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Architectural Projections

Andrew Benjamin

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Published by RMIT University Press,


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Andrew Benjamin, 2012.
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noted otherwise.

Architectural Projections
Andrew Benjamin

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National Library of Australia
Cataloguing-in-Publication entry
Benjamin, Andrew E.
Architectural projections / by Andrew Benjamin.
9781921426940 (pbk.)
Architectural design.
Architecture--Philosophy.
720.1
Produced by Modern Art Production Group.
Printed in China.

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Introduction: The Project of Architecture

Contents

1 Nomadism and Design

2 A Plurality of Actions: Towards Ontology of Techniques

3 Surface Effects: Borromini, Semper, Loos

19

4 Notes on the Surfacing of Walls: NOX, Kiesler, Semper

61

5 Plans to Matter: Towards a History of Material Possibility

79

6 Porosity at the Edge: Working Through Walter Benjamins


Naples

99

7 Passing through Deconstruction: Architecture and the Project


of Autonomy
Bibliography

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115
124

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Architectural Projections

Introduction
The undertaking worked through time and again throughout the
chapters comprising this book concerns the differing ways in which the
relationship between history, theory and the practice of design allows for
a coniguring and reconirming of the project of architecture. That project
has an inherent plurality; hence the title, Architectural Projections. There
is a twofold supposition that directs and organises these writings. The
irst supposition is straightforward. The locus of architectural theory
is the practice and pedagogy of design. Thus, it is not the application
of philosophical or theoretical positions, which in being external to
architecture can then be applied. Rather, both the philosophical and
the theoretical are deployed within, and as part of, a range of practices
that constitute architecture. Moreover, there is the related contention,
namely, that it is possible to write the history of architecture or to
reconigure fundamental instances within that history such that any
subsequent writings are also orientated around the concerns of design.
(The distinction at work, no matter how tentative it may be, concerns
a history for design rather than a history of design. Such an approach
does not preclude the writing of architectural history. On the contrary,
it invites it.) The second supposition which, while related, has its own
distinct modes of argumentation and presentation is that there cannot be
any easy separation of architecture from the way in which architecture is
represented. Indeed, it is possible to go further and argue that the history
of representational techniques within architecture becomes one of the
central ways to avoid both an idealisation of form and an idealisation
of materials. Precisely because representational techniques have a
history as well as engendering speciic practices, they too should be
incorporated within any concern with architectural theory.
And yet, the evocation of architectural theory and the rewriting of
architectural history in terms of its relation to the practice of design has
become an inherently problematic activity. Moreover, the afirmation
of the deinition of research in architecture as constituted by the
relationship between theory, history and design has become, as a
consequence, untimely. As a general claim it can be suggested that
theory began to lose its hold within the context of the university at
the moment at which architecture came to be deined as a digital
practice. While there were straightforward domestic reasons why this
was the case for example, the sheer dificulty of mastering the rapid
development of software programs the overall effect of the diminution
of the importance of theory was linked to the emergence of

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Introduction

vii

a conservative force within architecture in the context of the university.


The advent of the digital was simply the means by which this was
achieved. (The digital itself was, and remains, neutral in this regard.) Not
only was the distancing of theory contemporaneous with the celebration
of a spurious form of professionalism where professionalism took
the place of experimentation there was the related argument that the
failure of architecture to have an instrumental role within a progressive
politics meant that the entire project of criticality could itself be
abandoned. This was accompanied by a reciprocal move in which there
was a politicisation of commentary on design and history. However, it
must be noted that this took place in its complete differentiation from
the process of design. As such that process was left untouched by
such developments and, therefore, this compounded the presence of a
disjunctive relation between the history and theory of architecture on
one side and design on the other.
All of these elements occurred at once. With the abandoning of the
critical part of what was also lost was the capacity for judgement. While
the intricacy of these positions demands its own history, it is still vital
to proceed with caution precisely because the critical does not have
a necessary relation to a conception of architecture as instrumental.
(And this will be the case whether the question of instrumentality is
conceived positively or negatively.) The positing of instrumentality
became one of the means by which criticality as a project could be
undone in the name of an unannounced though nonetheless virulent
form of conservatism. In order to begin to understand the force of the
term criticality the particularity of its location needs to be recognised,
namely, criticality can only ever be a claim made about that which is
internal to the practice of architecture. In other words, it relates to as
architectures own self-conception. That self-conception involves the
relationship between program, function, materials and the effective
presence of speciic geometries. Taken together they comprise what
will be described in this context as architecture as a material event. If
arguments concerning criticality have an extension beyond architecture
then they are to be based not on the extension of architecture into other
domains, but on the identiication of the possibility of criticality as a
concern within those domains. What this means is that the extension in
question pertains to criticality itself thus the issue in question would
be what would count as the critical within, for example, the domain of
the political; the extension in question therefore is not the extension of
architecture into that domain. The critical is always regional. One of the
regions is architecture.

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Architectural Projections

An example will serve to indicate the way in which criticality has speciicity,
that is, its location within architecture (and by extension, therefore, criticality
remains necessarily unrelated to questions of instrumentality). One of the
ways in which it is possible to write a history of architectural drawing is by
concentrating irstly on the meaning of those drawings and secondly, by
ignoring the fact that the presence of lines within those drawings is always
the after-effect of the technologies that produced them. While this reduction
of the line to the purely pragmatic on the one hand or its idealisation on
the other warrants a detailed history in its own right, the signiicant point
in this context is the occluding of what might be described as the founding
relation between the line and the technologies of production deployed in their
realisation. (The occluding of lines is understood as the after-effect of the
technologies that produced them.) However, once attention is paid to those
technologies then it becomes clear that the lines are incorporated within a
history that is marked by the necessity of discontinuities and ruptures which
are the consequence of those technologies. Hence, it is possible to argue that
central to a history of architectural drawing is the disjunctive relation between
an era of technical reproducibility and an era of digital reproducibility.
(A development some of whose theoretical implications are taken up in
Chapter 2.) The former within architectural drawing as it now exists has
ceded its place to the latter. Accepting this position is to accept that history
is constituted by signiicant points of differentiation and disjunction rather
than historicisms insistence on continuities. The latter historicism is a
set up that would emerge in this context in terms of the idealisation of either
geometries (as occurs in the work of Colin Rowe) or tectonics (as occurs in
the writings of Kenneth Frampton). If therefore there are disjunctive relations,
if, that is, history is marked by discontinuities rather than continuities, then
a different project is in place. It becomes important to make speciic claims
concerning both the location of discontinuities and disjunctive relations in
the irst instance as well as noting their effects in the second. The work
presented in this book can be understood therefore as the attempt to enact
continually this other project.
It is possible to take these comments further by arguing that what is
occurring within them is a clariication of how criticality within architecture
is to be understood. The locus of the critical is architecture as a material
event. Moreover, criticality as a consequence is inextricably bound up with
the presence of the continuous and the discontinuous. The continuity of
architecture though this will be a claim that can be made about continuity
tout court has to be thought in terms of discontinuities.1 (And thus the
possibility for further staging of the discontinuous.) With this structure of
repetition continuity understood as a form of repetition discontinuity

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Introduction

ix

needs to be understood as an iterative reworking. What this means is


straightforward. While architecture has to involve forms of repetition in order
that architecture itself continues, what has to endure as a possibility within
that continuity is the presence of a repetition that takes place again for the
irst time.2 Identiied here, therefore, is the temporality within which the
critical is operative.
The project linked to the retention of the term criticality, in this context,
takes as its premise the argument that the location of these discontinuities
is architecture as a material event. (Tracing the way this position occurs in
the writings and projects of Peter Eisenman is presented in Chapter 7.) It
follows from this insistence on the location of the critical within architecture,
that criticality within other domains is also marked by the effective presence
of productive forms of interruption. What is being suggested, therefore,
to repeat the point made above, is that criticality has a form of abstraction
insofar as criticality pertains to the presence of discontinuities, however, the
locus in which they occur is only ever speciic. It is precisely this mode of
argumentation that severs the link between criticality and instrumentality.)
However, there is an additional element that needs to be noted here. Part
of the effect of the presence of discontinuities is that what marks these
discontinuities in part what establishes them as disjunctive relations is
that they allow for a reworking of speciic histories within the terms set by
the discontinuities themselves. Equally, an insistence on history as comprised
of disjunctive relations provides the grounds for a critical engagement with
conceptions of history that refuse the presence of the discontinuous. Both
a reworking of the way the surface functions as an operative element within
the architecture of Borromini, Semper and Loos (in Chapter 3) on the one
hand and the critical engagement with the historical methodologies at work
within the writings of Emile Kaufmann, Colin Rowe and Kenneth Frampton
(Chapter 5) are occasioned by these concerns. Moreover, the interpretation
of the paper written by Walter Benjamin in conjunction with Asja Lacis on
Naples (Chapter 6) is equally an attempt to reposition a reading of what
might be described as an ostensibly philosophical text in terms of its being
relocated as a prompt for design. This occurs by trying to uncover within it a
set of abstract formulations that can be attributed a generative quality. What
this allows, therefore, is a reworking of the concerns of the text.
In sum, what the term criticality identiies is the way repetition functions
in a determined context here architecture (though, as has already
been suggested, this is an argument that qua argument has much great
extension). Architecture, in order that it remain architecture, has to be
deined by its presence as a material event. Architecture as a material event
has, however, a necessary ideational content. Again an example can clarify

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Architectural Projections

this point. The creation of a volume does not just have a necessary relation
to its capacity to incorporate the body, that body is itself already determined
both by the history of bodies as well as the history of architectures own
engagement with body. (An engagement in which the body igures either
as an analogy for architecture or as the site of architectural investigation in
its own right.) However, the fact that there is an already present relation
between architecture understood minimally as the creation of a volume
and its incorporation of a body having an already deined history and set
of relations, does not mean either that that history cannot be rewritten in
terms of discontinuities rather than continuities or that it is not possible to
investigate other ways of coniguring architectures relation to the body.
Hence the material event as the site of an iterative reworking. Other
possibilities, ones that hold to the reiteration of the architectural, form part
of the engagement with both Kiesler and more emphatically with the work
of NOX speciically the Son-O-House that takes place in Chapter 4. By
concentrating on speciic projects it becomes possible to demonstrate the
way in which the nexus of body/volume is present as the site of an iterative
reworking. The signiicant point in relation to NOX is that the reworking in
question concerns neither program nor materials taken as an end in them
let alone as indifferent to each other. Of signiicance is the nature of their
speciic relation. Again, the reworking in question concerns architectures
presence as a material event.
There are many important consequences arising from an insistence on the
presence of architecture as a material event. As a beginning it involves
avoiding both an idealisation of architecture (an idealisation that is of the
constituent elements of architectures presence as a material event) or
its reduction to a simple pragmatism. Both of these possibilities can only
be resisted once emphasis is given to architectures materiality and once
that materiality is connected to the different technologies and complex of
geometries that accompany architecture. What this then means is that the
material event names the reality of architecture. (In a sense it names its
truth.) In other words, the reality of architecture is that it has always been
the location in which the critical has been at work. Part of the engagement
with that work and indeed part of what marks the works presence is
the possibility of the denial of architecture as a material event. Idealism and
historicism are central to such denials. Denying it, however, necessitates
the undoing of the forces at work that constitute the reality of architecture.
(Reciprocally, of course, what this opens up are moments within
architectures history marked by the afirmation of architecture as a material
event.) Criticality therefore not only holds to architectures identiication with
the material event, it is the material event that generates both the conditions

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Introduction

xi

for an understanding of the reality of architecture and the basis for an


identiication and then the critical engagement with that denial.
Each of the papers collected here mark stages in repositioning the project of
architecture. History, theory and design are not the same; each has its own
determinations. While it is the presence of architecture as a material event
that allows for moments of connection and productive interrelation, what
their afirmation opens up is the place of both research and experimentation
in architecture. The refusal or denial of that project, whether it be in the form
of an idealisation or a nave pragmatism (as though there were any other
form!) will always stand opposed to the reality of architecture. What allows
them to be articulated together and that articulation can have a number of
different forms, one of which is research within architecture is the reality of
architecture itself.

Endnotes
1

This is of course a methodological imperative for a rethinking of historical


time in terms of the discontinuous. Such a person can be argued for from a
number of sources. For example, it can be sustained as a position deploying
arguments as much based on the work of Walter Benjamin as it can the work
of Michel Foucault. Especially, the latters Les mots et les choses (Paris,
Gallimard, 1966).

The conception of repetition thought both in terms of a conception of


repetition in which what occurs does so again for the irst time taken in
relation to a foundational interconnection between repetition and production
identiied by the term iterative reworking form part of both my more
general philosophical writings as well as those more directly concerned with
architecture. See in particular, Art, Mimesis and the Avant-Garde (London,
Routledge, 1991), Architectural Philosophy (London, Continuum, 2001), Style
and Time: Essays on the Politics of Appearance (Chicago, North Western
University Press, 2006) and Writing Art and Architecture (Melbourne,
re:press, 2010).

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1 Nomadism
and Design

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Architectural Projections

There have been a number of different ways in which the relationship


between theory, on the one hand, and the practice of architecture on the
other, has been thought and presented.1 Without rehearsing that history, what
has characterised it is, for the most part, a divide between theory and practice
within the terms set by that history. Central to the activities it engendered
was the need to overcome the divide. Part of that overcoming and here it
must be acknowledged that the project of overcoming a divide was misplaced
from the start led to different strategies in which the architectural and the
theoretical could be joined. Two different, though ultimately related, forms of
argumentation were deployed in such a project. In the irst instance it was
argued that the theoretical (or the philosophical) was already implicated in
the architectural and therefore that architecture would set the terms for any
overcoming. In the second place, it was argued that because architecture,
in its use of the arch, was already within the realm of metaphysics and that
therefore the reiteration of metaphysics or a critique of metaphysics would
allow, from the position of the philosophical, the divide to overcome.
This contestation led either to an abandoning of an interest, on the part of
theory, in the actuality of the design process; or to the ignoring of theoretical
concerns on the level of design. While there have always been those
theoreticians and architects whose work can be located in a more central
position, it remains the case that theory became trapped in the problem of
the divide, and as such it began to move towards a concern with history
which was marked by the absence of any relation to the practice of design.
What dramatically altered this set-up was the introduction of the computer.
Animation software, initially from the ilm industry, began to intrude into
the design process. Moreover, it began to redeine that process and the
pedagogy proper to it. While there are, and remain, different responses to the
question of the computer, the centrality of its presence demands a different
understanding of the role of theory with architecture. Questions of the divide
and its overcoming are no longer appropriate. It is not as though the debate
has been resolved. It simply lacks any contemporary force. Precisely because
the computer marks a deining moment in repositioning the nature of the
design process, the question of theory and its relationship to design must be
posed in an emphatically different way. No matter what questions come to
be asked, they cannot avoid this situation. And yet, the computer need not
determine thinking, nor need it lead, necessarily, to an acritical conception
of design. (Questions of criticality have themselves to be redeined.) The
challenge concerns how the now ineliminable presence of the computer and
the inevitable changes in the practice of design are to be thought. It goes
without saying that, in there being more than one answer to such a question,
the differing answers signal the presence of a productive and important

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Nomadism and Design

conlict. Here, however, the conlicts are new. Alliances, on the level of theory
and practice, are remade in relation to them. Moreover, new and different
histories have to be written.
These concerns will be approached here in terms of the relationship between
nomadism and design. Fundamental to the approach developed is that the
nomadic becomes the place name for a reworking of relationships that
were once marked by unity and directness and which are now marked
by complexity, plurality and the indirect. Such a term owes no particular
allegiance to any speciic philosophical or theoretical position. While the term
nomad may be thought to have an interpretive inevitability, it is deployed
here in terms of an open ield of possibilities. The nomadic designates a
thinking whose determinations are not prescribed in advance.
Any understanding of a potential nomadism within architecture where
nomadism is understood as has been indicated as one possible term
in which to think the project of design has to situate itself in relation
to the shifts that mark out the terrain of architectural practice. Using the
term nomad, a further consideration, while it cannot be pursued here,
nonetheless needs to be noted. Either the nomad designates an essentially
marginal position such that the nomad becomes the actual eccentric or
the nomad deines the centre even though such a deinition, and therefore
such a place, is yet to be discovered. This latter possibility involves
understanding how nomadism would have to be linked to a reconsideration
of place in architecture. Any such reconsideration would start from the
recognition that neither place nor architectures symbolic dimension worked
in a way that constructed either a uniied community or a uniied urban
ield. What this means is that the nomadic opens up the possibility of a
reconsideration of place and symbol in terms of a cosmopolitan architecture.
Here, rather than pursue that possibility, nomadism will be restricted to the
way it opens up the actuality of design.
What this means, in this instance, is allowing the relationship between the
process of design and the realisation of that design in built terms to be an
indirect one. Once the indirect is allowed to predominate then this opens
up the space in which it is possible to develop a conception of the diagram
that is not a representation but which carries the capacity to become
a representation. The move from diagram to plan, therefore, has to be
indirect. Indirectness is a direct result of allowing the computer centrality
within the design process. However, the movement is not always one way.
Precisely because an indirect relationship is possible one in which the
representational was an unactualised potential within the diagram it is also
the case that such a relationship can be effaced by being made direct. What

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Architectural Projections

this means is that the diagram would be refused its diagrammatic status
and would be turned into a representation. Potential would be effaced in the
name of the already actualised.
There is another sense in which it possible to position the indirect. In
this instance it pertains to what can be described as the temporality of
completion. In this instance, the argument would be that it is possible to
inscribe a conception of the incomplete into that which has been completed.
Whether this is an internal interstitial space demanding programmatic
negotiation, or an event space whose performativity is an inherent
architectural element, what is involved in such instances is the maintained
presence of the incomplete within the complete. At work here is the
inscription of a yet-to-be quality into form.2 This quality can be understood as
nomadic.

Nomadism and Design

Endnotes
1

This chapter was irst given as a contribution to a discussion on architecture


and nomadism. While its initial project was delimited by the need to make
that contribution, what is named here, as nomadism became another way
of thinking of the speciicity of design as a locus of architectural theory.
<AUTHOR: Please check this sentence above; as it was it originally didnt
quite make sense.>

I have discussed some of the issues relating to diagrams and the


identiication of the yet-to-be in much greater detail in Architectural
Philosophy (Benjamin, 2001).

There are two points being made here. The irst is that due to the changes
in the technology of design the relationship between the diagram and its
realisation need no longer be direct. The movement can be thought of as
nomadic rather than as that which demands a single direction of realisation.
The second point is that rather than attributing inality programmatic
completion to the inished object or work it can remain a site of negotiation
and possibility in which the potential for programmatic openings are part of
the work itself. That potential would be an intrinsic part of what could be
described as the works work. In this instance, the nomadic would be located
in a potential for movement that formed part of the objects actual structure.
Not literal movement but programmatic openings. The term nomadic can be
applied to this quality.
The signiicant point in both instances is that the nomadic needs not be
taken literally. The term comes to mark out a mode of thinking in which the
nomadic is linked to movement and time within the activity of an architectural
works self-realisation as architecture. Allowing the nomadic to designate
these possibilities is bound up with that movement in the history of design
that allows the computer centrality. What this means is that there is no longer
a divide between theory and practice in a way that would yield the closure
of a gap or the divides overcoming. The theoretical is now relocated. Theory
is inherently bound up with the questions that arise from within the design
process. Those questions only arise because of there no longer being direct
relationships. The presence of an inescapable nomadism now there as the
potential allowed by the computer means that locus of theory has to be
understood as set by engagements with the practice of design.

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2 A Plurality of
Actions:
Towards Ontology of Techniques

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Architectural Projections

Art practices as well as the practice of architecture occur within the age
of the digital. No longer, however, is it enough to argue that art occurs in
the age of its mechanical reproducibility. Such a claim, while true, remains
limited. The digital has now become a way of constructing images that are
themselves original from the very start. And yet, even this distinction needs
to be developed since the digital image consists of elements that can be
subject to differing manipulations depending upon how the relationship
between the image and its components is then worked on by the
distinctive possibilities inherent within differing software packages.1 What
marks out the digital image is not to be understood in terms of originality in
any direct sense. Rather the potential within the digital image can be initially
described as concerning the relationship between the image and software.
However, that connection can be reformulated in more theoretical terms as
involving the relationship between the material and the immaterial.
It is precisely because of the necessity for that reconiguration that the digital
occasions a fundamental interruption both in the production of images, the
extension that those images can then have, and in the theoretical innovations
that are demanded as a result. Extension, in this context, refers as much to
the incorporation of the image within an extended digital form functioning
as the work of art, as it does to the digital image that is constructed in order
for a move from, for example, the screen to forms of prototyping. These
changes give rise to a new demand. The move to the digital brings with it
the need to reconigure the relationship between technology and practice.
The transformation of practice brings a number of considerations into play.
One can be explicated in terms provided by Walter Benjamin. In his 1934 text
Author as Producer, Benjamin wrote in relation to artistic production, though
it is now possible to make the same claim in relation to the production of the
architectural, that:
What matters is the exemplary character of the production which
is able irst to induce others to produce and, second, to put an
improved apparatus at their disposal. And this apparatus is better
the more consumers it is able to turn into producers, that is,
readers or spectators into collaborators. (Benjamin, 2003)
The digital allows for a connection to be drawn between production
and collaboration in ways that earlier methods of image creation made
inconceivable. As will be suggested, the advent of the digital, and thus
the location of practice deined as much by the diverse, if not divergent,
possibilities raised by the way the material and the immaterial are
interconnected. This means that rather than the singularity engendered

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A Plurality of Actions: Towards Ontology of Techniques

by the identiication of technology, with hardware deining the locus of


conceptual consideration, a different conceptual coniguration has emerged.
There is, therefore, a different set of demands. What is demanded
necessitates a response. The locus of that response deines, as has been
suggested, the place theory in relation to the digital.
The traditional way of construing the relationship between technology
and practice has for the most part operated with a number of interrelated
assumptions. Three are central. The irst is that the technological refers
to machinery or equipment. The second is that technology is an allencompassing and therefore singular term, and thus the activities linked to
it have a similar status in that all are instances of a technological practice.
The third assumption, while the most demanding, is only ever implicit.
This assumption is that technology as a uniied ield, and practices as
divergent but dependent upon a founding unity, work together to deine
the ontological status of both technology and techniques. While these
assumptions need to be sketched in greater detail, what needs to be noted
in advance is that the move from technology to techniques gives rise to their
radical reconiguration. In other words, a move of this nature one in which
emphasis will shift to techniques and away from a monolithic conception of
technology necessitates, in the irst place, a rethinking of how machinery
is understood. In the second place, it will demand taking up the concomitant
conception of practice linked to this reconsideration. Finally, and more
emphatically, the move from a uniied ontology of technology to a differential
ontology of techniques has to be incorporated into these concerns. Ontology
is not an additional concern. The ontological is always at work within the
operative nature of both technology and techniques. Once again there is a
similar recasting insofar as the move from technology to techniques entails a
reworking of the ontological.
While the terms machine, practice and ontology provide the setting
through which these notes will be directed, the terms are themselves
interconnected. Not only does one presuppose the other, each is already at
work within the other. Indeed, the only productive way of charting moves
within the history of the image is to take the question of the images
production and its subsequent practice as integral to any account of the
image. Such an approach resists an idealisation of the image by insisting both
on it its productive nature its having been produced and on its location
within a ield of activities. A distinction would need to be drawn therefore
between a conception of the image in which the image was identiied as
a site of meaning and one in which the account of the image referred of
necessity to its production. With the move to digital reproducibility the image
cedes its place to the produced image. A move of this nature still allows for

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Architectural Projections

an image to have meaning, however, meaning would always be the aftereffect of the speciic modalities of production. In sum, meaning would be the
results of techniques rather than an end in itself. Consequently, separating
any one of the elements that deine the produced image that is, machine,
practice and ontology would yield an account of the image that oscillated
between idealism and the anecdotal. Allowing for their interconnection is to
occasion a spacing in which there is transformation of the setting in which
theory and practices connect.

Machine
The convention underpinning most discussions of technology identiies
the technological with an apparatus or with equipment. The relationship
between the user and the product while mediated by the apparatus would
then have attributed to the machine a singular status. Machines in this
sense are tools. Tools form a fundamental part of the history of practice.
This position brings with it a more complex state of affairs than a simple
connection between the history of a discourse and the technology proper
to it. What has to be added is that the relationship between the technology
and discourse works to delimit ields of practice. In the case of architecture,
a deining aspect of the interconnection of technology and practice is the
production of representations that are taken to have a generative quality.
(The question of how the generative is to be understood, and thus the
move from the image to built form, remains open.) While this may seem too
abstract a claim, it is not. The argument is that the history of any discourse
cannot be separated from the ways in which the discourse represents
its own activities. Moreover, it is possible to argue that developments
in the technology of representation are integral to developments in its
practice. Practice is modiied as a consequence. The history of architecture
necessitates the incorporation of the history of representational techniques
and the means by which they are produced.
What this argument entails, therefore, is that there is from the start a
fundamental interconnection between a speciic representation and the
processes of representation. The technical means by which representations
are created forms an integral part both of the nature and the status of the
representation. It should be noted, however, that this is not to accord a
privileged status to representation taken as an end in itself. Nor is it to claim
that images are straightforwardly representational (if by representation what
is intended is a relationship between an inside and an outside). Rather, the
central point is that the discursive practice of architecture, though there will

AP_Benjamin_TEXT-2pp.indd 10-11

A Plurality of Actions: Towards Ontology of Techniques 11

be a real connection to other practices for which the image is central, is


inextricably bound up with the way in which images representations of that
practice are produced. That production is internal to, and thus forms, part of
architecture as a discursive practice. Representations are not the result of a
series of magical operations. Quite simply, they occur because of the use of
certain tools or machines. (Here, of course, the term tool is being extended
to cover pencils, compasses, drafting equipment, and the like.)
Each of the terms designating the machine equipment, apparatus, tool
and of course machine itself have their own complex history. Equally the
terms technology and technique are grounded in the Greek term tekhn;
a term, which has been subject to a range of extended philosophical and
philological investigations.2 While by no means precluding the necessity
to work through the detail of their historical as well as the etymological
afiliations, what underlies them is a speciic conception of function. Even
though a given piece of equipment or tool may have a number of uses that
number is deined by the shape, size, weight, mobility and so on, of the
piece of equipment itself. Function, even if there is a possible variety of
functions, is always delimited by the speciicity of the equipments physical
presence. The singularity of the machine thus construed is located
in the way its material presence translates into functional activity. The
translation in question needs to be understood as a speciic conception of
use. Any limitation in regard to use has a direct relation to physical possibility.
Machines reach their limit when demands are in excess of physical
possibility; when, that is, they are literally no longer of use. (This of course
also occurs with computers. Nonetheless the demands determining use only
ever exist in relation to software.)
Such a formulation of the machine repositions both its presence and its
operative quality. (In other words, there is a fundamental shift in the nature
of the machinic.) While an approach of this type maintains a relationship
between the machine and its physical presence, rather than let that presence
deine how the machine is to be understood, as would be the case when
the machine exists as no more than a tool, it also deines use in terms of
the machines internality; that is, in terms of its singular operative quality. In
other words, it locates the machines potentiality as internal to the machine
itself. (Reciprocally, as will be noted, it also brings to the fore the centrality
of potentiality as a key concept.) Internality, in this precise sense, gives the
machine a singular presence that deines and locates the range of practices
that it enables. With the advent of the digital it is not as though machines
no longer igure. What comes to be changed is the way potentiality is
understood. Rather than being internal to the machines material presence,
potentiality is a relationship between the material and the immaterial.

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Architectural Projections

Equally, use is no longer given by a conception of translation that is deined


simply in terms of material presence. With the advent of the digital and
thus the presence of the computer as the generator of design possibilities
another conception of use comes into play. Henceforth, it concerns the
limits established by a relationship between hardware, that is, the computer,
and software. While the latter operates internally, that operation only ever
occurs in relation to the hardware. There is an obvious reciprocity here as the
hardware operates with a range of divergent software programs. Relationality
rather than internality has come to deine the site of potentiality. Prior to
the digital there is both a different conception of machine and a different
conception of potentiality. In that instance potentiality was deined in terms
of a singular operative quality. The redeining of potentiality needs to be
understood as concomitant with a shift in the ontological status of the locus
of image creation and thus of design.

