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Architecture and authenticity

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Architecture and authenticity constructing the ontological
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Jense, Joel Kaj
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v, 181 leaves : ; 28 cm

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Architecture -- Philosophy ( lcsh )
Authenticity (Philosophy) ( lcsh )
Architecture -- Philosophy ( fast )
Authenticity (Philosophy) ( fast )
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bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
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Includes bibliographical references (leaves 176-181).
General Note:
College of Architecture and Planning
Statement of Responsibility:
by Joel Kaj Jensen.

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Full Text
ARCHITECTURE AND AUTHENTICITY:
CONSTRUCTING THE ONTOLOGICAL
By
Joel Kaj Jensen
B.A., Gustavus Adolphus College, 1997
M.A., University of Colorado, Boulder, 2002
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver
and Health Sciences Center
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy
Design and Planning
2007


This thesis for the Doctor of Philosophy
degree by
Joel Kaj Jensen
has been approved
Taisto H Makela
David S. Ferris
Date
11


Jensen, Joel Kaj (Ph.D., Design and Planning)
Architecture and Authenticity: Constructing the Ontological
Thesis directed by Assistant Professor Michael K. Jenson
ABSTRACT
Architectural theorists have historically privileged the ontological
potential of fabricated structures. This has been the case at least since Vitruviuss
writings pointed to the ability of architectural works to imbue firmitas, the solidity
of lasting order. However, the desire that our environment remain in (or return to)
an authentic state increasingly motivates both calls for historic preservation and
the growing critique of environments seen as kitsch, fake, or mock-historical.
Such concerns suggest an apparent ontological divide; while individual
architectural works may be lauded as genuine, other projects continue to be
viewed with suspicion. This dissertation seeks to understand what is implied by
architectural authenticity, and considers the ontological status of constructed
works. Early Greek attitudes are examined, with particular attention given to
Anaximander, and compared with post-structuralist thought. The dominant strain
of architectural thought which emerged during the European Enlightenment
favored a Platonic duality, according to which authentic reality is obscured from
the visible world, but may be made apparent through appropriate architectural
postures. Such a strain of architectural thought is evident in the discourse on
architectural primitivism which accompanied early modem thought. In contrast
to such attitudes, both early Greek and post-structuralist thought have associated
the ontological status of architecture, not with a hidden, transcendent order, but
with the process of creation itself. According to this view, architecture does not
seek to make manifest the order of a lost authenticity, but seeks through the
process of construction the instantiation of new order. Both architectural attitudes
have significant ethical ramifications, both for the place of architectural works in
society, and the place of individual identity in relation to architecture.


TABLE OF CONTENTS
CHAPTER
1. AUTHENTICITY INTRODUCTION TO A CONCEPT 1
2. ARCHITECTURES ONTOLOGICAL QUESTION 13
Platos Timeaus and the Architecture of Khora 13
Kant and the Movement of Form 25
Ontology and Aura 31
Heidegger and the Frenziedness of Ordering 43
Anaximander 53
Anaximanders Physical Models 59
The Anaximander Fragment 61
3. THE PRIMITIVE HUT 69
Vitruviuss First Builders 69
Laugiers Return to Origins 88
Later Returns: Rousseau, Durand, Wood 95
4. ARCHITECTURES ESCAPE TO THE VIRTUAL 109
Boullee, Piranesi: Discovery of the Architectural Sublime 109
The Lure of the Virtual 120
Zarathustra and the Collapse of Order 125
Blade Runner 128
IV


Tafuri and the Crumbling of Ideology 137
5. THE IMPOSSIBLE RETURN 143
Architecture and Nostalgia 143
Simulation 159
The Rules of the Game 163
Conclusion: Final Words on Origins 172
BIBLIOGRAPHY 176
v


CHAPTER 1: AUTHENTICITY -
INTRODUCTION TO A CONCEPT
The peasant wanted to build a house for himself, his kin and his cattle, and he
has succeeded. As his neighbor and his ancestor succeeded. As the animal
succeeds guided by his instincts. Is the house beautiful? Yes, just as beautiful as
the rose and the thistle, the horse and the cow. I therefore ask again: why does the
architect, be he a good one or a bad one, harm the lakeside? Because the
architect, like practically every townsman, has no culture. He lacks the security
of the peasant, who does have a culture... I call culture that harmony between the
inner and outer man which alone guarantees sensible thinking and acting..
Adolf Loos (1870-1933) essay Architecture, appearing in Der Andere
in 1909 vilifies the falsity of recent architectural appearances, as compared to the
traditional habitations of the Austrian peasant. At a first reading, Loos might
appear to be discussing beauty alone, suggesting that the work of self-described
architects was visually ugly. A closer reading reveals that Loos aesthetic
concern is ontological, and, as such, is also an ethical concern. The work of
peasants is described as natural. It succeeds by the same mechanism that
motivates animals: instincts. Architecture, on the other hand, is an imposition,
a false note, and, as such, not simply discordant, but less than truthful.
2
For Loos, architecture interrupts a naturally existing order.
1 Loos, Adolf. Architecture, Der Andere 1909, as quoted in Rykwert, Joseph. On Adam's
House in Paradise: The Idea of the Primitive Hut in Architectural History (New York: The
Museum of Modem Art, 1972).
2 In this essay, Loos may have been concerned primarily with critiquing the Vienna Secession, to
which the term architecture is loosely used to refer. Architecture, as the term is here used,
indicates an artificial naturalistic construction, imposed upon a landscape from without.
1


However, this interruption of falsity is not innocuous; it causes harm. This harm,
furthermore, is incurred upon something with a purer ontological status: the
lakeside (the natural). Such an imposition is appropriate only for the architecture
of monuments and the tombs, when there is uniquely a reason for interruption of
the natural. Toward the close of the essay, Loos proposes, When walking
through a wood, you find a rise in the ground, six foot long and three foot wide,
heaped up in a rough pyramid shape, then you turn serious, and something inside
you says: someone lies buried here. That is architecture. For Loos, both
monument and tomb, as well as the shoddy work of architects were less
authentic than the work of stonemasons, carpenters, and peasants.
Loos valorization of what will be referred to throughout this text as
authenticity was not new. It reflects concerns that have accompanied architectural
writing at least since Vitruvius Ten Books on Architecture, and architectural
thought at least since Anaximander began proposing models for the construction
of the universe. A preoccupation with authenticity, also, has certainly not
disappeared since Loos writing. In fact, concern for authenticity has expanded
dramatically, not just among architectural critics and scholars, but also among the
general public. The desire that our environment remain in (or return to) an
authentic state increasingly motivates both calls for historic preservation and the
growing critique of environments seen as kitsch, fake, or mock-historical. I.M. 3
3 Loos, Adolf. Architecture, Der Andere 1909, as quoted in Rykwert, Joseph. On Adams
House in Paradise: The Idea of the Primitive Hut in Architectural History (New York: The
Museum of Modem Art, 1972).
1


Pei summed up a prevailing attitude toward authenticity in a 1997 interview, The
only thing that can last is the essence, otherwise its transitory, its fashion.4
The term authenticity will be employed throughout this text; I have
selected this word as I believe it to be the most appropriate for designating a
specific set of attitudes which are consistently superimposed upon architectural
projects, and which are overdue for critique. As such, the word authenticity is
not, itself, the object of this inquiry. Rather, the term is a vehicle by which I may
examine a set of attitudes toward the architectural that, while waxing and waning
historically, have frequently been dominant, and, as will be shown, misconstrue
architectures ontological capacity. Briefly, I will use authenticity to refer to
that condition of authority proceeding from connection with an authenticating
source. Authenticity is, then, first, a state of existing as, or in appropriate
connection with, an original instantiation of some phenomena (as Walter
Benjamin suggested, the presence of the original is prerequisite to the concept of
authenticity5). Secondly, authenticity implies a state of ontological superiority
over secondary instantiations or imitations. That to which the term authentic is
ascribed, is thought, as original, to be more real than that which is derivative.
The desire for the real reflects the goal that architectural practice discard illusions
(such as those attributed by the modernists to ornamentation) and instead focus
solely upon those elements which, when unadulterated, reveal reality (a
4 Pei, I.M., quoted in l.M. Pei: First Person Singular, directed by Peter Rosen, 1997.
5Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility: Third
Version, in Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings Volume 4, trans. Edmond Jephcott and others,
ed. Howard Eiland and Michael W. Jennings (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2003), 254.
2


continuing theme of modernist architecture, broadly speaking, emphasized the
ability of unadorned physical form to reveal reality, and hence contribute to a
more authentic architecture).
The most familiar aspect of authenticity is its implied connection with an
authenticating source. When one speaks of authenticity, it implies, very basically,
that a thing exists as, or appropriately proceeds from, an original source. An
authentic entity, then, bears a certain status, granted by a figure of authority, or an
author. Authentic works are ontologically favored over the inauthentic. Put
simply, inauthentic works are understood to be less real than those that proceed
appropriately from an original source.
Cases of authentication, at the most basic level, involve the attribution of a
particular work of art (or architecture) to a presumed author. Thus, the authentic
Guernica is the one in fact painted by Picasso. Guernica reprints, however, no
matter where they appear (even if in a museum of art), are not authentically works
by Picasso, so long as they are not products of his hand. Note that they are not,
necessarily, fakes; a reprint might give no pretence of existing as other than a
reproduction (and, thus, reproductions are not ontologically inferior to their
predecessors because they wear the guise of an original; their status as
reproduction may not be hidden at all). And, in fact, one can speak of authentic
reprints or even authentic fakes. These, too, however, are authentic inasmuch
as they proceed from an appropriate source. For instance, Chinese Harry Potter
knock-offs are now prized authentic fakes (and are more prized than any Harry
3


Potter knock-off I might pen, or especially more valuable than if I were to fake a
Chinese Harry Potter fake). No matter how exact a likeness to Guernica may be,
if it is not in fact rendered by Picasso, it is generally regarded as less than
authentic.
The scope of authenticity, however, is far broader than the simple issue of
authorship. The concern for authenticity seeks to establish, through the
singularity of the author, ontological solidity for a given entity. Nelson Goodman
(1906-1998), in Languages of Art: An Approach to a Theory of Symbols, has
suggested that visual works are autographic, meaning that they always exist as a
singular original individual.6 Goodman, curiously, has suggested that no
reproduction could ever be as similar to an original as to be indiscernible from it
(even if it appeared at first to be indiscernible, our knowledge that it was
inauthentic would lead us to notice distinguishing characteristics). In this way,
the originals status as authentic is always preserved. If Goodman is correct, one
can always refer to the differing visual characteristics between two works in order
establish which is authentic. The curious feature of Goodmans assertion is not
that indiscemibility should be impossible as such, but that authenticity should be
so important as to warrant such a claim. For Goodman, the suggestion that an
authentic work could go undetected, or, more importantly, that a fake could pass
as an authentic work, seems particularly galling.
6 Nelson Goodman, Languages of Art: An Approach to a Theory of Symbols (Indianapolis: Hackett
Publishing Company, Inc., 1976).
4


This attitude may be precisely what Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) was
parodying with his work L.H.O.O.Q. Shaved. In 1919 Duchamp produced the
work L.H. O. O. Q. This work of art was in fact a reprint of DaVincis Mona Lisa,
with a mustache painted upon it. This work produced strong reaction in the art
world; many saw it as merely poking fun, without being an actual work of art in
its own right. Reaction was even more vehement to Duchamps follow-up piece,
1965s L.H.O. O. Q. Shaved. This consisted of a reproduction of the L. H. O. O. Q.,
absent one mustache. Thus, his presumably original work of art actually
consisted solely of a reprint of some one elses work. Duchamps experiment,
however, sheds light on the importance of authenticity. Essentially, Duchamp
proposed a new work of art that was physically indiscernible from a prior work.
Duchamp succeeded in proposing a work of art whose authorship, and hence
authenticity, is irrelevant (or, rather, works relevance is its annihilation of the
relevance of authenticity and it is not without irony that Duchamp should be
remembered for this work, which consists of no physical work at all).
The pursuit of authenticity, in the guise of seeking definitive authorship,
endeavors to provide solidity to a world of fleeting phenomena. That our age is
characterized by the inundation with more and more material stuff is a
commonplace. Charles Baudelaire provided that most quoted description of
modernity, as the transient, the fleeting, the contingent... It is in response to
such feelings of contingency that frequent calls are made for a return to a lost 7
7 Baudelaire, Charles. Selected Writings on Art and Artists, trans. & ed. P.E. Charvet,
(Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1972), 403.
5


authenticity, such as in Charles Taylors The Ethics of Authenticity, in which the
author proposes that, authenticity should be taken seriously as a moral ideal.8
Taylor further suggests that authenticity is a goal in and of itself, and is not
merely instrumentally valuable, self-truth and self-wholeness are seen more and
more not as means to be moral, as independently defined, but as something
valuable for their own sake.9
The case of Han van Meegerens forged Vermeers will help to further
explain how the authenticity concept proceeds from the simple ascription of
authorship to a larger issue. Van Meegeren was an unsuccessful landscape
painter until he began to create paintings that were directly imitative of Johannes
Vermeers style. He did not copy specific Vermeer paintings, but rather made
original paintings meant to look as if they could have been painted by Vermeer.
Van Meegeren met with much success, and continued to paint Vermeers over a
number of years. He was so successful that the paintings considered by the art
world to be Vermeers best work were in fact some of those painted by van
Meegeren. When he was initially caught, he proved his guilt to skeptical art
critics by producing another Vermeer from prison. After van Meegerens
charade was unveiled, however, a curious thing happened. Van Meegerens
paintings went down markedly in value; the authentic Vermeer paintings
became more highly prized, even though before their authorship was known, the
o
Charles Taylor, Ethics of Authenticity (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992), 22.
9 Ibid., 64.
6


van Meegeren paintings were considered superior work. Vermeers paintings
continue to be considered more valuable than van Meegerens.
We can thus see that, in the imagination of the art world, or at least the art
market, Vermeers paintings were believed to be more real than the van
Meegeren works. From this perspective, connection with an authenticating source
is more important than any purely formal characteristics possessed by the
painting. For those who believe in the power of authenticity, it means much more
than simple connection with an authenticating source. Or, put more precisely, the
connection with an authenticating source establishes ontological precedence. The
authentic is more real than the inauthentic.
Recently, in St Paul, Minnesota, a new bridge was erected on Third
Avenue spanning interstate 94. The publicity that surrounded its opening touted
the structure as a work, bafflingly, by Frank Lloyd Wright. Wright, however, had
already been deceased for nearly fifty years at the time of the bridges opening.
However, the new structure, was loosely based upon renderings done by Wright
for a bridge in another location. The Minneapolis Institute of Art, in charge of
publicity, mistakenly claimed that the new construction was a Frank Lloyd Wright
Bridge (and thus made a grab for historical authenticity). The mistake, in many
respects was minor, and easily correctable. However, the announcement that the
bridge was a Wright structure raised eyebrows throughout the city, and even
spawned a public protest in front of the Minneapolis Institute of Art. What this
indicates is the importance of authenticity in the public imagination. The
7


completed bridge became a cause of embarrassment to the city; the entire hubbub
was raised for an otherwise ordinary bridge, whose most distinguishing figure
was its dubious connection to a famous architect. Ironically, the constructed
bridge, as opposed to Wrights drafted bridge, may have a stronger ontological
claim to make it is in fact a bridge, and not limited to the conceptual realm. It
physically spans interstate ninety-four, and continues to conduct the business of
ferrying automobiles. The implication of the public outcry, however, suggests
that the bridge was seen as being less significant than the Wright bridge would
have been less real, even, than the original Wright renderings (and this attitude
foregrounds Etienne-Louis Boullees suggestion that a rendering is no less
architecture than a constructed building). One then has to ask where the
authenticity lies, if not merely in physical extension (does there exist an
architecture more primal that structure itself)? One can also recall Wrights
mysterious assertion that, When unfolding architecture, as distinguished from
enfolding architecture, comes to America, there will be truth of feature related to
truth of being. Immediately notable from Wrights statement is that there exists
a division between the truth of physical feature and the truth of being. Truth of
being, Wright proposes, lies dormant, hidden from view. Architecture, however,
may make truth visible, through the act of unfolding opening the physical falsity
that is already present to reveal a truth also already present, but invisible beneath
a material fold. Thus, one can imagine that Wright would agree with those who
protested the authenticity of St. Pauls new bridge. The bridge is real as a
8


physical feature, but does not reflect a truth of being (as an authentic Wright
bridge supposedly would). However, there is also in Wrights quote, the
suggestion that architecture aspires to truth of being, and that such aspirations are
achievable (even if the route to such achievement is to follow Wrights vision).
In architectural discourse, too, questions of ontology have often taken on a
moral dimension. This has been perhaps most clear in Le Corbusiers writings,
particularly in his famous suggestion that The styles are a lie10 (A lie suggests
far more moral impropriety than a mere error). The chasm suggested by Wright
existing between surroundings and transcendent ontology suggests moral
impropriety also. Wright believed that the architecture of his contemporaries was
at fault, particularly, for being untruthful. Architecture, properly conceived, could
be ontologically relevant, or it could continue to be falsity. We can here revisit
Loos description of the lakeside village. The peasants huts manifest a truth of
being (in fact, Loos believed that the huts did not simply reflect or relate to truth
of being, but embodied it an even more powerful claim). The important claim
here is that built structure may be authentic, may be ontologically stable, but
typically fails to in contemporary manifestations.
While this attitude is often associated with architectures modem
movement, it has not waned in recent years. Consider this excerpt from Jim
Lewiss interview with Glenn Murcutt, recipient of the 2002 Pritzker Prize for
architecture,
10 Le Corbusier, Towards a New Architecture, trans. Frederick Etchells (New York: Dover, 1986).
9


