Brittle Utopias before Soft Utopias
This paper in architectural theory and speculative urbanism seeks to reexamine the claims made against the utopianism of modern architecture (Tafuri, Rowe) as an ideological condition, so as to open up a more nuanced and exploratory discourse of the hardening of utopianism in the late modernist works or in urban architecture generically typecast as Brutalism architecture (Breuer, Sert, Rudolph, and others internationally). This essay will investigate and interrogate the claims made for Brutalism as a type of realism, tested against the evidence in the building (as artifact), so as to clarify and calibrate the relation between Brutalism architectural strategies and tactics, and the discourse of utopianism. It is believed that the utopian undercurrent in Brutalism necessarily becomes conceptually and materially brittle. From Gideon’s branding of the movement in 1966, Brutalism comes before the corporate turn to postmodernism, and the recent critiques of the postmodern ghostly utopianism (Jameson, R. Martin) bookends this research project. This essay will perform an analysis of the hardening of utopian thought and practice within the evidence of selected constructions, by architects both known and unknown. The paper will closely interrogate the relevant temporal and spatial boundaries of utopian thinking in architecture culture of the late 20thC and how Brutalism architecture accelerates but also obsoletes aspects of utopianism, following from a strict teleological reading of the utopian impulse. The essay’s methodology is derived from recent Hegelian thinking, with McLuhan’s media theory which explains the ascendancy and descent of utopian modern ought in post-war, concrete, infrastructural architecture. As many of these works are controversially becoming a heritage, either listed or destroyed, this essay concludes with some speculation on the possibilities of light and delicate retrofitting strategies, and new smart technologies for the coming Soft Utopianism of the near future.
This paper examines the close parallel between the Lo-Fi reductivist aesthetics of minimalist architecture in the mid 20thC, the conceptual claims of the Hi-Fi minimalist movement in late modernism art, and the sparse acoustic minimalism in ambient music (from Eno onwards). In reconsidering the claims for an Ambient Century (Prendergast), the question of the diverse and complex claims of minimalism as a spatial and acoustic agenda will be examined in the light of their minimal differences and subtle presence to senses. This essay takes its architectural cues from the minimalist musical genre of lounge / Lo-Fi / chill-out music that duplicates and often fills the generic buildings and urban shops. The Lo-Fi genre conceals a complex relation between the musical tone and structure, and this paper seeks to equate this with specific architectural analogues—in buildings often overlooked, or minimal in theory, presence, and effect. In the 19thC, Baudelaire once formulated modernity as the dualism of the "ephemeral, the fugitive and the contingent" within or becoming the persistence of the "the eternal, the immutable”, and this dialectic underlies many of the histories of mid-century modern architecture. In these intellectual depictions of emergent phenomena exists the recognition of the ephemeral as sensible, and the sensible as spatial. Ephemerality has become the negative of the permanence of matter, and yet only through materiality is ephemerality possible. Lo-Fi minimalism in contemporary architecture, like the music of the prior ambient century, is persistence of liminal atmospherics of the sense of space, whereby the topographies of architectural thought are condensed and displaced into architectural image-space. This essay, therefore, moves from an investigation of the Lo-Fi experience of the everyday into a more precise and analytical reading of the functional aesthetics of casual, informal, and neutral architectural constructions, especially those that are deliberately understated or that recall the mid-century modern as a high point in experiential material culture. The essay is intended to define a class of necessary but unrecognized buildings, to operate as a modified Semperian analysis of their fabric/s, and to bring forward new insights into the old equation of architecture with the medium of this light music.
