Anyone who wants to change the city, first needs to change the way people think. This is the core message of the doctoral dissertation of Nicola Marzot. According to the Italian-born doctoral candidate, a good building design starts with a good discussion about ideas.

Every building has a use value, which is, of course, important. “But the use value does not always come from the ideas that form the basis for the design”, argues Marzot. “Function should not take the place of value.”
In his doctoral dissertation, ‘The Typological Discourse and the Modern City. The creation of architectural language and the type as a project’  the focus is on typologies rather than on buildings. For example, a discussion about types in the architecture of classical Athens would be impossible without taking account of the ideas that shaped the world of the Greek polis. Similarly, he analyses how cities changed under the influence of Enlightenment thinking and the overthrowing of the Ancien Régime, up until the emergence of Modernism.

His radically different perspective on the essence of architecture leaves him feeling seriously pessimistic about the future of the city. The architecture of the last thirty years is lacking in “shareable values”, asserts Marzot. Existing values have been cast aside and none have emerged to replace them. Worse than that, even the discussion out this has grown weak. He fully understands why the modernism of the first half of the twentieth century triggered a counter-movement. But the post-modernism that succeeded it lacks communality. There is no debate about shared values underlying it. It is more about pretty pictures than an effective narrative. In his view, on the one hand this can be attributed to political developments during the same period, and on the other hand the unbridled economic growth and globalisation that the world has experienced in recent decades. The result has been a world of unlimited possibilities. Marzot argues, however, that this lack of boundaries also creates a lack of values. “Architectonic types cannot be created if there are no boundaries. We have done away with any form of discussion.” He considers this to be a worrying development in terms of the nature of urban morphology. The urban layers that have been most recently added are lacking in a shared language. He sees this disappearance of types as a foreshadowing of the demise of Western civilisation.

In the light of this extremely pessimistic conclusion, is the city doomed to meet its end? Not necessarily. Marzot takes some hope from the global economic crisis. It places limits on what was limitless and forces conflicting standpoints to be weighed up and  shared interests and fundamental values to be formulated. “I am not nostalgic, but I would like to see a return to the discussion as it used to be. Without it, architecture has no future.” 

Published: December 2014