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casa curutchet house two the wall house

casa curutchet n house two n wall house n

(pp = picture plane)

deep images | tracing the genesis of the inhabitable picture plane

arct 40150 research and innovation in the designed environment pp = picture plane
2 contents

1. introduction
1.1 the race to flatness
1.2 malevich and tatlin - spatial planes and the plainly spatial

2. casa curutchet
2.1 context - between planarity and plasticity
2.2 elevation as deep image
2.3 plan as deep image
2.4 conclusion

3 bernhard hoesli
3.1 hoesli and ‘the texas rangers’
3.3 the transparency essays - the 2d takeover

4 axonometry - origins , uses and effects

4.1 peter eisenman - house two
4.2 hejduk - the wall house - pictorial space recompresses
4.3 conclusion
3 1 Introduction

The early 20th century in art saw architectural and painterly surfaces drawn into alignment, as
each approached a state of essential flatness and purity. The flattening of pictorial space and the emergence
of the pure vertical plane as the principal element of spatial articulation produced an environment in which
the wall and picture plane became conflated.

While working on the Casa Curutchet project in Le Corbusier’s atelier, the architect Bernhard
Hoesli, developed a pictorial understanding of space that he later imparted to his students and colleagues
at the school of architecture in Austin. Under his teaching two-dimensional modes of analysis and opera-
tion coincided to produce an intellectual environment where conceptions of pictorial space and real space
fused. This pictorial conception of space was played out in the work of Peter Eisenman and John Hejduk,
until in the case of the latter it was reduced to illusion and collapsed back into a mere surface, much as
Malevich had done to Renaissance space at the turn of the century.

Concepts of pictorial space as elucidated in Le Corbusier’s Casa Curutchet, provided stimulus to a genera-
tion of teachers and theorists who formulated a pedagogy that favoured the two dimensionality of concepts
over the three dimensions of reality and experience.

- Five ways of reading a two dimensional figure three dimensionally. Art

and Visual Perception, Rudolph Arnheim

1.1 The Race to Flatness

At the beginning of the 20th century pictorial space as understood by artists since the renaissance under-
went a gradual compression towards the very plane of representation, the canvas. The Cubist work of Pi-
casso and Braque entailed a kind of spatial compression of Renaissance methods. They maintained illusion
but within a far shallower pictorial space than artists had done in the previous 500 years. Building on this
work Kasimir Malevich negated pictorial space entirely and instead sought the ‘zero effect’ of the blank
canvas, while his contemporary, Vladimir Tatlin, built out of this plane to engage spatially and materially
- Google Search Results for ‘Black Square Malevich’
with his surroundings. The flattening of the artistic surface, coupled with a new belief in the wall plane
as the primary descriptor of space cause a conflation of painterly and architectural surfaces. A tension
arose between the plane as a material and spatial fact or a representative surface, a dichotomy that became
gradually drawn into the realm of architectural practice and analysis.

1.2 Malevich and Tatlin - Spatial Planes and The Plainly Spatial

In the 1915 exhibition entitled “0.10”, Kasimir Malevich exhibited for the first time his infa-
mous “Black Square”, a radical piece of art intended as a compression to ‘zero’ of all that was illusionistic
in painting. He was drawing on the earlier paintings of the cubists, Picasso and Braque, whose work had
hovered in an implied shallow space just beneath the surface of the canvas. Their work made an acute ref-
erence to this surface through a veil like gridding of vertical, horizontal and oblique lines and through the

- Malevich’s Black Square and Other Geometric Works at application of stenciled lettering which occurred on the canvas itself.
the ‘0.10’ Exhibition in Petrograd, 1915
Malevich’s work emphatically depicts only this surface, nothing else. The strong black pigment
is pure fact and does not even offer the illusion of a colour-derived depth. With this pigment he mixes
coarse sand so that the paint itself takes on a texture and thus occurs resolutely in front of another plane.
5 He is establishing the new zero of painting as the canvas itself, the artist can now choose whether to work,
behind, in front of or on this optical screen.
“Black Square” is one of those images of modern art that has undergone a saturating number of
reproductions - as a simple Google ‘image search’ will instantly reveal. When studied by art critics and
students alike, the work is most often appraised frontally and singularly, as one resolute piece resting on a
flat page parallel to the reader’s plane of vision. This reading is contrary to the way one would have read
this work when it was first exhibited at the ‘0.10’ exhibition.
A photograph of the original exhibition reveals the peculiar way in which Malevich exhibited
not only his canonical “Black Square”, but also all the other flat geometric works which he had completed
around the same time. The pieces are not displayed in the customary ‘clothes line’ format that has come to
characterise most modern exhibitions of painted works. Malevich instead collects his canvases together in
a dense field of differing shapes and sizes. He constructs his works as a collective composition, so that rela-
tions might be drawn across the field, placing “Black Square” at what might be deemed the centre of this
composition, the corner; a position which overtly recalls the traditional placement of Russian Icons. How-
ever, I would contend that this location does more than make reference to traditional Orthodox religion,
but rather its most important effect is a spatial one, as it centres our attention diagonally with the room’s
corner rather than perpendicularly towards one of its walls. Its placement establishes the entire room as
a representational ground. The viewer becomes engulfed in a field of flat planes, his attention dispersed
laterally rather than focused frontally.
In spanning the corner, Malevich makes use of the Russian formalist device of ‘ostranemie’ or
‘making-strange’ ( a technique familiar to him, owing to his participation in The Moscow Literary Circle).
He counteracts the perspectival foreshortening induced by the corner with the extreme flatness of ‘Black
Square’ and calls to our attention the nature of the flat wall as the fundamental ground of all painterly
representations. By dislocation of this single canvas, all the other pieces appear to float free of the wall in a
new kind of pictorial field.
- Vladimir Tatlin’s Contre Relief d’Angle, 1915 At the very same exhibition, Vladimir Tatlin exhibits a three-dimensional construction, Contre-
Relief d’Angle, 1913. This piece represents the culmination of a series of works where Tatlin, starting from
6 Malevich’s zero condition, begins to engage in the space beyond the canvas.
With one of his earliest constructions ‘The Bottle’ (1913, now lost), Tatlin develops his piece
within a frame, assembling his repertoire of materials (glass, timber and steel) in a pictorial manner. In
subsequent pieces, such as “Selection of Materials: Iron, Stucco, Glass, Asphalt”(1914), he continues to
work within the construct of a frame, but the compositions are less pictorial and derive instead from a con-
sideration of the intrinsic properties of each material. With his contre-reliefs he finally breaks through this
planar space and engages his work in the three dimensions of experience. He similarly adopts the corner as
the ground for his works, supporting a collage of planar materials on a series of axial cords and wires. The
intention is to convey the Constructivist concepts of faktura (material properties) and tektonica (spatial
presence)i i.e. the sculpture affects us materially and spatially rather than conceptually as an image.
What is particular to Malevich’s mode of exhibition is that he’s drawing our attention to flatness
yet immersing us in an environment of images, creating an enveloping spatial experience. Although Tatlin’s
piece is three dimensional, its mounting in the corner of the room results in its being appraised frontally, as
- Main Gallery, MASP, Sao Paulo, Lina Bo Bardi
Painting as independent spatial plane if it were an picture. All mediations, of it through photography promote the same effect; its three dimen-
sionality frozen by our singular point of view.
This dichotomy apparent in works conceived and exhibited three dimensionally yet appreciated
frontally establishes the ground for much of 20th century formalist criticism, whereby the medium of
communication, be it the screen, the page, the wall or the photograph, becomes both the medium through
which we interpret and read the world around us, as well as the immovable diaphane1 through which we
act. As Beatriz Colomina suggests the perception of space is not what space is but one of its representations; in
this sense built space has no more authority than drawings, photographs or descriptions2

