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THE RENOVATION OF THE BODY: JOHN HEJDUK & THE CULTURAL RELEVANCE OF

THEORETICAL PROJECTS
Author(s): Alberto Perez-Gomez
Source: AA Files, No. 13 (Autumn 1986), pp. 26-29
Published by: Architectural Association School of Architecture
Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/29543538
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THE RENOVATION OF THE BODY
JOHN HEJDUK & THE CULTURAL
RELEVANCE OF THEORETICAL PROJECTS
Alberto Perez-Gomez

'The living being had no need of eyes when there was nothing remain? planning, has been the main protagonist in the devaluation of the
ing outside him to be seen, nor of ears when there was no surrounding modern city. The anonymous skyscrapers that litter our cities are not
atmosphere to be breathed... it was not necessary to bestow upon him identical to the Seagram's Building, but are, rather, superficial formal
hands, nor had he any need of feet. . . and he was made to move within reproductions of it.
his own limits, revolving in a circle.' 'Designed' buildings usually reflect the pressures of fashion, devel?
Plato opers' interests or technological imperatives. Nevertheless, the reduc?
tion of architecture to formal styles and technological values should not
ihe pervading symmetry of ancient architecture was a response detract from our appreciation of its potential for profound revelations,
to the basic form of the human body.2 The body is our undivided which are genuinely related to those attained in painting, music and
A possession, which allows access to reality, now understood as literature. Modern architecture is only now emerging, and the sugges?
embodied consciousness through the polarization of the 'stuff external tion of authentic meanings for the present and of its potential for the
to the body.3 In spite of our still prevalent rational prejudices, body and future is striking in buildings such as Le Corbusier's La Tourette,
world remain inextricably and mysteriously related.4 The world is Aalto's Paimio Sanatorium and Villa Mairea, Mies's Barcelona Pavilion
endowed with meaning in the immediacy of perception, and it is given a or Gaudi's Sagrada Familia. These works refer to a body image which is
physiognomy which derives from the projection of our body image on very different from that of the body in the classical tradition.
to it. This continuity, while constantly shifting throughout history, has Modern art has clearly demonstrated a concern for meaning beyond
been shown to be the seat of reality, preceding individual existence. traditional mimesis. But modern man exists in 'u-topia', regardless of the
It would be fair to say that the theoreticians of both modern and post? historical debris that may or may not have accumulated in his cities. The
modern architecture have ignored the implications of the rejection of problem of dwelling, formulated by Heidegger in terms of orienttion and
Cartesian dualism vis-?-vis the human body. Norberg-Schulz, for ex? belonging, has to be reformulated in relation to our reality, not through
ample, who claims a phenomenological point of departure, is unable to the nostalgic view of traditional cultures in which meaningful places
acknowledge the primordial continuum between the visible and invis? were disclosed (rather than invented) because the symbolic order of
ible aspects of culture.5 No one could dispute today the intention of architecture was founded on knowledge and religion.
'making concrete place as opposed to abstract space'. It is totally irrel? Architecture must address present reality. This demands personal
evant, however, to assume that architecture can recover its historical invention and imagination, coupled with the greatest rigour and clarity,
figural quality by isolating the morphological or typological character? in a quest to reveal the archetypal and essential, within the framework of
istics of buildings or urban spaces which might become a point of meaning. This process by definition entails a 'bracketing' of that which is
departure for contemporary design. irrelevant or superfluous to our culture.7 It is fallacious to pretend, for
These popular applications of existential phenomenology and Heideg? example, that the archetypal meaning of entry might be recovered by
ger's language to architectural theory are superficial and fallacious. In placing a classical pediment over a door.
