Architecture of Analogy

Notes on the Autonomy of Architecture

Posted in PhD by Cameron McEwan on June 22, 2013
C McEwan 2013 School-Cemetery [montage] Left: Fagnano Olona School, Right San Cataldo Cemetery, Both drawings by Rossi.

C McEwan 2013 School-Cemetery [montage] Left: Fagnano Olona School, Right San Cataldo Cemetery, Both drawings by Rossi.

One place to situate the theme of autonomy in architecture is in Emil Kaufmann’s discussion in the 1930s on the work of Enlightenment architect Claude-Nicolas Ledoux. Kaufmann emphasised formal aspects such as: cubic masses, bare walls, frameless apertures, and flat roofs. For Kaufmann, the isolation of parts, their dialogue as either repetitive or oppositional elements, represented a formal autonomy. Autonomy re-emerged in the 1970s when architects challenged pseudo-scientific and technologically-driven projects, such as: Kenzo Tange’s 1960 project for Tokyo Bay with its raised roadways from which residential units could endlessly aggregate, Buckminster Fuller’s 1962 domed geodesic smog shield over midtown Manhattan, Archigram’s pop-image megastructures like the 1964 Plug-in City, Paolo Soleri’s anamorphic urbanism, and in Italy, Archizoom’s anarchic No-stop City, a continuous urban structure “without architecture.” In projects like these, formal issues are replaced by statistical analyses, technological optimism, and the potentially infinitely extendable, “open-form.” This path of development is opposed by those architects who follow the theme of autonomy in architecture. In recent years, autonomy has been discussed once again in texts by Pier Vittorio Aureli, Michael Hays, Reinhold Martin, and Anthony Vidler. [1]

The introduction of historical critique into the discipline of architecture is a characteristic the theme of autonomy. However, it is complicated by two general positions that refer to the argument about what kind of historical critique is appropriate. One kind of critique proposes an ideological critique of the history of architecture. An examination of all the contributing factors around architectural form, such as the social, cultural, economic and political, in order to understand how architecture is produced through power. The other kind of critique proposes a typological critique of the history of architecture and its formation as the city. An examination of typological-form in order to understand the processes, principles and formal operations that underline the production of form. In particular, the relationship between the form of the individual building as it relates to the wider collective realm of the city, and the history of architecture. It is important to say that both attitudes are independent of one another, but share a commitment to the repositioning of the “I” of architecture to the “us” of the city. Whether through understanding the form and role of architecture within the city as a product of social, cultural, economic and political concern. Or as much for architecture as a product of the historical, urban and typological structure of the city itself. Again, both positions prioritise the collective mind over the individual.

There is a problematic overlap in these positions because architecture supports social, cultural, economic and political aspects and is their concrete manifestation. Thus, architectural form cannot be considered as a single, isolated event because it is bounded by both the material and immaterial reality in which it exists. However, what the theme of autonomy can do, is open a discussion on what it means to view architecture as autonomous. Thus autonomy refers to notions of separation, resistance, opposition, confrontation, and critical distance, which can be instrumentalised by the architect through the production of images, and texts, aswell as buildings. It is worthwhile to note a few specific examples in the recent history of architecture.

Manfredo Tafuri, in Architecture and Utopia bleakly surmised architecture to be an instrument of capitalist development used by regimes of power, thinking it useless to propose purely architectural alternatives. However, he said that it is the conflict of things that is important, insisting on the productivity inherent in separation. In Critical Architecture Michael Hays writes that architecture is an instrument of culture, and also is autonomous form. The former view emphasises culture as the content of built form, and depends on social, economic, political and technological processes. The latter concerns the formal operations of architecture, how buildings are composed, and how architectural form is viewed as part of a continuing historical project. Aureli develops an autonomy thesis in The Possibility of an Absolute Architecture, in which he articulates an engagement with the city through confrontation. Aureli writes that it is the condition of architectural form to separate and be separated. In this act of separation, architecture reveals the essence of the city, and the essence of itself as political form. For Aureli, it is the process of separation inherent to architectural form that the political is manifest.

