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Rowan Mackinnon-Pryde
Cameron McEwan
Rory Corr
Kieran Hawkins
Callum Symmons


Neil Gillespie
Brendan Higgins

Nicky Thomson


Samuel Penn
Penny Lewis



The AE Foundation was established in 2011 to provide an informed forum for an international community of practitioners, educators, students and graduates to discuss current themes in architecture and architectural education.



︎︎︎Penny Lewis




We’ve invited three speakers to talk to you about Mies van der Rohe, who was phenomenally influential in relation to the creation of Grey’s School of Art, to talk about James Stirling, and to talk about Alison and Peter Smithson. We thought this would provide a very good framework for a round-table discussion about post-war modernism in Britain. Each speaker will speak for about half an hour, beginning with Sven-Olov about Mies, Emmanuel about Stirling and Dirk about the Smithons. There will time for discussion after.

The point of departure, and the reason for the choice of this particular example, is the fact that the architecture of Mies van der Rohe has become paradigmatic for a certain tradition of critical theory. This tradition draws on the legacy of the Frankfurt School as well as Heidegger, sometimes combining them in such a way that the analysis of technology is paired with reflections of the fate of art and aesthetic autonomy in the commodified world of late capitalism. A recurrent topos in this critical discourse is that of Mies’s work as somehow silent. By situating itself at the limit of the modern tradition, at the point of exhaustion of the formal vocabularies of architecture, or even of artistic expression as such, it is assumed to withdraw from the world into the sublime negativity expressed in the architect’s own canonic formula, beinahe nichts (almost nothing), a nothing or a silence that may be read in many different ways, as we will see.

My talk is based on an earlier book of mine, The Silences of Mies, where the plural form is essential. The book deals with a range of topics beyond Mies; the status of language in classical architectural theory from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the role of glass and transparency in modernism, the use of silence in the plays of Samuel Beckett and the music of John Cage, the theory of aesthetic autonomy and negation in Adorno in relation to the libidinal aesthetic in the early work of Jean-François Lyotard. The underlying question is, however, whether the idea of negation and withdrawal, that seems to be the sense of the silence ascribed to Mies, is able to account for the complex imbrication of art and technology that has characterized modernism throughout its history, for which the architecture of Mies serves as an example, but also an exemplary example.

At the horizon, there is another question, that of the avant-garde as a transformative event, in which art does not simply negate its past forms in a quest for the new that would render its inheritance obsolete, but itself undergoes a metamorphosis by entering into contact with emerging technologies and social changes, and redraws the boundaries of subjects and objects, space and time. This does not imply that the ideas of negation, withdrawal and resistance, as they have been handed down to us by a long tradition of critical theory, should be simply discarded, as some claim today, in the name of a post-critical attitude, but that they need to be reworked in order to be able to account for the complexities of the present. In this sense, the plural form silences may also be taken to indicate a transformational event inside architectural discourse, so that what from one perspective appears as emptying out, from another emerges as the possibility of other ways of speaking.

The analysis of Mies’s work that established the paradigm of silence, negation and withdrawal can be found in Manfredo Tafuri and Francesco Dal Co’s two-volume work Modern Architecture, where it occupies a crucial position in the chapter The Activity of the Masters After World War II. The authors here propose a reading of the fate of the European avant-garde, as it was gradually absorbed into the post-war corporate US culture and mutated into an international, placeless, and technological style. We are presented with several different endings of the heroic phase of Modernism, but the case of Mies seems to be most fateful and tragic in the sense that tragedy here becomes a conscious act, a supreme artistic achievement, and not just a waning of creative power.

Tracing the development of Mies in his American period, from the design of the campus at Illinois Institute of Technology, the Farnsworth house, and other projects, Tafuri and Dal Co claim to discern a gradual reduction to facts, a division from the surrounding context. There is, they say: “A renunciation that makes it possible to dominate the destiny imposed by the Zeitgeist by interjecting it as a duty.” And it is carried out in buildings that: “Assume in themselves the ineluctability of absence that the contemporary word imposes on the language of form.” The pièce de résistance of this analysis is the section on the Seagram building where all of the themes that structure the interpretation of architecture as an essential intersection between technology, modernity and capitalism come together in a few dense pages. Through a formal reading of the building and the way in which it sets itself apart from the surrounding city, Tafuri and Dal Co point to what they call the absoluteness of the object and its maximum absence of images as a language of absence or a void, which is then projected onto the city, or more precisely, the division that sets the edifice apart from the city, so as to form two voids answering each other and speaking the language of the nil, of the silence which, by a paradox worthy of Kafka, assaults the noise of the metropolis in a renunciation that here becomes definitive. The building interiorizes the abstraction of social life in late capitalism as its formal autonomy or absoluteness, but in this it also casts a negative light on the metropolitan landscape. This self-conscious tragic move, a language that silences itself and withdraws from the world, then acquires its parodic counterpart (parodic according to the famous claim by Marx about history repeating itself, first as tragedy and then as farce) in the proliferation of corporate high-rises that would follow in the wake of the Seagram building, where tragic silence gives way to empty verbosity. This interpretation welds together a series of motifs, from Marx, Kafka, Karl Kraus, Adorno, Heidegger, and probably a host of other thinkers as well. There can be no question here of attempting to do justice to Tafuri’s and Dal Co’s interpretation of modern architecture, which still stands as the major landmark in the historiography and interpretation of modern architecture, or to the intellectual environment out of which his work grew. Instead I will just pick up a few motifs, drawing on the later comments to these passages made by Massimo Cacciari, who highlights them as the core of the book.

It is Cacciari who supplies me with connection to Heidegger’s analysis of technology that I just suggested, which at first hand may seem somewhat tenuous; Heidegger is mentioned in other parts of the book, but not here. Cacciari discusses this in his review essay Eupalinos or Architecture, and he takes the reference to Heidegger as decisive for the project of writing a critical history of modern architecture, which he has subsequently also developed in other writings.

