A RCHITECTURE IS THE RESULT OF AN INFINITE MIRRORING OF TRANSLATIONS .
B Y M ARCO F RASCARI
he mystery of architecture is all in the divinatory nature of the mirroring metaphors that rule the acts of translation from the built to the drawn. The translations of buildings in drawings are back-telling phenomena
and the translations of drawings in buildings fore-telling phenomena. These mirror-like phenomena, a speculative chiasm, are the hypogean structure, on which the contemporary project of architecture must be erected. This project recognizes architecture as an authoritative trade with an intellectual tradition that begins earlier than the Enlightenment. Architecture is the result of an infinite mirroring of translations. All the great buildings contain their virtual translation in a certain measure within themselves. The projection of an interpretative scheme on a drawing or a building is a constitutive act of the drawing or the building itself. To translate an image means to recognize or guess what has instituted it as image. This means to institute an interpretation. A translation is the result between the univocally of the interpretative scheme and the ambiguity of the image. The architect who is translating a building in a drawing or a drawing in a building proceeds alternating schemes and corrections. These translations are not abstractions but steps of successive definitions. The architectural imagery embodied in the
drawings, acts as the gelling of architectural expression, the beginning of the architectural dream. In the practice of architecture, the cleverest segment of the process by which our constructed world comes about has always been the translation of drawings in buildings and buildings in drawings. Unfortunately, nowadays, these intriguing and desirable operations are wrongly concealed within the meanders of the back rooms set up by professional practices. Under the label of production drawing, this segment of the art of architecture has become a prosaic activity. This mundane and negative connotation originates within the educational realm. The students of architecture are led to consider the translation of building in drawings a frustrating procedure. They believe these drawings are an unnecessary disciplinary demand that merely delays the growth and the blooming of their individual design capabilities. Two different graphic procedures dominate the present condition of architecture. On the one hand, there are design drawings, on the other hand, construction drawings. The making of design drawings is considered as the most prestigious act of the profession: an artistic effort that carries a vision. In these drawings, a rhetoric based on a desire of imitation dominates the mode of production. The drawings are not rooted with a magic mimesis, but through imitation, it is searched professional authority. The designer is not authoritative, but the selected subject of its imitation—i.e., the original hut, the style etc.—is. By congruity, the design drawings then become authoritative documents where the designer is the only identified autocratic author. Whereas, construction drawings, drafted by many hands, are considered merely safeguarding legal documents translating a design construct into prescriptions for construction. With this legal set of drawings, rhetoric of visual mono-directional translation is the unacknowledged mode of production. The professors and the professionals of architecture regard this part of graphic version of constructive transactions as necessary, but indeed a dull component of making architecture. A dreadful necessity to be left possibly to building management. It is a predicament of management to make the building
looking like the drawings. Nevertheless, during the past, these graphic transactions, between designing and building, were the most poetic ones since they were based on a magical mimesis. In these drawings, the relationships, set between signs on paper and buildings, were not of efficient causality but of formal causality of knowledge. The real signs of proper construction drawings are magical signs. The comprehension of the difference between the desire of imitation and the magic of translation is the crucial means of access the use of drawings for dreaming up building. On the one hand, the ideal of imitation is that of an organic recreation from earlier texts or objects, in the sense of formal or substantive adoption. It is as in the look-alike contests. On the other hand, recognized as necessarily repetitive, translation aims to match form and substance in different means of expression. Translation is not imitation, but a magic conversion of images. The drawings developed for the construction of an edifice are a process of translation by which the facts of an architectural project become the reality of any building. Through an act of construction—a poetic translation, a magic mimesis— drawings are transfigured in buildings and buildings in drawings. The art of translation is the essential factor for understanding the tradition of production and reproduction in the western culture. Translation is a trade based on tradition that can also be betrayed. Two puns, in Italian, can translate this concept in a form easy to remember, viz., traduttore = traditore (translator = betrayer) and traduzione = tradizione (translation = tradition). In the architectural trade, the western tradition begins with the Greeks, who considered barbaric the languages and the architecture of other peoples and therefore they where not interested in translations. Nevertheless, in their concept of hermeneutics, there is the beginning of the concept of translation in architecture; Hermes is the god that translates for the humans the hermetic language spoken by the Olympic crowd. The etymology of the word hermes is uncertain but it belongs to a semantic family that indicates a deep insight of the unknown. The story of the invention of the Corinthian capital, as told by Vitruvius, gives us an important clue for understanding the process of translation that took place in
Greek architecture. The story narrates that Callimachus, a renowned artist, saw a tomb of a young Corinthian maid, on which was placed a basket full of her favorite objects. The basket was located on a bush of acanthus that grew around the basket. On the basket, there was a square lid to keep everything in place and that made the leaves of the acanthus to coil. Callimachus thought that the form was new and beautiful and translated it in stone. The casual decoration of the tomb, in the mind of Callimachus, becomes a paradeigma, a model to be translated in the particulars of everyday. For the Romans, the phenomenon of translation is more familiar and habitual, although the translation is always intended from Greek. The terms used by the Latin writers are interpres, interpretari, and interpretatio. These terms have an economical-juridical origin, since they describe an act of mediation, something in between two figures of price (inter-pretium). Roman interpretation is an act of figuring out. A translation is the reconciliation between buyer price and seller price every interpretation is an economic event, a transaction. An