This essay closely examines the particular range of affects condensed around the minimalist tendency in late modernist domestic architecture. Specifically, this examination will interrogate the materialist logic of sense and appearance of modern dwelling as a manifold deployment of affect. The particular qualities of negation, disappearance, and absence, as dominant modernist formal and material strategies, will be clarified and expanded as a range of spatial affects in late modernist dwelling as an ethereal situatedness. This work will calibrate the production of space as the production of affect, thought through the complex manifold interiority of modernism, working from the ephemeral, dematerialized, transitive boundaries and limits of emotive space in the domestic sphere. These new affective spaces, not voids but filed conditions loosely dressed in surfaces, are perceptible and sometimes legible in photography, which will support these theoretical claims. The movement of dwelling affect in the late modernism is a movement from long duration towards impermanence and pulsation of affects, both optical and haptic. The corresponding movement of the construct of modernist space will also be shown to follow this schematic movement, from ontology to affect, as framed by Massumi, using evidence from the writings of modern architects. From the early 20thC modernist fantasy of a universal continuum of space to the nested spaces of the late modernism, we see mathematical space in exert designs dissolving into subtle minimal differences as zones of affect, affects increasingly tending towards the ambient, chilled, and subliminal zones of porous boundaries. This essay, lastly, theorizes the transformation of modern spatial affect as a manifestation of the ethereal (after Miletus), from the ghostly to the wireless range of affects produced by the increasingly expedient technological augmentation of spaces in late modernist architecture, with select examples drawn internationally.
Medieval Surrealist Theory
The term Medieval Surrealism comes from an early essay on the poetic-visionary architect John Hejduk and is here developed into a speculative worldview for design and projection of a gothic imaginary, far beyond the scope of the arcane architectural speculations Hejduk produced. This synthetic and synthesizing construct-become-method is cobbled together, like an annotated medieval treatise, from an irregular variety of sources and works, selectively pursued to resemble the generative original vision or impulse in Hejduk’s work. It is meant to be an investigation of a fascination that sometimes requires the difficulty of assembling allegories mated with allegories, enigmas emerging from enigmas, into a cascade of fallen angels of thought that combine and condense the figures of thought with the thought itself. There are many great medieval sources and operations in surrealism (itself an exquisite and marvelous form of modernism), as there are many great proto-surrealist operations in surviving medieval works. Indeed, the dividing line or distinction is less useful than the sympathies, resonances, and fertile possibilities of their respective contamination and fusion. This speculative medievalist-surrealist approach (under development) is not intended as an anachronistic or reactionary counter-modernity, but as a plea for the force of the imagination as a movement, as the ultimate transformer and shape-shifter, whether these be monsters or angels.
Future Archaeology of the Australian Landscape
The independent cult film Mad Max (George Miller, 1979), set in the futuristic Australian outback, is a clever fusion of two genres that often suppress wild nature: the western and science fiction. In this dystopian science-fiction film, a fringe, automobile culture teeters on the edge of civilization, at the end of the petroleum age, where the return of barbarism meshes compellingly with a bleak post-peak ecology of ruin. This film introduced Mel Gibson as a righteous police officer in a classical confrontation with the lawless violence of a mechanized gang, a confrontation played out in a timeless desert blanketed in an atmosphere of fear. The film literally races across great distances, visually reconfiguring the varied Australian outback landscape as a singular blurred emptiness, positing nature as the absence of life. While the film portrays escalating acts of violence and revenge as the civilization destabilizes, the disengagement between everyday life and the timelessness of the desert sets up a morality play that reverses the causal relation between nature and culture in the postmodern age. Road Warrior is one of the original eco-apocalypse films to come from the mythical Australian outback, and its disturbing future rose to cult status and then went on to become a trilogy of films that increasingly conformed to the Hollywood tropes of an inevitable dystopian future. This chapter will examine the conception, perception, and affect of this future brown ecology of rust and decay in the light of the theoretical three ecologies of Felix Guattari, with a close reading of the future archaeology of Frederic Jameson, to spatially and culturally define the post-peak overheated outback from the vantage point of the future.
It is common and necessary for architecture to create order and to manifest this order through the presence and regulation of structures. Specifically that which is experienced and the functions that are imagined work within aesthetically determined structures. It is no accident that in the late 17thC and early 18thC in the UK the necessity of structure is tied to both the senses and the rationalism / empiricism, and the conviction of the structures of sense, of emotion, and of the geometry of the world that deserves careful analysis, in that there are overlaps and parallelisms that could be too easily glossed over into equivalencies. Fortunately, the experience of the everyday is always punctured by eccentric deviations and interruptions to this shroud of normative continuity, and we seek to identify these displacements as eerie displacements, under most conditions. This paper seeks to identify, with precision, the role and presence of these odd, unusual, and the proto-uncanny experiences of the eerie within the Baroque architectural imagination, discourse, drawing, and building practices. The structures can be seen to produce feelings and experiences of the eerie, and simultaneously their design ordering itself falls on the far side of mannerist distortion and dislocation, producing the eerie in the cold stones and hazy light of construct red spaces, both imperial and ecclesiastical, as spaces of meaning and sensation. The paper will also look briefly at how the eerie can be, as normalized or naturalized, a part of the experience of the world, and no longer located outside the everyday as a supernatural or as an occurrence, or as a form of alterity. This paper seeks to define a theory of the structure of the eerie in the architectural imaginations of Wren and Hawksmoor, as well as the aspects of the eerie reception of their work today, using the philosophical underpinnings from Hume to Hegel.
