TOPIC 1: MATERIAL AND IMMATERIAL Introduction Original Text: Leon Battista Alberti, Excerpts from The Art of Building in Ten Books. Reflective Text: Juhani Pallasmaa, Excerpts from The Eyes of the Skin. Philosophical Text: Jonathan Hill, Excerpts from Immaterial Architecture. Writing and Discussion Questions



Architects—from Vitruvius to Le Corbusier, Alberti to Wright, and Viollet-le-Duc to Kahn—

have discussed the importance of materiality in architecture. Since the beginning of

architectural history, designers and builders articulated both practical and theoretical

principles on how materials are to be procured, refined, stored, and assembled. Architecture

is, of course, the putting together of materials: stone, wood, brick, etc. Throughout much

of architectural history, architects focused on qualities of solidity, permanence, and

heaviness. In opposition, new materials have enabled new qualities: Can buildings be

more transparent, maybe ghostly or invisible? Can buildings become lighter, maybe able

to float? Can buildings be made to move, maybe daily? Exemplified by Diller and Scofidio’s

“Blur Building” at the 2002 Swiss Expo, where the primary building material was fog, the

exploration of “immateriality” in architecture is relatively new.

Building upon Vitruvius’ work, Leon Battista Alberti wrote at length about materials

and construction in “Book III” of The Art of Building in Ten Books, the original text for this chapter. Alberti articulated the properties and procurement of various building

materials: timber, stone, brick, lime, and sand. He described how to “properly” refine

these materials, and to utilize them in construction. Beginning with the foundation, and

moving on to discussions of walls, roofs, and “pavements” (i.e., flooring), Alberti delivered

a systemic guide for constructing public buildings, predominantly based on objective,

practical, empirical, and technical expertise. Durability, much more than aesthetics, was

Alberti’s primary concern throughout the first half of his Ten Books, developing a seamless translation from raw material—the natural properties of stone, wood, etc.—to built form.

This parallels Louis Kahn’s famous dialogue with a brick, where he asks the brick what it

wants to be, and the brick, in Kahn’s words, says, “I like an arch.”1

Finnish architect and theorist Juhani Pallasmaa saw the process of construction

not only as an extension of material properties but also as an extension of the human

body. In The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses, the reflective text for this chapter, Pallasmaa asserted, “Construction in traditional cultures is guided by the body

in the same way that a bird shapes its nest by movements of its body. Indigenous clay

1. This conversation appears in

the 2003 documentary film My Architect, directed by Kahn’s son Nathaniel Kahn.

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and mud architectures in various parts of the world seem to be born of the muscular and

haptic senses.” Pallasmaa utilized this conceptualization to critique what he viewed as

an overreliance on the visual, rather than tactile, sense in architectural design. According

to Pallasmaa, inhabitants become “spectators,” experiencing architecture as an image,

which results in a loss of intimate, tactile, bodily connection to the work. Pallasmaa added,

“The current over-emphasis on the intellectual and conceptual dimensions of architecture

contributes to the disappearance of its physical, sensual and embodied essence,” and that

contemporary architecture needed to intensify material qualities of weight, texture, and


This heightened interest in “materiality”—the experienced “reality” of materials—

led to a search for complementary properties of “immateriality.” Architects sought ways

to bring “material” properties, such as heaviness or opacity, together with “immaterial”

properties, such as lightness or translucency, what Jonathan Hill, in 2006, described as

“an architecture that fuses the immaterial and the material . . . so that they are in con-

junction not opposition.” In Immaterial Architecture, the philosophical text for this chapter, Hill asserted, “Architecture is expected to be solid, stable and reassuring—physically,

socially and psychologically. Bound to each other, the architectural and the material are

considered inseparable. But . . . the immaterial is as important to architecture as the

material and has as long a history.” Furthermore, Hill contended that immateriality was

a question of individual perception; “the user decides whether architecture is immaterial”

or not. Is a particular architecture theoretically material/immaterial—e.g., historically

significant, etc.? Is a particular architecture physically material/immaterial—e.g., tactilely

engaging, etc.?

New architectural materials are being invented at a rapid rate. The combined

material properties of some of these materials are highly unexpected. Nicknamed “solid

smoke,” aerogel, for example, is a solid compound that is translucent, has an exceedingly

high insulating value, is fire retardant, has a high load-bearing capacity, and is only twice

the density of air. In a more extreme sense, scientists have recently produced new elements

so unstable that they exist for mere milliseconds and their properties are not yet fully

understood. For instance, the creation of elements such as ununseptium in 2010, the 117th item on the Periodic Table of Elements, suggests the generation of “an array of

strange new materials with as yet unimagined scientific and practical uses.”3 Radical new

materials like this will invariably change architectural space and form. While it is interesting

to speculate how architecture will change because of material innovation, it may be more

intriguing to question how human perception will change as we live, work, and play in

these new material and immaterial environments.



2. These concepts were part of

the emergence of the larger

architectural realm known as


Phenomenology was originally

an early twentieth-century

paradigm of philosophy that

focused on the first-person

experience. Phenomenology

entered architecture through

two primary paths. First,

prominent philosophers

extended their philosophies to

include architecture. Martin

Heidegger’s mid-twentieth-

century essay entitled “Building,

Dwelling, Thinking” is one

definitive example. Second,

twentieth-century architects

began reading and

incorporating various

philosophical texts and

concepts into their built and

written works. In addition to

Pallasmaa, late twentieth- and

early twenty-first-century

architects—such as, Peter

Zumthor, Tadao Ando, and

Steven Holl—focused on

sensory perceptions of space

and material, e.g., tactility,

acoustics, kinesthesia, etc. For a

straightforward explanation of

phenomenology, see the

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy website:


3. James Glanz, “Scientists

Discover Heavy New Element,”

The New York Times, April 6, 2010, http://www.nytimes.


element.html, retrieved

February 1, 2011.

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First Published in 1486


In my opinion, the labor and expense of building should not be undertaken lightly:

apart from everything else that may be at stake, one’s esteem and good name may suffer.

A well-constructed building will enhance the renown of anyone who has invested under-

standing, attention, and enthusiasm in the matter; yet equally, should the wisdom of the

designer or the competence of the workman be found wanting anywhere, it will greatly

detract from his reputation and good name. Merits and defects are particularly obvious

and striking in public buildings, though (for some reason, I do not understand) criticism of

impropriety is more readily given than approval for a work elegantly constructed and with

no imperfections. It is remarkable how some natural instinct allows each of us, learned

and ignorant alike, to sense immediately what is right or wrong in the execution and design

of a work. . . . If presented with anything in any way inadequate, unstable, redundant,

useless, or imperfect, we are immediately struck by the desire to make it more agreeable.

. . .

For this reason I will always commend the time-honored custom, practised by

the best builders, of preparing not only drawings and sketches but also models of wood

or any other material. These will enable us to weigh up repeatedly and examine, with

the advice of experts, the work as a whole and the individual dimensions of all the

parts, and, before continuing any farther, to estimate the likely trouble and expense.

Having constructed these models, it will be possible to examine clearly and consider

thoroughly the relationship between the site and the surrounding district, the shape

of the area, the number and order of the parts of a building, the appearance of the walls,

the strength of the covering, and in short the design and construction of all the elements.

. . .

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In particular, great attention should be paid to ensure that the design of the roof

is the best possible. For unless I am mistaken, the roof of its very nature was the first of

all building elements to provide mankind with a place of shelter: so much so that it was

for the sake of the roof that the need arose not only for the wall and all that goes with

it, but also for anything constructed below ground, such as water conduits, rainwater

channels, sewers, and the like. From my own not inconsiderable experience in these

matters, I am aware of the difficulties encountered in executing a work in such a manner

that it marries practical convenience with dignity and grace, so that, among other

commendable advantages, these parts are imbued with a refined variety, in accordance

with the demands of proportion and harmony: that really is difficult! . . .

We shall now deal with the materials suitable for constructing buildings, and we

shall relate the advice handed down to us by the learned men of the past, in particular

Theophrastus, Aristotle, Cato, Varro, Pliny, and Vitruvius: for such knowledge is better

gained through long experience than through any artifice of invention. . . .

It would be most convenient, I believe, to follow the natural order and begin with

the material that man first used for building; this, unless I am mistaken, was timber from

trees felled in the forest. . . .


The ancients, then, especially Theophrastus, recommended that trees, in particular

the fir, the pitch tree, and the pine, should be felled as soon as they germinate and begin

to send out young shoots, in that the high quantity of sap produced at that time will

facilitate the removal of the bark. Yet they recommended that other trees, such as

the maple, elm, ash, and linden, should be cut down after the vintage. Likewise they

maintained that the oak would be prone to worms if felled in spring, but would suffer

no defect and would not split if felled in winter. Equally relevant is their observation that

timber felled in winter, when Boreas is blowing, will burn beautifully and almost

without smoke, although still green, showing that the sap it contains is not raw but well


Vitruvius prefers that timber be felled from the beginning of autumn until Favonius

blows. Yet in the words of Hesiod: Reap the crops when the sun hangs over your head

with raging heat and gives men a dusky tan; but do not fell the trees until their leaves

begin to drop. But this is Cato’s advice on the matter: “Fell timber, if it is oak, during the

solstice; for in the winter it is always ready. Fell all other timber when it is mature, if it

bears seeds, or if not, whenever you wish; fell any whose seed is both green and ripe,

when the seed falls, and the elm, when its leaves fall.” . . .

Once the timber has been cut, it should be laid down away from the severities of

the sun or the harshness of the wind; above all, wood with an inherent tendency to split

ought to be particularly well shaded. This was the purpose behind the ancient architects’

practice of smearing the wood with dung, usually of oxen. Theophrastus argues that the

reason for this was to close up the pores to force any congealed gum and any moisture



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that had built up to seep along the marrow and evaporate, so that the process of drying

imparted a more even density to the whole length. It is also believed that timber will dry

out better if stood upside down. . . .

