This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
Joel Letkemann 6789583 Submitted to: Anthony Kiendl 19 December, 2007
The Blur Building by Diller + Scofidio, is almost literally no building at alL It was a temporary pavilion for the 2002 Swiss exposition, in the 3 lakes region of Switzerland. It was unique in that the primary material used in the building was water vapor, pumped up from its site, in the middle of Lake Neuchatel and shot out of 31500 water vaporizers so that the entire structure appeared as fog lifting ofIthe lake or an impossibly low cloud. The building is not literally a cloud, of course; "it's incredible, the structure required to make this nothing," writes Ricardo Scofidio. The blur required a considerable amount of artifice; 4 columns rising from the surface of the lake support a steel tensegrity structure in which there are two platforms, one in the depth of the fog, and the other, 'the angel bar' above, and, of course, the requisite circulation spaces required within. Still, from the outside, the structure only peeks out occasionally, at the whim of the wind. Inside, one is surrounded by the vapor, and the structure, even the surface of the deck you are walking on, is perceptible only as an assemblage of dark components.
From the outside, the building is quite literally formless.
There are no discemable boundaries to the building. It ends when the fog returns to the lake. The popular press around this building is filled with references to nothing,jormiosigkeit (formlessness), dematerialization, etc. The only word we have to describe it is the cloud - although the architects prefer 'blur'-, that uncertain child of the earth's moisture and the sun's thermal energy.
Thatthe building is largelywatervapouris ahappycoincidence.
One could almost call it the "spit" building', That is to say, it
1 See Bataille, Georges. "Formless." Visions of Excess: Selected
Writings 1927 - 1939. Ed. Allan Stoekl. U of Minnesota Press: Minneapolis,
1. Blur Building - Diller + Scofidio
2,3. Structure of Blur Building
resists the traditional categories and concepts we use to describe architecture. It has rather more in common with 'formlessness' than the architecture Georges Bataille criticizes in his article called "Architecture." 2 Instead of the "great monuments erected like dikes, opposing the logic and majesty of authority against all disturbing elements," it is the disturbing element. Instead of the static forms of this monumental architecture, it moves in concert with the indefinable and unpredictable.
One sees the building as a constantly shifting mass, instantly responsive to the surrounding weather conditions. The firm modeled its behavior in all types of weather, and a computerized control system somewhat regulates the flow of water depending on wind, humidity and temperature conditions, but this limited control is far outstripped by the weather. The building almost acts as a kind of weather report.
Its constant shifting in direct relation to weather ensures that it has no distinct form and no boundary, no "mathematical frock coat," so to speak', We can only describe it by comparison to other natural, temporary phenomena - fog or clouds - phenomena that themselves evade prediction and description. We can only describe it in relation to the weather, that aspect of the world we see every day, but which still escapes our description, our categorization, and therefore our prediction. It fills us with uncertainty, perhaps even dread. Weather is still an unknown, a big '0' Other. Elizabeth Diller describes the project as "taking on the uncertainty of weather." Weather, she writes, is "indifferent, tempestuous ... unstoppable. It is beyond our control.'?'
She continues: "global weather disturbances, like global warming, are proofthat weather and climate are not impervious to human intervention." The building manifests the disorientation and unpredictability of weather and the corresponding human vulnerability to that weather. Jonathan Hill notes that the
2 Hollier, Denis. '''Architecture': the Article." Against Architecture:
The Writings of Georges Bataille. Trans. Betsy Wing. MIT: Cambridge, MA,1989.
3 See Bataille, "Formless"
4 Quoted in Cramer, Ned. "All Natural." Architecture (Washington.
D.C.). (Vol. 91, July, 2002), 59.
4,5. Blur Building in different weather conditions
building had two architects, Diller + Scofidio, as well as the weather. The building was, for the most part outside of the architect's control", "We were afraid," Diller writes, "that this fog would drift to shore and wipe out the Expo, maybe the town as well.t"
Visitors to the building are given white raincoats on the shore, whence they cross a bridge, crossing into and being enveloped by the vapor. Their visual and auditory senses are stripped away, giving way to white noise, from the hissing of the nozzles, and an equivalent visual noise, light is scattered around them, no distinct forms reach their eye. The feeling is of disorientation, as visual and auditory cues are lost, the visitor is in no-space. As they surmount the 'angel bar,' which serves various types of bottled water exclusively, they emerge from the cloud, seemingly standing on thin air. The structure beneath them is invisible, except the cloud stretching out and returning to the lake.
