Shane Reiner-Roth

Your art is the Best art of All art

leave a comment »


“I think artists have a lot more to do with investigating the limits of perception than science does at this time. The basic difference, though, is one of intent. I am more interested in posing questions than answering them. I also think artists are more practical than scientists in that when they find something that works and is useful, they’re quite willing to use it without necessarily knowing why or how it works.”  

-James Turrell

“Art exudes the unnecessary. Frank Stella has found it necessary to paint stripes. There is nothing else in his painting.

-Carl Andre


The K-PST performance held at SCI-Arc was undoubtably minimal. A better word might be reductive. 


Watching the man walk in a circle around the red-lit obelisks was, perhaps, exhausting, and the anticipation for anything unexpected or surprising was overwhelming. For me, at least, the performance was about the intensity of light and its inhabitation. Others, though, were more skeptical, and were trying to either find reason in metaphor or scientific calculation or they felt relief in debunking the word altogether. It is unwittingly in these reactions that this work, and so much other obscure art, finds its position in the subject of spectacle. In its polar oppositeness to the things in which we typically find more satisfying stimulation (namely, the media), it provides an alternative to everything we thought could capture our attention. Therefore, the general questions and assumptions raised in relation to this art are clearly bit satisfactory in speaking on its terms and set of values. How, then, should we approach this work?


If we consider Turrell’s position, we can look at the artist and his art as a sort of perceptual alternative to the scientist and hard science. Rather than initially considering the work as a whole and its forced similarity to something more relatable in science or metaphor, consider the elements in use: light, floor space, and a person mediating between the two. If we agree that artificial light has only existed for x amount of years and we have therefore not been able to yet exhaust its knowable characteristics, then we could say that the work is potentially speaking about a highly reductive relationship between the human subject and artificial light. The subject’s movements being out of sync with the pitches of the background sound/music could be considered a distraction, in observance of the other reduced yet intensified elements in play.


What’s potentially more interesting, however, is how these elements, in sync or out, can truly frustrate the general public. Rather than focus and delvelop an analysis of the few elements in play, there is the shared opinion that one major element is missing: spectacle.


Spectacle, in this sense, is found in the qualities that do grab our attention, such as suspense, skill, demonstration of labor, and predetermined senses of beauty. Spectacle, we feel, deserves our attention since it fits so well in the constructs of how we feel logic and excitement should be displayed publicly. Spectacle is not often a challenge, and when it is, it is at least a tangible challenge, with a tangible solution.


This work raises more questions than it answers, or better yet, it reduces all those question to one big “what the fuck.” But rather than quit after this feeling of alienation, it is maybe in this sense of otherness that we find a starting point for discussion. What makes this work so hard to focus on? Why do we never see anyone in daily life walk this slow? If it’s the same activity throughout, and if it is to be viewed by the public, why do we not see a progression or shift in the action? Why does this work not have a conclusion, but rather a monotonous repetition? Better yet, why does everything I consider spectacle not have these qualities? Where do these qualities exist where art doesn’t?


The question of whether the artist is brilliant or talented has here been considered limiting, and the question immediately raised is this: How, then, do we judge art, and say that some art is better than other art?


If we say that art should help us evaluate life as we know it (or don’t yet know it), then we should speak about it on those terms. Judgment in the sense of evaluation should, at first, be stifled, in service of a greater picture. The institutionalization of this type of non-spectacle art speaks to those aspects of life that we may not evaluate or consider so deeply.


In the hands of spectacle, these qualities have nearly been exhausted, but it is in this practice that we could learn to step out of the museum and appreciate a sunset. 


Written by differance

January 28, 2012 at 10:32 PM

The Small Town/Big Object: A Study of Introverted and Extroverted Towns along Interstate Highway

leave a comment »

 If the Route 66 implied the cognitive perception of a linear country, the Interstate Highway System cemented it. In use by 1926, the Route 66 served as a major path for those who migrated west, and it supported the economies of the communities through which the road passed, as tourism and expansion flourished. Many towns therefore grew up and thrived with the Route 66, their businesses adorning either side of its unremitting span while benefitted by its uniquely American character.

