Reading Analysis Writing 12 PP, Home>Architecture and Design homework help

Practice: Architecture, Technique + Representation is a book of essays by architect Stan Allen. Conversant in contemporary

theory and architectural history, Allen writes from his perspective as a working architect, rather than that of a critic

or historian. Architecture has always been a synthetic discipline, constantly importing ideas from other fi elds; but

those concepts, as they enter architecture’s fi eld of operations, are transformed by the specifi city of the architect’s

expertise. The book examines this tension between architecture’s defi nition of itself as an autonomous discipline, and an

always changing landscape of ideas and technologies. This new edition includes revised essays together with previously

unpublished work. Allen’s seminal piece on Field Conditions is included in this reworked, revised and redesigned volume.

Stan Allen is a practicing architect and Dean of the School of Architecture, Princeton University. Responding to the

complexity of the modern city in creative ways, Stan Allen has developed an extensive catalogue of urbanistic strate-

gies, in particular looking at fi eld theory, landscape architecture and ecology as models to revitalize the practices of

urban design. In addition to design awards and competition prizes, he has been awarded Fellowships in Architecture

from the New York Foundation for the Arts, The New York State Council on the Arts, a Design Arts Grant from the

National Endowment for the Arts, a Graham Foundation Grant, and a President’s Citation from The Cooper Union.





























INTRODUCTION Practice vs. Project


Constructing with Lines: On Projection Postscript: Review of Robin Evans: The Projective Cast

Notations and Diagrams: Mapping the Intangible

Terminal Velocities: The Compu ter in the Design Studio Postscript: The Digital Complex


Mies’ Theater of E� ects: The New National Gallery, Berlin

The Guggenheim Refi gured: The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

Le Corbusier and Modernist Movement: The Carpenter Center for Visual Arts


Urbanisms in the Plural

The Thick 2-D: Mat-Building in the Contemporary City

From Object to Field: Field Conditions in Architecture and Urbanism

AFTERWORD by Je� rey Kipnis Some Side E� ects of a Friend’s Excellent Book

Image Credits Index



























light chimineys + el 670.00

roof high pt. + el 663.00

meeting rooms + el 656.50

auditorium foyer + el 649.50

Stan Allen Section Projection, Extension of the Museo del Prado, 1998



Gio Ponti Eleven Meter Structural Test Model, Pirelli Tower, Milan, 1956




INTRODUCTION: Practice vs. Project

CONTINGENCIESAlmost unique among creative practices, architecture’s objective is given from outside. Architects, unlike painters, sculptors, or poets, depend on clients and pa-

trons to execute their work. As a consequence, they are likely to work across a wide array of

scales, building types, climates, economics, and building cultures. Architecture is of necessity

a discipline of circumstance and situation. Even in the most ideal careers, many decisions are

beyond the control of the individual architect. The process of design and construction is char-

acterized by constant tactical adjustments made to the demands of clients, codes, consultants,

budgets, builders, and regulatory agencies, not to mention the complex logistics of construction

itself. Moreover, architects today practice far from home, and each new site presents unfamiliar

conditions. As creative subjects, architects react to these demands, inventing in response to the

occasion of the commission, specifying and particularizing a given set of abstract variables. The

practice of architecture tends to be messy and inconsistent precisely because it has to negotiate

a reality that is itself messy and inconsistent.

I must say that what interests me more is to focus on what the Greeks called techne, that is to say, a practical rationality governed by a conscious goal … if one wanted to do a history of architecture, I think that it should be much more along the lines of that general history of the techne, rather than the histories of either the exact sciences or the inexact ones.

Michel Foucault

Art and architecture are practices, not sciences. The constructions of science aspire to univer- sal application. Pictures and buildings need only work where they are.