The Blur Building, in its ephemerality, its absence of discemable form or even substance renders obsolete the old dichotomy of form and content. The form is fluid and shifting, it is the absence of content, it is a total blurring of sense. Its manifestation, its presence, is entirely operational, in the respect that it works on the senses, it creates subjective impressions and experiences, but is never grasped in anything approaching an objective
Just as the Blur Building redefines the relationship of the visitor to the structure and to the other visitors in the building. The experience of the building erases sensory stimulation, our spatial senses are turned off, the visitors are disoriented, de-centered, even isolated. There is no space, no form, no architecture. The architects propose that the fog and the absence of navigational or spatial queues would promote crowd dispersion rather than congregation. "Disorientation is built
6. approaching Blur Building
7. Blur Building - Interior
5 Hill, Jonathan. "Cloud." Immaterial Architectures. (Routledge:
New York, 2006), 97.
6 Diller, quoted in Hill, Jonathan. "Cloud." Immaterial
Architectures. (Routledge: New York, 2006), 97.
into the experience.TMoreover, the fog, combined with the raincoats provided would insure anonymity; "everyone wears the same coat and is barely visible in the fog."" In short, the subject is forced to consider the self, and only the self, the metaphoric or perceptual space between the subject and everything outside the subject is absolute, and the subject is forced towards total subjectivity, not able to project the self, as there is nothing there to project onto. everything outside, including the building, becomes dim, becomes Other.
This is not to say that the building could not be approached playfully, or in a lighthearted manner. It was, after all, an attraction at an Expo, a bit like a ride at a theme park. Contemporary articles and reviews about the building are somewhat quiet on the subject of what the experience of the space was like. The only real description provided is by Catherine Slessor, who speaks of feelings of "disorientation and isolation."? The architects write about a constructed sublimity and primordiality - the terror and grandeur of weather", There is no way of knowing what the experience of the building held for the visitor. As a tourist attraction, one might expect playful enjoyment, or creative engagement. Taken an art piece, one may expect detached observation. There are likely as many possible reactions as visitors to the building.
What does this operation tell us about architecture? What, in fact, may we say about the desire to create a formless, indeterminate architecture?
We may situate the desire for formlessness in the field of contemporary architecture as the architectural manifestation of the death drive. The death drive, in Freudian terminology, is the desire of to dissolve units of
7 Diller, quoted in Cramer, Ned. "All Natural." Architecture (Washington. D.C.).
(Vol. 91, July, 2002) 58.
8 Diller, Elizabeth and Scofido, Ricardo. Blur: The Making of Nothing. (Ed.
Diana Murphy. Harry N. Abrams, inc.: New York, 2002), 204.
9 Slessor, Catherine. "Blurring Reality." Architectural review. (vol. 212, no. 1267,
Sept 2002), 47.
10 Diller, Elizabeth and Scofido, Ricardo. Blur: The Making of Nothing. (Ed. Diana Murphy. Harry N. Abrams, inc.: New York, 2002), 180. See also, Cramer, 59.
8. Blur Building - Interior
"living substance," to their primeval, in-organic state."" It is the desire of a human to re-live past traumatic experience in order to erase or master them. In contrast to the 'pleasure principle,' which drives creation, the death drive seeks to destroy, to take down, to return to elemental substance. In this sense, it is a kind of selfdestruction, a dissolution of unwanted elements of the psyche, a reaction against psychic trauma.
Of course, not all of contemporary architecture falls anywhere near this category. There is no shortage of iconic buildings serving the interests of established governmental or cultural entities. Since Bilbao, it has become fashionable for any museum or government office to hire big-name architects to design monuments to that institution's permanence and solidity.
What about the blur building? It is an empty architecture, with no style, no type. It is entirely ephemeral, or as much as possible. It constantly erases its form. It even erases visual and auditory experience in favour of touch, smell, or taste. It is a negation of architecture, in a sense, a negation of itself. It embodies at once its own birth, in the constantly generated cloud of mist that surrounds it, as well as its own death, as the moisture returns to the lake. There is, in a very real sense, nothing here, no architecture, or not as we understand it.
This building is not the only instantiation of this architectural death drive. The article discussing the Blur building in Archis magazine also discusses the tendency in recent architectural culture to find an architecture of "nothing," to approach the "dissolution of architecture.?" The Blur Building is not an isolated phenomena. Two projects by architect and artist Lebbeus Woods investigate this very tendency. The first, "the Storm," is a structural field installed at the Cooper Union school in New York in December of2001. This structural field, composed of tension cables
9. Installation of The Storm - Lebbeus Woods 10. The Storm - Lebbeus Woods
11 Freud, Sigmund. Civilization and its Discontents. (Trans. Joan
Riviere. Ed. James Strachey. Hogarth Press: London, UK, 1963),55 - 56.