"The Landscape is Not"
This paper explores the consequences of the perception of landscape as the framed representation and repression of wild nature. Following from a strict Hegelian opposition between Nature and Mind, this paper seeks to determine from Hegel's theory of nature and his anthropology of mind, to consider the possibility of a second speculative landscape at play, outside or beneath the genre of landscape painting. In these immanent representations, the transcendent ideal of one true nature persists contra the everyday experience of the immersive green scapes of the world. The Hegelian dialectic offers a dynamic method of interrogation and transformation of the landscape concepts such as interiority / exteriority, surface / sense, subject / object, as Hegel has shown, "Nature has presented itself as the idea in the form of otherness." This research proposes that the hidden second landscape corresponds roughly with the emergent 18thC subconscious, and after examining the role of the subconscious in Hegel (through 20thC sources), we can come to see that there is always the same differentiation between nature and landscape as between unconscious and concepts. In this schema, nature speaks to us in a very specific language, as thinking about nature is a thinking of the (repressed) self. The paper concludes with proposals for interrogating physical landscapes, in media and construction, and proposes that landscapes should be reinterpreted and rethought as the emergence of a new nature through the Hegelian logic of negation and difference.
Soft Machines: Second-Nature in Art Nouveau
This book situates the prolific pursuit of the organic within the Art Nouveau movement in early 20thC architecture as an acquired second-nature, in all its connotations and manifestations. By tracing this artificial, symbolic nature of these imaginative structures and ornaments, accomplished through the modern materials and technologies of the emerging modern epoch, this book reveals the latent and soft formalism of the emerging machine age. This book then emphasizes that this second-nature of soft machines is contemporaneous and implicated with the emergence of the discourses of psychoanaysis and primitivism within early 20thC modernism and answers lingering questions regarding the consistent break with neo-classical ideals with two inter-related claims: that Art Nouveau architecture is an identifiable return to the re-framing of the primitive as a source for wild modernity, and this turn towards primitivism is best understood through the less visible set of questions regarding the modern subject-in-space, being simultaneously developed with the emergence of psychoanalytic theory (nowadays thought as a response to emergent medias of technologies of the machines age). I argue that both the myth of primitivism and the construct of the subconscious are contemporaneous grounds necessary for the emergence of the subsequent abstract and minimalist interwar modern architecture and urbanism. To accomplish this, I work with many familiar works, but also many lesser known Art Nouveau examples from Central Europe to Istanbul. This work necessarily draws upon recent interdisciplinary methodologies from art and architectural history/theory, and challenges the conventional reading of Art Nouveau architectural history as decorative, nostalgic, or imperfect modernity.
The Hegelian Egypt for Surrealism
This paper examines the role of the Egyptian figure of the sphinx and pyramid in surrealist theories, with particular reference to the role played by Egypt in the formation of the Symbolic, considered from the influential Hegelian schemas of history and aesthetics. Breton's theories of surrealism, highly influenced by the dialectic, carry with them the intertwining of historical and artistic movement, and their negative undertows. The sphinx is considered from the point of view of the Oedipal riddle of origins, as the mythical origin of philosophy, and as a perverse hybrid monster that figures the later surrealist experiments in uncanny and impossible bodies, from De Chirico's metaphysical statues the "cadavre exquis" games. The pyramid is considered as the ideal Enlightenment symbol of timelessness and fatality, a resonant symbol of the architectural funerary discourse of Egypt in the Enlightenment and surrealist imagination, from Hegel to Bataille. Starting from the Gérôme painting above, this essay will weave a narrative of the symbolic function of the Egypt within the surrealist imagination and explore the implications of this Hegelian strain of the sphinx—pyramid couple in the myth of Egypt within the diverse surrealist dialectics of reason/unreason, art/life, and real/imaginary.