Cacciari’s interpretation begins from the idea of an uprooting of dwelling, a withdrawal of language and the eradication of place, all of which corresponds to the negative moment in Heidegger’s analysis. For other phenomenologically inspired authors like Christian Norberg-Schulz and Kenneth Frampton, this state must be countered by a remedy, either the rediscovery of a genius loci or a rediscovery of the mediated forms of tectonics. For Cacciari however, the inverse is true: there is no return to an authentic dwelling, and what Heidegger asks of us is instead that we should learn to endure its absence as an irrevocable fate. Heidegger shows us the truth of modern architecture, Cacciari suggests, the impossibility of the: “Values and purposes on which this architecture nourishes itself [...]” and what characterizes his thinking is neither a nostalgia for some remote past, nor a desire for a future harmony, but a ruthless display of the insurmountable distance from the actual condition that marks all such discourses, including that of Heidegger’s semi-mythological Fourfold and his imagery of an old wooden bridge over the Rhine, which for Cacciari appear as proofs a contrario of our inescapable modernity. This is also testified to by Heidegger’s turn to poetry, which in Cacciari’s reading preserves, although in the non-being of its word, the lost tectonic element to which buildings can only allude tragicomically. It is true, he notes, that Heidegger oscillates between the tragic and the nostalgic mode, although in the end, following Hölderlin, tragedy must prevail, as in Mies’s great glass windows, which point to the nullity, the silence of dwelling. If Heidegger shows us the truth of architecture, Mies as it were does the same in architecture.

In other works, for instance the postface to the English language collection Architecture and Nihilism, Cacciari has developed these ideas, where he now instead cites Adolf Loos as the main example. Here he also develops an idea of resistance, which seems to have little or no place in the commentary on Heidegger and Mies. In Loos, the architectural project accepts its finite character, but in this, Cacciari suggests, it also opens up a multiplicity of times that must be recognized, analysed, and composed, so that no absolute may resound in this space-time, not even the absolute of some utmost gathering of being’s possibilities, as in Heidegger’s analysis of technology. This, he claims, is a positive and productive nihilism that must be accounted for in acts that are continually new, which is how he sees the paradoxically positive dimension of a pure negative thought.

There is no doubt a tension here; on the one hand Cacciari wants to show nihilism as the unavoidable outcome of modernity, on the other hand he wants to see it as plurality of languages, as in the case of Loos, which contradicts the logic of gathering and consummation derived from Heidegger. The readings of Mies’s silence developed along this line first point to the necessity of remaining within the void, within nothingness, but then to a multiplicity of times without an absolute, which seems to transform this Nothing into a set of possibilities.

Other readings, closer to the Frankfurt School, would rather claim that the tension in negative thought must itself be understood as resulting from a determined social reality, as a moment of abstraction that is forced upon a subject that somehow must preserve the possibility of another relation to the world. Now, between these there is something like an antinomy of critical reason: on the one hand, it seems impossible to be critical of the present without presupposing some form of redemption or reconciliation, no matter how indeterminate; on the other hand it just as much seems impossible to presuppose any such state of redemption without already giving in to an uncritically accepted metaphysical heritage. The dialectic, with its reference to a state of redemption, even if it is understood as negative dialectics in the sense meant by Adorno, for Cacciari it appears as a nostalgic idea, whereas the proposal of Adorno’s critical theory would be to see any idea of non-dialectical resistance as simply an effect of the abstraction of late capitalism itself.

The second interpretation, which draws on the Frankfurt School and the legacy of Adorno and Benjamin, will here be represented by texts by K. Michael Hays. The two essays that I will draw on here, ‘Critical Architecture: Between Culture and Form’ (1984), and ‘Odysseus and the Oarsmen’, or, ‘Mies’ Abstraction Once Again’ (1994), both address the possibility of a critical architecture that would propose a resistance to the world by way of an abstraction, where it both refuses to partake in social life and, in this very refusal, shows that it is necessarily conditioned by it: architecture interiorizes the social contradictions as contradictions inside its own form, as Adorno would say. Neither simply an instrument of culture, nor a pure autonomous form, architecture has a worldliness that mediates the exchange between the abstraction of metropolitan life and artistic form. Discussing the skyscraper projects from the early 1920s, Hays traces this dialectic between an architectural object that is open to reflecting the world while at the same time remaining formally opaque, and that seeks to become a temporal event while still producing a distance from reality, which is even intensified in those later projects that seem to sternly refuse any participation in the fabric of urban life, and instead open up a clearing of implacable silence in the chaos of the nervous metropolis. Similarly, in the Barcelona Pavilion, Mies creates a space of stark juxtapositions and contradictory perceptions, endowed with a temporal extension that calls upon the bodily trajectory of the viewer while still opening a cleft in the continuous surface of reality.

The second essay focuses on Mies’ later American work and analyses the tension between the optical dimension (glass surfaces and façade texture) and tectonic structure (steel frame), and here too Hays locates a moment of resistance, where the work both claims a presence as an intrusive object, as well as undermines the authority of aesthetic experience, through the iteration of assembly line-like features. Drawing on Adorno’s distinction between construction and mimesis, Hays sees in this an impulse to desubjectify aesthetic experience (construction), as well as, on the other hand, a necessity to make us feel and experience this loss (mimesis), which once more leads us, in Hays’ words: “To the silence, the abstraction that almost every analysis of Mies ends up declaring.” Although not simply as a loss, but as that highest possibility of artistic language, where it allows the maximum tension between mimetic and constructive elements to be ‘set into a work’, to use a Heideggerian phrase.

For Hays these tensions are however not so much an ontological condition, as in Cacciari, as a social one, which he describes in the wake of Adorno and Horkheimer’s Dialectic of Enlightenment and its famous analysis of the siren song, where the dialectic between the artwork’s sensuous density and plenitude, and its abstraction and dispersion, is mapped onto the structurally analogous process of abstraction in society itself. The experience of abstraction (where we have to hear the tension between these two concepts) in late modernity is materialized in the Seagram building, it is what is says, by withdrawing into a silence that is the only way to keep the promise of language alive.

Whereas Cacciari wants the negative thought that underlies his cross-reading of Mies and Heidegger to remain infinite, irrecuperable, and thus in the end be something that no longer can be understood along the lines of the Hegelian negativity that is a basic resource of critical theory, Hays and Mertins insist on the idea of a determinate negation, where the autonomy of the work is always bound up with the abstraction of the commodity as a social process. The resistance of the work must be exerted with respect both to the commodity and to the idea of the work itself as purveyor of pleasure, enjoyment etc., all of which eventually threatens to make critical mimesis and simple surrender virtually indistinguishable, so that what Adorno called ‘the mimesis of the petrified’, in fact ends up itself becoming something equally petrified and petrifying. The critical operation means to make this silence speak, or to speak in place of it; it means to invent a language that would be adequate to the withdrawal of language.