Practice
Practice deines a speciic type of activity. Speciicity is given by the nature
of the machine and implicitly by its related conception of potentiality. Taken
together machine and potentiality deine use. With the arrival of the digital
as a design tool rather than as that which merely represented design, the
practice of design is reformulated. There is a move away from a conception
of the machine in which use is delimited by the machines material presence
and in which the machine remains a tool. What occurs subsequently is the
move to a conception of practice that takes the site of use as a relation
between a machine and the realisation of divergent potentialities given by the
different relationships existing between the machine and different software
packages. An intrinsic part of this conception of practice is the transporting of
images from one program to another. The transformations have to be thought
beyond the hold of strict teleological development. Such a conception of
development the move from an assumed arch to a posited telos would
work, and only work, with the assumption that the interplay between drawing
and the instruments of its realisation does, all things being equal, lead in only
one direction. The goal or telos would then be the realised result. Its state
of realisation would be such that it is possible to trace the effectuation of a
project both from its point of inception and to its actualisation. Changes are to
be thought in terms of perfections or adaptations.
With the digital this sense of direction is interrupted (an interruption occurring
within both practice and the conception of machine and thus demanding an
interruption on the level of the conceptual). An example will indicate how

AP_Benjamin_TEXT-2pp.indd 12-13

A Plurality of Actions: Towards Ontology of Techniques 13

this takes place. Transporting images from one program to another for
example, opening an ostensibly two-dimensional digital image within an
animation software program introduces a sense of progression that has to
be thought beyond teleological and thus linear development. This occurs for
at least two reasons. The irst reason pertains to the nature of the difference
between programs. Different senses of the image are produced. Moreover,
the potentiality of each of the subsequent iterations will vary from program to
program. Understanding how to negotiate with these variations becomes part
of the operative dimension within technique. Some images will have a direct
relation to material form while others will necessitate the retention of forms
of abstraction in order that an eventual relation to material presence can be
realised. Engaging with these varying senses of distance is not just another
instance of technique; it underscores the fact that the move from the material
presence of the machine to further instances of material presence the
constructed object, or elements thereof involves the continual mediation
of the immaterial. It will be precisely the reintroduction of the material as an
analogue model one allowing for its digitisation that locates a sense of
potentiality in material models. It is, however, a potentiality that can only be
realised in the move from the material to the immaterial (that is, from the
analogue to the digital).
The second reason why the conception of linear development that
characterised representational practices prior to the advent of digital design
no longer pertains is the result of the introduction of unpredictable elements
transformations that could not have been predicted in advance. The
presence of the unpredictable within the relation of the material and the
immaterial signals a fundamental shift. With the abeyance of linearity a new
set of issues has to be confronted. Again it is a confrontation demanded as
much by a different location of potentiality as its ontological transiguration.
To the extent that the digital is understood as introducing a new era in how
images are produced and deployed, then while it is always possible to
resist the interruption and insist on the continuance of traditional modes of
practice practice in terms of design and the interpretation of design and the
theoretical engagement with it in the end that insistence will be undone
by the demands of practice itself. Allowing for what has been identiied as
the relocation of potentiality generates different senses of practice. Not
only do questions of design technique need to be rethought, there needs
to be an accompanying recognition that this shift has an impact both on the
teaching of design as well as in the content and purpose of the pedagogy of
architectural theory. Practice, as with research, needs to be understood as
extending from teaching to the architectural ofice.

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14

Architectural Projections

Ontology
As has been suggested, implicit in the argument that has presented thus
far is ontology. This can be addressed initially in terms of the image. That
the digital image deines a ield of activity is commonplace. What is central,
however, is that work with the image, the identiication of elements within
it and their incorporation into other images, is for the most part an activity
that is deined by a relationship between the initial image and software.
The potentiality of the image does not lie in its depth, as though the more
an image is opened up the closer it gets to showing a hidden element an
element given at the site of a possible collision between depth and truth.
Rather, with the digital image, potentiality has a different locus and thus
a different conceptual coniguration. This was the point indicated above,
namely that with the produced image there is a concomitant shift in the focus
and deinition of architectural theory.
However, if there is a locus classicus of the earlier position the site of
collision between depth and truth it is Antonionis 1966 ilm Blow-Up.
The narrative of the ilm circulates around the possibility that the results of
a crime may have been inadvertently photographed. Whether or not this
supposition is true depends upon the possibility of discovering it within the
image. If there is a truth, it lies not just hidden in the image but hidden in
order to be revealed at a later stage. This is the conceit that the ilm exploits.
What is played with, a play both structuring and providing the narratives
ilmic presence, is the possibility of a relationship between depth and truth.
(It should be noted in addition that this is a ilm in which it can only be a
speciic image, a ilmic one that presents an investigation into the nature
and the possibility of an image, that is, the analogue photograph as image.)3
Potentiality in this instance, therefore, does not just inhere in the nature of
the image and in the images relation to the ield of techniques; its location is
internal to the image. The technique of enlarging part of the image depends
on the one hand on the analogue nature of the photograph and on the way
that part of an analogue photograph can be excised and then blown up.
The technique, which is itself reliant on the analogue nature of the image,
is deployed in order that elements that were not immediately visible can
then become visible. Not only is this an impossible state of affairs with a
digital photograph because it is comprised of pixels, it is also the case, as
was suggested, that its possibility locates potentiality within the image itself.
With the digital image depth is replaced by the primacy of relation between
the material and the immaterial, and thus potentiality acquires an inherently
different location.

AP_Benjamin_TEXT-2pp.indd 14-15

A Plurality of Actions: Towards Ontology of Techniques 15

Conceptually the direct result of this repositioning is that the binary opposition
surface/depth is no longer adequate in order to interpret images. It is not as
though the move from the analogue to the digital image means that in the
place of depth there is now only the surface. The opposition between surface
and depth will not allow for the locus of potentiality to move from the image
qua image to the images production and subsequent relation to software and
then to a repositioning of the generative. Once relation is attributed centrality,
then the unity of the machine as a given and its position as the source
of techniques is also effaced. With the advent of software the machine
becomes the site of a different set of techniques. Each set is deined not just
by the relationship between the computer and a given software program but
also by the differing and complex relationship between software programs.
While on one level there is little remarkable in the transformation of images
images as both photos and designs in the movement through differing
programs the signiicance of the effect of this movement needs to be noted.
Once description is recognised to be inadequate, then noting it means
developing a theoretical account. The project leading to the development of
an ontology of techniques is part of that account.
What is occurring, as has been suggested, is not just a transformation in how
both the machine and its use are understood. (Use, once it includes the user,
means that the transformation marks the move from the solitary individual to
the design team.) Of equal importance is the centrality of the machine as a
given, and as such, the originator of a range of techniques has been replaced,
not by a new sense of the uniied machine if the machine the computer
is taken as an end in itself. Rather, it is no longer possible to speak of the
machine independently of activity nor, moreover, is it possible to speak of
activity as though the term designated a form of synthetic unity. The machine
therefore is no longer deined by material presence. Its relationship to the
hand or to the eye to the body in general is mediated from the start. That
mediation does not mean that there is a deferred or inauthentic relation to
the machine. On the contrary the machine is a site of original relatedness.
In other words, the ontology of the machine what the machine is in terms
of the being proper to the machine has to be formulated in terms of an
original relation. The relation at its most abstract can be described as existing
between the material and the immaterial. The computer, however, is not an
abstract machine. Such a conception of machine still deines it in terms of
its internal possibilities. What needs to be recognised is that the computer
is only ever given in terms of relationality. Unlike the purely material tool
whose use lay in the potentialities of its material presence, the original
relation between the material and the immaterial means that the singular
machine is only ever present in terms of its own dispersion through a ield

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16

Architectural Projections

of activities. These activities are themselves only possible because of this


original relation. The situation, in which the unity of the tool determined
use and the range of uses depended upon the nature of the tools material
presence, has given way to a network of divergent activities that assumes
the original relatedness between the material and the immaterial as its
condition of possibility. (That original condition is itself already the locus of a
founding ontological difference; namely, the one pertaining to the difference
between the material and the immaterial.) However, unlike the pre-existing
ontological coniguration, which deined variety in terms of the determining
presence of a founding unity, there is an original condition of ontological
plurality itself dependent upon the complex relation between the material
and the immaterial but which works beyond the hold of the predictive. The
unpredictable transformative potentials within programs, the possibility of
emergent intelligences occurring in the movement between programs or with
the incorporation of plug-ins programs learning is a possibility that resists
synthesis. That resistance is the impossibility of a reduction to a founding
sense of unity.
An ontology of techniques cannot be contained since the capacity for
transformation and development is given within a series of relations whose
internal determinations can be neither known nor determined in advance.
(Hence the use of the term nomadism in Chapter 1). Potentiality is always to
be realised. Its realisation is the presence of architecture as a material event.
The realisation, however, is not mere abstraction; it is only ever present as
technique. Techniques are of course the name in terms of which potentialities
are realised. In addition, the relationship between potentiality and technique
itself dependent upon the relationship between the material and the
immaterial deines as much an area central to the development of research
in architecture as it does a central element of architectural pedagogy.

A Plurality of Actions: Towards Ontology of Techniques 17

as an ontology of techniques. For Benjamins text see The Work of Art in


the Age of its Mechanical Reproduction (Benjamin, 2003). For one of the
most signiicant contributions to the project of responding philosophically to
the role of software within design, see Manuel de Landas Philosophies of
Design: The case of modelling software (de Landa, 2002).
2

The key texts in this regard are by Heidegger. While it has not been
undertaken here, the project of developing an ontology of techniques needs
to be understood as signalling the need to think through another conception
of the ontological. A conception that takes a founding relational ontology as its
point of departure, and thus works to displace Heideggers understanding of
ontological difference. I have identiied one direction such a possibility might
take in my The Plural Event (Benjamin, A. 1993). For a critique of Heideggers
conception of technology see Michael E. Zimmermans Heideggers
Confrontation with Modernity: Technology, politics and art (Zimmerman,
1990).

Indeed, if there were to be a detailed analysis of the ilm an analysis not


driven by a concern with mere content but with its effective presence as
ilm then it would be this point that would provide the point of departure.
The ilms limit does not lie in its narrative content. Blow-Up is delimited by its
relation and the incorporation of that relation to the history of photography.

Endnotes
1

Elements of the argument advanced here are obviously indebted to Walter


Benjamins work on technical reproducibility. Part of the force of Benjamins
argument is that there needs to be compatibility between technological
innovation and concomitant shifts in the concepts and categories through
which the products of those innovations are interpreted. The digital needs
to be understood as just such an innovation. The project of theory in relation
to the digital is to develop the concepts and categories through which its
signiicance can be noted and judged. This chapter is a modest attempt to
indicate some of the issues in play in formulating what has been described

AP_Benjamin_TEXT-2pp.indd 16-17

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19

3 Surface Efects:
Borromini, Semper, Loos

AP_Benjamin_TEXT-2pp.indd 18-19

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20

Architectural Projections

Surface/Theory
Within architecture the surface igures as both a historical and a theoretical
concern. As an introduction to the speciic engagement with Borromini,
Semper and Loos all of whose work will play a pivotal role in this recasting
of the surface as a concept within architectural theory a more detailed
consideration needs to be given to a concern with the surface in the
context of architectural theory.1 Three elements guide this approach to the
relationship between theory and the surface. All are integral to the operation
of the architectural.
In the irst place, there is the deinition of architectural theory. It needs to
be understood as an engagement with issues arising from the practice of
design. Practice has to be given as great an extension as possible running
from issues delimited by pedagogy to those whose concern is with the detail
of structures and the nature of research. Within practice understood in this
extended sense these speciic issues will have autonomy because of such
a positioning. Secondly, integral to a theoretical engagement with architecture
as a practice, is the recognition that architecture is necessarily bound up with
its means of representation. (These means igure as much in the production
of images as they do in form creation itself.) This does not entail that
architecture is identical with the image of architecture. Indeed the opposite is
the case. What it does mean, however, is that drawings, diagrams, computer
images, three-dimensional print outs, models, and so on, all form part of the
focus of architectural theory. To the extent that the means of representation
change, there will be subsequent changes in how the practice of architectural
theory works. There needs to be a certain reciprocity since moves within
the means of representation should be accompanied by changes, or the
very least accommodations, on the level of theory. (For example, theory
cannot remain indifferent to the move from Cartesian based CAD systems to
animation software programs such as Maya.)2
The inal element concerns the relationship between theory and history.
The conjecture here is that there is an important difference between the
objects that comprise the history of architecture and the presence of the
same objects within architectural theory. While there will be an important
relationship between history and theory, the signiicance of this distinction
should not be overlooked. What is at issue is the possibility of the history
of architecture having a productive presence within the practice of design.
Again, the argument will be that it is only by construing the history of
architecture theoretically that it will then become possible for that history to
play a role in particular modalities of practice. In regard to this inal point it will
be essential to distinguish between history as a speciic discursive activity

AP_Benjamin_TEXT-2pp.indd 20-21

Surface Efects: Borromini, Semper, Loos 21

and what will be called a theoretical history. The details of these elements
need to be taken up. While there is the temptation to treat each separately
there are important connections between them. The point of departure,
however, has to be with the deinition of architectural theory.
If the theoretical is deined as an internal condition internal to architectural
practice then it cannot be readily separated from the possibilities that obtain
for form creation. There are different ways in which it can be engendered. As
an activity, form creation can be guided, for example, as much by program as
it can by the abstract activity in which volume (or form) is the consequence
of the deformation of a grid. Equally, form creation will always be connected
to what a certain set of materials will allow and what others will preclude. To
the extent that form and materials are involved, then the geometries within
which they are articulated are also central. Once it can be assumed that the
relations between materials, geometries and forms are not given in advance
then this has the twofold effect of delimiting a space in which architectural
research can be done. At the same time it begins to deine the ambit of that
research. In addition, and this is the second point, it locates not just the space
of theory but more signiicantly its necessity. Precisely because relationships
have to be established and decisions made this opens up the need for forms
of deliberation that are continually informed. What occasions the introduction
of theory is the presence of a space opened by a relationship whose formal
presence cannot be determined in advance.
History, as generally understood, involves the location of an object within a
ield of activity in which the object has meaning because of that context.3
Writing history involves showing in what way the ield individuates the
particular object; though equally, it is concerned with the way in which the
ield is maintained by the particulars reference to it. As such, history can only
insist on particularity to the extent that what continues to be held in place
is the network or ield. This ield occasions the objects meaning (and thus
the objects presence as a cultural or historical sign). While such a position
enables an account of innovation to be given, and thus an account of how an
object may interrupt a ield of activity, perhaps to the point of redeining it,
what cannot be given within such a setting is an account of the object that
insists both on the centrality of innovation and on the object of innovation as
able to cause an iterative reworking of the elements of history. The historical
question does not concern the possibility of another form of innovation,
or a reworking of the given, in order that a further innovative potential be
released. The latter possibility the destruction of the ield of meaning in
order to occasion innovation becomes the deinitional concern of theory.
The preoccupations of theory, in such a context, are with the effectuation
of the particular as architecture. In regard to the objects of history, what this

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Architectural Projections

means, as has been indicated, is their capacity to be given another context


in order that a potential unrecognised by the founding context can play
a productive role in form generation. This is a possibility that emerges if the
hold of history as deined by a strict contextualism is released.
The immediate question that has to be addressed is the position of the
surface the surface both as an existing architectural reality and as a
theoretical concept within these large formulations of the concerns of
architectural theory. To ask the question what is a surface in architecture?
is to ask as much about the practical implications of how surfaces are used
and materials are deployed to create them, as it is to ask about the generation
of surfaces on computer screens. This latter possibility means that surfaces
can be granted complex histories internal to the construction of the surface
itself. More signiicantly, it will allow for the logic that generates the surface
and the one that enables change to be registered to be one and the same
and thus internal to the surface as an operative ield. The key move here,
however, and it is the one that necessitates that a theoretical history of the
surface be written this chapter should be understood as a contribution to
that history is that such a form of production gives rise to a conception of
the surface as that which can have an effect rather than simply being the
consequence of the process of its creation. Once a surface can effect that
is, it can bring something about then it can be understood as that which
works to distribute program. The effect will not be instrumental; rather it
will be inherent in the operation of the surface itself. (This will, of course,
transform the way the term surface is understood.) Once the surface can be
construed either as that which distributes programmable space, or functional
concerns, or the elements of architecture (for instance, walls and columns),
then what is at work is a form of production; hence the surface effect. While
such a conception of the surface has only arisen since the use of animation
software in the design process, it will allow a history of the surface effect
to be constructed. Such a project would have the salutary effect of robbing
the present of its claim to pure novelty by allowing a retroactive history to be
constructed. It will be a history of the surface written from indeed made
possible by that which occasions and deines the present. This occurs
in the precise sense that the moments within this retroactive history are
given coherence by the concerns of the present and those concerns are the
issues that arise today for and from the practice of design. While the
nature of this conception of the historical decontextualisation allowing for a
theoretical history demands further clariication, at the very minimum what
has been provided is a point of departure.
Procedurally what will be argued is that the role of the surface in Borrominis
San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, in Sempers writings on cladding as well as

AP_Benjamin_TEXT-2pp.indd 22-23

Surface Efects: Borromini, Semper, Loos 23

in his discussion of antiquities especially Trajans Column, and inally in Adolf


Loos Haus Mller, while on one level having little in common, on another
level do have an important afinity. That afinity is constructed retrospectively.
It has to do with the way either the writings or speciic buildings are
concerned with the surface. What is important, therefore, is to begin to
establish how each of these moments, when run together, creates part of the
history of the surface effect. The lack of immediate similarity marking each
of these domains means that a different way in to the question at hand the
surface that effects has to emerge in each case. In regards to Borromini
what will become important is the way that the move from an externally
regulated system in this instance the one given by the analogy between
the body and the building to one whose regulation is internal marks the
presence of the surface effect. The move to the surface will be accompanied
by a decontextualising move in which both the internal and external
aspects of the building as well as certain drawings by Borromini come to be
repositioned as objects within a theoretical history.
In the case of Semper, the key opening moment, at least for this project, is
his discussion of the wall in The Four Elements of Architecture.4 If the walls
original meaning is identiied as spatial enclosure, it is then possible to
distinguish between a structure that is simply load-bearing and the wall. (The
former may be no more than that which supports the realisation of spatial
enclosure.) Once this conception of the wall transformed into a concern
with the surface is interarticulated with Sempers refusal of the distinction
between ornament and structure, then surface can begin to be identiied
with concerns delimited by program and function. At the minimum, it allows
the elements of architecture wall, loor, column, corner and so on to be
an effect of an operative or generative conception of the surface. (Hence a
surface deined in terms of potentiality rather than simple literal presence.)
This positioning of Semper will take place in terms of an initial juxtaposition
with Ruskin for whom architecture is the adornment on any ediice. It is
not as though Semper returns to the ediice by a refusal of the identiication
of architecture and ornament. His position is far more radical. What will
be argued is that he refuses the terms set by the opposition.5 As a result
architecture can be thought beyond the opposition structure/ornament. This
refusal should now be seen as a radical opening in architectural thinking, one
resisted by so-called postmodern architecture whose aims were for the most
part explicable in terms of a reintroduction of that very distinction.
Loos signiicance, initially, can be identiied in those writings, which try to
identify the futility of ornamentation. The distancing of ornamentation needs
to be read, at least in part, as a move to the centrality of the surface. With
Loos there is an important addition. Programmatic concerns are brought

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Architectural Projections

about by the interrelation of surface and volume. Starting with Sempers


redeinition of the wall as that which effects spatial enclosure, the project is
then to establish in what way the cladding within Loos Haus Mller moves
the wall away from reductive identiication with the literal wall.6 Moreover,
when it becomes possible to locate the actual functional operation of the
building in the cladding (Bekleidung), cutting the Raumplan in order to
allow for circulation and program, then it is equally possible to allow for the
presence of the effect of the wall without there having to be a literal wall.7
Even though Loos claim that the interior of the house should reveal all, while
the exterior remain mute, is well known, the force, perhaps the potential,
created by the Haus Mller cannot be reduced to this one authorial comment.
The silence of the exterior cannot be enforced. It has an ineliminable
potential. (A potential that decontextualisation can release.) What this means
is that the interiors presence can be described as functionally indifferent to
the exterior of the building. Not only does this create two different surfaces
surfaces held by the literal wall though not reducible to it it also allows
those surfaces programmatic possibilities that are capable of a relation of
indifference. (The literal wall would then need to be understood as that which
carried two surfaces.) Freed from their initial structural or tectonic constraints
actual walls are able to function as surfaces that effect. In other words,
they are able to work as distributors of program rather than as markers of
putatively neutral spaces. As a consequence, walls now as surfaces can
become effects of the surface.
In sum, what Loos achieves is a practical and workful conception of the
surface, by having freed the surface from its reduction to the literal wall,
even if it is one whose potential was not fully explored in his actual buildings.
Nonetheless, there is a signiicant opening. From within the purview of this
argument the vocabulary of walls and loors has to be reworked such that
what is given central place is the surface. Whether a surface is also a wall or
a loor becomes a consideration that has to be integrated into its presence
as a surface. They become moments of ixity on a surface, moments that are
usually the consequences of programmatic constraints. Instead of its being
attributed a static quality, the surface will henceforth have a dynamic one.
While this can be generalised in terms of the surface effect, the details will
always need to be examined. Only then is it possible to occasion that move
in which what becomes important is the surface as a process and, therefore,
as a locus of activity. Process and activity will always work to displace the
surface from a historically determined context.8
Once it can be argued therefore that, from the position of theory, Loos
allows for the intersection of surface and volume to distribute program, the
surface takes on a particular quality. It becomes the abstract or diagrammatic

AP_Benjamin_TEXT-2pp.indd 24-25

Surface Efects: Borromini, Semper, Loos 25

presentation of that which opens up ields of activity. The productive


sense of the surface gives rise to a range of research projects that are
determined by the nature of the relationship between the diagrammatic and
its ensuing architectural representation. From within this framework the
surface will remain an abstract possibility. The release of the potential that
abstraction contains, and the manner in which that release occurs, or more
problematically is occluded, is the act of realisation.

Opening: The Body


Architecture has relied on models or analogies in order to deine its activity
or delimit its ield of operation. From Vitruvius, up until the recent past, one
of the most pervasive analogies has been the body.9 What will be suggested
here, in order to open up the place of the surface, is that not only have
developments in architecture overcome the hold of that analogy, that freedom
has allowed a return to earlier architectural forms. Such a return means that
these forms can be reinterpreted. In a sense architecture can develop another
relation to the body by its having been freed from a relationship based on
an analogy between the building and the body. Consequently, it is possible
to take up, from within architecture, issues that pertain, for example, to the
disabled body or the gendered body precisely because issues that relate to
embodied existence are no longer positioned by the analogy between the
built and the body. The body has not been reconigured and the nature of the
analogy changed. Rather, the body can be reconigured because the analogy
has been overcome. Part of the move to the surface accompanies this
repositioning of architectures relation to the body.
Of the many formulations of the relationship between body and architecture
the one found in Albertis On the Art of Building captures the nature of what
is involved.10 It is not just that beauty is deined in terms of the internal
adequacy of proportion, the internal divisions of the human body also provide
the measure for the building. Of the many passages that could be cited one
of the more apposite is the following:
The shapes and sizes for the setting out of columns, of which
the ancients distinguished three kinds according to the variations
of the human body, are well worth understanding. When they
considered mans body, they decided to make columns after his
image. Having taken the measurements of a man, they discovered
that the width, from some side to the other, was a sixth of the

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26

Architectural Projections

height, while the depth from navel to kidneys was a tenth. (Alberti,
1988, p. 309)11
What is important in this passage is twofold. Not only is there the strength
of the analogy, measurement and the geometry of proportion are structured
by it. Measure is always deined externally. Not only is the body a given, it
provides accepting a symbiosis between building and body the ground of
construction and evaluation.
Part of the force that can be attributed to the analogy is this structuring
potential. Fundamental to the process was an essential anthropocentrism.
This is not the pursuit of humanistic values though that may have been
the case but the identiication of the generative element of design within
an analogy in which architecture was always determined externally. When
architecture moves to the modern period a movement, which, as is being
suggested, sanctions a retrospective reinterpretation of the tradition then
the external control will have vanished. The body has not been deferred if
only to be reincorporated as a concern within architecture. More signiicantly,
an external control, a control structured by analogy (an instance of which is
the body), has given way to a fundamentally different way of construing the
generative dimension of architecture. That dimension has become internal
to the object. The object is redeined in terms of its self-effectuation as
architecture. A clear example, as has already been suggested, is the way that
the Raumplan intersects with the role of cladding in Loos Haus Mller to
construct the object as architecture. (This is, of course, a position that will be
pursued in greater detail.)
If architecture has been freed from the analogy of the body, how then does
this freedom open up the concerns of the history of architecture? Surely it
could be argued that while this freedom may have some impact on future
projections, the conceptions of symmetry that appeared in earlier buildings, or
plans, deined symmetry in terms of the order of the body, or if not the body
then nature. (In both instances what determined symmetry was external to
built form.) Even if that argument could be sustained there is no need to limit
interpretations in this manner. To the extent that elements of the history of
architecture can be differentiated from their insertion into a given history, the
possibility of reinterpretation and thus reactivisation occasions the emergence
of another object. As has already been indicated, such a connection is only
possible because the objects potential will not allow the insistence of history
to still that possibility.
In order to trace the potential in the work of the surfaces comprising
Borrominis San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane (1638-1682), a detour will be

AP_Benjamin_TEXT-2pp.indd 26-27

Surface Efects: Borromini, Semper, Loos 27

taken.12 Instead of proceeding directly to the detail of Borrominis work,


two sculptures by Bernini will set the scene. The second, David (1623), is
by far the more signiicant. Nonetheless, the move from the slightly earlier
sculptures to this one needs to be understood as the move from a work
deined by a clear sense of front and therefore of sides and behind, to
one that resists all the dimensions of frontality by working as a continual
surface. In architectural terms the possibility demanded by Palladio in which,
if the Villa Rotonda begins to deine an ideal and where part of the ideal is
the symmetry of the front, then such a set up would cede its place to an
internally generative system in Borromini. This movement is present within
the Bernini sculptures. Frontality is overcome by an internally regulated
system that individuates speciic elements. They are after-effects of a
system, rather that being incorporated into a totality whose organisational
logic leads in a different direction; namely, to the object as symbol. While
symbolism, both in architecture and sculpture, is almost impossible to avoid,
there is a real difference between the attribution of a symbolical quality and
the necessity of a symbolic presence derived from the objects relation to an
external order of organisation. The argument is not that sculpture opens up
architecture. Rather, in holding to the speciicity of sculpture it then becomes
possible to examine how a distinction between stasis and movement is at
work within this particular ield. As such, what can then be asked is what the
architectural correlate to this distinction would be like.

Bernini. The process David


As a point of departure it should not be forgotten that with David what
is at work is a body. A sculptured body, and yet as sculpture it can be
interpreted as the move from the body understood as proportion towards
a body understood as a dynamic process of internal relations. Moreover,
it is a dynamic process that is neither one of simple movement nor one of
unending oscillation. What is at work is the movement of what will be called
the material ininite. While this term will need to be clariied, at this stage
it should be understood as identifying a process in which inite moments
are the effect of the process; a process that is potentially ininite. As such
materiality has a certain immateriality as its condition of existence.
This sculpture involves a marked development from earlier works such as
The Rape of Proserpina (1621-2). What deined that particular work was
its static quality, which is brought about by the relationship between the
planted left leg of Pluto and the force of Proserpinas left hand against his
face. The skin above her abductors left eye is being forced up while all the

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Architectural Projections

weight is borne by his left leg. The right leg is raised indicating the possibility
of movement and yet the relationship between the eye and the left leg
indicates a stationary position. All that is being marked is the moment. Ovid
insists on the simultaneity of seeing, loving and abducting (Metamorphoses
Book V.395). The sculpture is of that point in time. The movement of hand,
facial skin and legs involves a careful balance. As a work it can be said to
be deined by the temporality of the instant. What is seen is that particular
instant. Each of the elements comprising the relation that deine the
sculpture can be viewed. There is a real extent to which the work is complete
in itself. The completion delimits what is seen. The relationship between
presentation and the instant deines the work in terms of both representation
and expression. Neither claim can be made of David. This will be the reason
why David is an architecturally more interesting sculpture. Moreover, though
this is a contention to be argued, David, in procedural terms, opens the way
towards Borrominis extraordinary faades and interiors. More particularly,
David, despite being a body, leads away from the analogy between body and
building. Even though there is a body, at work here is a conception of form
that is no longer anthropocentric in nature.
What marks out David as a site, and therefore what delimits its particularity,
has initially to do with a conception of relatedness that is no longer held by
the instant. Time igures in a different way. The insistence of the instant
cedes its place to the temporality of process. What this conception of time
brings with it is work. Work is both object and activity. Once the temporal and
active dimension comes to deine the ontology of the object, then while a
work is present, the presentation has to be deined in terms of an interiority
that eschews any reduction to the instant. In other words, it is deined in
terms of a set of internal relations whose work comprises the work. While
those relations have exteriority insofar as the object has material presence,
the exterior is the presentation of pure interiority. And yet, the relations
comprising this interiority have to be deined in terms of dynamic relations
rather than the interconnection of static points. What will emerge, therefore,
is another way on construing internal relations.
One of the most remarkable qualities of the sculpture is the impossibility of
standing in front of it as opposed to behind it. Equally, it is not possible to
stand to one side and see it from that side rather than being either in front
or behind. No matter where the viewer stands the sculpture stands before
the eye. In a sense this is because Davids body is turned such that in being
ready to release the catapult a rope containing a rock stretched between
his hands a circle has been constructed. What is viewed is that circle.
However, to insist on the formal circularity of the object would be to miss
both the counter-balancing of forces as well as the dynamic relations that the

AP_Benjamin_TEXT-2pp.indd 28-29

Surface Efects: Borromini, Semper, Loos 29

circle constructs (or equally, of which the circle is the effect). While it may
be necessary to provide a semiology of the sculpture in which the relations
are described, the points being described maintain a different sense of
relationality than one understood as mere connectedness. The work is not
the connection of points. Nor is it that points connect dynamic lines. Points
would only ever be after-effects of lines. A dynamic quality predominates.
What is maintained is a pure interiority that continues to present itself. What
is presented, while having a singular quality, is not reducible to a simple
singularity. Within the process of relation it is always possible to construct
a point of view, however, that point is the effect of the process. Equally, it
cannot be identical with the object. This is not a claim about relativity but
about the process of pure internal relatedness. The ininite in question is that
which has already been identiied as the material ininite.13
In Berninis David the right foot is on the ground. The back of the left is
raised with the toes of that foot taking the weight. The body is neither
turning nor not turning. The tension created by the feet instantiates process.
Process here is movement. The rope of the catapult is held tight. The hands
are pulling and yet at that moment the catapult is still; a still point within
the process that marks the catapult being held and which is, at the same
time, the process of its being released. His loins are wrapped by a folded
garment and around his shoulder there is a pouch held in place by further
folded material. The folds of the material are not, in this context, what is
interesting. The signiicance is that they cannot be differentiated from the
work of the body. The wrap of the material over his loins forms part of the
bodys unfolding. It neither lows with the body nor against it. It is neither
on the body nor is it separate from it. Body, material, pouch, sling, all form
part of the process. The error would be to see the body as adorned and,
therefore, the body as central. Indeed, it can be argued that what deines
the sculpture are the relations between the body and by body what is
meant is Davids literal body and what could be taken, albeit wrongly, as
secondary, that is, material, sling, pouch and the like. On an abstract level it
is possible to see the sculpture and it should be remembered that there is
a potential endlessness that comprises this seeing as a surface. Different
elements are not placed on a single surface. The sculpture is the endless
articulation of relations in which what are individuated can be attributed
speciic qualities. In other words, on the level of description it is possible to
distinguish the material around the body, or connected to it, from the body
itself. Nonetheless, such a formal distinction would miss the way they form
part of a continuum involving neither adornment nor ornamentation. Rather,
these formally distinct elements form part of a continuous surface. Moreover,
the only way the distinct elements are able to be distinct, and to be viewed

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Architectural Projections

as separate, is because they are interarticulated within, and as, a continuous


surface. Such an argument would be consistent with the claim made earlier
that points are the after-effects of lines that work.
What then of Davids body? The body becomes the site of ininite
relatedness. In refusing to privilege any one position and thus by extension
any description it becomes a inite point, the condition of possibility for
which is the ininitude of relations. The latter is the work of the material
ininite. Internality, therefore, is given priority, and then, as has been argued,
individual elements are individuated by the work as a site of process.
The object is no longer the totality of individual parts precisely because
individuation always occurs as the effect of a process. The elements are
effected by the works organisational logic; that logic brings them about. What
this means is that the sculpture, as an activity, has to be seen as a surface.
However, it is not a surface on which things are placed, rather, in sculptural
terms it is a surface that effects.

