Book Review Ijlal Muzaffar
Eisenman Inside Out:
Selected Writings, 1963–1988
By Peter Eisenman New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004
Cover of Eisenman Inside Out: Selected Writings, by Peter Eisenman.
Future Anterior Volume 1, Number 2 Fall 2004
Given more than twenty five years of writing and built work, arguing to undermine the sovereignty of the author function and intention in architecture, Peter Eisenman’s latest collection of his past essays, Eisenman: Inside-Out, is a curious attempt at preservation of precisely these two characteristics: his authorship and his intentions. But perhaps more peculiar is Eisenman’s declaration that this theoretical work, produced mostly during the first twenty years of his career as an academic, is a “probing into the heart of architecture by an architect, not a historian or an academic theoretician, in an attempt to explain its interior discourse, its inside, as something other than a study of essences or dialectic strategies.”1 The book is a reclamation of this inside-out space of the architect, against two accusations of the historian and the academic theoretician: “Many critics complain that my work reflects two cultural problems,” Eisenman declares in the opening sentence, “one, an unregenerate internalized formalism; and two, the proliferation of models from outside of architecture.”2 For Eisenman, then, the collection of essays is a correction of a certain myopia of architectural discourse about its own interiority, its normative conditions, assumptions it holds as natural, exposing “its manifold conditions…in a way that has rarely been formulated by either architect or critic…[saving it from being] smothered in the claustrophobic rhetoric of a so-called natural or classical language of architecture.”3 This statement begs the question, why is Eisenman’s approach so uniquely critical? The answer appears to be hidden in one of three footnotes to the introduction. Defending his turf against the contemporary competition from Rem Koolhass and Frank Gehry, Eisenman declares that Koolhaas’ writing, which deals with the relationship of culture to architecture, depicts “a belief that architecture can manifest the myriad social, economic, and political problematic at any given time.”4 Gehry, on the other hand, Eisenman argues, does not have an explicit body of written theory. Instead, Gehry’s work argues, through the force of personal expression, “that architecture can manifest the aesthetic sensibility of a culture at any particular point in its history.”5 In contrast Eisenman’s work is the “revealing of deep belief and ideology to show the structure of architecture as cultural commentary or aesthetic sensibility at work [emphasis added].”6 This claim to exposing a meta-discourse, which deals not with
This is the story of architecture’s interiority. that is. In contrast. assumes the presence of an escapable origin. be it classical notions of transcendental principles. is tied to a project of identifying a history of “unconscious repressions” in architecture.”9 Eisenman’s framing becomes problematic in the shadow of the presumed certainty of uncovering a meta-interiority. human experience. the normative condition of the present. “Architecture’s Interiority”. It denies any reference to a historical origin. or modernist revisions of these relationships. Eisenman argues. This presumed certainty of identifying the “enemy. as an escape from the desire for an origin. “While the monument attempts a preservation of the present into the future. “Certainly. and expression of culture and politics. Eisenman’s claim brings us to another question: how is this meta-interiority identified? This time the answer comes from a short piece Eisenman wrote as an afterword to the client’s commentary on his famous House IV. that the inquiry itself
.” Eisenman claims “there are enough references to what architecture is. which holds the key to all possibilities of meaning and its expressions in form. restoration attempts to return the present to the past. it must expose the normative condition of this interiority.” is reflected in the current book as well. Monuments. as well as knowing what constitutes references to that origin. or perhaps to put it more accurately. the correspondence between form and function. Unraveling from Vitruvius to Alberti to modernism to the digital age. the House IV is an example of a “dynamic” notion of architecture. Criticality defined in this way attributes. forgetting the lesson learnt from dealing with particular historical problems in the book.7 Here Eisenman defines the project’s criticality as resistance to the discourse of preservation.”8 Both the construction and the preservation of monuments are based on a “static” conception of architecture. to lead one to the possibility that architecture too has such an interior discursive formulation [emphasis added]. Renaissance rules of representation and historical precedence. For architecture to gain a critical autonomy. or concerns itself to be. an “essence” to the very notion of the origin that it seeks to displace. This notion of criticality.the politics of architecture but the very possibility of architecture’s politics. and to what it could or should be. this trans-historical interiority forces us to define architecture in such terms as historical precedence. represent a certain “nostalgia for the status quo. and necessary revisions of the past that reflect new relationships of form and meaning. Even the preservation efforts have only changed the “nature” of the house to new states.” Restoration of the building to its “original state” is worse. Only then can it open up possibilities for untheorized futures. to use Eisenman’s own term.