The topos of silence can be taken as a sign of a larger complex of ideas with which the fate of what has become known as ‘critical theory’ is entangled. As we have seen, it can be interpreted either in terms of a negative dialectic that seeks to save the particular from being subsumed under the violence of the concept (Adorno), or as a withdrawal of language that belongs to being itself in the age of technology (Heidegger). Both are figures of thought that for a long time seemed wholly opposed, but at present appear to share many essential assumptions, above all the need for philosophy to constantly refer to art as the possibility of resistance to the present. To this one may oppose a third option, which understands silence, withdrawal and negation as merely local effects, and aspires to move beyond the logic of critical negation. Obviously I simplify here: these three versions intersect in many ways, and what I present here as polemical oppositions no doubt consist of a series of small displacements; we can come back to this in the discussion.

In the two first versions, silence and negation were located in terms of an ending, which may be interpreted in different ways: as the end of metaphysics, or as the tragic final gesture of autonomous and critical art in a world of commodification, Mies’s beinahe nichts (almost nothing) as the withdrawal of nature in the age of planetary technology, or as the final word of dialectics. But would there not be a way to pluralize such endings, to read them as points of passage and transitions, where future and past are both transformed, which also would mean to catch sight of our own present not as a belated echo, a vacuous repetition or parody, but as itself demanding an active act of interpretation? This will be the third option.

This will entail an understanding of the relation of nihilism, art, and technology as a field of constant modulation where none of these parameters is fixed, but each moves along with history. This claim does not entail any rejection of the critical as such, but argues for its continued relevance beyond any specific models of subjectivity and experience. These concepts must in turn be subjected to a historical analysis that acknowledges and accounts for them as ongoing processes of construction.

With respect to the interpretation of Mies in particular, and the transformed technological landscape in which his later work is situated, Reinhold Martin has proposed such an interpretation in terms of what he calls the organizational complex. Martin takes his cues from the same passages in Tafuri and Dal Co that I cited in the beginning, and asks whether we should not try to understand the repetition of the Miesian forms as opening towards a different type of experience, rather than as ending; the repetition is part of a process of modulation, rather than a tragedy becoming farce. From now on, architecture inhabits an essentially informatic space, and Martin proposes that we should think of it as one of several media. In this perspective it is not incidental that the kind of suspended surface that we encounter in the curtain wall emerges at the same time as network television: “The curtain wall is a medium to be watched in passing rather than looked at like an artwork.”—The Organizational Complex. These forms are not the end of something, the heroic ambitions of modernist utopias, critical architecture, reflection, etc., but rather, Martin writes: “Ciphers in which past and future are scrambled into a continuous modulated hum; an endless feedback loop.”

In this, architecture indeed still plays an important role, although not in the sense of an autonomous art that would take it upon itself to signify an impossible redemption. Architecture, Martin suggests, should be understood as a conduit for organizational patterns, not just an image or an ideological screen, but more fundamentally as an active force that shapes and moulds subjects, that subjectivises, to use Foucault’s term. On the level of architectural history, this displaces the question of whether Modernism has an end, where the initial utopian projects were eventually abandoned, betrayed, or compromised, and instead focuses on the way in which older theories and visions were reworked, taken apart, and reconfigured in order to become operative in a new complex of knowledge and power. The relation between the two historical moments, the historical avant-garde and its post-war repetition, would then not be something like a break, a betrayal or a cut, but rather a transformation, and the task of a critical theory would be to account for the multiple possibilities for action and reaction that this process contains and not to assemble them into one unified movement approaching its end.

Such a genealogy would also show that the silence of Mies’ glass boxes, in all their stubborn negativity and renunciation of a certain architectural eloquence, in fact harboured a whole plethora of words to come, the promise or threat of a new and pliant discourse that in many aspects forms the very element of the world of today. The shift from the singularity of negation and withdrawal to the plurality of silences then opens up the possibility for a different communication between past and present, which prolongs some of the intuitions of earlier critical theory, but also breaks with it in certain respects.

This is inherent in the transformative reading of the avant-garde that I suggested initially; technological and social transformations are taken up in aesthetic practices that transform our self-relations. This first appears as a destruction of aesthetics in a negative sense, a mere collapse of inherited values, but then begins to take on a different sense as we look to the idea of transformation. Aesthetics neither dies nor lives on as a perpetually safeguarded zone, but is always reconstituted in relation to the other spheres of experience, which themselves are just as fluid. In this sense, great art (Heidegger) or genuine aesthetic experience (Adorno) are those events in which the concepts of aesthetics are transformed and opened up, so as to become spaces of possibility, or rather, spaces of virtuality, where there is also a qualitative change in our perception of the past. Such events are moments when the inherited sense of art seemed to disintegrate, but in fact was undergoing a transformation that made new and unexpected artistic practices possible.

Martin stresses that the transformation of architecture in the immediate post-war period was connected to development of the discourse of cybernetics, which, we should note, also formed the backdrop for Heidegger’s perhaps slightly paranoid description of technology as absolute, i.e. as a systemic loop of steering and securing that absorbs all exteriorities and outsides. But instead of an absolute that gathers together all the moments of history into a final phase that absorbs subjects and objects, and eventually engulfs philosophy itself, it is equally possible to understand this as the formation of other subjectivities and possibilities of experience, including aesthetic ones that take these experiential modes as their point of departure. For Heidegger, the end of philosophy that places us before the task of thinking occurs at this moment, just as the possibility of a genuine aesthetic experience for Adorno was transformed into a negative utopia that can only be kept alive in the utmost negation of this experience. A different reading of this moment may allow us to come back to these slightly apocalyptic gestures, to disentangle them from the perception of their own moment as the final one, and make them productive once more in our present, by stressing the moment of indeterminacy that they contain, an indeterminacy that is of the order of virtual, which is perhaps how we should understand Cacciari’s reading of nihilism in Loos as an opening toward multiplicity of times that must be recognized, analysed, and composed, as he writes in the post-face to Architecture and Nihilism. In this shift critical theory itself seems to be on the line; but what is such a line? Can we simply move beyond it, or should we assume that this line does not delimit a space that would simply extend before us and that we could simply enter into, but that it runs through ourselves?

The conclusion would be the following: we cannot simply leave critical theory behind, but neither can we simply continue to use the concepts that it has bequeathed to us. Adorno famously notes in the draft for an introduction to Aesthetic Theory that the very expression: “Philosophical aesthetics gives the impression of something out-dated.” Rather than a confession of failure, this is a precise indication of the fact that all critical-theoretical reflections themselves belongs to time, and must move with it, which Adorno was the first to admit, and which is one of the founding premises of his aesthetic theory. Similarly, if many of the proposals in Heidegger’s analysis of technology appear in need of a confrontation with contemporary developments, and the assumed independence of technology’s essence from actual technology must be questioned, such a questioning in fact belongs to the movement of thought itself, and is a sign of fidelity rather than rejection. The highly insecure status of concepts like ‘nature and the subject’, which have functioned like the regulative ideas of critical theory, should then not lead us to despair, nor to any simplistic rejection of criticality as such. If we instead assume that nature and subjectivity, and finally being itself, as the horizon against which all such concepts are understood, necessarily move together, in parallax, so to speak, then the loss or waning of certain categories should not be confused with any end of critique as such. The task of theory remains as important as ever, and what we earlier formulated as the antinomy of critical reason should then not be seen as heralding its end, but as the sign of a necessary transformation.

