On the Nature of Architectural Language, Presentations by Amir Djalali, Fernando Donis, and Francesco Marullo – March 29th

Ph.D. In-progress presentation series.
Presentations by Amir Djalali, Fernando Donis, and Francesco Marullo
J.J.P Oud Room – March 29 – 16.00-19.00

The presentations will analyze the nature of architectural language and its political implications by discussing the work of Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe, Ludwig Hilberseimer, Peter Eisenman, and others.

16.00 – 17.00 Amir DjalaliThe Possibility of a Common Architectural Language
Response by Lukasz Stanek

This presentation is a preliminary exploration on the possibility of a common architectural language. Are there any irreducible elements or ‘deep structures’ that can define architecture beyond its actual manifestations? It is difficult to answer this question, because architecture is always the product of the state, or other political and social institutions which codify it by imposing a structure or a system of signification on it. But in some cases, sometimes in periods of political crisis, architecture expresses itself beyond those codes, undermining its possibility to convey meaning, or to manifest invariant structures. The cases of Giovanni Battista Piranesi and Peter Eisenman will be seen as creative destruction of the meanings and the structures of architecture.

Piranesi refusal of the Vitruvian’s grammar of orders on the one hand, and his aversion toward the ‘rationalistic’ approach of the French architectes philosophes on the other hand, allows him to define architecture in a original way in respect to his contemporaries. Far from being driven by mere imagination or sentiment, Piranesi appropriates the most advanced technical and scientific knowledge of his time in order to push it to its extreme consequences of revealing the absence of meaning and structures for architecture. This conclusion doesn’t end up in a nihilistic paralysis: on the contrary, the plan of Campo Marzio is a non-utopian manifesto of a radically different program for the city.

In his series of houses, Peter Eisenman’s, through a hyper-analytic, at times pedantic method, progressively dissolves all the pillars of architecture: function, the meaning of architectural signs, the socially accepted conventions of use, the architect as author, and eventually, contradicting his own first hypothesis, the possibility of a transcendent ‘deep structure’ of architecture itself, and the innate capacity of humans to read it. Like Piranesi, the sadism of this program has a constituent purpose: the construction of architecture as a choral narration, a free indirect discourse.

17.00 – 18.00 Fernando DonisModernism: Mies Van Der Rohe and Abstract Classicism
Response by Lukasz Stanek

With this presentation I would like to counter the common understanding of Modernism as a total rupture in regard to tradition. My hypothesis is that Modernism continued classicism by abstracting it. Transformed by technological developments such as the massive use of steel, concrete and glass, on the building process, modern architecture was finally able to unveil its classicist raison d’être: architecture as technological art.
Mies van der Rohe will be positioned at the center of this transformation. Following Oswald Spengler’s The decline of the West, Mies argued for a cyclical understanding of history and architecture that would be able to predict morphological transformations. Within this understanding the best value is the eye for the facts of his own time. ‘Architecture is the will of an epoch translated into space’.

Mies developed a system of architecture in which invention and refinement are part of a continuum and where the best solutions are basic enough to allow reapplication for diverse conditions. This framework can be seen as developed within three main moments of Mies’ career: Schinkel’s influence (Kröller-Müller house project); the framing of space (Friedrichstrasse office building, the glass skyscraper, and the Barcelona pavilion); and the invention of modern ‘Orders’ during his American period (Lake Shore Drive apartments and the Seagram Building).

In opposition to the retro-classicism of totalitarian regimes, Mies van der Rohe abstracted history to solidify what Reinhold Martin calls ‘the organization complex’: corporate space in which architecture is a subjectivizing force. The Miesian American ‘Orders’ mark the beginning of architecture as informatics space, ‘ciphers in which past and future are scrambled into a continuum modulated hum.’

Even if inapplicable today to fulfill pluralism, the Miesian framework can operate inversely: rather than initially testing creative principles and abstracting them into a conclusive universal grammar, the definition of a new ‘classical’ architecture can only be based on the acceptance of creativity, yet within an ordering framework.

18.00 – 19.00 Francesco MarulloThe Halle and the Active Intellect
Response by Lukasz Stanek

In his article ‘Strutture e Sequenze di Spazi’ Luigi Moretti, posited Architecture as being read through its internal voids rendered as a potential solid or pieno.

The succession of the buildings analyzed in the article, from the Aula Quadra and Pecile in Villa Adriana, through Palazzo Ducale in Urbino and Saint Peter in Rome, clearly demonstrates how the internal stereometric articulation in architecture has progressively simplified through history: from the rich variety of the enclosed great interiors of antiquity, through the rigorously calculated harmonies of the Renaissance, to the standardized repetitive unities of Modernity, towards a unique generic volume, in which the interiors are turned in unfocused fields and unlimited spatial planes.

Such a simple hollow space, the rational outcome of the technical and structural improvements occurred at the beginning of XX century, embodies one of the highest challenges of Modern Architecture: the planned ‘destruction’ of the city from within, through a calculated subtraction and clearing of its obsolete content and the parallel rational construction of a pure ‘enabling’ volume, based on economy, on the perfect disposal of internal energies and on the resistance to any exerted pressure.

Through a series of examples, spanning from Behrens’ Kleinmotorenefabrik, Tessenow and Appia’s Hellerau Festspielhaus, Malevich’s Architecktona, through Mies’ Bürohaus and Hilberseimer’s Citybebauung, the following essay is an attempt to extend and project the conclusions of Moretti’s studies beyond a purely formal consideration: the development of the Halle, as a paradigm for an Architecture of the hollow space, a ‘mould’ developed in parallel to the rising of the Angestellten, the salaried workers, during the critical transition between the Wilhelmine and the Weimar period in Germany.