Riding back from Kangaroo Valley, I suggested to him that perhaps his
buildings perhaps all buildings and all art already exist in a kind of Platonic
space and that the architects job is to coax them into reality. He answered with a
fierceness that belied the gentle process he was describing. Im telling you this,
he said, his voice rising. This is my statement. Any work of architecture that has
been designed, any work of architecture that has the potential to exist, or that
exists, was discovered. It wasnt created. Our role and the our seemed to
refer to everyone on the planet is to be the discoverer, not the creator.11
This quote explicitly emphasizes an attitude both dominant and problematic.
Murcutt and Lewis here indicate a Platonic divide between types of reality: a
latent, primal authenticity, and the physical instantiations we typically inhabit.
Contrary to Platos own theories, however, Lewis suggests that Platonic space
may be coaxed into our mundane realm. As shall be shown, a desire for authentic
space borrows an ontological theory from Platonic thought, while at the same
time denying its consequences.
This dissertation will present the case that the drive to achieve
authenticity, while a dominant force in architectural thought and practice, is
deeply problematic, as it relies upon a misconstrued understanding of
architectures ontological potential. I will argue, however, that architecture
should continue to embrace questions of authenticity, while rejecting the idea that
such questions can ever be ultimately satisfied by built form. Further, the
dissertation will present the case that any effort to provide ontological grounding
for an architectural project will always at the same time be an ethical project. The
ontological and the ethical are never ultimately separable in their architectural
manifestations.
11 Jim Lewis, The Native Builder, New York Times Magazine, May 20, 2007,96.
10


Following the introduction, the second chapter will examine the nature of
architectures concern with authenticity by considering several thinkers who have
considered the ontological potential of architecture. This will begin with an
examination of Platos Timeaus and proceed to consider the contributions of
Immanuel Kant, Walter Benjamin, and Martin Heidegger. From these writers can
be gleaned a specific account of why that which is authentic remains hidden, and
is not readily made apparent by architectural construction. Finally, the chapter
will consider the philosophical and architectural contributions of Anaximander,
who, in particular contrast to Plato, suggests an account of the origins and
structure of the universe which circumvents the problem of authenticity.
The third chapter will examine architectural forays into the re-imagination
of primitive structures, and the importance such forays have for exemplifying the
difficulties for making manifest an architectural authenticity. This will be done
by paralleling Vitruvius account of origins to later post-Enlightenment attempts.
While Vitruvius describes early builders gradually learning to build through the
imitation of one another, later accounts went to great lengths to give an account of
architectural origins, and ideal architectural principles, which would avoid
mimesis entirely. As shown in the first chapter, however, attempts to ground
architectural principles in the absence of imitation are philosophically
problematic. Such attempts, while outwardly seeking ontological principles for
architecture, are always also motivated by the normative desire that architecture
ought to be composed in some very particular light.
11


Chapter four will explore the attempt by architecture to achieve
authenticity by leaving the physical behind, and escaping into the virtual. As
chapter three demonstrates, recent attempts to seek authenticity through adherence
to the rules governing primitive huts end in failure. Such attempts are always
doomed by their own architecturality, their establishment of a physical presence.
Such a presence is at once always derivative, proceeding, at the very least, from
the hands of builders. A logical extension of this attempt to re-establish
architectural authenticity is to seek the authentic in virtual spaces, abandoning
physical architecture entirely. This attitude has been explicitly illustrated by
Etienne-Louis Boullee, who viewed his etched images as more fundamentally real
than the built structures he saw around him. Efforts like that of Boullee point
toward what Immanuel Kant has called the sublime. But, while Boullee saw
ontological purity in his images of the sublime, Giovanni Battista Piranesi
demonstrated in his own images the impossibility of a complete return, even
through image, to that reality suggested by the sublime.
Finally, chapter five will reveal the problems inherent the conception of
authenticity itself. To suggest that a particular work of architecture succeeds in
being authentic is to insist that an idealized past has been made present. Such a
return, however, is always impossible. Architectures duty, then, is to seek new
creation in the wake of the impossibility of a return to origins. Newness is
inaugurated in the active realization that authenticity cannot be presented, that it
always remains distant, retreating from architectures gaze.
12


CHAPTER 2
ARCHITECTURES ONTOLOGICAL QUESTION
Platos Timeaus and the Architecture of Khora
Before considering architectural authenticity as such, questions regarding
ontology must first be addressed. Authenticity, once again, is that state of
ontological privilege engendered by origins. Platos Timeaus conjures a relation
to origins that is highly problematic. Here, Plato offers the ontological dilemma
in stark terms, and with particular relevance for architecture. He writes,
What is that which is existent always and has no becoming? And what is
that which is becoming and is never existent? Now the one of these is
apprehensible by thought with the aid of reasoning, since it is ever uniformly
existent: whereas the other is an object of opinion with the aid of unreasoning
sensation, since it becomes and perishes and is never really existent.12
Plato, then, has set an ontological duality: the uniformly existent stands in
contrast to that which is becoming and never existent. Existence is here
dependent upon mutability. Put more precisely, existence is dependent on the
absence of mutability, the absence of change. It is notable that Plato here
indicates no middle ground. That which is existent is so always, and that which is
becoming is never existent.
Platos division is problematic. At its most simple, ontology is the inquiry
into what is real. Platos distinction regarding existence is indeed intended to be
taken ontologically. Existence, in his terms, is real, whereas becoming is not. Put
12 Plato, Timeaus andCritias, trans. Desmond Lee (London: Penguin Books Ltd, 1977), 40.
13


differently, reality as such is existence. However, by Platos terms, two manners
of phenomena inhabit the world (or, more precisely, two manners of phenomena
are encountered by the mind). Existence, perhaps, needs less accounting for,
because it is uniform, and subject neither to change nor division. Becoming, on
the other hand, poses a problem. If that which is becoming is never existent, how
is it to be considered? It is not existent, and therefore not real, but it does yet
present itself to the mind. It appears. Can an appearance have no ontological
status at all, as the terms of Platos distinction would seem to imply?
Heidegger noted in The Question Concerning Technology that it was
particularly daring of Plato to use the term eidos in referring to becoming.13 The
Greek word eidos more commonly suggested that visual aspect of a physical
entity which is presented to the observing eye. Plato shifted the meaning of eidos,
making it refer to that enduring aspect of an entity which specifically is not
visible. Eidos, for Plato, became that resembling trace which indicates a no
longer present existence. Thus, one understands that one is looking upon a house,
for instance, not because of the physical presence of some existent quality of the
house, but because of the physical resemblance to the existence of what is absent.
Plato seeks grounding for what is in the world. According to his thought,
what is becoming, or in a process of change, is not properly existent, or more
precisely, never existent. What is becoming is still coming into existence.
However, that which is still coming into existence never will come into existence
13 Martin Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays, trans. William
Lovitt (New York: Harper & Row, 1977), 20.
14


either, as continual change never ceases. Thus, Plato again is describing two
opposed and unchanging states: eternal existence as set against eternal becoming.
The mutability of becoming itself behaves in a law-like way, never ceasing.
The Timeaus is largely concerned with the origins of the universe, and in
particular, the problem of how physical places come to be (or come to become).
Looking upon the world, Plato observes a complexity of differing places, and asks
how these places could have come into appearance (places never enter into true
existence). Places do not exist eternally, and so do not properly exist at all.
Rather, they arise and perish. The Timeaus suggests a mechanism by which such
arising and perishing of places occurs, and by which such phenomena are linked
to original existence.
The logic of the Timeaus is based on the following supposition: whatever
exists cannot share any of the determining qualities of that which brought it into
existence. That originating entity must be ontologically different from that which
proceeds from it. Originating reality must of necessity be fixed, or immobile,
simply because of the apparent state of the world that has grown out of it, which
he sees to be marked by transience. Such a transient world can only have been
bom of a world immobile, for the reasons just given. One can see, then, that
Platos understanding of the ontological is fundamentally rooted in, and
problematised by, division. Once again, an originating substance must differ
ontologically from that which is bom out of it. This separation, however, cuts
both ways. All creation, is problematic for Plato. The created doesnt properly
15


exist at all it, mysteriously, appears, but has no ontological status. Difference
and separation are built in, as it were. Creating is a process by which copies come
into the world. However, the copies never specifically arrive at all; they are
instead always entering and leaving. Thus, following Platos line of argument one
could speak of the process of creating, but not of creations themselves (there are
no such fixed entities).
To establish this distinction, early in the Timeaus Plato distinguishes
between cosmos itself, and the model according to which the cosmos has been
formed. It is notable here that Plato specifically employs an architectural model.
The universe of the Timeaus is an artifact crafted according to a paradeigma. The
Greek paradeigma referred to the architectural model a builder would use as a
guide during construction. Paradeigma also, however, could refer not simply to
the specific model of a builder, but also to an ideal form to be emulated (hence, a
paradigm). Plato imagined the visible world as becoming, though also as
perishing away. The paradeigma for such a world, had to be eternal, however,
and the copy of this paradeigma an imperfect copy.
The essential quality of the model is its timelessness. The model used by
the divine architect (the demiourgos) to construct the world was necessarily
eternal, an idealized form. This is why Plato argues that the cosmos has been
constructed after the pattern of that which is apprehensible by reason and thought.
What is notable here is that the pattern is apprehensible, while its material
instantiation, yet becoming and arising, is not (it is rather a matter of opinion).
16


Platos metaphor likens the world to architecture, a work of construction modeled
after a divine model. The construction, however, is always a lesser copy. The
world is only architectural insofar as it is modeled on a primal structure. In its
actual instantiations it fails at both structurality, and even apprehensibility. One
should not conclude, however, that such failure is the fault of the demiourgos.
Rather, such a failure is rooted in the nature of ontology. If the divine model is
assumed to have ontological status (it is eternally existent), then its imitations
must of necessity ontologically differ (they have no ontological status at all).
Once again, difference is built into the ontological question. Platos logic is such
that any particular type cannot re-produce itself, it can only reproduce something
of a differing type.
Platos argument is, broadly speaking, a restatement of his recurring
concern with that problematic division between the formal reality and the world
of appearances. The Timaeus, however, is particularly relevant to architecture
because crucially concerned with how it is that place comes to be established. If
created substance is not properly existent at all, how is one to account for the
appearance of places?
Plato is concerned with how place, that physical opening which receives
appearances, should be described. He writes,
The substance which is to be fitted to receive frequently over its whole
extent with the copies of all things intelligible and eternal, should itself, of its own
nature, be void of all the forms... if we described her as a kind invisible and
17


unshaped, all receptive, and in some most perplexing and most baffling way
partaking of the intelligible, we shall describe her truly14
This substance which receives copies Plato refers to as khora. Khora, for
Plato, can be said to constitute a third kind of existence neither eternal form nor
the perishing appearance, but that receptacle (receiving copies) in which
appearances are contained, where they take place. Khora is void of, and outside
of, all the forms, though is not itself subject to the vagaries of time. Khora, then,
is that place upon which a clearing, for instance, can be established; it makes
the cleaving of space possible without itself being cleft. Such a cleaving is the
essential movement of arising and perishing appearances. Recall that Plato has
described existence as uniform. Thus, anything proceeding from it must of
necessity proceed by division. The notion of khora provides Plato with a
mechanism for allowing such division to proceed from the eternally uniform.
Platos description of khora is problematic, for khora can never ultimately
be isolated. Place simply receives copies of the formal. In a sense, there is no
place in place, no visible structure, or finality: merely the possibility of the
becoming of appearances. These appearances, however, never evoke a formal
presence, and are thus not intelligible. Architectural structures, then, arise and
dissolve according to khora but khora itself is never accessible. Khora is
merely the possibility of becoming it is not a thing in itself. It simply masks or
covers over the separation between inside and outside (existence and becoming).
We might think here of khora as a peculiar kind of picture frame it makes a
14 Plato, Timeaus and Critias, trans. Desmond Lee (London: Penguin Books Ltd, 1977), 41.
18


representation possible, but the frame itself is strictly delimiting, never appearing
and never evoking a formal presence.
Platos philosophical problem is significant: how is one to account for the
relationship between the place that comes to be established, and that which, while
fundamental to its constitution, cannot itself be present in that place? We can
think here of the first builders, gathered around a first hearth (as Vitruvius will
describe the inauguration of architectural thought). The relationship between the
fire, an entity marked by change, by passing away (and so not properly an entity
at all according to Platos understanding) and the forest which it has reduced to
cinders remains problematic. The presence of the fire, and the notion of clearing
itself, marks a division of the uniform which can never be reversed.
Andrew Benjamin locates Platos problem squarely,
Once it becomes legitimate to ask, what is the place that generates all
places, then what is immediately checked is the possibility that there can be a
place which is itself outside this locus of questioning. The significance of this
problem cannot be ignored. It goes to the heart of any attempt to identify
foundations, the temporal connection between foundations and that which
succeeds them and the formal connection between what founds and what is
founded.15
Platos problem illustrates a profound awareness of the problem of
authenticity. How does one get at that place which exists prior to all appearances,
the forest before its division by fire, before that initial circular gathering around a
hearth. The impossibility of this return generates nostalgia for the authentic. The
absence of a continually existing forest remains a conspicuous absence. Not only
l5Andrew Benjamin, Architectural Philosophy (New Brunswick, NJ & London: Athalone Press,
2000), 13.
19


is the forest, itself, absent, but that absence itself stays present. It is from this
continuing absence, which cannot be simply forgotten, that a yearning for a lost
authenticity springs. The true difficulty, as Plato makes clear, is not the return to
the forest before it has been cleared, but to that place at which no distinction
between forest and clearing has yet been brought to question. Thus, it is not
merely a physical problem, that of locating an untouched place, but, rather, the
problem of the impossibility of forgetting that distinction between forest and
clearing, once it has been dreamt of. The theological dimension to Platos
description, is of course, significant. How can that outer world, which gives birth
to the inner world, be intelligible, when it remains always outside ?
Platos description in the Timeaus indicates the powerful lure of origins.
Origins alone possess ontological irreducibility; everything they give rise to is
necessarily fleeting. Furthermore, only original reality is productive. We can
think here of that quality of the word authenticity which indicates agency (that
act one commits by oneself is authentic). Something presumed to be authentic is
powerful not only because it insists on ontological privilege, but because it is that
which acts. The formal alone is productive of appearances; appearances do not
produce further appearances (recall that the productive must be ontologically
distinct from what is produced, according to Platos logic). The lure of stability,
or firmitas, and productivity are mutually important for the architectural.
Architects desire both to create, and to have their creations remain fixed in place.
20