instance of it can be easily singled out in the Palladian tradition. Palladio transacted the stone columns of Antiquity in less expensive plastered brick-columns and Palladian columns were translated in cheaper wood form in Colonial America. With assimilating acts of interpretation, the Romans figured out the written and built texts of the Greeks. The demonstration is in the work of Vitruvius himself who had major problems with the translation of Greek terms in Latin. Leon Battista Alberti pointed out this problem by indicating that the Vitruvian text seems Latin to the Greeks and Greek to the Romans. In reality, the Roman notion of translation is based on the idea of emulation (aemulatio). In his treatise of architecture, Vitruvius has begun an operation of transformation of the discipline. In his attempt to legitimize architecture, the Roman architect has traced the path for the transformation of the art of building, from a profession without culture (sine litteris), to a discipline that can be explained within an encyclopedic knowledge. For Vitruvius, Architecture is a techne (art) among the technai (arts) and the literary techne (art) is the paradigm of the Vitruvian act of emulation. Emulation, a magic mimesis based on a challenge, is at the base of
many architectural productions. For instance, Renaissance princes, in their constructive urge, tried to emulate Classical Roman architecture and the English gentry emulated the Venetian aristocrats in building of their villas. During the apogee of Roman Imperial Age the dominant term to indicate the act of translation was the one favored by Seneca. The act of translation for Seneca was mutare (to transmute). In architecture, a transmutation is a change by which the actual and the symbolic building materials are traded for other more precious building materials. Plaster is transmuted in marble by using the Roman stucco. Mutare is a process of innovation, which made the building trade to rediscover their roots in the alchemic tradition. The process is a search for the perfect stone. Clay is transmuted in bricks and bricks are transmuted in glazed tiles and so on in the search of the perfect long lasting material. During the Alexandrine Age the Greek terminology for the translation is metaphoro and the Latin emulation of the Greek term is transferre. The concept embodied in this Hellenistic act of translation is a carry over of meaning. Transferring the concept in architecture, this project of translation is a transport of building elements conveying meanings. The equivalent concept in architecture is a transport of building elements to convey meanings. The Roman transported columns and many other architectural artifacts from Greece to Rome, the Venetian from all over the Mediterranean basin to Venice, the Americans from the Old Country to their new country. Traducere is metonymical whereas translare is metaphorical. The Medieval version of the trade is based on conversion. The architectural translations are based on acts of conversion of civic buildings in religious buildings. The basilica, an administrative building, was converted in a religious edifice. The term uerto indicates a concept of translation of complex and subtle articulations. A conversion of a building is the translation of a building type in a functionally opposite building type. The discriminating nature of this translation is at the basis of long chains of building types. As the etymology of the name states, the basilica edifice began its chronicle of magic mimesis, as the place of the king. Then it transmuted in a market place that was transformed in a place for
the administration of justices that was then converted in a religious building. During the Middle Ages, administrative buildings emulated these religious buildings. However, the name in these civic version was lost and this traditional building type was called Palazzo della Ragione or Rathouse. Only in one case, the name basilica returned to the building. In Vicenza, the Palazzo della Ragione is again called Basilica. This happened after Palladio’s superficial transformation of a medieval civic hall city presence within a Mannerist figure of a stone screen made with classical looking Serlianas. The history of the hospital is a long record of conversions that began with the translation of the cloister of monastery in a hospital courtyard. During the Middle Ages, the theory of translation abandons the notion of imitation and educes the notion of metamorphosis of the text. The preference is for Umarbeitung rather than Uebersetzung. The transferre is identified with the tradere. The translation is of sense rather than word by word. To conclude I would like to recall that to translate a building in a drawing and a drawing in a building means to alternatively to induce, to deduce and to abduce. To induce is to infer general laws from particular cases, to deduce, i.e. to verify what has been hypothesized at a certain level determines the successive levels, and to abduce, i.e. to test new codes through interpretative hypothesis. From this point of view, construction or survey drawings should be glamorous descriptions of a building since visual perception has a constructive character. The projection of an interpretative scheme on a drawing or a building is the constitutive act of the drawing or the building itself. To translate an image means to recognize or guess what has instituted it as image. This means to institute an interpretation. The translation is the result between the univocity of the interpretative scheme and the ambiguity of the image. Who is translating a building in a drawing or a drawing in building proceeds alternating the scheme and the correction. These translations are not abstractions but steps of successive definitions.
To translate between drawings and buildings is a manifestation of the architectural faculty of instituting and recognizing equivalencies between different objects. Two parallel lines are structurally equivalents to a wall. The equivalence in a difference is the fundamental object of any architectural representation. The translations of buildings in drawings are back-telling phenomena and the translations of drawings in buildings foretelling phenomena. Architecture results from these infinite mirroring of translations. The projection of an interpretative scheme on a drawing or a building is a constitutive act of the drawing or the building itself. The architect who is translating a building in a drawing or a drawing in a building proceeds alternating schemes and corrections. These translations are not abstractions but steps of successive definitions. The students of architecture led to consider the translation of building in drawings as a frustrating operation do not see them as design drawings fostering poetic construction drawings. Translation is not imitation, but a magic conversion of images. Through acts of well-delineated constructions—poetic translations of a magic mimesis—drawings are transfigured in buildings and buildings in drawings. . The drawings developed for the construction of an edifice are a process of translation by which the facts the architectural project become the reality of any building.