12 Ibelings, Hans. "Towards the Absolute Zero: The Diller + Scofidio
Cloud at Expo.02." (Archis, no. 4, 2002) 87.
and rods was not a fixed entity, there were no autonomous structural members, each change in the field effected the disposition of the whole. Construction of the project involved fitting more compression members into the field of tension cables, increasing the tension across the field, with the intension that it would reach a breaking point - it didn't. The spatial and structural results, however, were unforeseen and unpredictable. The field was determined by the interdependence of elements within it. "The traditional role of architecture" Woods writes, "has been one of reassuring us that things are under our control, that is stable and static. But it is quite another thing to think of all architecture 'in tension.' An architecture in tension suggests a struggling architecture and a humanity with limited control of the forces of nature, and of itself.'?" Here, the forces he speaks of are tension and compression, imprisoned in the materials, and straining against them.
From struggling architecture to collapse, "the Fall" a 2002 installation by Lebbeus Woods, at the Fondation Cartier pour l' Art Contemporain in Paris, posited the collapse of the building above the exhibition hall in which it was housed. It saw the inevitable collapse - when it came - of the building, of any building, as a frozen accumulation of vectors that interact with gravity and with each other until they finally came to rest. It is, in Woods' words what might happen when "[architects give up] the struggle against gravity and see what happens when we let gO."14
"City on Fire," a project begun in 2005 by Thyra Hilden and Pio Diaz, captured the destruction of the monuments of history and culture. These artists projected conflagrations inside and outside buildings of cultural significance. They posit the question of the worth of these buildings, and the loss
13 Woods, Lebbeus The Storm and The Fall.
(Princeton Architectural Press: New York, 2004), 47.
14 Ibid, 120.
11. The Fall- Lebbeus Woods
12. The Fall - Early Drawings - Lebbeus Woods
of the roots of western culture. Theirs is a symbolic destruction of the monuments of' culture,' the church, museum, even the roots of western civilization in Rome. In doing so, we question the relevance of these institutions. The fire is a cleansing act, at once destructive, but evocative. The fire allows us to imagine our world without these institutions. Perhaps we imagine emptiness in their places, perhaps we can begin to imagine a future without those things that are, in a very material sense, the yoke of our history.
The Blur Building, like the projects of Lebbeus Woods and the 'City on Fire' project, is in the quest of formless architecture. They are the architectural death drive; they tum their backs on the monumentality and immutability of modem architecture. They posit the death of architecture, an architecture of nothing at all, or one that is mutable, that decays, that remains elusive, insecure. One article on the Blur Building quotes Karl Marx's Communist Manifesto: "all fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can
ossify." Modernity, even all of western civilization, is immortalized in the buildings that weigh on the human spirit. They have never been able to contain the human spirit, as they have only been an idealization of an ever-shifting and mutable and creative humanity.
The buildings of modernity are signposts and reminders of the trauma that modernism has done to the human spirit, and the desire to destroy or de-materialize them bespeaks the desire to begin to imagine something new. Just as in Freudian psychology, there is a tension between the creative act of Eros and the destructive act of the death drive, so do we see this in contemporary architectural culture. "Destruction is part of our culture," write Hilden and Diaz, "stories of creation speak of the need to remove the old so that new things can arise. "15
As well as the death of architecture, there is another kind of death here, the death of the architect, a notion that Jonathan Hill develops
13. City on Fire - Trevi Fountain, Rome - Hilden andDiaz
14. City on Fire - Aarhus Kunstmuseum, Denmark - Hilden and Diaz
15 Hilden and Diaz. Website: http://www.cityonfire.org/projects/page9/
in relation to Roland Barthes' well known Death of the Author", In the case of the Blur building, just as the architects have no control over form, how it is read from the outside, the architects have no control of the final experience - a difficult thing for a profession that believes it can craft fixed spatial phenomena. Instead experience is outside prediction, and the building beyond the architects' control. The architects have let go. Not that architects have ever had much control of the way their buildings
15. Blur Building - a smudge on the water.
are used and interpreted, they have always fallen victim to the total subjectivity of experience and use.