Platos move is at once brilliant and highly problematic: a profound
supposition of an unbridgeable chasm between inside and outside, generated and
generator. Platos awareness that there must be a before, an origin, to which one
can never return is what instantly gives birth to a longing for the authentic. But,
for Plato, this longing can never be resolved. While recent writers, such as
Christian Norberg-Schulz, have pointed to the imperative of an architectural
return to, or manifestation of, place, such an imperative can only be conjured in
the memory of Platos problematic division.16 For Plato, however, such an
imperative is woefully misplaced. Khora is merely a placeholder for diverse
appearances, and cannot ever make physically manifest formal existence.
Writings such as those by Norberg-Schulz are representative of what has
been an extraordinarily persistent attitude, attributable to architects, theorists, and
the popular imagination, toward both architectures failures, and its potential.
Discourse on the significance of place continues at an ever-increasing pace,
and, broadly speaking, embraces two contradictory stances. First, such concern
with place suggests that our environments have undergone a dramatic and
unfortunate change. Our constructions are inauthentic: they no longer reflect the
human experience; humanity can no longer relate to them; they are no longer real.
We have thus, for various reasons, lost the sense of place, which we once
experienced.
16 Christian Norberg-Schulz, Architecture: Presence, Language and Place (London: Thames &
Hudson, 2000).
21


The second stance that thinkers on place have contributed, however, is the
faith that a sense of place can be regained. Thus, it is within architectures
capability to return to us that connection with the environment which has
somehow been forgotten. The formulas for returning to the physical world that
lost authenticity are various: we might be advised to abandon our roadside strip
malls for quietly decaying forest cottages, or perhaps to cease the misguided
application of phony decoration to our structures and instead focus on making
visible only a buildings purity of structure and geometry, or we might be advised
to embrace new urbanist principles, such that our neighborhoods cease to be
chaotic and alienating and instead facilitate genuinely fulfilling social intercourse.
It is significant to note that for such writings on place, the source of
architectures current problems lies never with the architecturality itself. Rather,
there is a suggestion that honest architectural principles, for a variety of reasons,
have been forgotten. While Platos account in the Timeaus shares a sense of loss,
this loss, for Plato, is not the result of a social failing. Rather, all creation loses its
authenticity through, and because of, the very moment of creation. No work of
architecture could ever be other than inauthentic. All that architects can hope for
is to retain a fleeting echo of generating origins. The problem of accounting for
authenticity is, then, fundamentally an ontological problem, but is also deeply
architectural (and in this way, the ontological question of authenticitys feasibility
becomes always an ethical question). It gets right to the very nature of the
22


architectural endeavor; before any project can claim authenticity, some account of
whether architectural authenticity is feasible at all needs to be given.
Alexander Nehamas has suggested that there is a single problem which I
now see as central to Platos philosophical project. That is the problem of
establishing in ethics, in metaphysics, and in the philosophy of art the
difference between what is authentic and what is fake, what is genuine and what
is at best only an imitation. For Plato the division between imitation and
genuine has significant ethical, and not simply ontological implications (or, put
more properly, the ontological is already the ethical).
Plato believed that people searched for models of virtue in what was most
immediate to them. Thus, people looked to social and political life, but they also
looked to their physical surroundings for models of stability. Architecture, then,
if not ontologically grounded, risked (or guaranteed) generating ethical confusion.
For Plato, the Good required ontological stability. Without stable models to be
imitated (though no imitation could ever be perfect), peoples supposed ethical
conduct would instead be imitation of spurious illusion. If architecture presented
itself as dependable, as ontologically privileged, people might believe their
actions to be properly proceeding from an authentic source. Nehamas again,
Its confusion of the authentic and the fake is not only an ontological
error, but an ethical danger. That is why it has no place within the ideal city or
the good life. For Plato, the inauthentic is the unethical. There is virtue in being
authentic, and there is authenticity in all virtue. Nothing fake can be good, and 17
17 Alexander Nehamas, Virtues of Authenticity: Essays on Plato and Socrates (Princeton, NJ:
Princeton University Press, 1999), xxxii.
23


nothing good can be fake. Only the genuine can be a proper model of imitation,
and nothing short of the genuine can ever be perfect. 8
To restate, the ontological, for Plato is fundamentally rooted in division.
The properly existent is uniform, and never changing, but what proceeds from it is
mere appearance, and is not existent at all. Once again, by Platos logic, what
proceeds from a substance, what is produced by it, cannot possess those
ontological characteristics of the substance itself. One cannot, then, imagine a
world in which appearances faded away, in which the veil had been lifted, so to
speak, revealing existence in its fixed state. It is the nature of appearance that it
differs from that from which it proceeds. To grasp ontological solidity in all its
nakedness, would, for Plato, mean to abandon appearance entirely. Nothing
would appear; everything would simply exist. Becoming, in the sense of an
active verb, depends for its arising on the inactive being (which, by virtue of such
inactivity has ontological status, or put differently, is real).
The next section will show the more precise development of Platos
ontological division, once again, with architectural implications. 18
18 Ibid., xxxiv.
24


Kant and the Movement of Form
Immanuel Kants Critique of Judgment suggests a difficulty similar to that
suggested by Plato two thousand years earlier.19 To restate Platos problem, there
is a distinction between that which is comprehendible by thought, with the aid of
reason, and that which is strictly an object of opinion. That which is properly
existent is intelligible, but is to be distinguished from that which becomes and
perishes again, and so is never truly existent. The eternally existent, usually
referred to in the context of Platos writings as the forms, are intelligible, but
mundane imitations of the formal are not; such imitations are never fully existent.
Kant, echoing this division, distinguishes between two kinds of judgments. Very
basically, the first method of judgment consists in the mental act of determining
some particular phenomenon to be an instantiation of a more general category.
Not all phenomena are readily subsumed into a universal, however. In making
what Kant refers to as a reflective judgment, no more general category is
available. Such reflective judgments are made in response to aesthetic
phenomena. The aesthetic, then, resists categorization.
The confounding aspect of reflective judgments, however, is not precisely
their resistance to categorization, but what the mind does when faced with
aesthetic phenomena. Let us recall that Plato worried that people searched for the
virtuous in what was close at hand. In so doing, they risked errors in judgment,
mistaking imitations of virtue for virtues formal truth (and for precisely these
19 Kant, Immanuel. Critique of Judgment trans. Werner S. Pluhar, (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett
Publishing Company, 1987).
25


reasons he recommended the prohibition of certain kinds of performance in his
Republic). Kant tells us with more precision how it is that judgments may
mislead us. Kant wants to know what it is that people do when faced with objects
of reflective judgment. He suggests that, although people cannot determine the
universal category to which such aesthetic phenomena belong, such phenomena
must indeed belong to some universal category, even if it cannot be brought to
mind. Kant considers the objects of reflective judgment to be particular instances
of more general categories, even though these categories are not apparent. Thus,
Kants universe is systematic; it is an ordered universe, even though such order is
not always available to people. Order exists, even if it is not knowable order.
The problematic conclusion that Kant makes concerns what people do
when faced with aesthetic phenomena. Kant suggests that people, in their
reflective judgments, treat the objects of judgment as though they were
categorizable, even when, properly speaking, they are not. That is, people reflect
on how past, determinable, judgments have proceeded, and endeavor to treat
aesthetic phenomena in the same regard (and such judgments are in just this way
reflective; they look back upon themselves). Aesthetic phenomena are regarded
as instantiations of some universal category, even if the particular universal
category in question cannot be determined. Thus, every particular is regarded as
belonging to some universal, even if the universal is unknown. Samuel Weber
26


has suggested that reflective judgment is, in this way, mimetic.20 In treating the
object of a reflective judgment, a person simply acts as though making a
determining judgment, thus imitating past behavior. As Weber, again, has
suggested, it is important to note that reflective judgments chiefly regard judging
itself, and not the aesthetic object of judgment. The aesthetic remains
unsubsumable, and so judgment turns inward, to its own process.
That aesthetic phenomenon which launches reflective judgment, Kant
refers to as formal. Kant suggests that such phenomena are formal in the sense
that they give the impression of unity, or of universality, even though just what
this universality consists in is unknown. Here, again, is a distinct echo of Platos
difficulty; the forms engender an impression of unity, but they cannot be
accurately reconstructed in the mind, and so cannot be accurately imitated. What
is crucial, for Kant, in designating the object of reflective judgment as formal, is
that it retain internal unity. Here the notion of authenticity again rears its head,
but problematically so. Kant would like that aesthetic objects retain that
irreducibility characteristic of the authentic; aesthetic objects should be perfect
incarnations of a general type. However, even as Kant imagines that aesthetic
objects are unified bodies, the relationship between them and their beholders
remains problematic. People cannot access their formal unity, but instead have to
imagine or assume it.
20 Samuel Weber, Mass Mediauras: Form, Technics, Media, ed. Alan Cholodenko (Stanford, CA:
Stanford University Press, 1996), 18.
27


For Plato, eidos referred to that visibly absent, but nonetheless enduring
characteristic of an entitys identity. Even as formal reality lies unrevealed
behind the physical, its absence is recognizable in the arising and perishing of
appearances. Kant, in pointing to uncategorizable phenomena as formal, is
shifting Platos sense of form. Form becomes no longer an underlying, timeless
structure, but the phenomenal appearance of structure. Form is then a kind of
visible outline, or delineation, which, while itself uncategorizable, nonetheless
points toward category. Kants formal beauties are subject to free play, meaning
that they are continually moving and changing (Kant refers to the formal beauty
of smoke escaping a chimney). Form, then, is not that solid, but absent
paradeigma of which appearances are copies, but something mutable, arising and
perishing.
The formal, for Kant, is continually slipping out of its own outline,
transforming itself into something new. Reflective judgment operates by
reflecting upon itself, precisely because the formal objects of reflective
judgment are in motion, and are not subsumable in and of themselves. Thus, an
objects form cannot be attributed to the object itself, as an autonomous entity, but
rather to the appearance (or, more properly, to the perception of the appearance)
of the object within a particular temporal context.
Kant, here, sows the seeds for what I will point to as a crucial twist in
thinking about authenticity. For Kant, the world is composed of brute facts, but
these facts are not apprehended in all their bruteness. Rather, the status of the
28


judged entities remains always uncertain because reflective judgment turns upon
itself (because a distance continually separates the movement of smoke from a
chimney from its understandability). The authenticity of any particular formal
instantiation can only be assumed because its intrinsic qualities are obscured by
the necessary limits human perception itself.
One can ask at this point about architectures potential to make present
any kind of authentic reality. Architecture is indeed material, always manifesting
a material presence. The material of a work of architecture always maintains an
ontological presence (though this material only suggests ontological status of a
certain kind): we walk that materials halls, touch its stones, sleep under its roofs.
All of this physical presence is, of course, real, but the material doesnt
necessarily represent any particular universal category or type. The problem
posed by authenticity is the continuing desire that some particular instantiation
conform, with certainty, to a universal category. But, for Kant, even when faced
with the physical presence of a work of architecture, we remain always distanced
from it. After perceiving the physical world, the mind attempts, reflectively, to
determine what type or category the work could belong to. But the supposition is
always hypothetical, because of the perceptual distance between the physical
presence of a building and its reception.
Walter Benjamin and Martin Heidegger have taken Kants
problematization of the relationship between formal reality and the humanness of
29


perceptual distance into further detail. The next suggestion will consider the
implications of Benjamins writings on the aura for architectural authenticity.
30


Ontology and Aura
Walter Benjamins famous discussion of the aura in The Work of Art in
the Age of Technological Reproducibility : Third Version discloses a concern with
place that is significantly reminiscent of Platos Timeaus. Benjamin suggests
that throughout the nineteenth century, as mechanized production became
widespread, a distinction between production and re-production began to
disappear. The consequence of eased reproducibility is the detachment of the
production of artworks from the realm of tradition. Or, as Benjamin put it,
mechanized reproduction results in a tremendous shattering of tradition. The
concern with aura, then, appears at first glance to be mere nostalgia, longing for a
time when artisans were more connected to their productions, and lamenting the
alienation implicit in industrialized society. But, while this is a dimension to
Benjamins consideration of the aura, it is also a great oversimplification.
The notion of aura is intimately bound up with spatiality. Benjamin
considers that original works of art are embedded within a traditional process of
production. Such embeddedness in tradition takes on a physical dimension. One
can here think again of Adolf Loos essay Architecture, which shares some of
the same concerns. Loos writes, why does the architect, be he a good one or a
bad one, harm the lakeside? Because the architect, like practically every
townsman, has no culture. He lacks the security of the peasant, who does have a 21 22
21 Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility: Third
Version, in Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings Volume 4, trans. Edmond Jephcott and others,
ed. Howard Eiland and Michael W. Jennings (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2003).
22 Ibid., 221.
31


culture... I call culture that harmony between the inner and outer man which
alone guarantees sensible thinking and acting..Loos saw architecture to be a
shattering of tradition in the same way that Benjamin understood mechanized
production. Loos concern was not with mechanization of architectural
production as such, but the relationship between person and site that new methods
of architectural production entailed. Production that occurred outside of tradition
was destructive; for Benjamin the aura of a work was destroyed (or, more
properly, withered away) while for Loos, the site of an architectural occurrence
was damaged. A concern shared by both was that fluid production and
reproduction harmed an important spatiality, a spatiality intimately connected to
individuals relationships to their environments.
According to Benjamin, two processes lead to that shattering of tradition
that constituted the decline of the aura. First, the replacement of an artworks
unique existence with a plurality of copies, and, secondly, the meeting, or
reception of the reproduced artwork with a beholder. It is this reception, in which
an individual physically interacts with the reproduced (and so unoriginal) artwork,
which culminates in the auras decline. So, what is it that has declined as a result
of this process? What is Benjamins aura? The aura of natural objects he
describes as the unique phenomenon of a distance, however close it may be.23 24
23 Loos, Adolf. Architecture, Der Andere 1909, as quoted in Rykwert, Joseph. On Adams
House in Paradise: The Idea of the Primitive Hut in Architectural History (New York: The
Museum of Modem Art, 1972).
24 Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility: Third
Version, in Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings Volume 4, trans. Edmond Jephcott and
others, ed. Howard Eiland and Michael W. Jennings (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2003).
32


