/cloud/ – Space as Accumulation

Frank Gehry House (1978)
Santa Monica, CA

It’s possible think of the “middle voice” (el coche se vende) as a way of getting beyond Aristotle’s first and final causes, as well as Descartes’ notion of rational engineering. This is a house which was not designed by an architect for a client (in linguistic terms, not a purposeful message travelling between a “sender” and a “receiver”), but rather a structure, an utterance, which emerges gratuitously on its own, and develops in its own terms. No prior expectations about form, function or finish are in place, and so the house is free to develop interminably, as it will. That’s exactly what most confused me about Gehry’s corrugated-aluminum and chain-link buildings when i first saw them. Walking by the construction site, I couldn’t imagine why it took the builders so damn long to complete a simple structure, until an architect friend of mine pointed out that the building was “done”. What I took to be scaffolding, barriers and a foreman’s mobile office was in fact the “finished” building. To have renovated this construction would have been no different from building it in the first place. The initial building was already an alteration. This is a very different way of viewing “living space”: no longer as simply neutral Cartesian isometric space which you simply live it, space now is itself dynamic, alive.

According to a postmodern view of things, one might see stylistically passé buildings which are still in use not as horribly outdated, but rather as sites ripe for revision. All culture, indeed, might be seen as in a state of permanent revision. This is suggested by Robert Morris’s title: Continuous Project Altered Daily. This is a concept you could address in terms of Aristotle’s distinctions between contraries and contradictions: Some would assert that an architectural structure is either complete or incomplete, but rather than thinking in terms of such contraries, I would suggest that the same problem can be understood in terms of a contradiction. A building, then, might be considered as neither constructed or under construction but rather in a permanent phase of de-construction, or perpetually “under revision”. Suddenly, cranes and scaffolding are no longer mere ugly nuisances, but rather occasions for us to perceive alternative forms of beauty and functionality, and to re-think building in terms of time in addition to eternity.

One should remark the impossibility of distinguishing between inside and outside in the Gehry house. This structure is all surface planes, but without a strict interior or exterior, to say nothing of finish. This mode of construction is certainly what you see in the earlier Gehry works. By constrast, what you see in the later ones, those which made Gehry an architectural rockstar, is a different sort of confusion, or inversion: the reversal of background and foreground.

Whereas /architecture/, or /space/, in the perspectival tradition, had been understood an established rational form outside of which loomed its irrational other, which distinguished philosopher and art historian Hubert Damisch has called /cloud/; now, /cloud/, in Gehry’s more recent works, is brought to the fore, while /architecture/ and /space/ are made radically to retreat and function merely as a ground against, or within, which /cloud/ can suddenly appear and hover.

If not as neo-mannerism, such a reversal could be understood as a kind of neo-baroque “theatricality” liable to association with the theater of Racine.

Some images to prompt further reflection:

Torelli, with some help from Photoshop

Fontebasso, Francesco (Venice, Italy, 1707–1769)
The Sacrifice of Iphigenia, c. 1749
Oil on canvas, 46 x 59 cm

Fontebasso, Francesco (Venice, Italy, 1707–1769)
Abraham and the Three Angels, c. 1750
Pen and brown ink over black chalk, red wash heightened with white

Lucilla Catania
“Ganci, Virgole e Doppie Punte,” 1996
Galleria ARTRA,
Milano, Italy

Finally, have a look at these outrageous designs by Giuseppi Bibiena, in which /space/ and /cloud/ seem to merge together into one.

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