theory cannot deliver the truth about architecture. Even in philosophy, the
status of truth as the absolute value and goal of the investigation has been
questioned since Nietzsche. Instead of a search for truth, philosophy was
for him a practice of demystification, unmasking and genealogy, ultimately
aiming at emancipation. And yet, Heidegger insisted that Nietzsche never
broke free from that which the Greek called ousia in its ordinary
sense of “the household”, namely the circle of the stable Bestand.
Heidegger’s own work, and that of Derrida, for example, attempt to free
thought from this residual domesticity. This may be achieved through a
critical close reading of traditional modes of thought, as in Derrida’s
deconstruction, or perhaps through the active creation of new concepts, as
Deleuze and Guattari promise – making Derrida grumble.
To destabilize ousia, rather than settle the truth about
architecture, appears to me as the real task of architectural theory. Of
general term “architectural theory” has been used to refer to at least three
radically different kinds of writing (and, occasionally, non-verbal projects
and buildings). I would characterize these three as design theory,
criticism, and the philosophy of architecture. Much of Le Corbusier’s
literary output can be called design theory: he attempts to formulate new
concepts in order to set rules and goals for design. Theory is used as
criticism when we attempt to understand what Le Corbusier really has done by
comparing his buildings with his writings, or the writings of other
architects. Colin Rowe’s observations about the resemblance of Corbusian
villas to Palladian ones would fall in this category. Finally, architectural
theory as a metatheory or as the philosophy and aesthetics of architecture
investigates the possibility of formulating design theories (the first kind
of theory) as well as the relationship between a theory and a building or
the intentions of the author and the work (the second type of theory) but
there are many other questions as well.
It is the third kind of theory that I see as indispensable.
As I see it, architectural theory in general does not have a method of its
own any more than philosophy, for example, has one – even though, of course,
particular theories can develop their own methodologies, such as for example
Bill Hillier’s ways of mapping the “social logic of space” or Douglas Graf’s
elaborate diagramming. Nor do I think that architectural theory has a
unified object of study. It appears to me that there is no stable discipline
of architecture, and any classification of (material or conceptual) objects
as architecture should be contested. The lack of method and object are in
fact the greatest resources of architectural theory in its critical and
emancipatory function, as they imply a lack of established ousidic
structure. Architectural theory is not at home anywhere, not even in
As a challenge to ousia within architecture, theory needs to expose
the domestic biases in the conceptualization and representation of
architecture from small scale structures to the city and beyond. Insofar as
we are talking about high architecture or architecture as art, I would
define a design for a building as architecture when it thematizes one or
more of its aspects to the degree that it makes a contribution to an
architectural discourse. In other contexts I have analyzed in some detail
how architecture in this sense is constructed, interpreted and evaluated.
On this basis, it is also possible to practice criticism as a form of
However, if we do not wish to concentrate on high architecture alone, theory
can also study what buildings (or the built environment as a whole) do to
people as a tentative definition of architecture in the broader sense. In
addition to being physical objects, buildings also organize human behavior,
protect property, create privacy and publicity, constitute particular kinds
of subjectivities, bring about social values and roles, affect exclusions;
they also communicate meanings and afford aesthetic experiences; finally,
they also have physiological effects, some of which are relevant to theory,
rather than medicine. To understand how buildings manage to do such things –
and many more – is a major challenge to theorists but it is a necessary step
if we wish to change any of these mechanisms.
Much of what buildings actually do to people is not clearly recognized. I
have attempted to articulate some principles of architectural performatives
or rituals which need to remain unconscious or at least unquestioned in
order to have any effect.
The connection between action and its architectural envelope remains
undertheorized, despite decades of environmental psychology. The more recent
introduction of cultural and gender studies into architecture may provide
some of the necessary tools to work out a theory between space, function,
activity, and subject.
Some of these results may necessitate a rethinking of how architecture is
produced. To develop sharper ethical tools to tackle with problems in
architecture and urbanism is an urgent task.
Our attempt is to combine the concept of freedom implicit in Foucault and
Deleuze with the ethical theory of Mark Johnson in order to both analyze and
go beyond the “projective practice” of Koolhaas. Here, a number of economic
issues also come to the fore, from branding to city marketing and tourism on
the one hand and consulting on the other, as the values and the practices of
the profession change.
However, it is not just the problems that face every architect that need to
be addressed: an equally important field of study is defined by the study of
the design process, including the methods of representation. Both the
traditional methods and the possibilities offered by the new media contain
various kinds of presuppositions and commitments that delimit the range of
the possible results and push the design in some direction. It is the task
of theory to bring the ontological commitments and other limitations of
design and representational methods to the foreground in order to make
rational decision-making possible. In particular, we have examined the
quasi-algorithmic design methods of Eisenman, Lynn, MVRDV, and Marcos Novak. A special focus was placed on motion-based design
techniques that in the 1990s sponsored a different kind of architecture and
in general foregrounded the potential of motion as an architectural element.
The study of design processes and representational methods are
elements in a theory of architectural practice that would also need a
sociological dimension. In an earlier study, I have argued in a Bourdivin
vein that design theories often function as responsive to very concrete
social pressures, albeit within the field of possibles in the discourse.
Other topics studied in our department of theory include the mechanisms of
fame in the architecture world and in particular the logic of the
However, perhaps the most significant field of study at the moment involves
the impact of new technologies. In the nineteenth century, architects
engaged in theoretical debates (about styles etc.) with passion but what
seems to have been more important for the development of modern architecture
were the changes in construction technology as well as the introduction of
new materials. At present, we are witnessing the emergence of
ubiquitous and pervasive computing in both domestic and work environments.
There is no question that building automation is going proceed, but the
theory is generally speaking inadequate for architectural applications.
Here, the input of architectural theorists is needed and welcomed by the
engineers, in particular as regards such abstract issues as “In what sense
could a building be said to possess consciousness?”, “Which conception of
man is tacitly assumed in various existing computer models?” or “What is a
Martin Heidegger, “Über Nietzsches Wort: Gott ist tot."
Klostermann, p. 221.
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