The aura consists in a certain physical separation between a unique artwork, and
its beholder. Notice that Benjamin refers to a beholder, which already implies a
spatiality; the beholder attempts to fix an entity in place.
It is easy to misread the aura as an essence, a unique feature intrinsic to
an object or entity, but this would be to read authenticity and aura as signifying
identical phenomena. Benjamin notes that, The authenticity of a thing is the
quintessence of all that is transmissible in it from its origin on, ranging from its
physical duration to the historical testimony relating to it.25 The distinction
between aura and authenticity, however, is that the aura implies an emanation,
and, hence, a distance between beholder and that which is beheld. To conquer
this distance would be to reach an authenticity, but Benjamin poses that this
distance is never eliminable. Rather, it is precisely qua this emanation, this
physical separation that people relate to artworks. That is, people can only relate
to artworks through a necessary physical distance.
Artworks are embedded in tradition, and, as such, are physically
embedded in their sites. Artworks take place, none more so than architecture. It
is from their unique physical instantiation that their aura emanates. The physical
dimension of artworks allows them to be held, possessed. Even so, however, the
physical distance between art works and their reception is never overcome.
Consider this passage from Benjamin, To follow with the eye while resting on
a summer afternoon a mountain range on the horizon, or a branch that casts its
25 Ibid., 254.
33


shadow on the beholder is to breathe the aura of those mountains, of that
branch.26 27 This discloses how it is that auras are experienced: as a passing scene.
However, the similarity to a scene is limited. If our environments are like a
moving picture, then Benjamin suggests that we are already within the frame, and
so the scene is not entirely understandable. The experience of the world is always
delimited by a certain distance.
And here Platos concern again reappears. Benjamins aura conjures
Platos notion of khora, or place. For Benjamin, we can inhabit a space, whether
natural or architectural, but we can never hold the space fast; it continues onward,
carrying us with it. So, we can never get to the authentic structure of a place.
Rather, all that can be received is the aura, the ghostly afterglow of an original
structure. The aura is that separation, that distance, between a beholder and its
object.
Is Benjamins aura Platos khora? Consider Benjamins comment, For
aura is tied to his [the human beings] presence in the here and now. There is no
facsimile of the aura. The similarity is striking. Recall that Platos khora also
is unable to be depicted. Khora is that substance which is constituted neither by
formal reality, nor by the arising and perishing appearances, but rather lies in
between them. It is not itself a physical manifestation, but is that which makes
physical manifestation possible. As such it has a dual capacity: it makes the
physical manifestation of appearances possible, and so is enabling, but also
26 Ibid., 255.
27 Ibid., 260.
34


consists in that separation between properly existent formal reality and its
imitations. It was earlier suggested that khora is akin to a picture frame; it holds
it s contents in place, but also demarcates them, separating them from the viewer.
What Benjamin adds to this image is an awareness of the progression through
time. Benjamin frequently considers both film and theatrical performance. The
aura emanates, rather than frames. It consists in images that reach the receiver
even as they fall away from their source. But, like khora, the aura withholds a
physical distance.
It is worth considering what it is that changes in the age of mechanical
reproduction. For Benjamin, the aura has always been present. So, as for Plato,
formal reality is always distant, always separated from the viewer. What, then,
regarding the aura, is changed by the re-production of artworks? Although the
distance between a person and a work of art, or architecture, is never eliminable,
the distance may be closed significantly. Traditionally, as Benjamin would have
it, when works of art consisted of a singular manifestation, the aura, while still
present, consisted in a personal distance. Or, more precisely, the distance
between a scene or setting, and its occupant is visible. Once singular art works
become replaced with a plurality of copies, the visible distance seems to
disappear, or, as Benjamin puts it, the aura withers. In regard to artworks and
their mass-produced copies, the copies, in all their various forms, masquerade as
original through their physical presence. Such copies, however, hold original
works at a yet greater distance. The receiver of such copies is unable to see the
35


original instantiation of a work, and so the aura, the actual physical distance
separating the receiver, is not apparent.
Benjamin felt that it was a passionate concern of people, at least among
todays masses to want to bring works physically closer. The attempt to bring
things closer, however, proceeds through the increased reception of copies, which
give the appearance of closeness. Because the aura separating an artwork with a
singular instantiation is logistically problematic, such bringing closer is facilitated
by the mass production of copies. Thus, if one wanted to see Paul Klees Angelus
Novelus, for instance, a work which Benjamin held in very high regard, one could
either find the original work, or, more simply, locate a copy, available on prints,
coffee mugs, posters, and now, invariably, the internet. Such tracking of re-
productions attempts to minimize a physical distance, and Benjamin thinks that a
desire to do so is emblematic of the age. However, the embrace of re-productions
serves only to make the distance between an original work and its receiver
greater.
Kant observed that in the absence of a broad category, or universal, into
which to subsume some particular aesthetic instantiation, people simply behaved
as though a universal existed. One can think here again of Benjamins idyllic
scene, On a summer afternoon, resting, to follow a chain of mountains on the
horizon or a branch casting its shadow on the person resting that is what it
'yo
means to breath in the aura of these mountains, of this branch. In Kants logic, 28
28 Ibid., 222-223.
36


one can appreciate and enjoy the play of such free beauties, though they are at
the same time confounding. They are free precisely because not understood to
belong to any broad category. Such natural displays are particular, without being
recognizably universal.
There is an important similarity here with Benjamins thought. For
Benjamin, the aura was a physical separation, distancing a scene from its
beholder, even while the person lived within the scene. The formal, then, is never
finally held in place, but continues to move onward, never resting. One can recall
that for Kant such aesthetic scenes are problematic because they generate
reflective judgments. Reflective judgments behave as if dealing with
universalizable phenomena, though in doing so they in fact resort to a leap of
judgment. Benjamins reproductions, in effect, engender the same response.
People believe that in embracing reproductions they are being brought closer to
original instantiations of artworks, even as they are being taken further away.
What Benjamin adds to Kants distinction is placement within an
historical context. Once again, Benjamin believes that the withering of the aura
constitutes a great shattering of tradition. Thus, for Benjamin, truth was more
readily apparent, but has become increasingly obscured with its progression
through history. His statement that there is hardly a square in Europe whose
secret structure was not profaned and impaired over the course of the 19th century
by the introduction of a monument29 reveals this attitude, and is once again
29 Walter Benjamin, Moscow Diary, October, 35 (1985): 65.
37


reminiscent of Loos condemnation of architecture. Benjamin saw the natural
physical proximity to reality to be increasingly obscured by the built world, for
which he saw capitalist development as responsible.
The revelation that the distance between reality, the secret structure, and
its reception is widening through an historical progression is significant. One can
recall here the nature of creation in the Timeaus. Platos logic is such that
uniform existence can produce appearances, arising and perishing. What is real,
or ontologically solid, can of necessity only produce the unreal (this relationship
is built-in to ontology, as such). It should be no surprise then, that Benjamin
recognizes the historical increase of production, and the accumulation of more
products, to further obscure reality. Benjamin sees an historical movement
toward the greater and greater obscurity of secret structures, all due to the
generation of mass. Here, again, Benjamins thought turns toward the
architectural. It is the mass of capitalist production that gives the illusion of
reality. Thus, architecture, in particular, is to blame for the state of disillusion
Benjamin recognizes as characteristic of the age. Benjamin wrote, The
perceptual world of modem human beings seems to contain far fewer of those
magical correspondences than did that of the ancients or even that of primitive
peoples30. There are fewer correspondences with reality because of the massive
interference of accumulating production.
30 Walter Benjamin, quoted in Detlef Mertins, Walter Benjamin and the Tectonic Unconscious
in Walter Benjamin and Art ed. Andrew Benjamin (New York & London: Continuum, 2005),
p.162.
38


Given this historical perspective, it is also not surprising that Benjamin
should point, particularly in the Arcades Project, toward an historical reversal, to
be brought about by architectures modem movement.31 Benjamin held Siegfried
Gideons (who was influenced to turn toward architecture after visiting the
Bauhaus and a meeting with Le Corbusier) writings in particularly high regard.
He admired the movement toward stripping away of ornamental accumulation.
Throughout the Arcades Project Benjamin points to the residue of prehistory that
can be glimpsed in the new glass and steel structures of the day. Once again,
Benjamin recognized truth to have a physical presence. Its trace could be
detected by stripping bare the architecture of the day, and replacing it with purely
formal structures. Such structures would reveal in glimpses truth that had been
made opaque by bourgeois architecture (in particular Benjamin railed against
the Empire Style, which he compared to revolutionary terrorism).
Recall that for Benjamin, the aura exists as a kind of physical presence.
This physical presence does not stay in place, however, but continually slips
away. Architecture can behave as a mask, pretending its massive presence is
truthful, or it can fade into its purely formal qualities, through which truth may be
actually visible (though still distant). Authenticity inheres in the physical
dimension. Its physical presence, however, is locked away, as it were. Benjamin
writes, To pry an object from its shell, to destroy its aura, is the mark of a
31 Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, trans. Howard Eiland & Kevin McLaughlin
(Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1999).
39


perception whose sense of the universal equality of things has increased to such a
degree that it extracts it even from a unique object by means of reproduction.32
Through the aura, one can see truth, moving away as if in a motion picture. One
cannot grasp such truth, and hold it fixed, nor can one force authenticity out of its
physical shell, but one can strip away the architectural obstructions to its
visibility.
While there is an important similarity between Platos and Benjamins
ontological thought, particularly in regard to khora and aura, there is also apparent
an important shift. For Plato, reality can never have a physical presence. This is
so because reality, by its nature, must remain both uniform and unmoving. The
consequence of this ontological requirement is that appearances must always
remain unreal. The physical world does not contain truth, does not properly exist,
and has no ontological standing. The demiourgos fashioned the world, but
because of the nature of all things fashioned, it is a lesser copy. For Benjamin,
however, truth does exist in the physical world. In fact, it is specifically in the
physical that truth resides. The aura, then, is the ghost of truths presence, even as
truth slips away. In this regard, Benjamins account of the aura converges with
Kants use of the formal. Kants forms are not hidden structures, as in Plato, but
the visible outline of a physical instantiation yet uncategorizable. Kants forms
are auratic then, inasmuch as, like smoke from a chimney, they recede from the
32
Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility: Third
Version, in Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings Volume 4, trans. Edmond Jephcott and others,
ed. Howard Eiland and Michael W. Jennings (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2003), 225.
40


eyes into their own disappearance. In none of the accounts examined thus far can
truth be made to stand still, as it were, to be held fast in works of architecture.
Benjamins move, however, placing truth in the physical (for Plato, the
ontological can never take place) at once opens architecture up both to hope and
nostalgia. Architecture is hopeful because, through the stripping away of
accumulated layers of mass, it can reveal an aura. However, it is nostalgic
because the aura is always an indication that truth cannot be brought fully into
presence; it has already slipped away. For Plato, such a bringing closer is always
an ontological impossibility, for Kant it is a human impossibility, and for
Benjamin it is the hope, however distant, of revisiting an historical past.
In Benjamins writings, ontology and origins are brought together, in a
particularly architectural way. The real, for Benjamin, the ontologically stable, is
never something present, but rather, something just passing away. It is always
distanced by the physical presence of the aura, which itself is only an echo of a
moment of origin. This move away from Platonic thought has important
implications for architecture. Under Platos conception of khora, built forms have
no hope of ontological standing. What Benjamin offers is that architecture may
yet move closer to origins. The residue of origins still exists in the physical
world, and may be brought ever closer to the eye, even if never finally brought to
presence. Benjamins hopeful nostalgia may be attributed to his consideration of
the temporal movement of the physical, a movement which might be mentioned 33
33 Chapter IV will deal with nostalgia more extensively.
41


in the same breath as Heideggers dasein. In Heideggers thought one can begin
to see a suggestion to remedy the longing for authenticity. From Heidegger, also,
which the next section will consider, one can see how Benjamins contributions
are directed specifically toward architecture.
42


Heidegger and the Frenziedness of Ordering
It may be that no philosophical thinker has contributed so much to
architectural discourse as Heidegger. As concerns questions of authenticity and
architecture, The Question Concerning Technology34 is perhaps the most
instructive. This work was originally published in German under the title Der
Frage Nach Technik, and while the term technik has commonly been translated as
technology, such a translation may contribute to a misunderstanding of the
intended meaning of the German word. Heidegger links technik to the Greek
techne. Techne, Heidegger offers, is related to the Greek episteme (though he
notes that this etymological link only existed until the writings of Plato). Thus,
techne involves a kind of knowledge, or knowing. Techne is that making, or
craftwork, that reveals knowledge. Such a revealing of knowledge, Heidegger
suggests, once again linking Greek precedent, is truth (that is, truth is not simply
knowledge, but revealed knowledge).
In the Greek world, a piece of craftwork could be said to exhibit techne if
it was beautifully constructed. This could refer to any crafted entity: a shield, a
house, a speech. The crucial aspect of such an artifact, however, lay in its ability
to reveal knowledge (and in just this respect was beautifully constructed). In The
Question Concerning Technology, Heidegger endeavors to discuss the connection
of technology, in the modem sense with techne, in the Greek. To what extent 34
34 Martin Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays, trans. William
Lovitt (New York: Harper & Row, 1977).
43


does technology, and its contemporary manifestations, reveal knowledge? Here,
in considering revealing, questions of authenticity are close at hand.
In relating techne to technology, there is a striking similarity between
Heideggers and Benjamins thought. Benjamin recognized that in the current
Age of Mechanical Reproduction, people are more distant from truth, as it inheres
in the physical, than they were in prehistory. Heidegger makes a similar
suggestion, offering that technology, in its contemporary manifestations, too often
strays away from techne in the Greek sense. Techne reveals, but does so in a
particular way. Techne reveals whatever does not bring itself forth and does not
yet lie here before us.35 Thus, techne is active; Heidegger suggests that in this
respect techne is also poiesis, a bringing-forth. This aspect of techne
underscores the importance of its instantiation in craftwork. Techne is something
in which a person is actively engaged in revealing. Thus, it is through making
that techne is able to reveal. Techne, then, is not revealing in the sense of simply
uncovering something inert. Techne actively brings forth.
Heideggers Being and Time deals extensively with a notion of care.36
This ethic of caring implies letting an entity be what it is (or letting it continue to
become what it is becoming). This notion is implicit in his discussion of techne,
too. Heidegger suggests that in pre-industrial societies people worked to cultivate
the potential inherent in the materials at hand. The significance of cultivation is
35 Ibid., 13.
36 Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, trans. John MacQuarrie and Edward Robinson (London:
SCM Press, 1962).
44


that it implies care for a mutable, changing entity. Cultivation of a growing entity
implies drawing something out (revealing truth, aletheia), and allowing it to
continue to grow, continue in becoming.
Technology (or technik), the modem instantiation of techne, differs only
subtly. However, as divorced from technics, technology does not cultivate truth;
instead truth is gestellt, enframed, or to use Phillippe Lacoue-Labarthes
translation, installed. In using this change in terminology Heidegger is
explicitly calling attention to the nature of gestellen to arrest movement. Whereas
cultivation suggests letting something grow, enframing, rather, suggests holding
something fixed.
With techne, truth comes to presence without disturbance, as it were. The
modem alternative, which Heidegger suggests holds a supreme danger, is that
truth is forcibly put in place by technology (and in just this sense is in-stalled).
Heidegger suggests that technology in the current age misconstrues the way truth
is brought to presence, instead attempting to place it there. He writes,
The hydroelectric plant is not built into the current of the Rhine River as
the old wooden bridge that joined bank with bank for hundreds of years.
Rather, the river is damned up into the power plant. What the river is
now, namely a water power supplier, derives from out of the essence of
the power station.37 38
Heidegger offers what might seem to be a contradictory ethic. He
suggests that knowledge of truth is only brought to presence by making, by
37 Phillippe Lacoue-Labarthe, Heidegger, Art and Politics, trans. Chris Turner (Basil Blackwell:
Oxford, 1990).
38 Martin Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays, trans. William
Lovitt (New York: Harper & Row, 1977), 16.
45


craftwork. This suggestion, which, as will be shown, is rooted in Pre-Socratic
Greek philosophy, is particularly significant for architecture. The danger in
Heideggers suggestion is that in making one must always guard against
destruction. Heideggers techne suggests a making which reveals truth as it is (or
as it continues to be), without forcing it to be in one particular place or another.
The example of the power plant on the Rhine is particularly instructive. The
wooden bridge does not interfere with the river. It is through the rivers being
what it is that the bridge continues to function, continues to have relevance,
continues to reveal. On the other hand, the power station places the river. It
stops and redirects it according to a predetermined course.
A crucial aspect of Heideggers distinction is the implication of
movement. The bridge lets the river continue to be what it is, which is an entity
in motion. The bridge reveals only by letting the water continue to flow, and it is
precisely the continuance of flow that is revealed by the bridge. The power
station holds the river in place, obstructs it, and damns it up. It is precisely this
barrier to movement and mutability that inhibits the revealing of truth.
Heidegger describes the consequence of the attitude toward technology
proposed by the power station:
Everywhere everything is ordered to stand by, to be immediately at hand,
indeed to stand there just so it may be on call for further ordering. Whatever is
ordered about in this way has its own standing. We call it the standing reserve.39
39 Ibid., 17.
46