These are the trees whose wood is reckoned most useful for the construction

of buildings: the turkey oak, common oak, bay oak, winter oak, poplar, linden, willow,

alder, ash, pine, cypress, oleaster, olive tree, chestnut tree, larch, box tree, likewise the

cedar, ebon tree, and the vine. Each has a different character and so is best suited to a

different use. Some fare better when exposed to the sky, others keep better in shadow;

some flourish in the open air, others grow hard in water, and others last longer

underground. Therefore, while some are more suitable for lamination, paneling, statues,

and internal furnishing, others make better posts and beams, and others strong supports

for terraces and roofs.

In particular, the alder makes the very best stakes for restraining rivers and marshes,

and is very resistant to moisture, although it will not last long when exposed to air and

sun. The winter oak, on the other hand, has little resistance to water. The elm hardens

if left in the open, but elsewhere splits and does not last long, whereas the pitch tree

and the pine, if buried underground, last for ever. The bay oak, being a hard, sinewy,

dense wood, with only the smallest of pores, does not absorb moisture and is therefore

thoroughly suitable for any work underground; it is most usefully employed for bearing

weights and makes extremely strong columns. Yet, although it has such innate natural

strength that it cannot be drilled unless it is soaked, above ground it is said to be less

reliable, and apt to crack and warp, while even in seawater it may be easily ruined.

This will not happen to the olive or the holm oak or the oleaster (which are very like the

bay oak in other ways) when soaked in water. The common oak does not deteriorate

with age, but retains its sap as if it were young. The beech and the walnut tree never

rot in water and are counted among the most suitable for use underground. The cork

tree, meanwhile, the wild pine, mulberry, maple, and elm are not unsuitable for columns.

. . .

To sum up . . . trees that do not bear fruit are more robust than those that do, and

. . . wild trees, uncultivated by hand or steel, are hardier than domestic ones. . . .


We have also to prepare the stone to be used in the walls. There are two kinds of stone,

one to be used as aggregate in mortar, the other suitable for the structure of the building.

. . .

White stone is easier to handle than dark, and translucent more workable than

opaque, but the closer a stone resembles salt, the harder it is to work. If a stone is coated

with shining sand, it will be coarse; if sparkling with gold particles, stubborn; if it is, as it

were, flecked with black, unmanageable. Stones dappled with polygonal markings are

more solid than those with circular ones; and the smaller the markings on a stone, the

greater the weight it can bear; the purer and clearer the color, the longer it will last; and



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the fewer veins it has, the sounder it will be; and the closer the color of the veins to that

of the surrounding stone, the more uniform its structure; while the thinner the veins, the

more capricious the stone will be; the more tortuous and twisted they are, the more

troublesome; the more knotted, the more refractory. The veins most likely to crack are

those whose center is streaked with the color of red clay, or the ochre of rot, followed by

those tinted in places with a pale, faded grass color; but the most awkward of all are

veins that have taken on the blue color of ice. A large number of veins means that a

stone will be unreliable and apt to split, while the straighter the veins, the less trustworthy

it will be.

The sharper and cleaner the edge of the pieces into which the stone breaks, the

more compact it is; while the smoother their surface, the easier the stone will be to work.

But those with rough surfaces will prove more awkward the whiter their color, whereas

with dark stone, the closer the grain, the greater its resistance to the iron blade. With stone

of inferior quality, the greater its porosity, the hardest is; and the longer it takes to dry

out, when soaked all over with water, the coarser it is. A heavy stone will be more solid

and easy to polish than a light one, and a light one will be more friable. A stone that rings

out when struck will be denser than one that does not. Any stone that produces a sulphur-

like smell when rubbed will be stronger than one that does not; finally, the greater its

stubbornness to the chisel, the more rigid and steadfast a stone will be against the assaults

of the weather. . . .

It is agreed that the ancients were quite willing to use bricks instead of stone. I

do believe that men were first prompted by necessity, in the absence of other

suitable material, to build in brick. Noticing both how easy this method of construction

was and how practical, graceful, solid, and reliable, they proceeded to use brick for

other buildings, and even royal palaces. Finally, whether by accident or by careful

investigation, they discovered that fire strengthened and hardened bricks, and went

on to construct everything of earthenware. Indeed, from what I have observed from

studying very ancient structures, I would be so bold as to state that there is no building

material more suitable than brick, however you wish to employ it, though it must be

baked rather than raw, and the correct methods of molding and firing must be strictly

followed. . . .

It is useful to note here the opinion that a whitish, chalky clay makes very good

bricks; likewise reddish clay and the so-called masculine sand. It is advisable to avoid clay

that is sandy or full of gravel; but above all, clay containing pebbles ought to be discarded

utterly: clay of this type tends to warp and crack during firing and to break up afterward

by itself.

Freshly dug clay should not be used to make bricks, they say: rather the clay should

be dug in the autumn, allowed to macerate throughout the winter, and not used for making

bricks until the beginning of spring. If bricks are made during winter, obviously the frost

will split them, or, if during summer, the intense heat will crack them as they dry. But if it

is absolutely necessary to make them during the cold of winter, they should be covered



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immediately with a layer of very dry sand, and if in the heat of the summer, with damp

straw: stored in this way they will neither crack nor warp.

Some prefer bricks to be glazed. If so, sandy clay or clay that is too thin and dry

ought to be strenuously avoided, as this will absorb the glaze; instead, glazed bricks should

be made of a white, chalky, rich clay. The bricks must be thin: if they are too thick, they

will not bake properly and will be liable to crack. But if thick ones are required, the problem

may on the whole be avoided if a number of holes are spiked here and there through the

middle: these will act as vents and will improve the drying out and firing of the bricks by

allowing moisture and vapor to escape. . . .

Bricks, they say, should be polished either immediately after their removal from the

kiln and before they have been wetted, or after they have been wetted and before

they have dried out; for once they have been dampened and allowed to dry out again,

they become so hard that they will blunt or wear down the edge of any tool; but, in our

opinion, they are easier to rub smooth as soon as they have been made, and while they

are still warm. . . .

In my concern for brevity I should not neglect to mention that whatever has been

said about bricks applies equally to pantiles and plaintiles on the roof, and to earthenware

piping, in short to any pottery or earthenware work.

So much for stone; we must now deal with lime. . . .


The lime most highly praised by ancient architects is produced from extremely hard

and compact stone, preferably white: it is thought suitable for many types of work and

is particularly solid when used in vaulting. Their next preference is for lime made from

stone which is porous, but neither light nor crumbly; this they consider the best for

plastering, being easier to fashion and imparting a more splendid finish to the work.

In Gaul I have seen that architects use lime extracted solely from dark, round, hard

stones found in riverbeds, which give the impression of being flint; nonetheless this

lime has certainly shown itself strong and very lasting in both stone and brick buildings.

. . .

Any quarried stone will make better lime than that gathered from the ground; a

shady, damp quarry will contain better stone than a dry one; and lime from white stone,

rather than dark, will be easier to plaster. . . .

There is another type of lime called gypsum; this is also made by roasting stone,

although they say that in Cyprus and Thebes gypsum may be dug from the very surface

of the ground, ready roasted by the sun. However, stone that produces gypsum is quite

different from that which produces lime, since it is very soft and friable, with the exception

of that quarried in Syria, which is extremely hard. Further, stone for gypsum needs to

be roasted for no more than twenty hours, whereas that for lime needs at least sixty.

I have observed that there are four types of gypsum to be found in Italy: two translucent

and two opaque. Of the two that are translucent, one resembles lumps of alum, or



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rather alabaster: this is called “squameola,” as it consists of very slender scales attached

and pressed together like thin layers; the other is also scaly, but more closely resembles

dark salt than alum. Both of the opaque varieties resemble dense chalk, although one

is whitish and very pale, and the other a pallid color tinged with red. The latter two are

denser than the former, and of these the reddish one grips better. Of the first two, the

purer one makes more lustrous stucco for cornices and figurines. A type of gypsum is

to be found near Rimini that is so compacted that it gives the impression of being

marble or alabaster: I have had this sawn into slabs that make excellent facing. I

should not forget to mention that all forms of gypsum must be pounded with wooden

mallets and crushed into powder; this should be piled up and stored in a dry place, but

once brought out, it ought to be mixed with water immediately and put to use without


Lime is the opposite: it does not need to be crushed, but may be soaked while still

in lumps; indeed it should be allowed to soften in water for a good while before being

mixed, especially if intended for plastering, so that any lumps not baked thoroughly

enough by the fire will dissolve. If it is used too soon, before it has been properly steeped

and softened, it may still contain some small half-roasted stones, which might with time

begin to rot, soon developing blisters which disfigure the finish. It should be added here

that lime ought not to be soaked by a single dousing, but ought to be dampened gradually

with several sprinklings, until it is evenly saturated. It should then be left on its own, mixed

with nothing else, in a damp, shady place with nothing but a layer of sand to protect it,

until the process of time has fermented it into a more fluid paste. It is certain that this

lengthy fermentation greatly improves the lime. We have ourselves seen lime that has

been recently discovered in an old deserted cave, left for more than five hundred years,

as numerous indications make abundantly clear, which stayed damp and viscous, and so

mature that it was far softer than honey or the marrow in bones. Surely there is nothing

else to be found more suitable for whatever purpose. Lime prepared in this way requires

twice the sand as when mixed freshly slaked.

In this respect, then, lime and gypsum are different, though in other ways they

are similar. . . .


Since in order to build, not only lime is needed but also sand, we must now deal with the


There are three kinds of sand: that which comes from pits, that from rivers, and

that from the sea. The best is from pits. This comes in several varieties: black, white, red,

carbuncular, and gravelly.