In the work of Aldo Rossi the autonomy of form produced critical distance between the legacy of modern functionalist architecture and its critique, of which Rossi was a key proponent. To outline an example, we can refer to two projects undertaken in the early 1970s. A school at Fagnano Olona, and a cemetery outside Modena. Both projects share a precisely defined bi-lateral plan-form. Extending perpendicular from this axis are wings which arrange classrooms in the school, and graves in the cemetery. Either end of this central axis is marked by a circular and a square element. At the school, the circular element is a library which enters into the courtyard, and the square element is a gym hall. At the cemetery, the former is a conical grave and the latter, a monument to the war dead. Both plans refers to the axially arranged institutions of prisons, hospitals and asylums. In so doing, function is superseded by autonomous form, and the history of architecture is collapsed into a single building.

By way of conclusion it is illuminating to recall the political category of agonism posited by Chantal Mouffe in her book On the Political. We can think once again of the I/us relationship of the opening paragraphs, and more particularly the interrelated, we/they relationship. For Mouffe, the agonist principle develops from the idea of the political as a space of permanent conflict and antagonism, and hence a constancy of the we/they opposition. In antagonism there is no shared ground in the we/they opposition, so opponents are enemies. While in agonism, there is recognition of the legitimacy of the opponent, so enemy becomes adversary. Remembering that autonomy refers to notions of separation, resistance, opposition, confrontation, and critical distance, we could say that a crucial meaning of autonomy in architecture is to constantly produce a form of agonism through the production of images, texts, and buildings.

[1] See for example: Aureli, Pier V. The Possibility of an Absolute Architecture (MIT Press, 2011), Aureli, Pier V. The Project of Autonomy: Politics and Architecture Within and Against Capitalism, Reprint 2012 (Princeton Architectural Press, 2008), Hays, K. Michael. Architecture’s Desire (MIT Press, 2009),
Martin, Reinhold. Utopia’s Ghost: Architecture and Postmodernism, Again (University of Minnesota Press, 2010),
Vidler, Anthony, Histories of the Immediate Present: Inventing Architectural Modernism (MIT Press, 2008).

 

This essay can also be found at http://www.aefoundation.co.uk

Thinking about collective memory as material reality

Posted in Discourse, PhD by Cameron McEwan on May 7, 2013

Typology in architecture gives us an apparatus to study the history of architecture, which can also be understood as a way to examine the collective memory of the city. As can be seen in canonical texts since Vitruvius, such as those by Alberti, Serlio, Palladio, during the Renaissance, to Durand during Enlightenment, Hilberseimer in the early twentieth-century, Rossi in the 1960s and others, we can view the process of architectural history unfolding, treatise to treatise, manual to manual, and manifesto to manifesto. Although not all of these works use the word typology, or type, the concept is implied because each use classification, description, and historical precedent to formulate a position. For example, in De re aedificatoria Alberti distinguished between public and private buildings in the city, assigning the Orders to certain classes of building. Serlio’s books on architecture catalogued buildings from Ancient Rome in plans, elevations and perspectives, before describing the typological-form of temples: circular, square, six-sided, eight-sided, oval and cruciform. Palladio’s Four Books organised the Orders, private buildings in rural and urban settings, then public buildings and, buildings of historical significance. In Durand’s books, the Recueil et Paralléle, and the Précis des leçons d’architecture, the former catalogued existing works of architecture from different cultures and historic periods at the same scale. While the latter was divided into three: on architectural elements, on composition, and on analysis of building types. Hilberseimer’s Groszstadt Architektur was organised into ten chapters with the first two and final describing the urban condition and proposing a response. Those inbetween address in succession the building programmes of the city from residential, commercial, high-rises, halls and theatres, transport, industrial, trade construction.

