Pas de deux
an attempt to define architecture’s specificity from its out-tonomy
Paper presented at the International Seminar “Critic|all II International Conference on Architectural Design and Criticism”, ETSAM, Madrid, June 2016.
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“Je voudrais, moi aussi, poser des questions. En poser à vous et en poser à moi-même. Ce serait du genre: qu’est-ce que vous faites au juste vous, qui faites du cinéma? Et moi qu’est-ce que je fais au just quand je fais ou j’espère faire de la philosophie?
Je pourrais poser la question autrement: qu’est-ce que c’est qu’avoir une idée au cinéma? Si l’on fait ou veut faire du cinéma, qu’est-ce que ça signifie avoir une idée? (…) Parce que, d’une part, tout le monde sait bien qu’avoir une idée, c’est un événement qui arrive rarement, c’est une espèce de fête, peu courante.”
Gille Deleuze, Qu’est-ce que l’acte de création?
On March 17th, 1987, Deleuze begins the lecture “Qu’est-ce que l’acte de création?”, aimed at cinema students, by asking them: “What do you do exactly when you make cinema?” And right after he addresses the same question slightly differently: “What is that having an idea in cinema? If one does or wants to make films, what does it mean to have an idea? (…) Because, everyone knows that having an idea, it is an event that rarely arrives, it is a kind of fete, uncommon.” Deleuze’s lecture on the creative act allows us to place several extremely relevant questions for the discipline of architecture and which still remain absent from the theory of architecture and architectural thought, as for example: What does architecture do or create? What belongs to architecture and only to it that makes of an idea an architectonic idea? What do architects borrow from other disciplines, but which already appears in an architectural process? And, the ultimate one: Can architecture be an act of resistance and a work of art?
The present paper will follow through these very questions to consider, in a first approach, architecture’s own specificity, testing its very limits, and then exposing them to different disciplines and art forms, such as dance and philosophy, evaluating what these encounters produce and what, in its turn, allows to rethink about architecture’s own ideas, namely to rethink critically the position of the body in architecture after the clichés produced during the 90s and the beginning of the present century.
Architecture as a creative and inventive activity
At the same time, Deleuze was posing the above quoted questions to the cinema students, he was also asking himself what does he do or hopes to do while doing philosophy. For him, philosophy is a creative or inventive activity just as cinema, painting or music. Even science, as Deleuze mentions, invents and creates functions. What differentiates all these creative and inventive activities is the matter - what, in fact, do they create which belongs only to themselves, because no other discipline has the means, the instruments, the techniques to create it (notwithstanding some resonances between disciplines). And, when it comes to art, this matter is (must be) an expressive matter, which, taking into consideration Deleuze’s Plane of Immanence and the concepts he created while doing philosophy, happens when a certain composition acquires an aesthetic quality or, in other words, holds a bloc of sensations, such is the definition of art by Deleuze (and Guattari).
Deleuze goes on: “I say that I do philosophy, this means that I try to invent concepts. If I say that you do cinema, what do you do? You don’t invent concepts - that’s not your affair - but rather blocs of movement-duration. If I fabricate a bloc of movement-duration, maybe I do cinema. It’s not a question of evoking a story or to refuse it. Everything has a story. Philosophy also tells stories. Stories with concepts. Cinema tells stories with blocs of movement-duration. Painting invents a whole different type of blocs. Those are not blocs of concepts, nor blocs of movement-duration, but blocs of lines-colours. Music invents another type of blocs, just as specific.” This makes us wonder: what about architecture, what does architecture invent or create? What does an architect do when he does architecture? What is unique or specific to it that only architecture is able to create with its proper means?
