Every now and again we come across a book that is doubly refreshing and insightful. Unlike the host of similarly themed Animal Architecture texts out there (Karl von Fritch or Michael Hansell) Catherine Ingraham’s “Architecture, Animal, Human: The Asymmetrical Condition” takes a markedly different tack on the history of Animals in relationship to Architecture. In Architecture, Animal, Human Ingraham opens the door to new critical paths in contemporary architectural discourse through an encompassing, and succinct presentation of our current problematic post-humanist, or post-animal context. And to be honest it’s the best marriage of architectural and animal theory that we’ve ever read. Throughout the books 330 loaded and beautiful pages Ingraham critically presents the foundations of western theory, humanism, history, biology and architecture to show our deeply rooted speciesist prejudices:
“The Animal brings with it, among other things, a danger and fascination that comes from outside architecture and is never fully assimilated or appropriated by it. It raises, as a live subject, serious aesthetic, performative, and ethical expectations that are almost never fully met.”
“Animals, who exhibit life in highly concentrated and diver forms, have the power to completely alter our way of thinking about ourselves, both the form of ourselves and the forms we make, live in and respond to. But imagining a paradigm shift in architecture in which animal life would play a part is an extremely difficult task.”
However Ingraham, for obvious reasons we suppose, side steps the serious questions of design and form-making in today’s architectural practice. Much of the book quotes historical architectural pieces and certainly there is no lack of aesthetic theory or, talk of form-making but when it comes to actual design and implementation of the new paradigm of post-animal architecture the reader is left some-what at a loss. There is the now almost expected hat-tip to Gregg Lynn, as master of bio-morphism and computational design in her chapter on “processing” and the role of the machine in design. But, as a reader, to end again on the machine’s role in form-making we found as a surprisingly deflating culmination to an otherwise extremely interesting work. Perhaps there is a second volume pending… In the end we are left to simply agree with Ingraham, that as she said before, “imagining a paradigm shift in architecture in which animal life would play a part is an extremely difficult task” and usually disappointing. From our end we’ll keep trying to imagine.