- Detail of print by Albrect Durer, a gridded screen medi- 1 A veil-like screen through which we see the world. A concept elucidated in James Joyce’s Ulysses, The Proteus Episode.
ates the artist’s perception of his subject. 2 Beatriz Colomina, Sexuality and Space: The Split Wall: Domestic Voyeurism, Princeton Architectural Press, 1992

2. Casa Curutchet

2.1 Context within Corbusier’s Oeuvre

Casa Curutchet, designed and built between the years 1949 and 1955 may be seen as defining a hinge-
point in Corbusier’s oeuvre between his late and early works. On the one hand the design draws on his
renewed interest in vernacular forms, developed and tested during the 1930’s with projects such as the
Villa de Mandrot (1931) and Le Petite Maison de Weekend (1934), while also looking back and recapitu-
lating his principles of the 1920’s as manifested in Garche (1926) and Villa Savoye (1929). In essence the
house is a modification of an Argentinean typology, the Casa Chorizo or sausage house, cross bred with
Corbusier’s five points, namely, the grid of columns (pilotis), the free façade, le fenetre en longeur, the roof
garden and le promenade architecturale as enshrined by the ramp.
Contemporaneously with Curutchet the Atelier on Rue de Sevre was also developing the pro-
totypical design for l’Unité d’Habitation in Marseille. Its funnelled pilotis and elaborate roofscape are
- Le Corbusier, having himself photographed with a 1 50 model of Casa strong indications of Corbusier’s move towards an increased expression of material and sculpting of form,
that would come to dominate his late works such as the Cathedral at Ronchamp (1950). Casa Curutchet
thus occurs at the junction between what we might call the planar and the plastic phases of Le Corbusier’s
Uniquely, the house is also his only work executed in Latin America. It was built in the adminis-
trative city of Le Plata (not far from Buenos Aires) between 1952 and 1955, with the construction being
supervised by a prominent Argentine architect, Amancio Williams. Thus, the design was entirely mediated
across the Atlantic through drawings. Le Corbusier, never visited the site or the completed building and
8 included only drawings and models of the ‘project’3 in the first edition of his Oeuvre Complete4. He had a
preference for communicating the design as an idea or image.
2.2 Planarity and Plasticity

Though necessarily disseminated as an image, it is my contention that the design was also devel-
oped as a stratified or layered image.
The basic design for Casa Curutchet was advanced quite rapidly within the space of a short few
weeks in February 1949. As the office was occupied with work at the time, Corbusier needed extra per-
sonnel to help manage his new commission, and so appointed Roger Aujame and Bernhard Hoesli as the
Curutchet team. Aujame was a former collaborator, who was then working on the site of the Unité in
Marseille, while Hoesli was a young architect who had only recently joined the Atelier. Hoesli absorbed
Corbusier’s methods of pictorial composition of space and later took these lessons with him to the school
of architecture in Austin, Texas where he and his fellow teachers would develop a pictorial understanding
of architecture that has strongly influenced theory and practice ever since.

Corbusian and thus modernist space as developed in the 1920’s can be best summarised by two
polemical drawings. Corbusier’s own Maison Dom-ino structural diagram of (1914) and Theo Van Does-
burg’s Axonometrics of (1924). The Dom-ino diagram demonstrates the horizontal stratification of space
by flat structural planes, supported on thin columns, while Van Doesburg’s drawing shows the corollary
of this i.e. that that space may now be defined vertically as the residual volume implied between floating
planes, which, liberated of their structural purpose may take on a pictorial character.
Casa Curutchet’s design was initially developed along these principles. Even early drawings depict
the grid of columns that would fill the entire site with structure, allowing the free placement of vertical
- Plan of the lower level of the residence, mid-February 1949.
and horizontal planes of enclosure. At either side of the plot two non-structural party walls, act as the

3 The term ‘project’ refers to an incomplete work in Corbusier’s Oeuvre

4 Lapunzina, Alejandro, Le Corbusier’s Maison Curutchett: Introduction, Princeton Architectural Press, New York, 1997.
This book has been an invaluable source in informing my discussion and analysis of Casa Curtchet.
9 extruded frame of this ‘deep image’. However, despite this standard means of planar design as influenced
by the structural logic of the Dom-ino and the orthogonality of architectural drawing, Hoesli and Aujame
also employed another unusual and quite different representational tool. According to Jerzy Soltan5 , from
a very early stage in the design process the Curutchet team were making small study models in clay6. This
material would seem at variance with both Corbusier’s preference for purity of form and his generally
planar constructions, but perhaps points to the plastic tendencies of his later work. Despite Soltan’s sugges-
tion that these models were commonplace in the studio, there are no photographs documenting their use,
indicating that it was a part of the process which Corbusier chose to edit out7.
Clay is a medium of representation, which is tied to the mind and body. It suggests a sculptural
method of working whereby inner space and outer form are inseparably connected; much like the way a
potter, when moulding a bowl, applies pressure equally from without and within. As a tool, it is not un-
- Variable Profile Sections of an Irregular Solid
known in the history of architecture; Michelangelo is believed to have used clay models in designing ele-
ments of the Laurentian library8 . He felt that, using this medium, he could imagine that he was fashioning
space out of a solid rather than assembling it out of pieces.
The use of this novel medium suggests that the house’s design proceeds from both a planar and
a plastic conception of space. It could be said that the house is a both a moulded, and a layered, image;
a plastic experience formed in the mind (and in clay), which is then mediated and constructed by planar
means. The plasticity of the project is drawn out orthographically and adapted to both Dom-ino horizontal
stratification and Purist vertical layering. The spatiality thus produced derives from a fusion of representa-