In this lecture, Deleuze doesn’t mention the example of architecture, although we know that he considers it "the art of the house and the territory,” along with Guattari in Mille Plateaux. And, later, in Qu’est-ce que la philosophie?, the authors return to this definition explaining that architecture is the first of all arts, as art begins with the animal that transforms or metamorphoses the elements that it finds in its natural environment into matters of expression, giving the example of the Brown Stage-maker. Every morning, the little bird picks leaves from the trees and turn them upside down so the paler side stands out against the dark color of the ground, creating an aesthetic composition, a “ready-made,” which do not fulfil any use or function, such as seducing a lover or keeping the enemies away. Then, from the branches above, the little bird sings a complex musical piece with notes from its own singing and notes from other birds that it imitates, at the same time it opens and shows its yellow bright feathers. Deleuze and Guattari add: “This is not a synesthesia in the full flesh, this is a bloc of sensation in the territory, colours, postures and sounds that sketch a total work of art.” For the two authors, architecture does not cease to frame the emergent sensible qualities of the territory which the house - the intertwining composition of frames and planes - transforms into expressive qualities and holds within its composition.
Returning to our question - what does architecture create? - and following Deleuze and Guattari’s later ideas on architecture, we may feel tempted to consider that architecture creates blocs of space or blocs of frames-planes, and, nonetheless, if we remember the Brown Stage-maker, with its singing, its choreography, its postures, its colours, its mise-en-scène, all these resemble our very position within space. More than blocs of space, architecture invents blocs of space-body, when it creates endless combinations between space and body, just as the lines and colours on the canvas of a great painter. Is this not the traditional idea of the architectural task, to provide shelter to man, to create an envelope for the body and protect it from Chaos? Certainly, this is the primary task of architecture, one that Deleuze himself recognises when he thinks of architecture as the art of the house and the territory, and yet, when we define architecture by what it seems to be irreducible to its inventive activity - blocs of space-body - we still need to ask: what space and body are these that are deployed, espouse each other and allow a plethora of works of architecture? Because we cannot forget what Deleuze points out and it’s also here in question, which is the expressive quality of the work of architecture (and not its primary task or function), what makes the work of architecture a work of art, the sensations it composes and holds, and only by means of its proper expressive matter or what belongs irreducibly to itself: the infinite play of blocs of space-body. Nevertheless, we must ask yet: do we find the combination of these two elements - space and body - in any other form of art?
The encounter between architecture and dance
Besides each activity’s specificity, there are, what Deleuze calls, the great encounters. Continuing on his lecture to the cinema students, he asks: “What makes a filmmaker really want to adapt, for example, a novel? It seems evident to me that it is because there are ideas in cinema that resonate with what the novel presents as ideas in novel. And there often happen the great encounters.” Deleuze gives, then, the example of the encounter between Kurosawa and Dostoyevsky, that happens mainly through the latent urgency that moves the characters of both authors, always arrested to questions of life and death, however with the certainty that, even after these, there is yet another urgent problem, which makes them deflect. In the end, “If Kurosawa could adapt Dostoyevsky, that’s because he could say: ‘I have a common affair with him, a common problem’.” Each discipline actually proceeds with its proper means (or as Deleuze would say, through its own substances, codes and territorialities), but there are what Deleuze and Guattari call interferences, when, for instance, and taking into consideration Deleuze’s own philosophical work on cinema, the concepts of image-movement and image-time are invented (by Deleuze) after the work of great filmmakers. Deleuze is not doing cinema when he invents those concepts, but the concepts crystallise and name, in themselves, the singularities and the expressive qualities of a cinematographic image (movement-duration), or in other words, the cinematographic image becomes a philosophical concept, when Deleuze’s own plane of thought encounters a Godard or Bresson film. The process of becoming is thus extremely important here, because, as Deleuze explains the a-parallel evolution which characterises the becoming: “It doesn’t happen between people, it happens between ideas, each one deterritorializing another one, following a line or lines, that are neither on one, nor in the other, and that carry a ‘bloc’.” For instance: “It is not the man who sings or paints, it is the man who becomes animal, but exactly at the same time that the animal becomes musical or pure colour or line, admirably simple: the birds of Mozart, is the man who becomes bird, because the bird becomes music.” Whenever architecture encounters a different discipline, we cannot talk in terms of comparison or metaphor, but trying to understand when an idea, for instance, in dance - the danced movement - becomes an architectonic idea, because architecture has a common problem with dance.