spite of good intentions, they fall back upon an antiquated Cartesian Phenomenology has shown the fallacy of assuming that theory and
understanding of perception and upon the assumption that the body practice (the mind and the body) relate to one another as in a mechanistic
image of our culture remains unchanged and identical to that initially diagram.8 Consciousness is always an embodied consciousness, and the
postulated in classical Greece. Not surprisingly, the arguments for a relationship between mind and body is always intrinsic. Theory must
figural architecture have accepted the elements of classical architecture provide the words that allow us to ground our architectural work in the
and traditional types. totality of our existence, here and now. We think with our hands, with
Most post-modernist arguments in favour of a figural architecture our feet, with our hearts.9 Thinking must be understood once again as.
stem from a legitimate concern regarding the limitations of invention, poiein or techne, as meditation-in-action. As Heidegger clearly dem?
imagination and reductive processes. It is well known that abstraction onstrated, our historical situation demands that we transcend rational
is a unique and indispensable tool of modern science, and therefore a metaphysics, and David Michael Levin has shown that we need to re?
dangerous component of technological intentionality.6 The abstraction trieve a new and more radical experience of being.10 Architecture is
of space, however, when resulting from the reductionist process of crucial for this retrieval.

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The essence of man cannot be determined through the traditional conventional sense. His understanding of techne was profound, as was
metaphysical interpretation of man as animale rationale.11 The 'renov? his comprehension of the phenomenic qualities of materials, which
ated' body can be contemplated only in the existential mode, in terms of were irreconcilable with the constraints of industrialization. Gaudi
the engagement of embodiment and being. (This condition sets a frame? also believed in the primacy of mythopoeic reality. Paradoxically,
work for our discussion which will be regarded as a limitation from the although Casa Mila or the chapel of Colonia Guell are very much
standpoint of scientific writing. Levin has pointed out that even Heideg? three-dimensional and inhabitable, they question their own 'existence'
ger, whose brilliant existential analyses of the body were a point of in the context of modern culture because they are not derived from the
departure for later speculations, thought himself to be deferring the dis? classical body. The architecture of dreams, though more real, does not
cussion about the essence of 'bodily nature'.) As Heidegger's successors 'belong' in a world generally uninterested in transcendence through
we can perceive how his analyses of perceptual and gestural capacities symbolization.
lead to an ontological understanding of embodiment. Similarly, Hejduk's work cannot be placed in the realm of perspective,
In John Hejduk's work the critique of the Cartesian body image and which, in spite of his rejection of Cartesianism, remains the 'site' for
the implicit suggestion of a renovation become clear. The dialectic of his buildings. Cartesian perspective space is still assumed to be the space
work, dealing with the capacities and limitations of invention and which man inhabits. The 'u-topic', universal space of modernity admits
reductive processes on the one hand, and the basis of meaning in only a residual perception of qualitative 'places' in the traditional sense.
language on the other, reveals both the end of classical, cosmocentric or Any form of contextualism has, therefore, a very limited scope. We are
anthropocentric architecture and the potential for an architecture all tourists and voyeurs in the Piazza Navona, regardless of the frus?
addressing reality ? that is, the continuum body-world. Such a renov? trations and limitations that this present mode of 'public life' entails.
ation of man's embodied existence is indispensable in order for being to In this connection, it should be remarked that the ultimate theoretical
prevail over nihilism and apocalypse. discipline ? reducing the three-dimensional world to two dimensions
Hejduk's outstanding work (now accessible in his recently published ? was indeed a perspective theory.15 The assumption of efficient tech?
Mask of Medusa)12 is proof that architecture survives, in spite of a nological control has isolated the architect from the act of making. John
difficult and precarious existence. His architecture does not avoid the Hejduk's architecture, from the Diamond Houses to the Masques, can
problem of a symbolic order, yet it rejects both reductionism and nos? be seen as a devastating criticism of this most serious of all evils. His
talgia. Authentic architecture has always enabled man to come to terms work is the constructions that exist in the in-between realm. It is in the
with his mortality and to transcend it. Historically, the medium for revelation of the diagonal of the square, the apocalyptic reality of
addressing these concerns has shifted from the diadalon, or magical modern man, that Hejduk's architecture can be understood. It exists
object, of the pre-classical architect, to gardens, cathedrals, fireworks, in the frontal axonometric projections of the Bernstein House, for
temporary buildings and, more recently, drawings and constructions. example. This is a concrete architecture which resists any attempt to
In other writings I have endeavoured to explain the reasons for the place it as an object among others in perspective space. Hejduk's archi?
