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To better understand the world, modern science – over a period of roughly 200 years - divided our hybrid reality into two cultures. On the one hand, human sciences explores the “soft” dimensions of our existence – which social categories are projected onto an object – while the natural sciences concentrate on the intrinsic, “hard” dimensions of the object. In the human sciences, the object has no meaning as a thing; it only exists to be used as a white screen onto which society projects its ideals. For the natural sciences, the objective powers of the thing are so strong that only these are of overriding importance. It is this duality of objects that must be urgently reconsidered when we attempt to evaluate the quality of new hybrid objects such as the library in Utrecht designed by Wiel Arets Architect & Associates. Traditional architecture criticism and architecture history are concerned with form, the style in which an object is built. How the monochrome form of the library in Utrecht will colour the life of the community will always elude them. It is precisely as if, in most reflections on architecture, narratives of use are totally divorced from the diverse architectural qualities of an object. Time and again, it goes unnoticed that objects, like books and images, only acquire meaning once their cultural capital is activated by different formations of use in context and time. Things are imparted with meaning by use and perception, by touch, by looking at and being looked at, by habit and tactile appropriation, by a coincidental discovery during a walk or conversation. As theoretician Marian Fraser observed “Matter does not ‘exist’ in and of itself, outside or beyond discourse, but is rather repeatedly produced through performativity, which brings into being or enacts that which it names.” The research into either the “hard” or “soft” qualities of an object are naturally applied in practice, but how these two cultures function together, form a complex whole, goes unnoticed in many cases. This is remarkable to say the least because in reality we do not make a distinction into two cultures; quite the opposite, we assume hybrid relations. For this reason, the researchers Michel Serres and Bruno Latour propose that we should cast the ‘soft’ or ‘hard’ object from our minds. It is better to talk of the quasi-object. The quasi-object equips us to develop a new model of knowledge that goes beyond dividing an object into two cultures. Rather than considering an object as a fact or a value, to see it simply as a (stylistic) form or social function, we must begin to grasp the facts/values as intrinsically inter-related wholes. “Quasi-objects are much more social” says anthropologist and philosopher Bruno Latour, “much more fabricated, much more collective than the ‘hard’ parts of nature, but they are in no way the arbitrary receptacles of a full-fledged society. On the other hand they are much more real, nonhuman and objective than those shapeless screens on which society – for unknown reasons – needed to be ‘projected’.” [More... see PDF in English or Dutch].

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The Quasi Object
Purity and Provocation in the Library of Utrecht by Wiel Arets

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