Articulate where you stand.

Comparing writings of Le Corbusier and Alberto Perez-Gomez

Le Corbusier, a renowned 20th century architect, demanded a response from himself constantly during his lifetime. He still stands to ask the same of students of architecture: ‘Articulate where you stand.’

The past semester we read many treatises from architects ranging from the 14th century to the present day. The last class discussion centered around perhaps one of the most enjoyable pieces by Le Corbusier I’d ever read, Nothing is Transmittable but Thought. This was compared to The Modern City: Context, Site or Place for Architecture? by Alberto Perez-Gomez. The piece below is what I wrote prior to our class discussion.

Why do our buildings lack the richness of old buildings? Perhaps it is because our culture spends less time in one place, or thinking about one place because the trend is that we’re so mobile. We also live a portion of our lives in a virtual reality. As an architect I do the majority of my drawing this way. We can construct false lives for ourselves, allowing others to not understand us for one, by only appearing a flattering way. We limit the picture. What’s the answer to becoming more real? A dedicated focus of time on what we’re interested in, allowing a time for the relief of distraction. Perseverance as Corbusier states in his writing Nothing is Transmittable but Thought. Further on in this reading Perez-Gomez states ‘In our time we individualize culture.’ Today with our ‘radicalized faith has become increasingly international and transcultural fueled by more efficient systems of communication, blurring traditional boundaries.’ (p4) Society assumes so much by the appearance of being present in pictures. What about stories, history and political understanding? (Chris Luebkeman questions emphatically in his lecture What will [y]our normal be?) One must find out how to actually be somewhere, be silent to understand the entirety of one’s surroundings. What is the remaining scar of the Berlin wall without the understanding of what it cut and divided, and how long it remained as so?

The authors Perez-Gomez and Corbusier discuss journalism as having a limited perception, that is, unfortunately, the one that is shared. Perez-Gomez laments that ‘media is the more authentic public’ (p4) as Corbusier discusses that if you are perturbed by the journalists, it is but for just one day. The public moves on.

Content is woven in the present through our desire, Perez-Gomez states. Yes, there may be more than what’s usually present, and isn’t that what any artist is after? One must take a position on all authentic knowledge to play a role, participate in life. Perez-Gomez says ‘we must make.’ I say yes, we must draw, make, yes, just as the poet must try to keep writing the same thing in different ways.


‘Make to recall being Perez-Gomez repeats again citing Hejduk’s architectural masks. (photo from effettobeaubourg)

Lauren Rapp a woman who made a chair a day for the last year – Washington Post. Compared to Hejduk’s masks, these pieces question a range of materials to be a specific object.

What else can we use to understand a place? Perez-Gomez suggests we free ourselves from ‘The modern world’ that has a ‘specific reality which is not independent from our thoughts.’ (p3)  In the same paragraph he explains that Heidegger’s take on tradition talks of tradition ‘The flight into tradition, out of a combination of humility and prescription, can bring about nothing in itself other than self-deception and blindness in relation to the historical moment.’ I recall similar laments in previous readings for class too. For example, in Hans-Georg Gadamer’s The Relevance of the Beautiful he says if art has anything to do with festival, it is about transmission.  (Something passed along such as tradition through families) ’tradition means transmission rather than conservation. It does not imply we leave things unchanged.. it means learning how to grasp and express the past anew.’  (p49 – 50) As architects we must understand the assumptions we’ve come to depend on in society in order to think anew. We must find deeper meanings to the surface of tradition that suggests we just go through the motions. Expect more from what’s given on the surface, and molded to look the same each year. Instead, we could share stories, and debate the true meaning.