. . .

Of all these types of pit sand the carbuncular is the favorite, although I notice that

red sand was not the last choice for public buildings in Rome. White sand is the worst

type of pit sand. Gravelly sand makes a very suitable infill for foundations. Next, in order



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of preference, comes fine, gravelly sand, especially if the grains are sharp and quite free

of soil, as is the variety found in great abundance in the territory of the Vilumbrians.

After that comes sand extracted from riverbeds, once the top layer has been removed.

The most useful river sand comes from streams, and of these the best is provided by

mountain streams with steep gradients. Sand extracted from the sea is considered the

worst, although any that is black or vitreous is not entirely unacceptable.

. . .

There are many differences among the various types of sand. Sea sand is difficult

to dry: saltiness makes it soluble, so that it is always prone to take up moisture and dissolve;

it is therefore unsuitable and unreliable for bearing weights. River sand is damper than

pit sand and therefore easier to mold and more suitable for plastering. Pit sand, being

fatter, holds together much better, although it tends to crack and therefore is more suitable

for vaulting than for plastering.

But the best sand of any kind will be one that crackles when rubbed or crushed in

the hand, and when gathered in a clean garment leaves no stain, nor residue of soil. On

the other hand, a sand smooth in texture, without any harshness, and of a color and

smell like those of a clayey soil will not be good, nor will any variety which when stirred in

water leaves it turbid and muddy, nor will one that is covered by grass as soon as it is

spread on the ground. It will be no good if, once procured, it is left in the open for a long

time exposed to the sun, the moon, and the frost: this leaves it earthlike and rotten, and

therefore quite capable of producing shrubs and wild fig trees, but with little strength for

holding buildings together. . . .


. . . To conclude, then, not every place will have the same supply of stone, sand, and

so on, since the quality and quantity of natural resources vary from place to place.

And so use should be made of whatever is available, and care must be taken to

ensure, first, that only the most manageable and convenient materials are procured, and

second, that in the process of construction all the right materials are used in the right


Having procured the materials mentioned above—that is, timber, stone, lime, and

sand—it remains now to deal with the method and manner of construction.


The whole method of construction is summed up and accomplished in one principle: the

ordered and skilful composition of various materials, be they squared stones, aggregate,

timber, or whatever, to form a solid and, as far as possible, integral and unified structure.

A structure may be said to be integral and unified when the parts it contains are not to

be separated or displaced, but their every line joins and matches.

We need to consider, therefore, which are the primary parts of the structure, their

order, and the lines of which they are composed. It is not difficult to discover the parts



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that make up the structure: clearly they are the top and bottom, the right and left, the

front and back, and all that lies in between; but not everyone will comprehend their specific

characteristics and why each is different.

The construction of a building does not entail just setting stone on stone,

and aggregate on aggregate, as the ignorant may imagine; for, because the parts

are different, so too the materials and methods of construction vary quite radically.

The foundations need to be treated one way, the girdle and cornices another, and the

corners and lips of openings yet another, while the outer skins of a wall must be treated

differently from the infill of the middle. We must now inquire what is appropriate in each


In this we shall follow, as we mentioned above, the same order as those who are

to undertake the work with their own hands; we shall begin, therefore, with the foundations.

The foundations, unless I am mistaken, are not part of the structure itself; rather they

constitute a base on which the structure proper is to be raised and built. For if an area

could be found that was thoroughly solid and secure—of stone, for example, as may be

found often around Veioi—there would be no need to lay down foundations before raising

the structure itself. . . .


A foundation—that is to say, “a going to the bottom” —and a trench will be necessary

wherever a pit must be dug to reach solid ground, as is the case almost everywhere.

. . .

The ancients used to say, “Dig until you reach solid ground, and God be with you.”

The ground has many layers, some sandy, some gravelly, others stony, and so on; and

below these, its position ever changing and uncertain, lies a hard, compact layer of earth,

extremely suitable for bearing the weight of buildings. The nature of this layer may itself

vary, there being scarcely any similarities between the various types: some may be hard,

almost impregnable to iron, others thick, some black, others white (the latter are commonly

thought the weakest of all), some composed of clay, others of tufa, and others of a mixture

of gravel and clay. Nothing can be said for certain as to which of these is best, except

that any that resist iron, or scarcely dissolve when immersed in water, can be recom-

mended. . . .

Advice should be sought from those with any knowledge and experience in the

matter, be they local residents or nearby architects: through their acquaintance with

existing buildings or their daily experience in constructing new ones, they will have acquired

a ready understanding of the nature and quality of the local soil. . . .

The design of the foundations must vary therefore according to the site. Some sites

may be up high, others down low, and others in between these, such as slopes, for example;

then again, some may be parched and arid, especially mountain ridges and summits, and

others utterly saturated and damp, such as those which lie on the coast, by a lagoon, or

in a valley. Others may remain neither totally dry nor utterly wet, because they are pos-



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itioned on a slope, which is true for any place where water does not remain still and

stagnant but always runs downhill. . . .

Before you start any excavation, it is advisable to mark out all the corners and

sides of the area, to the correct size and in the right place several times, with great care.

. . .

In setting out the foundations, it should be noted that the base of the wall and

the plinth (which are also considered part of the foundations) must be somewhat wider

than the proposed wall. . . .

On some occasions, either to reduce costs or to avoid an insecure stretch of ground

along the way, it may be better not to construct a solid work along a single, continuous

trench, but to leave spaces between, as though only making foundations for pillars

or columns; arches are then constructed from one pillar to the next, and the rest of

the wall is raised on top. Here we must follow the same principle mentioned elsewhere,

but the greater the intended load, the wider and firmer should be the foundations and

footings. . . .

Once the foundations are laid, the walls may follow directly. . . .


The difference between the footings and the wall proper is this: the footings are supported

by both sides of the trench and may be one mass of rubble alone, whereas the wall is

composed of many parts, as I shall now explain. The main parts of the wall are these: the

lower, that is to say the section immediately above the infill of the foundations (this we

may possibly call the podium, or platform); the middle, which encompasses and encases

the wall (known as the apron); and the upper, the collar around the top of the wall (called

the cornice).

Among the other important, perhaps even more important, parts of the wall

are the corners and inherent or additional elements such as piers, columns, and any-

thing else that acts as a column and supports the trusses and roof arches. These all

come under the description of bones. So too the lips on either side of openings, which

share the characteristics of both corner and column. Also included in the bones are

the coverings to the openings, that is, the beams, whether straight or arched: for I

call an arch nothing but a curved beam, and what is a beam but a column laid cross-

ways? The zone stretching between these primary parts is referred to appropriately as


Throughout the wall there should be something common to all the above-

mentioned parts; by this I mean the infill and the twin skins or shells on either side, one

to keep the wind and the sun out, the other to protect the area within. The design of

both infill and shell will vary according to the method of construction.

These are the kinds of construction: ordinary, reticulated, and irregular. . . .

Ordinary construction involves using stones (standard or, preferably, large-size)

that have been cut square, and bonding these in a regular fashion along vertical and



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horizontal lines; there can be no method of construction stronger or more steadfast than


Reticulated construction involves using standard or, preferably, small-sized stones

that have been cut square; these are laid not flat, but at an angle with their faces set

flush and vertically aligned.

In irregular stonework, irregular stones are laid with each side, as far as its shape

will allow, fitting closely into the sides of adjoining stones. This is the method of bonding

used in the construction of flint roads.

However, the method of construction to be used will depend on the situation. For

the facing of a plinth, for example, we will use nothing but extremely large, hard stone,

cut square. Since the structure must be as solid and firm as possible, as we said earlier,

then surely this part of the wall requires greater strength and stability than any other. In

fact, if at all possible, it should consist of a single stone, or at least of only so many as

may give it the soundness and durability closest to that of a single one. The question of

how to handle and transport these huge stones is related principally to ornament, and

will be dealt with in the appropriate place.

Build your wall, advises Cato, of solid stone and good mortar to at least one foot

above the ground. As for the rest of the wall, you may even use unbaked bricks, if you so

wish. The reason for this is obvious: this part of the wall is liable to be eroded by rain

dripping from the roof. But if we inspect the buildings of the ancients, we will notice that

not only in this country but everywhere else, the bases of well-constructed buildings are

made of hard stone. . . .

It is advisable therefore, when laying stones, especially where the wall needs to be

most robust, to ensure that only the strongest side, which will deteriorate the least, is

exposed to the onslaught of the elements. It is best not to set the stones on their sides

with the grain standing upright, as the weather will cause them to deteriorate in this

position; rather, lay them flat, so that pressure from the load above will prevent them from

splitting. Whichever side was hidden facing inward when the stone was in the quarry

should now be exposed to the open; it will be richer in natural juices and stronger. But in

any quarried stone the most resistant surface will be the one that has been cut not along

the grain of the stone but transversely across it.

Moreover, the corners throughout the building need to be exceptionally strong,

and so must be solidly constructed. In fact, unless I am mistaken, each corner represents

half of the building, in that damage to one of the corners will inevitably entail the

destruction of two of the sides. And a closer inspection will undoubtedly reveal that in

almost every building where deterioration has set in, a structural weakness in one of the

corners will have been responsible. Therefore it was sound practice that the ancients should

have made their walls considerably thicker at the corner than elsewhere, and would add

pilasters to reinforce the corners in colonnaded porticoes.

The reason why the corners need to be so strong is not only to enable them to

support the roof—indeed, that is the task of the columns rather than the corners—but



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mainly to help them keep the walls in position and prevent them from leaning away from

the vertical in either direction. The cornerstones should be extremely hard and long,

therefore, so that they extend into the adjoining wall like the elbow joint of an arm, and

they should be wide enough relative to the depth of the wall to avoid the need for any

infill. The bones within the wall and around the openings should be treated in the same

way as the corners, and strengthened according to the size of the load they may have to

bear. It is most important that there be a system of claws—that is, stones projecting into

each side in alternate courses—as a kind of armrest that supports the remaining paneling.