The standing reserve, Heidegger notes, is thoroughly un-autonomous.
Here autonomy implies the ability to stand by ones self, to stand independently.
The modem machine does not stand by itself, rather, it stands where it has been
forcibly placed. The apparent irony is that in producing a standing reserve (of
energy, of resources, of order), technology, and, in particular, its modem
industrial manifestation, attempts to hold the world in place. By first installing,
and further keeping an installation enframed, technology endeavors to hold
entities in place, and in just this sense be autonomous. However, Heidegger
suggests that it is precisely through forcing a standing reserve that order becomes
inevitably un-autonomous. While it endeavors to be independent, existing in and
of itself, it remains dependent on its own placement. Mutability, (and not simple
mutability, but self-mutability) leads to autonomy. Nietzsche, in a similar vein,
described such mutability as a self-rolling wheel.40
Techne is a mode of revealing, and the same is true of modem technology,
though both proceed by different means. Techne cultivates while modem
technology orders. The relationship both of these processes have with ontology,
what Heidegger refers to as the real remains rather mysterious. Heidegger
writes, But man does not have any control over unconcealment itself, in which at
any given time the real shows itself or withdraws. Heidegger suggests here a
familiar notion; while technology attempts to reveal through ordering, it has no
jurisdiction over unconcealment, that within which ordering occurs.
40
Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra, trans. Thomas Common (New York: Boni &
Liveright, Inc., 1917). Nietzsches idea will be explored in more detail in chapter four.
47


Unconcealment, then, appears khora-\\ke. It is that within which the real shows
itself or withdraws. Here there is a kind of reversal of Plato. Recall that for
Plato, khora is that invisible surface upon which appearances arise and perish.
Khora is not real itself, but that necessary medium separating the eternally real
with the merely apparent. Heidegger turns this notion around. Unconcealment is
a kind of substratum, according to which the real appears or disappears. The
striking reversal is that for Heidegger, the real may be apparent, while for Plato it
always remains distant. Unconcealment, then, as well as khora, must always
remain necessarily mysterious (recall Platos description of khora, a kind
invisible and unshaped all receptive, and in some most perplexing and baffling
way partaking of the intelligible41).
Heideggers notion of unconcealment clouds what otherwise appears to be
a dyadic issue. It is not simply the case that through techne one can reveal truth,
while enframing obscures truth. Heidegger writes,
Since man drives technology forward, he takes part in ordering as a way
of revealing. But the unconcealment itself, within which ordering unfolds, is
never a human handiwork, any more than is the realm through which man is
already passing every time he as a subject relates to an object.42
Thus, unconcealment is not simply accessed by one means and not another.
Rather, both techne and enframing are means of revealing the real. Enframing,
however, reveals the real as standing reserve. Techne reveals the real as
something growing, something to be cultivated. Notice, then, that neither process
41 Plato, Timeaus and Critias, trans. Desmond Lee (London: Penguin Books Ltd, 1977).
42 Martin Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays, trans. William
Lovitt (New York: Harper & Row, 1977), 18.
48


leads to falsity, exactly. They both reveal differently, though the revealing of
modem technology is particularly limiting. Heidegger writes, Freedom is that
which conceals in a way that opens to light, in whose clearing there shimmers the
veil that covers what comes to presence of all truth and lets the veil appear as
what veils.43
Thus, techne does not reveal truth in all its entirety, it reveals the truth as
something veiled. Put differently, for Heidegger truth is precisely that which
veils. Thus, to reveal truth is to bring to clarity the fact of concealment, the
inevitability of hiddenness. If truth is mutable, continually changing (and in this
way autonomous), then techne, while revealing truth, must always remain distant
from it. Techne opens a way to truth, but this way always consists in a distance
(and here Benjamins aura is close at hand).
Modem technology, enframing, also reveals the real, but in an incomplete
way. If one can think of the real, for Heidegger, as what appears, then enframing
is deficient because it masks the mutability of appearances. Enframing does not
reveal the real as coming to presence (Heidegger here uses the word wesen), but
as simply present. Enframing forces the real into a fixed state, it installs the real
into a place, whereas techne reveals the coming to presence of the real as just this:
a coming to presence.
Truth, for Heidegger, is active revealing itself. Technology, as enframing,
threatens such revealing. Or, rather, it blocks every view into revealing, such
43 Ibid., 25. The notion of a clearing will be particularly important in the next chapter.
49


that truth proceeds without being visible. Heidegger suggests that enframing thus
radically endangers a relationship to truth. Technology proceeds in enframing
by forcing an ordering of the real, setting fixedly in place. Such enframing does
not simply view the real as something fixed, but forces it into stasis. It makes the
real stay installed in its place. The manifestation of this process is the increased
ordering of the world. Again, the power station imposes a structure upon the
river, whereas the aged bridge allows the river to continue in its own revealing.
The consequence of this ordering through technology is dissatisfaction
that truth seems to continue on its way, slipping out of the imposed order (and,
once again, truth, for Heidegger, is precisely this slipping out). Faced with such a
situation, further ordering becomes irresistible. This leads to a frenziedness of
ordering, a frantic placement of yet more frames that would hold truth in place.
Technology, then, in a dangerous way, can easily get out of hand, proliferating
itself in an attempt to subdue the world. Such proliferation only perpetuates itself,
however.
Heidegger and Benjamin share a common strain, in supposing that in
prehistory, truth, in all its mutability, was closer at hand. Heidegger, like
Benjamin, imagines that in industrial proliferation there is a great danger of
obscuring truth. But, also like Benjamin, Heidegger supposes that there is in
technology a saving power. He writes,
Yet we can be astounded. Before what? Before this other possibility:
that the frenziedness of technology may entrench itself everywhere to such an
50


extent that someday, throughout everything technological, the essence of
technology may come to presence in the coming-to-pass of truth.44
Heidegger is here suggesting that if the development of technology
proceeds uninterrupted, ultimately entrenching itself fully throughout the world,
the coming to presence of truth will no longer be obscured. The contemporary
manifestation of technology, presenting itself as a kind of forcible installation of
order, exists in contradiction to truths mutability. However, once technological
development has progressed to its apotheosis, enframed order will be ubiquitous.
Recall that enframing also reveals the real, though it reveals it as standing reserve.
But, the placing of orders, even if it proceeds frantically, builds the real. That is,
the real begins to resemble more and more the very orders placed by technology.
While enframing initially jars with a world still emerging from an early stage, in
which techne guided human activity, eventually the enframed world becomes the
real as such. The technological process becomes increasingly ontological. Thus,
the placing of orders less and less becomes something that conceals the real. As,
technologically, the real comes to presence, it may do so in the presence of the
coming-to-pass of truth.45
There is a path of ontological progression from Plato to Heidegger, but all
retain a notion of ontology that depends on concealment. Recall that in Plato, the
ontological is always the hidden. The real is precisely that which is always
veiled, behind the physical separation of khora. Kant, too, theorizes this apparent
44 Ibid., 35.
45 Here, the resemblance with the writings of both Hegel and Marx is significant.
51


separation between the free play of aesthetic appearances, and their conformity to
any universal category (and in this universality lies the ontological). Benjamin
shifts the location of the ontological dramatically, placing it in the physical, and
no longer in the noumenal realm of Plato. Even doing so, however, Benjamin
keeps the ontological yet distant, always moving, physically distanced by the
aura. Heidegger theorizes more fully the notion of movement. The real is always
coming to presence, but it always presents itself as a veil. Put more precisely,
Heidegger suggests that it is the nature of the real to appear as veil (the veil
appears as what veils).
The authentic is the ontological, but it presents a peculiar type of
ontology: the ontology of origins. Thus, the authentic is always a distant and
concealed real. Each of the thinkers considered thus far place the ontological yet
distantly. It is significant, too, that for each, the ontological, in its status as
authentic, is physically separated from human activity. It is precisely this
architectural thinking, the thinking of this physical separation that maintains a
belief in the possibility in authenticity. Authenticity, then, is intimately bound up
with the architectural, and is not ultimately separable. Heidegger, in theorizing
techne, draws upon Pre-Socratic thought. A look at Anaximander, however,
reveals an attitude in which architecture and ontology are intimately bound
together, but in which there is no conception of the ontological as something
hidden.
52


Anaximander
At the time of Anaximanders appearance in Miletus in the sixth century
B.C.E., two contrasting discourses already competed to explain the Greek
understanding of humanitys origins. One account suggested that people first
emerged like plants, growing out of the earth. The other, however, suggested that
humans were instead fashioned by a divine craftsman, modeled after his image.
Thus, before Anaximanders own contributions, which are usually taken to
comprise the first forays into rational philosophical thought in the Greek world,
already a dichotomy was apparent between theories supporting artificial versus
natural origins.
It is between the seemingly distant shores of this dichotomy, that a
concern with authenticity is first manifest. Once again, any artifact or entity
presuming authenticity relies, for its status, on its own origins. The Greek
etymology of authenticity suggests the quality of self-governed action, the act
one commits by (and, perhaps, to) oneself. Both of these early Greek theories,
then, are problematic for the authenticity-seeker. If humans were indeed
fashioned, then they are merely secondary, copies already at their very births. It
is this problem of creation, which would so vex Plato: the created thing is not
authentic, and, consequently, is of dubious reliability.
On the other hand, if humans emerged organically, growing naturally from
the soil like the acanthus that first suggested the Corinthian column, then the
problem of the progression of time arises. The growing entity, whether acanthus
53


leaf or architectural structure, changes and inevitably decays. As such, its claim
to authenticity continually dissipates. The awareness of this problem may help to
explain the relevance of the myth of Athenas birth. She was said to have leapt
fully formed from the head of Zeus. Thus, she arrived in the world motherless,
not shaped by a creator, but also full grown. She didnt, then, develop over time
like a living mortal. Such a model for emergence simplifies the authenticity
dilemma, but it did not survive the rationalizing efforts of the Pre-Socratic
philosophers. For Anaximander and the other natural philosophers, the world
did not seem to spring ready-made into existence. Indeed, they watched new
structures taking shape around them as rapid architectural and political
achievements solidified Greek culture. The new architectural and urban
structuring of sixth century B.C.E. Greece paralleled Pre-Socratic thought, which
sought to account for the newly appearing order of the world.
Architects, of course, still assign to their structures both artificial and
natural origins: Quinlan Terry claimed quite recently that the Greek orders were
directly transmitted by God46, and we can refer to Frank Lloyd Wrights organic
architecture or Laugiers primitive hut as representative of what Anthony Vidler
called the first typology: nature.47 While Vidler has suggested that early
architectural thought was dominated by paradigms of naturalness, it would be a
great oversimplification to think of Pre-Classical Greek architectural thought as
46 Terry suggested, in 1982, in a lecture delivered before the Royal Institute of British Architects,
that Vitruvius suppressed the original source of the orders. Terry claimed that the orders were not
Greek, but instead were given by God directly to the builders of the Biblical Tabernacle.
47 Anthony Vidler, The Third Typology, in K. Michael Hays, Oppositions Reader: Selected
Essays, 1973-1984 (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1999).
54


dominated by a natural typology. Rather, ontological status was openly debated.
This can be seen in Plutarchs account of the Life of Theseus?* which suggests
that shortly after the founding of Athens as a distinct polis, competing models of
origins already coexisted.
After returning from his defeat of the Cretan Minotaur, Theseus arrived
back in Athens. The vessel which had carried him on his journey was preserved,
such that as the older planks of the ship decayed, they were replaced with newer
ones. Over time, the entirety of the ship came to be replaced, such that none of
the original matter of Theseus ship remained. Plutarch noted that the ship
became a standing example among philosophers of the difficulty of assigning
identity to an entity in flux. Was the rebuilt ship still, properly considered, the
Ship of Theseus, or, in fact, a different vessel entirely? That the ship was
preserved at all is remarkable in illustrating that Athenians sought, very early in
their history, to preserve the moment of their birth as a polis. The Athenians,
then, seem to have desired that their city remain authentic, that it hold fast to the
moment of its own solidification.
Anaximanders contribution to the discourse is significant because his
thought sought to marry the natural and artificial models. Both his writings and
his crafted work suggest a world whose order is gradually emerging, but is also
crafted by human hands (recall, here, Heideggers pointing to techne's
exemplification in craftwork). Anaximander is generally considered to have been 48
48 Plutarch, Greek Lives: A Selection of Nine Greek Lives, trans. Robert Waterfield (New York:
Oxford University Press, 1998).
55


the first speculative thinker of Western philosophy. That is to say, while he
emerged in a world just awakening from mythical thought, he is commonly
regarded as having introduced rational problem solving to dilemmas in the natural
sciences, mathematics, and philosophy. Anaximander, however, also appears to
have imagined a world both natural, in the sense of a thing changing and
growing organically, and artificial, in the sense of having been created. His
model for this thought was specifically architectural, and it is thus fitting that
Anaximanders thought be directed back at architecture, and not solely at the
origins of the world. Anaximanders thought is also relevant to discourse on the
primitive hut. Vitruvius may have been the first architectural thinker to have
directly written on the first human habitations, but Anaximanders universe stands
as an elegant complement: one in which architectural structures and natural
structures had not (yet) become distinct. Finally, it is fitting that in considering
architectural origins we should look at Anaximander, the first architectural and
philosophical thinker in the Greek world. While it is not Anaximanders status as
philosophical progenitor that makes his thought reliable, it is with a certain irony
that a solution to what is currently a fascination with authenticity can be gleaned
from so early a thinker.
Thales and his disciple Anaximander, both conducted architectural work.
Thales is claimed by Herodotus to have altered the course of a river, and is
credited with several discoveries in mathematics and geometry. Little about
Thales theoretical contributions is known, however, as none of his written work
56


survived antiquity. For his disciple, however, there can be a little greater
certainty, stemming from the brief Anaximander Fragment, the sole remainder of
his written corpus, and from later commentaries. Both Thales and Anaximander
are considered naturalists, though Thales is generally not considered to have been
a speculative thinker in the sense that Anaximander was. While actively
addressing problems in mathematics and architecture, his thought is seen to have
been yet steeped in mythopoeia. Anaximander advanced Thales emerging
rationality, particularly by engaging in architectural and mathematical work that
mirrored his theoretical work. He is variously credited with creating architectural
models, a model of the cosmos, a seasonal sundial, a terrestrial map, and with
heading a colonizing expedition across the Black Sea. His surviving writing, also,
is the earliest prose work to approach philosophical questions.
It is notable that both Anaximander and Thales are credited with such a
seemingly diverse array of accomplishments. Today, those who have such widely
ranging interests are suspect. If one works in many fields, he or she is thought to
be merely dabbling, pursuing personal curiosity, but not exhibiting expertise. The
contemporary attitude is reflective of the value placed upon increasing
specialization. Possible knowledge has broadened so tremendously in our current
world that expertise across a broad array of fields is, perhaps, an impossibility.
What is notable in recalling Thales and Anaximander is not that such
diverse expertise was possible, but that in the Classical and pre-Classical world,
such diversity of accomplishment was, in fact, the hallmark of expertise. The
57


