You are on page 1of 6

After Diagrams

Author(s): Pier Vittorio Aureli


Source: Log, No. 6 (Fall 2005), pp. 5-9
Published by: Anyone Corporation
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/41765051 .
Accessed: 29/12/2013 04:49
Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at .
http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp
.
JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of
content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms
of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.
.
Anyone Corporation is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Log.
http://www.jstor.org
This content downloaded from 160.39.36.203 on Sun, 29 Dec 2013 04:49:03 AM
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
Pier Vittorio Aureli
After
Diagrams
Nothing
ever
truly
disappears.
-
Carl Andre
Diagrams,
as
they
have been conceived and used in architec-
ture
throughout
the last
century,
have the
power
to simulta-
neously
construct,
design,
and
expose
an
idea,
while at the
same time
simplifying
and
idealizing
facts and events of the
world as
simple signs. Diagrams
are
powerful
devices but
also
problematic
ones,
in the sense that
they
are
constantly
updating
the
representation
of a work
beyond
its effectual
truth,
and thus
reducing
it to an
ever-changing image.
The
diagram,
therefore,
tends to become an accessible
language
that
easily
absorbs and consumes
things
and
events,
a con-
sumption
of our
experience
of the world as it exists around
us. Because of its
evolutionary
nature,
to
ignore
or refuse the
diagram puts
one in an
impossible position.
It is not
possible
to
totally
refuse
it,
precisely
because
diagrams
are
inevitably
also a form of
language,
but one has to be
skeptical
and
aware of the
way
this
language
is
constructed,
because it is
very
similar to the rhetoric of
language
itself.
Language
is
continually exposed
to the risk of
being
the mere
camouflage
of
reality,
which means that we
picture
the
world,
as
Ludwig Wittgenstein
said,
solely
in terms of our
"language
games."
But
diagrams
are not
simple camouflages
of
reality:
they appear today
more as a form of value-free nihilism.
Nihilism claims that
things
are
nothing;
it is the idea that an
entity
can
be,
at
any
moment,
nothing.
Therefore,
nihilism
is the deliberate
consumption
of the
being
of
things
and
events.1 If
diagrams
-
as the rhetoric of
today
seems to claim
-
are the creation of
possibilities
of facts that did not exist
before,
the same
possibilities
of
facts,
by
means of their
spe-
cific
being,
could be condemned to return to
nothing again.
One of the
origins
of
diagrammatic representation
could
be traced back to the awareness of urban
space
and the forms
of
governance
that this
entity
demands. The advent of
cartog-
raphy
in the course of the 17th and 18th centuries and of
electromagnetism
in the
early
19th
century
could be seen as
examples
of the materialization of
space through
the
repre-
sentation and creation of a web of
spatial
transaction: net-
5
1. Nihilism could be seen as the essence
of the
history
of Western
thought
from
Greek
philosophy
onward. In the
history
of the Western
world,
most
great
con-
flicts, dissents,
and
disputes developed
within this common
frame,
which arose
for the first time with the advent of
metaphysics:
the world is made of
things
that are created out of
nothing,
and thus
return to
nothing.
See Emanuele
Severino,
Essenza del Nichilismo
(Milan:
Adelphi,
1982), 155-54-, Of course there is
no
simple way
of
applying
this criticism
within architecture and
urbanism,
since
both are so embedded in the idea of "cre-
ation" and
"project."
However,
it is
important
to
keep
it in
mind,
not
only
in
order to think nihilism in a nihilistic
way,
but also to be
constructively
(and
critically) skeptical
of the
currently
indisputable
and value -free faith in the
idea of
change
as
phenomena
liberated
from
any being
of
things
and events.
This is a faith
that,
in architecture and
urbanism,
can be sustained
only through
the
demiurgic iconography
of
diagrams.
This content downloaded from 160.39.36.203 on Sun, 29 Dec 2013 04:49:03 AM
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
works and flows.2 Urban
space,
as a
representation
of an
entity
that
goes beyond
the
opacity
of the
object
and
beyond
the conventional nature of the
plan,
can
only
be
represented
through
the
diagram,
which is
by
definition a
graphic
tool
that transcends the conventions of
scale,
plan,
and
object.
