The Egg and the Chicken

The Egg and the Chicken

Image: Susana Ventura, 2007


For architecture initiates or those who want to dispel some myths 

(and keep some others)

Originally published by Dafne.

Download PDF (english version / portuguese version)

On fiction and architecture

I am usually entertained thinking about stories, fictions, for everything I think of about architecture. About Le Corbusier, for example, I got distracted with the story of a Raven that one day had appeared in my head, when I was lying down among the garden lawn. Very perturbed, that Raven. He walked around in my head, from one side to the other, all night long. In every person I watch, I find a thousand traces for my characters. It is one of my favourite activities: observing people, fixing on the details of their simple existence. Almost always, it is simple people I like watching, but in whom I find a gesture or a position of their bodies, which denounces all their existence. I metamorphose them, transform them, not into larger than life characters (responsibility of true fiction or romance), but into figures of a daily life, who inhabit banal spaces as the ones I entertain myself with thinking about throughout the rest of the day. They show us how we can appropriate a given space, with their gestures and movements, with what they have on their minds. Once in a while, a more enigmatic character appears. A ballerina whose name one does not know, locked in a corner of the memory of a building. To others, I give a name, out of the enormous set of references I keep collecting. Some of those references were, inclusively, sleeping in my thought waiting for the exact moment to appear in-between the words. This summer still, I was thinking about the empty space. Since February, two characters inhabited my head: Arthur and Alice. Mysteriously, they had chosen their names and not me. Although who reads them would identify, perfectly, the traces they find in my thought. Not much time before, I had shared my days with two other characters, pretty much well known to me. The Raven had reappeared in the flesh and not just in feathers and membranes, very well accompanied by a Lady from my adolescent imaginary. And there I was thinking about the empty space, when they reappeared and brought along many others to signify that story about the empty space, about the void. They all played a function or a type. Their intervention was, perfectly, delimited, bound to a determinate, conceptual, ideological stand about the void. As if they were the perfect embodiment of that void they spoke about.

Today, I write about the egg and the chicken. They also have their story within my story. I met them, for the first time, in a Maria Filomena Molder lesson. As soon as I heard about them, already as characters in two Clarice Lispector’s tales, I felt like writing about them. Now that moment has come, but I can’t go ahead without thinking beforehand about this tradition to which they belong now. Maybe, as well, because I feel that, this time, I ought to inform the reader of this small opuscule. If all the characters are the representation (the written word, whether we like it or not, is a representation just like a drawing) of common, banal people, who inhabit the spaces of our cities, of our buildings, of our voids, the egg and a chicken, being part, sometimes, of our quotidian, on the frying pan or in the kitchen oven, don’t make us think about the space or about architecture. Certainly, these aren’t just any egg or chicken, but those from Clarice Lispector’s tales, where they are larger than life characters, where they tell of life through the written word. One might think, even, that it is absurd to think about architecture from the story of an egg and a chicken. Fiction, however, allows it all. It is a mechanism that tests the very limit of words as symbols. Like Louise says, words put in connection can open up new relations… a new vision of things.  In architecture, as well. Never being able to equal the space as it is, the words about space may unleash new spaces, even if they remain, forever, in words, in thought. Here.

The egg and the chicken: one story of architecture

1. One chicken

They appeared, one day, in the still yellow stairs patio office, a family with a quite unusual request. Sitting down, the father, the mother and the daughter, in front of me, appeared to be a serious family. There was nothing in them to make me suspicious of their intentions. But as soon as they started explaining their request, I wondered if I wasn’t mishearing or even daydreaming. It happened, many times, hearing requests which belonged to none other than my dreams. Perplexed, waiting to be corrected, I asked with hesitation: “Do you really want a house for a chicken?” The three of them nodded affirmatively, at the same time. From amazement I contained my laughter and asked them to better explain the reason why they wanted a house for a chicken, which, sooner or later, would end up on their plates (omitting, of course, this last part). It was, then, that the father began telling the story of the chicken, lamenting about the suffering he had caused to it: “And to say that I made her run in that state!”

