ARCHITECTURE CLASSIFIED AS ART
AN IMPORTANT PROBLEM: ARCHITECTURE AS ART
Architecture is much wider than art. The classification of architecture as art is a tremendous reductionism. It reduces a fundamental and complex existential medium of modern society to the terms of aesthetics, style and form!
The classification of architecture as art generates tremendous theoretical and practical problems.
- Compare the results of the Istanbul II congress with the UIA-Congress in Barcelona:
- the former uncovered real problems,
- the latter was conceived essentially around architectural form and style!
In addition architecture is only a small part of the art historian's domain. His professional field is much wider. It includes the large domains of aesthetically selected object cultures, not only of our own cultures and periods, potentially also of many other 'high' cultures.
- As a cognitive system art works comparatively with contradictive units which it tries to harmonise in representative forms. This system is absolutely open and potentially transcends all logical definitions. A dynamically curved shell produced by an animal can serve as inspiration for the dynamic roof of a gigantic building.
- The art historian is trained in science. His world looks entirely different. He analyses his objects, uses differentiating 'judgements' (in German: Ur-Teil, 'cutting original units apart!) to classify things into what looks as an orderly system, with which the manifold of the real world can be understood.
- Thus there is a total incompatibility of these two cognitive approaches. Architect and art historian measur the same object with entirely different views.
In addition, the art historian deals with the architectural past and constructs the history of architecture.
- Thus, architecture is just one very particular, often rather secondary thing in the art historian's huge beauty-shop!
- Also, the art historian measures architecture with the same very narrow measure (if it comes to architecture): aesthetics.
- Further, architecture as an aesthetic destillate thus is isolated from the wider domain of building.
In the present, the art historian or art critic is the one who essentially selects, documents, describes and evaluates what will form the architectural history of the future.
- But he does this - as mentioned - in the framework of the wider domain of the history of art, and using the same basic selective criterium: aesthetics.
- The architect may build his design-ideology on this - rationalistic - construct, may deeply be convinced that this corresponds to the past of his professional domain.
- Or he may intuitively reject it and find his inspirations in quite different domains (e.g. in the field of technology, or related to the structure of plants).
- In the following some particular problematic aspects related to this classification of architecture as art.
THE PROBLEM: THE INIMAGINABLE FLEXIBILITY OF THE ART HISTORIANS TOOLS
Basically the art historian uses differentiating terms, e.g. 'style' as a classifier to describe the architectural past.
As soon as a globally densified modernism produced negative effects (-> Pruitt-Igoe) the art historians were immediately there and declared the "death of modernism", classified it as a 'style' (modernism had rejected the term) and simply proclamated a new 'style'.
- In the 19th century this created the notion of 'many styles'
- In its negative interpretation of eclecticism this was one of the important pretexts for modernism to get rid of the 'history of styles'.
Note that, scientifically, the term style is merely the product of the art historian's analytical method. It constructs differences based on characteristic traits. It has nothing to do with the essence of a building.
- Like after a happy Sunday-sermon, all the architects of the world showed intense belief into the new message.
- Consequently, most architects today are somehow concerned with the performance of 'style'.
- Things go fast, attitudes change quickly in this professional domain: the word style was part of a 'lingua morta' in modernism. Now, suddenly - stolen from long dead grand grand-fathers' mouths, it is here again, on everybody's tongue.
- Fashion can be thrown away - architecture and cities: not so easily.
THE PROBLEM: ARCHITECTURAL CONTINUITY AND THE ART HISTORIAN'S RATIONALISM
If pre-modern concepts of space and architectural form were of a complementary nature, the analytically educated "scientist" of art, the art historian, distorts premodern space and form.
At the same time the art historian "rationalises" the architectural past, makes it useful for the present.
- His differentiating instruments like style abstract from the architectural essence and continuity, project an idealism of the ever new:
- the endless creation of a "new style" which is distinguished from present style.
- The architect naively fulfills this ideal with his creator-genius mentality and produces a city of 'ever new styles'.
- And thus also lets himself deviate from the main question of 'continuity', the "ever the same" in architecture and urbanism.
The objective architectural tradition itself shows something entirely different (Egenter 1996).
- The art historian selects 'characteristics' which can be historically demonstrated (But which may be entirely wrong in the factual past!)
- And in most cases he also selects 'characteristics' that support the architectural common sense of the present, not the past.
- Wittkower for instance supported modern rationalism by declaring 'mathematics and geometry' as the basic design principles of Renaissance architecture (Wittkower 1963).
- This assertion is essentially based on written history on architecture.
Insight: The path to modernism was paved by the art historian's rationalistic description of premodern architecture in terms of style.
- Renaissance architecture remained entirely in the medieval mainstream expressing the harmonious cognition of the world by using the age old principles of composition with categorially complementary units in design.
- Mathematics and geometry brought only a very superficial streamlining of Renaissance architecture compared to the continuity of the ontologically high values of polarity.
- Though the ontology changed substantially (God, the creator was replaced by human reason) architectural form remained loyal to its essential principles: compostion with harmonious elements.
Conclusion: architects should start themselves to do their own research into their own professional domain!
The art historian is a notorious falsifier of the ideas about architecture, because he is neither an artist nor a historian: his object - architecture as art - is incompatible to his type of science.