emergence of the theoretical project as a form of authentic architecture in tecture transcends the classical distinction between craftsman and
the last two hundred years.13 The epistemological transformations architect, to recover the archaic horizon of techne-poiesis. His work
at the end of the eighteenth century signalled a split between myth and finds the archetypal by means of the personal, the eternal by means of
reason, the start of positivism and scientism, and the exclusion of God the present. It can be perceived only in its own terms, in a realm of
from 'serious' knowledge. Ritual, traditionally the embodiment of myth perception that is no longer regulated by the Cartesian coordinates of a
as a form of collective belonging, was excluded from modern town perspectival world. Thus Hejduk's architecture postulates a renovation
planning. These forms of public participation were the condition of of the body which is still obscure in its implications, but which discloses
the effective revelation of 'cosmic place' in the institutions and urban the fragility of the present and the possibility of a future.
spaces of the city. Ritual constituted the invisible dimension which The dialectic between Hejduk's early work and his late work is
founded the visible order of architecture. particularly crucial to the clarification of the scope of this renovation.
Facing the profound cultural transformations which made architec? It is well known that his earlier work seemed closer to the interest in
ture as an act of symbolic ordering practically impossible in the indus? abstraction of the heroic age of modern architecture, while his later
trialized city after the French Revolution, Boullee confessed that his projects have emphasized their search for the figural through colour,
theoretical projects in the form of drawings were his real architecture, texture and, more recently, language. It shows explicitly that the task of
rather than his extensive but rather meaningless practice.14 The myths the modern architect is, more than ever, a dangerous personal task. The
supporting classical architecture had been eroded by reason, and he architect must discover order that transcends historical styles, meaning?
understood that architecture, to be valid, had to reflect knowledge in its less technological processes, or the hedonism of empty form.
most profound sense, not as information, but as the visible equivalent of Hejduk's work always refers to the world-as-lived, our primary
metaphysical orientation. source of meaning. He uses words in his recent work to search for a
Hejduk's work questions the possibility of its execution at a different figural ground and to tie his concrete poetry of invention to the con?
scale, in the world of genetic engineering and cryogenic entombment, tinuum of history. The theory which reflects the mind of the renovated
and in this sense it is in the best tradition of modern architecture, under? man is no longer a logos, however. Since the time of Boultee it has
standing modern, not as a style, but as a distinct time and place with its become clear that the formulation of architectural intentions in the
characteristic world view. Witness the questions raised in spectators' universe of intellectual discourse can no longer be scientific prose, but
minds by The Collapse of Time (see pp. 73-82 of this issue of Files). poetry. The text has replaced the metaphors which provided the in?
Octavio Paz has pointed out that after the dissolution of the traditional visible structure for meaningful architectural order since classical
cosmos in the late eighteenth century any authentic form of poetry must Greece. During the Renaissance, the scientific prose of the treatises
also be criticism. This duality pervades Hejduk's renovation of the disclosed the principles and precepts (mathemata) derived from these
body and architecture. His projects are a critique of conventional con? metaphors and from the myths which sustained them. Once the cosmos
temporary practice; his architecture can only be 'experienced' directly, was shattered and man's world view became the void of technologi?
because it represents no reality except its own. cal Utopia, the most enlightened architects attempted to recover the
The dilemma entailed in building theoretical projects is not unique transcendental (semantic) dimension of meaning through the use of
to Hejduk. Gaudi's architecture, for example, was not 'designed' in the poetic texts.

