Mark Wigley: Architecture in the Age of Radio


The FORART Lecture 2013 was given by Mark Wigley, Dean of the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation at Columbia University. The lecture explored architecture’s nervous encounter with liquids – the material that flows in pipes and the immaterial flow of radio waves. Wigley used Buckminster Fuller as a reference point for thinking about the key questions we face today.

Our buildings, like ourselves, are filled with pipes. Water, gas, electricity, and information flow inside walls, floor sand ceilings, crisscross basements, and run across rooftops. A complex interconnected net of tubes supports each space, from the largest waste pipes to the finest wires. Yet these tubes are rarely allowed to enter these spaces. They are asked to bring things in or take things away but are meant to remain outside. A pipe can only enter a room if concealed. Pipes must always be close to us yet unseen and unheard. A huge effort is made so that the sound of the movement within them cannot enter. No evidence of flow is allowed. No rustle, gurgle, whoosh, hum, shudder, click, or thud. Architecture itself might be largely defined by this psycho-sexual embarrassment. After all, the basic definition of interior has now less to do with walls, doors, and windows and more to do with the countless valves that regulate the flows in all the tubes and the array of orifices through which material is allowed to enter and leave our spaces. And the ever-expanding repressed world of pipes always has its leaks, blockages, and occasional overflows. Buildings and the discipline of architecture occasionally gets covered in what it wants to exclude. There is an astonishing architecture of pipes – a radical liquid architecture.

Mark Wigley is Dean of the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation at Columbia University. An accomplished scholar and design teacher, Mark Wigley has written extensively on the theory and practice of architecture and is the author of Constant’s New Babylon: The Hyper-Architecture of Desire (1998); White Walls, Designer Dresses: The Fashioning of Modern Architecture (1995); and The Architecture of De- construction: Derrida’s Haunt (1993). He co-edited The Activist Drawing: Retracing Situationalist Architectures from Constant’s New Babylon to Beyond (2001). Wigley has served as curator for exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art, New York; The Drawing Center, New York; Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal; and Witte de With Museum, Rotterdam. He received both his Bachelor of Architecture (1979) and his Ph.D. (1987) from the University of Auckland, New Zealand.

Forart Lecture 2013, press release