- “The Three Melodies”, drawn by Hoesli on March 1, 1949 5 Soltan sat beside Hoesli and Aujame during the design of Casa Curutchet. He is also the author of ‘Working with Le Corbusier’
6 Lapunzina, Alejandro, Le Corbusier’s Maison Curutchet, The Design Process, Princeton Architectural Press, New York, 1997
7 Corbusier is renowned for conserving and documenting the various stages in a design’s gestation, thus it can be inferred, that
choosing not to document a specific stage suggests a form of editing by exclusion.
8 Spiro Kostof, The Architect: The New Professionalism in the Renaissance, University of California Press, 2000, pp 142
10 2.2 Elevation as Deep Image

Simultaneously with the clay models and plan and section drawings Bernhard Hoesli began to
compose the street elevation of the house. As the site was essentially walled in on its other three sides, this
elevation took on an increased importance as a means to manifest the ‘idea’ of the house. All early drawings
of this façade are taken parallel to the oblique street edge and do not allude to the residential block to the
rear (which adopts the orthogonal geometry of the plot). Thus, the street façade is represented indepen-
dently of the house and treated as a discrete pictorial composition.
In these initial studies Hoesli develops a complex composition through a layering of different

- Residence facade and street facade, 1949. elements. He employs a musical analogy, ‘the three melodies’, to refer to the differing rhythms of division
provided by the brise-soleil, glazing mullions and pilotis. The divisions of the mullions and the brise-soleil
are determined by modulor proportions and regulating lines, while the pilotis are spaced according to struc-
tural need. These three independent systems overlap one in front of the other to produce a delicate, layered
surface, through a superimposition of grids. Thus, the composition reflects the independence of the spatial
layers vis-á-vis one another. Layers of structure, glazing and screening which would previously have been
absorbed into a single thickness have been pulled apart and so may be recomposed pictorially, a means of
composition which becomes gradually extended into the depth of the house.
Towards the end of the project the Curutchet team prepared a series of elaborate presentation
- Enantiomorphic chambers, Robert Smithson, 1965
drawings, including one rather unusual representation, a perspectival elevation. It has all the compositional
qualities of an orthographic elevation, save for a small amount of foreshortening which draws the front
and rear of the house together, unlike all the earlier studies which depicted the street elevation at a remove
from the rest of the house.
This drawing most explicitly exhibits the characteristics of Corbusier’s early Purist paintings, such
as Nature Morte (1920), where objects are depicted in a shallow pictorial space. This painting is composed
almost entirely orthographically, with objects being represented either in plan or elevation. Depth is subtly
articulated and subverted through the use of a narrow variety of tones, with objects that appear to reside in
- Perspectival Elevation, 1949 the rear of the canvas taking on the same luminosity as those that are clearly to the fore.
11 The final drawing for Casa Curutchet’s street elevation makes use of a similar dialectic of light
and shade to induce pictorial compression. The gridded brise soleil of the surgery passes beyond its roof
to act as a balustrade for the terrace above. This orthographic plane establishes the ground off which the
image of the house is developed, much like the mesh of vertical and horizontal lines used by the analytical
cubists to define a transparent layer, which floated to the front of the canvas. Beyond this first screen we
read the customary pilotis, which pierce the surgery volume to support a freestanding canopy that shades
the roof terrace. However, the shading it provides serves both a functional and a pictorial purpose. It casts
a shadow on the western boundary wall, while standing clear of the house façade to its rear. Thus, the
plane to the fore is darkened, while that to the rear is illuminated. An opening in the floor of the roof ter-
race also allows light down behind the surgery block illuminating the surfaces of the ramp and the pilotis
located at the centre of the house. The result is that the entire façade of undergoes a pictorial compression
through the Purist techniques of modulating light and shade between fore and background.

- Preparatory drawing for the perspectival elevation with van-
ishing point at centre of the the door and detailing of window on Located in the bottom left hand corner of this composition is a free standing doorway. This
the building to the right
isolated opening serves not only to balance the asymmetry of the canopy above but also acts to link the
house conceptually and formally with the buildings to its left and right. Painted grey, it obviously belongs
to a language other than the immaterial whiteness of the rest of the house. It overtly recalls the structure
of a traditional portrait window. In contrast with the fenêtre en longeur, a portrait frame tends to compose
a pictorial view of the world which includes fore, middle and background. Thus, it is quite fitting that the
centre of the door is also the vanishing point of the perspective drawing. Its chamfered edges further em-
phasise this centralising effect in contrast with the gridded structures of the façade above. Its form conveys
the conceptual differences between the focus of renaissance perspective and the lateral dispersal of atten-
tion encouraged by cubist gridding.
- The framed entry door with its chamfered edges.
- Portrait ope of neighboring building. Later excluded in final Robert Smithson’s Enantiomorphic Chambers of 1965, proposes a ‘realization of the physics of vision
that would help to free us from the illusions of renaissance ocularcentrism’9. Smithson sets out to decentralise
vision and suggest that our two eyes can absorb information equally from the periphery and the centre of

9 Gary Shapiro, Earthwards: Robert Smithson and Art After Babel: Uncanny Materiality, University of California Press, 1995, pp 67
12 a scene. The Curutchet house in fact supports this dichotomy of planar and perspectival vision; its fa-
çade diagrams both the centralising tendency of renaissance forms and the lateral dispersion of attention
encouraged by modernist space. Curutchet embraces both pictorial modes of operating, perspectival and

Perspective is a means of representation linked to the promenade architecturale and thus the door
signals the starting point of this passage; it is both the point of visual and physical entry to the ‘deep im-
age’. It announces the beginning of a perspectival journey through the house. Beatriz Colomina suggests
that, “the inhabitants of Le Corbusier’s houses have in common with film viewers that they cannot arrest
the image. It is a space that is not made of walls, but of images. Images as walls, or, as Le Corbusier puts it,
- Lower floors. Moving through a purist canvas. ‘walls of light’.”10

2.4 Plan as Deep Image

While the external façade is acknowledged as a surface, which tempers the conditions of the out-
side as well as visually representing the idea of the house, there is a difference in character and form given
to the internal partitions. The internal walls do not arise from a frontal or vertical drawing, as the eleva-
tion does; instead it is the plan and structure that act as a painterly ground to receive their organic and
- Upper floor. Moving within a purist canvas.
rectilinear forms. The grid of columns liberates these walls to be deployed at will across the canvas of the
plan. The house has thus the qualities of an extruded painting in both plan and section.
This is a curious transformation, since as Rosalind Krauss suggests the plan is a notational draw-
ing, while the elevation is representational, ‘We should speak of two cuts through the world ’s substance, the
longitudinal cut of painting and the transversal cut of certain graphic productions’11 . She proposes that the
horizontal and vertical means of representing the world are conflated in the work of Jackson Pollock.
Unique to Pollocks’s practice is the transformation of a horizontally worked plane to a vertical orienta-

10 Beatris Colomina, Le Corbusier: The Art of Architecture, 2007, Vitra Design, NAI, RIBA, pp 81
11 Yve-Alain Bois and Rosalind E. Krauss Formless: A User’s Guide; Horizontality, MIT Press, 1997
13 tion for exhibition. This operation causes his paintings to be appreciated frontally, yet the solidified drips
of paint reference their genesis on the studio floor. A similar dialectic of vertical and horizontal modes of
operation can be experienced in the Curutchet house where we may both move along the plane of a purist
painting and equally transgress that plane vertically.