In typical American fashion, the highway saw two distinct types of small towns: those that mythologically heightened their cultural credibility in an attempt to act as edified landmarks along its fabled route, and those that insisted on general indifference towards it in the name of their original small-town modesty, often as farming communities. In other words, extroverted towns and introverted towns. The Route 66 catered to the interests of these two town types with very simple maneuvers, either with varied asphalt gradings (determining the speed at which automobiles would drive through towns) or the placement of businesses on either side of the highway. But, as Keller Easterling wrote in Organization Space, “Many highway histories have treated the interstate as a predestined event in a patriotic saga, though the more contentious histories have usually taken an entrenched position against the villainous collision between federal agencies and private automobile interests.”[1] In other words, the Interstate Highway System proved to be a potential threat to the towns it would bypass, and the future of those towns, as well as their surviving features and characteristics, would be compromised by the new country-spanning infrastructure.

By the time the Interstate Highway System was initiated in 1956, many of the towns along the Route 66 were already in their post-development phase, reluctant to adapt to the newly incoming infrastructural system. The two town types attempted to hold on to their qualities as either introverted or extroverted in light of the new infrastructural system, resulting in characteristically 20th century strategies of infrastructural integration or disintegration. The intention of this essay is to reveal the varied negotiations and post-development relationships between the two small town types – in this essay typified by Santa Rosa, New Mexico as the former, and Canute, Oklahoma as the latter – and the country-sized Interstate Highway system; between the smallest and most outdated urban forms and the country’s largest piece of infrastructure.



When the last portion of the Interstate 40 was laid down, Charles Kuralt, American television journalist, famously stated, “thanks to the interstate highway system, it is now possible to travel from coast to coast without seeing anything.”[2] As opposed to the Route 66’s designated average speed of 50 miles per hour, The Interstate Highway System’s average is around 70 (though, outside of legality, much higher speeds would go unquestioned). The gas mileage figures and average speeds of cars that frequented the original Route 66 were much lower than those by today’s standards, and the towns along the way were distanced appropriately from each other to accommodate these figures. But as the automobile industry improved its figures, engineers constantly sought more direct routes between cities and towns, causing fewer towns between to be frequented.

The cities that thrived off the tourist economy had to make their presence known in a post-Route 66 landscape. Santa Rosa created billboards along the Interstate, some of larger and more detailed food and gasoline messages than their Interstate-sanctioned equivalents, and others more varied and colorful, depicting the historical and material culture of the city itself, appearing as a place to be visited for more than just convenience.

Placed in a flat and desolate landscape, these billboards are the only cultural landmarks within several miles, perceptively making the town of Santa Rosa start much earlier than its true physical boundaries. Brochures advertising the city can be found in the vestibule of restaurants along the Interstate from Arizona to Oklahoma. Paul Virilio wrote that “the 20th century’s phrase “to go into town” replaces the 19th century’s “to go to town,” indicating the uncertainty of the encounter, as if we could no longer stand before the city but rather abide forever within.”[3] If the Interstate – the new “Main Street of America” – allows travelers to abide forever within one long and linear system, then Santa Rosa, through brochures and highway billboards, is an agent in blurring this distinction.

Canute struggled with the advent of the Interstate 40, and did little to advertise itself to the tourists beyond its physical limits. In a fit of introversion, the town does not ‘sell itself,’ choosing instead to be announced within a mere five minute radius from its boundary. Always a farming community, Canute had little to offer tourists outside of staple commodities, and never chose to sell itself beyond this fact. The perceptive boundaries, therefore, are not much further than the physical boundaries.


In their fixed positions, the towns along the interstate are more objects than towns. Since the Interstate Highway is the only feasible means to get to (or through) them, these towns clearly have a beginning and an end, a top and a bottom (if coming from the East, a town perceptually begins in the East. If from the West, the West).

The import and export conditions of these towns can be so easily diagrammed that, compared to larger towns, there is relatively little abstraction in their designs. Because of their likeness to objects, in their supposed simplicity and steady history, we can observe the two town types in their struggle to maintain or strengthen their identities in a way we simply can’t with cities of larger scales and types of peripheral infrastructure.

In its goal to generate revenue from tourists and truckers alike, Santa Rosa’s internal infrastructure and built environment is much more fluid and seemingly historical (much like the crooked streets of Amsterdam center) than its Canute-type counterpart. This aerially visible dynamism makes Santa Rosa slightly more difficult to call an ‘object’ than Canute, though remains in this category due to its size and ease of demographic diagramming.