San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane


Borromini died in 1667. At the time of his death the faade of San Carlo
was not yet inished. (The building, except for the faade, was inished in
1641. The faade was completed in 1682.) The remaining plans, however,
indicate the extent to which the existing building follows the original
drawings. Steinberg, Blunt and Wittkower, among others, have provided
detailed descriptions of the building. What is important here is to see the
building within what could be described as another history of the curvilinear.
Fundamental to the inception of the Baroque was the distinction between
the static and the dynamic.14 Accepting that development, while essential,
is to repeat a commonplace until the nature of the movement in question
is characterised. Even then, it should not be thought that there is simple
consistency within all Baroque architecture. However, in this context what
has to be noted, is the path that stems from a consideration of Berninis
David. What is opened up is complexity within movement. In regards to
San Carlo what needs to be emphasised, as a beginning, is the distinction
between a conception of movement that involves illusion and one that
deines movement by the continuity of counter-measures. The latter realises
complexity. It is not as though the two are in direct opposition or that they do
not overlap or even reinforce each other. However, what is signiicant is the
way their difference provides particular openings.
The dome consists of a texture of geometric shapes crosses, octagons
and hexagons that move towards a naturally lit opening which rises up

AP_Benjamin_TEXT-2pp.indd 30-31

Surface Efects: Borromini, Semper, Loos 31

towards the motif of a bird. Not only is the eye dragged up through the rich
array of forms it is then tempted further tempted towards the ininite
by light. As the eye soars the ininite is captured as much by light as it
is by the geometry. The ininite in question is the ininite of illusion. The
interplay of symbolism and a vanishing point maintained by the intersection
of geometry and light create a feeling of ininite movement towards a
divine ininite. While the illusion is important, it is not as though ininite
transcendence can have material presence other than as illusion. This is
the restriction of this conception of the ininite. As Descartes argued in
the Meditations, what could not be represented was the ininite nature
of God. There is, however, another conception of the ininite.15 Here the
ininite is not linked to representation but to the ininity of pure becoming.
Within the philosophical writings of the period the most exact formulation
of this position is found in Leibnizs conception of substance as force (vis).
Substance is never static nor transcendent, it is un tre capable daction (a
being capable of action).16 Activity deines substance. Its continuity is its
continual self-realisation and thus self-effectuation. Movement, therefore,
is an ininitude of relations. In following Leibniz as opposed to Descartes,
an architecture of illusion is put to one side. The question to be addressed
therefore concerns the architectural correlate to this conception of the
ininite. It should be added immediately that this conception of the ininite
can have material presence. The ininite is linked to relation. Baroque
architecture is not Leibnizian. The relation has to do with how the ininite is
understood. Architecture is not philosophy. The importance of the distinction
lies in the nature of the formers material presence.
One of the central elements deining the internal operation of the church is
the movement of bays, columns and walls. While each element has a distinct
quality there is an interconnectedness that is neither arbitrary nor the work
of chance. Their interrelation is held by an entablature that divides the overall
building into three sections. The physical presence of the entablature has
the effect of emphasising the columns even though it is an emphasis that
is dissipated formally, once it is recognised that they form part of the walls
which in turn form the bays since the latter cannot be disassociated from
the walls articulation. There is a complex pattern in which even though the
elements are separate, in that they have either ornamental or functional
speciicity and as such can invite and maintain particular programmatic
possibilities, they are nonetheless articulated together. If the walls were
understood as a continuous line, then the measure and counter measure
the movement of the curvilinear would have become a surface. In other
words, what is at work here is not a straight line that has become curved.
Measure and countermeasure continue to yield openings that become

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Architectural Projections

locations within, and as, a surface.17 A similar operation is at work in the


faade. While the status of the faade is contested it is, nonetheless, worth
noting the way in which the curvilinear is once again a series of measures and
counter measures that yield space. The curvilinear does not maintain space,
rather it is part of the process of spacing. In the process, and in the potential
endlessness that marks the presence of the curvilinear, it is possible to locate
the work of a material ininite. Finitude understood as the individuation of
elements always takes the ininite as its conditions of possibility.
While it is possible to emphasise that the building as a totality is a complex
negotiation with differing ordering systems. The most powerfully argued
interpretation of San Carlo is Steinbergs for whom the building is an attempt
to integrate oval, cross and octagon. He wants to see this three-part system
reiterated throughout the church as a whole.18 On one level it is impossible
to deny the acuity of this observation. Nonetheless, it is still possible to
complicate this particular description. Again, this complication should not
for a moment be seen as diminishing its historical importance. Indeed, no
attempt is being made here to deny that the building can be understood as
the continual attempt to reconcile symbolic, theological and philosophical
elements that characterise the seventeenth century in general and the
Baroque in particular. The complication in question can be demonstrated
by concentrating on a speciic drawing by Borromini; namely Albertina 175.
The importance of the drawing is that it generates a further opening. What
allows it to be made is the relationship architecture has to its means of
representation. However, fundamental to this position is what while those
means are an ineliminable part of architecture, it does not follow that what
is an ostensible representation has to be read in that way. In other words,
representations can be read diagrammatically. This is the claim that lines,
drawings, in sum representations once understood as diagrams, have the
capacity to generate representations but should not be assumed to be
straightforwardly representational. This move introduces into the history
of drawing and architectural representation an abstracting element that
interrupts the low of history by linking the abstracting process to the
possibility of a representation having an afterlife. To be precise, the afterlife
is the move from abstraction to a further representation.

Surface Efects: Borromini, Semper, Loos 33

backwards and forwards a pulling and pushing that produces the curvilinear
by the work of the internal coniguration. On one level a movement of
this type has to be the case. However, to the extent that the production of
the line remains central, then an account of the line will be in terms of that
production. Any account, therefore, will oscillate between those involving
the history of geometry, and in particular the role of geometry in drawing,
and more ideologically based versions in terms of architectural attempts
to reconcile various religious and philosophical positions.20 The end result
is that the line remains secondary to that which is taken to have produced
it. There is another possibility, which, while alluding to these accounts of
the line, is not deined by them; namely, giving emphasis to the line itself.
This means more than a change in emphasis. Another area of concern
emerges. Henceforth, the interpretive question concerns: what is it that the
line produces? This question and it is one that can be taken to a range of
different drawings of the plan has to start with what can be described as
the lines density. Density means that the line is not the single line but the
double line marking, if only as a beginning, an inside and an outside. The
dense line the line itself is this double (perhaps doubled) line. In general
terms, it is a line of information.

Figure 1: Albertina 175. Half plan for the church of


San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, Rome. F. Borromini.

32

The plan allows two different aspects to be emphasised. The irst would be
to show how the walls and the structure are an effect of the oval (or ellipse),
which is itself part of the internal geometry. The oval is the result of the
juxtaposition of two equilateral triangles inscribed within two circles. Whether
it is an oval or an ellipse, the end result is that the line is present as a result
of the internal coniguration.19 Moreover, as Steinberg argues, it is possible
to see that the produced line marks out the plan in the drawing as pulled

AP_Benjamin_TEXT-2pp.indd 32-33

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Architectural Projections

While accepting that the columns have a load-bearing function within the
overall structure, they do not stand opposed to the wall. Nor is it that the
columns, which may have been historically separated from the wall, have
now been placed next to it. Within the conines of the dense line, how is
the relationship between the column and the wall to be understood? This
question cannot be asked independently of the movement that the line
marks out. While it is possible to account for the movement of the line in
terms of the effect of the founding internal geometry, it is also true that
any account of the line has to begin with the recognition that its movement
effects. The curvilinear creates and distributes internal and external volumes
that are themselves the distribution of programmable space. Whether that
program is used in one way rather than another that is, locating speciic
functions proper to the operation of a church, or even places for statues or
ornamentation is not the point. What matters is that this line has to be
understood as that which distributes volume. In other words, the volumes
(bays) are the effect of the line. At work, therefore, is a line that works. This
line becomes the architectural correlate to the surface of Berninis David.
That surface too, needs to be understood as a generalised production, and
therefore as a workful line.
Allowing the line this capacity will account for the relationship between the
column and the wall. What the line makes clear is that the relation is no
longer one either of opposition or ornamentation. If it can be argued that the
volumes are produced by the operation of the line they are its effect then
it is also the case that both wall and column are themselves effects of a line.
There is no opposition between column and wall. The line though now
viewed as a surface that individuates presents elements that can at a given
moment, and for a speciic reason, be given the designation bay (volume)
or wall or column. As with Berninis David, individual elements are the
after-effects of a surface that effects. Finally, the absence of an opposition
between column and wall precludes the question of their relation. Relation
is concerned with separate deinable entities. Here, they only have a relation
insofar as the same line produces them.
The drawing is not the building. However, the drawing cannot be
disassociated from the actual presence of San Carlo. What this means
is that part of its presence is a quality that allows for a greater degree
of abstraction to be attributed to it. The process of abstraction will allow
for the decontextualisation. However, this is not a process that refuses
the particularity of the actual building. Abstraction refers to the inherent
architectural quality of the work that allows it almost in virtue of a form of
autonomy to have a life independently of its speciic historical presence.
The dense line in Albertina 175 works to distribute certain fundamental

AP_Benjamin_TEXT-2pp.indd 34-35

Surface Efects: Borromini, Semper, Loos 35

architectural elements delimiting, as part of that process, programmable


spaces. The line individuates these elements; equally, the line also
individuates spaces. What is individuated is marked by initude. Hence, the
line, precisely because other instances of individuation could have occurred,
can be understood as the work of a material ininite.
In regards to the faade, the entablature has a different role from the one
it played within the building. Internally, while having a tripartite form it can
nonetheless be described as holding two different orders in place by marking
their point of division. Moreover, the visual power of the entablature works
to control the eye and thus to regulate the experience of the building. The
faade incorporates the entablature. Even though it divides it, it is also the
case that acts of division are part of the work of the faade. Formally, it
consists of convex and concave lines that delimit spaces (bays). As with
the interior, columns and ornamentation cannot be differentiated from the
faade itself. In forming part of the faade it becomes, once again, a complex
surface. Questions of addition and ornamentation are not to be separated
from the possibility of their presence as that which is enacted by the measure
and counter measure of the surface. While it is possible to see the two parts
of the faade as responding to each other insofar as a concave line on one
level is positioned in relation to a convex line on the other, there is more at
stake. Two elements need to be noted. The irst is that the relationship of
the convex and the concave is part of the totality of the surface. The second
point is that the work of these lines the work that is the complexity of the
curvilinear is the disclosure of spaces that allow for program because they
await it. Programmable space is the consequence of lines that work.
What Borrominis adventure allows is not a claim about the modernity of
the Baroque or even the extent to which the concerns of the Baroque could
still play a determining role in design. Such claims would have to overlook
the need to reconstruct historical periods. The inventing of histories and the
establishing of points of connection occur because of openings afforded by
the present. What is central to Borromini in this context is the way San Carlo
can be seen as demanding another account of the generation of form. As an
account it has to involve the movement of matter beyond the body, precisely
because the generation of form is internal to the object. The limitation of the
Baroque is the way both internality and form were conceived. The limitation
is merely the Baroques particularity. In moving from externality and thus from
an anthropocentric architecture, the Baroque demonstrates the impossibility
of architecture having a forma inalis. The future opened up by Bernini and
Borromini is not to be found in the detail of their formal inventions. That
would be to reduce those inventions to an image. The future is allowed
by a different repetition, one guided by a process of abstraction. If what is

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Architectural Projections

fundamental to their work is the operation of a material ininite that continues


to be generative of form contextually, it occurs through the operation of
a surface in which elements are individuated then as an abstraction this
operative quality is what can be retained.
Once the dense line that characterises Albertina 175 is given priority in
addition it is a line that once reworked yields the faade the continuity of
its folds will always have to be arrested. The cessation of movement is the
precondition of form. Cessation becomes initude. Finitude can be equated
with architectures material presence. The precondition allowing for initude is
the lines potentiality. As has been suggested, materiality has its conditions of
possibility in what was called the material ininite. The inal point that needs
to be reiterated is that the density of this line need not be literal. Density has
to do with the information that the line distributes.
If there is a limitation in this conception of the line, then it lies despite
density in the restriction of relatedness; a relation that would be linked to a
sense of productive interruption. An example would be the way volume and
surface may be interconnected. While this possibility emerges at its most
emphatic in Loos, it is the writings of Gottfried Semper that will allow, again
retrospectively, these opening considerations of the surface to be taken a
step further.

Ruskin and Polychromatic Antiquities


In order to position Semper or rather to rework the force of Sempers
positioning of the surfaces a setting is essential. This will be provided in
this context by looking irstly at the way Ruskin deines architecture, and
secondly at the way Sempers approach to the surface cannot be separated
from the dispute concerning polychromatic antiquities that had such an
important historical inluence in the development of architectural thinking in
both France and German in the early to mid-nineteenth century. While both of
these attempts to establish a context may seem too distant from Semper, the
contrary is the case. Ruskins thinking still echoes in architectural arguments
for decorum and the stylistic determination of context. The discovery of
polychromatic antiquities can be reworked as the discovery of the surface
that was the interarticulation of surface and function.
As has already been suggested, the importance of Ruskins deinition of
architecture is that it provides the backdrop against which both the radicality
and the commitment to the form of materialism that structures Sempers
conception of architecture can be understood. In The Seven Lamps of

AP_Benjamin_TEXT-2pp.indd 36-37

Surface Efects: Borromini, Semper, Loos 37

Architecture, Ruskin deines architecture as an art that adorns the ediice


raised by man for whatsoever use (Ruskin, 1880, p. 46). In this instance
what is signiicant about Ruskin is not the argument concerning the use of
general symbolism in architecture, nor is it architectures relation to religion
and nature. The signiicance of this deinition is that it gives a clear place to
architecture. Working with the deinition is essential in order to see how it
deines architecture. The irst part deserving attention is the description of
architecture as an adornment. Adorning is always an after-effect. Jewellery
is a form of adornment. The pearl buttons or sequins sewn on a dress can
be said to adorn it. They become an adornment to the extent they can be
differentiated from that on which they are placed. Such a differentiation is
envisaged by the contrast between adornment and the ediice. Ediice
is a description of the object. It is the pure presence of the object one
that is not given speciicity though more importantly does not need to be
given it. The description of the ediice as raised by man is signiicant as it
locates architecture as a practice that involves a necessary distinction from
nature, thereby inviting a possible accord with nature. Architecture is artiice,
though only in the sense that it serves human purpose. If the human being
creates, then the question of purpose has to emerge. To what end has the
human created? If the end cannot be distinguished from the ediice (to retain
Ruskins terminology) insofar as the ediice will always have had, and will
always have, a purpose, then there is the recognition of the necessary and
ineliminable functionality of architecture. Once the ediice has this quality
then there can be no question of the denial of functionality. Purpose is the
already present identiication of function. The question that has to be asked,
however, concerns, from within the purview of Ruskins deinition, the
relationship between purpose and architecture.
Answering that question necessitates paying particular attention to the
inal words whatsoever use. It is not just that they eliminate the place of
function; they do this by denying it to architecture and then by locating it in
the ediice. In other words, the force of the whatsoever use is that function
is maintained by its being radically distinguished from architecture. As
such the question that needs to be brought to Ruskins formulation has to
concern the presence of architecture. This is both a question of almost brute
physicality as well as a more straightforwardly conceptual one concerning
how, within the formulation, architecture is to be thought. These questions
are related. The presence of architecture presence as location deines
how it is to be thought. Architecture, from within the position that is being
extrapolated from this deinition of the art of architecture, is located on the
surface. More precisely, and this is the essential point, it is the literal surface
understood as adornment.

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Architectural Projections

The centrality of ornament as the locus of the architectural has an important


history. While not originating in Ruskin, what is repeated is a sensibility that
locates what is essential to architecture in ornament. In the modern period
this conception of architecture continues to have relevance. Not only does it
deine so-called postmodern architecture as a moment within the history of
ornament, it continues to deine the architectural in terms of the opposition
between ornament and structure (Ruskins ediice.) The contention here is
that Sempers writings can be read as a critique not just of the retention of
this opposition but of its deining architecture. With Semper architecture is
redeined. While this position Sempers redeinition inds its most exact
expression in the discussion of style and the elements of architecture a
discussion that will be taken up in this context in terms of working through
Sempers treatment of the wall his earlier writings on polychromatic
antiquities not only set the scene, it is in his engagement with the discovery
of colour that the already present relation between function and surface
comes to be expressed. That expression overcomes the opposition between
ornament and structure. This is to argue in the irst place that colour is
functional as opposed to simply decorative and in the second that
structure works in accord with that function. In sum, the interplay of function
and colour overcomes the tradition that attempts to identify the architectural
with the ornamental.
Sempers intervention into the debate on polychromatic antiquities occurred
in 1834 with the publication of his pamphlet Preliminary Remarks on
Polychrome Architecture and Sculpture in Antiquity.21 While they are only
implicit in the pamphlets argument, it has to be understood as involving two
subtexts. The irst is an undoing of the Winkelmanian aesthetic that was
concerned with the purity of form and, therefore, the retention of ideals as
that which prompted form and which form had to imitate. At the same time,
however, there was a general concern with establishing both the speciicity of
the modern, and more particularly, opening up the question of the appearance
of the modern.22 The argument is that a debate as apparently arcane as one
concerning the possibility of coloured antiquities was in fact a debate about
the nature of the modern. The discovery of Etruscan art not only had the
effect of destabilising the nature of the Classical tradition, that destabilisation
meant that the grounds of assessment and judgment in both art and
architecture the grounds of classicism were no longer secure.
There were two arguments against the presence of colour. The irst is an
archaeological one, while the second is aesthetic. Clearly, the response to
such arguments is to show through the reports of contemporary excavations
that coloured antiquities had been in fact found. And yet, that would not
have been suficient since there were aesthetic reasons for holding to

AP_Benjamin_TEXT-2pp.indd 38-39

Surface Efects: Borromini, Semper, Loos 39

the presence of colour being either a mistake or simply exceptional and,


therefore, only of marginal interest. Semper sums up this concern in the
following terms: they are sure that colour applied to sculpture must confuse
the forms and pamper the eye (dass Farben angewendt auf Bildenerei
die Formen verwirren und das Auge verwohen mssen) (Semper, 1989,
p. 61/p. 239). Prior to taking up his response, it is worth noting the detail
of this objection to colour. It should be remembered that it is, as it were,
the aesthetic objection and thus one not checked let alone overcome by
additional factual discoveries. While appearing as merely aesthetic
insofar as it is a defence of form, such a position is best understood in terms
of forms metonymic links. Once understood in this sense, the threat to form
can be understood as the threat to the continuity of historical time that allows
for forms own repetition. Form, precisely because it is continually positioned
by the movement between the ideal and the actual can be repeated ad
ininitum. The refusal of form its having become confused would be the
concession that allowed this sense of continuity to have been interrupted.
Sempers language in responding to his own presentation of the aesthetic
response has an important aesthetic register itself. He argues, that colour:
clariies the form (sie entwirren die Formen) because colour
provides the artist with a new way to throw the surface into relief.
It brings the eye back again to the natural way of seeing, (Sie
bringen das Auge weider zuruck auf den natrlichen Weg des
Sehens) which is lost under the sway of that mode of abstraction
that knows precisely how to separate the visible and inseparable
qualities of bodies, the colour from the form knows it by those
unfortunate principles of aesthetics that deine exactly the sphere
of the individual arts and do not allow any excursions into a
neighbouring ield. (Semper, 1989, p. 61/p. 239)
What is signiicant about this formulation is that the defence of colour is given
an aesthetic register, almost in terms of naturalism. Importance here has to
be attached to another aesthetic possibility. That possibility does not separate
colour and form noting of course that once this position is expressed
in this way the register of form will have changed. No longer held by the
opposition between the ideal and the actual, it becomes the material instance
of form. Emphasising colour, therefore, becomes the afirmation of the
materiality of form. The move is not simple empiricism. Nor, moreover, should
the evocation of the material be understood as suggesting that form has
become the empirical instantiation of the ideal. Rather, it is materiality itself.
As a result of this repositioning there has to be an accompanying shift in

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Architectural Projections

perception. Perceiving the use of the eye alters in order to perceive colour.
In Semperian terms, seeing abstractly is to posit a distinction between form
and colour. In other words, abstraction, in this context, means holding colour
and form apart. However, in order to give such a move coherence it would
have to be grounded, almost of necessity in a conception of form that locates
particulars within a deining oscillation between the ideal and the actual. As
such, form acquires an inherently transcendent quality.
The aesthetic response therefore is fundamental. What Semper is pointing
out is a shift in the categories of how seeing takes place. While it is not
Sempers actual argument, implicit in his position is the claim that colour
has the capacity to overcome the hold of classicism. Colour undoes the
opposition between form and the ornamental or decorative. This development
provides the setting in which Sempers discussion of Trajans Column needs
to be situated. The basis of the interpretation resides in the column having
traces of paint (die Spuren von Malerei) (Semper, 1989, pp. 67/248). What
is signiicant about the passage is not just the depth of description, but
attributing to the column the capacity to have the effect of spaciality and
thus to space. This effect is explicable in terms of the operation of colour.
What this means, of course, is that spacing is an effect of the surface.
The igures on the monument stood out golden against an azure
background. The lat relief on the pedestal, too, were undoubtedly
given their proper appearance through the rich variety of gold
and colour. Only in such a way could the column be in harmony
with the richly coloured and gilded forum, the porphyry cornices
and green marble columns of the temples as could the bronze
statues with the columns. (Semper, 1989, p. 67/p. 249)
Leaving aside any lingering hyperbole that may be evident in the passage,
what is clear is that not only is there an urban coherence spatiality is held in
place and in play it is also realised, for Semper, by the work of colour. The
Column, while not strictly architectural, plays a fundamental role within the
visual coherence of the Forum. Coherence is realised by the accord between
the form and the colour. For Semper, it would be an accord which, once the
debilitating effect of the abstract eye is left to one side, would have been
effective and thus would have functioned if the eye had perceived the almost
ineliminable reciprocity between form and colour; that is, their conjoined
presence rather than their separate existence. It would have operated in
relation to the object, the column, then with the other objects in the ield. The
latter would now be understood as an urban condition operating on the level
of affect as well as the structural and functional. Surfaces in this context are

AP_Benjamin_TEXT-2pp.indd 40-41

Surface Efects: Borromini, Semper, Loos 41

as much implicated in questions of form (structure) as form is in the question


of the surface (literal surface) namely colour.

Semper, Walls and Surfaces


In one of the lectures given in London during his period of residence in the
city, Semper did not just distinguish between Greek and what he termed
Barbarian architecture, he formulated the distinction in a way that concerns
the nature of architectures material presence. While Sempers generalised
account is part of an overall attempt to categorise and detail the practice of
ancient architecture, in distinguishing between the Greek and the Barbarian
he introduces one of the deining motifs in his writings, namely a distinction
between that which occurs within architecture and architectures exteriority.
The Greek ornaments are emanations of the constructive forms and in
the same way they are the dynamical function of the parts to which they
belong. They have no other meaning than to explain the construction forms
by analogical notions, taken from nature itself or from other branches of
art, while the ornaments on the barbarian monuments ind generally their
explanations in some historical, local or religious notions, which have nothing
in common with the part of the building, whereon they are applied.23
Central, then, to the Greek is a conception of ornamentation. However,
it has to be understood as an explanation of the construction.24 In other
words, it is deined internally to the architectural object. Admittedly, this
occurs via analogy. Nonetheless, the relation is structured by interiority.
The Barbarian on the other hand involves a conception of ornamentation
in which the additions have to be explained in terms of symbolic values,
which, as Semper concedes, are always accounted for externally. The move
to the historical, the religious and so on, deines these additions in terms of
exteriority and therefore, to use the language of Ruskin, they play the role of
adornments. The move to interiority not one where form is opposed to
ornament, but where there is an already present interarticulation begins to
identify the particularity of Semper. While it is always possible to emphasise
his engagement with ornamentation and even to construe the insistence
on cladding in those terms, it is more productive to connect architectures
concern with interiority to one with the centrality of materials. As such,
what this allows is a connection to be drawn between three aspects of his
project. In the irst instance, the importance of the surface that emerged
during the earlier engagement with his writings on polychromatic antiquities;
in the second, interiority as a concern with architectures self-deinition
given through materials; and inally his identiication of the four elements of

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Architectural Projections

architecture. What is important about these elements is the way they lead,
almost inexorably, to establish the centrality of the wall as surface as the
focus of architectural consideration.
The wall igures signiicantly in the short text published in 1851, The
Four Elements of Architecture: A contribution to a comparative study of
architecture. In fact this work set in play the role of the wall throughout his
subsequent writings. It drew on both his archaeological activities in addition
to some of the conclusions reached during the period in which one of his
overriding intellectual concerns was polychromatic antiquities. Semper
uses the so-called elements the hearth, the roof, the enclosure and the
mound (Semper, 1989, p. 102) to account for the origins of architecture.
While these elements are, to a certain extent fundamental, they are almost
inextricably connected to an historicist if not a nostalgic account of the
origins of architecture. The interesting move occurs when Semper begins to
trace the emergence of the wall from the enclosure. Before looking at the
consequences of the move to the wall, it is essential to note that in Sempers
account what is of interest to him is that it involved the introduction of a
technique. It was not just any technique: the wall itter (Wandbereiter) as
proto-architect deployed an Urtechnik (Semper, 1989, p. 258); the way the
wall emerges brings more than just a physical wall into consideration. The
manner in which Semper engages with the wall is in terms of its presence
as a surface. Moreover, a surface that effects. This is the position that has
to be established. (Reiterated therefore is the way that the coloured surface
was present in terms of its effect. While colour did not provide volume, it
was colour that allowed Trajans Column its capacity to create space and,
therefore, enabled it to have a civic function.)
Prior to taking up the key passage from The Four Elements concerning
the emergence of the wall, the claim announced a few lines earlier that
wickerwork was the essence of the wall (Semper, 1989, p. 104), needs
to be noted. Its signiicance is twofold. In the irst instance, it is indicative
of the general move within Sempers writings to preclude the possibility of
a sustained distinction between the decorative and the functional, except
insofar as the decorative becomes evidence of not just function but the
necessary interconnection of the functional and the material. Moreover,
in the case of wickerwork, what is essential is the relationship between
materials and effect. What is signiicant about the claim that wickerwork
comprises the essence of the wall, is that the essential cannot be
differentiated from the operation of materials. Not only is this to insist on
interiority, it allows for a link between materials, and that which demarcates
the architectural, to have to be thought together. Moreover, it can be
concluded that what the wall does is effect spatial enclosure, and therefore