2.5 Conclusion

Such pictorial analogies in the work of Le Corbusier are not uncommon. Critics such as Stanislaus Von
Moos have drawn direct comparisons between the floor plan of Villa La Roche Jeanneret and an early ‘Na-
ture Morte Verticale’, from 192212 . However what is of interest in this project is that Corbusier’s pictorial
methods of spatial composition were absorbed by a young architect, who, no more than a few years later
developed a school curriculum with the academic Colin Rowe that would shape not only a generation of
- Nature Morte, Le Corbusier, 1920
young architects, but more importantly an older and far more influential generation of theoreticians and

3 Bernhard Hoesli

“To me, Bernhard seemed to be desperately anxious to shed the Corbusian influences which he had been privileged
to acquire at f irst hand.” Colin Rowe, As I was saying13

Bernhard Hoesli was born in the Swiss canton of Glarus in 1923. At an early age his family moved to
Zurich, where he was raised and schooled. At high school he concentrated his abilities on mathematics and
science, a disposition which he felt unduly limited him in his later years. While studying architecture at
the ETH14 he felt that he was somehow lacking an artistic grounding. This tension between a mathemati-

12 Stanislaus Von Moos, Le Corbusier: The Art of Architecture, 2007, Vitra Design, NAI, RIBA, pp 81
- Villa La Rocche Jeanneret and Nature Morte Verticale as 13 Colin Rowe and Alexander Caragonne, As I Was Saying, MIT Press, 1999
illustrated in Stanislaus Von Moos, Le Corbusier: The Art 14 Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule, Zürich
of Architecture
14 cal background and an artistic longing prefigured a lifelong search for a methodological underpinning of
the artistic impulse15 .
He graduated from the ETH in 1944 and left for Paris, where he briefly worked in the studio of
Fernand Leger. (Leger’s Three Faces of 1926, would later be held up by Colin Rowe and Robert Slutsky as
an example of phenomenal transparency, the quality of offering multiple spatial readings in a flat composi-
tion). Soon after he was accepted by Le Corbusier as an assistant at the Atelier on Rue de Sevre, where he
worked on two projects, L’Unité d’Habitation and Casa Curutchet in Argentina. These two buildings, Casa
Curutchet in particular, would figure heavily in his later thinking as an architect and teacher. Caragonne
notes that he would constantly return to this project in his lectures and offer it as a point of departure for
his students16 .

3.1 Hoesli and ‘The Texas Rangers’

Hoesli abruptly left Corbusier’s studio in 1950. He travelled to the United States and spent
a short period of time working in New York and Chicago before embarking on a tour of Frank Lloyd
Wright’s buildings. In 1951 he applied for a post at the School of Architecture in Austin, Texas and was
followed by Colin Rowe in 1954. John Hedjuk and Robert Slutzky joined the faculty soon after.
Whilst Rowe and Hoesli shared an office together for a mere five semesters, in that short time
they established a definitive theory of architectural education, focusing on abstract analysis of precedent
to inform architectural endeavour, rather than demanding a purely creative act of invention. Both men also
- Sketch by Hoesli, 1956, (l-c: salvation army, garche -
cubist space, depth and picture plane, modelled object and shared an admiration for the theories of Henry Russell Hitchcock17 , which set forth a direct relationship
plane - stage, buhne> renaissance raum)
between cubist painting and modern architecture. Thus they believed that architecture could draw on the
past through an analysis of precedent and that modern space was closely allied with the layered planes of

15 Alexander Caragonne, The Texas Rangers: Stories from an Architectural Underground, MIT Press, 1995
16 Ibid
17 In particular his book, Painting Towards Architecture
15 The pedagogic principles of the school could be seen having been laid down in two documents.
The first, penned in March of 1954, was a short memorandum prepared by Hoesli and Rowe which was to
act as the basis for a new curriculum at the school18. The memorandum stated that any modern institution
of architecture must involve itself with the critical appraisal of the work of Mies, Corbusier and Wright,
so that students might become conscious of the formal systems employed by these architects rather than
absorbing them subconsciously. So while schools such as Harvard concentrated on originality and creative
flare, Hoesli and the Texas faculty emphasized precedent, observation and synthesis19. Of particular note
in this memorandum was the importance Rowe and Hoesli attached to two drawings, which they believed

- Le Corbusier, Maison Dom-ino structural diagram defined the modern conception of space.

“It is reasonable for an academy to see its position symbolised by two pictures, one a Corbusier
drawing of a frame structure, the other Van Doesburg’s construction in space. Both these illustrations
are over thirty years old. They offer the diagram of the contemporary situation. Very little has been
generated since that time which is not implied in these drawings.”20 .

3.2 The Transparency Essays - The 2d takeover

The second definitive document was prepared a year later by Colin Rowe and Robert Slutzky. This
formative essay, ‘Transparency: Literal and Phenomenal ’, developed out of a series of discussions between
Rowe and Slutzky in the spring of 1955. In view of their intimate scholarly association with Hoesli it is
likely that this document reflected the unique insights he could offer, drawn from first hand experience.
The essay begins by drawing a distinction between two differing concepts of transparency. One

- Theo Van Doesburg, Space-Time Construction No. 3 18 Alexander Caragonne, The Texas Rangers: Stories from an Architectural Underground, MIT Press, 1995
19 Ibid

20 Memorandum, March 13, 1954, prepared by Hoesli, Rowe and Harwell Harris. Harris was the school dean between 1952 and
1955. He was responsible for attracting Hoesli, Rowe and the other progressive teachers to the school. However, he had an admiration for the
work of Frank Lloyd Wright that was not shared by the incoming staff. To impart their pedagogy they proposed that Doesburg’s axonometrics
were in fact an abstraction of Wrightian principles of organization.
16 concept refers to the ‘literal transparency’ conveyed by materials such as glass or communicated in painting
through the layering of colour and tones to give an illusion of translucency. They thus deem ‘literal trans-
parency’ to be a quality of substance, which is considered relatively uninteresting in that it offers only one
reading of a surface. ‘Phenomenal transparency’ on the other hand is described as a quality of organisation,
appreciated mentally rather than visually. It is a quality usually attributed to graphic works, whereby figures
sharing a common ground interpenetrate each other without either figure taking visual dominance over the
The differences between the two concepts (as manifested in architecture) are made explicit in
an extended comparison of Le Corbusier’s villa at Garche and Walter Gropius’ Bauhaus in Dessau. The
Bauhaus embodies all the qualities of ‘literal transparency’ with its hovering planes of glass, dematerialised
corners and reflective modern surfaces. At Garche, ‘phenomenal transparency’ is manifested in the co-pres-
ence of multiple readings of a singular spatial condition. Rowe and Slutzy suggest that the house simulta-
neously possesses qualities of deep and shallow space and that planes of enclosure have the visual effect of
appearing to both recede and contract. To put it simply, they argue that the house has the spatial qualities
of cubist painting.