learned searched for causes, and the same causes might be revealed in any
endeavor, whether practical or speculative. That is to say, if one understood the
principles governing the making of models, for instance, as Anaximander
understood, then one also knew how to address basic philosophical problems.
Aristotle wrote, For the same reason we consider that the master craftsmen in
every profession are more estimable and know more and are wiser than the
artisans because they know the reasons of things which are done.49 That
Anaximander may have both constructed a physical model of the cosmos, and
wrote a commentary on the cosmos origins is suggestive that he applied the same
rationalizing thought to both endeavors. Knowing the reasons for which things
are done enabled those with expertise to engage in the various kinds of work we
only recently have come to view as dissimilar.
Robert Hahn and Indra McEwen have both made the case for craftwork as
the precursor to philosophical thought in pre-classical Greece.50 Hahn in
particular has suggested that as individuals mastered craft and construction
processes, they revealed universal principles. The suggestion is not that
understanding universal principles allows one to excel at many kinds of pursuits,
it is rather that thinkers such as Anaximander were able to develop speculative
thought because they excelled at hands-on efforts. Anaximander wrote in Miletus
49 Aristotle Metaphysics 981a30-b2. Quoted in McEwen, Indra. Socrates Ancestor: An Essay on
Architectural Beginnings Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1993, p.123.
50 Robert Hahn, Anaximander and the Architects: The Contributions of Egyptian and Greek
Architectural Technologies to the Origins of Greek Philosophy (Albany: State University of New
York Press, 2001). Indra McEwen, Socrates Ancestor: An Essay on Architectural Beginnings,
(Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1993).
58