In discussing the ‘symbolic power of some architecture’ (p6) Perez-Gomez states ‘Our home must accept a dimension of utopia -the possibility of real historical evolution and our self-assertion as individuals- even the architect as artist -their works are comparatively free from the traditional limitation and associate of the specific site.’  Let’s think about this -to be participating humans we must understand the essence and actuality around us, recognize the abundance that surrounds us. Corbusier discusses something similar when he states in Nothing is Transmittable… ‘the only possible atmosphere conducive to artistic creation is steadiness, modesty, continuity, perseverance. Constancy is a mark of courage.’ (p2)

These writings defend and motivate architects as creators to believe in a higher role of building as our job. ‘Place has to be reinvented’ Perez-Gomez urges.

I find another parallel in Perez-Gomez’s statement ‘architecture had become meaningless due to its lack of semantic ground’ (p8) and Corbusier’s piece title Nothing is Transmittable but Thought. If a place or rather, architecture, comes from the culture, the site, the drive of an architects’ ‘rules’ would it not come with a story? It would. Poetry and architecture are similar to me in the way they are created by being tooled over and then in the end crafted to mean something. There is always a better word, or the right use of material, to help tell the story. In the end the architect/ the poet must come to the final piece with the same question; does it tell the story? If this part of the critique to the whole has been lost then how would one ever know it is finished? Rules must be established.

In other Perez-Gomez writings he spoke of an architect’s rules. In Architecture and the Crisis of Modern Science he wrote of a mandatory call for understanding the patterns of society. Or in Hermeneutics as Architectural Discourse where he calls us to create our own order, one grounded in knowledge and one based on furthering the desires of our own experience. We must make until ‘exceptional coincidences’ happen through our own making.

Corbusier describes ‘play, that the architect will take certain ideas of the client until his own order begins, evolves, comes to light -this is his play.’ (p5) I wondered to myself while reading those worlds what Corbusier was trying to fit into by the end? What were his rules? He responds with ‘modular.’ In the end he wanted everything to fit into the human proportion, so it is the way he built space sizes, the way we ourselves as humans are proportioned.

What are my own rules? What ‘house’ of mine must look like a house? Certainly Peter Waldman’s House X could not have been preconceived without the site, but found in the way the family wanted to use the home. In the past I’ve written about inner and outer forces in my own architecture work. There is the desire of the inhabitants with the availability of labor and materials, the site and the vernacular (symbols, traditions and rituals to consider now too) among the many things to discover about a place. These two things, the inner and outer forces, meet at the enclosure, the place, the wall. But what does it say of how the two meet? How thy push and pull depend so much on particular factors. In the end though it needs to uphold the original idea.

The difference between school projects (or theory projects) and what I feel is expected of me in the profession are different. Where school pushes the discovery period, work expects something to be finished quickly. As a professional I’ve been able to mature into understanding deadlines that translate into when something needs to begin reading as a finished whole. The process of discovery probably becomes truncated. It’s too easy and normal to fall into the assumption that the right thing to do is to be literal in what the client requests even if it’s too bland as ‘I want a garage.’ As an architect we expect an offering to our client more along the lines of ‘the place of arrival.’ The architect has the ability to share this sense of passion. What the architect provides for the client is more than they were asking for in terms of a holistic project, and this practice is developed with a set of each architect’s personal rules.

From making to language, so in the end we must use words not only to begin but to direct and explain the story we’ve told in the end. To understand being in a place there must be critical thought. The subject of Hermeneutics, or knowledge of interpretation, has been integral throughout other Perez-Gomez writings as mentioned previously. Perception, interpretation, different architecture, different poets -we’re all coming to art through a different set of our own rigorous rules developed by personal ways of study and evaluation of knowledge. It’s wonderful to see the variety and is motivation to develop one’s own personal way of study and creating.

Ricœur is acclaimed for his textual interpretations, bringing the close of Perez-Gomez’s writing together with yet another proof that our ways of making lasting impressions are in themselves not static either, but are an endless source of opportunity to come to a deeper understanding and for the architect and the poet to share a deeper vision with the world.

As the author Perez-Gomez concludes ‘the role of poetic language to reveal the appropriateness of form… the architect/ poet…finds its archetypal roots, its program of poetic inhabitation.’ (p8)

At the end of our discussion I was left with the desire to make my stand more simply.

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