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Architectural Theory Review
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Sandra Kaji O'Grady
Online publication date: 08 December 2010
To cite this Article Kaji O'Grady, Sandra(2010) 'Architectural Aphorisms', Architectural Theory Review, 15: 3, 332 — 349 To link to this Article: DOI: 10.1080/13264826.2010.524308 URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13264826.2010.524308
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to gradual loss of potency. through mindless repetition. ISSN 1326-4826 print/ISSN 1755-0475 online ª 2010 Taylor & Francis DOI: 10. The mnemonic quality of the aphorism through which it circumvents interpretation and achieves status. is revealed as also leading. The aphorism is recognised as a strategic form whereby personal experience is captured in the more authoritative voice of the third person.SANDRA KAJI O’GRADY Downloaded By: [University of Sydney] At: 06:11 8 December 2010 ARCHITECTURAL APHORISMS Observing the popularity and penetration in architecture of aphorisms delivered by the modernist masters.524308 . The serial quality of the aphorism is made apparent.1080/13264826. Mies’ ‘‘less is more’’ is used as a case study for understanding the dissemination and afterlife of aphorisms through afﬁrmations and refutations that echo its form. this paper explores the contexts. motivations and consequences of the aphoristic as a textual mode.2010.
‘‘Architecture is the learned game. Louis Kahn. Each of the modernist ‘‘masters’’—Adolf Loos. Mies van der Rohe. of forms assembled in the light’’. ‘‘Truly a work of Art is one that tells us. ‘less is more’’’. aphorism and authority is the concern of this essay. Aphorisms circulate in all ﬁelds of design and creativity. Philip Johnson writes. ‘‘Architecture starts when you carefully put two bricks together. war cries for the practitioner and clues to authorial motivation for historians. ‘‘Never design anything that cannot be made’’. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. ‘‘Architecture is the art of how to waste space’’.ATR 15:3-10 ARCHITECTURAL APHORISMS Downloaded By: [University of Sydney] At: 06:11 8 December 2010 The architectural profession has delivered and disseminated its key intellectual disagreements since the 1900s through aphorisms. must go through measurable means when it is being designed and in the end must be unmeasurable’’. 1). Frank Lloyd Wright. the German Pavilion in Barcelona ‘‘stands today as one of the most revered representatives of Mies van der Rohe’s famous axiom ‘less is more’’’. For example. ´ Alvar Aalto. of a small selection: ‘‘A House is a Machine for living in’’. yet also the ambiguity. that Nature cannot make what man can make’’. 333 . Consider the familiarity. In turn. but it was Mies’ buildings that veriﬁed the claim and authority of the aphorism (Fig. ‘‘What works good is better than what looks good. because what works good lasts’’. There it begins’’. Some are easily recognised. Jean Prouve—is invoked through aphorisms that stand in for. 2). correct and magniﬁcent. his architecture came to be understood as the embodiment of the aphoristic statement.1 Johnson may indeed have coined the aphorism to which Mies became inseparably linked. ‘‘Touch the earth lightly’’. ‘‘A great building must begin with the unmeasurable. their architectural oeuvre. as axioms and homilies for the student.2 This relationship between architectural object. Everything else that fulﬁls a function is to be excluded from the domain of art’’. Louis Kahn. ‘‘As in architecture. [Mies] has always been guided by his personal motto. In architectural practice their penetration is deep and their repetition uncritical. Le Corbusier. with others you may have struggled to recall who said it and when. Figure 2. and justify. and ‘‘God is in the details’’. Aphorisms are commonly deployed in the promotional Figure 1. In his 1947 essay ‘‘Mies van der Rohe’’. ‘‘Architecture is the reaching out for the truth’’ (Fig. ‘‘Only a very small part of architecture belongs to art: the tomb and the monument.