AP_Benjamin_TEXT-2pp.indd 42-43

Surface Efects: Borromini, Semper, Loos 43

the function of the wall that is, as that which spaces cannot be thought
as though it were independent of the operation of materials. This further
accounts for why he states that wickerwork is the essence of the wall. It
involves the effects realisation through the use of materials. That move can
then be abstracted such that it begins to deine the nature of the wall. Walls,
for Semper, cannot be separated from the activity of spatial disclosure.
From a Semperian perspective space is not a given that is then divided.
The contrary is the case. Space is a result. Hence, the wall is that which
brings about spatial enclosure. In sum, space is the result of the surfaces
operation. The detail of his position is formulated in The Four Elements of
Architecture in the following terms:
Hanging carpets remained the true walls, the visible boundaries
of space. The often solid walls behind them were necessary
for reasons that had nothing to do with the creation of space;
they were needed for security, for supporting a load, for their
permanence and so on. Wherever the need for these secondary
functions did not arise, the carpets remained the original means
for separating space. Even where building solid walls became
necessary, the latter were only the invisible structure hidden
behind the true and legitimate representatives of the wall, the
colourful woven carpets. (Semper, 1989, p. 104)
The importance of this formulation is that the wall is moved away from being
no more than a structural element to having a clearly deined function within
an overall structure.25 While for Semper there needs to be an accord between
the outward appearance of structural elements and the nature of that
function, such a relationship resists any reformulation in terms of a theory
of ornamentation. What has to be opened up is the potential in Sempers
conception of the wall.
Sempers project can be understood as the attempt to identify within the
history of architecture speciically Hellenic art a principle that could be
extracted. The nature of Sempers relation to Quatremre de Quincy should
inform a contemporary response to his own work. The value for Semper of
Quatremres writings on ancient sculpture is that they provide an opening. In
Sempers terms it lay in their practical tendency. He continues:
In line with this tendency the work does not as it were parade
the form before us as a inished product according to the lessons
of aesthetic ideality, but lets us see the artistic form and the

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Architectural Projections

high idea (der Kunstform und der hohen Idee) that dwells within
it; it considers and shows how both were inseparable from the
material and technical execution and how the Hellenic spirit
manifested itself in the freest mastery of these factors, as well as
the old, sanctiied tradition. (Semper, 1989, p. 249/p. 207)
The signiicance of the formulation lies in the differentiation of form from
what can be termed aesthetic ideality. Form and ideas could not be
separated from materials, the presentation of those materials and then inally
from questions of technique. Semper undoes the opposition, therefore,
between form and idea by incorporating both as material possibilities. Any
vestige of the metaphysical distinction between form and idea is displaced
by emphasis having been given to materials and techniques. Once the idea
is no longer understood as external, then the building cannot be understood
as the ideas symbolic presentation. Hellenic style, therefore, involved an
interrelationship of all these elements. This accounts for why, in addition, art
form and decoration cannot be separated. They are, in Sempers terms, so
intimately bound together by the inluence of the principle of surface dressing
(des Flchenbekleidungsprinzips) that an isolated look at either is impossible.
(Semper, 1989, pp. 252-3/p. 211)
What emerges from giving centrality to materials is the possibility of arguing
that materials are what they bring about, what they effect. When Semper
argues that wickerwork was the original wall, it had this quality only because
it was the original space divider. This realisation of division deined the
essence of the wall. Any consideration of the wall therefore has to do with
how materials realise their effect. This accounts for the move in the same
text to the claim that the wall retained this meaning when materials other
than the original were used (Semper, 1989, p. 104). (It should be noted, if
only in passing, that the connection is between meaning and materials, and
not between meaning and symbolic determination.) The history of the wall,
therefore, becomes the history of the way materials realise the wall effect.
The wall effect is spatial division, though only ever as a result. Hence, it
becomes possible to question both the quality of the space produced and the
material creating it since spatial division is produced (effected) by the work of
speciic materials.
There is a further result that should also be noted. Once it can be argued that
the deinition of the wall has to do with spatial enclosure and is not reducible
to the presence of literal walls a possibility also evident in Loos, as will be
argued in relation to the Haus Mller, where the intersection of the Raumplan

AP_Benjamin_TEXT-2pp.indd 44-45

Surface Efects: Borromini, Semper, Loos 45

and the work of cladding produce volumetric difference, hence the effect of
the wall it then follows that the wall is not given in opposition to the loor.26
This point can be extended since if the wall/loor opposition no longer deines
the work of the wall but the wall is the wall effect, that is spatial division
this will result in the need for a reconsideration of the corner since the corner
is deined by the intersection of an already determined loor/wall relation.
That reconsideration means that the relation between wall, loor and corner
can be rethought; a relation rearticulated as a surface. Not just a surface as a
lat exterior but also a surface as tectonic entity; the reciprocity of materials
and geometry. Furthermore, programmatic demands necessitating that the
elements of architecture have a distinct quality can locate that difference as
individuated by a surface. Finally, therefore, the function of the wall is internal
to the architecture in question thereby generating a sense of autonomy,
one reinforced by the move from an externally orientated symbolic meaning
to an internally regulated system of activity. Furthermore, the wall cannot
be thought outside its relation to materiality. Sempers work dissolved the
distinction between structure and ornament. The wall was given an integrity
that came from its deinition in terms of the effecting of spatial enclosure
while at the same time locating that realisation in the operation of materials.

Loos: The Place of Ornament


Loos critique of ornament is well known. However, it acquires another
dimension once that critique is connected to the work of the surface.
Moreover, Loos relates, both implicitly and explicitly, a concern with the
surface to the project of modernity. This emerges strikingly in his discussion
of costumes. Implicit in the argument is the position that differences in
clothing habit are always more than the register of personal taste. Indeed,
they are the enactment of different conceptions of historical time. These
differences mark the presence of a conlict that not only has a determining
effect on the nature of the present, but also yields conlict as that which
identiies the present. Writing of costumes Loos argues the following:
I too admit that I really take pleasure in the old costumes. But this
does not give me the right to demand that he put them on for my
sake. A costume is clothing that has frozen in a particular form; it
will develop no further. It is always a sign that its wearer has given
up trying to change his circumstances. The costume is the symbol
of resignation. (Loos, 1982, p. 56)27

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Architectural Projections

This passage can be juxtaposed usefully with the one advancing the central
argument of Ornament and Crime. What the juxtaposition shows is that
Loos argument is not against ornament as such but on the role and place of
ornament within modernity.
As ornament is no longer organically related to our culture, it is no longer
the expression of our culture. The ornament that is produced today bears no
relation to us or to any other human in the world at large. It has no potential
for development.28
What is being worked through in both passages is the way forms of material
presence are already interwoven with issues pertaining to historical time
and thus modernity. The retention of ornament, much like the wearing of
a costume, is viewed as antithetical to the way the modern is understood.
Ornament, in this sense, is a vestige. The overcoming of ornament does not
give rise either to the positing of simple structure stripped of ornament or
the recourse to mere form. What arises as a consequence is the surface.
Even if the interior surfaces of Loos Haus and buildings appear to be heavily
ornamented, from a Loosian perspective they are not. Cladding (Bekleidung)
is not ornamentation. As with Semper, cladding operates within architecture.
Its presence is organisational and hence related to programmatic
distribution rather than having a purely symbolic role. Moreover, as with
Semper, there is an important distinction between walls, understood as loadbearing, and what was referred to before as the wall effect. The effect is the
creation of space. Before pursing the detail of the position it should be noted
that the shift from Semper to Loos is that the capacity of a surface to effect
is located within the operation of architecture, though now architectures
operation is itself a consequence of having overcome the need to invest
architecture with automatic symbolic value. The surface effect, therefore,
is a sign of the modern both in its overcoming the hold of vernacular, yet at
the same time resisting the slide into the ubiquity of form in which formal
presence is thought independently of programmatic effects. As a result the
effect of cladding needs to be understood as being as much a connection of
surfaces, function and modernity as it is the operation of architecture. In order
to pursue how the effect of cladding operates, it is essential to trace the way
Loos begins to distinguish between literal walls and the wall as surface in his
The Principle of Cladding.29 As with Semper and thus recalling Borromini
space (spacing as an activity and therefore as spatiality) results from
the surfaces effect. With Loos, however, there is an important additional
element.
Again, the setting is the critique of a logic of ornamentation, one in which
substitution and imitation not only predominate but also deine part of the
operation of ornamentation. Opposition to imitation not only reiterates the

AP_Benjamin_TEXT-2pp.indd 46-47

Surface Efects: Borromini, Semper, Loos 47

critique of ornament it does so by introducing a more nuanced sense of


structure. There are at least two moments in the text that are central for
noting the emergence of the surface as a ield of operation. The irst is
the opposition established by Loos between an architectural strategy that
starts with the wall and then creates rooms or spaces. (They are the spaces
left inside the walls.) In German, of course, the distinction between space
and room is elided. Rume in this context denotes both. Loos point,
therefore, is to contrast a position in which room-making or space-creating is
an after-effect with one in which instead of assuming the neutrality of space,
and then seeking to divide it and in so doing create rooms, there is a radically
different approach, one starting with the recognition that what is wanted is
not mere space but the creation of effects (Die Wirkung). As such, what is
at work is affect. The effects the creation of affect however, come from
the operation of material and forms. Effects are the work of surfaces that
create spaces (rooms). The introduction of effects not only reinforces the
proposition that program remains fundamental to the operation of surfaces
allowing of course for the program, potentially if not actually, to admit a far
greater sense of complexity than those envisaged by Loos there is the more
radical proposition that program is only possible because of the operation of
surfaces. Program and affect are interconnected. The locus of interconnection
is the surface.
This opens up the second element that needs to be noted, namely the
discussion of carpets in terms of their material presence. As will be seen,
materiality as productive of affect takes precedence over any ornamental
or iconic value the carpets may have. The initial argument concerning the
carpets materiality is advanced in the following terms:
(But) is a living room that is lined all round with carpets not an
imitation? The walls are not built of carpet! Of course they arent.
But these carpets do not claim to be anything other than carpets.
They do not pretend either in colour or pattern, to be masonry but
make their function as cladding for the wall surface clear. They
fulil their purpose according to the principle of cladding. (Loos,
2002, pp. 43-44, 46)
Implicit in this formulation is the distinction that was already noted in
Semper between the load-bearing function of the wall and the operation of
the surface as that which realises spatial division. The addition by Loos of
affect allows the creation of space to rid itself of the feint of neutrality and
thus to include the interplay between subjectivity (understood as the nexus
of emotional and bodily presence) and program. Cladding, therefore, stands

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Architectural Projections

opposed both to the decorative and the ornamental once it is assumed that
there is a necessary disjunction between these terms and the operation of
architecture. That operation can, in this context, be described as occurring at
the point of interchange between affect, structure and program. Ornament
is deined, therefore, as that which is irrelevant to this conception of the
generative in architecture. While from a contemporary perspective the actual
cladding used by Loos may now appear to be decorative, it is essential to
recognise that as an abstract ield of activity, the speciic role of cladding
needs to be understood in terms of this generative quality. That there may
have occurred a shift in perception does not obviate the force of the initial
claim. That force, however, can only be maintained by the decontextualising
move in which this founding set-up is understood as a productive abstraction
rather than as the only literal expression of the way cladding, affect and
program can be interconnected. Working with this conception of abstraction
namely as having an inherently productive quality that works outside the
hold of representation allows for a form of decontextualisation in which the
surfaces generative quality, rather than just its historical location, is given
priority.
In a sense Loos own argument concerning carpets allows for precisely this
approach. What is clear is that understanding the carpets on the wall as
already positioned within the logic of ornamentation would have incorporated
the carpets into the realm of meaning and, as such, would have undone the
work of materials. When Loos argues that the carpets do not claim to be
anything other than carpets it follows that their meaning is what they are.
And that is why he can conclude that they attain their purpose (Zweck)
according to the principle of cladding. While any material object will have a
symbolic dimension, Loos argument is that within architecture the carpets
function or purpose is realised through the operation of material presence.
Rather than a pure functionalism, function has to do with the objects
materiality. What matters, therefore, is how carpets as cladding and thus as
surface work to space; in other words, the question to be addressed relates
to the capacity of a given material operating as a surface to establish
spatial conditions. Not only is space not a given it is always created
spatiality, equally, is not an empty condition identiied by a neutral term.
When Loos argues that a true building (ein rechtes Bauwerk) makes no
impression as a picture, reduced to two dimensions, the argument is not
against plans as such but is a reformulation of the tight relation that has
already been established between the operation of architecture and the work
of the surface.30 Surfaces create space. And yet, for Loos spatiality is not
just the work of surface. Integral to the system is the Raumplan. The latter
can be deined as volumetric juxtaposition and interpenetration resulting in

AP_Benjamin_TEXT-2pp.indd 48-49

Surface Efects: Borromini, Semper, Loos 49

the creation of different volumetric conditions. In order that the relationship


between cladding and Raumplan have a precise location, its work will be
noted in Loos Haus Mller. Again, it needs to be remembered that what is
fundamental, in this instance, is that the Haus becomes the locus in which
surfaces, spaces and circulation operate. (An operation whose work is the
Haus.) However, that interconnection takes on an abstract quality once it is
viewed in terms of its potentiality. The actuality of the Haus, therefore, lies
more in its diagram than in its historic detail. The diagrammatic needs to be
located, however, in the detail.

The Haus Mller


The house is located in Prague. The initial design plans for the house were
submitted on 28 December 1928. After being initially rejected they were
approved in June of 1929 and the house itself was completed in 1930.31
Possibly the most signiicant, and much quoted, comment made by Loos and
which provides the setting for any interpretation of the house concerns Loos
relationship to the practice of design as exempliied in this particular project.
(The comment, of which there is a shorthand record, was made during a
conversation in Pilsen in 1930.) Again what needs to be remembered is the
relationship between surface and spatiality.
My architecture is not conceived in plans, but in spaces (cubes).
I do not design loor plans, faades, sections. I design spaces.
For me, there is no ground loor, irst loor, etc. ... For me, there
are only contiguous, continual spaces, rooms, anterooms, terraces,
etc. To join these spaces in such a way that the rise and fall
are not only unobservable but also practical, in this I see what is
for others the great secret, although it is for me a great matter
of course. Coming back to your question, it is just this spatial
interaction and spatial austerity that thus far I have best been able
to realise in Dr Mllers house. (Van Duzer & Kleinman, 1994)32
What is initially signiicant here is the way spatiality (a generalised term which
in this instance will include rooms and spaces, vestibules and terraces) is
deined in terms of interconnection. In other words, if there is an argument
that circulation is fundamental to the Haus and that if circulation is not for an
anonymous individual, but that there is a connection between circulation and
affect (remembering, of course, that affect is a way of locating program), then
two important questions arise. While they are interrelated they can, at this

27/04/12 5:30 PM

Figure 2: The Haus Mller.


Living room. Architect: Adolf Loos

50

Architectural Projections

stage, be posed separately. The irst is who circulates? The second refers to
the structural possibility for circulation. The importance of attributing primacy
to circulation is that it makes the position of the sedentary subject a more
complex one.33 In other words, a stationary position occurs because of the
volume and cladding work to disclose spaces. One of the most important
instances of this is the living room.
Prior to taking up the living room it should be noted in advance that there
are two circulation routes within the house. There are the routes taken by
the family. Then there is the route taken by the servants. What Loos has
managed to achieve and this is evident in the sectional drawings is the
incorporation of two paths that will not readily intersect. Instead of locating

Surface Efects: Borromini, Semper, Loos 51

the circulation for the servants on the buildings exterior it had been located
within the house itself. Part of the force of the house is the way these two
routes operate. While they mark divisions of class and wealth and, therefore,
are signs of social division, they can also be understood organisationally.
Such an understanding would not insist on the sign per se, but on how two
different circulation paths each with their own programmatic differences
can cohere. One could be linked to the private and the other to the public, and
yet both would cohere in the same object.
In regards to the living room the immediate question it raises is one of
deinition. What is a room? How is it a room? These questions arise because
of the way it takes on the quality of a speciic spatial domain thus becoming
space or room. This does not occur by a form of enclosure realised by the
work of a literal wall running from loor to ceiling. Rather, in place of the
conventional vocabulary of rooms, the living room needs to be understood as
a speciic spatial condition. Part of that condition is the enclosed space of the
sedentary subject. Equally, it is the location of the room within a nexus of the
structural presence of the possibilities of movement with the Raumplan,
the lines of movement running through space are also at work in constructing
its spatiality that privilege the role of the ambulatory subject. However, that
condition does not arise from repositioning part of the room in terms of an
extended series of corridors. There is both movement and arrest. The two
subject positions are the effect of the architecture.
Once seated within the room the cladding both in terms of material
and colour consistency provides the overall integrity. (This is a condition
that will be reproduced elsewhere in the Haus, for example, in the role of
wood wood as cladding in the library.) Atmosphere, the realm of affect,
is not given by an enclosed space but one created by the operation of a
surface. At the end of the room, the evolution of the wall as that which
also incorporates three load-bearing columns an act of incorporation in
which the cladding constructs a continuous relation between the elements
means that structural elements and programmatic elements have the same
literal surface. What is signiicant, therefore, is that once the relationship
between space creation and affect begins to deine the operational quality
of architecture, then there is no need for a necessary consistency between
structure and the visual presence of that quality. While this opens up the
path towards a conception of ornamentation a conception which becomes
manifest in the advent of postmodern architecture that path can be
circumvented once it is recognised that cladding is not just the cladding on
a structure but that in Loos cladding has no architectural importance other
than in an already present relation with the Raumplan. Cladding, therefore, is
integral to the construction and maintenance of spatiality. When Loos argues

AP_Benjamin_TEXT-2pp.indd 50-51

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52

Architectural Projections

that a carpet on a wall should be understood in relation to its capacity to


effect space, attention is drawn immediately to the materiality of the carpet.
If there is a conception of tectonics that emerges with Loos it does not have
to do with the idealisation of structural elements but with the capacity of
materials to realise effects. In Loos, materials are limited to what they can
effect. Moving on from Loos means retaining the centrality of the relationship
between materials and spatiality but it also necessitates taking up the position
implicit in Semper that materials have, qua materials, an intrinsic tectonics.
The other sense in which the Haus is the work of a surface is the faade.
While it is initially only of minor interest to recall the fact that the interior
of the building is not legible from the exterior, that observation takes on a
different quality when it is used as evidence for the indifference that deines
the relationship between the interior and the exterior surfaces. Part of the
buildings productive potential lies in the way it can be conceptualised as the
site of two surfaces whose operation deines its architectural presence. On
the interior, of course, the surface loses any simply generalised sense and
becomes a locus of plural possibilities. On the exterior the building masks the
interior. Appearing as a box it takes on the quality of a container. And yet,
the architecturally important aspect of the container concerns its presence,
once presence is no longer conlated with the image. Merely to describe it
as a mask or even, to use Loos own language, to view it as mute, reduces
the faade to that which has interest only as a historical sign. Counter-posed
to the sign is the faades potentiality. If the exterior and the initial interior
surfaces are viewed as two surfaces held in place by the same structural
element, then it can be argued that there are two possible wall effects
realised by the same literal wall. In other words, there are three interrelated
elements. Once the productive potential of this possibility is taken up, the
relationship between these three elements becomes a site of investigation
and eventual experimentation. (The combination of these two domains,
investigation and experimentation, begin to delimit part of the locus of
research within architecture.)
Arising from the following consideration of elements of the Haus is that
on one level it consists of two surfaces the interior and the faade that
remain indifferent. In the irst instance the interior operates because of the
relationship between volume and surface. In writing about the singularity
of the Haus Mller in relation to other works by Loos, van Duzer and
Kleinman argue that in the building everything is on the surface (Van Duzer
& Kleinman, 1994, p. 17). This description is right and yet it needs to be
made more emphatic. The surface in question is not articulated in terms of
an opposition between surface and depth. Recalling Ruskins formulation
in which a distinction between the structure and its adornment (or

AP_Benjamin_TEXT-2pp.indd 52-53

Surface Efects: Borromini, Semper, Loos 53

ornamentation) dominated, what vanishes is that opposition as providing an


adequate way of tracing the operation of the surface and thus the creation of
the wall effect. This is, of course, another obvious link to Semper. Everything
is on the surface precisely because the surface distributes programmatic
differences. And yet, as has been argued, for Loos this is linked to an
important sense of spatial creation. The operation of the surface cannot be
taken as an end in itself. In fact, it can be argued that the surfaces operational
success is dependent upon its interarticulation with the Raumplan. What this
means is that spatiality has to be thought in terms of an original connection to
the operation of the surface.

Reopening he Surface
What emerges from this consideration of aspects of Borromini, Semper
and Loos is twofold. In the irst instance, it is the creation of a history for
the contemporary concern with the surface within architectural design.
That concern, while linked to techniques, is itself dependent upon the
possibilities possibilities always in a state of development of certain
software programs. A theoretical history takes the concerns of the present
as its point of departure. In the second, it is the recognition that if their work
has a potentiality and thus a connection to design practice, then it lies in
the capacity to generate productive abstractions. These positions are clearly
interconnected. In the guise of a conclusion, therefore, that connection will
be made more explicit.
The present to which a theoretical history refers cannot be understood as a
generalised sense of the contemporary (often masquerading as the pragmatic
now). In the irst instance that present has a location within the complex
movement of historical time. This is a movement that is reconigured
within design to the extent that the means of design begin to alter, such
that different concerns arise. That difference, however, cannot be deined
simply by architectures link to its means of representation. Drawn into these
concerns and they will igure as much by their afirmed presence as by
their possible occlusion are, for example, fundamental shifts in how affect
is conceived, experienced and deployed within design, or programmatic
concerns are given detail. Affect and program, however, are sites that are
as much architectural as they are points through which cultural and political
concerns are registered. In other words, the concerns of the present that
work at the periphery, and thus which are always beyond architecture, come
to be reinscribed during the process of architectures own effectuation.
While that reinscription need not be instrumental in fact there are strong

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54

Architectural Projections

arguments against thinking of its presence in these terms its avoidance


is impossible since affect and program, in addition to materials and thus
tectonics, remain integral to any deinition of the activity of architecture.
In addition, the present can be deined in terms of a continually modifying
locus of techniques. The advent of techniques can cause, if not demand,
transformations within the conceptual. Allowing for both transformations of
techniques as well as concepts means that opening up aspects of history,
and theory within theoretical histories, involves establishing connections
between them and the exigency of the present. Within the argument
developed throughout this chapter that connection is bound up with
potentiality, the locus of that potentiality was initially delimited by the proper
names Borromini, Semper and Loos.
Potentiality has to be deined in terms of a yet-to-be realised possibility.
However, while the realisation of that possibility may have to be described
in futural terms, nonetheless the locus in which potentiality is realised is the
present. Potentiality, understood in relation to its release, not only occurs
in the present, it is fundamental to any conception of the present thought
beyond its conlation with the now of chronological time. As has been
argued, the potentiality of the Loosian surface effect for example a position
marking the interplay of cladding, affect and the Raumplan does not lie in its
literal re-enactment. Not only does that misunderstand potentiality, it locates
it within the structure of representation. As such, potentiality would be no
more than the continual re-presentation hence re-production of an already
envisaged architectural state of affairs. Within a formulation of this nature the
dominance of the image is central, dominating within the demand that it be
represented or reproduced. However, once potentiality is deined in terms
of the generative, where the generative can be located in a set of relations
rather than being reduced to an image of those relations, then the realisation
of potentiality will always have a disjunctive rather than a conjunctive
connection to any founding set of relations.
Theoretical histories can be understood, therefore, as the attempt to examine
the detail of architectures history that is guided by the attempt to discern
potentiality. Discernment, as a practice, will always bring with it the possibility
of judgement. The judgement, however, will not be concerned with any
sense of accuracy other than one connected to the productive realisation of
potentiality. The site of potentiality is not found in the past as though that
were a domain that was simply given. The site is the present and thus the
activation of the past by the present. As has been argued, this is linked both
to the discontinuous continuity that deines the production of techniques
ones linked as much to the means of representation as they are to material

AP_Benjamin_TEXT-2pp.indd 54-55

Surface Efects: Borromini, Semper, Loos 55

possibilities as it is to a conceptualisation of the present as the locus in


which the project of modernity is being worked through.

Endnotes
1

Architectural theory is linked to the interiority of architecture and, therefore,


it forms part of the construction of architecture as a discursive practice.
The concern of theory is not, therefore, with the application of theoretical
models that are external to architecture. What will always matter is the way
such models can be construed architecturally. Nor, moreover, is architectural
theory concerned with the juxtaposition of images that are equally external
to architecture with ostensibly architectural ones in order that the former
illuminate the latter. What must always be central are the possibilities,
inherent within any image, for architecture. Architectural theory has to
address the practice of architecture. Emphasising interiority does not mean
that architecture is reduced to mere formalism. Rather, what is central is that
this shift in emphasis provides a location for theory. Only within that location
is it possible to approach the question of how autonomy and formalism are to
be understood. This is the setting within which the following chapter on the
surface will be positioned. It should be noted, in addition, that there is a great
deal of contemporary work in this area. For a good overview, see Surface
consciousness, edited by Mark Taylor (Taylor, 2003).

For a paper that begins to address this precise issue see Manuel de Landas,
Philososphies of Design: The case of modeling software (de Landa, 2002).

Part of the argument here is that whether the ield is understood


chronologically for instance, the nineteenth century or in terms of a period
for example, the Baroque or discursively such as Foucaults arguments
concerning the episteme as formulated in Les Mots et les Choses (Foucault,
1973) each one is deined in terms of simultaneity. The differences within
the ields indicate to what extent simultaneity is a problem, and yet, of
course, it is only a problem because of the insistence on simultaneity. Part
of the argument advanced throughout this chapter is that the project of
theory and criticism has to refer to these ields of simultaneity. However,
it can neither be conined nor constrained by them. This accounts for why
architectural theory is not the history of architectural theory.

References to Semper will be to the following editions. In each instance the


pagination, English preceding the German, will be given in the text. The Four
Elements of Architecture and Other Writings (Semper, 1989.) Vier Elemente
der Baukunst (Semper, 1851). Der Stil (Semper, 1878-9). The text Preliminary

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56

Architectural Projections

Remarks on Polychrome Architecture and Sculpture in Antiquity in English


translation is in the volume cited above (Semper, 1989). In German it can be
found in Kleine Schriften (Semper, 1884).
5

Hence it becomes possible to question Rykwerts interpretation of Semper


on this topic. For Rykwert, Semper gives logical priority to ornament
over structure and so to try and reconcile the ancient structure ornament
opposition which has dogged classical architectural theory(Rykvert, 1976,
p. 78). Part of the argument to be developed here is that the opposition, far
from being reconciled, is in fact displaced.
There has been a great deal of recent work on the wall. Perhaps the most
signiicant is Mark Wigleys White Walls, Designer Dresses (Wigley, 2001).
Other recent work of signiicance includes Fritz Neumeyers, Head First
Through the Wall: an approach to the non-word faade (Neumeyer, 1999) and
Brian Hattens The Problem of Our Walls (Hatten, 1999).
For a general overview of Loos conception of the Raumplan albeit one that
the explicates it in relation to Heidegger see Cynthia Jaras, Adolf Loos
Raumplan Theory (Jara, 1995).

It not enough to suggest that the history of architecture should play a role in
the practice of design. What has to accompany such a suggestion is what is
involved in such a suggestion having some reality and this has to involve a
reworking of the object.

For an excellent overview of the issues involved in this analogy as well


as presenting one way through it, see Anthony Vidlers Architecture
Dismembered (Vidler, 1992).

10 The following reference to Alberti is intended to indicate the way the


analogy between the body and the building operates in his text. There is no
suggestion being made here that there are not other possible readings that
would open up the De Re Aediicatoria. The richness of the text cannot be
reduced to a source of simple citations. In a more sustained engagement
the analogy would need to be incorporated into a reading of the text as a
whole. For an important interpretation of the text see Francoise Choays
De Re Aediicatoria Alberti ou le dsir et le temps (Choay, 1996). For a
reinterpretation of the text set within the corpus of Albertis writings see,
Mark Jarzombeks On Leon Baptista Alberti (Jarzombek, 1989).
11 Leon Baptista Alberti, On the Art of Building in Ten Books, (Alberti, 1988, p. 309).
12 The argument concerning the relationship between architecture and the
body is more complex with Borromini. Blunt, in his indispensable monograph
on Borromini argues that the move is from Albertis conception of the body
towards one developed by Michelangelo who thought of a building as related

AP_Benjamin_TEXT-2pp.indd 56-57

Surface Efects: Borromini, Semper, Loos 57

to a body in movement and in action rather than static (Blunt, 1979, p. 51).
Part of the position developed here is that the move from stasis to movement
is fundamental. However, what loses its centrality is the body as the
organising analogy. Part of the discussion of Berninis David could be used as
a counter measure to Michelangelos David. In regard to Borrominis San Carlo
alle Quattro Fontane, Wittkower argues that its ordering principles break with
a central position of anthropocentric architecture (Wittkower, 1973, p. 199).
Again, the central point will be how such a break is to be understood.
13 What characterises the material ininite is the relationship between a
dynamic system that is characterised by potentiality and immateriality whose
actualisation is always material in nature. It should be clear that this is a
description of the elements of the Baroque as it is of the connection between
software and built form.
14 One of the most persuasive, though general accounts, of the move to the
Baroque in which questions to do with movement are fundamental is Heinrch
Wlflins Renaissance and Baroque (Wlflin, 1992, pp. 71-92).
15 The clear distinction here is the conception of the ininite held in the
architecture of, for example, Gothic churches. The Cathdral St-Pierre StPaul in Troyes involves, in terms of the operation of the eye, a simultaneous
movement from loor to ceiling. The uninterrupted line of the columns
not only creates the volume of the nave and the choir, more importantly it
reinforces the inite nature of the human in relation to the ininite nature
of God. While the ininite cannot be given a material presence, the pure
and uninterrupted line of light from loor to ceiling reinforces the ininite of
illusion. At work here is a theology of straight lines. The move to the Baroque
can be understood, at least initially, as complicating the ininite.
16 G.W. Leibnizs Principes de la Nature et de la Grace, Fonds en Raison
(Leibniz, 1965, p. 598). I have discussed the centrality of Leibniz for
architectural theory (Benjamin, A., 2001).
17 It is possible to see this process at work in some of the early drawings. See in
particular Albertina 171 reproduced in Blunt (Blunt, 1979, p. 59).
18 Leo Steinbergs San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane (Steinberg, 1977). Steinbergs
has to be taken as the deinitive historical account of the church. Nothing that
is suggested in the following is intended to undermine the importance of his
work. The shift in emphasis occurs to the extent that a theoretical account
acquires priority over the more straightforwardly historical account.
19 The distinction between the oval and the ellipse is pursued by George L. Hersey
in Architecture and Geometry in the Age of the Baroque (Hersey, 2000).