Multiplicities and Mobilities in Le Corbusier’s Plan Obus for Algiers, c. 1933
Le Corbusier’s unbuilt proposal for the modernization of Algiers, his much-maligned Plan Obus of 1933, is a stark and compelling fantasy of mobility, modernity, and singularity manifest in the concrete logic of a nascent automobile culture. The automobile in Algiers, as a plan generator, leads to an unusual but visionary linear city, one organized around a fantasy of culture, topography, and urbanism, which had little import from the conditions of the everyday real in modernizing Algiers. The Plan Obus presents a clear and distinct projective urbanism, one whose claims for the virtues of mobility are condensed into the automotive infrastructure suspending housing blocks across the urban fabric. The mobility imagined is singular at the upper level, while other models of mobility are left in the street maze below. What is lacking is the multiplicity of mobilities that activate and animate the street urbanism of the everyday, and the unrolling of the social realm into the street fissures and irregular plazas of the urban fabric. The analysis of this deficiency will be assisted by Lefebvre’s theories of The Production of Space and his critiques of Corbusian planning. The formal language of the Plan Obus responds to a rarified level of abstract conceived space spread calligraphically across the morphology of this complex city, stressing the existing conditions and producing a new model of modern urban life, one which interrupts the historically determined patterns of movement and exchange. This paper proposes to remodel the many critiques of Le Corbusier’s misreading of Algerian urbanism along the dual conceptual axes of multiplicity and mobility. These two unfulfilled promises of the Plan Obus will be articulated in light of recent theories of infrastructural thinking latent in this extreme technologically mediated example of avant-garde urbanism.
The After-Image of Transparency [Neomodernism, Hypermodernism, Supermodernism]
This work examines the emergence of the modernist dwelling from the specific technologies and processes of the modernist mode of (industrial) vision: whereby the villa-type is rethought and re-imaged in modernism as operating the apertures between interiority and exteriority, between seeing and being seen, and the transference of new 20thC optics into literal and metaphorical architectural surfaces and spaces, across the spectrum of transparencies. By arguing for the necessary 20thC dissolution of the neo-classical worldview, the modernist dwelling in the landscape will be shown to operate as an optical, not metaphysical, paradigm shift, accomplished through the multiple technologies generally described as mechanical seeing. The second part turns towards contemporary architecture, specifically the return of these technologies, forms, and allusions to operational and indexical transparency today appearing as neomodernism, hypermodernity, or supermodernism. The technologies and theoretical claims for these diverse 21stC after-images of the modern villa, by diverse international contemporary architects, will be tested against the new theories of emergent 21stC media theory, where mechanical vision has become the immediacy of mediated vision. This return of the repressed incomplete modernity has opened up a world where the boundaries between modern and virtual, inside and outside, past and present, and real and imaginary, are fused into a hazy continuum. The results of these contemporary analyses will then be adopted as a means to get to a sophisticated revisionist history of the prior 20thC modernist villa. The after-image of modernity has been differentially described as the conditionals a) NEOMODERNISM, b) HYPERMODERNISM (Virilio and Baudrillard), or c) SUPERMODERNISM (Augé and Ibelings). This work will seek to clarify the philosophical foundations and differences in describing the opposing postures of contemporary architectural conditions to past modernity, and to identify those theoretical criteria and conditions that actually interfere or obscure the possibility of moving beyond the potentialities of modernity, specifically in terms of the deployment of transparency for a range of historical and cultural ambitions.
The Boullée-Leonidov Effect
The revolutionary works of the start student of the Russian Vkhutemas school, Ivan Leonidov, are an extreme example of the capacity of modernist glass architecture to bear and project diverse political and aesthetic meanings. This chapter ties together many threads to rethink Leonidov’s works from the theoretical concerns of Russian avant-garde cinema and its theoretical reception, with particular focus on the unbuilt projects of Leonidov, considered first as projections, apparatuses, and sublime objects of ideology. From the media theory and the new media theory of montage, Leonidov's use of cinematic constructs and media led to this singular vision of the future Soviet Russia. This chapter then looks closely at his designs for glass forms and structures in the Lenin Institute sphere and in the Palace of Culture pyramid, to call out their political and aesthetic indexical qualities and the interpretations of this transparency (from readers, including Koolhaas in architecture and Zizek in political theory). The chapter then proposes to theorize Leonidov’s revolutionary vision and technique of transparency-in-glass, as informed and indebted to the unbolt works of Boullée (already identified in chapter 2), specifically the genealogy of Boullée’s proto-cinematic representations and architectural tableaux and their subsequent selective inversion of opacity-shadow in Leonidov’s crystalline industrial forms.
