Interview: Valentina Sonzogni

Arts and architecture’s historian, Valentina Sonzogni has obtained her PhD at the Universität für Angewandte Kunst of Vienna in History and Theory of Architecture, with a thesis on the architect Ico Parisi. She has worked in many institutions, among the others the Kiesler Foundation in Vienna and The Guggenheim Foundation in New York, and published in magazines and catalogues, holding conferences in several italiana and international universities. She is also engaged in animal’s studies and anti-speciesism.

Students: Do you think that “control” infrastrucures could serve the goal of urban biodiversity, or they will always be a presumptuos imposition on animal’s behaviour? For instance, is it correct to create spaces of containment to preserve animal specimen, or this strategy is a negation of animals’ wild character?

Valentina Sonzogni: From a purely architectural point of view, I guess you can “play” with urban elements in order to increase or insert variation in the urban structures. As an animal rights activist – and from an ethical point of view – I do believe that this is unrelevant to animal welfare as long as they are not perceived like sentient beings and not things. Perhaps it would be more interesting to study and design new spaces for a future inter-species cohabitation.

Students: Can slaughter houses’ organization teach something useful on handling with animals, or their techniques were just based on pragmatic convenience?

VS: Although their techniques and structures are based on strictly pragmatic convenience, the history of the development of the various slaughterhouses typology can inform us on major social and urban changes, as I have attempted to show in my lecture. There is one author, Temple Grandin, who has been researching in depths the effect of handling animals in slaughtering procedures, also suggesting specifically designed structures and machines.

Students: What could be said about the French philo- sopher Jacques Derrida’s actual in uence on the so-called “deconstructionism”, and particularly on Peter Eisenman’s practice ? A first historical deconstruction leads to think this term has been extended to Frank Gehry, Rem Koolhaas, Zaha Hadid because of an exhibition called a Deconstruction organized by Philip Johnson in MoMA in 1989 that gathered their work. But what about Jacques Derrida’s philosophical concept of deconstruction that Eisenman pretended to translate to a architecture in the 70-80’s ? Is it again a more or less voluntary made historical association when Katia, computering systems and now protocells can represent deep and factual transformations of architectural design ?

VS: Derrida is a very complex matter. The history between Derrida and architecture is not going through Frank Gehry but through Peter Eisenman. At a certain point Peter Eisenman looks for a modeling philosophy. And because of a linguistic problem doesn’t really get what Derrida is talking about: deconstruction. Which is something very different in philosophy and especially in the philosophy of language, linguistic, and in architecture. It goes through deconstructing the site on which you are building to deconstruct the building and nally leads to a king of aesthetic of construction, like Coop Himmelbau, where you would have all this architecture made of things quite not coming together. On the mainstream deconstruction was received as if buildings exploded. But what Derrida was saying is very different. What Peter Eisenman did to involve Derrida in the discussion about architecture what to propose him to write a book together. And the book which resulted is a dialogue between Jacques Derrida and Peter Eisenman. Not that Jacques Derrida was already quite old at this point. Derrida was invited to make some meetings about the relation between the two elds and they then made some transcriptions of this material. Derrida worked with Bernard Tschumi which is the remodeling of La Villette, composed by a series of installation in the Parc called Les Folies de La Villette. He tried therefore to give a new sense to the site by giving a non-sense to it, deconstructing it. If you go to La Villette and walk around you’ll see that this things have no other will than giving a new point of view on the site. You can climb, move things around inside this pavilions… Peter Eisenman then made another intervention on the site of the slaughterhouse of La Villette, invited by Bernard Tschumi. If you go back to the source you understand that Jacques Derrida was always saying that he didn’t understand anything about what Peter Eisenman was saying during this meetings, that he is not an ar- chitect and not interested in architecture. He asked the most basic questions of someone who doesn’t know anything about architecture. What I can say about that -we should do another seminar of that because it is very interesting- is that this idea of deconstructivist architecture was made up by american architects to give a justi cation to some research they would do about folding shapes and things like that, without understanding fully what Jacques Derrida was doing. A book like The Grammatology by Jacques Derrida is really not easy to read even for a genius like Peter Eisenman. It was an historically constructed relation. And maybe it could be interesting for some of you to go back to the sources and investigate it. It’s a sort of recent problem in architecture and not enough has been done so far. There is a selection of writings by Jacques Derrida on architecture in italian, also in english. Adesso l’archittetura, Now architecture. And if you read this books you will realize that Derrida didn’t do anything about architecture. He was not interested in architecture.