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The dialectic of modern architecture exemplified by Hejduk's work on the other, is the most significant characteristic of human perception,
has oscillated between silence and the word, recognizing the limitations a mystery which has been revealed and legitimized by phenomenology.
implicit in the nature of an architectural universe of discourse, no longer We are capable of perceiving the ideal in the specific. Art and architec?
predicated on the assumption of an ordered cosmos or the use of meta? ture, seeking to reveal the truth of reality, are no longer condemned to
phor as a revelation of truth. Between poiesis as making and poetic truth choose one or the other. The end of classicism also meant the end of this
coined in language, Hejduk's architecture has developed during thirty dilemma which so much preoccupied traditional philosophers.
years of intense dialogue. On both levels, it posits the recovery of the Hejduk's renovation makes the world possible in this realm of
poetic as the origin of dwelling. Man's existential condition demands simultaneity, encompassing the absolutely universal and the utterly
that he be a poet first of all, and only secondly a scientist. In Phaedrus specific. This is the nature of the architect's concrete poetry and of his
Plato displays an awareness that words can be evil, becoming 'an elixir archetypal objects. These are pristine intentional objects, or Heideg
not of memory, but of reminding'. On the other hand, Heidegger has gerian 'things', whose truth exists beyond all subjective emotions and
clearly explained how 'language is the house of Being',16 and Ricoeur measurable, objective dimensions.
has elaborated the notion that there is no symbolism before man speaks, The participants in Hejduk's Masques are more like bodily skins than
'even if the power of symbol is rooted much deeper'.17 Everything that skins of buildings. They refer in a direct way to the body, but they are
is, is known through language. not anthropomorphic in the classical tradition. Rather, they take on the
Poetic speech, or naming, is much more than a mode of communi? qualities of the flesh, as described by Merleau-Ponty. He contends that
cation among other modes of equal value. Aristotle recognized the the flesh is an element in the same way that philosophers used to think of
privileged role of metaphor. In his Rhetoric, he postulates metaphor as air, water, earth and fire; it is a concrete emblem of a general manner of
the fundamental figure of speech in prose, essential to communication. being which transcends all dualisms: 'My body is made of the same
In the Poetics, metaphor constitutes the essential aspect of tragedy, and flesh as the world . . . and moreover, this flesh of my body is shared by
is seen as the vehicle for mimesis, allowing tragedy to become an effec? the world.'18
tive microcosm in which the spectators apprehend their 'place' in the The constructions may be empty but they are impenetrable, except
face of destiny. through the word, because the space contained by the flesh is very
Acknowledging the ambiguity of the human condition, poetic naming shallow, while the space which contains it is infinite. It is the proverbial
embodies the necessity of displacement, allowing for indirect reference gap between the face and the mask. This architecture addresses em?
to the primordial, and is therefore the only language which reveals bodied perception in a direct way. The body of both the architecture and
reality. Scientific language, still considered the exclusive means of the participant undergoes a crystallization which engages its fragments
communicating truth and objectivity, rests on the illusion of reduc in the geometrical essence of architecture, thus allowing man to recover
tionism and assumes a direct and unambiguous relationship between a foothold in the world.
the human mind and the material world. All human knowledge is con? Hejduk's architecture is an architecture of objects in drawing or con?
ditioned by interpretation, and its actual meaning must derive from its struction, complemented by an architecture of spatial qualities through
ability to orient man in view of an eschatological, ambiguous horizon. the word. Together, both dimensions provide existential identification
Hejduk's architecture is true knowledge in precisely this sense. His and orientation. His architecture is universal and impenetrable. It at?