“The reality of deep space is constantly opposed to the inference of shallow; and by means of the
resultant tension, reading after reading is enforced. The f ive layers of space which, vertically, divide
the building’s volume and the four layers which cut it horizontally will all from time to time, claim
attention; and this gridding of space will then result in continuous fluctuations of interpretation.”

Phenomenal transparency is deemed to be the more sophisticated and desirable condition. How-
ever, it is a spatial quality which is generally deduced from a stationary rather than a mobile point of view.
Detlef Mertins notes that Rowe and Slutzky’s appreciation of transparency invoked a two-dimensional
phenomenology, which located the observer in a position on axis with the plane of the façade as if viewing
a painting21 . Their interpretations proceeded from an analysis of drawings and elevational photographs,

21 Detlef Mertins, Transparency, Autonomy and Relationality, AAFiles 32, 1996

17 resulting in a frontal and two-dimensional appraisal of built reality. While Siegfried Gideon considered
modern space to be four dimensional with the spatiality of objects being inseparable from the moving sub-
ject, for Rowe and Slutzky space is a quality discerned by the movement of the eye rather than the body.
The eye’s oscillation between layered planes was thought to generate a thick spatiality22 .
The analysis of space on these terms produced an intellectual environment in which representa-
tion and reality became conflated. Walls and floor plans ceased to be appraised on the basis of the physical
reality they implied but instead were evaluated on the basis of the mental constructs and concepts they
signified. Thus a virtual means of analysing space was enshrined, establishing what Rosalind Krauss aptly
termed a ‘hermeneutic phantom’23.
The new pedagogy was defined by two drawings, which suggested that modern space emerges
from the combination of flat horizontal planes of structure and floating pictorial planes of enclosure.
Added to this spatial conception was a means of analysing architecture that prefers the frontal over the
oblique, stasis over movement and drawings over reality. Thus the tools of both operation and analysis were
defined by planarity and two-dimensionality.
The propagation of this pedagogy was unleashed when Hoesli, Rowe, Hejduk and Slutzky were
later dismissed from Austin and left for other institutions; Hoesli to the ETH in Zurich; Hejduk, Rowe
and Slutzky to Cornell. Rowe later left the United States for Cambridge University, where he acted as
a mentor to Peter Eisenman. Hejduk and Eisenman would become the two architects who would most
rigorously pursue this new mode of representative architecture whose aims are best described by Hejduk
“The architect starts with the abstract world and… works towards the real world. The signif icant
architect is the one who, when f inished with the work, is as close to that original abstraction as he
could possibly be. ”24

22 ibid
23 Rosalind Krauss, ‘Death of a Hermeneutic Phantom: Materialization of the Sign in the work of Peter Eisenman,’, House of Cards,
Peter Eisenman, Oxford University Press, 1987, A heremeneutic phantom, refers to a reading which only exists as the result of a particular
mode of interpretation..
24 “Second Wall House,” Progressive Architecture, vol. 55, June 1974
18 4.1 Axonometry - Origins, Uses and Effects

Under Hoesli’s teaching axonometric drawing was strongly encouraged as a tool for analysis and
presentation. Axonometric, having its origins in machine design and ballistics, has a predisposition for
representing objects disassembled into their constitutive parts; it thus suited analysis and interpretation
of precedents. Hoesli revered it because it also provided a quick and easy method for students to three-
dimensionalise their ideas in a way that was precise and exact, unlike perspective, which Hoesli considered
The Suprematist El Lissitzky was the first artist/architect to exploit the dynamic potential of
axonometric. For the Suprematists axonometric offered the potential to represent a universal space. It is
a form of projection which favours neither subject nor object but instead locates both within the same
extended field. A particular feature of axonometric projection, which fascinated Lissitzky, was the revers-
ibility of the spatial field, which seemed to render space more open and extensive25 .
Lissitzky’s Prouneunraum drawings of 1923 describe a dynamic space, which seems to shift in re-
sponse to the motion of the viewer. We can imagine the walls and floors of this space simultaneously con-
taining and releasing us as we slip around the smooth space of the axonometric projection. Unfortunately
for Lissitzky the dynamism implied by this drawing is more present as representation than as experience.
The spatial flux and indeterminacy is a pictorial effect operating only due to the oscillations of visual
perception that one would experience when observing the drawing on a page. In reality the Prouneunraum
construction was merely a series of shallow wall reliefs set within the stable framework of a square room. It
was a resolutely static space.
However, in late 1925 El Lissitzky was commissioned by Alexander Dorner to design a room for
abstract art in the Landes Museum of Hannover26 . This lesser known installation of Lissitzky’s comprised
a small room lined with timber slats, seven centimetres deep and each placed seven centimetres apart. The
slats were painted black on one side, white on the other and mounted on a grey wall. Thus, depending on

25 Stan Allen, Practice; Architecture, Technique and Representation, Routledge, UK, 2003
26 Kenneth Frampton, Labour, Work and Architecture, Phaidon, 2002, pp 131
19 one’s position, the walls would have appeared to be grey, black or white, or a compound of two or three. In
this way Lissitzky achieved a space, which transformed optically in response to the movements of the body,
rather than being a representation, which oscillated due to the movements of the eye. A drawing of such a
space could not have communicated the myriad of optical transformations possible. Yet the device used to
create the effect was merely decorative.
In 1925, Piet Mondrian was commissioned to design a small room in the house of a German art
collector named Ida Bienert. The room closely resembled one of Mondrian’s typical late compositions,
whereby a grid of horizontal and vertical black lines provides the framework for a constellation of coloured
planes in red, blue and yellow; the only difference being that in the design for M.Beinert’s room the black
divisions are hardly visible, allowing the coloured planes to interpenetrate and appear to float.
For years, the only representation of this room available was a curious drawing depicting the room
as a series of flat planes entirely parallel with the page, a plan developpé. It was this very drawing which
was used to reconstruct an entire mock-up of the room resulting in a small table being translated into a
- El Lissitzky, Drawing for Prouneunraum, 1923 decorative oval shape on the floor. (At a later date two axonometric projections of the room were discov-
ered). Mondrian could not reconcile his desire to translate the world into planes with the need to repre-
sent a three dimensional space. He, like Lissitzky, felt that space could be appreciated on the same terms
as a drawing, that perception was planar, flattening the world around us “The new vision does not proceed
from one f ixed viewpoint: it takes its position in front of the plane. Thus it regards architecture as a multiplicity
of planes.” 27. Mondrian even believed that our perception of space entailed a kind of planar abstraction of
the spaces around us, “We survey the room visually, but inwardly we also form a single image. Thus, we perceive
all its planes as a single plane.”28 It was precisely this pictorial conception of space that axonometry offered.