at the same time as I might ﬁnd myself experiencing the disappearance of my autobiographical voice. for example. The popularity and penetration of the aphorism in architecture have implications for all forms of architectural writing. quality assurance. 334 . as I am now. A simple Google search of ‘‘Less is more’’ reveals it to be found. as will be further revealed. what is closed down? If we take this Figure 3. ﬁlms and exhibitions. in the academic format and voice. ecology. These consequences arise only in part out of their subject matter. organisational management. Finding Perfection in Purity. but they do present an oddly amputated view of architecture to a lay audience. and the aphorism. as Terry Eagleton emphasises. life enrichment and even Lung Volume Reduction Surgery. The industrial designer Dieter Rams. The critical questions for any text are not so much to do with meaning as with function. Less is More: Minimalism in Architecture and Other Arts and Mies van der Rohe: Less is More. and will be returned to. but better’’ was celebrated with a 2009 retrospective at London’s Design Museum titled Less and More. dieting. These three words went on to adorn numerous texts in Mies studies. clinical practice. One of the effects of any stylistic form is the performance of the self and identity. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Less is more/Less is a bore was the title of an exhibition of glassware at the Brisbane City Gallery in 2002 and of the 2008 annual student fashion show and exhibition at the Accademia Italiano in Florence. Writing. education and practice. where they operate as shorthand for ideological commitments and are an effective tool in branding through association with the original and revered author. Many of these repetitions are inconsequential and have little bearing on the discourses in which they are included. with Mies credited as the author.O’GRADY Downloaded By: [University of Sydney] At: 06:11 8 December 2010 literature of architectural practices and schools. The distinctive third-person voice of the aphorism is one of its theatrical potentials. language is a mode of action and literary works are ‘‘machines’’ that make something happen. It is.5 What is opened up by the work.3 Architectural aphorisms also drift into other ﬁelds. has very speciﬁc stylistic effects. curtains and veneers.4 Certain effects are achieved through rhetorical style. in articles in ﬁelds as diverse as electronic information. thinking. Architectural aphorisms appear as the titles of books. the November exhibition bore the title ‘‘Less is a bore. 28 June 1959. They also reveal something of both the power and the dangers of the aphoristic form. known for his credo ‘‘less. consume more’’—a group show in which the architecture of the international style was re-presented using wallpapers. I appropriate the authority of the objectivist text. At the Seventh Gallery in Melbourne’s Fitzroy in 2007. For Deleuze. a question of the power-laden performance of forms of writing. ‘‘Less is more’’ and ‘‘God is in the details’’ (Fig. 3) were both included in Mies’ short essay ‘‘On Restraint in Design’’ in the New York Herald Tribune.
6 What is signiﬁcant about these medical aphorisms is that they are formulated out of experience and experimentation and in this respect depart from logical axioms. agriculture. artists. If language is the vehicle of thought. The different forms of writing. boundary). politicians and intellectuals such as Oscar Wilde. Gray associates the aphorism with writers and cultures concerned with the polarity between rationality and mysticism. the ways in which the aphorism functions will be understood as symptomatic of the cultural habits and desires of the architectural profession. then it follows that forms of writing permit ideas to ﬂourish or wither. Jill Marsden writes. and Art long’’’. semantically through such devices as 335 . and later still to statements of all kinds of principles from the conduct of one’s romantic life to warfare. Aphorisms have been especially used in dealing with subjects to which no methodical or scientiﬁc treatment was applied until well into the eighteenth century. One aim of this essay is to understand the effects of the aphorism as a textual form for architectural history and practice. ‘‘Life is short.7 Richard T. demonstrating maximum comprehension in minimum expression. from horos. poets. to break the inertia of our conceptual habits. In the other direction. requiring no proof. and written by those in positions of moral authority or inﬂuence—originally prophets. conversely. Etymologically. have the potential to reinforce or. In this respect it does not so much add to existing orthodoxy as indicate new ways in which philosophical activity might yet be possible. aphorism is derived from the Greek term aphorismos. in modernity. enclosing yet growing with what it conﬁnes. inverted form the aphorism is read in an instant. medicine. a long series of rules and prescriptions for living well and propositions concerning the symptoms and diagnosis of disease and the art of healing and medicine. With its closed. philosophers and kings and. Hippocrates opens with the still provocative phrase. meaning deﬁnition (from aphorizein to deﬁne. the ways in which authors choose to use language. Aphorisms declare their experiential basis through their tone and the position of the speaker. He writes that: Aphorists are motivated by a desire to test the adequacies of language on two levels: structurally through the manipulation of syntactic and rhetorical mechanisms. and which stand up to pure reason. The term came to be applied later to other sententious statements of physical science. Aphorisms are always terse and trenchant. Axioms are self-evident truths. jurisprudence and politics. the aphorism is a singular and sinuous form which frames thought like a skin.ATR 15:3-10 ARCHITECTURAL APHORISMS Downloaded By: [University of Sydney] At: 06:11 8 December 2010 insight seriously. Sorting through these symptoms can be a diagnostic tool. then it is simply not enough to challenge the dogmas of architectural modernity at the level of ideas while remaining uncritical of the stylistic values at the level of the text. What is the operative potential of the aphoristic for architecture? The name was ﬁrst used in the Aphorisms of Hippocrates in 400 BC . As a textual form its horizon is elastic and projective. They are often concerned with questions of morality or principle in which there is no self-evident truth. Morphologically an aphorism is succinct. but the following aphorism concerns bowel disorders and vomitings. Yet this shortness belies the ambition of the aphorism and its capacity to disorient and dissemble. such as art.