It
is
interesting
to note that Le
Corbusier,
the advocate of the
flan
as a fulcrum of architecture and
urbanism,
clearly
stated
in his
project
for the Ville Radieuse that the truth comes from
the
diagram.
Thus,
to
place theory
back in its true
frame,
as
he
claimed,
a
diagram
is
absolutely indispensable.*
This means
that the
governance
of the transformations of the world is
unthinkable without the
representation
of the "new" forces
that
shape
our environment. But in the course of the 20th
century,
the evolution of the
diagram
is no
longer
restricted
to the transition from built form to urban
space,
to the total-
ity
of the environment. The
diagram
also feeds back into
architecture
itself,
thus
becoming
one of the most fetishized
iconographie
forms within the
discipline
and its discourse.
The so-called bubble
diagrams
done
by graduate
stu-
dents at Harvard in the
1950s
supposedly
modeled
ways
of
understanding space
and
ways
of
moving through space.
The bubble
diagrams
are the ancestors of
many diagrams
produced today:
a sort of semantic mimesis of movement and
flows that releases architects from the fear of the unavoid-
able
fixity
of architecture. In this
way diagrams
are still
used in order to
postpone
the moment of the
project,
the
inevitability
of
architecture,
and thus the
inevitability
of
decision,
of
conjecture,
of the
hazardous,
and
ultimately,
of
form. It is
interesting
that this
escape
from architectural
form
by
means of
analysis
of the forces that model its
fixity
became,
at a certain
point,
an architectural form itself. For
example,
Alison and Peter Smithson's
entry
to the
1958
Hauptstadt
Berlin
competition
could be seen as a formaliza-
tion of
diagrammatic
forces that transcend the
individuality
of the finite architectural form
by being
the
physical
struc-
ture of the
city.
Here architecture almost
mimetically repre-
sents the forces that are
governing
the
city.
Architecture
begins
to be the frozen
expression
of the forces: the
concept
of
megastructure
itself is
nothing
less than a frozen vector
of the
diagram.
If the
diagram
is a vector of
forces,
then it is
no
longer possible
to describe these forces in one finite urban
artifact.
Therefore,
the urban artifact itself should mimeti-
cally
resemble the form of the
diagram.
In this
way,
as the
vector of forces becomes
infrastructure,
the
city
is
imagined
as a
"plug-in system,"
and itself becomes
diagrammatic.
This idea transcends different
styles
and different
6
2. Renato
Barilli,
"Tre
Ipotesi
sul
post-
moderno,"
in Fucine Mute 5 0998).
http://
www.fucine.com
3. "Truth from
Diagrams"
is the title of
one
chapter
of La Ville Radieuse
,
in
which the
diagrammatic
and "exact"
representation
of human life is for Le
Corbusier a condition "to
place
a
'theory'
back in its true frame."
This content downloaded from 160.39.36.203 on Sun, 29 Dec 2013 04:49:03 AM
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
languages
and
goes beyond
the
type
of
megastructure
itself.
The same
concept
would be
applied by very
different archi-
tects,
from
Archigram (Plug-in City,
1964),
to Louis Kahn
(Richards
Medical Research
Building,
1957-60),
to Cedric
Price
(Fun Palace, 1960-61).
In these
cases,
architectural
form
begins
to
respond
to the
challenge
of the forces that are
shaping
the urban environment. One of these forces is
clearly
infrastructure and
mobility.
From this architectural
idea,
articulated since
1956
by
Yona Friedman and
others,
Kenzo
Tange
was able to reconsider the actual form of the
metrop-
olis with his
project
for the
Bay
of
Tokyo
(I960),
a formal
configuration
based on the
diagram
of the
plug-in system,
which Arata Isozaki and Kisho Kurokawa would later
apply
within their idea of a
"capsular"
architecture
(City
in the
Air, 1961;
Nakagin Capsule
Tower, 1970-72).4
The
power
of the
diagram
is its
ability
to evoke the
reshaping
of an entire situation with one
simple gesture.