A few years earlier in 1923, Theo Van Doesburg had executed a similar experiment in attempting
to transfer the ideas of neo-plasticism into three dimensions. Despite the fact that this work occurred ear-
lier than Mondrian’s, it is best read as a logical progression from Mondrian’s attempt to build a room with

27 Mondrian, L’Architecture Future Neo-Plasticienne,” p 13; The New Art, pp 197

28 Yve-Alain Bois, Mondrian and the Theory of Architecture, Assemblage, No. 4 (Oct, 1987), pp102-130
20 the quality of a picture. Initially, Doesburg (like Mondrian) felt that by distributing flat surfaces of colour
within an architectural structure he could impart a spatial sensation through pictures. A scheme that he
prepared for J.P Oud’s Spangen resident ial complex in Rotterdam, involved the application of coloured
planes asymmetrically within the building to confound the symmetrical organisation of the actual wall sur-
faces. This early venture was much similar to Mondrian’s in that it applied painterly surfaces to an existing
substrate, so that a new immaterial, pictorial space might be created independently of the frame of its sup-
port. He believed that his planes of colour could somehow dissolve the architecture around them, “Archi-
tecture joins together, binds – painting loosens, unbinds29.” However in a series of axonometric studies for the
Maison Particuliere of 1923, Doesburg and the architect Cornelis van Eesteren considered the possibility of
entirely dissolving the distinction between painted surfaces and architectural containers, thus combining a
colouristic and a spatial articulation. To do so, Doesburg pulled the painted surfaces away from any support
and instead materialised these pictures as floating screens, spatial planes of minimal thickness. The screen
combines two contradictory visual functions; in profile it appears as a vanishing line, yet frontally it is a
plane that blocks spatial recession30. It thus establishes a perfect coincidence between the basic elements of
- Piet Mondrian, project for a Salon pour
Madame Bienert, Dresden, 1926; exploded Neo-Plastic painting (colour planes) and architecture (the wall).
box plan.
Axonometric thus mapped a new pictorial vision, in which the compressed planes of twentieth
century art could fuse and merge with architectural surfaces. However, as a mode of representation it fell
out of favour with architects in the thirties and forties, and only re-emerged in a profound way in the work
of Peter Eisenman and John Hejduk. Having absorbed the two-dimensional and planar thinking of the
Austin school, they began to reinvestigate the spatiality of axonometric images.

- Oblique Projection of Slaon

29 Ibid
30 Yve-Alain Bois, Painting as Model, MIT Press, 1993, pp 116
21 4.2 Peter Eisenman’s House Two

Peter Eisenman, after completing a bachelor of architecture at Cornell and a Masters at Columbia
went to Cambridge in England to study under Colin Rowe. It was under Rowe’s guidance that Eisen-
man assimilated the lessons and theories that had been elaborated at the Austin School. At Cambridge he
completed his doctoral thesis on the works of Giuseppe Terragni, the Italian Rationalist; drawing analo-
gies between Chomsky’s language theories and Terragni’s process of developing forms which, according to
Eisenman, can be understood as an attempt to suppress the object or the reading of the surface structure,
- Uncoloured Azonometric, Doesburg, 1923. in favour of a visible presence of the conceptual or deep structure31.
However what is of interest here is not the semantic theories of Peter Eisenman, but how his work
acts as another manifestation of an architecture which evolves from a pictorial conception of space and
which originates in the means of representation employed to create that space. His work is thus a manifes-
tation of the theories developed at the Austin school, which drew together two-dimensional analysis and
practice, creating a closed circuit in architecture where the means of interpreting things became recycled as
a means of making things32 .
In both design and analysis Eisenman repeatedly employs the use of axonometric. In his analy-
sis of Terragni Eisenman drew an almost nauseating number of axonometrics. He used these drawings to
deconstruct and pull apart the grammar/syntax of Terragni’s architecture, isolating each spatial component
and its architectural effect, be it column, beam, structure, infill or ambiguous combinations of any such
elements. While in analysis axonometric traces the outline of an existing structure, when deployed as a
design tool it first requires an imaginary framework within which to operate. The framework employed by
Eisenman is the grid.
In her critique of Modernist painting, Rosalind Krauss terms the grid an indexical structure33 ,
a system which does not derive from the artist’s mood or emotion, but which refers only to the material

- Axonometric of House Two, showing north wall as

generator 31 Maneo, Rafael, Theoretical Anxiety and Design Strategies; In the Work of Eight Contemporary Architects, Actar, Spain, 2004
32 Allen, Stan, Practice; Architecture, Technique and Representation, Routledge, UK, 2003
33 Foster, H, Krauss, R, Bois, Y-A, Buchloh, B, Art Since 1900, Modernism,
Antimodernism, Postmodernism, Thames and Hudson, London, 2004, pp 132
22 ground of the painting – which it maps. In the works of artists such as Malevich and Mondrian this grid
was merely an offsetting of the picture’s frame. For Eisenman the frame is lozenge shaped, implying a
three-dimensional surface and it is this grid, which maps not the surface of a canvas but rather the surface
of a mental construct. The grid also serves to isolate the project from the natural world and draw it into
the realm of pure idea, or as Rosalind Krauss puts it, ‘In the spatial sense, the grid states the autonomy of the
realm of art. Flattened, geometrcised, ordered, it is antinatural, antimimetic, antireal. It is what art looks like
when it turns its back on nature.’ 34.
House Two is one of the few of Eisenman’s numbered house projects to have actually been built, a
matter of minor significance for Eisenman himself. It is of interest that with Corbusier’s Casa Curutchet
the consummation of the process was the drawing, an effect imposed by distance. While for Eisenman,
who generally values representations over buildings, House Two is unusual in its existence beyond paper.