but because it shows that we cannot not want to return to the past. characterize Eisenman’s attempts. are not preserved equally. figuration.” a certain autonomous discourse that. thereby only reproducing the interiority in another direction. It should be the primary lesson of deconstruction that the difference between the inside and the outside of any discourse is never annulled. All preservations. to fashion an “ur-formalism. except as particular instances of that interiority.” returns meaning. The desire for an exposed interiority must never be fulfilled. into two parts. The collection of essays can be divided. we should not end up privileging inquiry as a means to an origin. Eisenman had thought. and representation to architecture without reference to normative standards of rules and styles. Even though the two approaches blend into each other through a uniform transition. but in the manner of preservation itself. and to that end his contributions are invaluable. Eisenman’s consequent use of semiotic and structural theory and Derridian deconstruction in his writing over the years have certainly introduced new stakes into the debate around the evolving relationship of form and meaning in a particular tradition of western classical architecture. using “linguistic analogies. perhaps almost to the mid 1970s. to put a twist on a much used pun. according to Eisenman himself. and must not be annulled. Yet to claim that this debate determines all possible histories of architecture would be a disservice to his own arguments. In our desire to undermine the primacy of the signified. This rules out the gains made through cultural. This. This framework was later abandoned because of the realization that the linguistic/semiotic paradigm was also predicated on “stable
. The question of criticality lies not in escaping preservation. Deconstruction must take into account the lack of sovereignty of the critic herself. we should not end up privileging the signifier. would displace architecture’s interiority from a classical language paradigm to a linguistic one. as he himself acknowledges. The difference between the inside and the outside in which the project takes hold must also decompose. and Marxist theory in architectural history as mere instantiations of some meta-interiority of architecture.cannot not shape the object it seeks to uncover. The essays from the early 1960s. A subversive work is critical not because it escapes the past. representing two phases in his intellectual career. In seeking out the interiority of architecture. the two attitudes toward history can be differentiated at the poles. feminist. Eisenman’s claim to a metainteriority leaves no room for those “academics and critics” for whom Rem Koolhaas’ framing of the relationship between architecture and culture does not meet the bill of current global politics.
function. on the architects’ famous House I and House II projects. Eisenman identifies a meta-language of intention. and Archigram). structure. “PostFunctionalism” (1976). by placing man as the originating agent of
. technique.” similar to the classical ones that it sought to displace. The essay.conceptions of structural relationships. Eisenman contends that a we can identify a third way. This desire towards a meta-language of form continues in “Notes on Conceptual Architecture” (1971). Drawing on Foucault’s notion of the episteme. and form to show how these categories can combine building and surrounding environment towards a clarity of expression. Here Eisenman attempts to delineate a conceptual language of architecture in response to developments in conceptual art. and John Summerson’s classicist proposition that all form is based on primary solids. In “Toward an Understanding of Form in Architecture” (1963). Cedric Price. Renaissance humanism had sought to correlate formal arrangement with a moral imperative.” The project of an abstract language of architecture becomes more pronounced in the essay. one that can invoke a kind of nihilism about the efficacy of a designed object and bring out the object as a “thing in itself. Toward the end of the 1970s the project of pure abstraction began to give way to a more nuanced approach of employing existing elements of a discourse and complicating them to expose their construction. This possibility is further explored in the work of Alison and Peter Smithsons and James Sterling in “From Golden Lane to Robin Hood Gardens” (1973). In these essays. “Cardboard Architecture” (1972). Eisenman challenges what he considers the two sides of the then-contemporary debate on the question of historical precedence in architecture: the “English Revisionist Functionalism” stressing the insignificance of form (spanning the arguments of Reyner Banham. arguing for the possibility of form as a pure marking or a notational system. a certain critical language of form that can provide a shared criteria for design and criticism by uncovering the author’s original intentions. focuses on the “neo-functionalist” claim of a natural correlation between form and function. Eisenman would describe the functionalist argument as a humanist nostalgia out of sync with its historical moment. In this regard Eisenman accepts Derrida’s later caution—issued in the controversial exchange between the architect and the philosopher in the mid 1980s—that the correspondence between architectural and linguistic metaphors cannot be guaranteed. linguistics was seen as an outside that could open up the unconscious repressions of the classical and modern paradigm. Compounding a structuralist tilt with an inclination toward Gestalt psychology.
