Afterword: Locus Solus

Locus Solus, a shortlived literary journal published in 1961 and 1962, was a collective of individuals – Harry Mathews, John Ashbery, James Schuyler, and Kenneth Koch – coming together to test new forms of their art. It was a shared platform for challenging and refining their individual trajectories as poets. The title is paradoxical and layered, meaning a unique or solitary place, it’s also a reference to the influential 1914 French novel by Raymond Roussel with the same name. On the surface it’s a novel about an eccentric inventor who hosts a group on a tour of his estate where he shows off his uncanny inventions. But this plot is a device, an armature, for exhibiting a kind of wunderkammern of strange ideas and artifacts. Like Scheherazade’s 1,001 Tales, stories unravel within stories, and while fascinating on their own are ultimately more compelling in concert with one another.

All of this, the 1960s literary collective and the collection of stories and objects contained within the novel it was named after, feels related to the unique form of collaboration between the members of SODA. They are operating on their own projects, but united by a shared passion – the city of Athens. They each propose intricate narratives for portions of that city, but ultimately the proposals are more compelling when understood in concert with one another. The projects are individual objects which don’t obviously connect or relate, but take on new resonances when arranged next to one another, as if in a cabinet of curiosities.

Architecture is inherently a social art. It emerges through dialogue, persuasion, argument, and compromise. Through symposiums, conferences, congresses, meetings, journals, schools, and exhibitions. And yet the choice to collaborate, to form a collective, to define a common agenda… is a unique and precious endeavour. It is inherently fragile and unstable. It is an experiment with an unknown outcome. A gamble.

Collective. Collaborative. Movement. Band. Office. Team. Crew. These are groups that define themselves as distinct from other groups, motivated by something shared – a belief, a cause, an aesthetic, a methodology, a space, an event, a city. Ant Farm, Archigram, Archizoom, Fluxus, Odd Future, Vox Populi, and Der Blaue Reiter were all collectives. Futurism, Fauvism, and Metabolism were movements. CIAM was a congress. Team X was a team. Superstudio defined themselves as an office. The Memphis Group called itself a design collaborative. So too, even more explicitly, did The Architects Collaborative. Many of these groups originated in the fertile ground of schools. And the glue that held many of them together was a shared physical space, a publication, a way of working, and importantly, a rejection of something else. They wrote manifestos, mission statements, and theses. They often burned hot and fast. They typically lasted only a few years.

Alison Smithson described Team X as “a small family of architects who have sought each other out because each has found the help of the others necessary to the development and understanding of their own individual work.” And this is perhaps the most fundamental value of a collaboration – to hold a mirror up to one’s own work. It is through collaboration, and the inherent conflict and compromise that this entails, that our individual thinking gets challenged, shattered, sharpened, and ultimately advanced. Separate and collected, individual and group, object and field, buildings and the city. The work of SODA, the events of SODA, the individuals of SODA, and the projects of SODA all accumulate loosely and provisionally. Like the poets who momentarily came together to craft Locus Solus, and the overlapping stories and objects that drift through Roussel’s novel, the whole somehow manages to be more than the sum of its exquisitely imagined parts.

– Ryan Neiheiser & Xristina Argyros, February 2019