The paneling consists of two components, which, as we mentioned above, are

common to the whole wall: the skin and the infill. There are two types of skin, the inner

and the outer. If the outer skin is made of hard stone, the durability of the building will

be improved. I do not care how you prefer to construct the rest of the paneling—whether

it be of reticulated or irregular stonework—so long as you protect it from the fierce hostility

of the sun, the vexing winds, the fire and frost, by a layer of stone having great natural

resistance to assault, pressure, and injury. . . .

In my opinion, one of the most important rules to be followed is that once it has

been started, a wall should be built level and uniform round the whole structure, so that

one side should not have large stones and the other small ones. For it is said that any

imposed weight will put pressure on the structure, and the drying mortar have less grip,

inevitably leading to cracks in the wall.

Yet I have no objections to your using soft stone for the inner skin and all of the

wall facing. But whatever kind of stone is used, the skin inside and outside alike must be

raised vertically and in line. It must follow the outline of the area exactly, without bulging

out or caving in anywhere, or wavering at all: it should be straight and properly constructed


If during construction you apply the first layer of plaster to the wall while it is still

fresh, whatever you add subsequently by way of rendering or stucco work will prove


There are two types of infill: one consisting of aggregate piled in to fill the gap

between the two skins, the other simply consisting of common but rough stone, providing

a structural center rather than just acting as infill. Both types seem to have been invented

for the sake of economy, in that small, common stone of any kind is all that is required

for this part of the wall. For if there were a ready supply of large, square-cut stone available,

surely nobody would be willing to use small stone chips.

And herein lies the difference between the paneling and the bones: with the former,

the skins are filled with stone chippings and any rubble that is available—a quick task

involving little more than shoveling; with the latter, irregular stones are never or only very

seldom included, but ordinary-bond stonework is used to bind together the whole thickness

of the wall.

I would prefer, for the sake of durability, to have each course of the whole wall

composed entirely of squared stone; but however you decide to fill the gap between the



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two skins, as much care as possible should be taken to ensure that the courses on either

side are bonded together and level. It is important also to include a number of ordinary

stones, not too far apart, spanning across the wall, from the inside of one skin to the outside

of the other; connecting both skins to prevent the two outer surfaces that frame the work

from bulging out when the infill is poured in. . . .

A number of courses of large stone should be included to act as bonds, and

tie outer shell to inner, and bone to bone, just like those we mentioned that were to

be inserted every five feet. There are other bonds—and these of great importance—

which stretch the whole length of the wall and are intended to hold in the corners

and support the work. The latter are less frequent, and I cannot recall having seen more

than two or, occasionally, three in a single wall. Their main seat and place is to act as a

cornice to clasp the top of the wall with a ledge of strong stones. The next rung runs

immediately over the openings. Equally, they made sure that the podium at the bottom

did not lack a decent cornice. Where the more common bonds, those every five feet, are

more frequent, thinner stones are not amiss. But with the second type, known as cornices,

because they are less frequent and the role they play more prominent, it is best to make

the stones correspondingly stronger and thicker. But with either category, in general the

longest, thickest, and strongest stone is required. The smaller bonds should be set square

and flush with the rest of the wall; but the others should project from the façade like

cornices. And their extremely long and wide stones should be set exactly level, and

well connected between courses, so that those above cover the ones below like a pave-

ment. This is how the stones should be laid: each fresh stone should be laid to fit

tightly and neatly on those below, its center resting immediately above their joint and its

surface spread evenly over the two. Although this pattern of laying stones should be

practiced throughout the work, it is even more important that it is followed in bonds of

this kind. . . .

When constructing the cornice, none of the rules for bonds that we have so far

mentioned should be overlooked, since it, too, binds the wall tightly together: only the

firmest stone should be included, the blocks should be extremely long and wide, the joints

continuous and well formed, and each course laid perfectly level and square as required.

Its position demands that the cornice be treated with a great deal of care and attention,

in that it binds the work together at a point where it is most likely to give way, and in

addition acts as a roof to the wall below. Hence the saying: For walls of unbaked brick

make a cornice of baked brick; this will cover and protect them from the damage of rain

dripping from rooftops and eaves. For this reason ensure that every sort of wall is made

with a firm cornice, serving as a covering, to prevent damage by rain. . . .

Enough about the wall; I come now to the roof. . . .


Some roofs are exposed to the sky and others not; of these some may be composed of

straight lines, others of curved ones, and others of a mixture of the two. A further dis-



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tinction, which is appropriate here, is that a roof may be built either of timber or of stone.

We shall begin our discussion by establishing exactly which features are common to the

design of all roofs. They are the bones, muscles, infill paneling, skin, and crust, and can

be recognized in any roof just as in any wall. . . .

To begin with timber roofs composed of straight lines. In order to support the roof

it is necessary to lay strong beams spanning from wall to wall. And, as we have just

mentioned, there is no doubt that beams are columns laid crossways. Where bones should

be, there is a beam. But, if finance permitted it, would not anyone prefer to make the

work as strong as possible, of solid bone, so to speak, by making the columns continuous

and linking all the beams together? We must take costs into account, however, and reckon

anything that can be dispensed with without impairing the structural stability of the

work superfluous. Therefore spaces are left between the beams, then cross-beams are

added, and from these span the lathing and anything else similar. Each of these can

quite acceptably be considered ligaments. To these are added planks, or wider boards,

which surely take the place of infill paneling.Equally, the pavement or the tiling undeniably

serves as the outside skin, whereas the ceiling above our heads serves as the inside one.

. . .

The beam must be perfectly intact and sound, quite free of any defect, especially

midway along its length. If you position your ear at one end, and the other end is struck

several ringing blows that sound dull and flat, this is a sure indication that the inside is

diseased. Any beam containing knots should be rejected, especially if the knots are

frequent or clustered together. The part closest to the marrow should be planed and laid

upwards, whereas the lower surface of the beam should be stripped of bark or planed as

little as possible. But any side with any defect running across it should be set on top. If

any side has a crack running right down its length, it should not be left as one of the vertical

surfaces, but be made the top or better the bottom. If you need to bore through a beam

or perhaps to make notches in it, spare the central part of its length, and do not harm the

lower surface. . . .

If, however, the trees are too small to make a complete beam out of a single trunk,

join several together into a composite beam, in such a manner that they acquire the

inherent strength of an arch, that is, so that the load will not compress the upper line of

the composite beam nor stretch the lower line, which should act like a cord, to hold the

trunks in tension, their opposing faces notched into one another. . . .

I shall now turn to the covering of the roof. If I judge correctly, surely the most

ancient function of the whole building was to provide a shelter from the burning sun and

the storms raging down from heaven. And it is not the wall, nor the area, nor any other

part that is responsible for maintaining this service for you, but primarily, as must be

obvious, the outer membrane of the roof; yet, despite all the determination and skill that

man has invested in his attempt to strengthen and reinforce it against the assaults of

the weather, he has scarcely succeeded in protecting it as much as necessity demands.

Nor do I imagine that this would be easy, faced as it is with the unremitting barrage not



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only of rain but also of ice and heat, and, most harmful of all, wind. Could anyone possibly

hold out against enemies so relentless and so fierce for any great length of time? As a

result, some decay straightaway, others crumble, others weigh down the wall, others split

and fall apart, and others are washed away, so that no metal, however invincible it might

otherwise prove against the ravages of the weather, could here possibly endure so

continuous an onslaught. . . .

Nevertheless, of all the techniques man has tried, his wit and energy have yet to

discover anything more suitable than earthenware tiles. Frost will cause paviors’ work

to roughen, split, and settle; lead melts under the heat of the sun; copper, if laid in heavy

plates, is costly, and if thin, may be damaged by the wind, and worn and eaten away by

verdigris. . . .

There are two kinds of tile: one is flat, measuring a foot in width by a cubit in length,

with a rough ridge on either side a ninth of the width; the other is curved like the greaves

that protect the legs; both are wider where they receive the flowing rain and narrower

where they throw it off. But flat tiles are better, in that they can be joined in line and

perfectly level without dipping on one side, and without any valleys, ridges, gaps, or

anything to obstruct the rain as it runs off. If the surface of the roof covers a vast expanse,

larger tiles will be required; otherwise the channels will be insufficient and the rivulets of

rainwater will overflow. To prevent gales from dislodging the tiles, I would recommend

that, particularly in public works, they be set firm in a bed of lime. In private ones, though,

it will be sufficient simply to reinforce the guttering against the wind, in that it is easier

to repair broken tiles, if they are not bedded.

There is another very suitable type of roof covering. With wooden roofs, instead

of boarding, earthenware panels are fixed with gypsum to the transverse lathing; on

top of these are laid plain-tiles held in position with lime. This produces a work with great

resistance to fire, and one that is extremely convenient for the inhabitants; it will be even

cheaper if, instead of panels, Greek reeds are laid and held down with lime.

Tiles that are to be fixed with lime, especially those for public works, should not be

used until they have been exposed to the frost and sun for at least two years; if a weak

one is laid in position, it cannot be removed without a great deal of effort. . . .