This deconstructivist approach leads to the idea of an architectural “text. “miMISes READING” (1986). Modernism and functionalism are incongruent.” Eisenman argues. One of the strategies explored in the later essays stems from Eisenman’s claim that the Derridian insight has important implications for architecture. Mies contaminates the modern with classical references but dispels any anthropomorphic references. Functionalist correlation between form and function must be perceived as a dialectal relationship between evolution of form itself. argues. Eisenman claims. a text differentiates itself from an object by being an “approximation or simulation” of another object. Eisenman. A “text. the sign and the signified are always in the same present in architecture. Derrida argued in “Of Grammatology” (1974). explore strategies that avoid a reductive analogy to language or the normative rule based paradigm of the classical lexicon of architecture. frustrating the expectancy of the classical system as it is “betrayed by an order which itself is broken apart. Functionalism’s insistence on the correlations between form and function therefore results in a mere positivism without its attending moral imperative. and often repeated. Architecture embodies a particular relationship between the sign and its reality.”11 The later essays. This. Eisenman’s favorite. A column is both its reality
. example of this architectural simultaneity is the column. The assumption that architecture’s interiority is either historically or semiotically determined is abandoned in these essays.10 Mies’ work constitutes an architectural text. Eisenman would perhaps most succinctly describe this idea in an essay on Mies’ work. that there can be no preferred relationship between the signifier and signified in language. This re-inscription of the classical in a non-classical manner creates a certain simulation of signs.history. displacing the whole humanist symbolic discourse based on a certain relationship between man and object. “reveal[ing] or stimulat[ing]” its structure. Modernism displaced the notion of the authoritarian subject as well as the conception of a linear and continuous history. Unlike language. can be distinguished from an object. is an exclusively modernist conception.” itself a Derridian theme. Even though an object (architectural or written) may be a text. Though this development can have humanist tendencies—be it seeing architectural form as recognizable transformation from platonic solids or as a collage or fragments of signs pointing to a transcendental signified—both the tendencies define the inherent nature of the object and its capacity to be represented. challenging Ferdinand de Saussure’s notion of transcendental signifier in the spoken language. a development within modernism that represent its non-corroborating and non-sequential tendencies.
(being a column and performing a function of holding something up) and a sign of that reality (a sign of something holding something else up). in the same present.”12 For Eisenman. As the essays show. The primary question for architecture. the book is an excellent resource on the history of architectural theory. which begins on page 101. Eisenman quipped that one just needs to read the first hundred pages of Derrida’s “Of Grammatology” to know all he had to say about deconstruction. To neglect one’s irrevocable complicity with the object of one’s critique is to wield the violence of deconstruction itself. and subjectivity in architecture at particular geo-political moments in history. As an anecdotal aside to his lecture at MIT in 2002. was how to displace its historical anteriority and its traditional modes of representation lodged in the necessity of meaning. Even if the column is just a sign. For Alberti. sign.
. This quality of architecture becomes Eisenman’s primary preoccupation in the later essays. this quality is unique to architecture. Because of the simultaneity of sign and reality. not performing a load-bearing function. Architecture needed not only to be a reality but also to be the sign of that reality. Eisenman is well aware of the asterisks to any deconstructive strategy we mentioned earlier when he is complicating the status of meaning. function and aesthetics. For Eisenman. or singularity. where this reader happened to be. certainly not other people’s error. it still appears doubly present in our normative assumptions. architectural sign “is always already embodied with meaning as an object differently from other manmade objects. It is a persistent critique of necessary truths—of what one cannot not want. to claim a certain critical autonomy. This Derridian caution about the violence of deconstruction itself happens to be most pronouncedly expressed in the second section of “Of Grammatology”. but also had to look like it is standing up. It has been said that deconstruction is not the exposure of error. according to Eisenman. the realization of this simultaneity differentiated Alberti’s interpretation of Vitruvius’ classical lexicon. uncovering a meta-interiority that determines the possibilities of all other inquiries in architectural history. from Vitruvius’ own conceptualization. architecture not only had to fulfill the requirement of standing up (what Vitruvius called the quality of firmness). As an index of these moments. Those cautions only become hazy when these inquiries are presented as a historical project about the historicity of architecture itself.
iii) 10 Ibid. Theory. 200 12 Ibid. 109–110. 1994). 190 11 Ibid. 8 Ibid.. xiv
. 1963–1988 (New Haven: Yale University Press. ii 3 Ibid..” in Peter Eisenman’s House VI: The Client’s Response.. Endnotes 1 Peter Eisenman. and Criticism of Art and Architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. “Afterword. 4 Ibid. 2004)...Author biography Ijlal Muzaffar is a PhD Candidate in History. xv 5 Ibid. Massachusetts. ii. Suzanne Frank (New York: Whitney Library of Design. 109 9 Eisenman. 6 Ibid.. 2 Ibid. 7 Peter Eisenman. Eisenman Inside Out: Selected Writings.