I was asked to talk about Jim Stirling’s Andrew Melville Hall in St Andrews, a building designed and built between 1964 and 1968, which is a very intense time in British and international architecture in general, but for Stirling too, this was a particularly productive time. He had just completed the Cambridge and Oxford buildings, Leicester was already finished, Runcorn was contemporaneous with Melville Hall, and Siemens was just about to be on the drawing board. In addition, Stirling was teaching in the United States, which is important for what I am about to present.

Melville Hall is an example of typological inventiveness and is based on the combinatory method that Stirling used in most of his projects: the building represents his ability to transfer architectural types from one context to another. At Melville Hall, industrial building types are made into student dorms; prefabrication is here used without compromising the plastic quality of the architecture. To understand how central the sculptural qualities are at all scales, you just need to look at the window niches, or the surface of the concrete, which are reminiscent of Paul Rudolph and Louis Kahn. This is not a coincidence: at the time Stirling started work on the building, he had already been teaching in the United States for six years; and it was Dean Rudolph who brought him to Yale in 1959 when he saw the drawings for Leicester. Melville Hall is an example of site specificity without becoming contextualist in the Postmodern sense as later defined by Colin Rowe at Cornell. I will not talk about Melville Hall specifically, but will instead suggest two ideas that should help us understand the meaning and value of Stirling’s thinking in general; Melville Hall is a powerful example of his ideology of architectural form, which I hope to shed light upon with my quite brief remarks.

My own involvement in research on Stirling has to do with the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal acquiring the Stirling and Wilford papers in the early 2000s. The CCA and the Mellon Center for British Art in New Haven had asked Tony Vidler to curate an exhibition on Stirling and Wilford’s work and write a book that came out in 2011 called Notes on the Archive. It was then that I curated a companion show across the street from the Mellon Centre, at the Yale School of Architecture, on Stirling’s studio teaching in the United States. He taught at Yale for 24 years, from 1959 to 1983, when he shared for some time the Davenport Visiting Professorship with Robert Venturi. My show was organised along a timeline and five thematic clusters: ‘Articulated Functionalism’ (1959 to 1964); ‘The New City’ about the second half of the 1960s; ‘Urban Insertions’ about the early 1970s; ‘Architecture Agglomerates’, which was at the time Rowe published Collage City with Fred Koetter; and ‘Fragmented Monumentality’ in the early 1980s. In this context I interviewed twenty-eight of his former students and some Stirling scholars and we put together six short documentaries about his teaching. But my interest in Stirling was also fuelled by the research I did for my book Reckoning with Colin Rowe. Because of the mannerist modernist he was, Stirling was a poster child of Rowe’s, someone who communicated ideas through the literate articulation of architectural form. And before I left for the United States, and as a student at the ETH in Zürich, Stirling was the only postmodern architect who we were allowed to talk about. In my six years in Zürich, I heard the name Venturi mentioned only once, but we talked about Stirling all the time because he had a particular way to oscillate between modernism and that other sensibility that we have come to call postmodern. This all explains my involvement with Stirling research. It is clear that there has been a revisionist interest in Stirling in the past few years: amongst others, Mark Crinson and Amanda Lawrence just published books on Stirling, and Alan Berman published the Red Trilogy in Britain and is now doing a book on the American buildings of Stirling.

Today I want to point to two aspects of Stirling’s work that help construe his architecture at St Andrews. The first one has to do with Stirling’s ‘double vision’ in architecture; his buildings cater to two contradictory worldviews, one that can be called ‘universalist’, and the other one ‘contextualist’. Stirling has a way to make the paradoxical clash between abstract and contingent formwork. The second aspect I will address has to do with Stirling’s wit. I find it useful to extract the notion of wit from French philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy, who compared wit to the universal solvent used in alchemy. In other words, wit has the capacity to dissolve any set meanings, and this moment of dissolution becomes at the same time the moment when something completely fresh emerges. So wit is to thinking what alchemical dissolution is to matter. This is how alchemy turns excrements into gold. With Stirling, his wit is what defines him as a postmodernist.

Let me start with my first point, the ‘double vision’. It is over this aspect that Stirling’s critics divide in two camps. There are those who insist that Stirling was interested in the metaphysics of the building as an object, i.e. the intrinsic qualities of the building. Whereas other critics maintain that his contribution has to do with the way he inserts and relates buildings to the urban context. The first category focuses on the time internal to the building: It is all about the internal, intrinsic attributes of the architectural object. The other deals with the external, extrinsic, anecdotal time of architecture. If one had to suggest an iconic precedent for both of these attitudes towards architecture, Auguste Choisy’s abstract analysis of ancient architecture in the mid-eighteenth-century would be representative of this first category, i.e. the idea of an internal understanding of the architecture object. And Giambattista Nolli’s transcription of the texture of Rome in his 18th century plan can stand for the idea of the anecdotal time of buildings as they relate to the city. So we have Choisy’s worm’s eye axonometric, which look at the object inserted into an idealist, acontextual, and non-perspectival space: Choisy codifies the ideality of the object. Stirling also used the worm’s eye view to make architecture ‘fly off into space’. But then the Nolli plan does not stress ideality, but records what exists in the actual world. So the difference can be expressed in simple terms if we take the history of representation seriously: Choisy looks up into the metaphysical sphere of the object, while Nolli looks down onto the physical space of the actual city. One can find this aspect of double vision in all of Stirling’s work.

Before I run out of time, I will quickly move to the second point I wanted to make, and which has to do with the notion of Stirling’s wit. There’s a sketch entitled Big Jim by Gustav Peichl, an Austrian architect and prolific caricaturist. Big Jim is portrayed as somebody who acts as a bridge between Britain, and the international context of architecture. This is not the place to develop a philosophy of humour applied to architecture, yet there is something about Stirling’s ability to combine bits of forms from history and reassemble something new from them. His ability to recombine things that do not really fit has something playful and light about it. Now, as announced in the beginning of my talk, I want to extract the notion of wit from Jean-Luc Nancy’s analysis of German romantic literature and philosophy and apply it to Stirling.

