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THE THEORIST OF SPEED
Paul Virilio, once an architect of the Brutalist school, and phenomenologist in the tradition of Husserl, is best known today for the idea that ‘dromology’—the logic of speed—stands at the centre of the political and techno-cultural transformation of the contemporary world. Born in 1932, the son of a Breton mother and an Italian communist father, Virilio was torn from his family at the onset of the Blitzkrieg and grew up as a highly sensitive evacuee child in Nantes, under Nazi occupation. In his late teens he converted to Christianity under the influence of Abbé Pierre’s worker-priests. Educated at L’École des Métiers d’Art in Paris, he worked with Matisse as a craftsman in stained glass, before becoming an intellectual provocateur as co-editor of the experimental journal Architecture Principe. In the mid-sixties he studied the architecture of war intensively and built the ‘bunker church’ of Sainte-Bernadette du Banlay at Nevers. An irrevocable split occurred with his partner in Architecture Principe, the architect Claude Parent, when Virilio became politically active during the May revolt of 1968. A year later he was given a chair at the École Spéciale d’Architecture at the behest of its students, which he occupied until his retirement in 1997. The publication of Speed and Politics: An Essay on Dromology in 1986 established him as a creative theorist of modern life.
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