There is that moment when architecture had a common problem with dance, that we would like to recover. In the end of the 90s, Frédéric Flamand invites Diller + Scofidio to work with him on a piece dedicated to Nijinsky’s Notebooks, titled Moving Target, which aimed to address the place between artistic creation and schizophrenia. For that time, Flamand was looking to step back from the body created by the theatre, an inexistent body as body, as infinite plastic expression, being reduced to a collection of codified and established gestures: “All it does is to sit down, get up, get out and, eventually, to have a cup of coffee. The body’s gesture is completely submissive to the text.” In opposition to this body, Flamand was trying to approach the memory-body that he found in Grotowski’s theatre: “The memory-body is a body that can work independently of the dictation of thought or established gestural codes, which can catch a certain spontaneity.” “Memory is not nostalgia, but rather a possibility to combine different elements to create a new real.” When Flamand encounters Diller + Scofidio, he immediately feels seduced by their work which was, for him, an attempt to dissolve the architectural codes, just as he was trying to dissolve the codes in dance and rediscover a pure and free movement: “The body as the ultimate territory of freedom.” As he refers: “I felt touched by what they say about architecture: ‘It is what happens between the skin of a man and another man’s skin, hence their interest by the body, their obsession for the body in architecture. If they speak of a person seated on a chair, it is not the chair that interests them, but what happens between the chair and the person that sits’.”
The piece Moving Target confronted different artistic expressions - danced movement (dance), music, text and objects - but, in this choreographic experimentation, the composed sensation resided in the interval where the relations between the object, the space and the dancer occurred. As Flamand refers: “The space may dance with the object and the dancer may remain immobile in that precise moment.” The dancer may remain immobile while the space around him/her dances, or in other words, the space, that surrounds the dancer, becomes a pure danced movement: the sensation of danced movement appears in the interval between body and object, or body and space, when one exerts a force upon the other and, there, encounters its resonance and effective actualisation (although there, it is already autonomous, free and of another type). Certainly, it is not any fixed position of the dancer (and even less because of a moving space) that makes the space dance, as it is not at all a metaphor: the dancer, in his/her immobile position, exerts a force that imprints, in the space, a sensation of a danced movement. This sensation occupies all the space that arises between the body and the object. And, in this way, it is the emptiness that acquires the weightlessness, the rhythm, the tonalities of a dance.
A few years before, Diller + Scofidio held an exhibition at the Storefront, in New York, titled Bodybuildings, where we find two curious characters - The Bride and The Juggler - both from the play A Delay in Glass or The Rotary Notary and His Hot Plate, conducted by Susan Mosakowski and composed by Vito Ricci, to celebrate the centenary of the birth of Marcel Duchamp. Both characters express architecturally the interval of space-body, as defined by Diller + Scofidio: between the skin of a body and the skin of another body. Each one of the characters holds a space defined by a mechanism that determines every movement of the character when this one is on the scene, anticipating the action itself or, we could say, that the action is already contained in the mechanism. Just as the space around the character depends on the mechanism and its action, the mechanism depends on the body and its movements, which in The Bride are extremely intense, nevertheless too regulated: “The Bride is a physical specimen. She is exoskeletal. Her anatomy is a hinge. She wears chastity armour with a modesty mechanism. She is well oiled. She is a wasp on a leash. The Bride is introduced fettering her leash to the hinge point at ‘0’. She describes her radius, and falls to the ground as the obscuring plan is lowered. The Bride swings like a pendulum, she hangs herself on her leash”. In his turn, the Juggler, despite the weights of which his balance depends on (constantly in the maximum threshold, close to imbalance and fall) acquires an extreme beauty from that constant challenge within gravity, proven by the body in the space that surrounds it, in a singular moment of suspension. As the architects mention: “The Juggler: He wears a mask on a pivot. He is the tender of gravity. He has the stability of a tripod, yet he is always out of equilibrium. He sways and gyrates. He is introduced as a force. In his movement sequence he measures linear distance against the resistance of weights with respect to time relative to his mood at the moment. His weights animate him. He is an automarionette; weight and counterweight. Gravity adjusts his will. Gravity and levity are physical forces and emotive ones. He is the master of irony. He specialises in black humor. He is the tender of levity”. The Juggler is a suspended body, not just for the weights which give the body an extraordinary weightlessness as they produce a space between the body and the weights without gravity. And each action of body, each movement of the body changes the play between the weights, transforming the surrounding space, whenever the sensation of weightlessness and suspension resides in the interval of space-body. For each combination of the pair thread-weight, there is a difference of intensity in the sensation, whenever the Juggler tries to reach the maximum intensity: to float in a space without gravity.