I now come to deal with the pavement, since it shares the same characteristics as

the roof. Some are exposed to the sky, some are built of composite beams, and others

not. But in each case the surface onto which they are laid must be solid and exact in its


A surface exposed to the sky should have a fall of at least two inches in every

ten feet. It should be so designed that the water running off is either collected in cisterns

or drawn off into drains. If the water cannot be emptied into the sea or a river, find suit-

able places to dig wells deep enough to reach running water, then fill up the holes

with pebbles. If even this is not possible, the final advice is to make a generous pit, throw



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in some coal, then fill it up with sand. This will absorb and remove any superfluous


If the area consists of piled-up earth, it must be leveled off accurately and covered

with a layer of rubble rammed into place. But if the surface has a composite timber base,

then further boarding should be laid crossways, rammed down, and covered with rubble

to a depth of one foot. Some think that a layer of broom or fern should be laid as a base

to prevent damage to the timber from its coming into contact with any lime. If the rubble

is new, mix it three parts to one with lime; if old, five to two. Once it has been laid, it must

be consolidated by being continually beaten with beetles. A pulp consisting of crushed

tiles mixed three to one with sand is then laid over this to a depth of six inches. Finally,

arrangements of marble or herringbone tiles or mosaic should be laid on top, in line and

level. The work will be better protected if a layer of tiles bonded with lime, soaked in oil,

is set between the hardcore and the dough. . . .

Pavements rejoice in being laid in damp and humid conditions, and remain stronger

and more intact in the shade and the damp. They are most vulnerable to infirm soil,

and also to being dried out too quickly. Just as the earth in the fields, which hardens

with continual rain, likewise pavements, if they are kept saturated, will be welded

together into a single, complete solid. Wherever rain drips from the drainpipes of the

roof onto the pavement, the crust must be made of sound and very solid stone, to prevent

the continual malice, so to speak, of the falling drops from wearing away and impairing


With pavements laid on top of framed wooden floors, care must be taken to ensure

that the bones that provide the support are robust enough and that they all have the

same strength. Otherwise, if any point in a wall or beam is stronger than the rest, there

the pavement will split and be damaged. The strength and vitality of timber does not

always remain constant, but varies with the conditions: timber will soften in the damp,

but it will regain its rigidity and strength in the dry; and so, clearly, if any of the weaker

parts strain and subside under the weight, the pavement will split. But enough on this


There is, however, one pertinent consideration that I would not wish to pass over.

The digging of the foundations and their infilling, the raising of the wall and the laying

of the covering, should all be conducted at different times of the year and under different

climatic conditions. The best moment to dig foundations is at the time of the Dog Star

or during autumn itself, when the ground is dry and there is no water to flow into

the trenches to impede the work. It is not at all unsuitable to fill in the foundations at

the beginning of spring, especially if they are deep, as the earth will stand by and

give them sufficient protection from the heat of the summer. The beginning of winter,

however, is by far the best time to fill them in, except in polar regions and other cold

places, where they will immediately freeze rather than set. The wall also dislikes excessive

heat, biting cold, sudden frost, and, above all, northerly winds. The vault prefers an even

and temperate climate, until the work has gained sufficient strength and has hardened.



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The most opportune time to set the outer shell is at the rising of the Pleiades, and, in

general, any period when Auster is blowing strong and full of moisture, because if the

surface to which you apply the skin or rendering is not thoroughly damp, it will not adhere,

but will peel, tear, and come away everywhere, leaving the work disfigured and full

of blemishes.



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4. Leon Battista Alberti, as quoted

in David M. Levin, Modernity and the Hegemony of Vision (Berkeley: University of

California Press, 1993), 64.


First Published in 1996


It is evident that the architecture of traditional cultures is also essentially connected with

the tacit wisdom of the body, instead of being visually and conceptually dominated.

Construction in traditional cultures is guided by the body in the same way that a bird

shapes its nest by movements of its body. Indigenous clay and mud architectures in various

parts of the world seem to be born of the muscular and haptic senses more than the eye.

We can even identify the transition of indigenous construction from the haptic realm

into the control of vision as a loss of plasticity and intimacy, and of the sense of total

fusion characteristic in the settings of indigenous cultures.

The dominance of the sense of vision pointed out in philosophical thought is equally

evident in the development of Western architecture. Greek architecture, with its elaborate

systems of optical corrections, was already ultimately refined for the pleasure of the eye.

However, the privileging of sight does not necessarily imply a rejection of the other senses,

as the haptic sensibility, materiality and authoritative weight of Greek architecture prove;

the eye invites and stimulates muscular and tactile sensations. The sense of sight may

incorporate, and even reinforce, other sense modalities; the unconscious tactile ingredient

in vision is particularly important and strongly present in historical architecture, but badly

neglected in the architecture of our time.

Western architectural theory since Leon Battista Alberti has been primarily engaged

with questions of visual perception, harmony and proportion. Alberti’s statement that

“painting is nothing but the intersection of the visual pyramid following a given distance,

a fixed centre and a certain lighting” outlines the perspectival paradigm which also became

the instrument of architectural thinking.4 Again, it has to be emphasised that the conscious

focusing on the mechanics of vision did not automatically result in the decisive and

deliberate rejection of other senses before our own era of the omnipresent visual image.

The eye conquers its hegemonic role in architectural practice, both consciously and

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unconsciously, only gradually with the emergence of the idea of a bodiless observer. The

observer becomes detached from an incarnate relation with the environment through

the suppression of the other senses, in particular by means of technological extensions

of the eye, and the proliferation of images. As Marx W. Wartofsky argues, “the human

vision is itself an artifact, produced by other artifacts, namely pictures.”5

The dominant sense of vision figures strongly in the writings of the modernists.

Statements by Le Corbusier—such as: “I exist in life only if I can see”;6 “I am and I remain

an impenitent visual—everything is in the visual”;7 “One needs to see clearly in order to

understand”;8 “. . . I urge you to open your eyes. Do you open your eyes? Are you trained to open your eyes? Do you know how to open your eyes, do you open them often, always,

well?”;9 “Man looks at the creation of architecture with his eyes, which are 5 feet 6 inches

from the ground”;10 and, “Architecture is a plastic thing. I mean by ‘plastic’ what is seen

and measured by the eyes”11—make the privileging of the eye in early modernist theory

very clear. Further declarations by Walter Gropius—“He [the designer] has to adapt

knowledge of the scientific facts of optics and thus obtain a theoretical ground that will

guide the hand giving shape, and create an objective basis”12—and by Laszlo Moholy-

Nagy—“The hygiene of the optical, the health of the visible is slowly filtering through”13—

confirm the central role of vision in modernist thought.

Le Corbusier’s famous credo, “Architecture is the masterly, correct and magnificent

play of masses brought together in light,”14 unquestionably defines an architecture of

the eye. Le Corbusier, however, was a great artistic talent with a moulding hand, and a

tremendous sense of materiality, plasticity and gravity, all of which prevented his

architecture from turning into sensory reductivism. Regardless of Le Corbusier’s Cartesian

ocularcentric exclamations, the hand had a similar fetishistic role in his work as the eye.

A vigorous element of tactility is present in Le Corbusier’s sketches and paintings, and

this haptic sensibility is incorporated into his regard for architecture. However, the reductive

bias becomes devastating in his urbanistic projects.

In Mies van der Rohe’s architecture a frontal perspectival perception predominates,

but his unique sense of order, structure, weight, detail and craft decisively enriches the

visual paradigm. Moreover, an architectural work is great precisely because of the oppo-

sitional and contradictory intentions and allusions it succeeds in fusing together. A tension

between conscious intentions and unconscious drives is necessary for a work in order to

open up the emotional participation of the observer. “In every case one must achieve a

simultaneous solution of opposites,” as Alvar Aalto wrote.15 The verbal statements of

artists and architects should not usually be taken at their face value, as they often merely

represent a conscious surface rationalisation, or defence, that may well be in sharp

contradiction with the deeper unconscious intentions giving the work its very life force.

With equal clarity, the visual paradigm is the prevailing condition in city planning,

from the idealised town plans of the Renaissance to the Functionalist principles of zoning

and planning that reflect the “hygiene of the optical.” In particular, the contemporary city

is increasingly the city of the eye, detached from the body by rapid motorised movement,



5. As quoted in Martin Jay,

Downcast Eyes: The Denigration of Vision in Twentieth-Century French Thought (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994), 5.

6. Le Corbusier, Precisions (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1991),


7. Pierre-Alain Crosset, “Eyes

Which See,” Casabella, 531–532 (1987): 115.

8. Le Corbusier, Precisions, 231. 9. Ibid., 227.

10. Le Corbusier, Towards a New Architecture (London: Architectural Press, 1959),


11. Ibid., 191.

12. Walter Gropius, Architektur (Frankfurt: Fischer, 1956),


13. As quoted in Susan Sontag, On Photography (New York: Penguin Books, 1986), 96.

14. Le Corbusier, Towards a New Architecture, 31.

15. Alvar Aalto, “Taide ja Tekniikka”

[Art and Technology], in Alvar Aalto: Luonnoksia [Sketches], eds. Alvar Aalto and Göran

Schildt (Helsinki: Otava, 1972),


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or through the overall aerial grasp from an airplane. The processes of planning have

favoured the idealising and disembodied Cartesian eye of control and detachment; city

plans are highly idealised and schematised visions seen through le regard surplombant

(the look from above), as defined by Jean Starobinski,16 or through “the mind’s eye” of


Until recently, architectural theory and criticism have been almost exclusively

engaged with the mechanisms of vision and visual expression. The perception and

experience of architectural form has most frequently been analysed through the gestalt

laws of visual perception. Educational philosophy has likewise understood architecture

primarily in terms of vision, emphasising the construction of three-dimensional visual

images in space.


The ocular bias has never been more apparent in the art of architecture than in the past

30 years, as a type of architecture, aimed at a striking and memorable visual image, has

predominated. Instead of an existentially grounded plastic and spatial experience,

architecture has adopted the psychological strategy of advertising and instant persuasion;

buildings have turned into image products detached from existential depth and sincerity.