I have noted these texts because as Rossi wrote in The Architecture of the City, the concept of type became, “the very idea of architecture,” a fact attested to by both practice, he says, and by the treatise. Although in this sketch of a few texts that deal with theories about type, an emphasis is seemingly placed on type as it relates to classification. It should be made clear, however, that the idea of type is a dialectical principle, because it always reacts with, say: form, construction technique, site irregularities, means of production, cultural particularities, history, and also, the autobiography of the architect. Later in The Architecture of the City Rossi discusses the concept of collective memory, via the sociologist Maurice Halbwachs, who wrote that historical memory reaches us through written and visual records. The concept of collective memory and of type are closely interrelated, because collective memory relies on material reality. A material reality which is manifest both in built form and as images in treatise. Built form because buildings witness the evolution of the city. Images because they embody values, experience, ideas. What is important is that type constructs a link with history, and produces transmittable knowledge. Accordingly, architecture communicates its own history through typological ideas.

 

McEwan C (2013) AE Foundation Locus, Montage with plan by Palladio

McEwan C (2013) AE Foundation Locus, Study montage with plan by Palladio [Montage with photographs and CAD drawing]

One of the premises of the AE Foundation is to understand the history of architecture as central to the education and practice of the architect. Undertaken within the framework of the AE Foundation Graduate Programme, the project opposite is for a school in the Lochee part of Dundee. The typological approach has been to distinguish three volumes that articulate three conditions of the site. The tower fronts the street edge and contains the entrance, administration, dining, gym hall, and a nursery. Classrooms are arranged around a courtyard which opens into the school grounds. Between the courtyard and tower is a rectangular volume which holds a library and an art studio. In order to leave and to arrive at the classrooms, children (and teachers) must always pass through the art and library spaces. The spaces of creativity and of knowledge.

 

McEwan C (2013) AE Foundation Locus, Site plan and long section through entrance [CAD line drawing]

McEwan C (2013) AE Foundation Locus, Site plan and long section through entrance [CAD line drawing]

For further information about the AE Foundation, an open and independent forum for the discussion and exposition of architecture, see http://aefoundation.co.uk/

Forgetting Fundamentals

Posted in Discourse, PhD by Cameron McEwan on September 19, 2012

McEwan C (2012) AE Foundation Forgetting Fundamentals Montage Panel. [From top: Basilica by Vitruvius, illustrated by Cesariano (1521), Holl (1980) study of H-Type building, Serlio (c1537) centralised plan (left); Schematised plans of eleven of Palladio’s villas (c1570) via Wittkower, Piranesi (1761) study of Roman ruins with temple]

Established in May 2011, the AE Foundation provides an open independent forum for the discussion of architecture. The Foundation brings together an international community of practitioners, academics and graduates who wish to pursue architecture seriously with a view to contributing to and disseminating architectural knowledge and understanding. To, “promote the significance of the discipline, to encourage scholarship and foster an active architectural culture, in partnership with individuals in practice and academia – and to be a centre ‘par excellence’ for intelligent dialogue and debate in architectural theory, history and practice based in Scotland.”

One such discussion was undertaken during the Spring months of this year, 2012, under the general question: can we talk about fundamentals in architecture? Our exchange was at times flippant, at times philosophical, and at times biting of each other’s position. Some of us decided to formalise our thoughts in short essays. What follows is a summary. An extended version of the essay can be found on the AE Foundation website.

I started with Aldo Rossi’s rumination on the alternative title for his book A Scientific Autobiography,

Forgetting Architecture comes to mind as a more appropriate title for this book, since while I may talk about a school, a cemetery, a theatre, it is more correct to say that I talk about life, death, imagination.”

It links the building types: school, cemetery, theatre; with their conceptual analogues: life, death, imagination. In this space of association type in architecture is both material and idea. In a theory of types, we can view the process of architectural history unfolding, treatise to treatise, manual to manual, and manifesto to manifesto. That is, from Vitruvius, De architectura, Serlio and Palladio’s books during the Renaissance, to Durand’s manual which codifies buildings, Venturi’s manifesto, and the pamphlets of Holl. In Rafael Moneo’s 1978 essay On Typology, republished in a 2004 edition of El Croquis he writes that typology raises the question of the nature of the architectural work itself. In my view, it is therefore legitimate to postulate type as one place to begin a discussion about fundamentals in architecture.