The difference between the Bride and the Juggler is the difference we find in several works of architecture. Both hold (and are, in fact) intervals of space-body where both terms are created by a mutual exchange of forces. Nevertheless, the Bride is the minimum expression of shelter, whereas the Juggler, beyond the functions he fulfils, creates moreover a sensation of weightlessness and suspension. Curiously, in the exhibition From Here to Eternity, a few years before the Juggler, we find the same suspended body in a Diller + Scofidio’s drawing of a device to which they called The Balance. In the architects’ words: “The Balance suspends the body in space from 11 points. Provoked by Kafka’s bed for the condemned man, the apparatus is configured as a plan analogue to the body below. A hinged skeletal track aligns rolling components of the counterweight system. A circulatory network, powered by a hydraulic pump, stabilises any position assumed by the body. This state of equilibrium frees the brain for activities of gravity and levity.” Once again, the sensation occupies the interval of space-body, nevertheless depending its expressiveness on both terms and the mutual intertwining.
What the encounter between architecture and dance produces
But what do these examples allow us to think about architecture’s composition of blocs of space-body? What does this affinity with dance allow us to think critically about architecture?
When thinking specifically about the dancer, José Gil, a renowned Portuguese philosopher, creates the concept of the space of the body, which is a space created “really built around the dancer’s body without confusing it with the objective space: it is the space of the body, a ‘midst’ where, precisely, the dancer’s body goes beyond itself every moment, ‘there’ losing its weight. Indeed, one does not dance in the exterior space, nor in an inner subjective space. The weightlessness, the ease are experienced by the dancer, at the same time, as properties of a mobile in space and as experienced inside his/her body, as if its texture becomes space. The space of the body is the body becoming space.” Being the danced movement the perpetual balance of the dancer, between his/her weight and its absence, between his/her corporeal balance, purely mechanic, and the balance that the consciousness of the body imprints to the danced gesture, the dancer experiences the danced movement in the space of the body, because it is in that zone that the gesture anticipates the movement, as if the entire body felt itself prepared, in absolute position, and the movement is then only the concretisation of the gesture in time, that befalls in the choreography, whereas the dancer, in the space of the body, always anticipates the movement. More than the body transformed in space, it is there that the body becomes movement and the dancer creates space (with his/her movement). It is there that the dancer has a molecular perception of his/her body, of the gestures and movements, in order to dance or to create a danced movement. José Gil attributes to the space of the body two important functions: “ (a) It augments the movement’s fluency by creating a proper milieu, with the least amount of viscosity possible; (b) it makes possible the positioning of virtual bodies, who multiply the dancer’s point of view.”
If we go back to the previous examples of Diller + Socifidio’s work, we witness the fabrication of this space of the body especially in the Juggler or in the body of The Balance’s device. The body is transformed into an intensified topological surface (what José Gil call “secretion or reversal”), which demands full knowledge of the body and its movements, its gestures and positions, in order to create a sensation of weightlessness (of absence of gravity) and pure balance, which, in fact, resides in the interval between the body (already transformed into an intensified surface) and the objective space (which, in the former examples, is the composition between pulleys, ropes or threads and weights). The sensation occupies the interval of space-body, but only when both space and body become an intensive space and intensive body (there is what we may call a mutual becoming of space-body), which is slightly different from what we have said before. In the Bride there isn’t any composed sensation and, nevertheless, there is an interexchange of forces: her body’s movements depend on the mechanism as the mechanism regulates and imposes precise movements to her body. There is indeed an interval of space and body, but it doesn’t possess any expressive quality, because it is built upon a cause-effect: a function. In the Juggler or in the body of The Balance, there are also cause-effects and mutual decisions, the created space depends on the location and positions of the weights, but the body performs certain postures and movements in order to create, at the end, the sensation of weightlessness, just like any dancer.