This is Not a House: The After-Image of Modernism
This work examines the emergence of the modernist dwelling from the specific technologies and processes of the modernist mode of (industrial) vision: whereby the villa-type is rethought and reimaged in modernism as operating the apertures between interiority and exteriority, between seeing and being seen, and the transference of new 20thC optics, into literal and metaphorical architectural surfaces and spaces across the spectrum of transparencies. By arguing for the necessary 20thC dissolution of the neo-classical worldview, the modernist dwelling in the landscape will be shown to operate as an optical—not metaphysical—paradigm shift, accomplished through the multiple technologies generally described as mechanical seeing. The second part turns towards contemporary architecture, specifically the return of these technologies, forms, and allusions, today appearing as neomodernism, hypermodernity, or supermodernism. The technologies and theoretical claims for these diverse 21stC after-images of the modern villa, by diverse international contemporary architects, will be tested against the new theories of emergent 21stC media theory, where mechanical vision has become the immediacy of mediated vision. This return of the repressed, incomplete modernity has opened up a world where the boundaries between modern and virtual, inside and outside, past and present, and real and imaginary, are fused into a hazy continuum. The results of these contemporary analyses will then be adopted as a means to get to a sophisticated revisionist history of the prior 20thC modernist villa.
Chance Event-Space: Potential, Contingent, Impossible
This essay examines the significance of the constitutive chance event in the philosophy of Alain Badiou, with particular reference to the spatial logic of the event (as an unnamable disturbance from some exteriority) that forms a subject-in-space, through a theoretical determination of truth as a subtractive process. In contrast, Giorgio Agamben reworks the distinction between the aspects of potentiality and contingency of the passive subject, one that implies multiple but exclusive categories of space—as potential, contingent, or impossible. Potential space is the potential for nothing to occur, spaces that welcome negation or non-being. Contingent space has the invisible residue of past events, an aleatory space of Being-thus. Impossible space is not the fantasy of utopia, but is here the specific impossibility of repetition. For both Badiou and Agamben, space is not the semiotic conceit of an empty and neutral continuum containing things, but an immanent realm of barely perceptible variations, circulating around chance. Though accidents happen by chance, chance is never random. From the surrealist tendencies in the writings of Bataille and Blanchot, a direct correlation between chance (as the roll of the dice), desire, and the minimal remainder that establishes difference will be argued as the precursor to these new spatialized theories of the unique event-space, and will rescue the accidental environment from its commonplace generic misrepresentations.
Translucent Dwelling [Benjamin, Mies, Ito]
In “On Language as Such and on the Language of Man”, Benjamin claims, “Language communicates the linguistic being of things ... [o]r more precisely: all language communicates itself in itself; it is in the purest sense the medium of the communication.” This essay anticipates Heidegger’s later and influential claim that “language is the house of Being” situated in the context of architectural thought as dwelling, whose truth Heidegger defined truth as unconcealedness, becoming visible, a troping of seeing for thinking. Benjamin’s claims also anticipate McLuhan’s exegesis of medium as a message, and architecture as an immersion without sign in his essay “Invisible Environments”. To closely examine the potentiality of dwelling, as language and medium (in the context of modern architecture) requires an engagement with the myth of transparency, for transparency is never as it appears. Benjamin’s construct of the glass dwelling, tied to surrealism, revolution, unveiling, and the decline of the aura, will be tested in light of these subsequent writings, which posit differential transparencies in the dialectical function of architecture, divided in use and reception at the surface. The construct of dwelling proper within contemporary architecture will be shown to be neither transparent, opaque, nor reflective, but always translucent in glass. Benjamin in "Goethe's Elective Affinities” states, “because the truth content always remains to the same extent hidden as the material content comes to the fore...” Following Cacciari’s assertion that Benjamin should have turned to Mies (contra Scheerbart) for developing a theory of transparency in modern architecture, this work will closely examine the emergence of the translucent, not as an exception to Benjamin’s optics. The works of Mies van der Rohe and contemporary architects including Toyo Ito and his circle will illustrate the work.