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Architectural Projections

20 For a detailed account of this setting and an interpretation of San Carlo that
is in part orientated by what is taken to be Borrominis debt to the NeoPlatonism of Ficino, see John Hendrixs The Relation Between Architectural
Form and Philosophical Structure in the Work of Francesco Borromini in
Seventeenth-Century Rome (Hendrix, 2002).
21 In English translation, Semper, G. (1989). The Four Elements of Architecture
and other writings. In German, (1884) Kleine Schriften.
22 I have attempted to present a detailed examination of this position in my
Style and Time: Essays on the politics of appearance (Benjamin, A., 2005, in
particular Chapter 1).
23 London Lecture, November 18, 1853 (Semper, 1986, p. 38).
24 This is a consistent theme in Sempers work. He argues is Der Stil that, in
Greek architecture, both the art form and decoration are so intimately bound
together by the inluence of the principle of surface dressing that an isolated
look at either is impossible (Semper, 1878-9, pp. 252-3).
25 This position is argued for in considerable detail in 62 of Der Stil. In that
context walls are described as spatial concepts (ramlichen Begriffe)
(Semper, 1878-9, pp. 255, 214). There is the important addition that concerns
for load-bearing were foreign to the original idea of spatial enclosure (des
Raumsabschlosses). While this formulation holds to a distinction between
wall and structure, it allows for the development of materials in which wall
again as an effect and structure come to be interarticulated.

Surface Efects: Borromini, Semper, Loos 59

30 Loos makes this claim in Architecture (Loos, 2002, p. G70, E78). In regard
to the Haus Mller, Giovanni Denti refers to the dificulty of providing a two
dimensional representation of the works tectonic operation. See his Casa
Mller a Praga (Denti, 1999, p. 10).
31 For a meticulous room-by-room description of the house, see Christian Khns
Das Schne, das Wahre und das Richtig, Adolf Loos und das Haus Mller in
Prag (Khn, 1989, pp. 43-72). Kenneth Frampton has also provided a detailed
description of the interior of the house (Frampton, 1996, in particular p. 19).
32 The Haus, now a research institute for architecture, speciically that of Loos,
has a very useful website. This quotation has been taken from the website. It
is also to found in Leslie Van Duzer & Kent Kleinmans indispensable book on
the Haus Mller (Van Duzer & Kleinman, 1994). The image of the Living Room
is reproduced from the website. Its address is http://www.mullerovavila.cz/
english/vila-e.html.
33 Van Duzer and Kleinmans work (Van Duzer & Kleinman, 1994) contains an
important architectural discussion of the role of the differing subject positions
within the house.

26 It is not as though an extensive literature on the relationship between Loos


and Semper does not already exist. Most of the discussions, however, are
concerned with points of historical connection and inluence. While these
exist the point argued here is that they create a more effective constellation
once both can be viewed as concerned with different aspects of what has
already been identiied as the surface effect. For an important discussion
of the historical connection see among others: Mario Biraghis La ilosoia
dellavedamento nel primo Loos (Biraghi, 1995).
27 Adolf Loos Spoken Into The Void (Loos, 1982, p. 56).
28 Adolf Loos Trotzdem (Loos, 1981, p. 84). English translation (Loos, 1985,
p. 102). It goes without saying that Loos function as a cultural critic is
more complex than the critique of the role of ornament within modernity.
For a judicious assessment of Loos as a cultural critic see Janet Stewarts
Fashioning Vienna: Adolf Loos cultural criticism (Stewart, 2000).
29 Adolf Loos On Architecture (Loos, 2002). In German, ber Architektur (Loos,
1995).

AP_Benjamin_TEXT-2pp.indd 58-59

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61

4 Notes on the
Surfacing of Walls:
NOX, Kiesler, Semper

AP_Benjamin_TEXT-2pp.indd 60-61

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62

Architectural Projections

Notes on he Surfacing of Walls: NOX, Kiesler, Semper 63

Openings

this sense, the material event can deine architectures autonomy as much as
its potential for criticality. Architecture becomes the work of matter.

When architecture, in seeking an analogy in order to understand its own use


of notation, deployed the relationship between choreography and dance,
there was a temptation to concentrate on the movement and not on what
took place in the dance. Choreography, and its resultant activity, provided
a prompt in the same way that conceptualism is often understood to have
prompted a type of architecture. The prompt, however, is not just external
to architectures materiality; once the logic of the prompt is pursued, then
materiality may fail to igure as a site of architectural experimentation and
research. And yet, the danger inherent in distinguishing, in too simple
a sense, between the dance and the surface on which it takes place,
is that reducing dance and choreography to the role of a prompt within
architecture may lead to an evocation of the surface the literal surface, the
surface independent of any effects, the surface tout court as evidence of
materiality. (The material is then identiied with the empirical.) As such, the
surface would be no more than what is given in opposition to the conceptual.
What has to occur is the freeing of the surface from this opposition in order
that it can be repositioned within the practice and theory of architecture.
Bodies and surfaces can only ind a way of connecting if the material
presence of architecture architecture as a material presence comes to
deine its reality.

Contemporary concerns with the surface in architecture are already


positioned beyond the hold of traditional oppositions. The practice of
criticism, therefore, has to contend with a new series of constraints. The
point from which any departure, and thus this contending has to be made, is
the work of Gottfried Semper.1 Sempers signiicance resides in his insistence
on rethinking architectural practice in terms of textiles and materials. It will be
in relation to that positioning that recent architectural works in this instance
projects by NOX can be taken up. It is, however, vital to be clear here. The
argument is not that there is a sustained historical development leading from
Semper to the present. The inherent historicism of such a position overlooks
the vital fact that it is the presence of contemporary work that activates the
potential in Semper. The actuality of his work lies in the way geometry and
matter working together open up architectural possibilities.

Before this can happen, however, a further possibility has to be distanced,


namely the tradition of architectural thinking that takes Ruskin and Pugin
as the points of departure a tradition resulting in postmodernism as an
architectural style and which attempts to distinguish between ornament
and ediice (Ruskins term) such that the architectural effect will always
be located in either the ornamental or the symbolic. Any concern with the
surface would be almost immediately subsumed. Surfaces would have
become either the bearer of ornament, or construed as merely ornamental.
The counter argument is that what has to occur if the surfaces materiality,
and not just its empirical presence, is taken as signiicant is, once again, the
repositioning of the surface outside its location within an opposition between
the ornamental and the structural. The surface has to be incorporated in what
will be described as a material event. This material event is the moment at
which geometry, program and the work of materials are interconnected.
And yet, that cannot be all. Once the term event is introduced, then what
has to be acknowledged is the possibility of singularity. Not the singularity
of the idiosyncratic, but a conception of the singular in which the speciic
interconnection between geometry, program and materials resists any form
of generality except as an abstraction and thus as a diagram. Understood in

AP_Benjamin_TEXT-2pp.indd 62-63

In general terms, the work of Gottfried Semper continues to exert a hold


on a range of architectural activities. While the work is of genuine historical
importance for instance, no adequate historical account of the Ringstrasse
can be given that does not engage with Sempers Kunsthistorische Museum
the contention here is that there are signiicant elements of his writings
that can be understood as addressing issues within contemporary design
practice.2 While a beginning will be made with Semper a beginning that
will lead in terms of a narrative via Kieslers Endless House Projects of the
50s and then to NOX the implicit argument, as has been intimated, is that
it is only because of the presence of works by Kiesler and NOX that the
potential in Semper can come to the fore. Starting from the centrality of
textile it becomes possible to argue for the primacy of the surface within
Sempers project. The surface thought in terms of its material presence in
Sempers speciic case, textile as the interrelation of geometry and matter
opens up as a question how the wall is to be understood. While this is a
general argument, what is also true is that different textiles will have different
geometrical implications.

Semper
In the Prolegomenon to his great work on style (Der Stil), and during a
survey of the different approaches to art (art including architecture), Semper
makes the following claim: Art in its highest exaltation hates exegesis; it
therefore immediately shuns the emphasis on meaning (Semper, 1878-9,
pp. 195/XX-XXI). The passage moves on to a concern with materials.

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Architectural Projections

However, prior to any more detailed consideration of the way such a


concern unfolds, the signiicance of this comment needs to be noted.
The immediate question that emerges is what the hating of exegesis
entails. The straightforward answer is that this resistance amounts to the
privileging of the material or tectonic nature of architecture over architectures
symbolic presence. A concern for meaning is often equated with symbols or
expression. While it will always be true to argue that architecture, in virtue
of being built form, will have an ineliminable symbolic dimension, such a
claim does not address architecture in its totality. On one level the presence
of a symbolic dimension cannot be denied. Architecture will always stand
for something, and yet this is not the central point. Rather, the force of the
claim is that it announces a shift in emphasis. The move, whose effect
is to distance a concern with architecture as a site of meaning, involves
emphasising both the relationship between the buildings inherent materiality
and the connection between material presence and function.
Now, while the issues involved are clearly more nuanced than the one
allowed by a simple opposition between meaning and materials, it is
nonetheless the case that to write of the shunning of meaning is already to
tie questions of the works activity to that which is realised through material
presence. And yet, in the same section of Der Stil, Semper is critical of the
positions held by those whom he identiies as the materialists. He argues
that they:
can be criticised in general for having fettered the idea too much
to the material, for falsely believing that the store of architectural
forms is determined solely by the structural and material
conditions, and that only these supply the means for further
development. The material in fact is subservient to the idea and
is by no means the only decisive factor for embodying the idea
in the phenomenal world. Although form, the idea becoming
visible (Die Form, die zur Erscheinung gewordene Idee), should
not be in conlict with the material out of which it is made, it
is not absolutely necessary that the material as such becomes
an additional factor in the artistic appearance. (Semper, 1878-9,
p. 190/XVI)
What, here, is meant by idea? This question has to be addressed. The term
idea is Sempers. The force of this question resides in how the idea is to be
understood. The mistake of the materialists is that they thought they were
opposed to any sense of idea, precisely because they conlated ideas and

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Notes on he Surfacing of Walls: NOX, Kiesler, Semper 65

meanings, and thus the idea had to have a transcendent or transcendental


quality in order for the built form to express a meaning. The concern,
therefore, is not with the idea in and of itself. Rather, at issue is how the
idea is understood. That there can be ideas is not incompatible with an
architectural strategy that insists on materials and the realisation of function
through material effects. Rather what has to be distanced is what could be
described as an idealist conception of the idea. The idea, therefore, rather
than being external and thus regulating from outside, is bound up with the
presence of the object as architecture.
In order to develop his position, Semper drew on and then redeployed the
distinction between Kernform (core form), Werkform (structural member)
and Kunstform) (art form) established by Btticher.3 For Btticher, Kunstform
was the outward projection of the structural presence of the object.
Ornamentation therefore was not an addition. It was given within that
relationship. While Btticher would link that interrelation of the different types
of form to universal unities of beauty and truth, that was not a necessary
connection. The important point was that the idea the architectural works
ideational content was bound up with its structural and material presence.
If there had to be sense of propriety or adequation, then it was not given by
the architectural object having either a symbolic or expressive quality such
that the object stood for an idea. Adequation was always deined internally.
It was the relationship between materials and their outward presence.
Holding to this relationship was, of course, to hold to a version of architectural
autonomy. The force of this position can be seen in Sempers quasi deinition
of form as the idea becoming visible. In order to purse the connection
between autonomy on the one hand and the interrelationship between the
three types of form on the other, what will be taken up is Sempers treatment
of the wall. The wall, as an object of architectural consideration, is present
from the earliest writings on polychromatic antiquities to the inal writings
on style. The wall, however, needs to be understood as surface positioned
as much beyond the opposition between surface and depth as it is beyond
any reduction to a lat screen. The wall as surface surface as wall has for
Semper an already given textile quality. The wall does not have a tectonic
dimension as an addition; it is tectonic from the start.
The point of entry has to be the approach to the wall as presented in The
Four Elements of Architecture. While an integral part of the overall historical
importance of Semper is the way that these elements hearth, roof,
enclosure and mound provide a way dealing with the question of the origins
of architecture, by far the most signiicant for contemporary concerns is the
account of the emergence of the wall from the enclosure. Indeed it may
be that the Wandbereiter is the proto-architect of today. (Semper, more or

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Architectural Projections

less, concedes the same in 63 of Der Stil.) His claim that wickerwork was
the essence of the wall is well known. Its importance, both historically and
for the present, resides in its giving to the wall the quality of a textile that is
already the tectonics of the surface. The surface has, therefore, a geometry
of construction that will open the way in which the buildings overall geometry
will work.
This formulation needs to be connected to the related argument that
establishes a distinction between the wall (involving, of course, the
essential function of the wall) and load-bearing. Walls, for Semper, cannot
be separated from the activity of spatial disclosure. From a Semperian
perspective is not a given that is then divided. The contrary is the case.
Space is a result. Hence, the wall is that which brings about spatial
enclosure. In general terms therefore space is the result of the surfaces
operation. The detail of his position is formulated in The Four Elements of
Architecture in the following terms:
Hanging carpets remained the true walls, the visible boundaries
of space. The often solid walls behind them were necessary
for reasons that had nothing to do with the creation of space;
they were needed for security, for supporting a load, for their
permanence and so on. Wherever the need for these secondary
functions did not arise, the carpets remained the original means
for separating space. Even where building solid walls became
necessary, the latter were only the invisible, structure hidden
behind the true and legitimate representatives of the wall, the
colourful woven carpets. (Page 104)
The importance of this formulation is that it moves the wall away from
being simply a structural element to its having a clearly deined function
within (or as part of) an overall structure.4 While for Semper there needs
to be an accord between the outward appearance of structural elements
and the nature of that function, such a relationship cannot be understood
straightforwardly in terms of a theory of ornamentation. What has to be
opened up is the potential in Sempers conception of the wall.
Sempers project can be understood as the attempt to identify within the
history of architecture speciically Hellenic art in this context a principle
that could be extracted. In a sense it is, for example, the nature of Sempers
relation to Quatremre de Quincy that should inform a contemporary
response to his own work. The value for Semper of Quatremres writings on

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Notes on he Surfacing of Walls: NOX, Kiesler, Semper 67

ancient sculpture is that they provide an opening. In Sempers terms it lay in


their practical tendency. He continues:
In line with this tendency the work does not as it were parade
the form before us as a inished product according to the lessons
of aesthetic ideality, but lets us see the artistic form and the
high idea (der Kunstform und der hohen Idee) that dwells within
it; it considers and shows how both were inseparable from the
material and technical execution and how the Hellenic spirit
manifested itself in the freest mastery of these factors, as well as
the old, sanctiied tradition. (Page 249/207)
The signiicance of the formulation lies in the differentiation of form from
what is termed aesthetic ideality. Form and ideas could not be separated
from materials, materials presentation and questions of technique. Semper
undoes the opposition between form and idea by incorporating both as
material possibilities. Any vestige of that metaphysical opposition is displaced
by emphasis having been given to materials and techniques. Once the idea
is no longer understood as external, then the building cannot be understood
as the ideas symbolic presentation. Hellenic style, therefore, involved an
interrelationship of all these elements. This accounts for why, in addition, art
form and decoration cannot be separated. They are, in Sempers terms, so
intimately bound together by the inluence of the principle of surface dressing
(des Flchenbekleidungsprinzips) that an isolated look at either is impossible
(pp. 252-3/211).
What emerges from this way of giving centrality to materials is the possibility
of arguing that materials are what they affect. When, as has already been
noted, Semper argues that wickerwork was the original wall, it was because
it was the original space divider. This realisation of division deined the
essence of the wall. What this means is that any consideration of the wall
has to do with how materials realise their effect. This accounts for the move
in the same text to the claim that the wall retained this meaning when
materials other than the original were used (p. 104). (It should be noted, if
only in passing that the connection is between meaning and materials and
not meaning and symbolic determination.) The history of the wall, therefore,
becomes the history of the way materials realise the wall effect. The wall
effect is spatial division though only ever as a result. Hence, it becomes
possible to question the quality of the space produced. Since it is produced
(effected) by the work of speciic materials. (While it cannot be pursued, what
is opened by emphasising the fact that space is not given but produced is the

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Architectural Projections

need for another understanding of the decorative and thus the bodys relation
to ornamented walls.)

Kiesler
While Kieslers work is linked, rightly, to the history of surrealism and
often discussed in relation to Duchamp, there is an inherently architectural
dimension that should not be neglected. In A Brief Note on Designing the
Gallery, Kiesler outlines some of the positions resulting in both the Surrealist
Gallery and the accompanying Studies for Perception.5 Fundamental to the
project the gallery design is a rethinking of the place and the placing of
the frame. The framed work has to move beyond the duality of vision and
reality. The barrier separating the human world and the world of art needs
to be overcome. Kiesler argues that the:
barrier must be dissolved: the frame, today reduced to an arbitrary
rigidity, must regain its architectural, spatial signiicance. The
two opposing worlds must be seen again as jointly indispensable
forces in the same worldIt is up to the architectural technician of
today to invent, in terms of his techniques a means by which such
unity can again be made possible (Kiesler, 2002, p. 34).
The distinction between vision and reality touches on the distinction between
wall and loor. Any detailed consideration of Kieslers gallery spaces has to
start from the position that it is not simply the projection of the framed works
into space, it is the projection which, once understood in connection to the
curving of the wall has an effect both on the body and therefore on the loor/
wall relation. The interconnection between these projects and those taking
place under the heading of the Endless House Projects is given by what
could be described as the move from a potential to an actual vanishing of
the corner. Writing of his own project, it is deined by Kiesler in the following
terms:
The Endless House is not amorphous, not a free for all form. On
the contrary its construction has strict boundaries according to the
scale of our living, its shape and form are determined by inherent
life forces, not by building code standards or the vagaries of dcor
fads. Space in the Endless House is continuous; all living areas can
be uniied into a single continuum. (Kiesler, 2002, p. 140)

AP_Benjamin_TEXT-2pp.indd 68-69

Notes on he Surfacing of Walls: NOX, Kiesler, Semper 69

Many questions arise. Two are central. The irst has to concern the
relationship between the single endless continuum and the wall. The second
is to account for what is meant by life forces. Part of that account involves
arguing that giving a determining centrality to these life forces will entail that
the body that which moves, sees, in sum inhabits has a different place
within architecture. It is a place that is structured as well as structuring.
Deined in these terms, the body will lose both its singular, as well as its
exemplary, status. Part of what these forces denote, therefore, are bodies
(plural and therefore different) in the place of an idealisation of the body
(singular and therefore always the same; the body of myth.)
And yet, the argument cannot just be that that a different sense of program
has been invented, and thus experimentation in architecture will have no
more than a discursive quality; what would amount to experimentation
purely on the level of meaning.6 Another form of invention is necessary.
Kiesler identiies it in terms of the development of techniques. In fact what
Kieslers work, taken into conjunction with his own project descriptions,
makes clear is that rearticulating the relationship between the wall and the
loor into the continuous surface occurs as the result of an architectural
practice necessitating the creation of techniques proper to its potential built
realisation. The interruption of the relation between wall, corner, and loor
by the projection of art into a volume, thereby redeining both arts spatiality
and the viewing of objects, occurs as ends that are linked to this possibility.
Techniques delimit speciic architectural interventions. They are therefore
inseparable from material possibilities. In architectural terms Kieslers project
needs to be understood as a diagram that demands realisation as a material
event. Such a move would bring to Kiesler the tectonic dimension that the
presentation of the projects so clearly lacks.

NOX
The Son-O-House recalls Kiesler and allows both Btticher and Semper to
be evoked.7 (See Figures 1-3) Prior to any engagement with its speciicity,
a point concerning representation has to be made. Architecture is as much
bound to its varying means of representation and thus to what these means
make possible, as it is to material possibility. There is, of course, an important
connection between them. As has already been noted, the limitations
inherent in the work of Kiesler limitations only ever discovered afterwards
have to be located in how the project was represented. It is not simply
that the computer and more exactly animation programs has altered
the means of representation. This has occurred. Of greater signiicance is

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Architectural Projections

Notes on he Surfacing of Walls: NOX, Kiesler, Semper 71

Figure 1: Son-O-House. Exterior. Architects: NOX

AP_Benjamin_TEXT-2pp.indd 70-71

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Architectural Projections

that the use of these representational tools has altered the nature of the
representation. Moreover, the process of what Kiesler referred to as life
forces can now be calibrated. The body can play a role as a design tool.
This capacity of the body plays an important part in the production of the
Son-O-House. What needs to be identiied, therefore, is the way the initial
experimentation took place. It is not as though the end result is explicable
simply in term of its origins. Nonetheless, the signiicant point of departure
was the way the tracing of bodily movement could then be traced in the
production of volumes. Their initial shape bears a direct correlation to the
movement of bodies. What this means is that movement is not a metaphor.
Nor do bodies function in a way that would be analogous to the operation of
the architecture. The object has not been choreographed. In sum, analogy
and metaphor no longer determine architectures relation to the body.
The reason for insisting on the absence of choreography or at least
choreography as conventionally understood namely as anticipating
movement is because of the role of what Lars Spuybroek describes as
anologue-computing models. While Btticher wanted to link architecture
to its realisation through the inherent property of materials a position
that reappears in Semper in this instance the intermediary use of models
enables their material presence to have an effect on the construction of the
project. The studies of the movement of bodies studies involving ilming

AP_Benjamin_TEXT-2pp.indd 72-73

Notes on he Surfacing of Walls: NOX, Kiesler, Semper 73

and the subsequent digital registration of the results are transferred


to strips of paper. Cuts within these strips refer to different aspects and
intensity of movement. Not only are the paper strips to be understood as
lines, they are lines conveying information. The lines are not representational
in any direct sense. They already have two intrinsic properties. They are
informed. In addition, however, the material of construction paper has
its own qualities. As the informed strips are stapled together, they begin
to form a complex arabesque, which has the potential to yield wall, loor,
and corner relations. Those relations emerge out of the interconnection of
the vaults implicit in the analogue-computer model but which are only truly
actualised once the model is digitised. In addition, the digitisation of the
models gives rise to further developments ones with their own important
consequences. Digitisation allows, via a movement from surface to line,
each of the vaulted sections its own discreet termination. In other words,
surfaces reach their own termination in a line. This occurs because of the
move from one form of modelling to another. The potential of paper is
actualised through digital transformation.
One of the aspects of this overall project delimiting its particularity is
the temporality of construction; that is, the stages of its realisation. The
conventions of spatiality always see movement and by extension circulation
as the result of construction. While it is possible to establish circulation

Figure 2: Son-O-House. Interior. Architects: NOX

Figure 2: Son-O-House. Exterior. Architects: NOX

72

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Architectural Projections

diagrams prior to construction and thus to give priority to circulation and


materials as deining the logic of the building, its actual occurrence is always
after the event of construction. (An example here would be Mendelsohns
use of glass in the 1927 Stuttgart Department Store to locate and house
circulation.) In the case of the Son-O-House, movement is diagrammed
directly onto material. The intermediary step is excluded. In addition, as has
been noted, the very fact that these materials here paper have their own
properties is what enables them to function not as scale model, in any direct
sense, but as analogue computers. (There is an interesting representational
question here concerning what is seen in these paper models.) Materials,
already informed, yield geometry as a consequence of the nature of their
materiality.8 Movement, working through modelling both analogue
computer and digital is what makes construction possible. Construction
becomes the place of movement, though it was movements relation to
materials that was the generator of the initial process.
As a result of the methods used to create the vaults they function by refusing
any straightforward distinction between column and wall. It is the process
of their integration that yields the wall. However, the way that occurs means
that the melding of what are traditionally taken to be ixed distinctions
vault, column, wall establishes what could be described as an openness in
relation to functional designation, with the result that the attribution of precise
determinations will have the same quality as ixing a static point on a dynamic
surface. The surface yields ixity. The steel ribs touch the ground creating
edges. Nonetheless, the internal dynamic of the way this occurs means
that the edges which are created will have a complex relation to the ground.
(Ground understood as both an architectural condition, as well as implicated
in the conventions marking the history of the corner.) There are corner and
walls, yet the nature of the walls dissolves already determined distinctions
between them, compounding thereby the projects complexity. An inherent
part of that complexity is that these relations (wall, loor, corner and so on)
are unpredictable within the way such relations are generally conceived in the
history of modernist architecture. There is another side to this complication, a
side that addresses how the unpredictable allows for the retroactive creation
of sites of prediction.9 It will be essential to return to this point after taking up,
albeit briely, programmatic concerns.
The Son-O-House is an art project staging the relationship between
movement and sound. The built work houses sound that is produced by
movement through the building. However, this does not occur as the result
of a simple correlation between position and sound production. In the same
way as the buildings structuration the process of its acquiring structure
is linked to movement, the internal operation of the building links sound

AP_Benjamin_TEXT-2pp.indd 74-75

Notes on he Surfacing of Walls: NOX, Kiesler, Semper 75

to movement. Differing modalities of bodily position have an effect on the


production. The curvature of the wall positions bodies in different ways.
The potential in Kieslers life forces now has another life: an architectural
nachleben occurring through having realised the potential in materials. (It was,
of course, precisely this state of affairs that was lacking from Kieslers initial
projects.) However, the life involved, much like the bodies, will be deined by
different ways of being present. The curvature of the wall and the manner in
which spatial enclosure is effected are implicated in how sound is produced.
Instead of a simple process of interaction where sound production would be
the direct result of crossing thresholds, here sensors register movement and
that registration provides a patterning in relation to which composition occurs.
The movement diagram created by the buildings occupants scores the
music. There is therefore an intermediary step. What this recapitulates is, of
course, the original diagram of construction. Movement leads to construction.
However, the direction was not literal. The initial registration of movement
gave rise to the analogue computer which allowed material possibilities to be
worked out what emerged was that the truth of steel could be discovered
in paper. This was because of the material quality of the paper. The move
to the digital and the adaptation of the paper model in the process have to
be understood as shifts. What enables them to occur, however, is the use
of material as sites both of the registration of research and as that which
occasions research. Materiality, in both instances, is central. Materiality
cannot be reduced to simple tectonics. It incorporates both tectonics as well
as the geometry inherent in differing materials.
Given this level of description and the intention has been to identify the
presence of the project in terms of a material event the inal element that
remains to be addressed concerns the objects relation to Semper and Kiesler.
This has already been identiied in terms of the relationship between the
unpredictable and the history of architecture. In regards to developing an
understanding of the connection between Semper and NOX, the argument
is that the movement of historical time can be understood as working in a
more complex direction than is usually assumed. In other words, historical
time is not the linear progression from past to the present. The connection
between the projects and the undoing of the insistence of linear time can
be accounted for by the connection having been given through, in both
instances, the retained centrality of textile and materials. Neither term should
be simply generalised and thus viewed as abstract. Differing materials,
as with textiles, will have differing potentials. The Son-O-House emerges
therefore as singular. There are two interrelated aspects to singularity. The
irst is that what is meant by the singular object is one that cannot function
as a prototype but only as a diagram. This entails emphasising the buildings

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Architectural Projections

capacity to generate further architectural propositions that have to do with


its presence as a material event rather than its presence as an image. The
second aspect of singularity is that such an object has the capacity to cause
a retroactive movement in which connections are established. This move
occurs because the basis of the connection cannot be adequately provided
by the image. On the contrary, any connection will be given by the objects
organisation; that is, the intrinsic qualities of the object. Organisation has to be
understood therefore as diagrammatic. No longer being deined by the image
and thus reduced to the status of an image it can then have a generative
capacity. What are generated are representations. And yet, they occur
precisely by insisting on the abstract quality of the material event. Indeed, it is
only once work such as the Son-O-House is thought in terms of its presence
as a material event, that it then becomes possible to identify similar states
of affairs. They exist beyond the simplifying hold of appearance. (Similarities
and dissimilarities constructed simply on the level of the image are just that,
similar and dissimilar images.) Identiications beyond the hold of the image are
retroactive connections. Their construction has the effect of securing history
within theory and, therefore, winning history for the practice of design.

Notes on he Surfacing of Walls: NOX, Kiesler, Semper 77

The images of these projects, as well as the text Brief Note on Designing the
Gallery, can be found in Friedrich Kieslers Art of This Century (Kiesler, 2002).

What is opened up here is the general problem of what counts as


experimentation and research in architecture. In might be necessary in
order to answer this question to distinguish between experimentation for
architecture and experimentation in architecture. In regards to the former
it is clear that experiments by engineers and software manufacturers,
working together, have created a range of materials that makes an important
addition to architecture. The question of the nature of that addition, or the
incorporation of such developments, becomes a way of understanding
the role of experimentation in architecture. Furthermore, it indicates why
collaboration between engineers and architects is fundamental rather than the
expectation that the architect can resolve in advance questions of materials.
Equally, it indicates, or this would be the argument, that the second form of
experimentation is inextricably bound up with what has been identiied here
as the material event.

The Son-O-House is a public art work undertaken in collaboration with the


composer Edwin van der Heide.