Similarly to the dancer, the architect lives the sensations in the space of the body that he/she creates within the work of architecture: all the sensations are, then, as anticipated, when the architect feels himself/herself feeling them in the space that he/she creates between his/her own body and the objective space. In the case of the dancer, what is actualised is the danced movement, remaining within the space of the body, as if crystallised, the gesture that anticipates the movement or the energetic impulse that combines the temporary colocation of the body in the static and intensive position of the gesture, all the muscles and bones in a virtual position, because they come from a molecular perception of the body. In the architect, what is actualised from the space of the body is a contour to which the architect gives a materiality. If we think about the created objective space, we may recognise that the space of the body is also present there or it is actualised, precisely, when we are able to trace a limit through the maximum intensity of a sensation’s action upon our bodies (in our skin’s), enveloping us with its strength, rendering the space the closest to us, walls, floor, ceiling, windows as if bonded in intimate contact with our skin, so that there is no distance between us and the enveloping space.
We consider that the architect, himself or herself, inhabit an interval of space-body, because it is only there that he or she is able to manipulate all the elements that enter the composition, in order to define the different levels a sensation passes through. This is actually an exercise we’ve witnessed several times, for instance, in Peter Zumthor’s process. In the actual space of his home-office, he establishes some points in space, creates a window of temporality while transforming the space around (but this is not an actual transformation of the objective space, but a virtual one just as the one that the dancer creates in the space of the body) to control the imagined space and to define the correct position of the materials, the panelings, the colours, asking people to come in and look at the (virtual) space he is anticipating, and see what happens when someone comes in or leaves, or when someone sits down and looks out of the window, how the light gets in, what patterns does it create on the walls: what do we see and how do we feel? Zumthor creates within his working space a virtual interval of space-body that he experimentally tempers until its total and final composition.
His process is not very different from that of Adolf Loos, who curiously loved to dance and used to flirt with women dancers (it’s not by chance that he dated several dancers and two of his wives were dancers as well, not to mention the relationship between him and Josephine Baker to whom he designed a house). For Loos, the architect occupies himself/herself of the space between the wall and the inhabitant (what Colomina named the “inhabited wall”), but this space, in Loos’ works, implies several intervals or successive membranes which the architect manipulates to create a pure sensation, which has a direct action upon the inhabitant’s body, because it is already imbued in its composition (in the composition of the sensation) the position of the body in space. All the imperceptible movements, tensions and spasms of the body in Loos’ houses depend solely on the composition of sensation which is mastered by the architect. The body enters the plane of composition as matter of expression, similarly to other elements. The body, its postures and declinations are part of the code of sensation, implying however an experimentation of Loos’ own body and its transformation into a space of the body or intensive body, where he was able to localise the precise limits and thresholds of the sensation. For example, the device “window-sofa” was used numerous times by Loos (it is a singularity of his style), to the extent that this does not concern solely the location of a sofa under a window, but a set of indivisible and unique elements which Loos skilfully manipulated to create, sometimes a sensation of comfort, other times of discomfort (because the body stays in an unnatural movement, almost spasmodic), which are, in fact, inseparable from the body’s position and postures and these are regulated, tempered through the composition of all the other elements: the light, the position of the window and its solar orientation, its dimensions…
Of course, Loos had several artifices to compose sensations. In Lina’s bedroom, there is again a sensation of pure comfort, swelling all around the planes of white furs and plush. In Villa Karma’s bathroom or Josephine Baker’s house, there is a sensation of intimacy or pure desire, and all these sensations may even coexist and form a sequence, which is, in fact, the difference of intensity of a single sensation (what Deleuze calls rhythm). A sensation of comfort may correspond to a degree of intensity of the sensation of intimacy, as in Lina Loos’ bedroom, for example.