As the blur building seems to preclude form and therefore spectacle, its absence of substance would seem to situate it outside the realm of modem monumentalizing processes. It has ironically become its own spectacle, the icon of Expo _ 02, found on everything from sugar packets to chocolate bars and, of course, bottled water. It was a media sensation. However, there is an unbridgeable gap between the matter of the thing and the image, it cannot be captured because it is nothing. The experience or multiplicity of experiences of the building are gone, and can only be projected onto the images we have. It narrowly escapes being subsumed under the image. It is a conscious spectacle, as the architects have admitted", and indeed, it seems, planned. It is a spectacle, but indeterminate, unsure. That it is recognizably a spectacle without substance enables a recognition and critique of the monument spectacle of contemporary architecture, in a forum that, historically, has been devoted to technological selfcongratulation.
The desire for formlessness or dematerialization in architecture is architecture's death drive, that dark part of the cultural or professional psyche that recognizes the perversity inherent in the way the building - the material or stuff of architecture - has been complicit in the social and psychological repression of the human psyche. The building is gone now, and thus, the experience of the thing. The images we have, I'm sure, are a poor substitute. The building suggests, however, the possibility of formless, immaterial, indeterminate, perhaps transient or temporary architecture, completely open to the user's experience. Just as the building embodies its own death, as the vapor returns to the lake, it embodies the death drive, a deep dissatisfaction with the state of contemporary architecture at the very centre of the spectacle. It is, in a sense, self-destruction, in the hope that something better may emerge.
16 see Hill, Jonathan. Actions of Architecture. (Routledge: New York, 2003)
17 Diller, Elizabeth and Scofido, Ricardo. Blur: The Making of Nothing. (Ed. Diana Murphy. Harry N. Abrams, inc.: New York,
Bataille, Georges. "Formless." Visions of Excess: Selected Writings 1927 - 1939. Ed. Allan Stoekl. U of Minnesota Press: Minneapolis, 1985.
Cramer, Ned. "All Natural." Architecture (Washington. D.C.). Vol. 91, July, 2002: 53 - 65.
Diller, Elizabeth and Scofido, Ricardo. Blur: The Making of Nothing. Ed. Diana Murphy. Harry N. Abrams, inc.: New York, 2002.
Freud, Sigmund. Civilization and its Discontents. Trans. Joan Riviere. Ed. James Strachey. Hogarth Press:
London, UK, 1963.
Hill, Jonathan. Actions of Architecture. Routledge: New York, 2003.
---. "Cloud." Immaterial Architectures. Routledge: New York, 2006.
Hollier, Denis. '''Architecture': the Article." Against Architecture: The Writings of Georges Bataille. Trans.
Betsy Wing. MIT: Cambridge, MA, 1989.
Ibelings, Hans. "Towards the Absolute Zero: The Diller + Scofidio Cloud at Expo.02." Archis, no. 4, 2002: 86- 88.
Renfro, Charles, "Blur Building" A + U: architecture and urbanism, May 2006: 62 - 73.
Slessor, Catherine. "Blurring Reality." Architectural review. vol. 212, no. 1267, Sept 2002: 46 - 47.
Woods, Lebbeus. The Storm and The Fall. Princeton Architectural Press: New York, 2004.
cover. Blur Building - htlp://www.dillerscofidio.com!blur.html
1. Blur Building - A + U: architecture and urbanism, Aug. 2002: 29.
2. Blur Building - Structure - Architectural review. vol. 212, no. 1267, Sept 2002: 47.
3. Blur Building - Structure - Architecture (Washington, D.C.). Vol. 91, July, 2002: 53.
4. Blur Building - httpo' /www.dillerscofidio.com!blur.html
5. Blur Building - A + U: architecture and urbanism, Aug. 2002: 29.
6. Blur Building - A + U: architecture and urbanism, Aug. 2002: 30.
7. Architecture (Washington, D.C.). Vol. 91, July, 2002: 60.
8. Blur Building - Interior htlp://www.dillerscofidio.com!blur.html
9. The Storm - Process http://archweb.cooper.edulexhibitions/storm/storm _processO 1.html
10. The Storm - Installation htlp://archweb.cooper.edulexhibitions/storm/storm_installation01.html
11. The Fall- Lebbeus Woods htlp://www.onoci.net/virilio/pages_uk/artistes/fiche.php?id=1&th=2&img=l
12. The Fall- Lebbeus Woods htlp://www.onoci.net/virilio/pages_uk/artistes/fiche.php?id=1&th=2&img=3
13. City on Fire - Trevi Fountain http://www.cityonfire.org/projects/page9/page9.html
14. City on Fire - Aarhus Kunstmuseum htlp://www.cityonfire.org/projects/aros/aros.html
15. Blur Building - A + U: architecture and urbanism, May 2006: 73.
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue reading from where you left off, or restart the preview.