The distance of the relation between NOX and Semper occurs at this point.
The latter was interested in materials as given by the distinction between
Werkform and Kunstform. Part of the interest for NOX lies in the geometric
possibilities inherent in material. This accounts for the role of Frei Ottos work
within the projects, and therefore situates the references to him and the
Institute for Light Structures occurring elsewhere in the book.

I have discussed this aspect of time in a number of contexts. In sum it draws


on Freuds conception of Nachtrglichkeit (A term I understand as iterative
reworking.) For Freud this means that in regards to two occurrences, the
second charges the irst with a quality that reveals the potential within
it. Allowing this to become a way of thinking about historical time gives
repetition a fundamental role. However, it is repetition that has to be thought
within the movement in which something is given again by its having been
brought into relation. See my The Plural Event (Benjamin, A., 1993).

Endnotes
1

References to Semper will be to the following editions. In each instance the


pagination, English preceding the German, will be given in the text. The Four
Elements of Architecture and other writings (Semper, 1989), Vier Elemente
der Baukunst (Semper, 1851), Der Stil (Semper, 1878-9).

If there were the space, attention could be given to the interior of Sempers
Dresden Synagogue, as an exercise in the relationship between program and
cladding.

The most sustained introduction to Bttichers work is Mitchell Schwarzers


Ontology and Representation in Karl Bttichers Theory of Tectonics
(Schwarzer, 1993, pp. 267-280).

This position is argued for in considerable detail in 62 of Der Stil. In that


context walls are described as spatial concepts (ramlichen Begriffe)
(Semper, 1878-9, pp. 255/214). There is the important addition that concerns
for load-bearing were foreign to the original idea of spatial enclosure (des
Raumsabschlosses). While this formulation holds to a distinction between
wall and structure, it allows for the development of materials in which wall
again as an effect and structure come to be interarticulated.

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79

5 Plans to Matter:
Towards a History of Material Possibility

AP_Benjamin_TEXT-2pp.indd 78-79

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Architectural Projections

A concern with the history of any practice has to recognise that the status
of the object and thus its presence within differing ields of activity is
always negotiable.1 And yet, objects are never determined absolutely.
Rather, they are always in a state of construction. Forms of determinacy,
therefore, have a type of inevitability. To be speciic, what this means is
that arguments to do with breaks and ruptures, as marking the history of
any discursive practice, cannot be taken as ends in themselves. Breaks
and ruptures forms of discontinuity are not just internal to the history
of any practice, more signiicantly they are internal to the way the object of
that history is constituted. These opening considerations, ones that clearly
demand greater precision, nonetheless allow for differences within the way
the history of architecture is thought. The result of this reformulation is that
history cedes its place not only to histories but also to their intention or use.
Within this frame of reference a distinction can be drawn, and this despite
the inherent fragility in any distinction, between a history of architecture
that becomes the history of the plan, and a history of architecture as
the history of material possibilities. (And thus a history that afirms the
presence of architecture as a material event.) It should be added that the
former will still maintain a concern with materials and the latter will also
be bound up with the presence of plans. (While recognising that the term
plan has a certain elasticity within discussions of architectural practice
and history, in this context the term is taken as identifying architectures
drawn presence, where presence is deined by the project of instantiation
deined in terms of representation and scale.) The conjecture to be argued
here is that to the extent that emphasis moves from the centrality of the
plan to that of material possibility, there is a concomitant rethinking how
both materials and plans are to be understood. Moreover, they have a
different status depending upon the nature of the practice involved. The
use value of these differing conceptions of history also changes. The
implicit project at work here concerns the relationship between history and
design. Once a form of relationality is central, then history cannot be taken
as an end in itself nor is there just history. History for design has a status
that begins to allow for its separation from any immediate conlation with a
history of design.
While there is an obvious conluence between the terms matter and
materials, central to the overall argument of this chapter is that materials
are sites of potentiality. Material possibilities can be understood in a
number of different ways. Three of the most immediate are the following.
In the irst instance it concerns the potentiality of a given material. In
the second it involves using the properties of one material to open up

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Plans to Matter: Towards a History of Material Possibility 81

architectural possibilities within other materials. Finally, it allows drawings


or diagrams to suggest spatial relations given through material possibilities
as opposed to form creation. The afinity between each of these positions
is located in the deinition of the architectural in terms of the relationship
between materiality and potentiality. As such what is also reconigured
is what counts as the image of architecture. The aim of this chapter is
to move towards the position in which materiality could begin to play an
important role in the creation of architectural histories that, to use the
formulation advanced above, are written for design.
Pursuing these possibilities will occur via three approaches to the
question of history. For the sake of brevity they will be identiied with
three proper names: Emil Kaufmann, Colin Rowe and Kenneth Frampton.
Their strengths and limitations will open up another path of engagement,
namely one deined by material possibility. Questions immediately arise.
How is the potential of a material to be identiied? What, in such a context,
would material possibility involve? Is possibility potentiality? It is not as
though these are new questions. While they have a certain ubiquity,
more speciically they play a fundamental role in the German style debate
inaugurated by Heinrich Hbschs pamphlet of 1828 In welchem Style
sollen wir bauen?2
After taking up the central concern of this chapter preparing the way for
the argument that a fundamental shift occurs if material possibility is taken
as providing aspects of architectures history with a form of coherence
rather than explicating that history in terms of the centrality of the plan
the problem of the relationship between materiality and potentiality will still
have to be addressed. The problem is as much philosophical as it is central
to architectural theory. This is especially the case irstly when the latter is
delimited by the complex and divergent demands of design, and secondly
when the material is not reducible to mere matter such a move equates
materialism with empiricism but allows for a connection between the
material and the digital.3 (While this latter point the connection between
the material and the digital is not the direct concern of this chapter, it is
important to note that once representation is moved to one side as the
framework within which architectural diagrams are to be understood, then
it becomes possible to see a relationship between the immateriality of the
digital image (for instance, a spline-based geometry) and a different form
of connection to material realisation. A connection, precisely because of its
directness, that eschews questions of representation, while distancing at
the same time the determinations of scale. A digital image acquires scale,
it is not automatically scaled.

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Architectural Projections

Discontinuity Between Plans: Kaufmann


In opening a space in which material possibility will be a concern for an
approach to architectural history that is formulated in terms of design, a
beginning can be made with the way Emil Kaufmann in his Von Ledoux bis Le
Corbusier interprets what he takes as the fundamental shift from the Baroque
to the Neo-classical.4 Kaufmanns signiicance does not lie in the limits that
would be established by concentrating on the implicit operation of historicism
within his text, but in his commitment to an interpretation of the history of
architecture in terms of interruption and discontinuity. However, it is not as
though either discontinuity or interruption exist. The question that has to be
posed, therefore, concerns how the locus of the disjunction is itself to be
understood.5
For Kaufmann the fundamental moment that marks the end of what he
refers to as the Baroque concatenation (Verband) is Ledouxs plans for
The Salt Works (La Saline) at Chaux. What occurs with this movement
is in Kaufmanns words the break up of the Baroque concatenation (die
Zertrmmerung des Barocken Verbandes) (Kaufmann, 1933, pp.16-17). He
then goes on to argue that:

Plans to Matter: Towards a History of Material Possibility 83

Autonomy cannot be separated from a certain conception of the architectural.


What is on view is the pavilion system. The methodological impetus guiding
the analysis is advanced by Kaufmann in his later work Architecture in
the Age of Reason, in which he argues that forms recur; systems dont
(Kaufmann, 1955, p. 132). (Parenthetically, such a supposition would be the
point of departure for any real engagement with Deleuzes claim in Le Pli
that the Baroque should be understood not as a historical period but as an
operative function.)7
What has to be brought out here is that what underpins the analysis that
Kaufmann is undertaking is the centrality of a certain conception of the drawn
line. (A conception in which the line the lines deining the plan are of
necessity representational. As such not only is it delimited by the structure
of representation a structure in which representation becomes the image
and thus the presence of architecture it is also that it cannot have a
diagrammatic and hence a generative quality.)8 On one level there is simply
no doubt that if the plans for any of the walls of La Saline are compared with
Borrominis drawings of plans for San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane (assuming
such a drawing to be quintessentially Baroque), then it is clear that the

Figure 1: Vue perspective de la Ville de Chaux


(Plan for the ideal city of Chaux) Claude-Nicolas Ledoux.
Photograph: EPCC Saline royale

82

in a remarkable parallelism with general historical evolution, the


pavilion system, the free association of autonomous existence
is substituted for the concatenation henceforth becoming the
dominant system. (Kaufmann, 1933, p. 17)
In regards to the master plan for the city of Chaux, in Kaufmanns formulation
of the argument, the plan has even more autonomy in regards to nature than
is found in medieval cities, while the planner (Der Baumeister), no longer
attempts to raise up the countryside as was done by artists in the Baroque
(Kaufmann, 1933, p. 18).6
An examination of the Vue Perspective de la Ville de Chaux (Figure 1)
indicates the extent to which autonomy prevails. The intrinsic interrelatedness
within the Baroque, from this perspective, has indeed been broken. The
levels of autonomy are not simply external to each block, the blocks are
autonomous in relation to each other. In addition, the wall separating the city
from the countryside has to be interpreted as another marker of autonomy.
It should be noted that the Plate presenting this structuring of autonomy is
called a Vue Perspective. The image of architecture and, as such, what
will count as the architectural is that which can be presented within a
perspectival view. Autonomy, therefore, does not exist as an end in itself.

AP_Benjamin_TEXT-2pp.indd 82-83

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Architectural Projections

autonomy, and what could be described as a conception of relatedness


that depends upon separation and which structures the approach taken by
Ledoux, sunders any possibility of an original conception of interrelatedness.
(This point will be pursued presently in relation to the respective images.)
Initial interrelatedness a form of connection in which separation is always
an after-effect rather than a point of origination is another way of identifying
what Kaufmann means by the Baroque concatenation.
While, on one level at least, the reality of the distinction cannot be
doubted, there are two elements that warrant consideration. The irst is
the conception of line and, by extension, plan that is implicit in the
argument. The second is that once the process is repositioned, in terms of
the abstract conceptions of relation and separation on the one hand, and
the temporal dimensions inherent in the initial versus the punctual on the
other the latter being the moment of separation that allows as much for
autonomy as it does connection then a possible transformation both of the
line and what is being staged becomes possible. And yet, while possible
it need not be actualised. The question of actualisation a possibility held
in place by abstraction bringing with it not just a link to material but an
inscription of material possibility into the process, is integral to the move
from the centrality of the plan. Conversely, part of the argument has to
be that despite appearances to the contrary, the convention of the plan
as well as the relation of separation and connection including temporal
determinations will allow for the incorporation of a certain conception of
materiality and which can be thought of in terms of these conventions. In
other words, if there is to be a redeinition of the architectural object, then
the move from the plan is not to materiality tout court. Materiality cannot
be simply invoked as though there were only one way of accounting for its
presence; although, in other words, precisely because it is matter it would
then only have determinant quality. Rather than simply positing the presence
of matter, what is important is developing a materialist account of matter. As
will emerge from the discussion of Framptons evocation of tectonics as if
that evocation alone brought matter into play it is all too easy to provide an
idealist account of materials.
As was suggested, two images can be juxtaposed in order that what is
implicit in Kaufmanns argument can be brought out. (It should be noted that
these images do not form part of the textual detail of Kaufmanns argument,
rather, they provide a way of privileging both the notion of interruption and
the interarticulation of interruption and the drawn plan.) The irst of these
is Albertina 175, Borrominis drawing of the plan of San Carlo. The second
is Le Douxs Larchitecture, which consists of the plans and elevations
of the Hospice at Chaux. Of central concern here is the interpretation of

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Plans to Matter: Towards a History of Material Possibility 85

these as drawn plans. In other words, to the extent that architecture is


equated with the plan such that plans not only represent architecture they
are also the objects of its history. Borrominis drawing brings the thick
line that incorporates column and wall and locates the entrance (door and
porch) as given by the relationship between the operation of the ellipse
that generates the internal volume in relation to the line carrying the wall
and column. All aspects of the drawing are interconnected. The particular
relationship of architectural elements wall, column and internal volume
cannot be separated from each. This is what Kaufmann refers to as the
Baroque concatenation. The drawing, therefore, has to be understood as the
presentation of these concatenated elements. The relationship between the
elements within Borrominis drawing an interconnection that lends itself to
the description of an already present interrelatedness represented an actual
possibility that, on the level of the plan, is discontinuous with the state of
affairs present in Ledouxs drawing of the plans and elevation for Lhospice.9
What is presented by Ledoux is different. The question, however, must
concern the nature of that difference. Merely positing difference lacks any
explanatory force. It is no more than a form of philosophical essentialism. The
drawing includes loor plans and elevations. In addition, there is a contextual
illustration. In every instance, what is a work is a representation of autonomy.
However, it is far from suficient to understand autonomy as mere internal
regulation. All architectural drawings, on that account, would tend towards
the autonomous. The illustrations deine the architectural in terms of a
system of additions and divisions. Lines demarcate space. Each block has, as
a result of drawing, a separate existence. Each block can be further divided
a division that is regulated by the initial dimensions such that subsequent
divisions remain autonomous in relation to others. What coheres, therefore, is
a unity of separable and thus isolatable entities. The plans lack the possibility
of interwoven interconnection. Connection involves separation. In addition,
it is not dificult to envisage either on the level of the elevation or the plan
further addition. The system allows for such a possibility. The Baroque
concatenation precludes it by deinition. Kaufmann sums up the position in
the following terms:
In place of the conception of architectural form as living organic
nature, there enters the feeling for strict geometry. (Kaufmann,
1933, p. 20)
Finally, therefore, whatever force Kaufmanns argument has it is located in the
incommensurability on the level of plan, where the plan is understood as a
static representation rather than a dynamic play of forces, between these two

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Architectural Projections

images of architecture; that is, between the Baroque and the Neo-classical
deined in terms of the pavilion system.

Continuity Between Plans: Rowe


Contrary to the spirit of Kaufmann a spirit that seeks discontinuity are
the arguments of Colin Rowe. Rowes position, irst developed in his paper
The Mathematics of the Ideal Villa, and continued throughout the differing
attempts to forge relationships between Palladio on the one hand and Mies
and Le Corbusier on the other hand, is preoccupied not simply with the
problem of continuity but with the more insistent one of how, were there
to be discontinuities, they would be identiied (Rowe, 1987). Rowe and
Kaufmann can be seen, at least initially, as staging two radically different
possibilities. Again, the question is the nature of this difference.
Rowes early paper in which the initial arguments are irst formulated
involves the continual charting of differences and similarities between
Palladio and Le Corbusier. The argument is not a general one. In the end it
concerns the relationship between Villa Foscari and Villa Stein. Wary of too
quick a generality, Rowe is always concerned with an argument through
speciics. Prior to any encounter with Rowes actual positioning of these two
buildings, the question that has to be addressed, and which must preigure
any encounter with analyses of this nature, concerns what it is that is being
compared and thus what drives the analysis. In other words, what allows for
such a comparison? What provides it with its ground?
The answer to these questions is given as much by the epigram from Wrens
Parentalia as it is from the quotation from Le Corbusier that provides the
opening moves of the argument. The central point in the passage cited
from Wren concerns the status of the line within architectural drawing. The
line is not just deined in representational terms; the representational and
the aesthetic are combined. Wren, in Rowes citation, writes, (T)here are
only two beautiful positions of straight lines, perpendicular and horizontal
(Rowe, 1987, p. 2). Rowe uses the citation in a description of Le Villa Savoye
central to which is the formulation Le plan est pur (Rowe, 1987, p. 2). This
will come to predominate. It is of course not just the purity of the plan that
is central; it is the conception of line perpendicular and horizontal that
informs such a thinking of plans that will also play a structuring role. In
other words, central to the identiication of similarity and dissimilarity is the
centrality of this conception of the line a geometry with an in-built aesthetic
dimension and the possibility, one perhaps always mediated by the
inevitability of its realisation of the plans inherent purity.

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Plans to Matter: Towards a History of Material Possibility 87

Rowes tracking back and forth between the two villas starts with the
supposition that what is central in both instances is the block. Variation
is set by that centrality. Rowe argues, for example that in both there is a
dominant scheme which then becomes complicated by interplay with a
subsidiary system (Rowe, 1987, p. 9). The identiication of difference within a
subsidiary component indeed even the identiication of such a component
as subsidiary allows for the retained centrality of the block. Rowe, however,
is not going to argue that the villas should be approached, as though they
were simply identical, or even the same in any straightforward sense. The
relation between them is signiicantly mediated by an all-important almost.
There is no point arguing that there is a simple continuity. The worlds, opened
by Palladio and Le Corbusier, differ radically. The pretensions of modernisms
versus classicism involve obvious differences. And yet, even in recognising
such distinctions the possibility of there being points of connection opens
up the possibility for Rowe of having to rethink what is at stake in the
departure from Palladio. Equally it necessitates rethinking as much the move
to modernism as it does modernisms own self-theorisation.10 (This latter
concern modernisms self-conception is treated extensively by Rowe in
later texts.)11
The point of departure should not be the question of similarity, but the
ground of difference. On what basis can two buildings differing in time
of construction by hundreds of years be compared? Asking this question
does of course open up architectures own fascination for its own founding
myths. Whether it is Laugiers primitive hut or Sempers four elements,
architecture continues to create myths of origin that then allow all of its
variants to be versions of the same. On one level a similar narrative occurs
here. However, what is important is the way these differences come to
be expressed. The roof in both instances furnishes for Rowe important
differences. Rowe argues that:
Another chief point of difference lies in the interpretation of the
roof. At the Malcontenta this forms a pyramidal superstructure,
which ampliies the volume of the house; while at Garches it is
constituted by a lat surface, serving as the loor of an enclosure,
cut from and thereby diminishing the houses volume. Thus,
in one building the behaviour of the roof might be described
as additive and in the other as subtractive; but, this important
distinction apart, both roofs are then furnished with a variety of
incidents, regular or random, pediment or pavilion, which alone
enter into important though very different relations with
vertical surfaces below. (Rowe, 1987, p. 9)

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Architectural Projections

What is being staged here is the location of difference in terms of a relation


to the centrality of the block. Addition and subtraction allow for distinctions
to be noted and thus differences established. Even programmatic concerns,
which are effects of structural variation, are occasioned because the
retained centrality of the block allows for them to occur and for structure to
sustain program.
Rowe, by incorporating a redrawing of the work of Palladio thus allowing
drawing to provide the basis of comparison equally re-presents Le
Corbusiers work in order to demonstrate irstly that organisation and
reorganisation takes the purity of the plan as the point of departure.
However, and this is the second point, the identiication of a commitment
to elementary mathematical regulation necessitates its location for Palladio
in the loor plan and the in case of Le Corbusier they are transposed to the
elevation. Questions of continuity and discontinuity are located in the way
this transposition is presented and then commented upon. In others words,
it is not only the case that the ground of the analysis lies in the way the
redrawing is presented, it is equally as important to recognise that what the
drawings are taken to represent the guarantee they possess as the image
of architecture is their relation to a mathematical ideal.
Two interrelated conclusions can be drawn here. The irst is that the plan,
while functioning as the representation of architecture, is itself governed by
a form of ideality. In relation to the ideal, differences become epiphenomena.
The second consequence is that precisely because of the interconnection a
connection present in and as the drawn line between representation and a
governing ideal, there cannot be any direct relation between geometry and
materiality. The drawn line, as a consequence, represents of necessity
something other than a material possibility precisely because the lines are
taken to represent spaces which are themselves understood in terms of
ideals. What is opened up, therefore, as a question is how the relationship
between the drawn line and material presence could be brought about. Once
the relation can be posed as a question then rather than there being a sense
of entailment, what is reinforced is the plans purity and, therefore, the plan is
inscribed further in the realm of ideals rather than material possibilities.
A inal point needs to be added. While it can always be argued that
Kaufmanns historicism may limit his project, much can still be gained by
comparing his approach to Rowes.12 Kaufmann retains the centrality of the
plan. He is, therefore, committed to a history of architecture as the history
of plan even though that history allows for a form of discontinuity. Rowe,
equally, is committed to a history of architecture in which the plan deines its
object. Rowes conception of continuity is, however, not structured by a form

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Plans to Matter: Towards a History of Material Possibility 89

of historicism, rather it is structured by idealism. The important conclusion to


be drawn and part of that importance includes its implications in relation to
a concern with materials is that there is an ineliminable divergence within
formulations of architectural history that are determined by the plan. While
the plan has a history, it will also be the case that any one form it takes a
history as a discursive event may diverge importantly from another. Not
only does the recognition of this state of affairs have real implications for
any understanding of historiography, it also indicates that the plan cannot, by
deinition, have an essential quality. The presence of conlict precludes, from
the start, that very possibility. In sum, the actual history of the plan precludes
its idealisation.

Idealist Tectonics: Frampton


If the plan as that which orientates or deines the object of architectural
history is put to one side precisely because a link between the
representational line and materiality cannot be established, then it would
seem to be the case that it looks, though only initially, that standing opposed
to this insistence on the plan is a concern with tectonics. The reason for
a necessary equivocation here is that there are fundamentally different
conceptions of the tectonic. One of the most inluential is the position
argued for by Kenneth Frampton which emerges from his engagement with
Btticher and Semper (and it needs to be emphasised that the engagement
is Framptons, the potential of both Btticher and Semper is not exhausted by
this one encounter.)13 Framptons classic formulation of this position is found
in his paper, Rappel lOrdre: The case for the tectonic (Frampton, 2002).
Framptons explicit point of departure involves arguing against a conception
of architecture that can be identiied with spatial invention as an end in itself
(Frampton, 2002, p. 92). The production of form cannot be taken as that
which both delimits and deines the design process. Architecture cannot be
reduced to form creation. For Kaufmann, what marked Ledoux out was his
will to form.14
While only implicit in the formulation of Framptons argument, the move
against spatial invention, in which invention and creation come to be linked,
is not just a position intended to open up the tectonic, it is equally, and as
signiicantly, a claim that the site of criticality is not the plan. The important
point is, therefore, that even if dominance involves the retention of the plan
retained within either a history written from the position of discontinuity or
continuity an engagement with dominance, and therefore the project of the
critical, has to dissociate itself from the varying possibilities that deine a plan

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Architectural Projections

or form based history of architecture. Equally, it has to differentiate itself from


a conception of design that takes the plan as either the locus of continuity
or of an enacted disruption brought about by a reworking of the plan. To the
extent, therefore, that deconstruction in architecture takes the plan, and
thus form creation, as its point of orientation and it is not dificult to see
Eisenmans engagement with Terragni in precisely this light it becomes
possible to argue that while deconstruction may be a version of architectural
autonomy, it is so precisely because it is a critical practice even if selfdeined as such that is structured around the centrality of the plan. The
dominant plan becomes the object of a deconstruction.15
Rather than deconstruction or other variants of innovation as form creation,
for Frampton, there needs to be a radical alternative. The alternative position
involves, at least in its formulation, the elimination of the plan as that which
deines the object of the architectural. What has to occur is a return to the
structural unit as the irreducible essence of architectural form (Frampton,
2002, p. 92). At the beginning the actual formulation of the architectural
while not mythic in a direct sense evokes, nonetheless, original and
transcendental motifs. They function as that which falls outside history in
order to provide historys transcendental condition of possibility. What other
meaning could be attributed to the presence of an irreducible essence? It
must be transhistorical in order that it ground the historical. Furthermore,
Framptons recasting of history pivots around the joint. The centrality of
the latter is found in its being the point of connection between the telluric
and the immaterial. The joint, in Framptons argumentation, brings together
movement towards the earth and the opposing light into space. Semper is
evoked in the formulation of the argument.
Sempers emphasis on the joint implies that fundamental syntactical
translation may be expressed, as one passes from the stereotomic base to
the tectonic frame, and that such transitions constitute the very essence of
architecture. They are the dominant constituents whereby one culture of
building differentiates itself from the next (Frampton, 2002, p. 92).
Prior to any consideration of the role of Semper in the argument, Framptons
formulation warrants attention.
In the passage cited above, the joint becomes the site in which the very
essence of architecture can be detected. This formulation reiterates the one
noted above in which the structural element becomes the irreducible essence
of architectural form. The presentation of structural elements and thus tectonics
in terms of essences is not the work of chance. Part of the result of this use of
a productive essentialism is that it allows Frampton to connect Viollet-le-Duc,
Wright and Kahn on the basis of structural similarities. Continuity, though it is a

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Plans to Matter: Towards a History of Material Possibility 91

fundamentally different sense of continuity from the one already identiied as at


work in Rowe, is established through what can be described as the idealisation
of matter. Indeed, a concern with materials actually becomes a concern with a
complex sense of structure and thus not a concern with materials at all. What
deines this sense of structure, as opposed to one in which there is a reduction
of tectonics to structures and faades, is the operation of material possibilities
and tectonics. What is meant by an idealisation of matter is straightforward.
Instead of viewing matter now understood as a general term for structure
and the tectonic in terms of matters material qualities, it becomes the site
in which the essential is at work. (And hence matter would no longer matter.)
Precisely because of this conception of matter, what then comes into play is
the necessity for there being a relation of constancy almost one bound by a
conception of propriety, though linked too quickly to the visual between the
frame and buildings appearance.
The necessity within Framptons argumentation for an idealist as opposed to
a materialist conception of matter is clear from the use made of Semper. Not
only is the already noted possibility that for Semper the joint has an essential
quality, there is also the additional point that links between a number of
architects (again Viollet-le-Duc, Wright and Kahn) can be discerned from the
cultural priority that Semper gave to textile production and the knot as the
primordial tectonic unit (Frampton, 2002, p. 100). While it is always possible
to argue that there is a historicist dimension in Semper, and moreover, that
Semper has a mythic account of the origins of architecture, an account
transformed almost as though it were unproblematic by Frampton, what is
a more dificult argument to sustain is that Semper idealised the knot. For
Semper, it can be argued, the position is importantly different.16 Part of the
evidence for the real possibility of a different approach and thus another
Semper can be found in his treatment of the wall.17
The detail of his position is formulated in The Four Elements of Architecture
in the following terms:
Hanging carpets remained the true walls, the visible boundaries
of space. The often solid walls behind them were necessary
for reasons that had nothing to do with the creation of space;
they were needed for security, for supporting a load, for their
permanence and so on. Wherever the need for these secondary
functions did not arise, the carpets remained the original means
for separating space. Even where building solid walls became
necessary, the latter were only the invisible, structure hidden
behind the true and legitimate representatives of the wall, the
colourful woven carpets. (Semper, 1989, p. 104)

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Architectural Projections

The importance of this formulation is that it moves the wall away from
its being no more than a structural element to its having a clearly deined
function within (or as part of) an overall structure. While for Semper there
needs to be an accord between the outward appearance of structural
elements and the nature of that function, such a relationship resists any
reformulation in terms of a theory of ornamentation. What has to be opened
up is the potential in Sempers conception of the wall.
The wall cannot be separated from the effect of space creation. Potentially
what counts as a wall need not have anything necessarily to do with the
literal presence of the wall as a structural element, but will be there in terms
of what can be described as the wall-effect. This position is argued for in
considerable detail in 62 of Der Stil. In that context, walls are described
as spatial concepts (ramlichen Begriffe). There is the important addition
that concerns for load-bearing were foreign to the original idea of spatial
enclosure (des Raumsabschlosses) (Semper, 1878-9, p. 255/p. 214). While
this formulation holds to a distinction between wall and structure, it allows
for the development of materials in which wall again as an effect and
structure come to be interarticulated.
Sempers interest in materials a key example is wickerwork is located
in the way materials operate to realise such effects. There is no need to
attribute an essentialism to Semper since his chief concern was exploring the
complex relationship between materials and their inherent possibilities. The
possibilities lie as much in the creation of effects as they do in the potentiality
within a material in terms of the realisation of that effect. Materials become
registers of what they allow. What they allow will in the end be speciic to
the materials in question. What can never be precluded are attempts to win
Semper to the projects of idealism. However, there is enough in his work to
delect, if not resist, precisely that possibility.
Materials in the writings of Semper can be interpreted as resisting their
idealisation precisely because they are bound up with architectural effects.
Effects necessitate that a distinction be drawn between, on the one hand,
materials understood as sites of potentiality and implicit geometries and,
on the other, the reduction of architectures material presence to the strictly
empirical and thus, to brute matter. Flowing from Semper, there is the
possibility of connection between materiality and both the conceptual and
the ideational. However, both of these elements are not external to matters
work. On the contrary, as indicated by reference to the wall, they are realised
within the work of matter. The work of matter matter understood as workful
becomes another formulation of material possibility. In sum, therefore,
Semper opens up, pace Frampton, the possibility for a materialist account

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Plans to Matter: Towards a History of Material Possibility 93

of matter precisely because matter reconceived in terms of work becomes


a locus of potentiality. Potentiality is a quality intrinsic to materials once
materials no longer have to bear the weight of being part of architectures
irreducible essence.
Tectonics, as a term, designates a range of divergent possibilities. In
Framptons work it cannot be readily separated from an idealisation of
matter. Were that not to be the project and thus if what was actually at stake
involved developing a materialist account of tectonics, then central to such
an undertaking would be the theoretical necessity a necessity imposed
by design practice and, therefore, forming an intrinsic part of architectural
theory of developing a materialist account of materials. As such, idealism
would have ceded its place to materials and hence would have avoided the
hold of empiricism. This would have occurred to the extent that materials can
themselves become sites of experimentation and research. The latter takes
place to the extent that diagrams, models and materials are approached in
terms of their potentialities rather than as representations, the loci of meaning
and the staging of ideals.
Perhaps as a conclusion there needs to be a word of warning. One way of
taking the distancing of meaning, representation and the ideational would
result in the reduction of architecture to a series of pragmatic operations.
It would be as though, therefore, a concern with experimentation and the
critical were abandoned in the process. At its most polemical it would be
as if in the move to the interrelationship of the digital and the material what
then became impossible was criticality in the age of digital reproducibility. (A
concomitant casualty of this so-called impossibility would be the irrelevance
of architectural theory: theory having been effaced in the name of the
pragmatic.) Two points need to be made in response.
In the irst instance criticality is internal to architecture. Neither architecture
nor the critical is to be understood in terms of teleological development.
As such innovation and experimentation remain possibilities. However,
that possibility has to be situated in relation to the conception of the
architectural object. Once a move is made from the centrality of the plan
to the relationship between the material and the digital, a relationship in
which, on the level of both theorisation and practice, what has to dominate
is a materialist account of the work of matter, then what counts as the
experimental, and thus how the critical is to be understood, become
questions with as great an exigency as before. Nonetheless, with a shift
in the conception of the object, in the move from the centrality of the plan
to the materialist account of the relationship between the digital and the
material, the architectural object acquires a different ontological status. This

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Architectural Projections

Plans to Matter: Towards a History of Material Possibility 95

freedom: Sigfried Giedion, Emil Kaufmann and the constitution of architectural


modernity (Mertin, 1997). In addition, Hubert Damisch has provided an
excellent introduction to Kaufmanns work in relation to the general question
of autonomy in his preface to the French translation of Von Ledoux bis Le
Corbusier. See Ledoux avec Kant (Damisch, 2002).

occurs precisely because the latter involves a repositioning of the immaterial


and the material. As such, therefore, questions pertaining to the critical and
the experimental demand new forms of response. Responding to those
demands response as the creation of a locus of research is the distancing
of the pragmatic.
The second point is related. Precisely because this repositioning demands
conceptual innovation (therefore, there has never been a greater need for
architectural theory) both the repositioning and the possibility of research
can always be resisted. However, that resistance needs to be analysed, it
cannot be naturalised. Any analysis will give rise to further clariication of
the repositioning of the architectural object and how techniques in relation
to that object are themselves to be understood. While innovation and
experimentation can always be dismissed as novelty (though equally novelty
can always be presented as though it were experimental and innovative) once
the historicist gesture of assimilation no longer dominates then a materialist
account of the work of matter comes into play, especially when that work
involves, of necessity, the productive presence of the immaterial, (for
instance, software). A materialist account, and not an empiricist or pragmatist
one, will by the nature of the activity itself occur within the space created
by allowing for the afirmation of the shift in the ontology of the architectural
object to identify the parameters of research. The move to materialism will
work to redeine both the nature and the project of architectural theory.