Thus,
the most
problematic aspect
of the
diagram
is its
capacity
to
immediately
subsume
something
that is
absolutely
irreducible to
any representation.
This is even more evident
in the recent use of
diagrams,
where the
iconographie per-
suasion,
or
better,
its
graphic
decor,
becomes the main
essence of its content. So there is a
paradox
in our
discipline:
On the one
hand,
architectural form is less and less
impor-
tant;
on the
other,
architectural
thinking
-
the kind of
autonomous, creative,
and nihilistic architectural
thinking
that reduces
things
to
always changing
icons and
signs,
to
nothing
-
is able to reconstruct a
representation
of the
"world,"
updating
it
beyond
its immanent
possibilities.
This
ubiquitous iconographie power
of
diagrams
as the
represen-
tation and
updating
of
everything beyond
the
being
of
things
is
ultimately
summarized
by
Rem
Koolhaas,
who claims that
architecture liberated from the
obligation
to construct can be
become,
in
fact,
the
diagram
of
everything,

In this
regard, diagrams
could be seen as nihilistic
instruments
by
means of which
every
"new"
theory
can cre-
ate and delete its own
representation
of the world. This con-
dition,
far from
being perceived
in its
necessary
dimension,
is
only exploited
as
simplistic dodging
in order to continu-
ously
start
again
;
this is a
problem
of the
diagram.
It both
acknowledges
the
irreducibility, complexity,
and contradic-
tion of the urban
environment,
and at the same time reduces
these
complexities
and contradictions to an idealization that
always changes
and starts
again by
virtue of its own
logic.
Moreover,
its
interpretation
is also
open
to
any
kind of
change
and
conclusion,
a
change
and a conclusion that are
7
4. It is
interesting
to note that the
philosopher
Lieven de Cauter had devel-
oped
a
genealogy
of what he had defined
as
"capsular
civilization,"
a
representa-
tion of the world based on the exclusive
and
pervasive
nature of
contemporary
networks,
by starting
from the
metabolist
conception
of
urbanism,
in
which the
diagram
of the
plug-in
becomes the iconic formalization of the
cybernetic
world. See Lieven De
Cauter,
The
Capsular
Civilization: On the
City
in the
Age of
Fear
(Rotterdam:
NAi
Publishers,
2004).
On the
genealogy
of the network
as the
diagrammatic representation
of
the
world,
see Mark
Wigley,
"Network
Fever,"
in Inside
Density,
ed. Hilde
Hey-
nen and David
Vanderburgh
(Brussels:
La Lettre
Vole, 200$), 155-85.
5. "Liberated from the
obligation
to con-
struct, [architecture]
can become a
way
of
thinking
about
anything
-
a
discipline
that
represents relationships, propor-
tions, connections, effects,
the
diagram
of
everything."
Rem
Koolhaas,
Fore-
word,
in Content
,
ed. Rem Koolhaas and
Brendan McGetrick
(Cologne:
Taschen,
2004),
20.
This content downloaded from 160.39.36.203 on Sun, 29 Dec 2013 04:49:03 AM
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
finally
liberated from the
being
of the
city
itself as a con-
struct made
up
of
things
and events. If
diagrams
can liberate
architecture and the
city
from their own
being,
this means
that the
change
becomes
change
ex
nihilo,
for its own sake.
Being
cannot sustain a constant
coming
from and
returning
to
nothing except
in the realm of
metaphysics.
But
the
way
research, information,
and communication are
pro-
duced
today
is
unconsciously metaphysical.
It does not estab-
lish an
intersubjective knowledge through experience,
but
rather tries to construct icons of
reality
in order to sustain
rhetoric and consensus. This rhetoric is then
synthesized
through
an
imagery,
which can
only
be
addressed,
as
Friedrich
Engels
said of
ideology, through
a false conscious-
ness. In this
sense,
the
diagram
is not
only increasing
and
creating possibilities
for our
imagination
of
reality,
but in
the end is
putting reality
into an
alienating
s
traitjacket
in
which our desire for the world is reduced to an endless
iconographie nightmare.