Masques have a density and grounding that his earlier work seemed to tains meaning, in the Heideggerian sense, by being suspended 'outside'
lack. Through poetic naming, the architecture attains an unfathomable the world of contemporary buildings and sites, always in waiting. In
concreteness. The word allows the architect to reveal the ground of the Victims, Hejduk has told us, it is only the sign naming the sign that can
'thing', of the products of poiesis, and to attain archetypal meanings, exist. On the other hand, when the architect names his archetypes, he
thus the abstract becomes concrete and the figural is regained. Without allows language to speak, respecting its existential function, and the
renouncing the personal power of the modern architect to discover architecture becomes fully accessible. Thus a concrete poetry emerges,
essential, abstract geometrical orders through making, the Masques a reinvention of history ? Hejduk's storia ? for the future.
suggest their potential inhabitation, a reinvention of ritual as a primor? Significantly, these observations remain true even when one is in the
dial round-dance, addressing the necessity of universality in meaning. presence of the large Berlin Masque structures or The Collapse of Time,
Through language, Hejduk's recent architecture is inhabited with all physically inhabitable but denying the classical scale relationships
the dreams and fears of modern man. Poetry speaks in images in order expected in buildings of such size. The scale and perceptual size of the
to let us dwell, states Heidegger. Hejduk's vision does just that: it pro? object represented in the drawings remains identical in the large 'built'
vides existential orientation reflecting the structure of the world and structure. This continuity is their salient characteristic. They establish
suggesting a renovated body image, while avoiding the classical illu? their own distance with the spectator and become contradictory to
sion of assuming an objectified unitary body as the point of departure. traditional ritual participation.
If Hejduk's work is capable of mirroring the earth and the sky, it Hejduk's architecture has posited technique once again as a magical,
is because he acknowledges the concealment and desecration of propitiatory act. His objects, like the daidala in Homeric literature,
nature. Only by questioning empirical reality, the common sense of a convey fear and admiration through their metaphysical light. The pro?
materialistic history, dogma and opinion, is it possible to re-create the tagonists of the Masques have a mysterious emanation of being, a
archetypal. The apparent external order described by typologists and seductive power that can create dangerous illusions. Rather than rep?
historians creates a dangerous delusion whose seductive gloss deters resenting that which is alive, pre-classical daidala allowed inanimate
one from searching for the truth within. Hejduk, on the other hand, has matter magically to become alive. Like Hejduk's architecture, they
adopted a rigorous introspective search as a form of self-knowledge. were thaumata, marvellous animated machines with brilliant suits of
The power of Hejduk's architecture as presence is a constant which armour and scintillating eyes. This architecture is the mimesis of a
transcends the differences between his early and late work, encompass? transcendental emotion. It discloses the possible totality through the
ing the full range of modern art, from abstraction to surrealism. The ap? fragment.
parently contradictory positions represented by abstraction and sur? Just as today we have closed the cycle of classical thought, and are
realism are reconciled. When we open our eyes each morning, we find traversing the twilight of reason, the image of the body has started to
the world already organized. Our potential for dealing simultaneously change. The cycle began with myth, then became metaphysics in the
with the specific and mutable, on one hand, and the ideal and universal, form of philosophy and science, and has ended again in myth. It is per

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haps significant, in relation to Hejduk's work and the architecture of the 14. E.-L. Boullee, Essai sur I 'art (Paris, 1968).
future, that in Homeric language there is no word for the body as an or? 15. J. V. Poncelet's projective geometry (1822) postulated the homology of both dimen?
sional realms (see: Perez-G?mez, Architecture and the Crisis of Modern Science,
ganic totality. The nine different verbs which Homer uses in relation to
chapters 8 and 9).
our function of seeing, for example, do not identify the function itself, 16. M. Heidegger, 'Letter on Humanism', in: Basic Writings (New York, 1977), pp.
but rather illustrate the mode of engagement, the palpable aspects or ex? 189ft.
ternal qualifications of the act of seeing. The human body in the world 17. P. Ricoeur, 'Existence and Hermeneutics', in: J. Bleicher, Contemporary Hermen
of the daidalos was comprehended, not as a unit, but as an aggregate of eutics (London, 1980), p. 246.