11 Deleuze observes that. Gray explains. on the other hand.14 That is. with as much substance as possible.12 The exteriority breached by the aphoristic. ‘‘express disturbing things quite innocuously in maxims’’. the aphorism provides insight but does not provide a basis for dialogue between the author and the reader. it conveys what Marsden calls a ‘‘transpersonal affectivity’’. Aphoristic writing need not pursue unity or a totality in the work and allows multiplicity to ﬂourish. seer. he wrote. reﬂecting ﬂuctuation between faith and doubt with regard to the expressive capacities of language.15 The essay takes time to be read. ‘‘There is no place for a question in aphorism’’. ´ cliches and dictums. the aphorism lends itself to the parody of established beliefs expressed as proverbs. is essentially dictatorial—it asserts. metaphysical dimension of language. In this. While enjoying language’s playfulness and richness of expression. not mediated through any such interiority. it is apparent that Nietzsche embraced the form as a fusillade of dangerous and barbed insights. the newest and provisionally the ﬁnal force—is always the most exterior’’. whether deﬁned in terms of the consciousness of its author or a supposed unitary object with which it deals. The aphorism. Such a thought entertains immediate relations with the outside. and pun. Because of the impersonality of the form. Marsden 336 . the aphorism has the creative power to challenge ideologies. and which is its power. The essay is suggestive—it explains and argues. the aphoristic captures an impersonal core to feeling and experience and registers subjective testimony in the third person.O’GRADY Downloaded By: [University of Sydney] At: 06:11 8 December 2010 word-play. It allows the writer to intertwine the ossiﬁed structures of language with subtle paradoxes that reveal the contingencies of all claims to truth.13 While the aphoristic is not tied to a subject. a cold malice towards ‘ﬁne words’.9 Additionally. to express scepticism while maintaining a relationship with the poetic. in the second case they experiment with the illogical. also towards ‘ﬁne feelings’—in that I knew myself ’’. arises out of its detachment from an authorial voice. Deleuze deﬁnes the aphorism as an amalgam ‘‘or play of forces.10 In choosing to call the opening series of aphorisms in Twilight of the Idols ‘‘Maxims and Arrows’’. not wholly graspable signiﬁcance behind this clarity’’. aphoristic writing permits a discontinuous or pluralistic character of thought to develop. Yet the aphorist’s experience of language as communicative medium remains ambivalent. when gathered together as a collection. aphorists simultaneously sense that such equivocality impedes precise. ‘‘One can’’. As Derrida aphorises. truthful expression8 The aphorism preserves the discord between precision and ambiguity. and encourages a dialogue of thought between author and reader. While in the ﬁrst instance they sound out the potential inherent in the logic of language. Paul Patton proposes that the aphorism is an anonymous form of expression and one that lays no claim to any such deﬁnitive meaning: Aphoristic writing therefore conveys a thought which is not tied to any ﬁeld of interiority. metaphor. Nietzsche recognised the power of the aphoristic on reading Sallust: ‘‘Compact. ‘‘No other literary form is so adequate to the task of presenting a universally comprehensible external sense while divulging a secretive. neologism. the most recent of which—the latest.