The commercial/shopping district of Santa Rosa parallels the Interstate, and acts as a buffer between tourists and locals, whose houses are positioned directly behind it. The shops are spread out, yet there are constant reminders of its presence through billboards and seemingly culturally significant urban decorum.

Though many of the buildings that make up Santa Rosa are not historical and arguably insignificant, there are a few that were built prior to the Route 66 and have been restored and are now a vital presence in the commercial district. For example, the Guadalupe County Building, an old and meticulously designed courthouse, is placed rather inappropriately in the middle of the shopping area – no doubt an attempt to assimilate its visual character into the traveler’s cognitive perception of the town.[4] A new addition to the courthouse is in keeping with the desert vernacular, all embodying the notion of an ‘authentic’ small town.

Though Canute was founded in the early 1910’s, roughly the same time as Santa Rosa, there is little evidence today to support this fact as perception. There are seemingly no icons established within the town, there are no historic buildings (albeit a small cruciform in a park), and the character of the town is compromised by the onslaught of anonymous service stations, the only images available for the hurried traveler. Canute’s city hall is not the monument Santa Rosa’s so clearly aspires to be. It is a low-slung mixed use building: Part city hall, part clubhouse, part water department and part liquor store.[5] Unlike Santa Rosa, Canute is careful not to entice traveler’s to go further into their farming town, and this lack of present and evidentially historical artifacts or monuments is a fairly potent strategy.




The Interstate was and is alien territory to those who attempt to assimilate it into the landscape. As Easterling notes, “It was not property, and it was neither cultivated or preserved. By the 1960’s, it was perceived as a kind of nonsite or a site that was fused to the roadway as a consequence of traffic engineering.”[6]

As mentioned earlier, the towns along the Interstate Highway have to fervently advertise their services in order to gain the attention of the cross-country traveler. Aside from the use of billboards, there is a clear advantage the traveler will have in viewing and understanding the character of the towns he passes, since the Interstate Highway is often elevated above the ground plane of the towns it passes through. This visual advantage, however, is balanced by the average Interstate traveler’s high speeds and obligation to get to a predetermined destination. Therefore, the small towns that either want attention or to be left alone both have to have well considered relationships with the Interstate Highway.  

“The road makes things beautiful; by limiting exposure to a flash, it makes them mysterious.” -Philip Nobel[7]

Arizona and New Mexico are the only two states where the Interstate 40 has a speed limit of 75 mph instead of 70.[8] Afraid that this higher speed limit would lower traveler attendance, many of the towns of the area, including Santa Rosa, made agreements with the developers of the Interstate 40 before it was built. This meant that the entirety of the interstate’s monotony would soon be compromised by the individual desires of small towns, therefore becoming parametrically considered.

According to the Interstate Guide, these towns were some of the first to “sort out an agreement with state and federal officials in determining the locations of their I-40 bypasses as close to their business areas as possible, in order to permit easy access for highway travelers to their localities.”[9] Santa Rosa was given two exits off the I-40, yet they are strategically placed at the beginning and end of the main street of the town, which provides restaurants, motels, and other services to travelers.

As mentioned before, this street runs parallel to the I-40 and through the entirety of the town; on the west side of its stretch it is south of the I-40, and as it makes its way east it gradually makes its way north of it. Seen in aerial view, the town appears enmeshed in the Interstate’s spider web, the two almost indistinguishable from each other. From the highway, this commercial street is visible as one drives through the entirety of the town, and appears less a detour than something ‘on the way.’

Canute’s relationship with the Interstate, on the other hand, is much less refined. The shape of the I-40 is more or less maintained as it enters the boundary of Canute, shifting to the north slightly to provide some space between itself and the town. Unlike Santa Rosa, there is only one exit provided for the town, and it appears to have a very minor interaction with the town, without a grand entrance or exit ramp. Keller Easterling writes “while the highway was understood to be an evacuation facility for towns in times of war, it had the adverse effect of concentrating populations in those very towns.”[10] Canute is exemplary of such towns, with an exit/entrance ramp that creates an inefficient bottleneck effect, not adjusted to a fluid and dynamic circulation. If entering the town for services, they are at the foot of the exit, then prompting the traveler to turn around and proceed to the exit ramp.