This,
I
believe,
is the
problematic
nature of the
hegemony
of
diagrammatic representation.
This
representation
is
constantly promising
the
production
of
a world
yet
to come
by implicitly claiming
the value -free
nature of
becoming,
but because such a world has
yet
to come
out of
nothing,
it is also
ready
to
go
back to
nothing again.
A
question
therefore arises: On what basis are we
repre-
senting
the
hypotheses
that so-called research
today
is
sup-
posed
not
only
to illustrate but also to
produced
The evolution of the
diagram
from
dispositif
to one of
the most
powerful iconographie
forms of architectural
thinking
-
an
iconography accepted everywhere
and as an
indisputable
new kind of "truth"
-
is not
only
the
logic
and
necessary
evolution of the
diagram
itself,
but also the
sign
of
a drift into an unconscious
acceptance
of the values and crite-
ria of nihilism as value-free
becoming.
There is no
going
back to a
prediagrammatic knowledge
of the world. What
must
change
is the discourse
concerning diagrams. Diagrams
must
always
be
thought through
their
primary
conventional
nature,
and not
simply
as creation ex
novoy
that
is,
ex
nihilo,
of
something optimistically "yet
to come" or a "new kind
of
reality" always ready
to
change
into
something
else or to
disappear.
If there is a need to
go
on with
diagrams, they
must be invested with
rigorous,
semi-autonomous con-
structed entities
that,
while
attempting
to
picture
immanent
aspects
of
things
and events and their
relationships,
are also
self-proclaimed representations
of an
idea,
or
better,
of an
ideology.
In the realm of the
diagram,
as in the realm of the
project
itself,
there is no
escape
from
representation,
and
8
This content downloaded from 160.39.36.203 on Sun, 29 Dec 2013 04:49:03 AM
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
6. Nicol
Machiavelli,
Il
Principe
,
in Tutte
le
Opere
(Firenze: Sansoni, 1990
280. On
this
concept
see Louis
Althusser,
Machiavelli e noi
(Roma:
Manifesto
Libri,
1999),
20.
Pier Vittorio Aureli is an archi-
tect. He currently coordinates
THE SECOND-YEAR RESEARCH PRO-
GRAM at the Berlage Institute in
Rotterdam,
where he is a unit
professor. He is also a guest pro-
fessor at the Accademia di Archi-
tettura in Mendrisio and at
Technische Universiteit Delft.
despite
the connotations of
intelligence, performance,
and
immanence,
the
affectivity
of
diagrams
lies in their iconic
appeal.
This is how
diagrams
are
conceived,
produced,
instrumentalized,
and consumed
today.
But a
challenge
for
an
after-diagram
era must
go beyond diagrammatic repre-
sentation. It must see if after our
posthumanist sophistica-
tion we can establish the
teaching
and consideration of
architecture as an
experience
informed
by
a
deliberately
determined
syntax
of matter that takes
place
in
intelligible
form-objects.
Plans and sections will be the
only necessary
writing
for a
conjecture
about the
syntax
of matter. Instead
of the futile and decorative cannibalism of
diagrams,
we can
reestablish a critical discourse
starting
with an affection for
the
thing
itself in our
imagination
of the world.
Thing
here
is not intended as a self-referential
entity,
free from
any
con-
text,
but in its
original meaning,
as the actual
fact
that
by
means of itself determines our
social, cultural,
political,
and
ideological
concerns.
Diagrams
will continue to
exist,
but a
skeptical approach
informed
by
the irreducible absoluteness of architecture will
always
mean to
counter,
as Nicol Machiavelli would
argue,6
the
imagination
of
things by
means of their effectual
truth,
their irreducible
singularity,
their concrete
experience,
and
their inexorable
being something
with the
generic
idealization
(and
consumption)
of
everything.
9
This content downloaded from 160.39.36.203 on Sun, 29 Dec 2013 04:49:03 AM
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions