- continued -


The whole oeuvre of Magritte is organised in this way. He experiments with one or many houses, asks spatial, temporal and causal questions in and around buildings, produces tests with parts of houses, with the 'in front' and 'behind' of walls, with furniture, with monuments.


Fig. 3: Houses heaped up like cars at a car dump. Evidently this is not the way houses act in this situation. Houses collapse into ruins. In spite of this, this is the way we conceive dwellings. The picture indicates we have misconceived houses in our heads.

"The breast" (Fig. 3) [7] shows numerous three to four-floored houses heaped up like in the case of a 'car-dump'. Evidently Magritte questions the box-concept of modern architecture. The picture looks very strange, because, usually, houses cannot be 'heaped up' like this. They are not stable units that can be vertically piled up under any spatial conditions like boxes, cars, or pieces of wood. Houses of this type are composed of different elements.They fall apart correspondingly. Everybody knows the heaps of rubble that are found after a house has been torn down, after an earthquake, after bombardments, etc.. Walls, windows, doors, roofs, they are falling according to their own structural laws. By painting an intact 'dump' of houses, Magritte ironically questions our ideas about the house as a machine-like unit. It is not a tool for dwelling, a planned functional whole. It follows other laws, those of a gradually evolved tectonic cultural landscape intimately related to man. Doors, windows, rooms etc. all have their own lives, their own structure, their own history. Note that in Magritte's 'house-dump' no human being is indicated!

Fig. 4: Architectural speculation has moved away from the ground getting caught in the heights of an absurd tower.

Very similarly Magritte criticises this merely technical way of thinking also in his watercolour painting "Spiritual look" (Fig. 4) [8]. The architectural "speculation" has moved away from the grounds of humans towards the heavens into an absurd tower.

Inside space

Fig. 5 Death, the static and non changeable: the heavy rock blocking the whole room frightens the observers

Numerous are the interior rooms used by Magritte in his experiments. They are jammed with gigantic roses [9], with green room size apples [10], or simply with a huge rock (Fig. 5) [11]. Its teachings: space is not empty, abstract, like that which is preached in physics. Space needs man as a dweller. And with this, beauty, poetry, meaningful articulation comes in. This type of space also carries an immanent tension towards nature. We think of the endless 'decorations', the garlands with branches, leaves, flowers and fruits represented in ceramics, plastered or hewn in stone, thus made durable, embellishing the history of architecture. With this over emphasised filling of living rooms, Magritte also critically questions the whole history of the ornament.

Fig. 6: The petrified "snapshot". Materials used in building do not simply have practical functions. Its textures speak with the inhabitant.

Similarly this is the case in his "Souvenir of a travel III" (Fig. 6) [12]. Alluding to an ancient photo as a souvenir of a personal life phase, the inside of an apartment is painted with a stone texture. A ruin in the background forms the centre of the picture and indicates the topic. Tree, mountain slopes and picture frame are all part of the lithic texture. From there light falls into the room, it illuminates the man, the lion and the table with fruits. Everything has become a ruin. Power and life are frozen to immobility, durability. Death and tombs are evoked. The table too, the "still" of a "still life" painting dominates the scene. In spite of this there is a mysterious life, particularly in the realism of the forms. The picture owes its mysterious tension to this. The candle too emanates light, in spite of the fact that even the flame is represented as stone. In short, the "snapshot" of an interior shows with all clarity that space is not empty. It is evident that materials act upon our mind in a comparative framework of analogies.

Fig. 7: The eternal dream: the heavenly room. But we need codes securing us against the fears of falling down.

In contrast to this let us take a look at the "Heavenly room" (Fig. 7) [13]. A room without walls? Lofty clouds are seen all around. Dwelling in the skies, that is what they all want.Transcendence here on earth. Terraced housings with the view of God over the commoners. Skyscrapers, in fact an incrusted striving for the heavens. An enlightened type of religion? Unfortunately this degenerated metaphysics gets into conflict with daily reality. In Magritte's 'heavenly room' the plastered ceiling is there, provides shelter, symbolises place, steals the dimension of being lost out of the dream. There is a quite everyday bed seen from the front. At its back, the wooden strip at the bottom keeps it from crashing down. Walls too suggest support. The usual corners are there. Thus, this space is not totally illimited as this is 'normal' for the heavens. Any attacks of dizziness can also be avoided by strictly interpreting the walls as covered safely with wallpapers showing clouds. The closet too and the comb leaning to the wall, the everyday norms, may calm us down. Similarly the painted window and curtain. But only for a moment. Doubts are always present. The window is only a reflex. Similarly the size and unusual position of the other elements suggest insecurity. Is the object in the foreground an inviting cushion,related to the glass, to the razor soap, the close friend of the razor brush on top of the wardrobe. The ambivalent situations and the transformed conditions favour insecurity: are we flying in a magically constructed room in the air without ground high up in the clouds? In short, the picture speaks of the conflict between the 'skyscraper dreams' of architecture and everyday human orderliness providing security on stable grounds. Most importantly the same room suggests security but at the same time frightens us.

