While the notion of type has waned in architectural discourse in recent decades, it has emerged as one of the dominant forces guiding real-estate development today. Typology Redux, a conference organized by Northeastern University and Tim Love, Associate Professor and Principal of Utile, began with this apparent paradox to interrogate new theoretical frameworks for designers operating within these market demands. Typology, it seems, has re-entered architectural praxis through the back door.
The first panel, under the theme of ‘Pragmatics,’ engaged designers, critics, and developers to question how architects can work within existing, market-driven typologies to create better urbanism. If the examples, ranging from Roche-Dinkeloo’s Union Carbide headquarters to Bing Thom Architects’ project for Central City in Surrey, offered ways for architects to innovate within an imposed set of typologies, the second panel on ‘History’ challenged our very conception of what a ‘type’ is. In contextualizing the various appearances of this notion throughout its long history, Alan Plattus urged us to question the seeming revival of a functionalist understanding of type, in its current association with real-estate exigencies.
Meanwhile K. Michael Hays posited the re-conceptualization of type as a process that can generate new possibilities, arguing against its reduction to a form of a posteriori abstraction. In the concluding panel on ‘Practices,’ these reflections were re-directed toward architectural practice, as designers and critics questioned where room for typological innovation might lie in face of the external forces acting upon the profession today.
At the close of a day full of incisive observations and lively discussions, we were ultimately left with this parting thought: Between restrictive real-estate logics and idealized conceptions of the type’s generative potential, where is there room for negotiation?