he boasts. bragging ‘‘I do not write treatises: they are for asses and journal readers’’ (Fig. in so few words I always say more than would appear’’). suspecting that the blunt speech of the Spartans might not be the product of their lack of interest in education and literature as the Greeks assumed. for example. the note over the aphorism. of course. are the forms of ‘eternity’. Frederick Nietzche. standardized and censored’’. turn out to be a device of rhetoric. [I]f you talk to any ordinary Spartan. On the other hand. but might be. and the essay over the note. a sly calculation aiming at the greatest authority. ‘‘The aphorism. ﬁlm and architecture. brochures. Walter Benjamin.18 Nietzsche certainly saw the aphoristic form as a game of one-upmanship. and pretend to be blockheads. and placards’’. wrote that he hopes to attain ‘‘literary effectiveness’’ by eschewing ‘‘the pretentious. Downloaded By: [University of Sydney] At: 06:11 8 December 2010 widely held in the literature and philosophy of modernity and amongst the avant-garde. strategic: they conceal their wisdom.19 Furthermore. Derrida reveals: Aphorism can. Academic culture—if metrics of research accountability are taken literally— values the book over the journal article or essay. an economy or strategy of mastery which knows very well how to potentialize meaning (‘‘See how I formalise. as in a number of historic cultures. the ability to spontaneously produce aphoristic sayings at the right moment brings great social status. universal gesture of the book’’ in favour of more ‘‘inconspicuous forms’’ such as ‘‘leaﬂets. but is a mode that is often derided by the architectural profession. in architectural practice. so that they may seem to be superior only because of their prowess in battle .ATR 15:3-10 ARCHITECTURAL APHORISMS concurs: ‘‘One has the sense of a thought arriving fully ﬂedged in a moment of brilliant insight. he shoots in some brief remark that proves you to be only a child. 4).16 The aphorism can be strategically used to undermine the essay and the essayist. ﬂaccid and timid is Figure 4. . articles. The arcane and heavily footnoted text like this that you are currently reading is appreciated within architectural academia. The Spartans with 337 .21 Murray Davis proposes that the essay ‘‘is an aphorism exploded’’ in which authors ‘‘inﬂate an aphorism’s compressed solidity into an article’s bloated superﬂuity’’.17 Socrates also held this view. like some expert marksman. .20 This view of the book and the essay as unnecessarily verbose.22 Forms of writing are differently valued depending on their contexts of production and reception. in fact. marking a striking contrast to the more even tempo of discourse in which revelations have been checked. he seems to be stupid. my ambition is to say in ten sentences what everyone else says in a book— what everyone else does not say in a book’’. but eventually. Hence the widespread preference during the 1920s and 1930s for manifestoes in the arts. the apophthegm. in which I am the ﬁrst master among Germans.
as a subject and a mode of writing. as an academic. and committed to the ongoing interrogation of the limits of language and the text. Derrida and Deleuze.O’GRADY their commitment to austerity. Modern use of the aphorism shifts it from a conferring and condensing of moral truths to a contestation of truth’s conventions. this crisis extended beyond Vienna. was taken from Louis Sullivan’s 1896 article ‘‘The Tall Building Artistically Considered’’ and considerably improved by shortening. Karl Krauss and Ludwig Wittgenstein—employ the form of the aphorism or ‘‘Sprachkrise’’ to confront the social hypocrisies and moral uncertainties of their time. Of all true manifestations of the head. narratives by readers and editors. The phenomenon of aphoristic writing in Vienna. as well as Downloaded By: [University of Sydney] At: 06:11 8 December 2010 338 . That the life is recognizable in its expression. of the soul. Of the heart. Hesiod’s Works and Days and the Islamic Hadith. Each textual mode is symptomatic of the values of that architectural sub-culture and the purpose to which writing is put to work. indeed characterises them and establishes the horizon of debate and the mode of engagement. the critical review and the hagiographic monograph appear in other strands and for different purposes. As a phenomenon. and are then re-appropriated and repeated by the original author. just as the scholarly essay. greatly valued the laconic phrase.23 Of course. Gray ﬁnds. Many of the aphorisms commonly used by the architectural discipline have obscure origins that have evaded my forensic attempts to pin them down. My interest. In full. For the architect Adolf Loos. Robert Musil. Occasionally. who are each indebted to these earlier philosophers of language. arises out of a perceived crisis in language. more nuanced. including Wittgenstein and Kraus. That form ever follows function. and Kafka. lies in the way that the preferred modes of writing amongst these sub-cultures or disciplinary communities serves to reinforce misunderstandings and conﬂict. aphoristic phrases are extracted from longer. and a desire to push the limits of expression. Of all things human and all things superhuman. In this sense its production and dissemination take place at a broader level than that of the individual author. Of all things physical and metaphysical. with the additional beneﬁt that such a style underscored one’s participation in the European avant-garde.24 Other architects have arrived at the aphorism less knowingly. There are many ﬁne examples of collections of moral aphorisms from ancient Arabic societies. the aphorism appears in certain strands of architectural culture. The phrase ‘‘Form Follows Function’’. Turn of the century Austria saw several intellectuals— Hugo von Hofmannsthal. The aphorism. re-emerges in the work of poststructuralist philosophers such as Baudrillard. for example the wisdom literature known as hikma in Arabic. itself related to a crisis in ‘‘truth’’. This is the law. the aphoristic style of writing used by Nietzsche and writers of the Viennese milieu. Nietzsche and Kierkegaard were also attracted to the aphorism in their individual critiques of language. this paragraph of Sullivan’s text reads: It is the pervading law of all things organic and inorganic. Richard T. for example. was consciously adopted for its ironic theatrical effect.25 The desire for the aphoristic along with the concerted deployment of the form has seen it become the prevailing mode of reading as much as of writing.