In other words, the relationship between the I-40 and Santa Rosa allows the traveler to enter and exit the town in one smooth and fluid motion, whereas the same relationship between itself and Canute only allows the traveler to enter into the northernmost part of the town, only to then turn around and use the same designated bypass to exit. This reveals, once more, the difference between driving ‘through’ and driving ‘to’ a town.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

By themselves, the small towns of America can be prided as hot spots in an otherwise rugged and desolate expanse; achievements in and of themselves. The Interstate Highway, always present in the landscape and the horizon, however, has spelled either trouble or financial success to these towns, whose character and goals were developed well before its arrival. The many ways in which they deal with or approach the highway, either as nuisance or economic opportunity, are successful in their goals, and through their characteristically 20th century strategies of inclusion or exclusion, they can maintain their identities as either introverted or extroverted towns; either with the superhighway or indifferent to it, but always read against it.

[1] Easterling, Keller. Organization Space: Landscapes, Highways, and Houses in America. 2. London: MIT Press, 1999. Print. Page 76

[2] Kuralt, Charles. “On the Road Again.” Slate. N.p., 2010. Web. 21 Nov 2011.<;.

[3] Virilio, Paul. The Lost Dimension. 3rd. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 1991. Print. Page 34

[6] Easterling, Keller. Organization Space: Landscapes, Highways, and Houses in America. 2. London: MIT Press, 1999. Print. Page 112

[7] Nobel, Philip. “The Interstate – rejoice or recoil.” Metropolis Magazine. March 2000: Print. Page 36

[8] County Government. 2008.  “Speed Limits of New Mexico” <;

[10] Easterling, Keller. Organization Space: Landscapes, Highways, and Houses in America. 2. London: MIT Press, 1999. Print. Page 78

Written by differance

November 28, 2011 at 7:28 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

The Domus and Illusion

leave a comment »

“The current domus is but a myth, a product of the megalopolis, the nostalgic yearning for what can now only be a mirage. With the advent of the megalopolis, the traditional values of the domus have been transformed, and the hegemony of the natural order has been supplanted by the artificial.”

-Neil Leach

The desire to disband from the megalopolis, even if only for a moment, produces a strange negation of everything that is found within the big city, including everything that is considered contemporary and therefore ‘virtual.’ In other words, the retreat is considered real while where one truly lives is considered fake (essentially the counter-argument to  Baudrillard’s assertion that Disneyland is designed to be convince Angelenos that their city is real and Disneyland is fake).  But whether in the form of a cottage, hut, or even just a camping trip, the retreat cannot be experienced without the language of the contemporary. Even Heidegger couldn’t help but talk about then-current technology, knowing full well that treating the Black Forest like a Renaissance Fair would be inappropriate.

“If the countryside,” Leach writes, ” – the realm of the domus – is seen increasingly in terms of tourism and vacation, then ‘place’ as difference could be understood in equally cynical, ironic terms, as the site of the exotic.” But rather than call the domus a totally mythical site, I will call it an exotic and illusory reality. Fortunately for this state, virtually every facet (the myth exempt) is successful in its desire for autonomy (though, again, this autonomy is clearly in opposition to the megalopolis). Because of its physical distance from the megalopolis, the vacationing urbanites cannot directly experience anything happening within their native city, nor can they indirectly experience them, because of their temporary sacrifice of technology. The only illusion therefore is that one can really in the countryside without any remorse and ‘revert.’

 The type of living I find to be more illusory is that of the domus within the megalopolis; either as a house with land or as a house with a view. Though all three are similar in their aesthetics of leisure and their status of wealth, the two types of domuses within the megalopolis are unique in their respective negations of their immediate environment.

The house with land always opens towards it on the site, and the microcosm utopia opens towards the house in a remarkably unnatural yet ultimately convenient way. The way this landscape is demarcated by shrubs and the walls behind them is much like the comically fake backdrops of 1950’s westerns. This house in its manufacured and private landscape is a more appropriate site of the mythic, for it gives the illusion that it is a domus in the countryside, while it sweeps the megalopolis under the rug and over the property walls. But even more illusory still is the land itself; it is designed to be perfectly manicured in its opposition to nature (with pools, cabanas, etc.). It is fantastical, and in its strict representation of nature it is unnatural selection.