For Nancy, humour or wit is the faculty of intelligence, intelligence as in cunningness, not aristocratic wisdom. Wit is the faculty of intelligence. It is the ability to find fresh connections and an unexpected melange of ideas. Nancy discusses that Novalis compared the workings of wit to the universal solvent in alchemy. Wit, (or humour) has the ability to dissolve or disintegrate everything, and it is the act of dissolution itself which constitutes a new, meaningful form. In alchemy, the multifarious skill of dissolving matter is the very generator of new matter. I argue that Stirling articulates his new architecture in the process of disintegrating classical partis from history. One can illustrate this procedure with his Wissenschaftzentrum in Berlin. In a well-known sketch for this project, Stirling strung together the plans of a whole series of architectural typologies in history. Talking about alchemy, Stirling’s diagram even looks like a sort of architectural chemistry! So this architecture emerges from the witty recombination of existing types. He proceeded in an analogous way with his competition entry for the Grande Bibliothèque in Paris, which also appears like a witty recombination of precedents, where the process of recombination is anything but logical; some of the components are autobiographic, others are appropriated from other architects from very different moments of time. Sometimes you recognise Corb, then Tatlin, or Buckminster Fuller. Wit makes this alchemical mix possible. Stirling found a way to construct a new language for architecture, a witty language, which allowed him to ‘talk again after everything had already been said once’. Such a witty language was able to refresh the vocabulary of modernism as he masterly also did in his Melville Hall project in St. Andrews. The real virtue of his architectural language was its articulateness and plasticity.

DVDHThank you for having me here. I will try to enlighten you a little bit about Alison and Peter Smithson’s work in relation to the question of Scottish architecture and the project for Kirkcaldy Crematorium. It is a modest and unknown project and was also not built. I thought it would be interesting to talk about the project and the Smithsons contribution to the post war period by connecting their work to the work of the English historian Simon Schama, who incidentally is also of Dutch descent. I will use his terms landscape and memory to revisit the new-brutalist discourse and the picturesque in the work of the Smithsons. I have been studying the Smithsons for many years now, and one of the tricky things is to disentangle the rhetoric at play, the rivalry between contemporaries and the things that are actually not said.

The Smithsons talk a lot about landscape and memory but do not always use these terms in an explicit theoretical way. It’s not about a method or an agenda for them; it is more like observing undercurrents or recurring motifs in their work. I will show how these themes come back in their work. As we know the Smithsons loved to write about their own work, but also about others and modern architecture in particular. Perusing these writings one finds all sorts of reflections on the themes of memory, the construction of memory, in relation to territory, in relation to the body, bodily experience, and architecture. Let’s start with a quote by Peter Smithson about the workings of memory when visiting a foreign place, he wrote this at the end of his career in 1993: “An art of urbanism which operates at very deep levels in our being; through the senses we hardly know we possess. Those of us from the north of Europe who make our first contact with the world of the Mediterranean during hot summer months are particularly aware that our experiences are not only taken-in through our eyes [...] the physical change we feel when we first tilt down to the southern sea is as a lizard must feel as it sheds its skin; the air feels different; the vegetation is scented; even dust rises, settles in a wholly different way [...] in consequence, in an unexpected moment, a stray smell can bring back the jeep rides from Aix-en-Provence to the sea; sounds over the water, the first approach to a Greek island; a smell of coal smoke simultaneously a northern childhood and the first vaparetto taken.”

So what are we looking at here? It is quite a web of associations to unpack. We see connections between the first CIAM participation in Aix in 1953 and leftovers of the Second World War, like the jeep he owned, his childhood in Stoke-on-Trent and his visits to Venice together with Alison. In 1949 the Smithsons came to Venice to visit the Guggenheim and for the first time they saw a Jackson Pollock painting. It was an ‘epiphany’ as they called it. They were only 21 and 26 years old. To them, Pollock’s work brought a new way of seeing the world. Perhaps then, Venice is one of the birthplaces of the New Brutalism?

I want to situate the crematorium competition entry into this larger web of cultural meaning, identity, and embodied memory, and how this web can all of a sudden be activated by moving into a new environment, a surprise encounter etc., as so poetically described by Peter. The Kirkcaldy project is truly modest, but I think this approach fits it well, since as a crematorium it is also a place of memory, just as it is a place of a community and collective identity.

Why I also want to highlight landscape and memory is because in the research into the post-war period, landscape and memory are hardly recognised as important to understand the production of the period, not in the general discourse of modern architecture, nor in the Team 10 discourse. I think that is an omission. Identity, landscape and memory are crucial aspects to understand the work of those architects. Take the Nagele polder village designed by Aldo van Eyck and his peers of Dutch CIAM. He presented the project in 1956 in Dubrovnik at the CIAM conference devoted to the issue of habitat. As you know, most of the Dutch country is manmade, also the Noordoostpolder in which the village of Nagele is situated, and which is one of the biggest polders in the country. The people from the old land move here into a completely new landscape and equally new agricultural villages. Van Eyck presents the polder landscape almost like a Superstudio project before Superstudio, with the horizon and the flat, seemingly endless land of the polder as its key features. The horizon is key when trying to grasp Van Eyck’s work. The horizon is the limit of human sight, the horizon surrounds you and you carry it with you. The horizon makes sure you always inhabit land as an interior. To Van Eyck, the horizon implies that humans can only inhabit their environment, or the world, to make it even more Heideggerian, by way of interiorisation. So to Van Eyck, the vast expanse of the new Dutch polderscape makes a new interior, not just an architectural interior, but more importantly a psychological interior, and as such it is connected with experience, and history as the accumulation of experience. We are looking at embodied memory, a notion of memory that is also relational, between the outside of the landscape and the interior of the mind and psyche, a relation that makes up our identity, which in this case is usually called specific to the Dutch.

Another demonstration of this relational notion of identity, landscape and memory, is the work of Jaap Bakema, to which we dedicated the Dutch pavilion this 2014 edition of the Venice Biennale. Again, also in his drawings and projects you see the flatness of the horizon taken as a lead to develop the project. Bakema was a close Team 10 friend of the Smithsons. When Bakema prematurely dies in 1981, he was only 66 years old, Alison Smithson said something very touching about this and I will read it out because it is once again about landscape and the importance of landscape in terms of identity and memory. This is what she wrote: “There are some days on which a hill-bred person cannot bare looking at Hobbema’s road stretching to Middelharnis, nor face one of Vermeer’s distant views of Delft. A picture frame, more than half full of northern European sky, can start a desperation welling-up to remind us that in the last century and a half, European towns have spread and sprouted high buildings and lost all those worthwhile pleasures of urban civilisation in the landscape. The nature and the values of the one and of the other were communicated to all in the compact object-town with its spire-dominated skyline. Bakema was not depressed by flat land. Rather, the effort of its making, all it stood for, being in his bloodstream, energised him. If you can think of everything he did as related to this landscape seemingly beaten extra flat by sky-glare, together with the number of people who now have to be fairly housed and given workspace in this man-made terrain, then his polder plans, and so on, are making that place home for Dutchmen.”

