've brought them back to life. We discov-
ered them, but they discovered us as well, and there are all sorts
of ways things can hackfire, including those that lead to what
may be a kiud of fatal reversibility. We are no longer the masters.
I don't like to play prophet, but we shouldn't believe that all
these analytic advances will lead to greater control of the world,
or to increased happiness. On the contrary, even science recog-
nizes that it has less and less control over the real, the object
ceases to exist-at some point it simply disappears. So where
do we look? OK, so it's a bit like that ideal object discussed dur-
ing the Enlightenment: progress, the rights of man, and all the
rest .... So there we have our object. That doesn't mean it's been
lost. It's still a nostalgic vision, it's just that it's come apart, it's
been dispersed, when what we wanted was to force it into its
ultimate reality. And in that sense it has disappeared, it's gone,
although it may come back under a different form, a fatal form,
in the worst sense of the word-we just don't know .... What's
going to happen with all the negative exponential processes that
have been triggered and which we know are moving much more
quickly than the positive processes? In any case, the outlook, if
there is one, is one of complete ambiguity. That's truly the end
of modernity. As long as modernity was ahle to believe that
there was still a positive direction and the negative would be
buried deeper and deeper in positivity, we were still very much
in line with modernity. But once everything we're searching for
becomes ambiguous, ambivalent, reversible, random, then mo-
dernity is over-and it's just as true for politics.

Page 25

/I
Second Interview

Page 47

78 [] Second Interview

complicity. Obviously I have a kind of prejudice against free-
dom. Against liberation, in any case. Freedom has become the
ideal of modernity. And this no longer seems to pose any prob-
lems. When the iodividual is freed, he no longer knows what he
is. Be yourselfl Be free! That's part of the idea, the new diktat
of modernity. Under the constraiots of this new liberation, the
individual is forced to find an identity for himself. Today we
still live with the ultimatum that we find our identity, fulfill
ourselves, realize our full potential. In this sense we are «free"
because we have the technical means for this realization. But

this is a prodigal freedom and culminates io individualism. It
hasn't always been like this. The freedom of a subject struggling
with his freedom is somethiog else. Todaywe have an iodividual
who isn't struggling with anything but who has set himself the
goal of realizing himself in every possible dimension. We can't
really postulate the problem of freedom. It's no more than a
kind of operationality.

J.N. Is that what you mean when you write, "Ultimately, we exist
in a society where the concept of architecture is no longer pos-
sible, the architect no longer has any freedom"?

J.B. No, not exactly. What would freedom mean withio an
ideological field that is no longer the same? Freedom in a state
of subjection, want, is an idea and, at the same time, a kind
of destiny: you desire it, you look for it. Liberation is not at
all the same thiog as freedom. That's what I wanted to make
clear. When you're free, when you think you're living a realized
freedom, it's a trap. You are standing before a mirage of the re-
alization of various possibilities .... Everything that was once
idea, dream, utopia, is virtually realized. You are faced with the

paradox of a freedom that has no finality. It's simply the conse-
cration of your identity.

J.N. What are you sayiog?

J.B. Well, that you have the right to fulfill yourself in the name of
this freedom. Simply put, at some poiot io time, you no longer

Second Interview [] 79

know who you are. It's a surgical operation. The history of your
identity helps set the trap. The sexes find their sexual identity,
and nothiog more is shared between them, they exist io their
own bubble. Alterity? Freedom is charged with a heavy load of
remorse. And the liberation of people, in the historical sense of
the term, is also a fantastic deception. There is always an element
of the unthinkable that won't have been evacuated. So there's a
kind of remorse because of what's transpired. We're free-so

what? Everything begins at the point where, in reality, we have
the impression that somethiog was supposed to be fulfilled.
Take the idea that the individual becomes free-every man
for himself, of course. At that poiot there is a terrible betrayal
toward ... somethiog like the species, I don't know what else
to say about it. Everyone dre,ams of individual emancipation,
and yet there remains a kind of collective remorse about it. This
surfaces in the form of self-hatred, deadly experimentation,
fratricidal warfare ... a morbid state of affairs. There is even
a final requirement that this state of affairs itself be questioned.
Liberation is too good to be true. So you look for a destiny, an
alterity, which is artificial, most of the time. You're forced to in-
vent the alterity, to invent something risky, to rediscover at least
a kind of ideal freedom, not a realized form, because that really
is unbearable. The absence of destiny is itself a fatality! So what
can the architect do with this freedom?

J.N. The architect is not free himself .... And men are not free
with respect to architecture. Architecture is always a response to
a question that wasn't asked. Most of the time, we are asked to
handle contingencies, and if while handling these needs, we can
create a bit of architecture, so much the better .... But we also

realize that three-quarters of the planet is not actively thinking
about architecture. And where it is too present, people resent it.
Where is the point of balance between these two extremes?

1.B. It's not a handicap; it's a strategic value.

J.N. Regardless of the future form our civilization takes, there will
always be a place for architecture, there will always be a particular

Page 48

80 [] Second Interview

strategy for inhabiting it, a territory to defend. Even if we start
with the assumption that the city will disappear, in the sense
that it will no longer be physically present as a territory-which
doesn't lend itself to an urban vision of architecture-there will
still always be architectural acts that assume some relation to
the new data and which will be a source of pleasure. We've been
told that the book would disappear with the Internet, but we'll
always need a home, some place to live .... Even if the architec-
tural gesture tends to become increasingly automatic.

J.B. For cloned encephalons!

J.N. An automatic architecture created by interchangeable ar-
chitects. This fatality doesn't bother us; it's an essential part of
today's reality. We still have the exception to invalidate the rule.

The philosopher and writer Jean BaudriUard has taught at sev-
eral universities around the world. He is the author of numer-
ous booles and essays. In English his most notable works are
Simulacra and Simulation, America, The Vital nlusion, Symbolic
Exchange and Death, and Consumer Society.

Jean Nouvel, an architect of international renown, has designed
r:Institut du Monde Arabe and the Cartier Foundation in Paris.
With Paul Jodard, he is author of International Design Yearbook
(1995) and Present and Futures: Architecture in Cities. He also
worked with Conway Lloyd Morgan on Jean Nouvel: The Ele-
ments of Architecture.

Robert Bononno is a recent recipient of a National Endowment for
the Arts award for the translation of Isabelle Eberhardt, Seven
Years in the Life of a Woman: Letters and Journals. His many trans-
lations include Cyberculture (Minnesota, 2001), Kubrick: The De-
finitive Edition, French New Wave, and Ghost Image.

K. Michael Hays is Eliot Noyes Professor of Architecture Theory at
Harvard University and adjunct curator of architecture at the

Whitney Museum of American Art. His publications include
Architectural Theory since 1968.

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