have demonstrated that the tools of architectural drawing have a direct and often unrecognised Figure 5. he wants to be learned by heart’’. Marco Frascari. never let the truth get in the way of a good story. however. it is either a halftruth or a truth-and-a-half ’’.ATR 15:3-10 ARCHITECTURAL APHORISMS Downloaded By: [University of Sydney] At: 06:11 8 December 2010 collective identities and cohesion. the avant-garde and their formal interests. in the nature of the aphorism. for academics to dilute.26 This maxim does not stand up in the face of architectural drawings. For the process of interpretation. In addition. becomes a means of closing down discussion. but carries with it historically. qualify and construct longer texts around their provocation. As Nietzsche writes. because they operate by exclusion and simpliﬁcation. Its target is the practitioner. explain. a putting into play. culturally and technologically speciﬁc imperatives. fail to be affected by its material and textual form. The architectural aphorism’s closure and impenetrability to critical interpretation. But. may in part be found in the character of the profession and.27 Drawing is not a neutral vehicle for communication. as if the longevity and penetration of the phrase confer its irrefutability. the aphorism substitutes the act of repetition. Alberto Perez-Gomez and Catherine Ingraham. both architects and critics.29 The aphorism. The architectural aphorism is not proffered for elaboration. ‘‘An aphorism can never be the whole truth. amongst others in a rich body of theoretical work on architectural drawing. inﬂuence on what forms can be conceived. in other part. and leaves less room for lies’’ (Fig. historical veracity or scientiﬁc repeatability. Aphorisms do not reveal truths. as the homily runs. for the ‘‘truth’’ at stake in the aphorism is not that of literal meaning. the production of aphoristic writing by Loos and Mies in both content and form is closely allied to their engagement with philosophy. Le Corbusier. as Karl Kraus humorously aphorises. The aphorism asks for a response that takes the form of an action. ‘‘He who writes in blood and aphorisms does not want to be read. Indeed. Robin Evans. Stan Allen. Attempts to unfold the aphorism into an extended thought. which are one of the most persuasive means of seduction in the profession. it is clear. its speed and density. Corbusier’s ‘‘drawing is faster [than talking]. For example. Drawings have historically offered a rhetorical power no less than that of talking. Architectural aphorisms function as mantras and slogans 339 . for example. along with its persistent repetition. leave a great deal of room for exaggeration and concealment. The citing of aphorisms by these two in the context of neo-modernist ‘‘minimalisms’’. or a counteraphorism. Take. with its rhythmic phrasing and alliteration. and to explain and account for it. 5). insists itself upon the reader before it might be questioned or judged. under close scrutiny all aphorisms fail the test of logic and universal applicability.28 Architectural aphorisms purport to express truths in contexts of unpredictability and relativity that guarantee truth’s impossibility. The provocations contained in their aphorisms opened up debates amongst their peers. Drawings.