David Harvey relates “the loss of temporality and the search for instantaneous

impact” in contemporary expression to the loss of experiential depth.17 Fredric Jameson

uses the notion of “contrived depthlessness” to describe the contemporary cultural con-

dition and “its fixation with appearances, surfaces and instant impacts that have no

sustaining power over time.”18

As a consequence of the current deluge of images, architecture of our time often

appears as mere retinal art of the eye, thus completing an epistemological cycle that

began in Greek thought and architecture. But the change goes beyond mere visual

dominance; instead of being a situational bodily encounter, architecture has become an

art of the printed image fixed by the hurried eye of the camera. In our culture of pictures,

the gaze itself flattens into a picture and loses its plasticity. Instead of experiencing our

being in the world, we behold it from outside as spectators of images projected on the

surface of the retina. David Michael Levin uses the term “frontal ontology” to describe

the prevailing frontal, fixated and focused vision.19

Susan Sontag has made perceptive remarks on the role of the photographed image

in our perception of the world. She writes, for instance, of a “mentality which looks at the

world as a set of potential photographs,”20 and argues that “the reality has come to seem

more and more what we are shown by camera,”21 and that “the omnipresence of pho-

tographs has an incalculable effect on our ethical sensibility. By furnishing this already

crowded world with a duplicate one of images, photography makes us feel that the world

is more available than it really is.”22

As buildings lose their plasticity, and their connection with the language and

wisdom of the body, they become isolated in the cool and distant realm of vision. With



16. As quoted in Jay, Downcast Eyes, 19.

17. David Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity (Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 1990),


18. Fredric Jameson, as quoted in

ibid., 58.

19. Levin, Modernity, 203. 20. Sontag, On Photography, 7. 21. Ibid., 16.

22. Ibid., 24.

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the loss of tactility, measures and details crafted for the human body—and particularly

for the hand—architectural structures become repulsively flat, sharp-edged, immaterial

and unreal. The detachment of construction from the realities of matter and craft further

turns architecture into stage sets for the eye, into a scenography devoid of the authenticity

of matter and construction. The sense of “aura,” the authority of presence, that Walter

Benjamin regards as a necessary quality for an authentic piece of art, has been lost. These

products of instrumentalised technology conceal their processes of construction, appear-

ing as ghostlike apparitions. The increasing use of reflective glass in architecture reinforces

the dreamlike sense of unreality and alienation. The contradictory opaque transparency

of these buildings reflects the gaze back unaffected and unmoved; we are unable to see

or imagine life behind these walls. The architectural mirror, that returns our gaze and

doubles the world, is an enigmatic and frightening device.


The flatness of today’s standard construction is strengthened by a weakened sense of

materiality. Natural materials—stone, brick and wood—allow our vision to penetrate their

surfaces and enable us to become convinced of the veracity of matter. Natural materials

express their age and history, as well as the story of their origins and their history of human

use. All matter exists in the continuum of time; the patina of wear adds the enriching

experience of time to the materials of construction. But the machine-made materials of

today—scaleless sheets of glass, enamelledmetals and synthetic plastics—tend to present

their unyielding surfaces to the eye without conveying their material essence or age.

Buildings of this technological age usually deliberately aim at ageless perfection, and they

do not incorporate the dimension of time, or the unavoidable and mentally significant

processes of aging. This fear of the traces of wear and age is related to our fear of death.

Transparency and sensations of weightlessness and flotation are central themes

in modern art and architecture. In recent decades, a new architectural imagery has

emerged, which employs reflection, gradations of transparency, overlay and juxtaposition

to create a sense of spatial thickness, as well as subtle and changing sensations of

movement and light. This new sensibility promises an architecture that can turn the relative

immateriality and weightlessness of recent technological construction into a positive

experience of space, place and meaning.

The weakening of the experience of time in today’s environments has devastating

mental effects. In the words of the American therapist Gotthard Booth, “nothing gives

man fuller satisfaction than participation in processes that supersede the span of individual

life.”23 We have a mental need to grasp that we are rooted in the continuity of time,

and in the man-made world it is the task of architecture to facilitate this experience.

Architecture domesticates limitless space and enables us to inhabit it, but it should likewise

domesticate endless time and enable us to inhabit the continuum of time.

The current over-emphasis on the intellectual and conceptual dimensions of

architecture contributes to the disappearance of its physical, sensual and embodied



23. From a conversation with

Professor Keijo Petäjä in the

early 1980s; the source is


Introducing Arch Theory-01-c 7/12/11 13:24 Page 128



essence. Contemporary architecture posing as the avant-garde, is more often engaged

with the architectural discourse itself and mapping the possible marginal territories of the

art than responding to human existential questions. This reductive focus gives rise to a

sense of architectural autism, an internalised and autonomous discourse that is not

grounded in our shared existential reality.

Beyond architecture, contemporary culture at large drifts towards a distancing, a

kind of chilling de-sensualisation and de-eroticisation of the human relation to reality.

Painting and sculpture also seem to be losing their sensuality; instead of inviting a sensory

intimacy, contemporary works of art frequently signal a distancing rejection of sensuous

curiosity and pleasure. These works of art speak to the intellect and to the conceptualising

capacities instead of addressing the senses and the undifferentiated embodied responses.

The ceaseless bombardment of unrelated imagery leads only to a gradual emptying of

images of their emotional content. Images are converted into endless commodities

manufactured to postpone boredom; humans in turn are commodified, consuming

themselves nonchalantly without having the courage or even the possibility of confronting

their very existential reality. We are made to live in a fabricated dream world.

I do not wish to express a conservative view of contemporary art in the tone of

Hans Sedlmayr’s thought-provoking but disturbing book Art in Crisis.24 I merely suggest that a distinct change has occurred in our sensory and perceptual experience of the world,

one that is reflected by art and architecture. If we desire architecture to have an

emancipating or healing role, instead of reinforcing the erosion of existential meaning,

we must reflect on the multitude of secret ways in which the art of architecture is tied to

the cultural and mental reality of its time. We should also be aware of the ways in which

the feasibility of architecture is being threatened or marginalised by current political,

cultural, economic, cognitive, and perceptual developments. Architecture has become

an endangered art form.


The eye itself has not, of course, remained in the monocular, fixed construction defined

by Renaissance theories of perspective. The hegemonic eye has conquered new ground

for visual perception and expression. The paintings of Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter

Bruegel, for instance, already invite a participatory eye to travel across the scenes of

multiple events. The 17th-century Dutch paintings of bourgeois life present casual scenes

and objects of everyday use which expand beyond the boundaries of Albertian window.

Baroque paintings open up vision with hazy edges, soft focus and multiple perspectives,

presenting a distinct, tactile invitation and enticing the body to travel through the illusory


An essential line in the evolution of modernity has been the liberation of the eye

from the Cartesian perspectival epistemology. The paintings of Joseph Mallord William

Turner continue the elimination of the picture frame and the vantage point begun in the

Baroque era; the Impressionists abandon the boundary line, balanced framing and



24. Hans Sedlmayr, Art in Crisis: The Lost Centre (London: Hollis & Carter, 1957).

Introducing Arch Theory-01-c 7/12/11 13:24 Page 129



perspectival depth; Paul Cézanne aspires “to make visible how the world touches us”;25

Cubists abandon the single focal point, reactivate peripheral vision and reinforce haptic

experience, whereas the colour field painters reject illusory depth in order to reinforce

the presence of the painting itself as an iconic artifact and an autonomous reality. Land

artists fuse the reality of the work with the reality of the lived world, and finally, artists

such as Richard Serra directly address the body as well as our experiences of horizontality

and verticality, materiality, gravity and weight.

The same countercurrent against the hegemony of the perspectival eye has taken

place in modern architecture regardless of the culturally privileged position of vision. The

kinesthetic and textural architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright, the muscular and tactile

buildings of Alvar Aalto, and Louis Kahn’s architecture of geometry and gravitas are

particularly significant examples of this.


Perhaps, freed of the implicit desire of the eye for control and power, it is precisely the

unfocused vision of our time that is again capable of opening up new realms of vision

and thought. The loss of focus brought about by the stream of images may emancipate

the eye from its patriarchal domination and give rise to a participatory and empathetic

gaze. The technological extensions of the senses have until now reinforced the primacy

of vision, but the new technologies may also help “the body . . . to dethrone the disin-

terested gaze of the disincarnated Cartesian spectator.”26

Martin Jay remarks: “In opposition to the lucid, linear, solid, fixed, planimetric, closed

form of the Renaissance . . . the baroque was painterly, recessional, soft-focused, multiple,

and open.”27 He also argues that the “baroque visual experience has a strongly tactile or

haptic quality, which prevents it from turning into the absolute ocularcentrism of its

Cartesian perspectivalist rival.”28

The haptic experience seems to be penetrating the ocular regime again through

the tactile presence of modern visual imagery. In a music video, for instance, or the layered

contemporary urban transparency, we cannot halt the flow of images for analytic

observation; instead we have to appreciate it as an enhanced haptic sensation, rather

like a swimmer senses the flow of water against his/her skin.

In his thorough and thought-provoking book The Opening of Vision: Nihilism and the Postmodern Situation, David Michael Levin differentiates between two modes of vision: “the assertoric gaze” and “the aletheic gaze.”29 In his view, the assertoric gaze is

narrow, dogmatic, intolerant, rigid, fixed, inflexible, exclusionary and unmoved, whereas

the aletheic gaze, associated with the hermeneutic theory of truth, tends to see from

a multiplicity of standpoints and perspectives, and is multiple, pluralistic, democratic,

contextual, inclusionary, horizontal and caring.30 As suggested by Levin, there are signs

that a new mode of looking is emerging.

Although the new technologies have strengthened the hegemony of vision, they

may also help to re-balance the realms of the senses. In Walter Ong’s view, “with telephone,



25. Maurice Merleau-Ponty,

“Cezanne’s Doubt,” in Sense and Non-Sense (Evanston: Northwestern University Press,

1964), 19.

