The fragility of architecture and the architecture of fragility

Among the many variants with which beauty appears to the eye is that of fragility: a transitory, immaterial and ephemeral balance between the elements, liable to be upset at any moment. Fragility and the transitory might be seen as attributes perfectly suited to describe one of the most interesting ways in which architecture is expressed in contemporaneity. Next to a deliberately overexposed, imposing, monumental, eternal and despotic dimension, the most recent architectural panorama also reveals an undergrowth of minimal gestures, weak actions, shared thoughts and transitory actions. Dismissing the identification of the architectural process with its physical result as being over-reductive, this fragile architecture has abandoned ideological positions and maximalist options, preferring to withdraw to less conspicuous paths and to go into hiding. This is an outsider architecture, often of low definition but always with the highest conceptual justification. It adopts immaterial strategies and tactics, since it does not put the meaning of architecture into the product, but into processes. The fragility of such acts lies in their establishing an inward and respectful, yet innovative connection with space. Their aspiration is to carve out places of life, relationships and well-being where it had been previously impossible to find them: in urban gaps and leftover spaces, in social housing and in the everyday dimension of experience, in dialogue and comparison. Since it does not intercept fame, glory or wealth, this architecture resembles something more like a vocation than a theatrical performance. Never more than today, though, have vocations of this kind been needed; never more than today has the fragility of our – urban and human – landscape called for fragile, minimal, relational exercises. The implicit and silent beauty of this new generation of architecture constitutes the biggest contribution by sustainable morality – much more than a lot of the self-styled “sustainable” architecture does – to the issues of living in our time.

From the April issue, for one year, Alessandro Mendini will be the new editor-in-chief of Domus, with Joseph Grima as editorial director and Stefano Casciani as deputy editor. I wish them every success in their work