For the first part, type is a way of thinking in groups, which is, analysis through classification. In architecture, the most common theories of classification by type have been according to use: national monuments, town halls, prisons, banks, warehouses, factories, as can be seen in Nikolaus Pevsner’s 1976 A History of Building Types; and according to form: centralised plan, linear arrangement, courtyard. Aldo Rossi tell us that the former understanding is limiting because the use of a building is independent from its form. Buildings evolve over time, so a warehouse becomes an apartment block, an apartment block becomes an office block, an office block becomes a brothel. Or as, for example, Atelier Bow-Wow show us in Made in Tokyo, all of these can be contained as a hybrid, so that above the warehouse is an apartment block, which is below an office, and the building terminates with a penthouse brothel.

Rossi’s quote, “I would define the concept of type as something that is permanent and complex, a logical principle that is prior to form and that constitutes it,” is significant for its location within The Architecture of the City. It mediates between a quotation by the Enlightenment architectural theorists Antoine Chrysôthome Quatremère de Quincy and Jean-Nicolas-Louis Durand. Both Quatremère de Quincy and Durand acknowledged, in different ways the relationship of memory and history in the idea of type. Quatremère de Quincy linked type with that which is archaic, elemental and primitive, and we could say to memory. Free from this metaphysical speculation, Durand’s technical understanding geometrised history. And as Rossi has said, history is the material of architecture. Thus in the adjacency of each quote we get the opposition between the conceptual and the material once more. Rossi’s quote then, mediates between the “permanent and complex,” which is archaic and elemental, something “prior to form;” and of the “logical principle,” which is that constituted by a reading of history.

And of forgetting, Rossi writes,

“In order to be significant, architecture must be forgotten, or must present only an image for reverence which subsequently becomes confounded with memories.”

Freud tells us that in forgetting, we commit something to the unconscious, where it is worked over during regression, which is an impulse to the archaic; and then to surface again when remembered, only now transformed, and reverent. The type is worked over within the collective history of architecture, to be transformed by a kind of temporal and formal regression.

 

McEwan C (2012) AE Foundation Forgetting Fundamentals Montage Panel 2. [From top: Durand (1805) Elements of Building, from the Précis, Rossi (1970) Gallaratese elevation, plan, photograph, Canal side tenement in Milan, Quatremère de Quincy (c1832) study for a gateway]

 

Theory of Types/Dream-work: Rossi speaks to Palladio via Canaletto

Posted in PhD by Cameron McEwan on March 19, 2012
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Dundee School of Architecture and Duncan of Jordanstone School of Art run a Seminar series in which one (or two) PhD Candidates present their work in progress. It runs fortnightly at lunchtime, and last week was my turn.

The timing was good. I delivered a lecture to Year 3, two weeks before, which allowed me, first to consolidate my thinking on how to introduce Rossi (in broad terms); and then, Year 3 were subjected to a minor speculative foray… They may or may not have known this.

The second half of that lecture was on Rossi’s Analogical City Panel from 1976. An enigmatic montage of Rossi projects, superimposed with projects of his references, condensed, into a single image. The PhD Seminar started from here and I visually de-condensed the image, speaking about Rossi’s conversation with Palladio, via Canaletto and locating some of the primary urban types. The panel was published in Lotus International number 13, where Rossi writes of the relationship between reality and imagination, or in his words, the “dialectics of the concrete.” Imagination as a concrete thing.

 

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It’s a funny type of memory, that.

Posted in PhD by Cameron McEwan on March 14, 2012
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Something between remembering and forgetting? The dialectic that exists in memory, I mean the mis-

 

In The Architecture of the City architect Aldo Rossi says that the past is being partly experienced in the present. With Paris and the thesis of sociologist Maurice Halbwachs on Collective Memory in mind Rossi writes, “… the actual configuration of a large city can be seen as the confrontation of the initiatives of different parties, personalities, and governments. In this way various different plans are superimposed, synthesised, forgotten, so that the Paris of today is like a composite photograph, one that might be obtained by reproducing the Paris of Louis XIV, Louis XV, Napoleon I, Baron Haussmann in a single image.” Forgotten. This passage brings to mind one by psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud who in, Civilisation and Its Discontents uses the city of Rome as an analogy to illustrate the accumulation and preservation of material in one’s unconscious. Freud writes that in mental life nothing that has once existed is ever lost. He asks us to imagine Rome to be like the unconscious, “a psychical entity with a similarly long, rich past, in which nothing that ever took shape has passed away, and in which all previous phases of development exist beside the most recent.”