26. Jay, in Hal Foster, Vision and Visuality (Seattle: Bay Press, 1988), 18.

27. Ibid., 16.

28. Ibid., 17.

29. David M. Levin, The Opening of Vision—Nihilism and the Postmodern Situation (New York: Routledge, 1988), 440.

30. Ibid.

Introducing Arch Theory-01-c 7/12/11 13:24 Page 130



radio, television and various kinds of sound tape, electronic technology has brought us

into the age of ‘secondary orality.’ This new orality has striking resemblances to the old

in its participatory mystique, its fostering of communal sense, its concentration on the

present moment.”31

“We in the Western world are beginning to discover our neglected senses. This

growing awareness represents something of an overdue insurgency against the painful

deprivation of sensory experience we have suffered in our technologised world,” writes

the anthropologist Ashley Montagu.32 This new awareness is forcefully projected by

numerous architects around the world today who are attempting to re-sensualise

architecture through a strengthened sense of materiality and hapticity, texture and weight,

density of space and materialised light.



31. Walter J. Ong, Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word (London: Methuen & Co., 1982), 136.

32. Ashley Montagu, Touching: The Human Significance of the Skin, 3rd Ed. (New York: Harper Paperbacks, 1986),

XIII. First published in 1971.

Introducing Arch Theory-01-c 7/12/11 13:24 Page 131




33. Jonathan Hill, Actions of Architecture: Architects and Creative Users (London: Routledge, 2003), 2.


First Published in 2006


The view from my first home extended across fields for three miles to the north. In the

distance was a row of electricity pylons. Against the familiar grey sky the grey pylons

were invisible. Very occasionally, when light chanced on steel, the pylons would briefly

flicker and then disappear. Physically unchanging, the pylons were as seasonal as the


For many an architect or writer, ideas and concerns evolve over time, from project

to project. Strategies, forms and materials that first appear in one design develop

and mutate in another. Characters, narratives and events that first appear in one book

grow and change in another. In Actions of Architecture: Architects and Creative Users I write:

The word architecture has a number of meanings. For example, it is a subject,

practice, and a certain type of object and space, typically the building in the city.

. . . I consider each of these definitions but focus on another: architecture is a certain

type of object and space used. Within the term “use” I include the full range of ways

in which buildings and cities are experienced, such as habit, distraction and


Architecture is expected to be solid, stable and reassuring—physically, socially and

psychologically. Bound to each other, the architectural and the material are considered

inseparable. But Immaterial Architecture states that the immaterial is as important to architecture as the material and has as long a history. . . .

There are many ways to understand immaterial architecture. As an idea, a formless

phenomenon, a technological development towards lightness, a tabula rasa of a capitalist economy, a gradual loss of architecture’s moral weight and certitude or a programmatic

Introducing Arch Theory-01-c 7/12/11 13:24 Page 132



focus on actions rather than forms. I recognize each of these models but concentrate on

another. Focusing on immaterial architecture as the perceived absence of matter more

than the actual absence of matter,34 I devise new means to explore old concerns: the

creativity of the architect and the user. The user decides whether architecture is immaterial.

But the architect, or any other architectural producer, creates material conditions in which

that decision can be made. . . .

Immaterial Architecture advocates an architecture that fuses the immaterial and the material, and considers its consequences, challenging preconceptions about

architecture, its practice, purpose, matter and use . . . so that they are in conjunction not

opposition. . . .



Western discourse depends on the binary opposition of terms—one superior, the other

inferior—that are assumed to be separate and distinct, one “external to the other,”35 such as immaterial philosophy and material architecture. But such terms are in fact inter-

dependent and inseparable, undermining dualistic discourse. Architecture is built into

philosophy, whether in spatial metaphors such as interior and exterior or in references to

philosophical discourse as a sound edifice built on solid foundations. But to protect its

status philosophy must conceal its dependence on architecture. Philosophy “attempts to

subordinate architecture precisely because it is so indebted to it. Philosophical discourse

is only able to preserve the image of architecture with which it organizes and describes

itself by veiling its indebtedness to that image,” writes Wigley.36

Hidden within one another, the terms material and immaterial blur and slip,

questioning other terms such as intellectual and manual, form and formless, real and

virtual. One familiar meaning of the immaterial refers to the realm of ideas. Few people

today agree with Plato that matter is modelled on ideal forms, but associating the

immaterial with the intellectual is common. Countering Plato’s coupling of ideas and

forms the immaterial is sometimes associated with the formless, from which some

of its fascination derives. But the formless is not absence of order, it is order that is


My concern is not the immaterial alone or the immaterial in opposition to the

material. Instead, I advocate an architecture that embraces the immaterial and the

material. Since the eighteenth century ideas have more often been grounded in experience

and interpretations have more often been personal. The immaterial architecture I propose

is less the absence of matter than the perceived absence of matter.38 Whether architecture

is immaterial is dependent on perception, which involves creative interpretation, fictions

rather than facts. Gregory writes that “visual and other perception is intelligent decision-

taking from limited sensory evidence. The essential point is that sensory signals are not

adequate for direct or certain perceptions, so intelligent guesswork is needed for seeing



34. In this book I mostly use the

familiar architectural

understanding of matter as a

material rather than matter as

energy, which is discussed in

“Chapter 2: Hunting the


35. Jaques Derrida, Of Grammatology, trans. Gayatri Chakravorti (Baltimore: Johns

Hopkins University Press,

1976), 157.

36. Mark Wigley, The Architecture of Deconstruction: Derrida’s Haunt (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1995), 14.

37. Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1966) 104.

38. Explored especially in “Index

of Immaterial Architectures.”

Introducing Arch Theory-01-c 7/12/11 13:24 Page 133



objects.”39 Consequently, permeated by memory, “perceptions are hypotheses. This is sug-

gested by the fact that retinal images are open to an infinity of interpretations.”40 Binding

immaterial architecture to perception focuses attention on the “capacity to just perceive

one perceiving”41 and the relations between architectural objects, spaces and users.

Pallasmaa writes that “Instead of mere vision . . . architecture involves realms of

sensory experience which interact and fuse into each other.”42 The appreciation of

immaterial architecture is especially complex, and a challenge to the familiar experience

of architecture.43 The richness of the user’s experience of any building depends on

awareness of all the senses, but immaterial architecture may trigger a sense more often

associated with the immaterial, such as smell, and question one more often associated

with the material, such as touch. The experience of immaterial architecture is based

on contradictory sensations, and is appropriate to an active and creative engagement

with architecture. The complexity of the whole experience depends upon the user’s

interpretation of what is present and absent. To experience the full character of the

juxtaposition requires, therefore, an understanding of the conflict, whether pleasurable

or not, and speculation on an imagined space or object.44


The statement “All that is solid melts into air” encapsulates the force of a capitalist society

that, in expanding cycles of destruction, production and consumption, undermines all that

is assumed to be solid, such as the home.45 But in undermining the safety of the home,

a capitalist society feeds desire for a home that is evermore safe. Sibley argues that while

the apparent stability of the home may provide gratification it can also, simultaneously,

create anxiety because the security and spatial purification the home offers can never

be fully achieved. Often the consequence is an increasingly intense need for stability not

an awareness of its limits: “Generally, anxieties are expressed in the desire to erect and

maintain spatial and temporal boundaries. Strong boundary consciousness can be

interpreted as a desire to be in control and to exclude the unfamiliar because the unfamiliar

is a source of unease rather than something to be celebrated.”46 Referring to Sigmund

Freud’s 1919 essay on the uncanny, Sibley adds that “this striving for the safe, the familiar

or heimlich fails to remove a sense of unease. I would argue that it makes it worse.”47

However, Freud offers another meaning of heimlich: “Concealed, kept from sight, so that others do not get to know about it.”48 Striving for the familiar is ineffective because the

home can never be safe enough and the heimlich is not what it seems. Heynen writes:

It is not without reason that dwelling is the key metaphor that Freud uses in his

reflection on the uncanny. According to Freud, the most uncanny experience occurs

in environment that is more familiar to us, for the experience of the uncanny has

to do with the intertwining of heimlich (what is of the house, but also what is hidden)

and unheimlich (what is not of the house, what is therefore in a strange way

unconcealed yet concealed).49



39. Richard Gregory, Eye and Brain: The Psychology of Seeing (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 5.

40. Ibid., 10.

41. Richard Andrews and Chris

Bruce, “1992 Interview with

James Turrell,” in James Turrell: Sensing Space, eds. Richard Andrews and Chris Bruce

(Seattle: University of

Washington Henry Art Gallery,

1992), 48.

42. Juhani Pallasmaa, The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses (London: Academy Editions, 1996), 29.

43. Use can be a reaction to habit,

result from the knowledge

learned through habit, or be

based on habit, on a conscious

and evolving deviation from

established behaviour.

44. For a discussion of the

juxtaposition of the senses,

refer to “Index of Immaterial

Architecture: Nordic Light” and


45. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels,

“Manifesto of the Communist

Party,” in Marx-Engels Reader, 2nd Ed., ed. Robert Tucker (New York: W. W. Norton &

Co., 1978), 476.

46. David Sibley, “Comfort Anxiety

and Space,” in Architecture— the Subject is Matter, ed. Jonathan Hill (London:

Routledge, 2001), 108.

47. Ibid., 115.

48. Sigmund Freud, “The

‘Uncanny’,” in The Standard Edition, trans. Alix Strachey (New York: Vintage, 1999),

233. First published in 1919.

This is a quotation from a

dictionary, Daniel Sanders,

Wörtenbuch der Deutschen Sprache, 1860.

49. Hilde Heynen, Architecture and Modernity: A Critique (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1999),


Introducing Arch Theory-01-c 7/12/11 13:24 Page 134



The uncanny is experienced when something familiar is repressed but returns as unex-

pected and unfamiliar.50 One is at home but out of place.