Sade, My Waiter: On Fight Club’s Libertine Urbanism
This essay explores the ethical and functional roles of the instances of applied Sadism by the motivated working class in the film Fight Club (1999). In this film, the Fight Club participants perform inventive and critical operations following a covert urban libertine agenda, in order to overcome alienation through the process of replacing the lifestyles of globalization with prior, more real and perverse modes of being. Like de Sade, the film (and the text) parodies the dominant genres supporting normalcy within that structure of normalcy. The service industry, in particular, receives the greatest amount of attention and so too do the social structures that support it. The essay will seek to elaborate a proper libertine-Fight Club ethic of vice in the contemporary age, drawing upon the usual Sadistic philosophical sources from Lacan to Rosset, to rethink the micro-revolutionary potential of urban architecture.
Translucent Diagrammatology of Hypermodern Architecture
The 19thC modernist ascendancy of the myth and medium of transparency in glass anticipates the emergence of transparent and translucent design media—on paper and on screens—as the emergent translucent surface of sense, as both Deleuze and Virilio once noted. After tracing the effects of these contemporary techniques, and the mechanisms of these tracings, the essay necessarily turns towards an interrogation of the Derridean notion of the trace (as the undecidable prior marking that cleaves discourses) leading to a grammatology of interior/exterior, followed by an extension of the incomplete promise of W.J.T. Mitchell's construct of diagrammatology, where the promiscuity of text and image foreshadow—a promiscuity of space and experience within the re-conceptualization of the contemporary urban environment—will be shown to be a circulation of the ephemeral and translucent surface of sense that bounds a libidinal spatial economy of desire, dependent but strangely dissonant from the austere diagrammatic origins of contemporary architecture. The recent attention of architectural theory to the elevated status of the diagram, as both heuristic device and sensual fantasy, and conversely as both abstract-machine and promissory note, will be examined in light of recent urban architecture by Japanese and Dutch diagram architects Koolhaas and Ito, and their clever and prolific minions. This work seeks to overcome the tired early modernist ontological/phenomenological dialectic of static thing-in-space in favor of an emergent paradigm of blurred sense of fugitive event-spaces, where the soluble and indeterminate architectural thing ceases to be an object-image before space, differentially.
Pataphysics of the Corbusian Villa
This analytical research reexamines the well-known constructed and projected ascetic villas of modernist architect Le Corbusier (Villa Stein, in particular) to expose and demonstrate the techniques, effects, and possible influences of surrealist thought and practice in his domestic architecture. Surrealism will be shown to co-exist and trouble the extreme rational determinism of the designs, through close readings of the surfaces, spaces, objects, and events formed and informed by the irrational cultural forces of (then) emergent modernity.
This research will adopt the methodologies of surrealist art historical scholarship, with particular emphasis on the proto-surrealist concept of pataphysics proposed by avant-garde French writer Alfred Jarry (1873-1907), "Pataphysics is the science of imaginary solutions, which symbolically attributes the properties of objects, described by their virtuality, to their lineaments." As an irrational science of exceptions that lurks within, it proposes that the intentions and effects of scientific rationalism inaccurately describe the perceived state of phenomena. Le Corbusier's villas are here examined for the presence of eccentric exceptions to the orthodox modernist rules of making space. Surrealism is the dirty secret and uncanny guest of modernism's instrumental reason—sensuality, aberration, and difference creep into the most rational of constructions. The goal of this research is to identify these pataphysical exceptions, document their presence and effects, and reconceptualize Corbusier's modernist villas, not as a normative set of proscriptive rules, but as rational forms congealing irrational tendencies—a process where lineaments become virtual forms (as concrete shells of unexpressed desire), following a related Freudian model of condensation and displacement. Corbusier's designs will be shown to prop up the pristine clarity of his emergent Purist agenda with the devices of pataphysical thought.
