In a series of scientific posts inaugurating the Canada Research Chair in Architecture, Competitions and Mediations of Excellence (CRC-ACME) program, we will briefly present — whether in a thousand words or a simple image and its legend — the main terms of our research activities for the upcoming years. Since we have previously devoted many texts to the question of competition (1), it seems appropriate, for this very first post, to contribute to the definition of mediations of excellence: an expression designating the phenomenon of awards, consisting of all award-winning buildings and their related actors. What are the agencies of mediation?
The Centre National de Ressources Textuelles et Lexicales (CNRTL) defines excellence as the character of a thing or person that corresponds, almost perfectly, to the ideal representation of its nature, of its function or which manifests a very clear superiority in a particular field (2). Suffice to say that excellence — in architecture as in all fields — is an ideal, an objective, a horizon and not an endpoint.
The term mediation is broadly defined by CNRTL as that which is an intermediary between two or more things (3). To this account, everything would potentially be a mediation. Too short of a definition, since we need to distinguish, for example, mediations in architecture from mediations in art.
In “L’art à l’épreuve de ses médiations,” sociologist Nathalie Heinich (5) reminds us that between the artist and the observer, or between the text and the reader, the game never solely operates between two but rather three parties. Intermediaries can be as diverse as they are many: curators, critics, teachers, philosophers, gallery owners, dealers, insurers, etc. Not to mention cultural mediations such as journals, exhibitions, documentaries, monographs, etc. The definition of mediation clearly remains subjected to the vagaries of history as exemplified by a French study on architectural mediations in the 1980s. Published in 2000, it underlined the role of the critique as “the first instance of judgment” (4) when today, such a role would be unclearly confirmed in many contexts, including the Canadian context.
If award-winning buildings constitute mediations of excellence (by excellence), one imagines that the phenomenon starts well before the design of a project. It can be followed by the reception of awards but cannot end with the ceremony. Award-winning buildings, year after year, can be considered as elements of response to a constant redefinition of excellence, but the building that would receive the highest number of awards in 2019 could not claim to be the definition of excellence in 2020. Architecture is a historical discipline and if all award-winning buildings point towards excellence, they represent one step in an endless quest (think of the Myth of Sisyphus).
In a doctoral thesis presented in Brussels in 2019, Typhaine Moogin studied awards in depth by immersing herself “Into the Mediations of Awards” (5). While referring to Antoine Hennion’s book on “La passion musicale (une sociologie de la mediation)” (7), Moogin opens a “reflection on the conditions of production of an architectural world” (8). Adopting the sociological pragmatism of Antoine Hennion, she proposes to redefine architectural mediation less as a device than as a space: “To the extent that a distinction is not so much a work embodying architectural ideas, an instrument of domination of an institution or a mark of the consecration of architects, but the association—complex and delicate—of all these elements and other things : a particular space of an even wider network which — from objects and knowledge to people and their social space—constitutes architecture” (9).
Our own research program, consisting in documenting, revisiting and analyzing award-winning buildings in Canada—not only from the past three decades, but for the next one — is as much about better understanding as it is about raising awareness of the best practices in architecture, urban planning, landscape architecture or in design. Only a vast network of researchers will be able to carry out such a knowledge enterprise.
The CNRTL mentions an unusual use of the term mediation that a research program should undoubtedly hesitate to convene. In astrology, “noon” or “mediation” would be the “culminating moment of a star.” Instead, we prefer a term used in medicine, psychology or philosophy: acme. A synonym of apogee or culminating point, it can designate the critical point of an illness, or the highest degree of influence of a theory. Rather interesting, as it forms the acronym ACME or “Architecture, Competitions and Mediations of Excellence.” Which is not to say that the search for excellence would be a pathology, but certainly a habit to encourage very early in the training of architects.
Jean-Pierre Chupin, October 8, 2019.
- (1) Chupin, Jean-Pierre, Cucuzzella, Carmela and Bechara Helal (Edited by), Architecture Competitions and the Production of Culture, Quality and Knowledge (An International Inquiry), Montréal, Potential Architecture Books, 2015. (ISBN 978-0-9921317-0-8). http://potentialarchitecturebooks.com/pac001/
- (2) See https://www.cnrtl.fr/definition/excellence (consulted October 6, 2019).
- (3) See https://www.cnrtl.fr/definition/médiations (consulted October 6, 2019).
- (4) Devillard, Valérie, Architecture et communication : les médiations architecturales dans les années 80, L.G.D.J. Éditions Panthéon-Assas, Paris, 2000. p. 279.
- (5) Moogin, Typhaine, Dans la médiation des prix. Réflexion sur les conditions de production d’un monde architectural, thesis defended at l’Université Libre de Bruxelles (Faculté d’architecture La Cambre-Horta) friday september 13 2019.
- (6) Heinich, Nathalie, Faire voir. L’art à l’épreuve de ses médiations, Les impressions nouvelles, Bruxelles, 2009.
- (7) Hennion, Antoine, La passion musicale. Une sociologie de la médiation, Métailié, Paris (1993).
- (8) Moogin, Ibid.
- (9) Moogin, Ibid. p. 74.