Sibley does not reject all attempts to construct a stable order. Instead he argues

for the merits of both defined boundaries and spatial porosity. As an example he considers

the child’s experience of the home. He writes that the:

negative view of strongly classified environments fails to take account of evidence

from research in group therapy that children (and adults) need firm boundaries in

order to develop a secure sense of self. If members of a family “live in each other’s

laps,” in a boundary-less, weakly classified home, or they are “enmeshed” as Salvador

Minuchin put it, there is a danger that children, in particular, will not develop a sense

of autonomy.51

When it is identified with the formless, the immaterial is associated with all that appears

to threaten society, architecture and the home, whether insidious disorder inside or lurking

danger outside. But the threat of the immaterial is imagined as much as it is real. The

desire for an architecture that is safe and secure can never be fulfilled. Instead, it may

increase anxiety and further desire for an architecture that is evermore safe. Replacing a

static and material architecture with one that is fluid and immaterial is no solution,

however. Instead, compatibility between the spaces of a home and the habits of its

occupants is desirable. A tightly structured group of people occupying a loose spatial

configuration will create tension and anxiety, as will the opposite. However, matching

users to spatial configurations fails to take account of changing users and changing

needs.52 Instead, a home must have the potential to be both spatially tight and loose. To

accommodate evolving conceptions of the individual and society architecture must

engage the material and the immaterial, the static and the fluid, the solid and the porous.

An architecture that is immaterial and spatially porous, as well as solid and stable where

necessary, will not change established habits. Rather it may offer those habits greater



The practice of architects is expected to be as solid and reassuring as their buildings.

With regard to immaterial architecture, therefore, architects are understandably cautious.

An architect who persuades a client of the merits of an architecture that is insubstantial

and unpredictable still faces numerous difficulties to see it built, such as building regu-

lations and contractual liability. On a more fundamental note, immaterial architecture

revels in qualities—the subjective, unpredictable, porous and ephemeral—that are con-

trary to the solid, objective and respectable practice expected of a professional.

The stability of architects’ practice is a myth, however. Cousins states that the

discipline of architecture is weak because it involves not just objects but relations between

subjects and objects.54 As the discipline of architecture is weak, so too is the practice of



50. The uncanny is a perception

not a property of a space.

51. Sibley, “Comfort Anxiety and

Space,” 116; and Salvador

Minuchin, Families and Family Therapy (London: Tavistock, 1974).

52. One failing of functionalism is

that it assumes that needs do

not change.

53. Discussed further in “Index of

Immaterial Architectures.”

54. Mark Cousins, “Building an

Architect,” in Occupying Architecture, ed. Jonathan Hill (London: Routledge, 1998),


Introducing Arch Theory-01-c 7/12/11 13:24 Page 135



architects. But, weak is not pejorative here. Rather it is the strength to be fluid, flexible and

open to conflicting perceptions and opinions. The practice of architects needs to con-

fidently reflect the nature of the architectural discipline. Architecture must be immaterial

and spatially porous, as well as solid and stable where necessary; and so should the practice

of architects.

In this book I refer to the architect caught between the immaterial idea and the

material object, the creative artist and the solid professional. In the discourse and practice

of architects, the older meaning of design, as drawing ideas, and the newer meaning of

design, as drawing appliances, are both in evidence, except that ideas are now under-

stood as provisional not universal. Professionalism fits the newer conception of design in

particular, and is less compatible with design as it was first conceived. A profession’s claim

to a monopoly depends upon superior expertise and competence; it is neither expected

nor paid to generate ideas. But the architectural profession is unusual in that it claims to

be innovative. Architects’ claim that only they produce buildings that deserve to be called

architecture uncomfortably fuses the desires of an artist and the needs of a professional.

Other architectural producers, such as artists, are as dependent on the status of immaterial

ideas but may face less pressure to produce solid objects from a solid practice. Immaterial

architecture is an especially poignant and rewarding challenge for architects because it

forcefully confronts what they practice and produce.


In the Renaissance the building was connected to the immaterial through the ideas it

presented, which had much to do with form and little to do with matter. Weston remarks

that later “The Classical view that forms were independent of matter was no longer

tenable, and from the early eighteenth century onwards scientists and engineers began

to devote increasing attention to understanding and quantifying properties of materials.”55

In the nineteenth century the assumption that a particular tectonic language is innate

within each material became familiar in architectural discourse. Semper was particularly

influential in its development: “In the first place, every work of art should reflect in its

appearance, as it were, the material as physical matter . . . In this way we may speak of

a wood style, a brick style, an ashlar style, and so forth.”56 Giving it positive value and an

active role, Semper undermines the long philosophical tradition that disregards matter.

Influenced by Semper, Loos states that “Every material possesses its own language of

forms, and none may lay claim for itself to the forms of another material.”57 However,

Loos’ discourse on the relations between materials and forms is reductive in comparison

to that of Semper, who stresses the transfer of an idea from one material to another,

with some modification to both, to the point that “men in times of high artistic devel-

opment also masked the material of the mask”.58 Alois Riegl notes that “Wheras Semper did suggest that material and technique play a role in the genesis of art forms, the

Semperians jumped to the conclusion that all art forms were always the direct product

of materials and techniques.”59 Modernism encapsulates this simplification in the phrase



55. Richard Weston, Materials, Form and Architecture (London: Laurence King,

2003), 70.

56. Gottfried Semper, “On

Architectural Styles,” in The Four Elements of Architecture and Other Writings trans. Harry Francis Mallgrave and

Wolfgang Herrmann

(Cambridge: Cambridge

University Press, 1989), 269.

First published in 1851.

57. Adolf Loos, “The Principle of

Cladding,” in Spoken into the Void, trans. Jane O. Newman and John H. Smith

(Cambridge: MIT Press,

1987), 66.

58. Gottfried Semper, Der Stil in den Technischen und Tektonischen Künsten oder Praktische Ästhetik (Frankfurt: Verlag, 1860), 257.

59. Alois Riegl, Problems of Style: Foundations for a History of Ornament, trans. Evelyn Kain (Princeton: Princeton

University Press, 1992), 4.

Introducing Arch Theory-01-c 7/12/11 13:24 Page 136



“truth to materials.” Here the material speaks and the architect responds, as in Louis Kahn’s

remark—both comical and thoughtful—that “When you are designing in brick, you must

ask brick what it wants or what it can do.”60 Rather than coupling tectonics to materials,

I argue for the interdependence of the subject, method and matter of architecture. What

then are the subject, method and matter of an architectural book?

In Benjamin’s The Arcades Project, montage is the subject, method and matter.61

Unfinished at the time of his death, Benjamin initially intended to construct The Arcades Project from the juxtaposition of fragmentary quotations from the nineteenth century. His second 1935 draft is an example of ambiguous montage.62 With a grid of holes

punched through its pages front and back, Chora L Works: Jacques Derrida and Peter Eisenman explores the idea that the absence of material is not necessarily the same as the absence of meaning.63 The presence of holes is formed by the absence of paper.

Each hole marks the absence of a section of the text but not an absence in meaning

because the reader can either identify the missing word or select a new one. In “The Death

of the Author” Roland Barthes recognizes that the journey from author to text to reader

is never seamless or direct. Questioning the authority of the author, he states that reading

can be a creative activity that constructs a text anew, and argues for a writer aware of

the creativity of the reader.64 The Arcades Project, Chora L Works and “The Death of the Author” address the creative role of the reader in the formulation of the text through

the creation of gaps, interpretative and literal.65

Like other books this one is made of ink and paper. As my principal concern is the

perception of the material as immaterial, the immaterial is conjured forth not by a lighter

paper or holes cut into its surface but by the ideas of the reader, formulating immaterial

architectures from within and between the images and words juxtaposed on these pages.

The user decides whether architecture is immaterial. But the architect creates conditions

in which that decision can be made. Both are creative.



60. Richard S. Wurman, What Will Be Has Always Been: The Words of Louis I. Kahn (New York: Rizzoli, 1986), 152.

61. Matter here is a fragment of

information rather than a

fragment of paper.

62. Walter Benjamin, “Paris,

Capital of the Nineteenth

Century,” in Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writings, trans. Edmund Jephcott

(New York: Schocken, 1986),


63. Jaques Derrida and Peter

Eisenman, Chora L Works: Jaques Derrida and Peter Eisenman. (New York: Monacelli, 1997).

64. Roland Barthes, “The

Death of the Author,” in

Image-Music-Text, trans. Stephen Heath (New York: Hill

and Wang, 1977), 142–148.

65. The montage of gaps is

discussed in “Index of

Immaterial Architectures

Nordic Light.”

Introducing Arch Theory-01-c 7/12/11 13:24 Page 137




WWrriittiinngg aanndd DDiissccuussssiioonn QQuueessttiioonnss


1. What was Alberti arguing for and against? What excerpt/quotation best represents


2. What was Pallasmaa arguing for and against? What excerpt/quotation best

represents this?

3. What was Hill arguing for and against? What excerpt/quotation best represents



1. Regarding concepts of materiality and immateriality, discuss one major difference

regarding Alberti’s, Pallasmaa’s, and Hill’s texts.

2. Regarding concepts of materiality and immateriality, discuss one primary com-

monality regarding Alberti’s, Pallasmaa’s, and Hill’s texts.


1. For each of the texts, discuss a major issue with which you most agree and most

disagree; reflect upon why you hold these views.


Introducing Arch Theory-01-c 7/12/11 13:24 Page 138

What is the role of materiality and immateriality in architecture today? Is mate- riality and immateriality predominantly about the expression of material properties, the transformation of materials, human perception, or value judgments; some combination of these; or something else? In other words, if a fourth text were

added, what would the argument be?

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