- House Two, Photograph of built project,

However, this interaction with reality does give rise to a from of representation not often found in con-
South Elevation
junction with his projects, photographs. A few exterior shots show the house in a snowy landscape, the
blanket whiteness removing reference to the reality of its context, and instead recalling the paper surface
against which the architect develops his axonometrics.
House Two was conceived and developed almost entirely through the medium of axonometry. All
axonometric representations of the house are drawn from the same south easterly viewpoint, with opera-
tions and translations occuring sequentially from left to right across the page. Left to right is also the
primary grain of movement through the house, with the entrance located to the north west. This pattern of
development sets the north wall of the house as a ground for the formation of a ‘deep image’. It is in mov-
ing out from this wall that the viewer/user appreciates the layers of explicit and implicit planes that define
and shape the spatiality of the house.
While sectional drawings tend to outline and shape space as volumes and physical containers, for
- House Two, Photograph of built project,
North Elevation
Eisenman, axonometric allows a kind of de-framing of architectural containment. As Doesburg’s drawings
suggest, it generates a new kind of architecture where enclosure is provided by a collection of pictures.
Henry Van De Velde suggested that ‘through successive un-framings, we would pass from the canvas of

34 Grids, Rosalind Krauss, October

23 the painting, to the fresco on the wall, to the mosaic on the ground, and f inally to the stained glass in the window
frame… Thus the frame of a painting would be a residual, or better yet, a rudiment of architectural framing.”35

At Casa Curutchet we transgress the picture plane at the front of the house through a perspec-
tival portal. In House Two, we enter paralell with the picture plane and move both along and out from this
surface. This north wall is also given primacy through a series of 1.2m wide rooflights running along its
length washing it in bright white light. Another set of rooflights runs perpendicular to this wall out into
the space of the house. This secondary series gives all the other surfaces of the house a parity of illumina-
tion and induces a kind of pictorial collapse of fore, middle and background when photographed, so that
representations of the house maintain the quality of two dimensional compression induced by axonometric
This spatial compression of layers is also suggested in the way Eisenman draws his floor plans. A
a grid of tiles drawn on the ground floor maintains a constant lineweight even as the subsequent planes
of first floor and roof are added on top. Thus, instead of the traditional construct whereby successive floor
plans appear as layered sheets of tracing paper, here we read all the floors contiguously as a dense and
- House Two, Ground and First Floor Plan
closely compacted mesh of lines and planes, a ‘deep image’.
In his pamphlet ‘Looking at Pictures in a Book’, David Hockney describes the journey of a paint-
ing of cracked ice through various modes of reproduction36. The painting originally depicted the cracks of
a frozen lake in oil paint. However, over the years the oil paint on the canvas degraded and cracked itself.
Hockney, having purchased a poster of the painting had hastily rolled it and stored it in his bag. He later
unrolled the poster to discover a further set of cracks in the paper’s surface. Thus at each stage the trans-
formations undergone by the painting became embedded in its surface. Yet this happens across media, and
so each translation preserves the qualities of the previous medium. In Eisenman’s work this is the kind of
picture we inhabit, not a collection of planes that have a phenomenological effect through colour or mate-
rial, but rather a screen which indexes and references a series of transformations and operations that took

35 Henry Van de Velde, Déblaiments d’Art, Cited in Bernard Cache, Earth Moves, MIT Press, pp 21
- House Two, Interior Photograph 36 David Hockney, That’s the Way I See It, ‘Looking at Pictures in a Book’
24 place in another medium. We inhabit a kind of textual plane which must be read rather than experienced;
a text which is written into the white page of the north wall. Casa Curutchet combined a perspectival and
planar mode of reading space, the ramp simulating the track of a moving camera which propels the user
through a layered space, while Eisenman’s house fuses textual and planar modes, with the striated lines of
walls encouraging a structured linear passage through the planes of enclosure.

4.3 John Hejduk’s Wall House - Pictorial Space Recompresses

- Detail of Cracked Reproduction, Sir

Henry Raeburn: The Rev. Robert Walker
Eisenman favoured axonometric because he could work across it like a kind of three dimensional
skating on Duddingston Loch.
page, pushing and pulling thin planes of enclosure out of its shallow space. However his contemporary,
John Hejduk, developed a similar fondness for axonometric projection but fully embraced its pictorial ef-
fects, in particular the reversibility and flatness of 45 and 90 degree projections. He found in it a means of
representation where flatness and three-dimensionality were interchangeable, thus offering the illusion of
space as both surface and volume.

Along with Rowe, Slutzky and Hoesli, Hejduk was dismissed from the Austin school in the late
1950’s and, joined by many of his colleagues, he went to teach for a time at Cornell before moving to the
- Peter Eisenman, Photgraph of Model for
House IV. Walls as deep textual image.
Cooper Union, and taking up the position of dean there from 1972 until 2000.
While working in Austin he began to explore the medium of axonometric in a series of square
projects, called the Texas houses. These projects mostly involved quite simple manipulations of a nine
square grid and shifting planes of structure and screens. However he quickly moved from these projects to
a more elaborate investigation of the peculiarities of axonometric projection.
During the 1960’s he developed a number of projects involving projections of a diamond shaped
plan. By projecting a diamond through 45 degrees, Hejduk could obtain a flat square image of a three
25 dimensional volume, ‘The two-dimensionality of a plan, projected into the three-dimenaional isometric, still
appears two-dimensional, closer to the two-dimensional abstraction of the plan and perhaps closer to the actual
two-dimensionality of the architectural space.37’ Hejduk saw these projects as building further on the work of
Mondrian, and through an architectural investigation of Mondrian’s diamond motifs Hejduk could forge
an explicit connection between the space of painting and and the space of architectural representation.
He believed that these transactions between two-dimensional and three-dimensional space, exemplified
the difficulty involved in producing, representing and conceptualising ‘actual architectural space’38. For him
drawing is a screen that stands between the architect and the realisation of “ineffable space” and thus archi-
tecture’s inevitable fate is a two-dimensionality.
His drawings for the Bernstein house, as published in Five Architects39 , employ 90° projection to
give equal parity to plan and elevation. They thus make explicit a pictorial conception of space, collapsing
vertical and horizontal enclosure onto a single surface. A series of plan/elevation drawings illustrates the
build-up of the house. As each subsequent floor and wall is added it contributes to a compressed tableau
in which we can simultaneously read the plan as a plan and the elevation as elevation. Thus, the surfaces
are not distorted by the projection, but merely read simultaneously. The side walls of the house are dema-
terialised appearing only as thin lines. They act as a mere frame for the layered surfaces of enclosure, while
the complete homogeneity of line weight further serves to draw all the surfaces of the house towards the
picture plane. No other means of representation could so effectively conflate two and three dimensional
However, like El Lissitzky’s drawings the spaces evoked in these drawings only convey dynamic
effects as representations. They do not impart a unique spatial quality when experienced physically. In
fact the Bernstein house is relatively ordinary, consisting of a series of simply stacked rooms in a cuboid
volume. Nonetheless they do serve as interesting investigations into architctural representation.
This house does represent some of Hejduk’s first moves towards the development of his polemi-