Dave Hickey




Against this landscape of contingency, architectural theory has traditionally served a unifying

function. Without a larger ideological framework, it is argued, the architect runs the risk of reacting

passively to the multiple and often contradictory demands of context, clients, regulating agencies,

media, or economics. Architecture, it is argued, needs a grand narrative in order not to be entirely

consumed by these small narratives of opportunity and constraint. And so, in order to legitimate its

mechanical procedures, practice appeals to a project: an overarching theoretical construct, defi ned

from someplace other than the studio or the building site, and expressed in a medium other than

buildings and drawings. Detached from the operational sites of technique, theory stakes a claim on a

world of concepts uncontaminated by real world contingencies. Theory needs distance for its refl ec-

tions; but as a consequence of that detachment, the possibility of incremental change from within is

held in check. Theory’s promise is to make up for what practice lacks: to confer unity on the wildly

disparate procedures of design and construction.

This tension is only partially o� set by the tendency of conventional practice to repeat known

solutions. Too often, contemporary practice oscillates between mechanical repetition and shallow

novelty. Conventional practice renounces theory, but in so doing, it simply reiterates unstated the-

oretical assumptions. It works according to a series of enabling codes, which themselves comprise

a random sampling of the dictates of professional practice and the learned habits of normal design

culture. It is these unexamined codes that give practice a bad name. The protocols of normal practice

may be modifi ed or adapted in response to circumstance, but are rarely challenged. Design is reduced

to the implementation of rules set down elsewhere. If theory imposes regulated ideological criteria

over the undisciplined heterogeneity of the real, the unstated assumptions of conventional practice

enforce known solutions and safe repetitions. In both cases, small di� erences accumulate, but they

never add up to make a di� erence.

If conventional practice and theoretically driven critical practices are similarly structured, it

cannot be a question of going beyond theory, or of leaving theory behind. What is proposed

here is instead a notion of practice flexible enough to engage the complexity of the real, yet

sufficiently secure in its own technical and theoretical bases to go beyond the simple reflec-

tion of the real as given. Not a static reflection of concepts defined elsewhere (either the codes

of professional practice or the dictates of ideologically driven theory) but a rigorous forward

movement, capable of producing new concepts out of the hard logic of architecture’s working

procedures. Paradoxically, practice, which is usually assumed to be unproblematically identi-

fied with reality, will discover new uses for theory only as it moves closer to the complex and

problematic character of the real itself. Practice necessarily respects the verifiable laws that

govern matter and forces, but it is also attentive to the fact that these laws operate without

regard to consistency or established conventions of rational expression. This attention to the

gaps and inconsistencies in theory’s fit to reality is, as T. S. Kuhn has pointed out, a tremendous

source of invention and creativity.1 It is precisely when practice and experimentation turn up

inconsistencies in the “normal science” that new theories are produced.




Hence it is of little use to see theory and practice as competing abstractions, and to argue for one

over the other. Theories and practices are both produced in defi nable spaces, by active, conscious

subjects. Intelligent, creative practices — the writing of theory included — are always more than the

habitual exercise of rules defi ned elsewhere. Practice is not a static construct, but is defi ned precise-

ly by its movements and trajectories. There is no theory, there is no practice. There are only practices,

which consist in action and agency. They unfold in time, and their repetitions are never identical. It

is for this reason that the know-how of practice (whether of writing or design) is a continual source

of innovation and change. Tactical improvisations accumulate over time to produce new models for

operation. But these new patterns of operation produced in practice are always provisional. Inas-

much as they derive from experience and data, they are always open to revision on the basis of new

experiences, or new data. Deliberately executed, architecture’s procedures are capable of producing

systematic thought: serial, precise, and clinical; something that resembles theory but will always be

marked by the constructive/creative criteria of practice.

Pragmatism unsti� ens all our theories; it limbers them up and sets each one at work.

William James


I nstead of opposing theory and practice, imagine competing categories of practice: one primarily textual, bound up with representation and interpretation: a hermeneutic, or discursive practice; and the other concerned with matter, forces, and material change: a material practice. The consequence of this would be to say that there is no fixed category called

“practice,” no fixed category called “theory.” There are only practices: practices of writing, which

are primarily critical, discursive, or interpretive, and material practices: activities that trans-

form reality by producing new objects or new organizations of matter.

