I Prefer Not To

On (Architectural) Abstinence and Obstinacy

This book is a free associative recount of the ‘I Prefer Not To’ lecture series, staged at the ETH Department of Architecture (Zürich). Between September 2016 and November 2017 twelve guests touched upon various attitudes of professional abstinence and/or obstinacy. In an offbeat manner, ‘I Prefer Not To’ can be understood as a critical reassessment of ETH’s social and political ethos, often tightly contained and devoid of any unforeseen mischief. Through the words, positions and work of our friends and colleagues ‘I Prefer Not To’ managed — for a brief moment — to install an unformatted stage for public debate and negotiation.

All twelve stances were eventually entrusted to YouTube, free to pursue eternal public life and varying levels of digital likeability. With this publication, we wish to revisit some specific concepts or hidden dimensions of the exposed disquisitions. Each lecture is introduced by an editor’s note, contextualizing specific choices and zooms. As an envoi, a conversation with our students is reproduced, as a thirteenth ad lib installment.

The overarching title of both series and book clearly hints at Herman Melville’s character Bartleby the scrivener, infamously known for his inexplicable abstinence and obstinacy. However, we don’t see Bartleby’s auto-inflicted and tortured position as an ideal or pursuable dogma (Architecture for that matter already holds enough dogmas). Our mere interest in the position(s) of ‘I Prefer Not To’ is linked to the possibility of a capital pause, not ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. An autonomous moment of critical assessment, independent of any final outcome or pre-conceived results.

Peter Swinnen