 

And back to Rossi. He concludes A Scientific Autobiography by re-drawing twelve projects. His selection dates from 1962 to 1980, and each are signed summer, “estate 1980.” These fragments exist alongside one another in the present.

 

In my investigation of this, each of Rossi’s twelve projects are superimposed. Like in Freud’s Rome, a composite image is built. Starting with Gallaratese (1970) in Milan, then Segrate (1965), Modena (1979), Venice (1980) and others, each project is drawn, and then painted over. Drawn then painted over, and the process is repeated for each. Rossi’s twelve projects exist in a single image, superimposed. The present image partly experienced by the previous one, or two or three. The drawing sits somewhere between remembering and forgetting. A kind of mis-remembering.

 

The Interplay of Text and Image

Posted in PhD by Cameron McEwan on November 30, 2011
topography of the portfolio”]

In the dull lit Studio space of this November morning, I had a gruelling Supervision on the interplay between text and image in this PhD.

Some snaps…

portfolio and phd”]

After Architect Aldo Rossi: The Spider’s Web of Milan and Rossi’s Duality of Extremes at Segrate and Gallaratese

Posted in PhD by Cameron McEwan on July 7, 2011

1801 Plan of Milan from- Aldo Rossi (1966) The Architecture of the City

 

Embellished with patches of public parks, the remains of the city gate and a couple of canals, Milan is a dense tangle of streets in the pattern of a web. Rossi’s monument in Segrate is located at the southeast end of the red metro thread. At the other, is his unité d’habitation of Gallaratese located in a northwest suburb. At Milan’s centre is the vertically articulated Duomo, from which one can access the roof and survey those tangled streets. The vast rectangular open space defined by the Duomo leeks into the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, a thirty metre high vaulted street designed by Giuseppe Mengoni c1870, and connects to a smaller open space just north. The sequence of spaces is quite lovely.

 

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Rossi conjures a romantic vision for the Gallaratese housing writing that the open corridor “signifies a life-style bathed in everyday occurrences, domestic intimacy, and varied personal relationships.” One component of architectural meaning is “association” and as such Rossi’s corridor not only suggests the potential for a romantic chat with ones neighbour, but also signifies the repetitive element of open-sided tunnels, and perhaps a reference to the prison. Rossi, the once agent provocateurof Italian architecture was always aware of such dualities. In the June 24 postI wrote of the cold and controlled San Cataldo cemetery, the route suggestive of some “final solution.” Indeed, Rossi writes of the relationship between construction and destruction as complimentary aspects of his design process.

 

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Composed of a series of simple forms balancing upon one another, the 1965 Monument to the Partisans of World War II, at Segrate is an early demonstration of Rossi’s duality of extremes: it is a monument to the dead; the fountain is a symbol that celebrates life.  On my visit, a hot summer day, the tray where the water collects, was eerily dry. Formally, the monument is a coffin, on top of which is an extruded triangle balanced upon a single cylindrical column. The triangle signifies the pitch of a primitive hut, a life-giving archetype of building.

 

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Destruct the monument and transpose the individual elements to Gallaratese and one can read Rossi’s reflective process of construct; destruct; transpose. Like Le Corbusier’s unité, Gallaratese is a slab that contains houses perched above a colonnade. The first floor links to the housing designed by Carlo Aymonino by a bridge on one side and a large open space on the other. Between this are a series of shop units, on my visit all of which were empty. Around one third of the way along the slab, an incision breaks the housing in two and is defined by four large cylindrical columns.