Discursive practices work in the space between texts, and they produce more texts. Material practices

often involve operations of translation, transposition or trans-coding of multiple media. Although they

work to transform matter, material practices necessarily work through the intermediary of abstract

codes such as projection, notation or calculation. Constantly mixing media in this way, material prac-

tices produce new concepts out of the materials and procedures of work itself. The vector of analysis in

hermeneutic practices always points toward the past, whereas material practices analyze the present in

order to project transformations into the future. Discursive practices look critically at what already ex-

ists (“things made”), while material practices bring new things into being: “things in the making.” 2




Architecture, I want to say right from the beginning, is a material, and not a discursive practice, and

by being clear about what this means, we can steer around much of the obscurity that character-

izes debates today. If you understand architecture as “built discourse” it becomes very easy to forget

about the specifi city of building and begin to compare architecture to other discursive practices such

as writing, fi lm, new media, or graphic design. And if you do so, you begin to notice that, compared

to these other practices, architecture is relatively inert as discourse. It cannot approach the transpar-

ency and speed of these other media. And so, if discursive communication (commentary, critique or

explanation) is your ultimate criterion, there is a great temptation to leave architecture behind, and

to move toward these other practices. It you try to make architecture do something that it does not

fundamentally do very well, you may decide in the end that it’s not worth the trouble. (And practic-

ing architecture is, if nothing else, a troublesome pursuit.) In contrast to this attitude, which sees

architecture’s materiality as an impediment to be overcome — something that is slowing it down in

a world of speed and communication — I have consistently tried to look more openly at the specifi c

opportunities presented by architecture’s material and instrumental properties. Visual culture and

material practices have their own rules, and those rules are di� erent from those that govern texts.

It is for this reason that architecture has never been particularly e� ective as a vehicle of criticism. It is,

on the contrary, insistently a rmative and instrumental. Material practices do not comment on the

world, they operate in and on the world. They produce ideas and e� ects through the volatile medium

of artifacts, short-circuiting the established pathways of theory and discourse. This is architecture’s

attraction: its source of creativity, operational power, and — not the least — pleasure. Today, the most

interesting practitioners no longer ask what architecture is, or what it means, but rather what it can

do. From a theoretical point of view, it is less a matter of arguing in favor of architecture’s instrumen-

tality as it is acknowledging that any theoretical approach that cannot account for architecture’s in-

trinsically instrumental character is going to fall short.

One of the urgent consequences of this more pragmatic approach would be to move us away

from the private world of the architect’s design process, and its preoccupation with questions of

meaning, and the politics of identity, to an open discussion of architecture’s agency in the public

sphere. It would necessarily shift attention away from the architect as the producer of mean-

ing, and pay closer attention instead to the life of buildings in the world. It might help to get

us beyond the fiction that meaning is the result of something that happens in the course of the

design process. Meaning is not something added to architecture; it is a much larger, and a slip-

perier, momentary thing. It is not located in the architecture: it is what happens to and around

architecture as part of a complex social exchange. It happens in the interval, as the result of an

encounter between architecture and its public, in the field.

A material practice, therefore, would have little to do with the easy acquiescence to existing norms and

conventions of agency and instrumentality. It would be instead persistently skeptical and contrary, a

stubborn practice that would hold those generic norms to strict performative criteria, and leave them


Tom Caruso
Tom Caruso



behind when they fall short. When the only certainty is change itself, practice can no longer depend on

stable rules and conventions. Tethered to a fast-moving reality, material practices need to be agile and

responsive, which often requires that they leave behind some of the weighty baggage of received ideas.

This is a more uncertain, but also more optimistic program. Conceived as a material practice, archi-

tecture achieves a practical (and therefore provisional) unity inferred on the basis of its ensemble of

procedures, rather than a theoretical unity conferred from without by ideology or discourse. Such a

notion of practice maintains a deep respect for history, and for architecture’s past. The accumulated

catalog of architecture’s rules and procedures is accepted as a starting point, a common language

that serves as a basis for any conversation. And yet, unlike the conservative project that would see the

structure of the discipline as a limit, historically defi ned, the pragmatic know-how of technique does

not necessarily respect precedent.3 The criterion of productivity simply bypasses outmoded working

strategies, leaving the discipline open to new techniques, which may in turn be incorporated into the

catalog of architecture’s working procedures.

