-continued -

Pavlides@aol.com
negenter@worldcom.ch (Nold Egenter)
Re: BOTTA DECLARES DEFEAT OF POSTMODERNISM 2/2
WAM-L@arch-mag.com

Dear Lefteri,

thank you for your response regarding my polemics against Botta, or more precisely against the monstruosities in his recent interview. Thanks also for your thoughts which are interesting, mainly also because they are representative for the architectural reasoning. I would like to give some comments.

Your message has the following parts:
1) "solution"
2) "Culture is not just words...."
3) The anthropologist and architecture
4) Botta is basically an architect
5) Akropolis and Botta
6) Theoretical rhetorics and poetry

1) You wrote:

>Dear Nold,
>
>I do not have the time to send a well argued response but please consider:
>On your proposed "solution" to the problem:
I do not think that I suggested a "solution". Rather a direction is meant, a path to go to produce more reliable results (see end).

2) This point is dealt with as a conclusion of 3)

3) You wrote:

...>Anthropologists are unable to decipher these drawings, 
>or the actual buildings they represent, and thus they have an 
>impoverished conception of culture.

Sincerely, this statement sounds very bold to me if it is left in the general! Evidently, you restricted your statement on their relation to architecture, and in this sense you might be right: architecture is still very much underrated in ethnology and its many culturo-geographical subsectors.

>Of course architects could enrich their [anthropologists] 
>understanding of culture though drawings (as Paul Oliver
>is trying to do establishing a center 
>for the study of Vernacular architecture at Oxford Brooks).

Here I fully agree with you, but would say it slightly different: the anthropologists have not yet fully realised that the architects have an immensely valuable instrument for the documentation of traditional environments. Such scientifically objective reports may form the basis of new cultural theories based on the evolution of building and settlement.

>Anthropologists have a lot to gain in understanding 
>culture if they learned from architects to examine 
>the physical (as archeologists and art-historians 
>do) rather that using "platonic" stereotypical 
>examinations of art and architecture leaving the 
>qualitative out of the discourse.

Here too, I fully agree with you. Particularly in ethnology, most methods still use simple interviews as the essential basis for the interpretation of what is physically (or socially) found.

If, however, you implied my own role, then you are mistaken: I am definitely not a 'platonic' or 'verbal' anthropologist. First, my curriculum is rooted in architecture and urbanism. And, second, that I am definitely NOT "using 'platonic' stereotypical examinations of art and architecture leaving the qualitative out of the discourse" is amply shown in my publications!

Now regarding 2):

>Culture is not just words, the architectural 
>models and drawings (the kind you find in architecture 
>books) are about culture too.

Without doubt, the architectural design process and its result is interwoven with culture and invites culture, once it is built, behind its gates. But, evidently this relation does not work. If it worked, we would not lead the present discussion. The basic problem is, I think, HOW we define culture in relation to architecture.

a) Is architecture only a part of culture, a certain sector which is dealt with in specific and established ways? This corresponds to the present practice. Architecture is considered as art. Art needs the artist as the acting figure, and an aesthetic value hierarchy administrated by the art historian or the critique. Because of its theoretical 'anything goes', I consider this system as devastative for our modern built environments (example: Botta). It completely neglects humane needs for continuity in orientation.

b) Anthropologically we can maintain the idea that ALL CULTURE IS BASICALLY ARCHITECTURAL. Or, in other words: THE EVOLUTION OF ARCHITECTURE (AND ORGANISED SPACE) WERE FORMATIVE FOR THE DEVELOPMENT OF HUMAN CULTURE. Seen from this viewpoint, the above sector system a) works with an intolerable reductionism which produces dangerous (and tremendously costly!) 1:1 scale experiments in architecture and urbanism - worldwide! Think how much has been invested in postmodern architecture in the last 20 years. Now Botta declares this all rubbish! From such considerations my suggestion: Postmodern architects try to make us believe that - theoretically - they can build Egyptian pyramids reversely with their tiny tops on the ground. Huge masses in the air (Magritte!). As soon as they start to stand, these huge pyramids collapse. Worldwide! Consequently: we probably should build theories with more substantial grounds. Present ethno-architecural research goes in this direction. It produces more basic knowledge about architecture and man. We have to open horizons from dusty 'history of architecture' and 'styles' to a global 'man the builder and dweller'. If these materials are synthesised we will be able to build reliable 'anthropological' theories about architectural design.