The English architectural practice FAT claim ‘‘As Mies’ clients might tell you. disagreements. Mies’ American contemporary.30 It also very quickly became apparent that ‘‘less costs more’’ and that particular counter-aphorism has been much repeated. . The doctrine ‘‘less is more’’ bemoans complexity and justiﬁes exclusion for expressive purposes . triggering the decline of their friendship (Fig. Derek Graham warns the budding builder to take into account when calculating their fee that less not only costs more. there were. apparently remarked ‘‘Much ado about next-to-nothing’’ at Mies’ New York show in 1947. . for example. I am for richness of meaning rather than clarity of meaning . Where simplicity cannot work. Venturi writes in Complexity and Contradiction. it takes more work.35 Furthermore. Lapidus was critically denounced by the architectural establishment for most of his career. Graham continues. less costs more’’. ‘‘the less there is to be seen. 6). . line and plane’’.34 Without mouldings. Thus it is Robert Venturi’s trenchant ‘‘Less is a bore’’. of course. Less is a bore.32 It also has weight in the construction industry. They are tools in an internecine battle for the minds of the next generation and for this purpose must take memorable form. an architecture of complexity and contradiction has a special obligation toward the whole: its truth must be in its totality or its implications of Downloaded By: [University of Sydney] At: 06:11 8 December 2010 Figure 6. 340 . Frank Lloyd Wright. Blatant simpliﬁcation means bland architecture. There is.O’GRADY for rival teams.33 Graham observes that minimalist design necessitates a ‘‘high level of exactitude that requires more skill. the historic circulation of afﬁrmations and refutations of Mies’ ‘‘Less is more’’. that has come to represent the most signiﬁcant critique of modernist principles. Consider. as painter Josef Albers puts it in 1969. his buildings would be less potent. Despite having designed 1200 buildings. including many hotels in the 1950s and 1960s. In his textbook Managing Residential Construction Projects: Strategies and Solutions. greater clarity and perfections of point. While there are numerous afﬁrmations of the idea that. that less costs more’’. wherein the author’s uncle—a developer—observes ‘‘that good architecture is expensive. . ‘‘In design sometimes one plus one equals three’’. makes wonderful buildings only because he ignores many aspects of a building. ‘‘Mies’’. simpleness results. . the more defects stand out’’. trims and textures the contractor has no ability to hide crudely executed substrates or poor jointing methods. from the outset. Coming Close. Worse. but their selectiveness of content and language is their limitation as well as their strength . Bernard Harper Friedman. Morris Lapidus who pointedly titled his 1996 autobiography Too Much Is Never Enough. . Mies’ exquisite pavilions have had valuable implications for architecture. If he solved more problems. Frank Lloyd Wright.31 The phrase is found in the 1982 novel/ autobiography of the art historian.
45 ‘‘The serial form is’’. their ‘‘Main Street is almost alright’’ sets itself against the certitude of other architectural aphorisms. but it also belongs—as do Downloaded By: [University of Sydney] At: 06:11 8 December 2010 Figure 7. The aphorism operates virally. each can survive the other’’.47 ‘‘Less is more’’ spawned a generational series. by deﬁnition.36 While Venturi wrote at length on the historic signiﬁcance and contemporary need for complexity. 7). ‘‘One aphorism in the series can come before or after the other. released his ofﬁce manifesto in 2009 with the title. Asked in an interview if he would revise ‘‘Less is a bore’’. The aphorism is. Bjarke Ingels of BIG. as well as Barak Obama’s ‘‘Yes we can’’. ‘‘links in a chain of thoughts’’. It is part of a serial logic’’ (Fig. Mies condemned all of us—especially his intimates—to second guess his motives. it doesn’t come all alone. ‘‘No.46 The serial form is ‘‘realized in the simultaneity of at least two series’’. To what extent is Mies—his pronouncements.37 Venturi well understood the power of the aphoristic over the extended essay. his example. and a comicbook series of images of aphorists that includes Mies with ‘‘Less is More’’. Venturi replies. as Koolhaas ironically suggests. It must embody the difﬁcult unity of inclusion rather than the easy unity of exclusion. The young Danish architect. including ‘‘mess is more’’.43 Further. ‘‘Yes is more’’. Venturi and ‘‘Less is a bore’’. but I hope someone of today’s younger generation will do that appropriately’’.ATR 15:3-10 ARCHITECTURAL APHORISMS totality. contradiction and inclusivity. before and after the other. ‘‘an aphorism never arrives by itself. ‘‘essentially multi-serial’’. available to multiple readings—it invites misuse. ‘‘Despite appearances’’. Mies is (too) easily misread. as described above. the serial itself always crosses over with other series. By never ‘‘explaining’’ himself except in the most lapidary terms. 341 . In 1995 he published ‘‘Mal Mots: Aphorisms—Sweet and Sour—By an Anti-Hero Architect’’. his method. spawns the serial.39 They often seem to be parodying this form. Derrida writes.44 Not only are aphorisms members of series. Jacques Derrida.40 The younger generation have. Defending OMA’s 1998 competition-winning entry for the McCormick Tribune Campus Center in Chicago—with its six-metre-high coloured portrait of Mies on the entry facade—Koolhaas proposed ‘‘maybe a little ¸ bit more could be more’’. ‘‘learn from the ordinary’’ and ‘‘Architects shouldn’t play God’’. or as Nietzsche writes. More is not less. as Deleuze observes.38 He and Scott-Brown are the source of numerous exhortative phrases. ‘‘less is a bore’’ depends on knowledge of the aphorism it sets out to corrupt. an article consisting entirely of aphorisms. it is the aphorism ‘‘Less is bore’’ that came to spearhead the post-modern campaign against reductive design methodologies. setting forth echoes and distortions—indeed.41 For Koolhaas. his aura—to blame for his own misreading?42 Counter-aphorisms are not the product of inevitable misreadings of a lapidary form. while enjoying the textual play of ‘‘Miestakes’’ and Mies-readings.