Material practices unfold in time, with a full awareness of the history of the discipline, but never satis-

fi ed to simply repeat, or to execute a system of rules defi ned elsewhere. Architecture’s limits are un-

derstood pragmatically — as a resource and an opportunity — and not a defi ning boundary. The prac-

titioner looks for performative multiplicities in the interplay between an open catalog of procedures

and a stubbornly indi� erent reality. Constraint is not an obstacle to creativity, but an opportunity for

invention, provoking the discovery of new techniques. Under the pragmatics of material practice, the

fi xed structure of the discipline is neither rejected nor a rmed. A hardheaded skepticism is applied as

much to the dictates of theory as to the inherited conventions of normal practice. They are subject

not to critical interrogation, but to an “erotics” of doubt:

The space of doubt di� ers from the space of certainty in that doubt narrows the

distance between theory and the world. If theoretical refl ection entails being at

a certain remove from the world, doubt returns thought to openness before the

world; it involves a loss of mastery and control which places thought in a more

vulnerable relation to the world than before.4

Material practices are tools to open architecture to the world; refusing the safety of theory’s disem-

bodied distance, a material practice is marked by the uncertainty of an ever-shifting reference in the

world itself. Not a Cartesian doubt that works by process of elimination to arrive at a core of unshak-

able propositions, but a tactic for dealing with an imperfect reality with a catalog of tools that is itself

always incomplete, imperfect, and inadequate.


Tom Caruso



There can be no di� erence which doesn’t make a di� erence — no di� erence in abstract truth which does not express itself in a di� erence of concrete fact, and of conduct consequent upon the fact, imposed on somebody, somehow, somewhere, and somewhen. William James


W hen speaking of techniques of construction, it is important to remember that the archi-tect is not a builder, but a specifi er of construction technique. The architect works with a knowledge of the methods and materials of construction in both design and implementa- tion, but the impact of this knowledge is indirect. What is more signifi cant is the way in which the vari-

ables of construction are factored into the calculus of architecture’s procedures. This leads away from

a theory of “truth to materials” toward an examination of consequences and experiential e� ects. The

claim, for example, that Le Corbusier, in the Carpenter Center (Chapter 6) is able to achieve a sense of

mobility and lightness with a material that is not in itself intrinsically lightweight turns on a detailed dis-

cussion of some of the technical aspects of the building’s reinforced concrete construction. Innovation

and technical constraint are shown to be closely bound up with formal expression.

The design history of the Guggenheim Museum is signifi cant in this regard, and was crucial for me

in defi ning the notion of practice outlined here. In 1991, I wrote that Frank Lloyd Wright could “de-

ploy multiple structural principles with e� ective operational freedom precisely because he was com-

mitted to structural rationality as practice, not as project” (Chapter 5). What I meant was something

like this: early models showed the spiral ramp of the museum propped up on thin columns, a solu-

tion clearly at odds with the organic continuity Wright desired. In time, Wright devised an integrat-

ed structural solution that did not distinguish between supporting structure and enclosing enve-

lope. While architecturally compelling, this solution proved impractical from a constructional point

of view. Wright in the end accepted a solution that, while literally inconsistent with the conceptual

unity originally proposed, was itself logical and e cient. What is revealing, and speaks as much to

Wright’s tactical fl exibility as to his intimate knowledge of building technique, is that, while literally

segmented, the experience of the building is still one of integrated structure and smooth fl ow. In

practice, the desired continuity is in no way compromised by the apparent structural expedient.