The house with a view, then, appears to be the least illusory, yet it is in its presentation of its environs that makes it so mythical. The view is a very large image with little interface, for one can hardly be engaged with the sights or sounds of the city while within the very distanced and exclusive house with a view. In reference to the view, one either enjoys them or ignores as if the city was a television and the curtains an on/off switch. It does not have a landscape, but it does have seclusion.

In other words, these three building types illustrate the wealthy class’ desire to ignore reality – the reality of the contemporary and all of its affects – by either escaping to, creating, or highlighting the exotic, the beautiful, the perfect, or, to be clear, the spectacle. Wealth, in this sense, is synonymous with homogeneity, myth, and fantasy, while the middle and lower classes are synonymous with heterogeneity, inversion, and ‘reality.’ It is clear that the communitive nature of the latter state is established largely out of necessity, and anyone who climbs up the social ladder will want to escape the community of this state to one of more mythic proportions. But why is it so critically the case that wealth and the housing commune of the megalopolis hardly ever cross paths? Is wealth defined an an intentional indifference of the lower tropes?


Written by differance

August 2, 2011 at 7:26 AM

The Inside-Out City and the Question of Nature

leave a comment »

In class, as well as the rest of academia, there had been a discussion of the notable obscurity in the question, “What is Nature?”. We agreed that the answer most people give to this question is as confident as it is ignorant, and that the question is not nearly as open or as clear as it seems. For many, the distinction between human – man, woman, child, athlete – and non-human is a simple substitute for the distinction between non-nature and nature, but when one recognizes that humans invented the cantaloupe, the Boston terrier, and the very idea of nature –all things we believe are nature/non-human, it is equally as clear to see that this argument is fraught with inconsistencies.


As of 2010, this conversation would, on a large scale, seem to be a purely trivial pursuit, unrelated to the man in the street; but forty years from now, a global challenge will be set: In April of last year, a G8 policy document warned that global food production must double by 2050 to ward off international chaos. As it stands now, the world has collectively designated a rural farming area “essentially the size of South America,” says Dr. Dickson Despommier. “That feeds seven billion people. If you include the three billion who’ll be here in 40 years, there isn’t enough land given the current way of farming to feed those people.”[1] In order to combat famine, urban farming – that is, farming within the urban city – will have to take precedence within the communal mind and at the voting booth. As a choice between Heideggerian-environmentalism and techno-environmentalism, virtually every urban farming projectionist embraces the latter methodology.


But while urban farming would alleviate the land issue that Despommier addressed, this radically new agricultural tactic would also gravely obscure the question, “What is Nature?” for the masses living in the city, creating a whole new conscious class.


Beyond introducing “nature” to the “non-natural” city, there are several worldwide stands to preserve “nature” in its “natural” state through “non-natural” means. As Geoff Manaugh writes:


“Delicate Arch, a fifty-two-foot-tall sandstone arch and one of Arches National Park’s most famous natural wonders, faces eventual collapse, as it is regularly threatened by rain, ice, and seismic activity. The solution was clear: the arch should be stabilized. This “minor stabilization could be done in such an unobtrusive manner as to be hardly distinguishable and would not in any manner detract from the natural appearance of the Arch.” It would not be structural, in other words, using cross-braces or encaging the arch in Gothic cathedral-like buttresses. Instead, the geological formation would be sprayed with a transparent aerosol adhesive. This fine mist of glue would then seep down in the rock’s porous sandstone surface and harden there, locking the arch in place. The arch would be preserved – geologically shellacked, if you will.”[2]

This injection of the preservational “non-natural” into the “natural” landscape, coupled with the “natural” crops we eat injected into the common man’s assuredly “non-natural” city, each event carried to their respective extremes, would mark a radically new event in philosophical history. Surrounded by these figures as an environmental reality, the common man would have to seriously question their interpretation of the term “natural,” and maybe even the term “reality.” While the answer to the question “What is Nature?” has proven obscurity prior to the concepts of urban farming and technological landscape renovation, the introduction of these concepts demands an attempt to answer this question.


