February 18, 2012
Cement (source)
Construction Site in Seattle (source)


What is it that holds us together as a society? What is the glue that keeps us together? I asked these questions in a seminar once to provoke the question of metaphysics, for metaphysics, philosophically speaking, is largely about glue. For Plato it was a common capacity, whether innate or learned, to understand the qualities of The Good. For the nineteenth century Romantics it was The Nation, and indeed for many people today this is still the glue. But it could be also religion, or even a sports team. Often, we do not see The Glue. It is so naturalized that we fail to account for it as operative in our lives, or even if we do account for it, we fail to be able to deconstruct its potency. We believe that the harder the glue is, the better it is. This is, of course, a huge mistake, for which humanity seems to have little native resistance. Kant might have said that we have an inner capacity to be social, but he underestimated the compulsion we seem to have to over-determine who is or is not part of the social Glue. So for that reason, here and there, in one way or another, we should also try to un-Glue ourselves. This does not mean that we should go to the outback and live by ourselves. But we could ask what is keeping us Glued in and certainly resist the temptation to see the Glue of metaphysics as a universal, for that brings only tragedy.


Mark Jarzombek


Architects enjoy masquerading as urbanists. As a basis for any urban project, they generate a vast amount of conceptual data—historic property boundaries, gradient maps of walkability, vectors of development—aimed at illuminating trends that will provide an argument for Form. This search sometimes cadences into a figure-ground drawing where a project reveals its urban thesis. Frequently the criteria is to maximize desirable aspects of the site: delivering building users with scenic views, aligning with historical axes of the city, enhancing pedestrian routes, or providing open space for public use. Such goals are championed by those interested in architecture getting along with its context, strengthening the coherence of its surroundings. This cheery role is maximized in scenarios where single buildings are able to recapture unproductive voids or augment older buildings, thereby densifying an area, with architecture working as an urban adhesive. It is a grand act of civility when buildings behave with good manners (manners being a quality I’ve heard referred to as ‘the glue of society’).


However, just as often as the opportunity to unify arises, architects are guilty of working to delaminate tight-grained districts or, given tabula rasa, build at gigantically non-human scales. When faced with the bombed-out realities of post-war Europe, a wounded urban tissue, architects responded by filling cores with the vacuous superglue recommended by Modernist practice, a solution, now nearly a century old, whose adhesive power is questionable. Paul Rudolph’s unbuilt Lower Manhattan Expressway comes to mind, with history remembering Jane Jacob’s heroic struggle to save Greenwich Village from death-by-Megastructure. There exists a stereotype of development as impolite annihilator of coherent urbanity, replacing older smaller structures with larger more impersonal ones. In this world, architects are demonized as enablers of real estate speculation, where monumental visions only serve to line pockets. On the bright side, elements that destroy context provide deserved articulations of civic pride and go on to alter the foci of urban consciousness: how would we see Paris without the Eiffel Tower?


This dichotomy is recognizable as the battle of Fabric vs. Monument, a contest where each extreme alone would be boring. In the end—like everything else—the solution addresses what balance of philosophies is best or, to seal the metaphor, how much glue is appropriate.


Jack Murphy


Edited by Erandi de Silva


One Response to “GLUE”

  • Redmond Mohan David says:

    A horn blowing philosopher! I loved reading your piece on ” Glue” in response to Jarzombek’s question. Very thought provoking!
    I am looking back at our 30 year plus journey from immigrants to naturalized Americans. It was difficult for us to break the glue that held us to our old customs and learn new ways of living. The glue that initially held us together was the company of other immigrants. However, this glue if held for long would just stunt our growth, we thought. So the glue gradually evolved into other activities ( glues), church, organization, sports, music, to name a few that helped us assimilate into the new country and be happy and productive citizens. I question the permanency of any one Glue factor which I believe could lead to extremism and possibly destruction. So, I believe the Glue should not solidify but be tacky and viscous and have just enough adhesion to be detached at any time, cleansed for application of another Glue or mixed with another glue.
    I plan on reading all the posts. Thanks Jack.



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