It was a Sunday morning, time still hadn’t gone beyond 9 a.m. The chicken, which they had chosen for their lunch, had flinched on a kitchen corner until, when they were least expecting (one would never guess a want in her), opened its wings, filled its chest and jumped on the terrace wall. It still vacillated, while the cook screamed and alarmedly called the whole family, but as soon as it recovered, clumsily, in another flight, reached the neighbours terrace and, from there, a rooftop. The father, watching the dinner by a chimney, decided to go after the chicken. He put some swimming trunks on and, soon, reached the rooftop, where the chicken stood, either on one foot or the other and from which it escaped, again. And thus, successively, in an intense chase, from one roof to the other, until the father grabbed it and brought it back to the kitchen. It was, then, that it happened: the chicken laid an egg. The daughter, who had watched the birth dumbstruck, quickly called the mother, asking her not to kill the chicken anymore. They all ran back into the kitchen and, looking at the new parturient, decided she would be moving in with the family. The chicken had become the queen of the house. Everyone, except her, knew it.3

All that I knew about the chicken: In its escape, at rest, when giving birth or picking up corn – it was a chicken head, the same that was designed in the beginning of the centuries. […] What was there in its inside that made it a being? The chicken is a being. The truth is that we can’t rely on it for anything. Not even it relies on itself, like the cock believes in its crest.3 And, however, there is something useful about the chicken. It fulfils a function: that of carrying the egg. All I could do to design a house for a chicken was to believe that there was still a concrete, specific function, to think about a space to shelter it and its egg. I don’t believe it would make a big difference thinking about that chicken or any other chicken, even if in that one, which now passed its days between the kitchen and the back terrace, remained a vague memory of the great escape. Also, I wouldn’t be bored to think, randomly – on the contrary – about a determinate space, a house for a chicken, if it’d be, without it having to fulfil a function. In this case, I even could go as far as thinking, not in a space’s function, but in the existence of the chicken in the world. And, coming to that, I could perhaps think about something extraordinary which to offer a chicken in its house. A space to sleep and a ray of light in the morning to wake it up… (I had heard the Sun dictates its cycles.) Since she knows little more than eating, sleeping and walking from one side to the other, with her body behind her head quick and vibrating, with the old scare of its species already mechanized.3 Recovered from the scare. It was an excellent opportunity. Not all spaces have a function to fulfil and, certainly, the house, be it for a chicken or not, is not the space of the womb, the primordial shelter. Back to the beginning.

2. The egg and the chicken

Let’s turn things around. The chicken is but an excuse for the existence of the egg. The egg is perfect. It is the perfect form. More so than the circle.

The egg might have been perhaps a triangle which rolled so much in space it became oval. – The egg is basically a jar? Could it be the first jar moulded by the Etruscans? No. The egg originates from Macedonia. There it was calculated, born from the most strenuous spontaneity. On the sands of Macedonia a man with a stick in his hand drew it. And then erased it with his bare foot. With time, the egg became a chicken egg. It is not. But, adopted, it uses its surname. – One should say “the chicken’s egg”. If one says just “the egg”, the subject runs out, and the world stands naked. –In relation to the egg, the danger is someone discovering what could be called beauty, that is, its veracity. The veracity of the egg is not believable. If someone finds that, they might try and make it rectangular. (Our guaranty is that it isn’t able to: not being able to is the great strength of the egg: its grandiosity comes from the greatness of not being able to, which irradiates as a not wanting to.) But the one who’d fight to make it rectangular would be loosing his or her own life. The egg puts us, thus, in danger. Our advantage is that the egg is invisible... […] As for the chicken body, the chicken body is the greatest proof that the egg doesn’t exist. It is sufficient to look at the chicken to become obvious it is impossible for the egg to exist. […] It is for the egg to use the chicken that the chicken exists. […] The chicken looks at the horizon. As if an egg was coming from the horizon line. Apart from being a means of transportation for the egg, the chicken is silly, unoccupied and myopic. How could the chicken understand itself if it is the contradiction of an egg? The egg is still the same which originated from Macedonia. The chicken is always the most modern tragedy. It is uselessly up-to-date. And continues to be redesigned. It still hasn’t been found the most adequate form for a chicken. […] But for the chicken there’s no way: it is in its condition not to serve itself. Being, however, its destiny more important than it, and being the egg its destiny, its personal life doesn’t matter for us. […] Inside it the chicken doesn’t recognize the egg, but neither does it outside. When the chicken sees the egg it thinks it is dealing with an impossible thing. And with its heart beating, with its heart beating so much, it doesn’t recognize it.