House parts

Fig. 8: In view of the eternal horizon of the ocean outside we become aware of the arbitrariness of the oblique window but also of the eternal law of tectonics.

In his "Les rencontres naturelles" (Fig. 8) [14] Magritte puts a window obliquely into the wall. In the foreground there are two "technocrats" with their pear shaped techno-heads. Wearing red tunics they are on a kind of viewing tour through the house. Evidently very important people. The one in front holds a green leaf in his crude hand, meaning life, movement, change, development, progress. But the leaf is directed towards a strange innovation! The whole upper part of the picture is characterised by two windows. The upper section of the window on the left looks quite normal, shows clouds. The lower one on the right similarly normal in regard to outside, clouded horizon of the sea. But the window is completely arbitrarily set into an oblique position. Conflict here too. The gigantic spirit level outside seriously questions the oblique window. Natural order, tectonic order - the 'normal' window and the arbitrary 'freedom' of man.

Fig. 9: Stair blinded by wall on upper end, thus absurd.Magritte's stair says: I am more than the sum of my steps.

Marvellous how Magritte manages to make stairs look absurd (Fig. 9). On its upper end it is blocked by a closed wall. [15] No aperture that leads on, no podest, which relates the above to the below. Those who go up here must definitely return. The process in both parts, going up and going down, is devalued, develops nonsense. The paradoxical communication character of the stairs becomes clear. They are not only connecting different parts of space or rooms, they imply an environmental change from below to up and reverse with all consequences of sight and feeling of ones body. The finger set up like a monument hints to the principle that is always immanently present in Magritte's paintings: the twofold and freely floating sphere, his code for complementarity.

The nonsense of homogeneous space

Fig. 10: Magritte vehemently attacks the homogenous space concept of modern architecture: the human being is not a particle moving around in open space!

Finally a further picture: the Golconde (Fig. 10) [16]. Magritte painted it to reduce to absurdity the modern mathematical idea of homogeneous space. As if somebody had released a great quantity of balloons, many of Magritte's typical melon-men are "standing" vertically dispersed in space. Three different modes define distribution and size, giving the illusion of spatial depth.The heavy facades immediately behind the figures in the foreground emphasise the contrast to the fictive "standing" of the black dummies. Evidently they behave as if their standing around like on an Italian piazza - everyone at his place - were the most normal thing in the world. Remarkably, Magritte provides shade for the figures where they are close to the facades. The contrast between illusion and reality is emphasised. Also important is the very homogeneous way Magritte painted the sky. Space in its absolute sense is implied.

Maybe, thematically, this is one of the most important of Magritte's paintings. It drastically shows the error of modern architecture and urbanism. Man can not be assumed like a particle in physics at any arbitrary position in space. He requires clear conditions. In answering these, man follows a specifically structured space concept, formed by the tradition of his constructions. He builds his walls, fences, paths. He opens gates, doors,windows from inside towards the outside, from outside towards the inside. He organises light and dark, openness and seclusion, as we see it in many cultures.

These organisational principles are not "created" by ourselves, they have "ancestors", thousands of years old. Most importantly, these principles have preserved a spirit which speaks to us. These teachings should be know by those who build for man. Magritte researched exactly these teachings. He thus manages to show that architectural space is not empty, nor homogeneous. Magritte shows that space creates conditions related to man, shows that buildings, parts of buildings and furniture are projecting a network of relations into our lives. They intensively talk to us, even when there are no words heard.


The language of architecture? Maybe Magritte can now be understood as an "architecturologist", as an intense researcher into the secrets of architecture. Very likely it is not by chance that, in opposition to contemporary movements suggesting the dissolution of space, he tenaciously remained loyal to perspective as a means to represent space. He needed the tectonically constructed view and its fixed eye point to make statements about the structure of built space. His simple 'trompe-l'oeuil' technique too adapts to this. Only as a realistic spatial representation can it make its statements.

In this way Magritte is also an architect. However, not an architect who is content with seeing his sketches done on the drawing board blown up by developers into public human space. He mixes his ideas with liquid colours, paints them on his walls consisting of canvas. In this way he creates his own freedom: he builds what he wants. Early he must have become aware that what man really needs is not more bodily commodities, but that modern architecture had lost the spiritual. Magritte shows us what is lacking. Is Magritte, unseen for most, in fact, the greatest architect of our times? Maybe he is also a visionary far ahead of time.

Initially we have compared Magritte with the recent data processing world. With a tremendously simple, but incredibly variable binary principle, electronics are conquering the world, providing very unexpected new potentials. Magritte's experimental world of architectural research can be seen in very similar ways. Based on an elementary, but highly complex multicategorial principle of complementary units, he develops a new language in painting, which we tried to read. Magritte's oeuvre shows us the world of architecture in new ways. But what distinguishes him from electronics is his decisive focus on man. He makes us discover an immensely deep spectrum of qualitative, quantitative, temporal and spatial categories, through which man can continuously communicate with the cultural spaces of architecture.

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