So here we have Alison Smithson talking about the Dutch and their landscape and let’s say her English sensibility. There are a few documents in the Bakema archive that confirm this sensitivity for the Dutch landscape. In photographs of the landscapes for new towns and city extensions you can see how Bakema marks the church spires that are a vertical syncopation in the horizontal landscape. You also can observe how they reappear in Bakema’s proposals for the new modern Dutch polderscape where there is still a little bit of old agriculture, still largely religious, but now with vertical block towers in a serialist, DeStijl-like composition such as at the Kennemerland proposal. Bakema is quite aware of the Dutch tradition and he uses the landscape to reconceptualise Dutch identity. He talks about how he wants to integrate landscape and city into a new unity of total space. So Bakema’s work is an example of modern architecture that is abstract and rationalist, yet simultaneously, firmly rooted in national discourse or even tradition. It is often critically characterised as a tabula rasa approach, but it cannot be said that this work is disconnected from history and tradition.

One of the more obvious arguments for the new awareness of landscape and identity among Team 10 members is their Doorn manifesto of 1954, also known as the Statement on Habitat. It is one of the more famous statements in the formation of Team 10, and it goes back to Patrick Geddes and his ideas on environmentalism and ecology. The Doorn manifesto included Geddes’ famous ‘valley section’ redrawn by the Smithsons in order to point out they were looking for a new, contextual approach in architecture and planning. Geddes had a major impact on British planning and planning in general, especially through the teachings of Jaqueline Tyrwhitt, who was also one of the leading figures in CIAM in those days. Geddes’ ideas about ecology profoundly impacted the post war CIAM discourse on the city and planning. Geddes’ thinking on how cities work also carried the germ of thinking in terms of regionalism and how planners can better deal with the modernising of cityscapes. Geddes originally meant the Valley Section diagram as an illustration to the evolution of human civilisation from hunting tribes to metropolitan regions. The Smithsons and Team 10 used it to rethink the post-war production in architecture aiming to reconceptualise the project of modern architecture. They talked about ecological urbanism and claimed that habitat is concerned with both the universal and the particular, a particular house in a particular time, in a particular place and community. So the new focus on the ecological or the landscape is a move away from universalisms in architecture and planning, or at least partly.

In the CIAM conference of Dubrovnik in 1956 we see the results: an interest in vernacular, regional and specific architecture grounded in climate, local materials, and closely intertwined with social structures and local community. The various projects shown by the Smithsons are telling examples, especially there idea for so-called ‘close-houses’. Instead of detached houses sprawling the landscape in classic suburban, low-density patterns, we see closely knit rows of terraced housing with pitched roofs following the local topography, or as the Smithsons put it: “Houses riding the landscape.” You still can think of this approach in the late 1950s as being linked to an expanding functionalist discourse and this is also how Van Eyck and the Smithson’s talk about it, but I think there is more to it and I will try to tease out a few other meanings by now referring to the competition entry for the Kirkcaldy Crematorium.

There are only a few publications on this design. Alison is mentioned as the lead architect. The project is dated 7th of May 1954, the year their Hunstanton Secondary School brought their breakthrough as leading voices of a new generation. The angular harshness of the design, especially the plan, is not unlike the uncompromising approach that made their Hunstanton school project such a much admired success among fellow architects. A retrospective description talks of a rough, bare kind of architecture in line with local characteristics: “The building is straightforward, even severe; its character is deliberately non-ecclesiastical, non-domestic, north of the border. An architecture of stone, limewash, and untreated wood. On the south and east roof slopes are two long windows of alabaster slabs that distribute a subdued, yet warm light over the completely white, square room. In the language of its architecture is that sense of privacy explored in Doha: “Screens as veils are first found at Kirkcaldy in a trellis that speaks of a sense of garden seclusion.” The quote is from the Smithsons monographic publication The Charged Void. Here we find a suggested connection between the context of Scotland and the climate of the Persian Gulf. Architecture as a veil is considered most appropriate to create a sense of seclusion. The reference to Doha concerns the Smithsons competition entry for a hospital from 1953, again with Alison as lead architect. The architecture is devised in response to the harsh local climate. In another publication, a first monographic overview of the Smithsons work produced by Arena, at the time the journal for the AA School, we find another connection, this time between Kirkcaldy and Scandinavia. The Smithsons comment runs as follows: “At a funeral, people’s minds are in a ferment so our building tries not to disturb people. Buildings are like trees in emotional content, overloaded with links with others. Kirkcaldy has nice things only, like trellis and stone; curiously inert, like an Aalto.”

The Scandinavian connection is less surprising than the one with Doha. The Smithsons often wrote about the special qualities of northern architects. Peter, who designed a crematorium for his final year thesis project in 1947, mentioned that Gunnar Asplund’s South Cemetery in Stockholm was an influence. But still, it seems a paradox: to build in response to local qualities, external references are used. This is what consistently happens in their work and thinking. Things that are alien, things that are outside, are brought in, they are brought together and into a local context through combination and recombination. The aim is to find a new language of architecture that is still site specific, and that aims to be authentic and fit to their time and the community.

Again, just as in the case of Hunstanton, you see an intense control of the spatial development of the plan. Here, I only like to point out Alison’s aim to create a pure, white space under the pyramidal roof. This pure square space reminds me of another competition entry of the same period, namely the one for Coventry Cathedral in 1952. The Smithsons design for a daring construction of a hyperbolic parabolic concrete roof was placed second after Basil Spence’s project of a much more conservative, soft modernist outlook. The Coventry competition brings us to the fierce polemics around the emerging New Brutalism, a polemic which was eloquently instigated by Reyner Banham. These diatribes were aimed exactly against the kind of soft modern architecture that was awarded in Coventry, and incidentally, which was also propagated by Banham’s own doctoral supervisor Nikolaus Pevsner who also happened to be the editor-in-chief of the leading journal of the time, the Architectural Review.