The di� erence between practice and project is therefore marked by the pragmatic idea of “di� erences

that make a di� erence.” It appeals to concrete di� erences of performance and behavior and not to

abstract relations between ideas and discourses. For Wright, as for most of the architects that inter-

est me, buildings are always more than individual components of a larger project. They are not ex-




amples of principles enunciated elsewhere, or cases to be tested against the rule of theory’s law. Par-

ticular instances are met with particular solutions. Consistency and rationality are guaranteed by

the hard logic of structure, and by the indi� erent behavior of materials themselves. In the case of

Wright, the rational behavior of structure is not an absolute fact to be given material expression, but

an opportunity and a resource — a point of provisional stability to be freely handled.5 The measure of

Wright’s “mastery” of the terms of building is as much his knowledge of where and when to compro-

mise, as in any mythic appeal to integrity and the “truth to materials.” This is a way of working that

assumes that the ability of architecture to generate perceivable experiences and sensations in the

world — practical consequences and e� ects — is more important than its conformance or non-con-

formance with some abstract set of theoretical criteria.

To claim that architecture is a material practice, working in and among the world of things — an instru-

mental practice capable of transforming reality — is not to lose sight of architecture’s complicated com-

promise with techniques of representation.6 Inasmuch as architects work at a distance from the material

reality of their discipline, they necessarily work through the mediation of systems of representation. Ar-

chitecture itself is marked by this promiscuous mixture of the real and the abstract: at once a collection of

activities characterized by a high degree of abstraction, and at the same time directed toward the produc-

tion of materials and artifacts that are undeniably real. The techniques of representation are never neu-

tral, and architecture’s abstract means of imagining and realizing form leave their traces on the work. To

understand representation as technique (in Foucault’s broader sense of techne) is therefore to pay atten-

tion to the paradoxical character of a discipline that operates to organize and transform material reality,

but must do so at a distance, and through highly abstract means. To concentrate on the instrumental-

ity of drawing is to pay attention to the complex process of what Robin Evans has called “translations”

between drawing and building. It is this e� ort to understand the tra c between geometry, imagina-

tion and construction that has motivated the three essays on drawing techniques that open this volume.

The characterization of architecture as a material practice deserves one fi nal qualifi cation. These

translations between drawing and building today take place within a larger fl ow of images and

information. Architecture’s culture of instrumental representations cannot help but be a� ected by its

intersection with this dominant media culture. Architecture has always maintained a mechanism of

explanation and normative description alongside material production: treatises, catalogs, journals,

conferences, and texts. In the past this was related to pedagogy, and the dissemination of profes-

sional information. Today there is an accelerated, spiraling motion whereby materials from outside

architecture (most notably, the immaterial e� ects of fi lm, new media, or graphic design), have been

cycled back through the discipline to enlarge architecture’s catalog of available techniques.

This image culture belongs to the new ways of thinking and seeing that have emerged with

modernity: shifting mental schemas that mark our uncertain position in the modern world, and force

us to see how the practice of architecture has been constantly revised by the complex currents of

twentieth century thought.7 Michael Speaks has proposed that the exercise of what he calls design intel-




ligence, enables architects to navigate more e� ectively in this new, information-dense context.8 Speaks’

suggestive formulation plays on two meanings of the word “intelligence.” On the one hand, it recognizes

that architects and other design professionals possess a specifi c form of expertise, a synthetic and pro-

jective capacity unique to their own discipline. Design intelligence in this sense implies the thoughtful

application of that expertise to problems specifi c to architecture. On the other hand, just as military in-

telligence is necessarily composed of rumors and fragmented information, from often suspect sources (a

high noise to signal ratio) it implies that architects need to be open to the “chatter” of the world outside of

their own fi eld, and alert to new ways of interpreting, and putting that information to work. As in intelli-

gence work, with immense quantities of information now simultaneously available, it is no longer access

to information that counts, but the ability to process, organize, and visualize information that is crucial.

And so, if I maintain a provisional distinction between the instrumental consequences of representa-

tion within the discipline of architecture, and architecture’s complex interplay with social and cultural

representations, it is not to ignore the moments of intersection and overlap. Material practices must be

robust, information-dense, and open to change and revision. Its practitioners realize that the new real-

ity of technology and the city is one of continual obsolescence, and that the only way to survive change is

to change. Moreover, material practices trust in the intelligence of architecture’s audience, understand-

ing that architecture has many publics, and that the signifi cant work of architecture is one that allows

continual revision and rereading, teasing out new meanings as the context changes. This necessitates a

close attention to the material e� ects and worldly consequences of all of architecture’s matter — seman-

tic and material — while maintaining a strict indi� erence as to the origin of those e� ects.