‘‘Do you ask God’’.50 The image of Mies is an inconsistent one: a man voluble and charming with drink. I want to be good’’. 342 . Some of the aphorisms which the architectural community. Architecture served artistically. rational and material base of modern civilization’’. and not leave this town. Mies had written that the task of architecture as an artistic form is to be ‘‘more than just a manifestation of technical skill’’. Someone says. viewed by some as rude and a snob. and that it lay in the service architecture performs in critically interpreting the will of the historical time. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. The more he drank and the later it got the more he warmed to the occasion. 8).49 Schulze writes of Mies. In one series are other declarations in favour of aesthetics linked to the simplicity of volume—those of Boullee. for example. it is little wonder no one knew his personal life very well at all or challenged him in matters of principle. etc. (Fig. Who strive—you don’t know how the others strive To paint a little thing like that you smeared Carelessly passing with your robes aﬂoat. Reminiscences ﬂowed. In a copy of a book on crystallography he underlined the phrase beinahe nicht (almost nothing) which he often used in describing what he hoped to achieve in his own work. ‘‘I don’t want to be interesting. . has ascribed to Mies are not his. for example—and the 1885 Robert Browning poem in which the sixteenth century painter Andrea del Sarto laments to his unfaithful wife Lucrezia. it became increasingly difﬁcult for anyone in his presence not to be moved and even charmed by what seemed so incontestably great and modest a human being . Philip Johnson once remarked. by himself as the Downloaded By: [University of Sydney] At: 06:11 8 December 2010 Figure 8. anecdotes and aphorisms. (I know his name.48 ‘‘Less is more’’ also belongs in a series that contains other Miesian aphorisms: ‘‘Architecture is the will of an epoch translated into space’’. no matter)—so much less! Well. There it begins’’.— Yet do much less. ‘‘God lies in the details’’. ‘‘Architecture starts when you carefully put two bricks together. 9). . less is more. Mertins suggests that he meant by this that the ‘‘more than’’ is the ‘‘surplus or supplement to what is perceived to be the necessary. Prior to making the phrase ‘‘Less is more’’ his own. Lucrezia: I am judged. following Philip Johnson’s lead.O’GRADY all architectural aphorisms—to several other series. so much less. I could count twenty such On twice your ﬁngers. was used by Aby Warburg to point to the foundation of the iconographical method of research in art history. ‘‘where He got the Commandments?’’ (Fig.
albeit self-described ‘‘unwilling author’’. Of these he could have sent back 270. which serves to place Greenough as the precursor to Sullivan.53 The tenor of Mies’ writings from the 1920s was that a new architecture must respond to its time. who pursued theoretical projects. Thomas Aquinas. The form was consciously chosen early in his career. Mies admired the writings ´ of scientists too. and were rediscovered only in the 1930s.54 The aphorism was understood by Mies. In 1923 in G Mies wrote ‘‘Aphorisms on Architecture and Form’’—four aphorisms rejecting formalism and aesthetic speculation for problems of building. Mies began to write manifestoes that were published in art journals. Greenough’s writings were for a long time largely forgotten. son of a stonemason who remained true to the tectonics of materials and making. and a proliﬁc. Mies told students at the School of Design of the North Carolina State College that he owned 3000 books in Germany and that he had brought 300 with him to America. He would not. I detail these well-known facts about the architect so as to emphasise that the predilection for the aphoristic is not. with 343 .52 All of these texts. although Mies was untrained in philosophy. there are some who believe that ‘‘Form Follows Function’’ is misattributed to Sullivan. Kant and St. just as it was by Loos. Augustine. Some of these images were carefully and actively cultivated. have discovered the remaining 30 unless he had read the 3000. and the Catholic scholar Romano Guardini as well as Plato. Nor is it that Mies was God bringing forth commandments. in 1947 a selection of his essays was published under the title Form and Function: Remarks on Art. an order that permits free play for the unfolding of life’’. Greenough had Downloaded By: [University of Sydney] At: 06:11 8 December 2010 Figure 9. texts and exhibitions. Design and Architecture. Because of this title. as it may have been in Sparta. he said. the product of lack of reading and education. he was a committed reader and much inﬂuenced by the Catholic church architect and writer Rudolf Schwarz.ATR 15:3-10 ARCHITECTURAL APHORISMS all he had amassed since emigrating. The historic shift is apparent in the fate of the arguments made by the American sculptor Horatio Greenough in the 1840s. In 1928 he spoke of building the ‘‘unleashed forces’’ of ‘‘our time’’ into a ‘‘new order. Upon his death his library. As Fritz Neumeyer details in The Artless Word: Mies Van der Rohe on the Building Art and Franz Schulze in Mies van der Rohe: A Critical Biography. and other modernist architects. both mainstream publications and small magazines in the 1920s. was donated to the Library at the University of Illinois. In fact. as a literary form that seemed modern and that allowed a kind of free play of thought. Philip Johnson. the ﬁrst of which was ‘‘Skyscrapers’’ (1922) take the form of aphorisms or paragraph-long statements.51 In fact he was also a reader and amateur philosopher. such as botanist Raoul France who popularised the idea that human interventions could learn from the biotechnics of nature. St. In 1952. the Bauhaus thinker Siegfried Ebeling.