The Raumplan - which we may consider an architectonic idea (to recall Deleuze) by Loos - is itself an endless principle of composition of blocs of space-body, where the interweaving of the two - space and body - edify a sensation. It is always a space in-between the wall and the inhabitant and the result, the effect as Loos called it, belongs to the mutual becoming. The Raumplan does not refer itself to an exterior, nor to an interior, nor to space in itself (the cubic dimension of space), nor to the inhabitant’s postures and gestures (to which Loos always paid extreme attention as the artifice of the window-sofa attests), but to the architectural fact in itself or the sensation it creates. And the Raumplan - as a compositional principle - draws the several frames that coincide, in space, with the maximum intensity of a certain sensation (that’s why if we move around a Loos’ house, when we pass a boundary or a threshold, the sensation changes its nature). Curiously, that is what makes the work of architecture a work of art, contrary to what Loos thought: the work of architecture holds within it a bloc of sensations. As John Hejduk refers: “The architect is able to set a tonal framework, which is inevitably affected by the tones of the inhabitants of a house. Mysterious houses become so by the interweaving of the two (subjects and objects). Loos understood this. Loos made a thick internal space so that thoughts could be retained / caught / solidified until the opaque veils could be lifted, removed, dropped to the floor, exposing the nakedness of an anticipating sensual architecture. An architecture in love; an architecture making love.” We dare to replace “an architecture in love” for “an intensive architecture,” a type of architecture defined by the sensations it composes, because, being aware of what Loos said about the projection of one’s feelings onto the walls of a house, the “thick internal space,” that he built in his houses, is not for the inhabitants’ thoughts, but for their bodies and their enveloping. At this point, Hejduk is correct when he speaks of a “nakedness of an anticipating sensual architecture,” and we may easily understand this eroticism in Josephine’s Baker house, for example, and draw the infinite lines which make the space of this house dance, between the body’s movement or immobile position and postures and the walls and the apertures…
It may be strange to propose to critically rethink the body in architecture today recalling Loos’ houses, which belong to the beginning of the past century and are often seen as bourgeois. Nevertheless, we would like once more to refer the examples given here of the works by Diller + Scofidio that helped us to understand a problem common to architecture and dance. Those same examples were understood by the architectural criticism of the 90s as examples of a discourse about the body in architecture focused mainly in the idea of prostheses. Curiously, José Gil, when defining the dancer’s space of the body, says that: “It is the first natural prosthesis of the body: the body gives itself new extensions in space, and in such ways it forms a new body - a virtual one, but ready to become actual and ready to allow gestures to become actualised in it.” In those same discourses, the work of architecture was also understood as a prosthesis, following McLuhan’s ideas, as an augmentation and intensification of a determined sense or senses, depending thus on the amenities of the house. As we have been explaining, here we propose a different approach to architecture’s relation with the body, picking up those very examples (or some of them) that allowed the criticism on the 90s call upon the prosthesis, and yet introducing that same difference between the Bride and the Juggler. Whereas the Bride’s apparatuses are clearly understood as prostheses and the minimum expression of architecture’s primordial feature - shelter - the Juggler’s create a space as well (just as the Bride’s create a shelter for the feminine body), but it is through the interaction with the body (its postures, gestures, movements) that the space - or, to be more precise the interval - becomes expressive. When a space becomes expressive, it may be called a work of art, as we have already stated, and this implies other questions, namely the one with which Deleuze ends his lecture on the creative act: art as act of resistance. What does it mean for architecture to be an act of resistance?
According to Deleuze: “Only the act of resistance resists death, either in the form of a work of art or as a struggle of men. What connection is there between the struggle of men and the work of art? The closest relationship is, for me, the most mysterious. Exactly what Klee meant when he said: 'You know, the people lack'. The people lack and, at the same time, do not. The people lack, it means that this fundamental affinity between the work of art and a people that does not yet exist, it will never be clear. There is no work of art that does not call for a people to come”. Architecture holds a privileged position of creating spaces where the body becomes expressive matter. And even when the body is absent, in uninhabited and empty spaces, there are elements which belong to the architectural composition that will always wait for a body. The work of architecture is always in the absence of man (paraphrasing Cézanne).