And indeed, it is easier to walk with music than without it. Of course, it is just as easy to walk while talking up a storm, when the act of walking disappears from our consciousness.

Viktor Shklovsky


M ichel de Certeau employs the fi gure of the walker in the city to describe the errant trajec-tories of everyday practices among the systematic space of the proper. For de Certeau, “the geometrical space of urbanists and architects seems to have the status of a ‘proper meaning’ constructed by the grammarians and linguists in order to have a normal and normative level

to which they can compare the drifting of ‘fi gurative’ language.” Within his schema, the wandering

course of the pedestrian is compared to the enunciative function in language: “The act of walking is




to the urban system what the speech act is to language or to statements uttered.” 9 This free move-

ment that de Certeau describes (“a Brownian variability of directions” in Deleuze and Guattari10) is

guaranteed by the tactical improvisations of multiple individuals. De Certeau understood that there

can never be a perfect correspondence between the regulated geometrical structure of the planned

city and the unruly practices it supports. The city’s inhabitants are always ready to take advantage of

this mismatch between structure and performance. This in turn suggests that the control exercised

by any disciplinary regime can never be total. Resistance will fi nd other pathways around, or under,

or through, the constraints imposed from outside, pathways that lead away from transgression, cata-

strophic overthrow, withdrawal or retreat.11

De Certeau describes a series of “tricky and stubborn procedures that elude discipline without being

outside the fi eld in which it is exercised.” 12 He has confi dence that there will always exist fi ssures and

cracks that provide openings for tactical reworkings. Making opportunistic use of these footholds,

the creativity of everyday practices can often outwit the rigid structures of imposed order, and outma-

neuver the weighty apparatus of institutional control: “The long poem of walking manipulates spatial

organizations, no matter how panoptic they may be: it is neither foreign to them (it can only take

place within them) nor in conformity with them (it does not receive its identity from them). It creates

shadows and ambiguities within them.” 13

What is not immediately obvious in de Certeau’s writings is a subtext that would associate the

geometrical space of the planned city with the systematic constructs of theory. A concept of theory

as regulated space (oblivious to the complex babble of enunciative practices taking place within it)

precedes and undergirds his description of the regulated space of the planned city, indi� erent to the

multiple trajectories unfolding in its spaces. The idealized constructions of theory mirror the panoptic

spaces of geometrical urban planning: “Within this ensemble,” de Certeau writes, “I shall try and locate

the practices that are foreign to the ‘geometrical’ or ‘geographic’ space of visual, panoptic or theoretical

constructions.” 14 And so, by analogy, just as the active citizen might manipulate and refi gure the space

of the city — which is given to her from without — so too creative intellectual subjects can put into play

the rigid codes of inherited ideological systems.

Two important senses of the word practice intersect here: practice designating the collective and

peripatetic improvisations of multiple inhabitants in the city connects to practice as the creative

exercise of an intellectual discipline by an individual. De Certeau’s cunning optimism suggests a

notion of practice capable of continually reworking the limits of a discipline from within. He o� ers

a way out of the either/or dilemma of practice seen exclusively as mechanical repetition (agent of

institutional authority), or the neo-avant-garde positions of transgression or critique. His view af-

fi rms that practices always unfold in time, moving on multiple and undisciplined trajectories. At

the same time it is a realistic vision, recognizing that it is impossible to e� ectively operate outside of

any discipline’s “fi eld of operations.” Just as the walker in the city produces “scandalous” fi gures out

of the geometric space of the city, there are tactical practices — nomad practices of writing, thinking




or acting — that are capable of manipulating and reforming theory’s proscriptive spaces. When de

Certeau speaks, in this context of an “opaque and blind mobility” inserted into the “clear text of the

planned and readable city,” I would suggest that it could also be read as a way to practice theory, a

call for mobile and improper reworkings of the “clear text” of a given theoretical formulation. “Be on

the edge,” Deleuze and Guattari write, “take a walk like Virginia Woolf (never again will I say I am this,

I am that).” 15 The itinerant path of the walker in the city, or the nomad thinker in theory, is precisely

that which resists systematization, and makes room for the tactical improvisations of practice.