18. M. Merleau-Ponty, 'The Intertwining ? The Chiasm', in: The Visible and the In?
parts, particularly limbs with strong muscles. The body of gesture and
visible (Evanston, 1968), pp. 139 and 248.
motility was thus perceived as an authentic body of understanding. 19. A. Perez-G?mez, 'The Myth of Daedalus', in: AA Files no. 10(1985).
Our renovated body image can only be grasped analogically, in? 20. D. M. Levin, op. cit.
directly, through the very instruments and objects that mediate between 21. Ibid. p.5.
the body and the world, capturing the footprint of the embodied con?
sciousness. David Michael Levin has dedicated a brilliant book to the
retrieval of this body of understanding which our dominant philosophi?
cal-scientific tradition has kept in concealment.20 This retrieval is two?
fold: on the one hand Western tradition has suppressed the life and truth
of the body, while on the other the mainstream of this tradition has
steadfastly excluded an ancient spiritual wisdom which speaks in arche?
typal and mythopoeic language about the body's ontological under?
standing of being and of the ways to bring it forth.
What Levin (with the help of predecessors) accomplishes in phil?
osophy, Hejduk makes visible in his architecture: the retrieval of the
human body as the authentic place-holder and the metaphor of tra?
dition, as maker or craftsman and as poetic inhabitant. This retrieval
implies both a radical break with the dominant classical tradition and
also a renewal 'which makes contact with, and continues, that which
has always inhabited the most concealed interiority of the prevailing
form of the tradition' .21
An authentic interest in architectural meaning in our times must be
accompanied by a conscious or unconscious renovation of the body. As
an exemplary work of modernity, this renovation is manifested in
Hejduk's work, particularly in his profoundly moving later projects. In
our dark age, this manifestation is a welcome sign of hope.

This article consists of excerpts from a lecture given at the Architectural Association in
March 1987. I owe the idea for its title to Professor Steve Parcell, who in 1985 ran a
studio at Carleton University School of Architecture on the renovation of the body.

Notes

1. Timaeus, 33A~34a.
2. See: E. Cassirer, The Philosophy ofSymbolic Form, vol. n (New Haven and London,
1974), part 11, chapter 2.
3. See particularly: M. Merleau-Ponty, The Phenomenology of Perception (London,
1970), especially parts 1 and 11.
4. See, for example: H. Frankfort, Before Philosophy (Baltimore, 1971), Introduction.
5. Christian Norberg-Schulz's latest book is The Concept of Dwelling (New York, 1985).
6. See my book Architecture and the Crisis of Modern Science (Cambridge, Mass.,
1983), especially the Introduction and chapters 8 and 9.
7. See my article 'Abstractions in Modern Architecture', in: Carleton Book (Ottawa:
Carleton University School of Architecture, 1986) (also to be published in VIA, the
Journal of the Graduate School of Fine Arts, University of Pennsylvania, Fall, 1986).
8. This Cartesian assumption is at the root of modern architecture's identification of
theory and methodology, and of its concomitant belief that theory had to be validated
in terms of its applicability (the obvious failures of Durand's theory). This has en?
tailed the reduction of true theory to the status of applied science, a reduction which
was supported by the parameters of a technological world view. This 'theory' is ob?
livious of myth and true knowledge and is exclusively concerned with an efficient
domination of the material world. See: Architecture and the Crisis of Modern Science,
chapters 8 and 9.
9. See: S. F. Spiker, The Philosophy of the Body, particularly part lib.
10. D. M. Levin, The Body's Recollection of Being (London, 1985), pp. 45-7.
11. Ibid. pp. 38ff.
12. John Hejduk, Mask of Medusa (New York, 1985).
13. Alberto Perez-G?mez, Architecture and the Crisis of Modern Science, chapters
4 and 9, and 'The City as a Paradigm of Symbolic Order', in: Carleton Book (Ottawa,
1986).

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