during the sixth century BCE, a time of unprecedented architectural activity. In
Samos, which neighbors Miletus, the Heraion was constructed on an enormous
scale, using new architectural techniques introduced from Egypt. The influence
of the Heraions construction and other monumental temple-building can be seen
in the writings and models of Anaximander.
Anaximanders Physical Models
Anaximander is credited with creating the first Greek map of the world
(similar Babylonian works predate Anaximanders). Curiously, Anaximanders
map was round, like a Greek shield, depicting Greece, and Delphi in particular, at
the center of the world. Around the earth flowed the ocean in a complete circle,
upon which the earth was imagined to float. Later, Herodotus found
Anaximanders map comical, noting the peculiarity of making the earth round as
if turned on a lathe. However, the lathe-like roundness of Anaximanders map is
consistent with his physical model of the universe. That his map should suggest
construction by architectural techniques may well have been intended, in part to
imply a metaphorical similarity between the existing world, as represented in the
map, and the architectural structures of the built world. The use of an
architectural motif may have been more than mere metaphor, however, suggesting
that the mapped, or known, world supervened upon the built world. Or, put more
directly, it may be that for Anaximander, a distinction between a naturally
existing world and a world constructed by builders was not problematic. This is
further evidenced by his model of the universe.
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Anaximander imagined, and may have actually constructed, a physical
model of the universe. The periphery of the model consisted of bands for stars,
planets and the Sun, while the Earth hung suspended in the center. Curiously, the
Earth as Anaximander imagined it was neither spherical, nor entirely flat. Rather,
it was formed cylindrically, specifically in the shape of a column-drum, the stone
base of a column. Such column-drums were, contemporaneously with
Anaximander, newly able to be constructed of enormous size by turning on a
lathe.
It has been amply shown that Anaximander proceeded with his model of
the universe by appropriating the architectural techniques he observed practiced in
Didyma, Ephesus, and Samos.51 The issue of whether Anaximander simply
imitated the practices of contemporary architects is irrelevant. What is significant
is that for Anaximander, philosophy and architecture not only shared a certain
formulaic method, but that the universe was conceived architecturally. In a
reversal of the architects rationalized construction of houses for their Gods,
Anaximander supposed that the cosmos itself shared the same structure. Thus,
Anaximander imagined a universe not divinely constructed, but placed by human
hands.
51 Dirk L. Couprie, Robert Hahn, & Gerard Naddaf, Anaximander in Context: New Studies in the
Origins of Greek Philosophy (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2003). Robert Hahn,
Anaximander and the Architects: The Contributions of Egyptian and Greek Architectural
Technologies to the Origins of Greek Philosophy (Albany: State University of New York Press,
2001). Indra McEwen, Socrates Ancestor: An Essay in Architectural Beginnings (Cambridge,
MA: The MIT Press, 1993).
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Anaximanders imagery recalls Homers earlier depiction of the earth as
like flat and round like Achilles shield. Indeed, Anaximander was no doubt
aware of this suggestion. His rendering, however, was likely more than the
continuation of a literary or symbolic trope. Rather, Anaximander ventured out
from a worldview governed by mythical thought, in which humans were granted
scant control over their own environment, and initiated the development of
naturalistic explanations of the worlds structure. What is remarkable is that, in
moving from archaic exemplars to rational explanations, he did not abandon
mythical thinking entirely. Rather, his models suggest a bridge between mythical
thinking and rational fact-making. Anaximanders column-drum earth was an
attempt to draw upon the same knowledge that allowed enormous temple
construction and apply that learning to the structure of the cosmos.
The Anaximander Fragment
Anaximander, in the fragment that remains of his writing, described the
universe at its beginning as hetera tisphysis apeiros. Anaximanders apeiros
has traditionally been translated as the Boundless {to apeiron), implying a
universe in an undefined state, perhaps chaos. This more common understanding
of apeiros, when read as to apeirori\ has been to consider the Boundless as
objectified: a closed state, the primal universe at rest until acted upon, and
through such action, granted definition (and bounded). Indra McEwen has
suggested that this reading of the Anaximander Fragment is misleading, telling
only half of the story. McEwen has shown that later commentators on
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Anaximander considered apeiros as to apeiron", a subtle but significant
alteration: As qualifier a feature of experience apeiros, whose gender, as an
adjective, changed with the gender of the thing qualified, acquired independent
ontological status by the addition of the definite article to, whereby its gender
also became fixed as neutral. There is no evidence that Anaximander, ever,
himself neutralized apeiros, since to apeiron appears only in the commentaries,
and not in the verbatim quotation. The change is illustrative of the Pre-
Classical Greek concern with the elemental composition of the universe. Apeiros,
as to apeiron, was taken to refer to something material, perhaps in order to fit into
other debates about the universes physical makeup. This change masks an
important feature of apeiros, however; apeiros, as an adjective was a quality, not
a state. Anaximander, in referring to hetera tis physis apeiros is not describing
the physical composition of the universe, but, instead, a quality of that universe.
McEwen has read hetera tis physis apeiros as some other boundless
nature-as-coming-to-be. The universe is indeed unbounded, but it is also a
universe still in formation. Thus considered, the Boundless is not a fixed state,
but rather, the universe, even in its primal form is already in the midst of change.
While later commentators have long considered what the material of this
boundless nature could be, the question may be misplaced. Anaximanders
nature-as-coming-to-be is also hetera ; nature is other, and as such is neither
named nor nameable. Apeiros implies an undefined movement, though, indeed, a 52
52 Indra McEwen, Socrates Ancestor: An Essay in Architectural Beginnings (Cambridge, MA: The
MIT Press, 1993), 138.
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movement toward greater definition. The universe in its earliest state is
undefined, not yet hierarchical. Once again, however, it would be misleading to
simply consider nature to be an expanse of unnamed possibility. Rather, this
other boundless nature is marked by the appearance of possibility, or more
correctly, the experience of the appearance of possibility.
But what becomes of this experience of possibility? A crucial aspect of
the Anaximander Fragment is its description of the universe as existing in time.
Anaximanders beginning reads peculiarly because it is diachronic, already
moving ahead through time. While the universe at its beginning does not proceed
from a place of fixity, it does proceed toward greater fixity. The possibility
suggested by the experience of the boundless, apeiros, is the possibility for
greater order, greater boundedness. Once again, the universe Anaximander
describes is not irremediably chaotic, as one might fear. Rather, it is in the
process of becoming ordered (or, rather, order is both being placed into the world,
and, in the process, is being discovered). It is with the intervention of time that
boundless nature-as-coming-to-be becomes ordered.
The worldview suggested by the Anaximander Fragment is consistent, too,
with Anaximanders physical model. The model, also, suggests a diachronic
structure. The major significance of the column-drum shaped cosmos, is that the
column-drum is a human artifact. Anaximander imagines a universe structured by
human hands. This does not imply, however, that Anaximander understood the
Ionian temples being constructed around him to be universal exemplars,
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transcendent or inevitable forms. Rather, Anaximander imagined that the
structure of the universe had specifically been created, constructed with human
hands (before the appearance of monumental temples, the order of the universe
was still coming-to-be). The use of the column-drum, once again, is more than
mere metaphor. Whether or not the universe was literally cylindrical is irrelevant;
what Anaximander contributed was the notion that the structure of the universe is
made to appear by human intervention. This structure is not an inevitable ideal,
but rather a crafted artifact, and as such, is governed by the rules of time.
It has been suggested by Robert Hahn that Greek temples, at the time
when Anaximander was writing, were conceived organically, as entities that
would develop over time: An exploration of architectural proportionality
suggests that temples, for example, appear to have been conceived of as growing
like a living organism. The creation of the buildings seems to have been
consciously planned in such a way that we can see that the architects allowed the
buildings to grow.53 Indeed, a look at the historical development of temples
indicates the ease with which earlier forms translated to their larger descendents.
Wood was replaced with stone, and columns migrated further to the periphery.
Temples, rather than being replaced with entirely new structures, grew into their
mature forms.
Consistent throughout Anaximanders naturalization of the universe is
his use of analogy. He draws upon conceptions of human law, and also of
53 Dirk L.Couprie, Robert Hahn, and Gerard Naddaf, Anaximander in Context: New Studies in the
Origins of Greek Philosophy (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2003), 99.
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biological growth (he proposed that humans first emerged after developing from
fish), in devising his conception of the universe. Once again, he observed the
universe as a living being, and sought to provide a naturalized account of the
universe. In this way, Anaximanders logic proceeds by locating resemblances:
the universe is like a work of architecture, architecture is like a biological
organism, etc. Thus, Anaximander valued experience as able provide a starting
place for reason. Experience was, in this sense, reliable, in a way that, for the
later Plato, it would not be.
The real importance of analogy, for Anaximander, was that it was means
of discovery. That is, by proceeding from analogy, Anaximander could
demonstrate that two instantiations shared a fundamental similarity, and not
merely an apparent one. By looking at architectural structure, one could discover
those same laws which governed the cosmos. Thus, the architecture of the
universe was not merely similar in appearance to temple architecture, but was
fundamentally the same. The universe, for Anaximander, simply consisted of that
human placement of order. It was not merely like a craftwork, but had, itself,
been crafted.
The importance of the analogy with craftwork is to show that for
Anaximander, the universe contained order, but this order was not entirely
definitive. Anaximanders three-dimensional model shows us that he did indeed
believe that the universe wasnt chaotic. Nor, as his writing shows, did it emerge
from chaos. Rather the universe was originally unformed, and remained so until
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acted upon. Just as the mason creates form out of unformed stone and the
architect creates order out of the stonecutters disorderly blocks, Anaximanders
cosmos begins unshaped. However, once shaped, the creation, whether cosmos or
temple, is subject to physical law. In the Anaximander Fragment, he suggests that
everything that arises passes away again, according to law. So, the universe
may hold at its center a column drum, an instantiation of human order, but there is
no indication that this column drum will exist eternally. Eventually, it will pass
away, according to law. As shall be seen, this passing away would later vex
Plato. For Anaximander, however, this posed no problem. In fact, it was just this
mutability that Anaximander pointed to as evidence of the universes order. As
Hahn, again, has suggested, All of nature is perceived as being alive and in just
this sense is a cosmos.54 Behavior according to natural law suggested the
opposite of chaos, a jumble of disordered, unconnected parts.
For Greek builders, a paradeigma (the origin of paradigm) was an
architectural model created to scale, used as a standard for imitation in the
construction of a particular project. However, paradeigma carried two meanings.
It could also refer to an ideal or exemplar, applicable not just to a particular
construction project, but universally. Anaximanders column-drum universe may
be thought of in the same way. Utilizing the same architectural principles that
were responsible for the construction of the world around him, he may have
imagined his model to be an ideal fabrication of the ordered universe.
54 Ibid., 100.
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Anaximanders contributions occurred in a world already struggling to
account for its own creation. Anaximander sought to join natural and artificial
accounts. He utilized natural analogies to suggest a growing universe, but he also
suggested that this growing universe was being crafted, not by a divine Other, but
by its inhabitants. In this way, Anaximander cleverly circumvents the problem of
authenticity. The world was not imagined to have been established by a single
agent at a given moment, now lost.
Tracing Plato, Kant, Benjamin and Heidegger, one can see a gradual
explication of the separation between origins and their remainders. This chasm
separating an authentic reality and its apprehension was understood by these
thinkers to be inseparable from the notion of architecturality itself. The
architectural endeavor implied the creation of some distancing barrier. The
barrier may not be totally impenetrable; now and then there are glimpses of the
real, but the since the advent of architecture, the real is never accessible. The
peculiar aspect of Anaximanders architectural thought is that origins are never
imagined to exist as a limited (and limiting) point. Origins, then, are not
distinctly set off from any of the process of growth and creation by which the
universe has gained its present form. One can see, then, that thinking of origins as
such, and thinking of authenticity as such, is already delimiting. The inauguration
of thinking on authenticity already sounds the death knell for authenticitys
possibility. Anaximander circumvents the problem by not encountering it in the
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first place: there is no point of origin, only some other boundless nature-as-
coming-to-be.
The following chapter will parallel the development of thinking on
architectural ontology and authenticity by examining the historical progression of
architectural treatment of the primitive hut.
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CHAPTER 3
THE PRIMITIVE HUT
Vitruviuss First Builders
The pondering over architectural origins usually, and sensibly, revisits
Vitruvius Ten Books on Architecture, trolling the text for first principles. We
should not think, however, that the search for origins is solely a modem endeavor.
Vitruvius, too, in what are perhaps his most well-known passages, speculates on
the first structures erected by humans. Vitruvius account of architectural origins,
appearing in Ten Books on Architecture proceeds as follows:
Humans, by their most ancient custom, were bom like beasts in the
woods, and caves, and groves, and eked out their lives by feeding on rough
fodder. During that time, in a certain place, dense, close-growing trees, stirred by
stormy winds and rubbing their branches against one another, took fire. Terrified
by the flames, those who were in the vicinity fled. Later, however, approaching
more closely, when they discovered that the heat of the fire was a great advantage
to the body, they threw logs on it and preserving it by this means they summoned
others, showing what benefits they had from this thing by means of gestures. In
this gathering of people, as they poured forth their breath in varying voices, they
established words by happening upon them in their daily routines. Later, by
signifying things with more frequent practice, they began by chance occurrence to
speak sentences and thus produced conversations among themselves.
The beginning of association among human beings, their meeting and
living together, thus came into being with the discovery of fire. When many
people came into a single place, having, beyond all the other animals, this gift of
nature: they walked, not prone, but upright, they therefore could look upon the
magnificence of the universe and the stars. For the same reason they were able to
manipulate whatever object they wished, using their hands and other limbs. Some
in the group began to make coverings of leaves, others to dig caves under the
mountains. Many imitated the nest building of swallows and created places of
mud and twigs where they might take cover. Then, observing each others homes
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and adding new ideas to their own, they created better types of houses as the days
went by. 5
Throughout their prehistory, humans in their natural state lived a solitary
and barbarous existence as individuals, not interacting or communicating with one
another. These first people were not yet social. Sociability had yet to be learned.
The numberless days of solitary existence gradually end following the discovery
of fire. As Vitruvius tells the story, branches, rubbing together in a storm,
produce fire. Though initially startled, people, acting as single individuals,
eventually draw near. The warmth and comfort provided by the flames, and the
fascination with the dancing light, convince people to stay. Through their
lingering, the observers are able to understand how fire may be controlled and
mastered. Some of the benefits provided by fires mastery are clear: warmth in
cold times, protection from predatory beasts, and practicality in preparing food.
As Vitruvius would have it, however, there was another significant impact of the
mastery of fire. The control of fire facilitated, for the first time in human history,
social interaction. Though not initially social (not social by their nature), people
learned sociability as a consequence of fires lure. People learned to
communicate, first by granting names to those visible artifacts they had in
common, and eventually language, too, emerged. Thus, the mastery of fire ushers
in society as such. Vitruvius ascription of such a role to fire is not insignificant.
Our prima facie view of fire often considers it to be a destructive force. 55
55 Vitruvius, Ten Books on Architecture, trans. Ingrid D. Rowland. (New York: Cambridge
University Press, 1999), 34.
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Vitruvius account, however, considers fire to be that spark from which society,
itself, springs. Fire, then, far from being merely destructive, it is also creative,
and intimately bound up with the architectural.
Certain aspects of Vitruvius account have precedents. Fire, especially, is
bound up with the architectural as early as in the Homeric hymn to Hephaestus:
Sing clear-voiced Muse,
Sing of Hephaestus
Famed for his cunning wisdom,
Famed for his marvelous works.
Inventor of cities, builder of shelters, father of tribes.
With bright-eyed Athena he taught men throughout the world glorious
ways
to work
Men who used to dwell in caves in the mountains like wild beasts.
Now they have learned to work gloriously
Both skillfully and cunningly,
Taught so by Hephaestus famed for his artful works
Now, easily, they live a peaceful life in their own houses the whole year
round.56
Diodorus Siculus account of humanitys origins is remarkably similar to
Vitruvius. As in Ten Books on Architecture, the first people endured a
precarious and subhuman existence. They roamed about individually in search of
food... they were innocent of clothes, unacquainted with houses or fire, and
lacking the very idea of cultivated food. As in Vitruvius account also, fire
proves to be the spark that gives birth to humanity, as such:
Hephaestus was the discoverer of fire, and earned his divinity through
service to mankind. It happened this way. One winter, Hephaestus came upon a
mountain struck by lightening, with the surrounding forest ablaze. He enjoyed the
warmth immensely, and throwing on wood to sustain the expiring flame, he
56 Homeric Hymn to Hephaestus.
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invited other men to enjoy his discovery. After gaining knowledge of fire and
other conveniences, by degrees they discovered the arts and other things of
advantage to human existence.57
It is revealing that Vitruvius casts architectures beginning not as a
singular moment, but as a progression of events, spread over unnamed days and
seasons (and we can here think of Anaximanders account, too). Vitruviuss first
people, before discovering architecture, lived a difficult and solitary existence in
caves until the discovery and mastery of fire. Fire finally brought people
together; in its protecting glow the first communities were formed, and language
was bom. It is only after the advent of language, Vitruvius suggests, that people
endeavored to improve upon their cmde shelters (the importance of language is
echoed by both Cicero and Crassus, who suggested the crucial role of language in
keeping people together in one place). With the ability to communicate, and
compare structures, people were finally able to develop an architectural
methodology. Thus, architectural principles developed slowly as builders noticed
one anothers dwellings, gradually improving upon them until certain practices
became standardized.
I would like to call attention to two aspects of Vitruvius account that I
take to be particularly significant. The first is architectures grounding in the
social. For Vitruvius, architecture is fundamentally a social activity, bom from
human interaction. Prior to the instantiation of social behavior (and, more
explicitly, language) architecture simply didnt exist. Rather, humans made do
57 Siculus, Diodorus. Library of History. Trans, by C.H. Oldfather, (Loeb Classical Library.
Cambridge, MA. Harvard University Press, 1935).
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wherever they could, but without actually altering their environments physically
(Diodorus imagines the first people not making do at all, before they had even yet
discovered the shelter of caves). Even after the advent of society, Vitruvius first
builders imitated the dwellings of animals, fashioning their homes after the nests
of birds. This underscores the absence of any transcendent architectural paradigm
existing fully formed in the minds of would-be builders. Architectural
knowledge, as Vitruvius would have it, does not spring ready made, as it were,
from newly minted minds (here we can think again of Athena leaping full grown
from Zeus forehead). Architectural knowledge is rather bom of experience, of
experimentation, and of trial and error.
It is significant that for Vitruvius, architecture is socially rooted.
Vitruvius speculates that prior to coming together in communities, humans did not
build. Rather, they lived a precarious existence without shelter, and without any
social cohesion. This description of the world before architecture is similar to
Anaximanders conception of the universe as apeiros. Due to social isolation, the
world remained unformed; it had yet to be acted upon. With the discovery of fire,
people began to come together in groups, and finally to build. So, for Vitruvius,
building is only possible as a social act. A paradigm for building is not readily
apparent to the singular individual, even by observing nature. The notion of the
singular individual being already invested with architectural knowledge would
develop much later. Lucretius account of origins comes close. His first peoples
development of both fire and architecture is almost entirely unremarkable, as if a
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foregone conclusion. For Vitruvius, however, builders must look to nature and to
one another, slowly improving techniques until standards are developed.
The second peculiarity of Vitruvius account is the absence of any original
moment. Vitruvius does imagine a pre-architectural state, but he does not place
the instantiation of architecture in a particular point in time, an instant of
authenticity. Rather, architecture is the outcome of a series of events. People,
living solitary existences, discover fire. This leads to social behavior, which in
turn begets language, with which the invention of architecture is possible.
Vitruvius does not entertain the possibility, either, that architecture began in a
particular moment, as Le Corbusiers mythological account in Towards a New
Architecture later would, or that there was an original state in which architecture
was pure and uncorrupted (as may be read from Laugiers account).
The Vitruvian account is significant in that the relationship between
architecture and mimesis is not problematised. Vitruvius contended that
architecture is bom of the imitation of nature, not the imitation of a mental ideal.
Nor did the natural world described by Vitruvius clearly project a complete or
perfect vision to the first builders. Rather, by imitating nature, the builders, who
were imitative by nature, learned through trial and error until standards were
developed: Furthermore, on the basis of observations made in their studies, they
progressed from haphazard and uncertain opinions to the stable principles of
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CO
symmetry. This passage indicates that, for Vitruvius, standards in architecture
slowly manifest as learning accumulates. Vitruvius chronicled the way in which
architectural standards, over a historical progression of time, came into existence.
The story serves not to unearth a primal ontology from which architecture has
sprung, but, rather, to suggest architectures embeddedness in social conditions.
Later post-Enlightenment accounts differ markedly; they primarily strove to
authenticate architectural practice by freeing it from mimesis.
Vitruvius intent in the Ten Books on Architecture, of course, is to
elaborate upon architectural principles and standards. Fire, as social catalyst, also
plays a central role in contributing to architectural learning. Vitruvius story
suggests that architecture proceeds from social establishment (this belief runs
contrary to that vein of modem thought, exhibited notably by Le Corbusier,
according to which humans spring into the world with fundamental architectural
knowledge ready-made). Vitruvius explains that the first humans made their
homes in existing hollows and caves, seeking shelter from the beasts and elements
in the structures nature had provided for them. The original humans, then, were
pre-architectural. The world has not yet been granted definition or demarcation
by any act of the hand. Humans had not yet been separated, either physically, or
by behavior, from nature (in fact, humans had not yet even reached the level of
agency exhibited by those animals who construct their own nests). The
domestication of fire, however, initiates a new stage of human development. 58
58
Vitruvius, Ten Books on Architecture, trans. Ingrid D. Rowland (New York: Cambridge
University Press, 1999), 35.
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Humans, encouraged by the interaction made possible with language, are at last
able to imitate the constructions of animals. By copying nests and engaging in
discourse with other builders, architecture is bom. It is through this mimesis that
architectural standards appear. Proceeding from the imitation of beasts houses to
the imitation of one another, the first architects eventually develop regular
principles.
Vitruvius offers that it is a responsibility of architecture to provide
stability (firmitas). This is true not simply in that architecture ought to be firm
enough that it continues to stand, but also that it provide lasting order and
definition. Architecture, by its very nature, is defining; it demarcates space,
separating the controlled from the uncontrolled. Thus, while fire makes the social
possible, it is architecture that stabilizes the social (architecture contains fire, as in
a hearth). Architecture is responsible for standardization (and not simply physical
standardization).
This line of thought can be taken further, however. Before fires
discovery, humans live simply in those spaces provided by the natural world.
Such spaces of course exhibit physical definition, but they have not been granted
definition by human hands. I am here considering that granting of definition
which demarcates and orders space to be the most basically architectural act (the
origins of the word architecture imply a first, or primary structure). Before the
gathering of isolated individuals around the first hearth, architectural space did
not yet exist. Rather, existing spaces had yet to be provided with imposed
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structure. As Vitruvius tells the story, fire lures people to a place (where they
come together for the first time). When fire becomes domesticated, humans for
the first time exert control over the spaces they inhabit. Architecture, then is
significantly bound up with the social.
Once fire may be manipulated, the landscape is, itself, subject to human