These essays have been constructed by following the trajectories of concepts unfolded in the course of

working.16 I wanted to trace the emergence of ideas in and through the materials and procedures of

the architectural work itself, and not as a legitimation from outside, in the form of written codes. Ar-

chitecture works by means of a necessarily mixed assemblage of procedures, and requires multiple

tactics of explanation. The purpose of writing is not so much to explain, or to justify a particular work

or working method, as it is a continual process of clarifi cation. In most cases, practical, experimental

work comes fi rst, and the writing down comes after. The activity of writing for me is part of the prac-

tice of architecture: something that happens alongside of drawing, building and teaching.

But the writing of an architect differs in significant ways from the writing of an historian or

a scholar. In part, it is marked by the technical and instrumental concerns of a working archi-

tect, a kind of “shoptalk:” comparing notes and testing techniques, finding out what works and

what doesn’t work, constantly on the lookout for new techniques. To define these essays as

part of an architectural practice is to recognize and accept the mixed character of architecture’s

procedures. To conceive this work as a practice is to work from examples, and not principles. It

necessitates a continual reference to specific instances of buildings, cities, drawings or texts. But

more significantly, it also means resisting the temptation to generalize the results in the form of a

project. Theory needs a project: a static construct, a persistent template of beliefs against which

individual actions are compared, and tested for conformance. In contrast, practices imply a shift to

performance, paying attention to consequences and effects. Not what a building, a text, or a draw-

ing means, but what it can do: how it operates in — and on — the world.





Stan Allen Aerial View, Extension of the Museo del Prado, 1998




Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientifi c Revolutions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970) 68.

William James, A Pluralistic Universe, eds. Frederick H. Burkhardt, Fredson Bowers, and Ignas K. Skrupskelis (Cambridge, MA and London:

Harvard University Press, 1977) 117.

There would appear to be two dominant positions today with regard to this question of architecture’s limits, and the regulating

power of the discipline. On the one hand, a conservative position that says that architecture’s fundamental questions of space, struc-

ture, materials, and the rituals of inhabitation change little over time. Issues that cannot be solved by reference to a known reper-

tory of techniques or forms are understood to be outside of, or “beyond,” architecture. The most thoughtful of these “conservative”

positions would appear to be Giorgio Grassi. See his L’architettura come mestiere (Milan: CLUVA, 1980) or the article “Avant-Garde and

Continuity,” Oppositions 21 (Winter 1981): 24–33. On the other hand, there is a neo-avant-garde position that sees the structure of the

discipline as a limit to be interrogated. Working on the basis of ideological criteria, or in response to technological changes, neo-

avant-garde practices set out to transgress disciplinary limits. The opposition of these two positions approaches parody in the issue

of ANY that documents the confrontation of Peter Eisenman—representing the neo-avant-garde—and Andreas Duany and Elizabeth

Plater-Zyberk—representing the neoconservative “New Urbanists” (ANY 1 (July/August 1993)).

Ironically, fi fteen years later little has changed. Both of these positions share a similar notion of the fi xity of architecture’s limit; they sim-

ply situate themselves on opposite sides of its boundary. By contrast, a radically pragmatic position would maintain indi� erence with re-

gard to the perceived limits of architecture. It feels itself under no obligation, either to a rm limits from within nor transgress them

from without. Instead it would propose to work opportunistically, operating within the catalog of known solutions if productive tech-

niques could be found there, and outside it as necessary. The dilemma of architecture’s limit is faced by not choosing not to choose.

Norman Bryson, “The Erotics of Doubt,” New Observations 74, eds. Jeremy Gilbert Rolfe and John Johnston (1990): 11.