I do not hesitate: a house for a chicken can only be an egg. And for my own survival, as well, I don’t want to make it rectangular. We should all learn to design the egg. Not even one straight line. The egg is an externalization. Having a shell is giving oneself. The egg bares the kitchen. It makes an inclined plane of the table.6 The interior of the egg is still more perfect than its outside, because, in the interior, the egg is constituted only by intensities. It is a body without organs: Before the extension of the organism and the organization of the organs, before the formation of the strata; as the intensive egg defined by axes and vectors, gradients and thresholds, by dynamic tendencies involving energy transformation and kinematic movements involving group displacement, by migrations: all independent of accessory forms because the organs appear and function here only as pure intensities. In the egg, no organs exist. Only the distribution of intensities. It’s the state of a body ‘before’ the organic representation. The egg is previous to the chicken. To the chicken’s body. It was the egg who found the chicken. And it is also previous to the Family (even being an egg). The egg eliminates the chicken’s functions of sleeping, eating and walking from one side to the other. These are secondary in a house (they should always be secondary). For this reason, an egg is not a chicken prosthesis, but an intensive space. A prosthesis is an extension of the body or the intensification of a sense, but, even if it attains a level of maximum intensity (driving, at times, to hypnotic or narcotic states), the intensities, which flow on a body without organs, are of a different nature. On a body without organs, there isn’t an extension of an organ or organs, nor the elimination of organs (only of organisms), but displacements of organs, which are, by its nature, receptacles of sensations. The small startled heart of the chicken appears in its quick and vibrating head. What might then the chicken feel inside its house, inside the egg? In the egg, its little body is no longer the body it knows to become house. And to feel each space in the house as body. Even if the chicken doesn’t recognize the egg, it doesn’t see it as a shelter or an extension of its womb. It only wants to be an egg. Inside the egg, it is actually inevitable. The egg, in turn, participates in the reversion of the chicken’s small body. It is, also, small, minuscule, contracting, swelling, at each movement of the chicken’s wings which touch, at times, its walls. It is a membrane mutating daily, letting itself be known through the only orifice on its walls, through which the light passes. And if it settles on another angle or rolls over the space, it is another egg and another chicken, infinitely. Inside the egg, egg and chicken are indiscernible (despite having the egg found a chicken). But suddenly the chicken is no longer inside the egg, but outside it. Its feathers are the exterior of the egg. And the interior of the egg is the interior of its body. There is a space between the exterior and the interior of the egg, an in-between space, only inhabited by the chicken which is egg.

3. The house

A few days have passed since the family’s visit to the office. The house for the chicken was practically drawn. Some models were made, on a 1:1 scale, after the initial drawings, to adjust some details. The orifice, for the morning light to penetrate and the wind to blow, still needed the right diameter to be found. The diameter of a ray of light and a wind breeze. Several rehearsals were made. And at that moment, we needed to verify the chicken’s measurements. Mostly, to correctly size the entrance space. We wanted it tense, but flexible, so that, as the chicken advanced into the interior of its egg, the space could expand like its wings. The material we were thinking about for the interior assured that, as well. It was the membrane. We weren’t thinking in metaphors. No! The intensive space is a physical space, to which we give measures, but from which it is independent. It is not intensive through the measures. But for what happens, what happens on the plane it draws and builds between its limit – the wall – and the limit the chicken draws between itself and the space it inhabits. The fact that the chicken wasn’t conscious of itself made it easier for us. One of our young collaborators, relished by the egg, phones the father asking him to bring the chicken to the office. We were all anxious. That’s when the news arrives. The young collaborator, still shaking, disturbingly vacillated: One day they killed it, and ate it.


The end

Being stuck

Being stuck

Chez Louise

Chez Louise