A certain dubious idea of originality has ruled out the commonplace. As if anything within common reach were –at the very least– useless, if not flat out harmful. You keep going back to the commonplace is something usually said to anyone who within his arguments employs one that is well known and is therefore reproached. But for classical rhetoric the commonplace was the structural basis of any argumentation. A speech is literally the course the orator guides us through from one place to the next, across several commonplaces that we can recognize because of their familiarity. The journey is made from one to the next with the hope of coming upon something on the way, of finding out something new –that which in Latin is called inventio: an invention: that which comes. The topics or places of a speech are also memory auxiliaries, as Frances Yates explained. Images that will help the orator follow the thread of his discourse and not loose the idea are placed precisely there. Lastly, if they favor invention and memory, its logical that commonplaces will also be a learning aid. In his introduction to the book by John Lock A New Method of Making Common-Place-Books –commonplace books were collections of phrases and ideas that were generally agreed upon– Monsieur Le Cler writes that “in every kind of learning, specially when studying languages, memory is the treasury or storage, but it is judgment that disposes of it: it takes out of the memory and orders. If the memory is oppressed or is overloaded with too many things, we exercise order and method.” When memory fails and to prevent this from happening, we need to put things in their place, their commonplace.
Therefore, we could assume that for architecture, the commonplace has at least two courses. The first collects all the variations of the rhetoric figure of the topoi mentioned above. Thus, proportion, utility and beauty, meaning, function and form subdued to it, detail and the attention it deserves are all commonplaces of architecture. They are figures within architectural discourse that we can all make reference to, even –or specially– to deny their importance. The other course would be the physical and its matter: the place in space or that which lies in contrast or in front of space– moves forth to another commonplace in the first course. In the second course it would be a space open for communication and community, one that we recognize and in which we recognize ourselves, with all the burden of its sense and identity –two more commonplaces for sure.
The intervention of Luis Alderete in Liga works around both courses of commonplace. In that small corner of the building by Augusto Álvarez and Juan Sordo Madaleno in Insurgentes, there is a tiny garden –ancestral figure of the commonplace– fenced on two sides: by the existing building and by a wooden fence used for formwork. Condemned to shadows, the garden reflects itself on a couple of mirrors and becomes infinite. It is a place for contemplation –another commonplace– built without any attention to detail and embracing the circumstances dictated by chance –again, more commonplaces to be accepted or denied. Hence, in the end some of these commonplaces –in the first course– can cancel out each other, producing another common place –in the second course– one that ventures on another form of community: common sense. A sensus communis, an aesthetical community, a shared and communicable sensation and sensibility that open themselves there, which I would like to name a zero degree of architecture. But that is surely another common place.
Alejandro Hernández Gálvez