Mario Carpo

Mario Carpo is the Reyner Banham Professor of Architectural History and Theory at the Bartlett, UCL, London.


The Pandemic Changed Everything—or So We Thought

The following text was drafted in response to the initial prompt in The Architect's Newspaper’s “Post-Pandemic Potentials” series.

Barely a few weeks ago, while self-isolating in London during the grimmest, darkest day of the pandemic, I was among the many who saw the ongoing catastrophe as the final collapse of the mechanical age—or more precisely, of that period in the history of the industrial revolution that is now often called the Anthropocene, characterized by standardized mass-production, global mechanical transportation, and the unlimited burning of fossil fuels. We all thought that the demise of the Anthropocene would be brought about, incrementally, by global warming—which might, perhaps, have given us the time to mitigate or counteract the consequences of climate change and the exhaustion of natural resources. Instead, the end of the machine-made environment came all of sudden, the space of a fortnight, not by way of climate change and global warming but by way of viral change and global infection. When COVID-19 came, and a number of nation-wide lockdowns went into effect (around mid-March in Europe), the entire infrastructure of the industrial world as we knew it suddenly shut down: Planes stopped flying, factories stopped producing, schools, stores, and offices were evacuated and left empty. Yet life carried on, somehow, for those who were not infected, because farming, local artisan production, food distribution, utilities, telecommunications, and, crucially, the internet kept functioning.

The Age of Travel is Over

Modernism always wanted to have it both ways: on the one hand, modernist architecture was supposed to be, in theory, the same in all places; that's one reason why modernism in architecture was also called the International Style. If all modernist buildings look the same, when you see one you have seen them all: no need for further travel. Yet throughout the 20th century modernist culture and technology enthusiastically endorsed and favored travel. In the 60s we traveled to the Moon, and civil aviation made the world smaller. In modernist culture, travel was good. It made all travelers better, happier humans. It was good to learn foreign languages and to go see distant places. High modernist travel was not only good; it was also cool. The jet setters of the 60s were the coolest citizens of the world. Even later in the 20th century the general expectation was that borderless, seamless travel would keep getting easier and more frequent. Most Europeans of my generation grew up learning two or more foreign languages, and it was not unusual until recently to be born in one country, to study in another, and find one's first job in a third one. That was seen as an opportunity, not as a deprivation.

Opinion: A Plea for Architectural History

Opinion: A Plea for Architectural History  - Image 1 of 4
Courtesy of Wikimedia user Quibik PD. ImageAn elevation of the entire Acropolis as seen from the west; while the Parthenon dominates the scene, it is nonetheless only part of a greater composition. ImageCourtesy of Wikimedia user Quibik (Public Domain)

This article was originally published on Metropolis Magazine as "Opinion: We Can't Go on Teaching the Same History of Architecture as Before."

Architectural students of my generation—the last of the baby boomers, starting college in Europe or in the Americas in the late 1970s—had many good reasons to cherish architectural history. Everyone seemed to agree at the time that the Modernist project was conspicuously failing. Late Modernist monsters were then wreaking havoc on cities and lands around the world, and the most immediate, knee-jerk reaction against what many then saw as an ongoing catastrophe was to try and bring back all that 20th-century high Modernism had kicked out of design culture: history, for a start. I drew my first Doric capital, circa 1979, in a design studio, not in a history class (and my tutor immediately ordered me to scrape it, which I did).

Forget "Post-Digital": Why Technological Innovation in Architecture is Only Just Getting Started

This article was originally published by Metropolis Magazine as "The Post-Digital Will Be Even More Digital, Says Mario Carpo."

Book presentations, or book launches, are holdovers from ages long past. One could argue that the same applies to books in print themselves; but we still read and write books, never mind in which shape and form, while I do not see many reasons to keep presenting them in brick-and-mortar bookshops, or similar venues. Friends in the publishing industry tell me that a single tweet, or a successful hashtag on Instagram, can sell more copies than a book launch—and at a lesser cost, for sure. Besides, one of the most baffling aspects of book launches is that, traditionally—and I remember this was already the case when I was a student—a significant fraction of the public in attendance tends to be viscerally and vocally hostile to the topic of the book being presented. Why would readers who dislike a book as a plain matter of principle take the time to read it in full then vent their anger at its author, I cannot tell; but this is to say that having published a book last fall titled The Second Digital Turn: Design Beyond Intelligence, I had plenty of opportunities, in the course of the last few months, to glean a vast repertoire of technophobic commonplaces. Chiefly noted among them, due to its sheer outlandishness, was the objection that digital innovation would by now have fully run its course: having adapted to, and adopted, some new tools and technologies, architects would have moved on, free at last to get back to things that really matter to them (whatever they might be).