It seems as though the only correct answers are the positive absolute and its reciprocal negative: in the extreme of these two events, both the city and its environs can be considered purely natural (given that humans are a natural species, thereby making natural things), and they can simultaneously be considered purely non-natural (given that both the city and its environs have both been altered are were not left to do what they would done “naturally”). There are theorists that project this agricultural injection into the city would have sociological advantages. As Dr. Dickson Despommier again writes, “it would then become possible for a city to behave like an ecosystem; producing its own food, driven and designed by sunlight.” Despommier imagines a more communal city in light of urban farming, where other pragmatists believe that there are ways to make a smaller sociological impact. As William Wiles writes,

“James Wood’s solution is to put farms on rooftops. Work AC’s Public Farm 1 pavilion last year demonstrated how to elevate productive space, creating a usable social area underneath it. Public Farm 1 also trialled a high-tech soil made out of compost and recycled Styrofoam that is only one-quarter the weight of normal dirt, which circumvents the usual structural problem with rooftop farming. And there are already rooftop farming systems on the market.”[3]

Whether the impact is obtrusive and socially impactful, as in Despommier’s model, or concealed and above the carpet, as in that of Wood’s, the impact on the collective urban conscious would become philosophically altered. There may never be an answer to the question “What is Nature?,” but these two projects, put into extreme effect, would stir up some answers.


[1] ICON no. 73, The Edible City. William Wiles, Pg. 83

[2] The Bldgblog Book. Geoff Manaugh, Pg. 167

[3] Ibid


Written by differance

December 24, 2010 at 10:27 AM

Selections from a critique of 2001: A Space Odyssey

leave a comment »

“18 months ago, the first evidence of intelligent life off the Earth was discovered. It was buried beneath the lunar surface near the crater, Taiko. Except for a single, very powerful, radio emission aimed at Jupiter, the four million year old black monolith was completely inert. It’s orgin and purpose, still a total mystery.”

– Haywood Floyd

Throughout the movie, the monolith, in the presence of conscious creatures, is always treated with care and concern. In the first scene (The Dawn of Man), the apes observe it with astonishingly little procedure. It is clear to see why it would be the subject and concern for these primates; never in their environment or history has there been a straight line, let alone a right angle or a rectangular prism.

Critics call the apes’ response ‘innovation’ much too quickly: what the audience then witnesses is the discovery of a comparably more effective means of destruction. In this instance, we equate innovation and destruction without hesitating. For the purposes of this critique, I will consider their following response ‘destructive.’

It’s funny that the rest of the movie does not take place on Earth, potentially a suggestion that we have evolved too far in our means of destruction, and must now rely on our advancements in innovation.

The next time the monolith is discovered, this time on the Moon (in the scene TMA-1), it is the surprising subject of a modernized,  archaeological excavation. Where, in The Dawn of Man it is resting perfectly still in an unscathed desert, in TMA-1 it is surrounded by destruction, its own prophecy.


Written by differance

December 24, 2010 at 10:23 AM

Bernini, Borromini, and the Foundation of Opposition

leave a comment »

“…In reality the crisis of architectural culture, which was coming to a head during the 1620’s, consisted in the collapse of the objective criteria of choice typical of recent tradition…[yet] the outcome of this crisis was not the formation of a new, common repertoire, as an alternative to the previous one, but the start of a debate for an indefinite period.”[1]

-Leonado Benevolo

Even without reference to their shared, unique historical setting, the conceptual strategies that both Bernini and Borromini pursued alone are ripe for comparative debate. But when one considers their backdrop, that being the Post-Renaissance, architecturally pluralist climate, the gravity of the debate becomes much more clear. Considering that the current architectural climate favors idiosyncrasy and that which inspires opposition, it is with this predilection that I will judge the two. Therefore, the question for me becomes: which of the two architects was more detached from the singularly-minded Renaissance, and which one developed more from this estrangement?

Gian Lorenzo Bernini

“Architecture is the learned game, correct and magnificent, of forms assembled in the light.”