Now, Banham’s attacks make it very hard to get a clear picture of what sort of developments were actually unfolding, especially when it comes to the tradition of the picturesque in British architecture and its impact on modern architecture in particular. Banham pitted the New Brutalism as opposite of what Pevsner stood for, including the way Pevsner aimed to reactivate the picturesque as an important source of inspiration for post-war Modernism. Following Banham’s claims, it would appear as by default that the originators of the New Brutalism, i.e. Alison and Peter Smithson, could not be associated with any picturesque tendency. Yet, when closely studying the Smithsons writings and work one can only conclude that the Smithsons project is riddled all over with picturesque references.

Of course, the way the Smithsons elaborate the picturesque tradition is very different from other elaborations of their contemporaries, but still firmly embedded within that very British sensibility. There are also a couple of crucial references to be found to the Arts and Crafts, just as there is admiration for various Victorian architects, Butterfield in particular.

When you think of landscape and memory in the work of Alison and Peter Smithson, you can observe this strong cultural and intellectual undercurrent that goes back to the picturesque tradition in the 18th century and the arts and crafts sensibility that make up this British version of modern architecture. At Hunstanton you can find all sorts of references, including the industrial tradition, classically related to Mies’ IIT (Illinois Institute of Technology) but when you go there and see the details, it is nothing like Mies. Maybe it is related to Mies because of the yellow brick and black steel, although originally the design was a plum brick and silver steel, which is a very different image, not so Miesian. Philip Johnson was quick to point out it is not elegant, really crude, unsophisticated, unlike Mies’ characteristic control. Even when you look at original publications of Hunstanton, the oblique photographs, it is like taking a walk around a garden. There is even a ha-ha.

In their article ‘Cluster City’ published in the Architectural Review, the Smithsons also refer to the Picturesque tradition and its many revivals through the years, simply by including a Poussin painting which the Smithsons use in fragments in the article. Poussin is popular at the time, with Anthony Blunt’s studies, Rowe’s Collage City, even Philip Johnson has a copy of a Poussin painting displayed in his Glass House. For the Smithsons this image is not something to be copied though, but a stimulus to find their own language for the modern mid 20th century cityscape, to build on the accumulation of historic experience. So memory is a source all the time. This attitude is related to their war experience, and their artistic practice. As a conclusion I want to show a few of their house designs in which this attitude is further explored.

The Smithsons were part of an artistic scene around the ICA, in particular the Independent Group. Banham was part of it, but also James Stirling was an occasional visitor to the group’s meetings and exhibitions. In those years the Smithsons had many of their artist friends as clients, such as Eduardo Paolozzi, but hardly ever a design was actually built. Losey asked them to make a design for a country place in Wales. It is a lovely little house, a little like Breuer perhaps with all the natural stones. From the inside you get a wonderful view of the landscape, but crucially, in fact it is built out of an old cottage, which makes up the inner core of the new house, where you enter and where a large kitchen as a living space is projected. From the centre two new wings project outward with living and guest rooms. But the house is not a collage, it is made a hybrid. Old and new form a new kind of entity. The Smithsons disliked collages, they were always trying to find a new coherent language of modern architecture.

To develop a new unity between old and new was also an ambition for their holiday home Upper-Lawn Pavilion in Somerset, a very small project they used to test all sorts of ideas they couldn’t test in projects for clients. The project stems from the years 1959 to 1962. Lots of the cottage is being recycled so to speak. One of the old chimneys makes up the centre of the new pavilion for instance. A historical element is used to create continuity. The Smithsons were never in favour of a tabula rasa approach. That is also part of the New Brutalist project, at least for them. There is this strange box, a caravan, a plastic house, with associations, sitting around the chimney and in the end you get this; a hut, a primitive hut.

There are more reused and integrated elements of the old cottage. The well is restored. The new terrace sits behind the old wall of the cottage, an old window is kept and looks out to the landscape framing the landscape as a classic picturesque device. On top of the old wall is a new timber container positioned overlooking both the walled garden and the wider landscape outside the enclosure.

I hesitate to call it a memory machine that can reactivate the memory and reactivate strands in modern architecture and British architecture, since a machine is machinic of course, with causal, direct relationships, and this is more associative and relational. It is like a spatial machine that triggers associations. It is a machine to reactivate architectural history, design history, design experience. Especially important to point out in the case of the Smithsons is the relationship with the house. This spatial machine for associations works through domestication of what is foreign and what comes from the outside. Literally, the fruit of the land, the flowers of the garden, they are put inside the house as an act of appropriation and then recombination. The architecture of the Smithsons is about many things, but for this evening I’d like to point out it is also about interiorisation, about connecting the interior with the landscape, memory and land. It is about treasuring this interiorisation as the accumulation of experience and safeguarding experience as a most precious and valuable resource since it is a key when devising new, creative connections and new arrangements in response to new questions of our own identity and of society, be it landscapes or interiors.


I thought we would start off with a very basic question. Given that Koolhaas set the task of reflecting on modernity, which I thought was a good question, and given we have just had three presentations on architects who occupy different positions, by three people who occupy quite different positions, reflecting on the discussion this evening, what can we learn about modernity by looking from these positions by these different groups or practices?

        The question is, what is modernity? Modernity as a general sociological and philosophical problem might begin in the 17th century, or with the French revolution, or with the process of modernisation. As an historical category it is so big. Modernism and architecture is something else. What the talks show tonight is something we have known for a long time that there is no such thing as one Modernism. There is plural Modernism. I come from Sweden and Modernism in Sweden begins sometime in the 1930s and has a different inflection and understood with the emergence of social democracy and the early stages of the welfare state. It is perceived in a different way from Le Corbusier or Bauhaus so what I think these presentations show is that modernism is a multifaceted phenomenon and should always be spoken of as regional. It is a complex phenomenon and moves at different speeds. When Tafuri says in Architecture and Utopia, which is really Project and Utopia, modern architecture ends in 1931, after which the project of modern architecture could only perform a self-deception, 1931 is exactly the moment modernism begins in Sweden. Of course Tafuri never speaks about Scandinavian architecture but it’s interesting that one of the most important histories of modernism says it ends in 1931, and for me Modernism begins in 1931. Modernism depends on your geographic perspective.


When teaching I always make the point to my students that modernism starts very late in Scotland and ends very early. It’s a very compressed period. Do we need to discuss it as a plural?

