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Architecture’s Becoming: The Medium is the Form
José Aragüez :: Princeton University

This paper seeks to tap into, if not inaugurate, the medium specificity debate in architecture as a heuristic device into the ontology of architectural form. According to the Greenbergian paradigm, specificity is determined vis-à-vis works of art solely as material outcomes. Alternatively, I show that the locus of specificity for each art form lies in their becoming, that is to say, in the form production itself as the transitional process that brings together conception and materialization.

Upon unfolding this argument, I first need to tackle the question what is the medium in architecture. I submit that architectural form, as the only inescapable aspect of every architectural reality, is that which constitutes such a medium, and then develop this precept (“architectural form as medium”) discursively by proving that it ought to be posited as a non-materialist yet non-idealist epistemological construct. Secondly, I address the problem of how a realization in painting and architecture may qualify as such relative to the properties of the medium through which it is produced. I argue that this concern, traditionally framed in terms of either “medium specificity” –each thing is one thing and one thing only– or “medium sprawl” –there is no possibility of specificity whatsoever–, needs to be reformulated, instead, with regards to the notion of “medium in-betweenness,” i.e. the shared space that may be captured in between mediums. In order to illustrate this claim, I discuss three theories of form production, one in architecture (Cecil Balmond) and two in painting (Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky).

The Iconic Architecture Industry
Simone Brott :: Queensland University of Technology

Theodor Adorno was opposed to the cinema because he felt it was too close to reality, and ipso facto an extension of ideological Capital, as he wrote in 1944 in Dialectic of Enlightenment. What troubled Adorno was the iconic nature of cinema – a category in semiotics of C. S. Peirce where the signifier is not arbitrary, as in Saussure, but mimics its referent. Adorno’s critique of the cinematic image—for him, its false immediacy—glimmers in the ubiquitous yet misunderstood appellation “iconic architecture” of our own episteme. For contemporary architecture today is our own mediatic object of cultural inscription locked within an iconically asserted surface resemblance. The Guggenheim Bilbao induces terror precisely because it incarnates before ones eyes a humanly ungraspable geometry of a surreal order, on the ground. If the cinema is too close to reality, Adorno might have said that iconic architecture is too close to virtual reality. My essay examines the iconic project from 1997 to the present moment as symptomatic of architecture’s enduring historical trauma with modernism. I argue that the iconic industry instrumentalises the architectural image in order to reawaken a vanquished capital, and it therefore continues Hegel’s neo-Platonistic project for ahistorical truths. As instrumentality, iconic architecture seeks to avoid the pain of modernity, to conceal its crisis or pathology; yet it inevitably fails, it is a mere opiate of modernity. The lesson of Dialectic of Enlightenment—the violent operation of enlightenment values in modernist culture, jumps to life in the workings of the iconic architecture industry.

A Tempest in Four Teapots: an Allegory of Architecture’s Aesthetics of Incompleteness
Elizabeth Keslacy :: University of Michigan

This paper seeks to explicate a shift that occurred in architecture’s self-definition or identity in the 20th century, from an affiliation with the fine arts and a corresponding participation in the aesthetics of reception to a much more independent disciplinary identity and an engagement with the aesthetics of creation and production. This essay examines changes in the status of the aesthetic object and the nature of aesthetic experience in the discipline of architecture that correspond to shifts that occurred in the philosophy of aesthetics, from Kant’s Critique of Judgment and Schiller’s Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man to nineteenth century aesthetics, elucidated by Oscar Wilde’s collection of essays Intentions. Wilde’s elision of the roles of critic and artist and the activities of reception and production prefigures the course of architectural disciplinary development. These shifts are vividly rendered in a series of four teapots that, as applied art or decorative objects, stand in for architecture by virtue of the internal tension between their functional and aesthetic dispositions. This paper will examine the teapots in two historical periods, the late nineteenth and the late twentieth centuries, to understand crucial shifts in architecture’s disciplinary autonomy, the aesthetic status of the architectural work, the importance of authorial intention and expression, and architecture’s sometime disciplinary self-identification as a fine or decorative art.

Aesthetic Judgment of Built Form
Eva Perez de Vega :: The New School

In the Third Critique Kant sporadically references architecture, built form, or similar man‐made purposeful artifacts, using them to elucidate some points through examples, but often providing obscuring accounts. In some parts of the text he seems to suggest that the judgment of a building (or similar purposeful object) relies on how well the aesthetic qualities of form fit its intended purpose and thus can only be adherent beauty, and in other moments he seems to suggest that there could be a pure judgment if the purpose is unknown or abstracted from the object in question. Thus, what condition must architecture satisfy in order to be considered under Kant’s category of pure beauty? Does architecture that transcends its intended purpose qualify, or does an aesthetic judgment about architecture require that one comprehend the purpose for which it was designed? And what role does form play in this judgment? This paper would like to explore the Kantian distinction between free and adherent beauty in relation to form and purpose in order to extract take a position on the judgment of architecture.

Indeterminate Projections: linear perspective as the anti-image of architecture
Thomas Forget :: University of North Carolina Charlotte

This paper posits linear perspective as a rational, as opposed to an empirical, medium of architectural knowledge. Most architects understand perspectival drawings of the built environment as immediate images that allow designers and clients to evaluate the experiential consequences of a given proposal. Historically, perspectival drawings complement analytical modes of graphic inquiry, such as physical modeling and orthographic drawing. More recently, however, linear perspective has evolved into a sole (and dangerously all-powerful) vehicle of architectural inquiry, as digital design tools have increasingly privileged (if not mandated) the use of perspectival views during all phases of the design process. Consequently, architectural analysis is being reduced to a passive operation of visual evaluation: this solution looks betterthan that solution. The primary objectives of this paper are to question the relevance of empirical immediacy to the development of architectural thought and to posit an alternative mode of inquiry rooted in abstraction and cognitive procedures. In a perverse irony, linear perspective is the vehicle of both a problem and its solution. Although it aspires to visual truth, linear perspective also informs a discipline of mathematics, projective geometry, that undermines assumptions of phenomenological immediacy in projective drawing. Projective geometry is a graphic medium of anti-imagery that offers architects a much-needed antidote to the visual biases that currently dominate the profession. Linear perspective has the potential to summon an unusually vital state of geometric logic—a state of pure abstraction that may revitalize contemporary architectural thought and practice.

Tom Spector :: Oklahoma State University

We tend to assume that “the public” whose good architects can serve is as a unitary, all-inclusive, and timeless entity. None of these assumptions is true. The public is fractured, it is often contested and it has a historical trajectory which, in recent times, is notably in the direction of withering. Could cultivation of the quality of “publicness” help rescue the public realm from decay as well as rescue architecture from the degradation of consumerism and the radical subjectivism of value that corrodes all efforts at establishing standards of goodness? Following a suggestion by Michael Benedikt concerning architecture’s “emptiness” and with reference to Habermasian and Deweyan concepts of the public, a new emphasis on architecture as a public good is proposed.

This conference is supported by the Boston University Center for the Humanities and Department of Philosophy.