The machinic spaces of modern architecture are often presented as rational, functional, measured and objective; though, conceptually they are fluid, porous, and promiscuous instances bounded by technologically dematerialized surfaces. More than its pre-modernist precursors, the architecture of modernism usually operates as this strange object that draws together two series, signifier and signified, at its thin surfaces. When the influential architect and polemicist Le Corbusier claimed "the house is a machine for living", the machine proposed is other than a rational apparatus. In The Logic of Sense, Gilles Deleuze interrogates this phantasm of the irrational, of non-sense lurking within sense and paradoxically structuring sense as a surface effect, "Impossible objects—square circles, matter without extension, perpetuum mobile, mountain without valley, etc.—are objects without a home, outside of being, but they have a precise and distinct position within this outside: they are of extra being—pure, ideational events, unable to be realized in a state of affairs." Le Corbusier’s modernist villas are themselves condensation and displacements of these differential figures—of the interiority of desire, of the smooth signifiers of modernity.
Burning Dwelling: Between Tarkovsky’s Sacrifice (1985) and Lynch’s Lost Highway (1997)
Giorgio Agamben concludes Potentialities (1999) with the enigmatic claim that “(a)ccording to the principle by which it is only in the burning house the fundamental architectural problem becomes visible for the first time, art, at the furthest point of its destiny, makes visible its original project.” (p. 115). The cinematic film-phrase of the burning dwelling will doubly examined through the principles of phenomenology for Andrei Tarkovsky’s Sacrifice (1985) and the principles of psychoanalysis for David Lynch’s Lost Highway (1997). The fundamental architectural problem, of abandoned Being and the impossibility of Heideggerian dwelling within the media-architecture of modernity, becomes visible as the mythical primitive hut becoming a pure imaginary signifier, that which can be imagined but never constructed, which is the original project of modernity. In both films, the image of the burning dwelling fascinates. The status of this distressed moving-image points towards a retrograde movement from architecture as material signifier to its originary punctum as imaginary signifier, in that all of that which is proper to architectural thought follows the logic of condensation and displacement. The flickering persistence of architecture’s imaginary signifier, since Laugier, is the constructed void between the minimal and ambient regimes of contemporary representation and perception, here doubled by the debate over subjectivity between phenomenology and psychoanalysis, as they support a rethinking of the project of modern architecture after the demise of the transparent subject of modernity. The theological murmur that exceeds the neutral optic of homogenous space is in both films a falling or descent, reconfigured as burning. Tarkovsky’s Sacrifice most easily lends itself to the theoretical concerns of Bachelard’s Poetics of Space and the Psychoanalysis of Fire; the cyclic images of the burning dwelling in reverse within Lynch’s Lost Highway subscribes to a neo-Lacanian discourse of dwelling as trauma-event. Both offer the furnaces of interiority as a fictional distancing of an omni-present and threatening exteriority that tasks and consumes architecture, as media. The hole in the imaginary is the real of architecture, the staging of an existential phenomenology of experience, and these films will clarify architecture as a discourse of desire.
Repetition and Negation in Modern Architecture
Why is repetition in modern architecture so prevalent? The conceptual foundation and origin of the omnipresent repetitions in modern architecture can be read as multiple, and this book examines them for their differences. Material processes of rationalized construction have lead to environments overdetermined by economic minimalism, static mono-functionalist spaces (for identically desired functions in infinite time) and a confusion in the signifying function of building spatial typology across diverse cultures and landscapes. Though repetition is the legacy of modern architecture, and its most obvious symptom, it is resonant at multiple levels, including the ontological and mythopoetic.
The extreme designs, design philosophies, and texts of modern architects Mies van der Rohe (Germany), Le Corbusier (France), and Guiseppe Terragni (Italy) each participate differently in the apparently integrated modernist technique of repetition. Each of these architects proposed and built urban works that utilized repetition at multiple scales, in multiple projects, across divergent social milieus, sites and climates. They exclusively repeated their own earlier construction details, palette of modernist materials, and built forms for radically dissimilar project intentions (desires). In each architect's works, the repetition of structure that frames imagined events acts as both a matrix and a tool for liberation and freedom, where the determinacy of repetition at multiple scales calls for personalized and subjective readings and uses of striated (gridded) space. The political and cultural challenges to an exhausted social order offered by early modern avant-garde practices are most explicit in their use of strategies and materials produced by this order to critique the very same order.