You brought up Rem Koolhaas and so I want to take the opportunity to say something concerning his proposal on how to read Modernism. All three of us read moments of modern architecture through the lens of language: Sven-Olov addressed the question of negative language or the language of nihilism with Mies; I talked about Stirling’s wit as a form of inventive or alchemical language; and Dirk talked about the Smithsons search for a coherent and sachlich language that can be considered modern. So I feel the common denominator today was to consider architecture as a language. Of course such a proposition is anything but new. In fact, our multiple references to 1970s theory is telling, be it Cacciari, Tafuri, Rowe, and the like. Now, Koolhaas is proposing something different as the curator of the Biennale. If we take his suggestion seriously, we would have to read modern architecture without reverting to the category of language. So in his pavilion, he himself built a Wunderkabinett of all the things that go into the construction of buildings, like toilets, windows, escalators, wall systems, without saying too much about the relation between these elements. In fact, he argues that a window, or a toilet, come with stories in and of themselves (for instance, from the way windows have been figuring in the history of cinema), and therefore don’t need to be inserted in another layer of specifically architectural stories. Of course I myself emerge from a context where we believe that there are more internal, properly architectural stories that can contribute to making a construction meaningful. So for me the show borders on the logic of a trade show, where the different contractors present their products.

Looking at the question of modernity I think the British debates of the 1950s are of particular importance, because the British feel they have to catch up with the Continent. There is a different kind of urgency in the UK than on the other side of the Channel. It effectively results in a rethinking of modern architecture and what it could be about: Brutalism, Hi-Tech, Postmodernism. Italy is also intense. In Holland it is more a case of continuity, a very different discourse. The key moment in the UK is John Summerson’s RIBA lecture ‘The case for a theory of modern architecture’, in 1957 I think. He explains how modern architecture represents a paradigm shift from a world of form to a world of process. This is hard to resolve for a discipline built on form, and this shift from form to process is not addressed by Koolhaas in the Biennale. Probably because Koolhaas is against any sort of formal, or formalist, notion, of architecture thinking through the formal. I find this problematic in terms of architecture as a shared language. Summerson also talks about this in his lecture, the language of architecture and Classicism as a collective notion, and how this is lost. Surely it is James Stirling who eventually develops a very interesting position here, because first a brutalist, he brings back form and the richness of form, using the historical vocabulary of architecture as a treasure box for a Collage City. Indeed, there is a wit about his work, how he plays with form and how he shows what you can do with it, yet there is also a desperation. Behind the drawing board, in competitions, you may fool around with history and form but at some point form crystallises and materialises into a real building. Then it becomes evident that Stirling cannot make a claim similar to Classicism, which one builds within a generally accepted language of architecture. Language in the sense of a shared, collective project is always being questioned in our time, up to the point of deconstruction in the 1990s. Aldo van Eyck would claim postmodernism is only playing a cynical game and that’s not what we should be after, that architecture should be a positive project. That’s the tension that I take from this moment in the UK. Something I find still interesting to look at, still productive for criticism and design, since these questions on form, process, language remain unresolved.


One of the things I found interesting about re-reading the Smithsons, is the text Without Rhetoric. One of the things that’s interesting about it is the Smithsons are so enthusiastic about Mies in the 1950s and 60s because they felt he was still flying the flag for some kind of universal truth associated with Modernism. Sven told us that there was no such one thing as Modernism. Emmanuel says the period of the postwar was striving for a language of which the Smithsons are a prime expression, but that language is now off the agenda?

Different periods in history can be read in different ways. I merely maintained that there was a moment when theorists tended to read architecture through the paradigm of language, and that I felt we reproduced that today. If, however, we took the challenge of Koolhaas’ Biennale seriously, we would have tried to focus on the stuff of architecture as opposed to the language that connects the stuff. To salvage my earlier argument about Stirling, I should say that my comparison between witty language and alchemy would be one way to distance myself from the paradigm of language, because after all, alchemy deals with stuff, not theories! Alchemy historically takes low substances like shit and spit, and turns those into gold. In architecture, we could thus speculate on the nature of the formula that would get us from taking sheetrock and HVAC ducts (these low substances of buildings), and turn them into Architecture. That is what Koolhaas’ ambition ultimately is, but I am not sure which formula he is proposing to get there.


You might say that what Koolhaas is expressing is part of a critique of Modernism because the one thing you can say about architecture in any historical period is that architecture is a product of the human imagination, that architecture is a conscious activity and if it is not a conscious activity then we should not bother talking about it. If architecture is an accidental and spontaneous activity then we don’t need to talk about it except as observers.

In a way modernisation, the idea of modernising the world, doesn’t necessarily need to be self-reflective and self-conscious because if there is a zeitgeist, the way the world goes, then even without knowing what that is, and without putting it in words, we would be able to modernise the world. It’s very Hegelian to say this; the Geist will be the motor for progress. But then there is a whole strand of twentieth-century Modernism that is extremely self-conscious, self-aware and self-critical about itself. Koolhaas belongs to that. For me, that is the more interesting portion of modernity.


But the self-conscious idea goes back to the 17th century and remember that the self-critical and the self-conscious are not necessarily the same thing. What do the audience think? Can we talk about Modernism in the singular or is it more useful to use the plural and say there were many different Modernisms? Not modernisations that was something that affects all of humanity.

I was thinking about the question of the metaphysic and your comparison between the Nolli Map and looking down, and the Choisy drawings looking up. It seems to me when you look up you have the Platonic heavens, when you look down you get the flat ground. Would it be equally possible to invert this? Looking up with the Choisy arrow, architecture goes up to the sky. It’s the sense of losing touch. It’s the vanishing point. Stuff goes away. So it’s lost control. On the other hand, looking down, you do from the position of mastery. A lot of people would say you look down on things. You know where they are, so looking down erases contingencies whereas looking up produces a vertigo. I was wondering if you think this is a valid point?

I completely agree with you but structurally it doesn’t change the proposition of a dual orientation that helps Stirling enrich architecture.


Any questions from the audience?


I want to follow this idea of Stirling working with a complete freedom to choose form without any dogmatic attachment, like in the OASE essay for a non-dogmatic accumulation of form. Is it fair to say that sensibility comes into play half way through his career? While the notion of ‘the style for the job’ is crucial for the earlier work, the engineering building is a building in the engineering style.

I don’t agree. I think that theme has always been there. The Leicester building is a very constructivist building, not only in the sense of the historical movement of Constructivism, but also in the sense that it is an assemblage of parts that only come together because Stirling wants them to come together. The logic of classical parti’s is never respected. So you could say there is of course a difference between the way Leicester and the Staatsgalerie look, but you could also say that there is a similarity of method in all phases of Stirling’s work. In the early phase the mélange of ideas is not funny at all, but in the later work it gets funnier and funnier. We talked about this earlier with Cameron. Stirling couldn’t have been funny in his early career because he wouldn’t have been accepted. You can’t be too funny as an architect especially in the 1950s. But you could be witty and then turn up the volume of that sophisticated use of language. That’s what Stirling did.