-Le Corbusier

In Bernini’s work, we see experimentation (and flawless execution, as seen in his use of light of the side chapels in the Sant’Andrea Al Quirinale), but we also see, as David Erdman writes, “a historical prelude to the pursuit of affect in architecture today.”[2] This pursuit requires the knowledge and mastery of the elements which predicate both the elements outside of the building’s limits and the coherent form of the building itself. In much of Bernini’s architecture, this aspiration lead to a break from ideal symmetry, geometry, and, what had been the goal of all Renaissance theory: visual ekphrasis. ­However, his background as a set designer reveals a neurosis not dissimilar from that of the stringent Renaissance standards preceding his. In this light, Bernini’s most celebrated accomplishments appear only as advancements to the school of Renaissance thought rather than references to its demise in place of another.

Francesco Borromini

“And if you think of Brick, for instance,

and you say to Brick,

‘What do you want Brick?’

And Brick says to you

‘I like an Arch.’

And if you say to Brick

‘Look, arches are expensive,

and I can use a concrete lentil over you.

What do you think of that?’


Brick says:

‘… I like an Arch’”

-Louis Kahn

Where we saw a set of coherent and unifying rules in Bernini’s architecture, in Borromini’s work we recognize a leniency and a preference towards forms and applications of ornament which had not yet previously been seen and could most politely at the time be called “experimental” (the façade of the Oratorio dei Filipini, beyond its deceitful architectonics, is jarringly asymmetrical, in keeping with the site and desired processional strategy). As Leland Roth wrote, “he manipulated space and the traditional Classical orders far more sculpturally than did Bernini.” Borromini’s work, in his own time, was received with little recognition and general opposition. By creating his own unique strategy of “bas[ing] the entire composition, both plan and in section…on a complex union of the symbolic equilagteral triangle and also on multiples of circles and ovals,”[3] his work got the immediate attention of visitors to Rome, and many even considered it incomparable in terms of “artistic merit,”[4] a common trait of the contemporary confrontationalist.

In reverence of a contemporary architectural preference, it is clear that while Borromini follows fewer rules and indeed produces stranger, much more idiosyncratic results, his work sparked what one could consider the first architectural visit, not based on respect of his times current state of architectural affairs, but his own in a confident and adamant opposition.


[1] Benevolo, Leonardo. Renaissance Architecture, pg. 320

[2] Erdman, David, Glow(ing), Log 17, pg. 50

[3] Roth, Leland. Understanding Architecture. 2007, pg. 411

[4] Ibid

Written by differance

October 27, 2010 at 8:32 PM

Posted in architecture

The Architecture of Alternatives

leave a comment »

“A choice! Do you, my listener, know how to express in a single word anything more magnificent?…This is the pearl of great price, yet it is not intended to be buried and hidden away. A choice that is not used is worse than nothing; it is a snare in which a person has trapped himself as a slave who did not become free – by choosing.”

-Søren Kierkegaard

We have seen in enough interior design magazines that rooms are introverted in their malleability: in a room, one can put any type of furniture (or no furniture at all), create any flow of circulation, and partake of any sort of function. While the plurality of options possible for one room is nothing to shake a stick at, the transition between is certainly singular. Circulation is established in a building as though it is the ultimate and most logical solution. While they generally do often construct an elegant or efficient circulation strategy, there are, of course, potential alternatives.

A solution to this problem has already been published by Cedric Price with his proposal, the Fun Palace. In his proposal, the participant is given the abilioty and indeed the authority to alter the transitional spaces any way he pleases. While I intend a construct in the same spirit as that of Price’s, my proposal is in formal opposition to his, in part because dynamism is rarely an efficient of buildable solution, but more importantly because people really do look for authoritative guidance, and they naturally get frustrated with a forest without a path. Therefore, my proposal can generally be described as the static alternative aside.

Since individual spaces are self-structural, their consideration can generally be acknowledged. But transitions can be awkward, and their singular physicalities can alone be burdensome (if not the scene of social anxiety). Alternative spaces purely dedicated to the absolution of this fixedness would illustrate Kierkegaard’s admiration for choice.  I believe that choice can only be perceived if the options can be put alongside one another (static), as opposed to something presents each option within the same space sequentially (dynamic). It is for this reason that I would present each choice unobstructed and unchanging. While the main, most visually present option might still be most frequently chosen, the recognition of one’s alternative is, at the very least, a veneration of Kierkegaard’s reflection on choice, as well as a long-forgotten human necessity.


Written by differance

October 2, 2010 at 5:24 AM