37 John Hejduk, Mask of Medusa, ‘Introduction to Diamond Catalogue’, Rizzoli Publications, New York, 1985, pp 48
38 Mark Linder, Nothing Less Than Literal, ‘Obliquely Dense’, MIT Press, Cambridge, 2004
39 Five Architects, Eisenman, Graves, Gwathmey, Hejduk, Meier, New York, Oxford University Press, 1975.
26 cal Wall House. The stairs of the Bernstein House are situated outside of and to the rear of the house. To
enter the building, one must move up the stairway and then penetrate a deep wall of service accomodation.
Thus, the inhabitant of the house continually moves back and forth through a thick wall, which might be
conceptualised as a kind of inhabitable picture plane. The Wall House proceeds to pull this thick plane out
of the house’s core and manifest it as a literal rather than a conceptual picture plane.
Hejduk’s Wall House can be read as the culmination of his pictorial investigations into the two-di-
mensionality of space and the translation of these investigations from a conceptual construct existing only
as a representation, into a literal construct, an enormous flat plane40. We approach the wall house along a
long ramp that places us in a direct frontal relationship with the blank figure of a grey structural wall. All
of the house’s vertical circulation elements are attached to this surface, the ramp, a small circular elevator
and an open stairwell which wraps around a smaller structural wall of its own. On the other side of the
main wall, we find three curved glass volumes which cantilever off the surface and are counter weighted
by the circulation elements to front. After entering one of these spaces through the wall we can survey the
landscape beyond, however if we turn around we are confronted with the wall surface again, only this time
it is not grey, but in fact reflective, mirroring us and the landscape behind. To proceed to a higher level,
we must penetrate this reflection and take the stairs which runs paralell to this enormous plane. Thus, the
inhabitant of the house constantly moves between the two sides of a flat surface, but may only occupy this
pictorial plane virtually through an act of mirroring.
Both Casa Curutchet and House Two emerge out of the complex elaboration of a single plane. He-
jduk pushes the process a stage further in that the wall house takes the plane as both its starting and end
point. There is no thickening of experience. In fact thinness is exagerated. ‘Life has to do with walls; we’re
continuously going in and out, back and forth, and through them. A wall is the quickest, the thinnest thing we’re
always transgressing... the most surface condition41” Rather than exaggerate or draw out this threshold Hejduk
makes it simultaneously immaterial and overtly present. Through its enormous scale and singularity of
appearance, the user is made conscious of the wall, it ceases to be transparent; only part of a vocabulary of

40 Mark Linder, Nothing Less Than Literal: Obliquely Dense, MIT Press, Cambridge, 2004
41 John Hejduk, Mask of Medusa, ‘Isolation and Separation of Objects’, Rizzoli Publications, New York, 1985, pp67
27 elements that compose the everyday, instead it becomes opaque42.
Hejduk draws a comparison between the hypotenuse (or diagonal) of his diamond projects and
the wall house. For him the hypotenuse of the diamond is a taut moment of division between two sides, it
is in fact the diamond’s facade which has been folded inwards, but equally it is the combination of its two
outer sides which merge into one plane when approached frontally. ‘ The wall represents the same condi-
tion as the “moment of the hypotenuse” in the diamond houses - it is the moment of greatest repose and at the same
time the moment of greatest tension.’ The tautness of the hypotenuse conveys the same tension as Malevich’s
square stretched across the corner of the room, while the size and extension of the wall plane recalls the
aims of the abstract expressionists (Pollock, Rothko and Newman) who used oversized canvases to engulf
the viewer in the lateral spread of a single surface. The wall house literally invokes both pictorial effects. As
- The facade of the diamond is both the combination/flattening of its we climb a gentle ramp we slowly become engulfed in the hypotenuse of an expansive pictorial space only
two sides and the hypotonuse that crosses its centre. (Drawing by John
Hejduk, Mask of Medusa) to be released in a instant of passage. The entire project is an elaborate device to produce that reiterated
moment of passage in which one encounters a confused and condensed combination of literal and picto-
rial space43. Rudolph Arnheim evokes the image of an Astronaut returning from space. As he approaches
the spherical surface of his home planet there is sudden point, ‘a moment of hypotenuse’, when the sphere
unfolds into the terra f irma he’d always known.

- ‘Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue’, Barnett Newman, 1966,

9ft by 20ft.
42 The Russian Formalist concepts of opacity and transparency centre around the ultimate difference of words used in poetry and
words used in prose. The words of a poem tend to have a material quality of their own i.e they go beyond simply communicating meaning,
but have an effect through position, rhythm, sound etc. Whereas the words used in prose are essentially transparent tools used to convey a
story. Of course the two concepts cross breed across all modes of writing, but in general the words of poetry are deemed opaque while those
of prose are considered transparent.
43 Ibid
28 4.4 Conclusion

The picture plane is that imaginary surface on which we intercept and process reality. It is both
the screen through which Durer’s man regards his subject and the gridded sheet on which he draws.
Artistic movements in the early 20th century served to draw our attention to this ‘plane’. By denying the
the illusion of space on the canvas, Kasimir Malevich caused an intersection of painterly and architec-
tural surfaces. Paintings, freed of their function as windows of illusion, and walls, freed of their structural
purpose, fused. Space could be charged by the disposition of flat pictures within it as much as by the walls
surrounding it.
Corbusier’s Casa Curutchet when appraised in terms of its various representations appears to have
the quality of an inhabitable painting. Its layered planes having the pictorial qualities of a purist canvas in
both plan and elevation. This quality nevertheless comes after a plastic conception of form and volume.
Thus, the space precedes the pictorial planes which define it. However in the work of Peter Eisenman
space is residual, occurring between a vocabulary of elements (columns, beams, walls). The space arises
out of pictures and pictorial conventions rather than using pictorial planes to define a plastic conception
of space. The late work of John Hejduk releases us from this sealed loop of representational architecture
which constantly refers back to the tools of its inception. The Wall House constructs a portal leading both
into and out of a pictorial conception of space. It confirms the notion that pictorial effects are bound to
the flat plane and questions whether we can make space within the thickness of a surface, or simply on
either of its two sides? By collapsing this hermetic discourse in on itself Hejduk permitted our release from
- “Perhaps the history of space can be represented in fig.7 (above), in
which a denotes the past, b, the present and c, the future.” John Hejduk,
ask of Medusa Going through the mirror of the wall house, we go both into the room and out of the room at the same
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