4) You wrote:

>Botta is an architect before he is a "postmodernist", 
>a "modernist", a "deconstructionist", or any other 
>equally inane term that represents nothing 
>because his work can be amputated by any Procroustes 
>to fit any of the above. >Architecture is about life 
>and not style. When it supports living well and 
>opposes living badly it is good and beautiful. It is 
>not words but actions that should be the basis of evaluation. 
>I learned a lot about decorating my buildings from 
>Loos's buildings.

I think what you describe here is alluding to the *structural paradox* in the architectural profession. The narrow definition of the architect as an 'artist',

a) first puts him into a wider field vaguely based on mostly very subjectively used aesthetics. There, architecture is dealt with the same methods used in view of, for instance, a Chinese porcelain pot (high art) or a cuckoo-clock of the black woods (folklore). Isn't architecture much more than that?

b) Second, the architect, in order to enjoy his own creative 'freedom', delegates the study of his work to 'science'. The art historian 'analyses' architecture, constructs styles etc., forms values which then become again leading for the architects. You hint to this problem. We mentioned it in regard to the 'non-compatibility' of the two domains. Art is synthetic (or polar), the art historian hatches - analytically - any architectural harmony apriori into pieces. I have described this topic more in details in a paper against Wittkower and think it is a basic problem of the present architectural situation.

c) Architectural 'theories' constructed merely on aesthetic principles thus also apriori exclude man. Theorizing happens essentially between the parameters 'construction' and 'aesthetics'. Man is excluded from the theory. He has later to adapt to the encrusted 'theories'.

In short, in my view the styles are a rather misleading construction of the art historians, but, what does it mean "Botta is an architect"? The way he builds is not in any way absolute, it is related to our present time and its prevalent ideas regarding architecture. Doubtless, 'good life, bad life' is an argument valid for limited optics, but 28 Millions of arrangements initially intended as good lives may turn into bad life. Note that Pruitt Igoe was dynamited and Botta now wants to dynamite the postmodernism of any "colossal" megalopolis.

5) You wrote:

>I recently was on the Acropolis trying to 
>imagine it when the paints were
>still wet under the Attic sun. The luminous 
>blue of the Triglyphs blending with 
>the sky beyond making the roof appear flowing, 
>the broken monotony as the 
>rhythm is interrupted by the corner columns 
>pulled from under the triglyphs to 
>a location almost under the polychrome metopes. 
>Such a brilliant "modern" 
>because of asymmetries building, so postmodern 
>because of its gay colors, so deconstructionist 
>because of it curvilinear geometries and broken "rhythm".

I remember, when I did some studies into the work of Gottfried Semper, it was the first time that I got familiar with the idea that Greek temples were originally coloured. Before, my mind was indoctrinated by the archaeologists whitish glamour, this noble puritanistic idea of form (which is maybe deeply imprinted in the European thought). Some years ago, when I got interested in Indian culture, I realised that temples in India are not only (still) colorful, they show their meaning in the framework of vital conditions. The interpretation of the temple changes completely. In India - basically - the temples are clearly an 'incrustation' of age old ritual practices. The place of the deity marks the stable continuity of the settlement. The rites related are a cyclic reenaction of the sacred place after dynamic (ek-static) dissolution of the place. The deity is put into a dynamic state (pro-cessions, etc.) then reset at its stable place. It implies first, that the sacred is related to the spatial existence of man, and second, that the rite is an intrinsic part of architecture: maybe, the human part which is missing in our merely aesthetic outlooks. Conclusion: we can not just study the temple as an independent architectural form! We must also include the landscape (Vincent Scully!) and the rites related to (a) temple(s) (see my monography on a Japanese village: Egenter 1982). The outcome of such studies may question the highly idealistic trend in Euro-Western thought (your description above is not free of this!).

More in details your argumentation is very close to the art historian's abstractions and particularisations. This allows you to call the temple architecture of the Akropolis 'modern', 'postmodern' and 'deconstructivist' at the same time. In my view this projects modern ideas on a historical object. Anthropologically, however, temples (Greek, Egyptian, modern Indian) can be considered as the stable focus point of a horizontal axis, the focus representing the local ontology. This ontology is reenacted cyclically in social and cultic rites of the related inhabitants. If we realise the social impacts of this axial system, then, we suddenly realise that with modernism, we have lost such ontologically higly valued axial systems. Central Paris for example, is still full with them. It doubtless owes its attraction to this density of axial systems. Mitterand continued this age old tradition with his 'La Defense'. But the outer citybelts have lost them, this is one of the main reasons, why they show this cancerous and chaotic growth. Maybe we could say: we lost the ontological axis in architecture and urbanism. Postively: we could try to reconstruct it in new ways.