The central text here is Michel Foucaults Le Mots et les Choses (Foucault,
1978). While Foucaults approach differs fundamentally from Kaufmanns,
the productive point of comparison is the insistence on discontinuity. For
Foucault, the regimes that organise discrete conigurations episteme are
themselves sites that can generate differences explicable in terms of the
episteme itself. Kaufmanns sense of discontinuity is itself articulated within
a teleological conception of historical time. Discontinuity, therefore, as an
operative principle within different conceptions of historiography, will have its
own complex history.

The most signiicant overview of eighteenth century architecture, which


situates Ledoux in relation to the question of modern architecture, is Anthony
Vidlers The Writing of the Walls: Architectural theory in the late enlightenment
(Vidler, 1987). In addition, Vidler has provided the most exacting and judicious
overview of Kaufmanns project. Drawing on a range of sources, Vidler is able
to position the centrality of Kaufmanns work for any discussion of architectural
autonomy. (Vidler, 2002) In the context of the argument developed here,
autonomy has not been the central concern. Greater signiicance has been
attributed to the question of discontinuity and continuity. The argument
developed in this chapter is not antithetical to arguments concerning
autonomy, or at least there is no intent that this be the case. Rather, what is
at stake is the nature of the object and thus its discursive construct that
is taken to be autonomous. Moreover, when Kaufmann begins to reformulate
the propositions of his 1933 work in English, the centrality of the autonomy
shifts. What emerges is the importance of the historiographical argument
that underpins it. For example, in the paper given to the American Society
of Architectural Historians in August 1942 (Kaufmann, 1943), Kaufmann is at
pains to argue that with Ledoux there is the expression of an entirely new
system (1943, p. 20) and that with the House designed for Bellevue Park the
principle of unity, evoked by Alberti in his sixth book, and so dear to Baroque
hearts was abandoned (1943, p. 17). Kaufmanns interest lies in the history
of form and thus with the history of what he calls an architectural system
(1943, p. 13). This is the aspect of Kaufmanns project that is being privileged.
There is no doubt, however, that formal innovation is itself bound up with the
Enlightenment project of autonomy.

Even allowing for the signiicance of Deleuzes work (Deleuze, 1987) on the
fold (le pli) for the presentation of architecture, the important question for a
concern with writing history for design is accounting for what occurs when

Endnotes
1

I wish to thank Katie Lloyd-Thomas, John Macarthur and Tony Vidler for
comments on an earlier version. The direction of the interpretation is
mine alone.

The German text was published in Karlsruhe in 1828. Hbschs text and other
texts central to the Style Debates are available in English (Hbsch, 1992). I
have examined this text and the context in which the question of style and
its relation to material possibility is posed in greater detail in Style and Time
(Benjamin, A., 2005).

This is the point at which the centrality of the work of Lars Spuybroek can be
located. See Machining Architecture (2004).

Emil Kaufmanns Von Ledoux bis Le Corbusier (Kaufmann, 1933). Subsequent


page references are given in the body of the article. (All translations are my
own.) On the modernity of Kaufmann, see Detlef Mertinss System and

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96

Architectural Projections

a form of thought and form creation at work in the seventeenth century


acquires an insistent contemporary presence. John Rajchman has traced,
with real philosophical acuity, the complex set of relations between Deleuzes
writings and architecture. See his Constructions (Rajchman, 1998).
8

What is opened up here does not concern the diagram per se. Rather, what
is involved is the relationship between the drawn line and material presence.
Clearly this treatment of the diagram draws on Deleuzes discussion of the
same in his work on Foucault and on Bacon (Deleuze, 1986 and 1981).

There are, of course, other ways of understanding the relationship between


the Baroque here present in the igure of Borromini and the modernism
of Le Corbusier. For example, Giedion argues the following in relation to the
Villa Savoye:

Plans to Matter: Towards a History of Material Possibility 97

15 I have developed this approach to both the deconstruction in architecture


and Eisenmans work on Terragni in my Passing through deconstruction:
Architecture and the project of autonomy (See Chapter 7).
16 References to Semper will be to the following editions. In each instance the
pagination, English preceding the German, will be given in the text. Gottfried
Semper. The Four Elements of Architecture and Other Writings (Semper,
1989), Vier Elemente der Baukunst (Semper, 1851), and Der Stil (Semper,
1878-9).
17 Another, and different, attempt to argue for the actuality of Semper can be
found in the work of Bernard Cache (2000 and 2002).

It is impossible to comprehend the Savoye House by a view from


a single point: quite literally, it is a construction in space-time. The
body of the house has been hollowed out in every direction: from
above and below, within and without. A cross section at any point
shows inner and outer space penetrating each other inextricably.
Borromini had been on the verge of achieving the interpenetration
of inner and outer space in some of his late Baroque churches.
(Giedion, 1967, p. 529)
The contrast that would need to be established between Giedion and other
historians would have to incorporate the way differing conceptions of the
architectural object igured within the analyses.
10 It is in relation to this point that Robin Evans argues that within the structure
of Rowes argument, Mies and Le Corbusier remain Neo-Palladian (Evans,
1997).
11 See in this regard, Rowes papers Neo-classicism and Modern Architecture I
+ II (Rowe, 1987, pp. 119-159).
12 For an interpretation of Semper that concentrates on this aspect of his
work see Mari Hvattums Gottfried Semper and the Problem of Historicism
(Hvattum, 2004).
13 For a judicious evaluation of the importance of Btticher in any evaluation of
the history of tectonics see M. Schwarzers Ontology and representation in
Karl Bttichers theory of tectonics (Schwarzer, 1993).
14 Emil Kaufmanns Claude-Nicolas Ledoux: Inaugurator of a new architectural
system (Kaufmann, 1943, p. 15).

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99

6 Porosity at
The Edge:
Working Through Walter Benjamins Naples

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100 Architectural Projections

What is it that identiies a city?1 Where is the feeling or sense of that identity
located? Could that sense of identity no matter how it was discovered be
generalised? The encounter with a city endures within attempts to articulate
that experience within writing. Equally, an encounter with a speciic city
once it admits the possibility of generalisation may become productive
within design. Walter Benjamin continued to work through the city.2 The
modern and the urban coincide. And yet, that coincidence brings with it
more than a simple equivalence. Cities have a past. The modern contains
vestiges. The question of the city if only as a beginning concerns that
complex presence. In a text that demands consideration not just because
of its content, but equally due to its actual design Einbahnstrae the
presence of the affective city, the city as the place of experience endures.3
A brief entry under the heading Freiburg Minster opens a possible interplay
between the particular and the related move to a form of generality. Or if not
the movement itself, what is at work within this brief note is the provision of
two of the categories within which movement within the city can be thought.
(In the end, it will be movement that constitutes the urban and thus deines
the city.)
Freiburg Minster The special sense of a town (dem eigensten
Heimatgefhl einer Stadt) is formed in part for its inhabitants and perhaps
even in the memory of a traveller who has stayed there by the tone
and intervals with which its tower clock begins to chime (Benjamin, W.,
1977/2003, IV.1. 124/1. 213).
Accounting for the Heimatgefhl of a town can be located in the way
the relationship between material presence and time is worked out. Here
material presence is the clock tower itself standing as a point of orientation.
Time is inscribed, in this context, within the intervals marking the striking
of the bells. Orientation in relation to distance is always intermingled with a
temporal dimension. Both combine in the feeling gefhl that a town
engenders. What this means is that spatiality is not the central element in
any account of what can be described as the effect of urbanism. Spatiality
is always measured. The nature of its measure, however, involves time.
The time in question is not the universalising time that is arbitrarily though
exactly enacted an exactitude with its own exigency either by the clock
or by chronology. If there is another conception of time then it arises from
the operative quality of the city itself. It will not be time as a series of single
moments, those heard on each occasion the bell is struck. Rather, it will
involve the complex temporality suggested by the interplay of differing
temporal systems articulated within different forms of spatial presence. The
relationship between space and time thought as a relation of inherently
complex sites both opens a way towards Benjamins discussion of Naples,

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Porosity at The Edge: Working hrough Walter Benjamins Naples 101

while at the same time signalling the extent to which it may become possible
to generalise that account.
Writing of the caf in Naples, Benjamin states, A prolonged stay is barely
possible (Lngerer Aufenthalt ist kaum mglich) (Benjamin, W., 1977/2003,
p. 420/p. 316). However, what is it that is not possible, or only barely? What
type of stay perhaps even what form of lodging is precluded? While these
questions refer to time they are equally concerned with issues of spatiality.
What is in play is the nature of the place in which one stays, or in which this
form of staying takes place. Staying here is measured by time. The Neapolitan
caf is not a place for an Aufenthaltzeit. Measuring place by time thereby
allowing time a form of complexity reconigures place by allowing it to take
on a position in which there is the interplay of times. Prior to taking up the
consequences of this move from a singular conception of time to a plural one,
it is essential to stay with the caf and the positioning of what is, or is not, or
only barely, possible within it.
The contrast Benjamin provides is with the Viennese coffee house. The latter
are marked by a sense of the conined (beschrnkte). While the term is
deployed speciically to describe the literary world of Vienna, it is a world that
has an architectural correlate. Noting this distinction, however, is not enough.
The contrast is not between the contained and the open, as though the
only possible response to a form of restriction or containment could be the
elimination of all borders and thus the creation of the purely open. (It may be
that such an aspiration is no more than a gestural reiteration in another guise
of a conception of place as a terra nullus.) Movement through space is always
temporal. It takes place through time. Presented in this way, movement
comes to deine the way in which space is both contrasted and then worked
within. Of the Neapolitan caf it should be recalled that Benjamin wrote, A
prolonged stay is barely possible (Benjamin, W., 1977/2003, p. 420/p. 316).
What delimits the length of stay has to do with the way coffee is drunk.
Coffee is ordered by gestures. Naples is characterised by the language of
gestures (Die Gebrdensprache) (Benjamin, W., 1977/2003, p. 421/p. 316).4
The ordering of the drink, its consumption and the passage out from the
caf, all need to be understood within the rhythm of the gesture. Space
is positioned and therefore created by one particular rhythm rather
than another. What occurs within the caf is the interarticulation of spatial
positioning and the rhythm of the body. The argument as to why it is barely
possible to stay within the caf for a sustained period of time has to do,
therefore, with the way the space of the caf is constructed. It is not a
given domain that is simply occupied in a range of different ways. The caf
becomes a site whose presence is created. Time, space and the rhythms
of the body work together. If there is a way into the general sense in which

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102 Architectural Projections

porosity igures within Benjamins writings on Naples, then it resides in its


effects. Effects are productive. Porosity, if only as a beginning, provides
a way of making space and time work together to deine both the urban
condition and the bodys place within it. Time is integral to an understating of
urban affect.

Porosity at The Edge: Working hrough Walter Benjamins Naples 103

actual terminology, one that refuses to position the private and the public as
a productive opposition, does not ignore the private realm. On the contrary
it brings both the public and the private into play, but freed from their ready
insertion into a simplifying opposition. (As will be noted, it is an opposition
undone by the work of porosity.) And yet, within the terms of the texts
narrative what is recounted is an occurrence. And as an occurrence, it is over.
Moreover, it is an event whose impersonal quality is carried by its passive
construction (wurdegefahren). What has been identiied, therefore, in
this opening in its impersonal pastness is as much an opening towards
the present as it is to different possibilities of involvement. Both of these
openings holding the actuality of the present and its inherent complexity in
play indicate not just ways of avoiding the complete identiication of the text
with Naples, but of allowing that possibility to be already contained in the text
itself. The opening of Naples, understood as a threshold, is already doubled.
Complexity pertains ab initio.

Naples, once named, means that avoiding the hold of the idiosyncratic
will depend upon allowing the name Naples to name both the city itself
and, in the process, to name and as signiicantly to produce an abstraction
that has an inherently generative dimension. While Benjamin writes about
Naples, there is an additional question a question driven not just by the
imperative of design but also by the possible construction of a site in which
those imperatives may come to take on a political texture. The questions
force resides in the power of abstraction. (This is abstraction not as an act of
withdrawal, but as the relocation of effect. Abstraction is that which allows
for potentiality precisely because the original is no longer held by interplay of
representation as the locus of meaning and re-presentation as deining either
the image or the description.) The question is the following: Is it possible to
reconigure that writing Benjamins Naples diagrammatically? In other
words, can the text be read as occasioning design? This is designing arising
neither from the application of an analysis nor from the simple identiication
of the texts concerns. Rather, the potentiality for abstraction the diagram
opens up design as a practice. As a result, design would be a practice rather
than the enactment of a predetermined task. If only to indicate how such a
possibility would be realised, part of the answer will involve reconiguring the
urban and here Naples names the urban in terms of time and movement.
Time and movement should not be understood as simple generalities. They
are given a speciic coniguration within Naples. If there is a way through
Naples, it has to do with the use of porosity as a temporal concept rather than
a purely spatial one. This is a position that can only emerge from working
through Naples.

The value of such an approach to this text is that it allows for the possibility
that the complex density of the urban endures as a recurrent thought within
writing.5 The question of density, however, needs to be set in relation to
an understanding of place as that which is already contested. The real
signiicance of the term porosity, and this is the term used by Benjamin to
analyse the city of Naples, is that it does not refuse the distinction between,
for example, the sitting room (die Stube) and the street (der Strasse), or
between day (Tag ) and night (Nacht ). What it does, however, and this is
part of the strength of Benjamins approach, is begin to deine their relation
in terms of an already present sense of interpenetration (Durchdringung).
The question that arises here concerns to what this term interpenetration
pertains. Porosity, if it were thought to do no more than mark mere process,
would involve nothing other than a form of seepage; as though edges
could be permeated, entered but no more than that. What occurs with the
evocation of the porous brings additional elements into play.

The texts opening words carry the quality of storytelling. The text begins
with the evocation of an event whose completion marks the point of entry
into the text. Completion is the enclosure into the narrative at the same time
as its creation. Completion and threshold conjoin at the texts beginning.
At work here, and this is just the beginning, is a doubled entry. Benjamin
writes, Some years ago a priest was drawn through the streets of Naples
for indecent offences (Benjamin, W., 1977/2003, p. 414/p. 307). (It needs to
be noted that indecency (unsittlicher) should not be understood in terms
of a realm of private or personal morality. Indecency already brings into
consideration the realm of tradition and custom, that is, die Sitte.) Naples
will continue to rework the private, depriving it of its privative quality. The

The term irst occurs in the following context. Benjamin has been describing
a series of rooms within the city, its buildings and inally within the cliff
faces. Overall the city is craggy (felsenhaft) (Benjamin, W., 1977/2003,
p. 416/p. 309). This is, however, no more than a spatial description. It is as
though all that is involved is a series of interlinked chambers and rooms; as if
porosity were no more than courtyards that led to arcades or vestibules which
in turn lead to ante-chambers and inally to inner rooms themselves. If there
were a way of describing the temporality and thus the form of movement that
such a conception of porosity engenders a conception in which its force
would be stilled and thus its productive possibilities contained then it would
be in terms of a sequence and thus as a linear narrative through the city.

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104 Architectural Projections

In relation to sequence a relation that resists simple linearity Benjamin


introduces a terminology that will structure the effective, hence productive,
presence of porosity. Describing the base of the cliffs, the point at which the
city touches the sea, a point of encounter, a place of touch that could have
been an actual border there are, Benjamin notes, doors and caves. They are
neither separate nor merely connected. In relation to them he writes:
If it is open one can see into large cellars, which are at the same
time (zugleich) sleeping places and storehouses. Farther on,
steps lead down to the sea, to ishermens taverns installed in
natural grottoes. Dim light and thin music come from them in the
evening. (Benjamin, W., 1977/2003, p. 416/p. 309)
Central to the orientation of this passage indeed central to the orientation
of the evocation of the sense of place at work here is that complexity
depends upon the overdetermined moment. The present as a site of original
complexity is noted by the use of the term zugleich (at the same time),
recalling, therefore, the doubling that marks the point of entry into the text.
In other words, what undoes the linear is the complexity of the moment.
Allowing for this complexity is already to have demanded a different sense
of mapping than one that would have been driven to by linear sequence and
singular moments.6
The contrast needs to be made more emphatic. The linear, itself becoming
moments within a sequence, would deine passage through the urban,
a passage in which these singular moments gave rise as much to their
continuance as to their cessation. One place would lead to another. One
singular place would open onto another. Within such a conception of
movement how is the border to be understood? Whether it be a border
that is no more than the entrance to a building, or more dramatically the
entrance to another country, the singular and hence linear, a structure that
must generate and contain its own narrative of the city demands that it
be retained. The singular as door or entrance equally the singular as the
spatial condition existing after the entrance must stage and constrain both
movement and the quality of the spatial conditions. Inside must be radically
distinct from outside. What this involves is a conception of movement that
has to resist the threshold as a condition and maintain the entrance as
either open or shut. The border as the singular brings another exigency into
consideration: its being policed. The border, precisely because of its projected
singularity and the related demand that it be policed, opens up the possibility
of its being traversed. That would be the response the singular response
to the presence of the border understood as a single line. There is, however,

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Porosity at The Edge: Working hrough Walter Benjamins Naples 105

another response, one that while opening up the singular does so in a way
that causes the positing of singularity to become problematic. Two strategies
emerge. The irst is the borders refusal; traversal as refusal. The second is
what can be described as the borders undoing.
In regard to the former traversal borders can always be traversed.
However, such crossings are incursions and consequently would then be
deined as illegal. If there is a way of approaching the border that refuses
the terms in which the border is traditionally given terms that are under the
dictate of control, a dictate that is inscribed within statutes for control (legal
provisions no matter how arbitrarily created) then it has to be linked to the
undoing of the border.7 Undoing is not destruction. Moreover, it is in terms of
undoing that Benjamins work a work in which Naples has already come to
name a more generalised urban condition is central. Porosity as a temporal
concept temporal with its own spatial determinations emerges as a form
of undoing. In Benjamins text what has been identiied here as undoing is
linked to the movement of interpenetration. Prior to pursuing the passages
in the text in which what is addressed are the temporalising movements
that reconigure spatial locations, it is important to stay with this undoing.
The term undoing makes demands. In part, it enacts the work of porosity.
The work in question begins with the interruption of the opposition between
the singular and the closed on the one hand and the completely open on the
other. However, there is more at work that just a speciic strategy for reading.
Part of the argument will be that through undoing, it becomes possible to
reconigure urban conditions. Porosity as an undoing will lead to a differing
conception of the urban, and thus of an urbanism, from one directed by the
interplay of the temporal singularity of simple lines. (Equally, this difference
will itself be registered in the representational means used to create these
differing possibilities.)8
In general terms, lines of demarcation simple lines are held in place.
Neither natural nor arbitrary, they are placed and held there. In its most
benign form this will concern lines drawn on a map that indicate the presence
of streets, or speciic urban locations. This type of map is used to deine
zones that in turn will have an effect as much on building regulations, as they
will on the creation of infrastructure. While lines and maps of this nature
allow for contestation the argument, for example, to have a certain area
rezoned whatever sense of contestation there is, it will have been delimited
by the sense of lines, time and spatial relations that engender it. What is at
work here is a deined sense of enclosure. Part of the deinition comes from
privileging not just spatial relations, but also a deinition of spatial relations
and the lines used to create them in terms of a founding simplicity. Despite
these simplifying moves, such a conception of the line once it becomes the

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106 Architectural Projections

border, brings an exacting reality into play. One response to the actuality
of such a demanding presence is destruction. However, the process of
destruction does not just move in one direction. The creation of the arbitrary
border constructed as a single line can also be understood as a form of
destruction. In the latter case what is destroyed is the originally complex
or plural sense of place. Destruction in such a context is the refusal of the
border in the name of the open as though the borders destruction will allow
for a sense of the common deined as the open. It is in relation to both of
these senses of destruction that the process of undoing can have its most
exacting effect. Undoing becomes a productive activity. Undoing allows.
Porosity, as the term moves through and organises Benjamins text Naples,
is bound up with the provisional. And yet, the usual temporality of the
provisional, a temporality and conception of action deined by a move to
completion, a move which is itself explicable in terms of linearity, is precisely
the conception of the provisional which is undone by porosity. Moreover,
porosity comes to be inscribed within, and as part of, a dynamic process.
Movement and mobility characterise porosity. It is not just that everything
joyful (Lustige) is mobile (fahrbar) (Benjamin, W., 1977/2003, p. 417/p. 311).
There is a more profound sense of the dynamic. After arguing that there is
founding interpenetration of feast days and work days, an interpenetration
that is not simply occasional, rather it is irresistible such that the kernel
of one exists irrevocably and irrecoverably in the other, allowing each the
possibility for a reconiguration, a repositioning, perhaps the adoption of a
different colour or another form, that could occur, perchance unforseen, at
any moment, Benjamin conigures porosity as the law of life (Gesetz dieses
Leben) (Benjamin, W., 1977/2003, p. 417/p. 311). However, this is not just any
law. Benjamin described it as inexhaustible (unerschplich) (Benjamin, W.,
1977/2003, p. 417/p. 311). In other words, it is not a conception of law that
deines both obedience and obligation, and which because of its externality
yields subjects and in the end will deine subjectivity as subject to it. Action
is neither regulated nor deined by following this law. The inexhaustible law
is the actative itself. While the term inexhaustible (unerschplich) recurs
within the text, what is central is the way in which an active dimension
comes to deine what is usually taken either as static or as complete. (An
ontology deined by movement begins to supplant one positioned by stasis.)
Building (Bau) and action (Aktion) work together (Benjamin, W., 1977/2003,
p. 416/p. 309). They go in and through each other. This could, however, be
no more than a simple, and in the end simplifying if not reductive, evocation
of process. While the opposition of the static and the dynamic is opened
once building and action are deined in terms of their interpenetration
(rather than their so-called essential qualities), the undoing of that opposition,

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Porosity at The Edge: Working hrough Walter Benjamins Naples 107

however, is dependent upon allowing the interpenetration and, therefore,


porosity a productive dimension.9 For Benjamin, their interpenetration is
positioned within the framework of a productive sense of the provisional.
Only by allowing for this original sense of connection can there then be the
actuality of interruption and thus the occasion of what Benjamin describes as
new and unforseen constellations (Benjamin, W., 1977/2003, p. 416/p. 309).
It is the condition for the emergence of the new, and it should be noted
that the new while unforseen, in the precise sense that it does not have
an image, is that which occasions by a counter movement a productive
cessation that can be neither restricted nor constrained by predication.
The new is allowed. The new, in the precise way the term is used in this
instance, for Benjamin, neither corresponds nor mimes. It is nonetheless a
constellation.10 Rather than an already-given image of the future that inds
expression, the new is the result of an interruption. After all, how could
that which is unforseen occur other than as an interruption? Moreover, the
emergence of the new resists inality (hence the recourse to a language
of inexhaustibility). That resistance is as much ground in the temporality
of inexhaustibility, as it is in the interconnection of the inexhaustible and
the incomplete. While Benjamin is offering a literal description of buildings
in Naples a description that holds to the interplay of dilapidation and
construction the formulation opens up beyond the literal. He writes of these
buildings that they are not inished or self-contained (fertiggemacht und
abgeschlossen wird nichts) (Benjamin, W., 1977/2003, p. 416/p. 310).
Caution is necessary here for this is a real sense in which a designation
of this type needs to be moved from positing a direct equivalence of the
provisional nature of forms of completion and the self-contained with a
description of Naples. It must be more. The designation needs to be a
generalised description of the urban condition itself (Naples/Naples adopting
the status of a diagram), a redescription in which the setting is changed; a
situation in which there will be lines of division lines that will still demarcate
areas even the culmination of lines in borders. However, to the extent
that the provisional is taken as identifying this position, and moreover, if
the provisional is understood as bound up with the process of undoing, it
is possible to maintain edges and forms of separation; and yet rather than
deining them in terms of the presence of single lines that need to be policed,
they will emerge as porous sites. Edges and borders are held in place by
movement through them. Movement, instead of taking linearity as its model,
will need to be rethought in terms of the presence of a divergent set of
attractors creating eddies allowing for forms of occupation that will draw
their force and have a pulse (though, in the end, it will be pulses) derived
from a divergent set of sources. All of these elements the materiality of the

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108 Architectural Projections

occupation, the immateriality of forces cohere in a continually provisional


coniguration. They are containing, yet not self-contained, and therefore,
openings not deined by (or as) the purely open but by an inexhaustible
potentiality. And yet from one position and correctly this would still be the
same place, and what occurs does so at the same time. Retaining as sense
of the same is the precondition by which destruction is avoided even though
place and time are reconigured. At work is undoing as porosity and porosity
as undoing.
Porosity is also linked to personal life. However, the moment that the private
realm is rethought in terms of porosity it comes to be articulated within the
movement of undoing and the provisional. Private life is equally porous.
Accepting the interplay of building and action as the point of departure
means that to exist in Naples, for Benjamin, and it should be noted that it is
literally to exist (Existeieren) (Benjamin, W., 1977/2003, p. 417/p. 314), has
a different orientation. Thinking being within the urban condition necessitates
the recognition that the predicament of modern existence is a matter
of collectivity (Kollektivsache) (Benjamin, W., 1977/2003, p. 417/p. 314).
Therefore architecture taken as including the weave of urbanism and
individual design projects meets the political in at least two senses. The
irst involves the question of how this matter (sache) is given architectural
expression. Of course, architecture is from the start an expression of political
concerns even when this is not recognised. However, once human existence
urban being is positioned beyond either a unifying generality, or the
individual as an apparently undetermined consuming unit, then what emerges
is an afirmative conception of place and thus an architecture that is no longer
deined by that opposition. Secondly, architecture encounters the political
when what type of collectivity is envisaged can itself be raised as a question
that gives rise to an architectural resolution. As such, giving centrality to
collectivity, and thus to the movement through spaces, means for Benjamin
opening up the private.
Public lines are drawn through the private. Moreover, what are taken to be
merely private concerns are drawn through the public. Their opposition is
thus undone and the terms are radically transigured. The house does not
vanish as a place undoing is not destruction rather it is repositioned.
(Perhaps what emerges is an unforeseen constellation (Benjamin, W.,
1977/2003, p. 416/p. 309).) Rather than allow the house and thus the private
to be equated with the domestic such that house and domus are one
and the same, an equation in which the house would be no more than a
refuge (Asyl ) (p. 314/419) Benjamin repositions it.11 A move enacted
by the particularity of the space having been given by, and through, the
continuity of movement movement as constitutive of space the house

AP_Benjamin_TEXT-2pp.indd 108-109

Porosity at The Edge: Working hrough Walter Benjamins Naples 109

becomes thereby an inexhaustible reservoir (unerschpliche reservoir)