What I mean here could also be explained by another reference. Robin Evans, in discussing the supposed “rationality” of Mies van der

Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion, contrasts the ad hoc structure of the Barcelona Pavilion to Antonio Gaudi’s Güell Chapel: “There are two rea-

sons why we may think the Barcelona Pavilion is a rational structure: Mies said it was, and it looks as if it is. It looks rational because we

know what rationality looks like: precise, fl at, regular, abstract, bright, and above all rectilinear. This image of rationality is unreliable,

however. The Güell Chapel has none of these attributes, yet it is consistent and logical in its structure. The entire chapel was to have

been scaled up from an inverted funicular model made of wires draped with paper and fabric … The model was wholly in tension. Turned

upside down, it would produce a structure wholly in compression, thus avoiding persistent tension, against which masonry has little

resistance. This is a rational structure. By contrast, the structure and construction of the Barcelona Pavilion is piecemeal and inchoate,”

Robin Evans, “Mies van der Rohe’s Paradoxical Symmetries,” Translations from Drawings to Building (London: Architectural Association,

1997), 243–244. In Mies, there is a “project” of rational construction, which is given visual expression by means that do not always coincide

with its performative realities.

The claim that the practice of architecture has the capacity to transform reality is not a claim lightly extended to the conventional exer-

cise of professional practice. Reality is only changed when something new is created. To build yet another suburban o ce building, for

example, is not to transform reality. The stock of existing reality may have been added to, but not transformed; a certain piece of real es-

tate may have been rearranged, but materially, nothing new is created. To give a counter-example from the context of these essays, for

example, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum innovates at every level—in form, space, program, construction, and context—and

it does so not only in relation to normative practice, but also in relation to Wright’s previous buildings.

For an extended argument for the impact of image culture on architectural modernity, see Beatriz Colomina, Privacy and Publicity:

Modern Architecture as Mass Media (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1994). For Colomina, the engagement with mass media is precisely what

defi nes modern architecture as such. While Colomina’s arguments are convincing (indeed unanswerable at a certain level), at times she

presents her case in extreme either/or terms that are for me less than productive. See, for example, Beatriz Colomina, “Mies Not,” The

Presence of Mies, ed. Detlef Mertins (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1994) 193–222.

Michael Speaks, “Design Intelligence: Introduction,” A+U (December 2002): 11–18.

Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, trans. Steven F. Rendall (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988) 100.

See “1914: One or Several Wolves?,” chapter two in Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus (Minneapolis: University of

Minnesota Press, 1987) 33. Deleuze and Guattari’s notions of multiplicity could be read as a useful supplement to de Certeau’s tendency

to idealize individual freedoms against collective disciplines—see for example their discussion of Elias Canetti’s Crowds and Power, trans.

Carol Stewart (New York: Viking, 1963) 33–34.

There is also a relationship here to Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of a minor literature. See Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Kafk a:





















Toward a Minor Literature, trans. Dana Polan (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986); through the example of Ka� a, the Czech

Jew writing in German, Deleuze and Guattari develop the concept of a minor literature, the “deterritorialization” from within the domi-

nant language. A minor practice constructs a line of fl ight with the materials at hand—the impoverished elements of the dominant

language, rather than resisting by retreat or confrontation: “A minor literature doesn’t come from a minor language; it is rather that

which a minority constructs within a major language” (16).

de Certeau 96.

de Certeau 101.

de Certeau 93.

Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 29 (emphasis in the original).

Writing over the course of eight years (1989 –97), and later revising the essays for the current volume, I have noted some changes in my

thinking. Briefl y, the position of the earlier essays, which concern representation, has to some degree been rethought. Today, I would

tend to insist even more rigorously on the instrumentality of representation in architecture, rather than see it as an end in itself. This is

to some degree the result of the speculations advanced over the course of the essays on specifi c buildings. However, in the fi nal section,

which concerns cities and landscapes, I return to some of these questions of representation, but now within the “expanded” fi eld of the

contemporary city, where questions of media, technique, and representation intersect in new and increasingly improbable patterns.


  • Cover and Prelims

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