6. You wrote:

>From your work I know you see and experience
>architecture why talk as if we
>can trust the verbal/ cognitive  rhetoric 
>of the theoreticians? The verbal is useful
>when it becomes part of the poetic (in both 
>meanings of the word.?

First, "poetic" and "theoretic" relates to the incompatible systems we mentioned above. Poetry as art is closer to architecture if we interprete it as art. Both are opposed to analytical systems. Poetry and architecture both work with analogies among - irrationally structured - coincidences of oppositions. Both are part of an earlier type of cognition which intended to harmonise the world - qualitatively bound, as you mentioned (its space concept was not yet 'analysed' into substance and void). Thus we can understand that poetry and architecture are closer together than both to science. But, there is a gigantic difference. The substantial traces produced by poems are minimal compared with architecture. Architecture incrusts us in a sort of outer - artificial - skin. Like in the case of a turtle, this outer skin dictates our behavior, our ways of living our lives. The product of architecture is not just 'consumed' at one's free will on a Sunday morning visit at some museum. It forces everybody physically and in regard to his mind to deal with this ourter skin, this outer landscape. Thus, there is a tremendous difference in the effects of architecture and the rest of the arts. I recently dealt with Pallasmaa's 'Animal Architecture' and was struck by the 'skyscrapers' built by some types of termites. Translated into human size, they could house the whole city of New York. Biological processes of millions of years must have manoeuvred them socially into an absolute (matriarchal) monarchy (reflected even biologically on the level of reproduction) and this produced an outer skin or shell in which they could survive in many parts of the world. If one compares the internal and external conveyor belts of these termite 'skyscrapers' they show some similarities to modern megalopolises. Maybe our architectural 'theories' are programmed in a way that leads to similar subordinations and functional integrations of man into a similar mass-structure. We can not avoid it. It is programmed in the way we design and build. Technology plus the 'instinct' of BIG (Unfortunately not just verbally!).

Regarding your question: can we trust the "rhetoric of the theoreticians". I can easily understand the traumatic experiences of many architects: suddenly their seemingly reliable teachings collapse, new theories are set up, new styles are favoured by the clients. This theoretical waist cycle and its increasing frequency of dissolution is particularly devastative for architectural education. For instance, students who passed their exams with full mastery in postmodernism might come out of the university and find out that their educational investments are already outdated. We tried to show that theories based on aesthetics are highly subjective. They use merely subjective values and highly speculative "rhetorics". But, if we switch to theories based on the fact that human dwelling and settlement produces and produced objective forms in a global and universal sense, then we can study these forms inductively that is to say, similarly like in the natural sciences. The results of such studies will doubtless be trustful, because they satisfy the scientific request of intersubjective control.

One important result might be outlined: Pre-modern architecture used polar spatial organisation schemes as described by O. F. Bollnow in his anthropology of space. Modernism in its close adaption to industrialisation introduced an entirely new system of space: the homogenous concept of space that had developed with the discovery of the universe (Newton). To illustrate the impacts: With nuclear energy physics brought part of the universal energy system down to earth (e.g. the nuclear reactions within the sun). We can imagine that the introduction of universal space into our cultural and historical human habitat similarly produced considerable new (social) energies but was devastative for human orientation in cultural space.

These are just some thoughts regarding your letter. At the beginning I said that there is no "solution" yet, but maybe some sort of a recepy. Concluding, some important points:

Best wishes,

Nold Egenter

P.S. Spiro Kostof wrote a treatise on the ingeniosity of the architect in Ancient Egypt. In fact, he did not exist. There was no creation in the case of the temples in Ancient Egypt. It was pure imitation in regard to form. What Kostof tries to celebrate, the earliest great architect, was in fact simply a good engineer. He translated perishable (fibroconstructive) signs (semantic architecture) of the surrounding 'prehistoric' villages into durable stone. The innermost sanctuary is in fact a reedhut, the pillars are plant-bundles and the plan reflects the ritual activities, mainly cult and procession, marked towards the outside by a huge gate (pylon) also in 'reedconstruction' style. We call this pattern 'access-place-scheme'. Dagobert Frey (1949) has shown that this polar arrangement of access and place is constant in sacred architecture over great parts of the world (AfroEurAsian).


Continue
Back to discussion list
Back to homepage