(Benjamin, W., 1977/2003, p. 420/p. 315). Thus for one living in Naples
occupying, therefore, a generalised urban condition solitude takes on a
different condition. Private existence (Privatexistenz) is the Baroque opening
of a heightened public sphere (gesteigerter ffentlichkeit) (Benjamin, W.,
1977/2003, p. 416/p. 310).
Another instance of the way the undoing of the opposition between the
private works to redeine space and it will need to be remembered that the
extent to which this undoing and redeinition is allowed an abstract quality,
the quality of a diagram, is the extent to which it can be taken as generative
can be located in Benjamins description of the effect of population size on
the structure of the family. If the family increases too quickly or there is the
loss of a parent then, as Benjamin writes:
A neighbour takes a child to her table for a shorter or longer
period, and thus families interpenetrate (durchdringen) in
relationships that can resemble adoption. (Benjamin, W.,
1977/2003, p. 421/p. 315)
Of the many aspects of this passage that warrant consideration two are
uppermost. The irst is the role of time and the second is the interconnection
of time to the way in which the family is no longer identiied as a discreet
unit but as part of a self-organising system. Now, while what Benjamin is
describing concerns the result of a speciic set of social relations, there is
another dimension. In the same way as the house cannot be directly opposed
to the public and accepting the obvious reciprocity concerning the public
positions are deined in terms of the interplay of movement and occupation
on the one hand and space and the rhythms of the body on the other.
The movement of family members from one table to another is not deined
by a sense of permanence. Change occurs for either a short or longer period.
Time is not deined by civil law but by the law of life. The constellation that
delimits the family is potentially continually shifting. The provisional and
porous nature of architecture understood now as the interpenetration of
building and action is reiterated in the description of the interpenetration
of families. Architectural relations and social relations begin to have a similar
diagram. Again, it has to be noted that this is not the construction of an
open ield. Divisions from the door to the border endure. The difference,
and here the difference is paramount, is that divisions and relations are not
characterised by the enforcing oppositions that usually deine the urban.
Rather the complex work of undoing and porosity two terms that work

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110 Architectural Projections

together and which are themselves productively interpenetrated announce,


though also demand, the urbans reconceptualisation.
Porosity continues to be at work. There is a further register, one that moves
between sight and taste, hence between eye and tongue. As a prelude,
however, porosity is connected to one of the most demanding terms in
Benjamins work, namely grey.12 After all, in relation just to Naples, Benjamin
writes in reality it is grey (In Wirklichkeit ist sie grau) (Benjamin, W.,
1977/2003, p. 415/p. 309. Porosity works together with grey. Grey as a colour,
as a layering, perhaps even as a surface, is the sheen of potentiality. Grey is
pure gossamer. (Perhaps, though, this is to speculate, if beauty is refused
the structure of surface and depth, if beauty, the Platonic and Neo-Platonic
remnant is allowed to be just that, that is a remnant and thus can no longer
work to guarantee the beautiful, if therefore, as the correlate, this beauty is
no longer longed for, a longing whose most determined form is the stern gaze
of melancholia, then the site of beauty beauty as immediate potentiality is
grey. Perhaps, to speculate further, it is the grey.)13
Given grey, what, therefore, is there to be seen? What is it to see grey?
The speculative question does, of course need to be asked what is it
to see the grey? As a beginning, it is to see all colours in grey. Grey is
always the range of colours. Benjamin concedes that this predominating
grey may have detracting effect. He continues, that anyone who does not
see (nicht auffat) form sees little here (hier wenig zu sehen) (Benjamin,
W., 1977/2003, p. 416/p. 309). A lack of concern with form, perhaps the
reluctance to see grey as form(ing) amounts not to a failure to see there
is no suggestion of blindness but to seeing little (wenig). What is there
to see in the grey? Seeing into the grey rather than merely to see grey
is to allow for sight to acquire its own type of porosity. Again, what is at
work here is the movement of interpenetration. What can be described as
a seeing-into occurring at the same time as a coming-out-from. The latter
is the continuity of that which is inding form. The former seeing-into is
allowing for this continuitys registration. Seeing grey dissolves surfaces or
rather dissolves surfaces as given in opposition to depth. Brightly dressed
boys ish in deep-blue streams and look up at rouged church steeples
(Benjamin, W., 1977/2003, p. 418/p. 311). Flatness founders, the stream is
deep blue (tiefblauen), the steeples are wearing make-up (geschminkten),
thereby allowing surfaces, apparent planes, to have been captured perhaps
momentarily held then released, dispersed by the continuity of comingout-from. They start to appear, to shine, capturing light, displacing its effect,
caught, amongst other things, as a moment within refraction. Becoming,
reappearing no longer as one but as the continual play of light, colour and in
the end texture, though this is no mere end. All of which is there in the grey.

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Porosity at The Edge: Working hrough Walter Benjamins Naples 111

There, that is, in grey as inexhaustible potentiality. The faint (Benjamin, W.,
1977/2003, p. 418/p. 311) sun shines, refracted through glass vats of iced
drink (Benjamin, W., 1977/2003, p. 418/p. 311). Light through liquid comes
out as colouring, bathing thus creating surfaces. Benjamin writes:
day and night the pavilions glow (strahlen) with the pale aromatic
juices that teach even the tongue what porosity can be.
(Benjamin, W., 1977/2003, p. 418/p. 311)
Faint sun in a city, which can itself fade (welken) (Benjamin, W., 1977/2003,
p. 417/p. 311). However, as it fades, the faint is no longer a dissembling,
what would have been a literal feint in which, what is, would have done no
more than vanish. Indeed, the contrary is the case. Fading and the suns faint
presence form part of the continuity of coming-out-from. Form continues.
The pavilions are bathed. As the tongue tastes, what is tasted colours
walls. Light slips through liquid to solid and taste from tongue to sight.
Interpenetration, though not as an amalgam, rather as the continually enacted
set of complex relations, reworks the differences between time and space. (A
reworking and not a vanishing, hence spaces become timed as time acquires
spatiality.) What continues to be presented is form; a presentation another
coming-out-from that is ground in movement.
The diagram of Naples, Naples as a diagram, emerges not from questioning
the literal accuracy of Benjamins description of Naples but from within its
formulations. Terminology and modes of thought grip the text. Their release,
perhaps a hands unfolding, carry the mark of an original setting that is
coming apart. Not, however, under the sway of destruction destruction
is undone by working through as an undoing but because that setting is
envisaged as porous. And yet, porosity, porosity within Naples, is not an
addition ornamenting the text. Porosity is not an option. It organises Naples
(text and place, melding for a moment), working as its law. Moreover, the text
both announces porosity as a topic iguring, therefore, within it as part of
its content and, at the same time, porosity igures as integral to the texts
operative quality. Porosity has an effective presence. As a beginning, the
texts doubled entry stages its porous nature. Once Naples, instead of being
about porosity can be seen to be porous, the text as place will admit the
original complexity that the place Naples an urban condition necessarily
contains. This is a complexity, which, in both instances, is bound up with
time. The city will have been deined by its porous edges. Edges proliferate.
They have an inexhaustible potential.

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112 Architectural Projections

Endnotes
1

This paper was irst given as a lecture in the Institut for Knst und Architektur
at the Akademie der bildenden Knste in Vienna on 20 May 2005.

All references to Benjamins works are to the Gesammelte Schriften and the
Selected Writings (Benjamin, W., 1977/2003). The pagination and volume are
given in the text. The German precedes the English. At times translations
have been slightly modiied. In regards to the city it should be noted that
while Benjamins writings on Paris have attracted the most attention, he
continued to write short texts on a range of cities. Moreover, as the reference
to Einbahnstrae makes clear, the urban works as a continual igure throughout
his writings. As such, it is never just the city, nor moreover could it ever be just
Paris or Berlin and so on. Inevitably, something else is at work. The project
here is to begin to identify one possibility for that additional element.

Einbahnstrae (One Way Street) (Benjamin, W., 1955) continues to be cited


as though the text were only ever part of a larger work and not a discreet
work on its own. It means that for the most part this occurs while neglecting
the texts particularity. Its construction indeed the appearance of the original
edition warrants consideration not just in relation to content but also as a
part of the contents itself.

While not referred to by Benjamin it would have been surprising had he not
been familiar with the writings of Andrea de Jorio. His celebrated work of
1832 La mimica degli antichi investigata nel gestia nepoletato set out to
describe not just the centrality of gesture to Neapolitan social life, but sought
to indicate a possible conluence between the use of gesture in the Roman
world with its then current practice in Naples.

In 1925 Bloch wrote a text on Naples. Not only is it a clear engagement with
Benjamin, it is also an attempt to reposition the concept of porosity. For Bloch
porosity is more closely deined and thus limited by its link to the Baroque
(Bloch, 1985).

The general question of mapping and its reconsideration in light of a


philosophical thinking linked to the dynamic has been undertaken by Teresa
Stoppani in Mapping: The locus of the project (Stoppani, 2004).
The term has a clear afinity with the conception of dsuvrement
introduced by Bataille in his treatment of poetry and form creation. I have
discussed Batailles approach to form and its link to this term in Architectural
Philosophy (Benjamin, A., 2001). See in particular Chapter 1. In this instance,
as has been indicated, undoing needs to be interpreted as a term that
refuses the opposition between modes of ixity (for example, the border) and
its complete destruction.

AP_Benjamin_TEXT-2pp.indd 112-113

Porosity at The Edge: Working hrough Walter Benjamins Naples 113

The important point here is that as conceptions of the architectural begin to


change, what occurs is a move in the nature of the representations and
by nature, what is meant is their status and the tools by which they
are created. The single line demands the pencil or its equivalent in the
realm of the digital. There would be the possibility of continual oscillation
between the two. Once movement is taken as central and the lines involved
have to capture a dynamic process, then what emerges is the need for a
representational device adequate to such an undertaking. In regards to the
latter, what this opens up is not only the move to forms of animation software
but also the necessity to use such a form of software if the urban is deined
in terms of movement.

Without signalling it directly, once Benjamin links building and action this
move overcomes any attempt to reconigure the architectural in terms of the
attempt to recover that which is essential to either building or dwelling.
The obvious implication of this particular orientation is that what is distanced
is Heideggers approach to these questions. In Heideggers most important
text on this question Bauen Wohnen Denken (Heidegger, 1959) the
deining element is always couched in the language of essentialism. The
term predominating the philosophical task as understood by Heidegger is the
recovering of the wesen (essence). That recovery will always efface the hold
of what Benjamin calls the law of life; that is, porosity.

10 Moreover, it is only in terms of a constellation that it becomes possible to


allow for modernity modernity understood as a founding interruption. This
reference to the constellation needs to be understood as structurally similar
to Benjamins formulation of dialectics at a standstill. I have discussed this
formulation in terms of temporal montage. The value of such a deinition is
that it overcomes the possibility of deining the singular moment in terms of
pure singularity. What is afirmed, on the contrary, is the original complexity
of the singular. See in the regards the discussion of Benjamin throughout my
Present Hope: Architecture, Judaism, philosophy (Benjamin, A., 1997) and
Style and Time: Essays on the politics of appearance (Benjamin, A., 2005).
11 For an important discussion of the domus see Jean-Franois Lyotards Domus
et la Mgapole (Lyotard, 1988).
12 While it is pursued in a different direction, any discussion of colour in
Benjamins work in indebted to Howard Caygills exceptional engagement
with Benjamin (Caygill, 2003).
13 The reference here is of course to Drers engraving Melancholia (1514). The
problem of overcoming the structure of beauty cannot be taken up here. It
should be suficient to note that the structure of beauty concerns as much the
guarantee of its presence a position allowed for by Plato and which inds its
reiteration within both the history of art and philosophy as it does the longing
for its presence, a longing that remains unfulilled. In this regard see Erwin
Panofskys The Life and Art of Albrecht Drer (Panofsky, 1971, p. 170).

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115

7 Passing hrough
Deconstruction:
Architecture and he Project of Autonomy

AP_Benjamin_TEXT-2pp.indd 114-115

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116 Architectural Projections

Passing hrough Deconstruction: Architecture and he Project of Autonomy 117

With the emergence in the 1980s of a series of architectural strategies


that came to be grouped under the heading of deconstruction, a number
of different tendencies were conlated. Analysing that conlation now is
productive both in terms of acquiring a greater understanding of the differing
directions at work within architecture during that period (and enduring up
to the present), as well as reconiguring what characterised that particular
moment into something productive for contemporary design practice. On one
level what the term deconstruction did was to legitimate an architectural
practice that had broken the hold of symbols on the one hand and the ubiquity
of certain modernist conceptions of form on the other. This occurred at the
same time as a number of philosophers most notably Derrida became
interested both in writing about architecture and even in collaborative activity
with architects. There is, however, a more complex background that needs to
be noted. There are two initial aspects that should be addressed.

within institutions. Fundamental to deconstruction, therefore, was a


twofold concern: in the irst instance with philosophys speciically textual
presence, and in the second with its institutional one. It is not just that both
these aspects are internal to philosophy and thus provide a critical sense
of autonomy, they are concerned, in addition, with the way that philosophy
constructs itself as a discipline. Deconstruction opened up as a question
philosophys self-construction, and thus allowed philosophys image to be a
site of investigation and radical reappraisal. Deconstruction, therefore, made it
possible to rethink the practice of philosophy and, therefore, its construction
in ways that attempted to eschew both novelty and the utopian. The former,
novelty, would insist on simple invention and thus neglect the already given
situation perhaps place within which thinking and thus philosophy takes
place. The latter, the utopian, would equally neglect the same determinations
by reducing alterity to an image of the future.

The irst is that architecture has often sought justiication or legitimation


in that which is external to it. For Alberti this lay in the human body, for
others in a commitment to architecture being the enactment or realisation
of ideal geometries. Equally, there was a belief that architecture could be an
instrument for social change. In all of these instances not only was legitimacy
addressed, at the same time a ground of judgement was established.
While deconstruction provided such a possibility, there was nevertheless a
fundamental difference. What was outside had entered architecture. This
is the second aspect, and it provides another important setting one larger
than deconstruction itself in which architectures relation to deconstruction
needs to be situated.

Deconstruction is inextricably connected to the project of autonomy.


However, the presence of that project within architecture differs importantly
from the way it igures within philosophy. From a philosophical perspective,
autonomy cannot be readily differentiated from questions of criticality. Within
the philosophical, the critical can be linked to a sustained investigation
of the possibility perhaps the pretensions of classical metaphysics.
Autonomy within the philosophical locates the critical in a space other than
one informed by simple instrumentality. Within architecture the stakes
are different. The role of any discourse within a practice whose material
presence involves the move from diagrams and plans to literal material
presence will always have a different status from a form of practice that
remains literally discursive. Moreover, within architecture, autonomy opens
in two directions. One direction leads towards an emphasis on the aesthetic
(an emphasis in which the abandoning of any intentional interest in the
project of autonomy and thus the possibility of criticality and a politics of
architecture all igure as signs). The other direction retains the critical impulse
identiied within deconstruction as a philosophical project. In architecture
these two directions, while real, were nonetheless conlated under the
general heading deconstructivist architecture.1 As with any distinction
here it is marked by questions of direction there will always be points of
overlap and intersections. At certain moments differences blur. Nonetheless
differing tendencies can still be detected.

Rather than seeking legitimacy in a series of external constraints,


architectures embrace of modernity perhaps, the way the modern began
to igure within architecture was in terms of architectures emerging
autonomy. Autonomy should not be understood as involving architectures
separation from the social or the political. Rather, autonomy becomes a way
of locating architectures potential both for development and for criticality
these terms can be as much afirmed as they can be disavowed within
the practice of architecture. What this means is that architecture cannot be
evaluated merely in terms of its symbolic value. Evaluation has to do with its
own internal operation and therefore in terms of its own self-conception.
Deconstruction had a similar relation to philosophy. It was an intervention,
initially at least, that operated within philosophy. Moreover, it took philosophy
to be a practice with a series of internally deined activities linked to the
evaluation and construction of philosophical texts. In addition, central to
deconstructions site of engagement was the presence of philosophy

AP_Benjamin_TEXT-2pp.indd 116-117

The irst direction retains the criticality inherent in the philosophical. The
relationship between criticality and autonomy within any discursive practice
be it architecture or philosophy has to do with a complex sense of
continuity. Continuity cannot be avoided. Architecture, as with philosophy,
continues. What the necessity of continuity sets up is the link any discursive

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118 Architectural Projections

practice has to its own history. The history of philosophy could be understood
as the continual reposing of questions that rarely vary, such that history is the
continuity of the always-the-same. However, once a concern with the critical
enters, then any practice, while continuing, does so with the recognition
that continuity is itself an engagement with its own possibility. In other
words, there cannot be simple continuity, nor can continuity be understood
as the repetition of the same ideal elements. Continuity emerges, therefore,
as a form of discontinuity. In regards to philosophy, this means that while
writing still takes place and that books and academic articles still appear, the
structure of their content and the topics addressed are more likely to have a
disjunctive relation to a pervasive and idealised sense of tradition than one
allowing for its simple repetition. In philosophy, deconstruction provided a
means by which there could have been a transformation; one thought beyond
the destructive hold of nihilism and thus enjoining what could be described as
the continuity of discontinuity.
Clearly at work is a type of formalism in which the transformative potential of
a particular practice is found in the way criticality is evidenced by the formal
possibilities for continuity. Again, it is the continuity of discontinuity. This link
to formalism form as a site of continual transformation provides the way
into architecture. However, it is precisely the insistence on form that opens
up the other dimension within autonomy, namely the recourse to a deinition
of the autonomous in terms of the aesthetic. Prior to pursuing the presence
of form as a site of transformation and here it is possible, at least initially,
to position such proper names as Peter Eisenman and Daniel Libeskind it is
important to note the way autonomy and the aesthetic work together.
On one level all architecture has an aesthetic dimension. It exerts an
appeal. Having visual presence both in terms of its projection into the
urban fabric and in its creation of internal spaces architecture is a site of
affect. Architecture has an ineliminable affective component. Allowing for
affect is to attribute a speciic quality to space. Affect in both sculpture
and architecture is the creation of spatial experience. In architecture,
however, there is an important difference, since the aesthetic need not be
present in terms of either beauty or attraction. An aesthetic response could
be one of indifference. The reason for such a response indifference
being understood as aesthetic has to do with the inherent relation between
aesthetics and experience. If the aesthetic is the site of experience, then
it is always possible for there to be an experience that does not occur. In
other words, what this allows for is a site of potential experience in which
the objects presence, both in terms of appearance as well as functional
possibilities, is so mute, and thus unable to engender a connection, be it in
terms of affect or more banally in terms of use, that it becomes possible to

AP_Benjamin_TEXT-2pp.indd 118-119

Passing hrough Deconstruction: Architecture and he Project of Autonomy 119

argue that the aesthetic is marked by its non-concurrence. What this means
is that in a context of this nature the aesthetic would be deined in terms
of non-occurrence; the experience that does not arise with a corresponding
absence of affect. (The question of how to evaluate this state of affairs could
take its point of departure from Walter Benjamins argument that within
modernity architecture is often experienced in a state of distraction.) All
possibilities will have been drained from the event.
Once this description is given to an aesthetic response marked by a type of
emptiness, then one way of responding is to heighten the aesthetic content.
Heightened content will always be positioned on the level of appearance.
This will not take place in terms of ornamentation, since that would merely
repeat postmodernisms indebtedness to the history of the symbol and thus
to a type of ornamentation. Rather it will have two interrelated components.
In architecture, as opposed to art, this means, in the irst place excluding
the link between affect and function, while in the second privileging
appearance over program. The connection between both these possibilities
should be clear. While there is an obvious dificulty in that even though
both function and program will be retained their retention marking the
presence of architecture the fact of their presence will not automatically
be attributed architectural signiicance. Nor will they emerge as sites of
research or experimentation. What matters will be appearance. One way
of accounting for this position will be in terms of having provided form with
a uniquely aesthetic characterisation. This will not be the same as deining
architecture in terms of form, nor even in relation to forms ornamental
presence. Ornament involves a relation to structure, while appearance as a
term situated within autonomy is concerned with the affective nature of a
structures external projection.
If there is a clear example of this approach the privileging of appearance
and thus the aesthetic over the programmatic then it resides in the work
of Frank Gehry. While it is a late project in relation to the work of Gehry
that was identiied with deconstructivist architecture, the Guggenheim
Museum in Bilbao dramatises the twofold move that characterises the
aestheticisation of architecture. On the one hand, there is the sustained
failure of programmatic possibilities the relationship between scale and
exhibition was never properly analysed or resolved. And yet, on the other, the
visual hold of the exterior gives rise to the buildings clear success in terms of
a visual urbanism. The buildings appearance is what matters. The disjunction
between program and appearance evidences the aesthetic, since what is
of signiicance is not affect in terms of program. Rather the affective has to
do with the relationship between the urban body and the appearance of the
exterior (perhaps more accurately the exterior as appearance). That relation

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120 Architectural Projections

deines the site of affect. If anything it is the disjunction between the urban
body and the body positioned by, and for, an encounter with art the project
of the art museum in general that reinforces the necessity to view this
instance of Gehrys work in terms of the aesthetic.
In sum, the argument is that in terms of the interconnection between affect
and program the possible encounter with art, an encounter that would
deine the buildings program the buildings operation remains problematic.
However, in terms of the buildings visual urbanism, its role in the
construction of the urban fabric and thus the experience of being in the city,
it is a clear success. While aesthetics triumph over program, this instance of
the centrality of the aesthetic needs to be understood in terms of its being
one possibility within the emergence of architectural autonomy.
Once deconstruction can be seen as a version of autonomy, then its presence
in architecture opens up in these two directions. The identiication of
criticality with formal possibilities and the denial of criticality in the name of
the aestheticisation of the architectural establish the two directions to which
autonomy operating in part as deconstruction in architecture gives rise.
Taking this formulation a step further necessitates showing in what way a
form of architectural innovation operating as formal innovation allows for
this interconnection between autonomy and deconstruction to emerge. The
example here is the work of Peter Eisenman. However, instead of developing
the argument in relation to a building, of greater interest, in this context, is
his analysis of the architectural works of Giuseppe Terragni (Eisenman, 2003).
That analysis has to be understood, at least at the outset, as a deconstruction
of the tradition of the plan. This is a tradition exempliied both in Wittkowers
redrawing of Palladio, and then in Rowes arguments that neither Mies nor
Le Corbusier departs in a sustained way from the structuring presence of
the Palladian plan and elevation and hence remains Neo-Palladian.2 It should
be noted from the outset that Eisenman redraws Terragni. His approach,
therefore, mimes Wittkower and Rowe. However, it is in the miming that
the transformation can be located; drawing, perhaps redrawing, becomes an
instance of discontinuity as continuity.
When Derrida writes on Maurice Blanchot, what is of interest to him is not
the move in which the strategies of metaphysics are identiied and subject
to the process of deconstruction. Blanchots writings have an importantly
different relation to any dominant tradition. There is a sense in which his texts
do not invite deconstruction because in the openings and thus in the need
to trace the work of those openings there is already a productive distancing
from any simple repetition of the demands of classical metaphysics. Instead,
Derridas writings on Blanchot have a different status from those devoted

AP_Benjamin_TEXT-2pp.indd 120-121

Passing hrough Deconstruction: Architecture and he Project of Autonomy 121

to philosophical works and projects that fall readily within the domain of
logocentrism.3 The space between the writings of Blanchot, and that domain,
is identiied and afirmed by the process of deconstruction. This afirmation
becomes an instance of criticality where criticality is deined by the distance
and the continuity of discontinuity, both of which are internal to the operation
of the philosophical. Deconstruction in architecture, if the term is still to
have real purchase, is not the application of Derridas work to architecture
but a reiteration within architecture, conceived as an autonomous discourse,
of the identiication of distance and the afirmation of openings that refuse
their reincorporation within the dominant traditions operative within it. This
formulation of the relationship between deconstruction and architecture
identiies the centrality of Eisenmans engagement with Terragni as a pivotal
site of investigation.
For Eisenman, the Casa del Fascio and Casa Giuliani-Frigerio are both critical
architectural texts because, as he argues, the readings of their faades,
plans and sections are not stable; they can be read as displacements from
an architecture of hierarchy, unity, sequence, progression and continuity
(Eisenman, 2003, p. 11). What matters here is how displacement is
understood. Criticality enters because there is both a disruption of hierarchy
as well as the undoing of a sense of architectural continuity deined in terms
of the repetition of the same. Repetition identiies both the continuity of
architecture and the internality of architecture as the locus of intervention.
Repetition allows, therefore, for the possibility of the interplay of continuity
and discontinuity. What this means is that criticality has to assume
architectures internality in sum, autonomy as its condition of possibility. In
his analysis of the Casa del Fascio, Eisenman uses the term transformations.
Again this term, as with the earlier displacement, signals a move within a
formal vocabulary that attempts to break the hold of a certain tradition of the
plan, while at the same time holding to architectures own continuity.
There are two elements that need to be noted here. The irst is that criticality
concerns both formal invention the invention of work, and thus of having
worked through the tradition and thus a deinition of the critical as provided
by autonomy.4 The second is that Eisenmans argument, while concerning
form, is not formalist. Formalism involves the refusal of architectures
affective nature. As will be noted, affect is fundamental to Eisenmans
argument.
In regards to the irst of these elements, what has to be argued is that
Eisenman is recovering from Terragnis work that which makes it irreducible
to the already given conventions of architecture. To that extent the approach
mimes the one taken by deconstruction to texts that distance the hold of

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122 Architectural Projections

logocentrism. In other words, criticality is not mere invention, nor is it utopian


speculation. The recovery of a project allows architecture to work though
the hold of dominance. The twofold move of recovery and working through
deines more precisely the way in which criticality operates. For Eisenman,
they are linked to ways of reading. Reading, however, cannot be divorced
from the process of redrawing. (Hence what is at stake is architecture rather
than philosophy.) This re-presentation involves shifts in rendering. Again
there is the mime. Eisenman argues that rendering the south-west faade
of the Casa del Fascio using one mode of representation rather than another
opens up its possibilities. This is of course the opening of recovery. Eisenman
argues that when:
the volume is rendered white, it conceptually compresses the
plan and the volume togetherThis condition in the front faade
allows the solids and the voids to become critical textual igures
that undercut the traditional referential status of elements such
as windows and columns so that these elements are not merely
read either functionally or aesthetically. In the face of the notations
produced by the juxtaposition of solids and voids, explanations
engendered by rationalist mathematics and nostalgic metaphysics
begin to recede as persuasive, and other explanations become
more dominant. (Eisenman, 2003, p. 55).
The detail of this position needs to be noted. The argument presented by
Eisenman involves a reading; a reading that amounts to the process of rerepresenting, thus redrawing in order to recover (or establish) the projects
criticality. The interest does not lie in the objects appearance. Rather, what
is of interest is to be found in the way the object is presented such that it is
in the formulation of another plan, with the emergence of a new notation.
Not only is an earlier one distanced, there is an overcoming of the ideational
qualities that were inherent in it. The recovery of the object recovery as
redrawing is at the same time an afirmation of the distance inherent
in criticality, as it signals the already-present deconstruction of rationalist
mathematics and nostalgic metaphysics.Affect for Eisenman is also linked to
a type of reading. In regards to the faades of the Casa del Fascio, he argues
that a textual reading of these faades relies on a perceptual approach
different from our acculturated one (Eisenman, 2003, p. 37). Perception is
just that. A critical textual reading involves as much the objects physical
presence as it does its repositioning within a conceptual argument; a
repositioning that, once again, would be the result of a redrawing. Once
the terminology of perception is introduced then what is at stake is affect.

AP_Benjamin_TEXT-2pp.indd 122-123

Passing hrough Deconstruction: Architecture and he Project of Autonomy 123

However, because affect is linked to programmatic expectation rather than


simple aesthetics, it has a necessarily different quality. Furthermore, since
affect is at work and because it cannot be separated from program, not only
is the aesthetic effectively distanced, the force of the difference between
deconstruction in philosophy and deconstruction in architecture is announced.
Eisenmans is a deconstructive approach to Terragni. The deconstruction in
question involves the interrelationship between criticality and autonomy.5 As
opposed to Gehry, for whom autonomy emerged as an aesthetic concern,
Eisenmans deconstruction is a replanning and, therefore, a reprogramming of
architectures possibilities.

Endnotes
1

It is now possible to see that the original exhibition that brought together
a number of different architectural projects under the heading of
Deconstructivist Architecture did so by deferring to philosophy. What was
not undertaken was the necessity to think how what pertained in philosophy
could also come to pertain in architecture. While that may itself be a
philosophical observation, it is one that insists on the limit of philosophy
and thus on the emergence of a differing site of autonomous activity. In this
instance, this other site is the architectural. For the catalogues of the 1988
exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, see Philip Johnson and Mark
Wigleys Deconstructivist Architecture (Johnson & Wigley, 1988).

See Rowe 1987.

See for example Derridas discussion of the problematic status of the term
rcit in Blanchots La Folie de Jour, in La Loi du Genre in Parages (Derrida,
2003). Derridas introduction to this collection of his papers on Blanchot
addresses the transformative effect that Blanchots writings have on attempts
to write about him.

The concept of working though (Durcharbeiten) forms a fundamental


motif in psychoanalysis. See Sigmund Freuds Erinnen, Wiederhoilen
und Durcharbeiten (Freud, 2000). I have used this concept in developing
a philosophical conception of repetition that involves a link between
discontinuity and production in my The Plural Event (Benjamin, A., 1993).

A similar argument could be advanced in relation to Libeskinds Jewish


Museum in Berlin, in which the program becomes the operation of formal
creation, understood as the project of replanning.

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