- Do not trust the art historian: the more he pretends to be scientific, the more he analytically dissects and distorts his object, which operates with polarity, harmony of opposites and analogies based on harmonic relations.
- Both systems are by definition absolutely incompatible.
THE PROBLEM: PREMODERN ARCHITECTURE WAS "COMPLEMENTARY"
Let us look, how the art historian fabricates the architectural past.
The essential truth is:
- Premodern forms, e.g. gates were analytically differenciated into different styles: Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Romanic, Gothic, Classicism, Baroque.
- This sequence of 'different' styles covers up the essential truth of the architectural tradition: an enormous continuity of the essence of form.
The art historian wiped out this truth. For him the arc of a gate was just a decorative element, a secondary attribute, which, however by its differences, was taken as a characteristic for style.
- Horizontally, a gate was important as a transitional marker in an access-place-scheme. It defined the transition from a potentially all inclusive spatial condition to an exclusive domain related to a particular social group's protected ontological value focus.
- Corresponding to its importance in this system, a gate was formed also vertically as a unity of complementary fields.
- In this context it is interesting to compare gates or windows of the front facade of Renaissance palaces with backwindows and other backside elements: they are functional! (Now, if from this we trace the line to modernism: refined backyard-architecture?)
- The dynamic part (e.g. arc) above had a complementary function in regard to the static lower part of the gate. It was thus distinguished from merely functional transition: by showing higher ontological values (harmony).
- In other words: Dionysiac and Apollonian elements contradicting and harmonising within the same form: the form had a divine past!
- In addition the upper part was a semantic domain where symbols and the like contained messages to the outside about the inside (Modernism needs the whole building and its overall functional codes for this message!).
Modernism and postmodernism are to a great extent the outcome of the art historian's differentiating method, to 'rationalise' the 'irrational' architectural past.
- Thus, by using the analytically differentiating concept of style, the fundamental architectural continuity got lost:
- that of composing topological units with harmonised forms.
- Style is consequently a devastating term for the architectural continuity.
THE PROBLEM: THE ART HISTORIAN CULTIVATES THE ARCHITECT'S "ORCHID"-COMPLEX
As a student of botany we would certainly not be satisfied with a professor who announces his lectures with the title 'The system of the world of plants' and then, for the rest of the year tells us exclusively about his studies of beautiful orchids and other beautiful flowers.
To make "theories" on plants or animals we must know all plants or all animals of the world.
- But the architects do exactly this. If they speak of 'architecture' they mean 'orchids', beautiful flowers. They never speak of plants, of buildings.
- If they consider themselves as 'builders' they do not know what a building is! (in the sense of a scientific definition).
Beauty is very difficult to define (As Platon already recognized). Thus, from this viewpoint too, "architectural theories" based on beauty must be like sponges. They can be filled at will!
Architecture has not developed a scientific research of its own which would provide reliable data to support its design-theories:
- This is the main reason why we have as many "theories of architecture" as we have architects.
- Jencks counted about 100 styles and schools.
- Unfortunately we all have to live in the incrustations of such theoretical dilettantisms.
- this is one of the main problems of architecture today.
ANOTHER PROBLEM: THE ART HISTORIAN AND SCIENCE
Modern scientifically oriented society relies on the art historian as a translator of "irrational" art into a scientific language. Let us have a short look at his job:
Within the domain of art, architecture is only:
In fact, the art historian's statements are merely evaluations according to
- one among many other topics.
- The art historian uses the same optics for a Chinese porcelain figure, an Afghanistan carpet or a city like Chandigarh.
- The art historian's view is based on aesthetics which operates widely with subjective judgements (taste, gusto, predilection etc.) and thus
- is not objective in the strict scientific sense.
Does anyone really believe
- Zeitgeist, formal schools and personal 'gusto'.
The art historian's view defines the term "architecture" based on aesthetics (high architecture) which - from an objective scientific point of view - makes the image of the architect. The aesthetic designer becomes shizophrenic in regard to the other image he has about himself: the pragmatic builder. That is to say, a human being engaged in a worldwide and age-old human activity.
- that we can handle the problems of our modern megacitites with this simple "good architecture" and "bad architecture" tool?
- The art historian's view is essentially focussed on Euro-Mediterranean history of high architecture.
- It thus excludes the whole Euromediterranean vernacular architecture (See Soeder 1964, Egenter 1992)
- It widely excludes non-European "high architecture" of Asia (India, China, Japan) and Ancient America.
- It further excludes what Amos Rapoport (1969) introduced as 'Architectural Ethnology', that is to say, architectural traditions of all non-writing populations of the world ( -> EVAW, -> Vernacular Architecture).
- All what is excluded makes about an estimated 80 or 90% of the global surface inhabited by humans.
- In view of this: WHO DARES TO SPEAK OF "ARCHITECTURAL THEORY" HERE?
- Note that an orchid-lover who would speak about his 'theory of plants' would look rather ridiculous!
In other words: the art historian's definition of "architecture" as "high architecture" cuts the architect off from the view of what objectively forms the object of his professional activity and thus prevents him to become a scientific researcher.
The art historian forms the architect's super-ego, but, at the same time keeps him dependent, destabilises him to a fragile dancing figure by cutting his pedestal to foottop size (aesthetics) thus preventing him from having insights into his factual fundaments: the anthropology of building.
20 PROBLEMS (continued)
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