 

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The After Architect Aldo Rossi foray to Italy has been an informative incursion into the built projects of Aldo Rossi and a thoroughly enlightening experience to tour some of his most cited references: retreating into the Sant’Andrea vaulted space, interrogating Canaletto’s Venice and climbing into the head of Rossi’s Saint have all been pleasurable. Viewing the modification of form and scale from project to project, it is fascinating to note the formal and theoretical relationships that exist between Rossi’s built works and their written/drawn counterparts. However, I am still trying to work out which is the analogue: the built work, the drawn study, or the written narrative.

Cameron McEwan July 2011

After Architect Aldo Rossi: La Biennale di Venezia

Posted in Discourse, PhD by Cameron McEwan on June 28, 2011

”]A press running off a strip of newborns, digital clocks counting the number of births and deaths, a monitor that constructs a composite face from sixty newborns and fifty-two deceased. Chance is the contraption that Christian Boltanski constructs within the French pavilion at the Giardini. The 54th La Biennale di Venezia takes place at the Giardini, the Arsenale and other locations around Venice. Countries host their own exhibition in permanent and temporary pavilions, presenting a view of contemporary art today. The 2011 (meta) theme is “illuminations,” a theme that “emphasizes the intuitive insight and the illumination of thought that is fostered by an encounter with art and its ability to sharpen the tools of perception,” explains curator Bice Curiger. Unfolding from this was the formal activity of constructing buildings within buildings, or “parapavilions” that are to hold work by other artists, maybe a painting or two… Here, I offer a few of my highlights.

One walks through the labyrinth of metal scaffold of Boltanski’s Chance with the “clock” rooms to either side. The labyrinth is a baby-factory, at the centre is its opposite. The moment of extinction, visualised as a montage of fragments from faces. It is both light and dense, elegant and disconcerting.

Britain is represented by artist Mike Nelson whose pavilion-within-a-pavilion is titled I, Impostor. It is a (another) labyrinthine sequence of low ceilinged, dark and dusty rooms that feel parasitically attached to the pavilion. It succeeds in offering a menacing and unexpected encounter with issues of memory and repetition by transposing a work by Nelson from Istanbul to Venice, and invites further interpretation.

Never a disappointing visit, the Italian pavilion comes complete with dead pigeons, sculptures by Maurizio Cattelan. The birds peer down at three Tintorettos.

”]Rooms-within-rooms continued at the Arsenale. After stepping through the component parts of Son Dong’s parapavilion (a reconstruction of his family home in China) one wanders through the enormous shed of art, pausing to step into side-rooms or other parapavilions. One of which is a James Turrell light and mist show in a slightly curved enclosure, another contains a beautiful film by Elad Lassry titled Ghost.

Gerard Byrne offered some “analogies surveyed and organised into concrete poetry and film forms.” Anyone interested in “analogy” is of course a welcome addition to any exhibition… His work included some back-in-fashion photograms, while Dayanita Singh offered File Room, a taxonomy of storage space which might recall Giulio Camillo’s sixteenth-century Memory Theatre in which one could access the sum of Western thought. More about that in a future post…

At the corner showed a film by Christian Marclay. Titled The Clock it is a 24 hour (predictably) montage of scenes cut from films using time, memory or history as part of their narrative. Although links to notions of time were rather explicit, it was a joy to sit down and work out which film fragment we were watching, before it rapidly moved to the next.

Constructions, film and photographs, where is the paint? Vittorio Sgarbi curated the final instalment of the Arsenale, where he “coordinated” a visual cacophony of a further 200 artists. Titled “L’Arte non è Cosa Nostra” (Art is Not a Mafia), of note were nudes by Isabella Gherardi, cityscapes by Giorgio Ortona, photographs by Guido Guidi and prints by Gianluigi Colin. With work featuring sex, religion, violence and nudity, I completely forgot about my need for a splattering of paint.

Inquiry; “Process” published

Posted in PhD by Cameron McEwan on March 28, 2011

The first issue of Inquiry has been published. Titled “Process” it is available online at http://issuu.com/inquiry/docs/process and http://inquirypublication.wordpress.com/

Contributors include Alex Pearson, Aidan Williams and Cameron McEwan.

 

Inquiry Edited by Cameron McEwan Theme Process March 2011 Front Cover

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