‘‘instead of forcing the functions of every sort of building into one general form. he observed well before Loos that. and work outward . It functions as a ‘‘strategy of mastery’’ and mnemonic. ‘‘the laws of structure and apportionment. Repeatability. cannot be proven true or false. a dictum. ‘‘less is more’’ is referred to as a credo. to confront the unfamiliar in the everyday. depending on deﬁnite wants. It asks the reader to reassess assumptions. What is common is not the subject matter. an axiom. that for buildings that are not monuments. a habit that in time spreads into their writings and teachings’’. though. . In designing architecture. The connection and order of parts. but the textual mode in which ideas are conveyed and disseminated. The aphorism is an ideal medium for questioning experience beyond the speciﬁcally personal. In repetition. Greenough had also written. So too is the suspicion of words and talking.57 Greenough’s career failure was to ﬁnd the right literary form for his ideas. yet unlike other facts. ‘‘is the promise of function’’. he added. many of the now familiar aphorisms had the power of Nietzsche’s barbs. they are almost object like. along with other aphorisms took on the form of a mantra. The ambiguity receded. Lastly. In quoting the aphorisms of others it is hoped that some social status is transferred from the quoted. As I hope has been made clear. garnering social support for an opinion.56 And of ornament. let us begin from the heart as nucleus. through which we can map the arguments and movements of the twentieth century.O’GRADY Downloaded By: [University of Sydney] At: 06:11 8 December 2010 sketched out the principles of modern functionalism in 1843. In their ﬁrst formulation. he wrote. They may be called machines each individual of which must be formed with reference to the abstract type of its species’’. Paul-Alan Johnson opines that ‘‘the tendency to aphorise seems to arise in part as a device by practicing architects to efﬁciently convey their intentions to their staff. Being succinct in form. Their meaning is contextual and relative to other 344 . the shorter more memorable aphorisms correlate with the more revered architects. In architectural histories and criticism. not from tradition as the proverb does. The architectural aphorisms. something is lost. but from inﬂuential individuals. . Yet over time. The power of ‘‘Less is more’’ and ‘‘Form Follows Function’’ lay originally in the internal paradox. The aphoristic has been used knowingly. a capacity to maintain a kind of logical irresolution or mystery in a seemingly logical statement. a homily. both of these. Taken individually the aphorisms of the modernist period give an impression of great certainty. that characterises the profession. juxtaposed for convenience. long before Corbusier. ‘‘Most works are most beautiful without ornament’’.55 ‘‘Beauty’’. and the process of their coming into being and retelling. obey a demonstrable rule. aphorisms circulate in series. authority and status are at work in its popularity. without reference to the inner distribution. widely held ideas uniquely expressed. an admonition and an adage. are not unique ideas articulated for the ﬁrst time. Only when considered as a set does the volatility of our discipline’s history and the internal divisions that rage at any time become apparent. the aphoristic form is as symptomatic of the culture of the architectural discipline as the laconic phrase is symptomatic of Spartan culture. over things and making. cannot fail to speak of their relation and uses’’. aphorisms are easily slipped into speech or writing.58 This misses both the motivation. Aphorisms have the appearance of facts. but rather.
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