From the repetition of repetitions within the many projects of modern architecture, it becomes clear that repetition is not merely a privileged device for the negation of inherited traditions, but that the unvarying reliance upon repetition within and across individual works are at odds with the utopian myth of progress shrouding the works of modern architecture. Repetition challenges teleological thinking, and the metaphysics of being that make such thoughts possible. Its material repetitions are haunted by conceptualization(s) and effects that form the basis of subjective drives (e.g. Freud's theory of repetition-compulsion, eros leading to thanatos) enmeshed in temporal concerns (e.g. Nietzsche's eternal recurrence, the eternalization of every discrete moment). Repetition can support or subvert ideological superstructures; the case of repetition in modern architecture is defined by that which repetition seeks to negate, and also by that which erupts and returns in after repetition.
Architecture, from its origin(s), has been entangled in metaphysics: architectural history is the history of ideas and cultural formations. Architecture draws upon the metaphysical foundations and meta-narratives determining culture as it simultaneously critiques and reconfigures that culture. Culture in the works of modern architecture appears to play a tease-game with the metaphysical scaffolding of presence derived from the authority of the origin. Following from Nietzsche, metaphysical foundations are a fiction; philosopher Jacques Derrida proposes in the place of metaphysics of presence the scene of deferred presence, an always-already other than we would expect to erupt when the metaphysical scaffolding is negated. Deleuze's Repetition and Difference proposes three types of repetition, all of which are manifested in the works of these three modernist architects. This work will situate repetition at the center of modern architecture, not as a consequence of instrumental reason, but as a sophisticated attempt to overcome its metaphysical origin(s).
This book concludes by rethinking the history of architecture after the concept of eternal recurrence. Nietzsche posited three modes of historicism: monumental, antiquarian, and critical, favoring the latter. This question of the structure and effect of history is raised as a problematic in modern architectural historiography, following from H. White’s separation of historiography into modes/tropes. As eternal recurrence proposes the exchange of origins and ends, substituting a temporal schema of loops and coils (instead of a progressive linear teleology or eschatology). This explains that modernism is really a multiplicity of modernities. The book concludes with an explanation of history as a landscape, with emphasis upon the Rilkean mytho-poetic interpretation of Nietzschean classicism.
"The stealth landscape" is a speculative concept: it is informed by the processes of disappearance begetting formless spaces in every metropolis (and its electro-mechanical manifestations and representations). It is a realm of transient projections of the invisible forces, memories, and technologies that present the actual as real. Since the intervention of the utopian project of modernism, the movements of urbanism were often intellectually positioned as dialectic of void/negation with its architectural minimal remainder, exilic spaces occupied by the phantoms of unseen others layered beneath and between visible stretches of textures and forms. This book argues that the spaces of the contemporary city emerge as a discontinuous series of episodic or cinematic shots comprising a speculative stealth landscape in their entirety, a condition resistant to conventional mapping and analysis, a situation that requires new design methodologies.
"The Stealth Landscape" is a persistent trans-disciplinary analysis and affirmation of the flickering neomodern urbanism of Tokyo; its critical position is that the contemporary formation, sense, and effects of urbanism are grounded not in permanence or transcendental values, but in speculative techniques (hence technologies) that are invisible, fugitive, ephemeral, and tending towards disappearance. This disavowal of deep structures and permanence requires a synthetic conceptual model that is condensed from contemporary theories of impermanence, transparency, and transient experiences. This book offers a radical revision of the reception of the spaces of meaning in an advanced technological society, where the tired conceptual models of historical determinism, sociopolitical boundaries, and the semiotics of permanent structures are no longer productive.
"The Stealth Landscape" seeks to synthesize the separate existing scholarly works on strategies of negation in modern architecture, the emergence of cinema and other 20th century media forms in parallel with architecture, the unique visual culture emerging in industrial Japan, and the questions of architectural subjectivity and identity in a world of transient images and events. This book offers a radical revision of the reception of the spaces of meaning in an advanced technological society, where the tired models of historical determinism, sociopolitical boundaries, and permanent structures are no longer useful. It participates in a wider dialogue regarding contemporary urbanism, but its emphasis on the exceptional case of contemporary Tokyo, and its deliberate reliance on trans-disciplinary conceptualizations of the meaning, making, and reception of the disappearances are its strengths.