design. At a more fundamental level, however, even the act of gathering around a
fire suggests a defined space. Space illuminated and warmed by fire is at once
known space, and stands in opposition to the unknown, darkened spaces of the
forest. It is worth considering how it is that fire contributes to defined space.
Fires role in the creation of space is twofold: First, it acts by destroying.
Fire only survives by continually devouring what comes before it. Thus, if fire
contributes to an ordered world, it is important to note that it does not appear and
act upon a blank slate. Fire can only exist if something precedes it. Thus, the
creative power of fire is, itself, bom only of its destructive power. One should
not, then, think of fires destructive power merely as a foil to its civilizing
potential. Rather, both powers co-exist, and act together, even in the same
instance. People become architectural when they are able to grant an environment
definition (give place to placeless extension). Such architecturality must always
be destructive, however, even as it is creative. In the Vitruvian story, people
discover one another in a clearing, gathered around a fire. However, such a
clearing can only exist because it has been cleared. It was only possible for
people to gather around a fire once fire had eaten what came before. Architecture,
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then, never springs from a tabla rasa. It is never entirely a-historical. Rather, it
rises always from the ashes of its forbears.
The other role of fire in the creation of space is to act as a focus for
gathering. Fire does not explicitly create space at all; it is not architectural.
Rather, it is people that are architectural. People, however, are gathered by fire.
Fire clears a space (by destroying its occupants), and people, who gather to
observe the glowing embers, grant that space definition. Tying these two strains
together, we may say that architecture is fundamentally human; it consists in the
imposition of definition. This imposition, however, must always be destructive.
The architectural act does not consist in destruction let loose, however, but always
in contained destruction. The containment of fire is already architectural, even as
the fire continues to devour its predecessors.
Gaston Bachelard has suggested in the Psychoanalysis of Fire that
children first develop the Promethean complex in observing the dancing light of
the hearth.59 The Promethean complex, he explains, is that desire to discover the
forbidden tools of the parents. Thus, as Bachelard would have it, children,
gathered in front of the hearth, yearn to take control of the fire, that very thing
which they have been forbidden from approaching too closely. We can here think
of Louis Kahns recollection of trying to possess the beautiful green-burning coals
of the family stove as a child. He carefully lifted them out of stove with tongs,
but put them in his apron pocket. He immediately caught fire, and suffered severe
59 Gaston Bachelard, The Psychoanalysis of Fire, trans. Alan C.M. Ross (Boston: Beacon Press,
1964).
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bums. Recall that Prometheus steals fire from the gods to bestow upon humans.
Prometheus, then, grants to humans that gift which makes architecture possible.
For Bachelard, as for Vitruvius, and again in the Homeric hymn to Hephaestus,
fire gives first inspiration to the imitative.
The child sees in the hearth something very powerful. The fire is not
simply appealing in that it is forbidden; it is also appealing as an entity that can
grant agency. The child doesnt simply want that which is possessed by the
parent, but that which will make him powerful (like the parent). Fire is imagined
to be that very power-bestowing entity. In the Vitruvian account, also, the
mastery of fire is the first instance of mimetic behavior. Before the discovery of
fire, humans do not act imitatively. They do not copy the homes of the other
animals. Consequently, they do not develop agency. They do not act to alter the
landscape they have inherited. The mastery of fire, however, makes imitation,
and agency, possible. Fire is observed to be, itself, an actor. It devours the land,
and in so doing, changes it. Architecture is bom out of the imitation of animals
nests, but prior to this, humans imitate fires capacity for agency. Fire is seen to
change the environment, and it is in consideration of this power that people
discover their own ability to alter their surroundings. Humans, then, are imitating
fires capacity to act, to impose change upon the world.
Heraclitus described the world as inherently characterized by change, and
took fire as a metaphor for such ebb and flow. This world-order, the same for
all, none of the gods nor of men has made, but it was always and is and shall be:
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an ever-living fire, which is being kindled in measures and extinguished in
measures.60 Heraclitus metaphor is complex; he does not merely suggest that
the world, like fire, is continually changing, but that structures come into
existence, but eventually pass away. There exists, says Heraclitus, a world-order.
So, despite the fragility of the world, an orderliness can be assembled from its
structures. This, again, recalls Vitruvius, in his suggestion that order enters the
world through human hands. The world-order eventually will be devoured by
fire; the structures will disappear, only to be re-set anew. In this way Heraclitus
captures in just this passage the dual nature of fire that is also expressed by De
architecturei.
Another implication of Heraclitus writings, with particular importance for
architecture, is that fire (and, hence, the world-order) gives the appearance of
stability. A fire, just as a building, may appear to have a continuous and singular
existence. This existence, however, is marked by continual change. The
architectural implications are significant. Once again, as Vitruvius suggested,
architects aim for firmitas, solidity. In fact, architecture, as a structuring of the
world, is at its very basis an attempt to subdue change. The architectural
endeavor, at its very core, is an attempt to define that which is undefined, to exert
lasting presence over the fleeting (recall here again Bachelards child in front of
the fire). It is, then, perhaps, paradoxical that the structures erected must
60 Heraclitus, as quoted in W.K.C. Guthrie. A History of Greek Philosophy Volume 1: The Earlier
Presocratics and the Pythagoreans (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1962), p.454.
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eventually succumb. Certainly, Vitruvius and Heraclitus consider the structures
erected by architects to be diachronic: they occur in time.
Early Greek thought was largely concerned with the interrelationship
between the various elements, of which fire was a member. For Heraclitus, as we
have seen, fire was of central importance (though perhaps only metaphorically; it
is doubtful he really believed that the world was physically composed of fire, as a
central element). Because these early thinkers were interested in the structure of
the world, they inquired into the physical arrangement of the elements. This, once
again, will have important parallels with architectural thinking. Architecture, as
an endeavor which literally constructs an inner world (even if in some form of
imitation of the outer world) is also concerned with the arrangement of elements.
As we shall see, the placement of the hearth at the center of the house has more
than just practical significance.
A common view among the Pre-Socratic naturalists was that fire existed at
the outer reaches of the universe, usually as a ring around the earth. There is an
obvious rationale for this reasoning: the sun, moon, and stars, were seen to exist
above the earth, and so it was not a great leap to imagine that the space above the
earth was composed of fire. Such a placement, however, has important
implications for the nature of structure, itself (the world-order, as Heraclitus
would call it). These implications are seen most clearly in Anaximanders
description of the physical universe. Anaximander believed that the column-drum
shaped Earth was suspended within a fiery outer ring (where the sun and stars
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were placed). This suggests that stability exists at the center of the universe, and
that the unstable and chaotic existed at the perimeter.
Seen in this light, Anaximanders column-earth is not merely symbolic.
Rather, he is suggesting that the world as such is the built world. The world is
structured, and this structure has been erected and placed by human hands. To
say that the world is shaped like a column-drum, then, is not simply to exert
literary license. Before humans built, Anaximander considered the universe
apeiros boundless and undifferentiated coming-to-be. The world reaches its
present state when it becomes ordered, by way of human intervention (architects
bound the boundless). Thus, the world is a column-drum because it this
structured existence that characterizes the present state of the world. Fire,
however, placed in the heavens, surrounds the built. The unstable surrounds the
structured. By now this arrangement should be familiar. Once again, the first
forays into architecturality, as I have characterized their appearance in Vitruvius
writings, appear in a clearing, as people gather together for the first time. The
clearing is a known, controlled, ordered space. The surrounding forest, however,
is unknown (and, thus, both undefined and dangerous).
Structure, then, is central, while the unstructured and unbuilt exists at the
periphery. This is only true with an important caveat, however. In the Vitruvian
clearing, at the center of the known, is fire. In this way, the cleared space is not
entirely structured; the destructive is preserved within its center, in its hearth.
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Thus, the centrality of fire is of architectural necessity. Its presence is a reminder
that architecture consists in a containment of the uncontrolled.
As Vitruvius would have it, the domestication of fire leads to that
expansion of architecturality which is characteristic of society as an ordered entity
(or set of ordered entities). The ordering which springs from fire contributes to a
structural guarding of the private life, but it also structures life, generally.
The writings of Anaximander and Vitruvius emerged in a world not yet
bounded by set paradigm. The matter of the world had not yet been molded into
set order. They witnessed order being granted to their environments, and further
saw that paradigms enter the world as the products of human builders.
Architecture did not yet aim to be authentic, to mirror transcendent form. The
notion of a lost authenticity emerged gradually, as architecture, existing over time,
gave shape, and reality, to the world itself.
It would be a confusion to suggest that a re-examination of the Vitruvian
account seeks as its end some actual, physical primal hut. The discovery of such
an artifact would not put to rest any pining over lost authenticity. Vitruvius story
seeks rather to demonstrate how humans first established their bearings,
architecturally; how they emerged from a primordial, unstructured existence to
the present ordered one. Heidegger makes just this suggestion in The Question
Concerning Technology,
Therefore in the realm of thinking, a painstaking effort to think through
still more primally what was primally thought is not the absurd wish to revive
what was past, but rather the sober readiness to be astounded before the coming of
what is early... The first Greek thinkers already knew of this when they said: That
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which is earlier with regard to the arising that holds sway becomes manifest to us
men only later.61
Nonetheless, an architecture that offers an archetypal first dwelling promises that
most stable of foundations. In this light, Laugiers later reference to the
primitive hut is less surprising. Such re-instantiations of the primitive hut,
however, simply reduce architectural expression to a symbol of itself, the vestigial
stage held up to a mirror. Vitruvius casting of the pre-historical hut does not
carry quite the same moral onus. The first house is not something to which we
must return, but, rather a reminder of that which made architecture possible and
which will continue to propel it toward new instantiations of order: its blossoming
of humanness.
It is certainly notable that in Vitruvius Rome, two preserved primitive
huts yet stood. One on the Capitol, and one on the Palatine, both huts were
instantiations of that first Roman dwelling of Romulus, Romes founder. It is
notable that while Vitruvius discusses Romulus hut, his discussion is not
included as part of the story of architectures origins, but is rather the capstone of
the progression out of prehistory. The importance of preserving Romulus
dwelling was to call to mind the ancient way of building, such that it would
continue to be remembered. Romulus hut was indeed a physical recreation of a
past event, Romes founding, and was intended to signify to Romans the greatness
of their city. Romulus hut, at least as apparent from Vitruvius writings, was not
61 Martin Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays, trans. William
Lovitt (New York: Harper & Row, 1977), 22.
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something for which we should be nostalgic (as one might read the account of
Laugiers hut). It was not a stand-in for something that could never be present,
but was explicitly symbolic. It stood as a physical reminder of Romes history.
For Vitruvius, then, Romulus dwelling was not at all equivalent to a primal or
transcendent first hut, it was merely symbolic of very specific origins. It was not
a physical example from which one could extrapolate all architectural origins; it
conjured only Romes past. Once again, Vitruvius did not seek to reinvent the
physical progenitor of a type, a kind of ur-hut. He sought, rather, to point to those
qualities of humanness that made architectures instantiation possible.
Vitruvius suggests in his account that humans were already different from
the other beasts before they started to build. Walking erect, they already
understood verticality, even as their eyes scanned the horizon. Le Corbusier, too,
would borrow this notion in his fable of origins, noting that there is no such thing
as primitive man, only primitive means. Vitruvius account differs from
Corbusiers story of human nobility, however, because Vitruvius, once again,
relies on the social. Humans have the potential to create architecture, but it is
locked away until they finally engage in dialogue with one another (though the
possibility of dialogue is also at first only an unexploited potential).
The classicist Vemant suggested that for the early Greek philosophers,
the worlds order could no longer have been established at a given moment by a
single agent: the great law that ruled the universe, immanent in physis, had to be
already present in some way in the original element from which, little by little, the
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world emerged.62 63 This was as true for Vitruvius as for Anaximander, but the
primal element necessary for the emergence of the world was not properly
speaking an element at all, but the human potential for fabrication, which itself is
only released by social interaction.
Vitruvius ontology derived largely from Stoic predecessors. According
to his logic, neither fabrica, things crafted, nor ratiocinatio, the discussion of
those things, alone have significant ontological status. Rather, the two must
converge. Indra McEwen has described the separation, Fabrica alone, to recall
Vitruvius own term, is necessarily local and specific. It has, he asserts, no
authority. Ratiocinatio, on the other hand, systematizes. Its scope is universal...
And ratiocination without fabrica, like IMP.CAESAR without a coin, monument,
a book or a man to bear the name, is just a shadow, not the real thing. This
distinction justified Vitruvius writing project. By recording his ratiocinatio in
De architectura he brought Caesars built works further into ontological presence.
This joining together of built structure and its discussion results in architecture,
proper (in this sense, buildings dont become architecture until they are brought
ontologically into presence through their social discussion).
There is a significant sense in which Vitruvius account stands as a
reversed image of the current concern with origins. Architecture is valorized to
the extent that it appears to permanently resist the contingencies of time. This
62 Vemant, Jean-Pierre. The Origins of Greek Thought (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press,
1982), 114. This notion is also evident in Heideggers thought.
63 Indra McEwen, Vitruvius: Writing the Body of Architecture (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press,
2003), 38.
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much was true for Vitruvius, too. We now seek to begin again, however, looking
for the solid primal foundation. This looking for authenticity suggests an attitude
that our present world is increasingly precarious. It is because our present
structures seem to be built on sand that we seek a firmer bedrock. For Vitruvius,
however, origins offered no such promise of solidity. Rather, the opposite was
true. It was the original, pre-architectural state that was precarious. Our history
since that first gathering around the hearth, has been marked by increasing order,
and increasing architecturality. Such was the significance of the preservation of
Romulus hut on the Capitol. It physically reminded Romans of that seed which
would become the Roman Empire, the physical expression of humanity itself. A
world without form is reconstituted as a world with structure and order.
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Laugiers Return to Origins
The mythical first structure erected by human hands has continually been
imagined and re-imagined since the late rediscovery of Vitruvius text in an
Italian monastery. These accounts of architectural origins have varied widely.
On the one hand treatises such as Gottfried Sempers The Four Elements of
Architecture, focused on the material conditions from which architecture was
bom (in Sempers case, architecture developed from weaving).64 Other accounts,
as exemplified by Le Corbusiers Vers une Architecture, have focused on social
dynamics (Corbusiers first builder was solitary)65. Vitruvius story of
architectural origins still holds a certain pre-eminence among depictions of the
first builders. In the subsequent years, however, the story has undergone several
retellings, particularly post-Enlightenment.66 These later accounts have
frequently differed significantly from that of Vitruvius, notably in regard to their
often didactic preoccupation with exhuming an Architectural Authentic. The
Vitruvian account is significant in that the relationship between architecture and
mimesis is not problematised. Vitruvius chronicled the way architectural
standards, over a historical progression of time, came into existence. The story
serves not to unearth a primal ontology from which architecture has sprung, but,
64 Gottfried Semper, The Four Elements of Architecture and Other Writings, trans. Harry Francis
Malgrave and Wolfgang Hermann (Cambridge, England & New York: Cambridge University
Press, 1989).
65 Le Corbusier, Towards a New Architecture, trans. Frederick Etchells (New York: Dover, 1986).
66 These accounts of primitive dwellings are given excellent and thorough attention in Anthony
Vidler, The Writing of the Walls: Architectural Theory in the Late Enlightenment (Princeton, NJ:
Princeton University Press, 1987) and Rykwert, Joseph. On Adams House in Paradise: The Idea
of the Primitive Hut in Architectural History (New York: The Museum of Modem Art, 1972).
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rather, to suggest architectures embeddedness in social conditions. Later
accounts differ markedly; they primarily strove to authenticate architectural
practice by freeing it from mimesis.
The account with the largest impact was likely Marc-Antoine Laugiers
Essai sur l architecture, published in 1775. Though not terribly sophisticated,
Laugiers was the first account to deal with the primitive hut as such. Laugier
posits a singular mythical example, in contrast to the Vitruvian account, which
considers the multiple structures that develop over time. By utilizing an isolated
exemplum, Laugier is able to convey a deeply primitivistic and moralistic tone.
The re-telling absconds with any reference to humans as social creatures. Instead
of Vitruvius post-linguistic invention of architecture, Laugier imagines a solitary
man, fully equipped with the mental tools necessary for the task at hand. He
writes,
Some fallen branches in the forest are the materials suitable for his
design. He chooses four of the strongest, which he erects vertically, disposing
them in a square. On these, he places four others horizontally and, above these,
he raises some more that are sloped and come together at a point on two sides.
This kind of roof is covered with leaves, thickly enough so that neither sun nor
rain can penetrate; and thus man is housed.
In contradistinction to the Vitruvian account, architectural principles are
not learned; rather, the opposite is true. The original man is fully rational, and
understands a priori the holy trinity of architectural elements: column, entablature,
and pediment. This purity of architectural knowledge has been corrupted, 67
67 Marc-Antione Laugier, An Essay on Architecture, trans. Wolfgang & Anni Herrmann (Los
Angeles: Hennessey & Ingalls, 1977).
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however, by society. Whereas Vitruvius imagines a pre-architectural state in
which no structure has been either physically formed by humans or dreamt of in
the mind, Laugier conjures a pre-social state, in which architectural knowledge is
pure, fully intact, and readily imposed upon the world (nature easily yields itself
to the builder). Laugiers treatise stands as a moral compass, suggesting where
architecture has gone wrong (ornamentation), and where it should be re-directed
(backwards through time). In this way, Laugier is fully engaged in postulating an
architecture that would not only be more real, but also more authentic. His
account is also thoroughly primitivistic, at once painting a mythic past as pure and
unspoiled. Laugier sought to preserve a particular moral stance, thoroughly
belonging to his own time and place, by projecting it backwards into an
uncorrupted pre-history.
Despite his lack of precision, Laugier was fully engaged in the
scientification of architectural discourse. Vividly pre-figuring modernist
architectural thought that would only become dominant one hundred fifty years
later, Laugier proposed that architects dispense with any pretense toward art
whatsoever. Instead, architectural method should rest on the immobile
foundations of rationality. His method of discovering such forgotten scientific
underpinnings was to glance backward through history, upon the origins of
building that fortunately still lay visible in the erections of primitive Americans.
Buoying the validity of this method was the commonplace belief of the time that
American tribes were, in fact, the lost descendants of the ancient Greeks. This
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curious genealogy endowed the Americans with a deeply dualistic status. On the
one hand, they promised a link to Greek wisdom that was, as of yet, uncorrupted
by social ills. This made them irresistible as objects of scrutiny. Conversely, they
were seen as stubborn, thankless children of the Greeks, who refused to make
economic use of their inherited purity.
Laugiers attitude toward primitive people was largely influenced by the
writings of Joseph-Francois Lafiteau, whose Mouers des sauvages americains
was published in 1723. Lafiteau, a French missionary to Canada, produced many
drawings depicting the dwellings of North Americas savages, which
contributed in Europe to the popularization of myths suggesting the primitive
nobility of the uncivilized non-Europeans. While the architecture of the Americas
was seen to be uncorrupted, there was a complementary implication that such
architecture had remained pure because its builders were too indolent for industry.
The irony of Laugiers scientification was that he sought, ultimately,
moral, and, indeed, religious, social transformation. His urging toward the
consideration of original principles was really the embrace of an ethical stance,
brought about by the vehicle of science. Laugiers, search for authenticity was,
inevitably, a search for ethical grounding. This is not so simply because
Laugiers writings stemmed from Lafiteaus misrepresentation of Native
American dwellings, or even (more forcefully, but more correctly) because he
contributed to the concoction of a mythological early architecture. Rather, the
project of authentication is itself always an ethical project. As explained above,
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the search for authenticity is a search for origins, for a first reality. Once again,
however, what is named authentic is granted a particular kind of status. The
authentic, whether equated with or bonded to an original reality, is in a position of
power; it is to be preferred, and relied upon, more than any late-coming
inauthenticity.
The peculiarity of an account such as Laugiers is that it draws an ought
/TO
from an is (whether Laugiers is is mythical or not is immaterial). Laugiers
account does not simply portray architectural origins as they were in fact (in a
pretended objectivity), but extrapolates that architecture ought to return to its
origins. Thus, the original state is to be preferred, simply on account of its being
the original. Laugiers account supposes that, except for taking advantage of a
few technological advances (once again prefiguring architectural modernism),
architecture can return to its inviolable triumvirate: column, pediment,
entablature.
We can also draw from Laugiers account a specific attitude toward
imitation. In the Vitruvian account architecture is bom of imitation. Standards
are only possible once the imitation of both animals and other builders has
proceeded for an indeterminately long expanse of time. With Laugier, the process
is reversed. The first architecture is noteworthy for not being arrived at through
imitation. It is not derivative in any sense. Rather, builders relationship with
their materials is depicted as utterly natural. Instead of observing how materials 68
68 The suggestion here of John Searles ought/is distinction is intentional, and shall be explored
further in chapter three.
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have been utilized by animals, the first builders appear in the world already
equipped with designs perfectly suited to the materials available (while the latter
seem to be waiting for hands to put them to a predestined use). This attitude
toward the natural would be later echoed by Gottfired Semper, who attributed the
origins of architecture to the discovery of weaving. Semper described the
weaving process as automatic, as it were, having been handed to builders by
nature, itself. While Sempers linguistic twist is subtle, it is of crucial importance.
Like Laugier, Semper wanted to reject the notion that architecture is learned
through imitation. It was of crucial importance for both Laugier and Semper that
architecture arise, as it were, automatically.
As Matthew Rampley has illustrated in The Remembrance of Things Past,
eighteenth century anthropological literature depicted models of human cognition
in which the preponderance for imitation was a hallmark of the primitive mind.69
Critical distance was considered a mark of civilization. Barbarians, conversely,
imitated out of a confusion regarding the self and its boundaries. By this logic,
Vitruvius first builders, in imitating the constructions of birds, might be
understood to demonstrate a confusion of identity; they built like birds because
they werent entirely aware of their own distinction from birds. In accounts of
primitive Americans and Australians from this time period, this attitude toward
imitation is commonplace. Thus, it is striking that Laugier depicts the first
builders as possessing innate architectural knowledge. Quite the opposite of
69 Matthew Rampley, The Remembrance of Things Past: On A by M. Warburg and Walter
Benjamin (Wiesbaden: Harrossowitz, 2000).
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unaware aping, Laugiers builders fully comprehend their enterprise. That
Laugier would make such a portrayal underscores the difficulty of the task he sets
for himself: the children of the Greeks should build artlessly even if theyre still
just savages.
What is most crucial for this discussion, though, is the degraded status of
imitation. Laugier saw the European architecture surrounding him as having gone
astray, having been corrupted. This corruption consisted in excessive
ornamentation or beautification. Imitation and art were equated, and, thus, to
rectify architectural ills (and social ills generally), architecture needed to be less
imitative, less derivative, and, ultimately, less artful. We can also see in this
aspect of Laugiers account a typical feature of those works that point toward a
lost authenticity: they recall an idealized existence before the Fall. Presumed
authenticities never exist in the present, except inasmuch as they lay hidden,
waiting for rediscovery. The authentic is posited not simply as an original reality,
but as a reality that has been misplaced, forgotten, or tainted. Laugiers real, the
natural type, is still posited to exist, but is hidden from view, obscured by vain
architectural ornamentation.
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