Comma, Usage

A friend recently lent me a copy of Adam Caruso’s The Feeling of Things.  I enjoyed much of what Adam Caruso had to say.  It’s a serious, reflective book which ties together ideas about contemporary practice, place-making and the richness of the ordinary.  But the first chapters of the book let it down in one way: with uncomfortable grammar and syntax.  The collection of papers starts with the newest writing and working backwards. I enjoyed the older work much more for the simple reason that the technical quality of the writing was so much higher – I didn’t have to brace myself before braving each paragraph.  Did Adam Caruso decide in 2004 that he didn’t need an editor any more?

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Some sample sentences from pages 12-20 of the book:

‘Site less and less emerging from an elusive global condition these projects increasingly engage only with the egos of their authors.’
 
‘The act of choosing, from a spectrum of formal and historical posibilities, has always been important in the production of art.’
 
‘Yet, it is hard to imagine any of these architects, or their followers, ever doing a little, when they could be doing a lot.’
 
‘Beuys, personally supervised the installation of the first fifty or so trees and basalt blocks, and his celebrity became fused with the work for the purposes of Documenta 7.’
 
‘Perhaps its deep structural connections to the economy and political power limit architecture’s room for manoeuvre, it does not have the option of opting out of the market.’

Sentences are stretched and contorted, rife with subclauses and carried-over meanings. Sometimes they are simply gramatically or syntactically wrongheaded.  This isn’t a reflection on the elegance of the ideas in the book, which are as considered and refined as Caruso St John’s architecture.  But if a practice expects to be taken seriously on the intellectual stage – and Caruso St John clearly do – and chooses to publish academic writing in support of their work, those texts should be treated with precision and accuracy.  In the introduction, Caruso comments on the importance of the act of writing to the practice. ‘Although the arguments about choices of words could be tedious, the discussions about content, the pouring [sic] over texts and catalogues, the revisiting of buildings and exhibitions, these were central to the development of our work.’ 

Architectural writing is a strange mode of communication, often opaque and unorthodox.  Nevertheless, there are good reasons to expect competence and respect convention.  One is that technically sound writing is better able to convey ideas, especially to people not accustomed to the vagaries of architectural discourse.  Another is that writing offers the opportunity to set the architect’s ideas and beliefs about their work against the buildings themselves.  Writing is an instrument; well-crafted, clear, intelligible writing is instrumental.

Adam Caruso, The Feeling of Things, Barcelona: Ediciones Poligrafa, 2008.