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Posted 15 Feb 2013

Joost Meuwissen, ‘Direct Meaning. The Architecture of Thomas Pucher’, Skins, Bones and Empty Spaces. Atelier Thomas Pucher. DD Design Document Series 39, Edited by Mi young Pyo (Seoul: Damdi Publishing Co., 2013), 6-15.

Direct Meaning. The Architecture of Thomas Pucher.

Joost Meuwissen

From the many achievements of Thomas Pucher’s work only a few major contributions to the development of architecture in general will be outlined here: Its answer to the question of style, its parametric use of rigid geometry, its handling of symmetry as a structure of reference, the autonomy of ornament, and partly as a result of these, and most importantly, an almost complete flattening out of tectonics, which to architecture is such a relief. The renewal of such what may be called common concepts of architecture, however, is the result of a highly empiricist attitude, not only towards the existent reality to which a building may be a welcome addition but also, and above all, towards the state of the art of building that architecture finds itself in today.

Style.
If architecture would be world architecture, which is keenly the aim of Thomas Pucher’s, it should be especially able to communicate with people in a direct and non-intermediated way, as if in a comic strip or pop music. That way accordingly, Thomas Pucher’s work somehow recalls the way August Welby Pugin’s The True Principles of Pointed or Christian Architecture were illustrated, and even so in the latter’s design solutions, which showed a certain emptiness when read between the lines. As for that, it is because there is simply nothing between the lines, since there is no reason to hide from the lines of such architecture. No meaning is somewhere hidden deep down there. All of it is at the surface. Therefore, in the public realm, in the spotlight, it is about being true.
It ought to be true. In order to communicate, as if to be going to be built, along its tradition, architecture must appeal to truth if it does not want to idealize its masonry and be still satisfied with such a self-idealization as to be simply-or-not out of brick. Then, if its materiality ever were a reason to linger round a meaning that was stuck in it, it is now gone. Lately, through technical production development the building materials find themselves to be composed of various layers of load-bearing, no-load-bearing, energy-absorbing and energy-producing sheets, in such a way that to specify an architectural element by the very material of its own such as glass or steel has become virtually impossible. The building materials have become exchangeable, almost arbitrary, superfluous, even so in the characterization of the very same material as being whether solid or transparent. A visible tectonics of support and load has given way to a less visible parametric understanding of energy containers, batteries, suppliers, transformers, commutators, wires, distant currents and clouds of which no direct aesthetic expression in architecture is available so far. The carbon footprint is not yet part of the appearance.
Volume instead of mass, Thomas Pucher says, as others say with him. It would seem, in that respect, to have been rather awkward indeed to visualize the current of energy through a building and through its surroundings as if it were no more than a mechanical device, just another supply-pipe, since our energy economy has little to do anymore with the First Machine Age and the latter’s aesthetics of smoking chimneys and driven wheels. Moreover, nostalgia towards machine aesthetics has been already put into practice once before, in the Minimalist sort of corten-steel regular and serial tectonics of architecture from the 1980s onwards, which is nowadays the common style, and which was borrowed from the visual arts of the 1970s but only after the industrial area itself was long over. For a long time, architecture played memory or history that way. On the level of theory, of architectural thought or insight, such nostalgia is not much of a help today.
Although nothing is wrong with nostalgia as such and although it even might be argued that as a sentiment it might have raised a public interest in architecture, still such a sentiment might be better raised by a more precise rhetoric than through the hidden message of a misconceived architectural style. In that respect, Thomas Pucher’s rhetoric, such as ‘Flower of Life’, ‘Cube of Education’, ‘Healing Garden’, ‘Garden of Music’ and the like, that at first sight may seem rather naïve references to a generic language of symbols, are in fact very precise descriptions of the respective designs as specimens or rather allegories of an architectural style, also in the sense that the cube is really a cube, as the flower is a real rose window, and the garden be a real garden. At the same time, the phenomena that are designated as such explicitly do not coincide with the whole of the design but promote only a part of it as its visualization or normative appearance. Such rhetoric is on the way of defining a style. It does so by means of character rather than by composition. That way, as a question of representation of the way buildings appear, Thomas Pucher’s style elaborates upon a normative enunciation of shapes in architecture. It is normative, because it argues various and different things similarly together in a simple manner.
[1]
Within the complexity of a design there is always the simple and mostly bigger, i.e. not-in-the-detail form, that need neither be explained nor be self-explanatory since it maintains itself, like the plain circle of a rose window somewhere in the middle of the abundant structure of a gothic cathedral, in which it gets its name but not its meaning. Maintaining itself is exactly the reason Eugene Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc saw for such a rose window. It is a self-supporting hole, not a void but a building part that is not there anymore, a material that is gone and for that reason must hold itself together, after the building would not do that anymore, and care for that no longer.
[2] On the treshold of vanishing, such a shape is a container as is style.
Style is a denominative act, a scale-less and therefore, in order to appear, a mostly bigger part of the building that points at it and points it out. In fact, at a gothic cathedral the rose window was always a partial filling-in of another building element – the ogival arch that became the emblem of Gothic as a style. But, as Bernard Cache has shown, it is not the pointed arch itself that points out the building as being in a pointed style, after the ogive is to be found everywhere in such a building; on the contrary, the two of its curves simply meet each other at the point where they would stop curving and would be inflecting or bending back in another direction, in order to accomplish the shape which belongs to them but which by itself would be too complicated to designate a style. Therefore, in the Gothic style, the rose window as a simple circle – a bigger splash – takes over the role of the smaller point of the pointed arch, in order to perform in the building the denominative act of style, which 
can be filled in by any meaning still, and thus communicates.[3]

Mary´s Court.
At Thomas Pucher´s Mary´s Court - Mariahof – Sanatorium scheme for Graz, Austria, from 2006 onwards, the denominating form is even bigger than the building itself but, most importantly, as a shape it would not coincide with the building at all. The building itself has a completely different shape. The denominative form – a decorated circle that expands over various scales – is at its bigger scale so-to-say always bigger than the building it covers, whereas at its smallest scale it is actually folded into the inside of the building to form its inner court – the actual Mary´s court in the stricter sense but which, as an inner court, is also outside the interior of the building itself again. At the inner court the circular shape loses its quality of scale, of being able to grow or diminish, in favour of a simple variety of proportions in the vertical direction. As for the question of style, as raised by Patrik Schumacher recently,[4] Thomas Pucher´s Mary´s Court scheme makes clear that, whatever definition of style is used, it is bigger than the one single building of which it is managing the communication – or public relations, for that matter – the result being that it cannot coincide with a particular building or a single town-planning scheme. As such it involves another design or another awareness than a rigid defining of proportions or a fluid, seemingly possibly all-inclusive parametricism.
While in Classical architecture a rigid geometry or metrics always marked a medium shift from program into proportion and scale, and thus marked the architectural shape as a medium also or as a language which at least had to convey some meaning too, in Parametricism all data and algorithms are under the influence of each other within a more or less pre-determined volume, the changeability or flexibility of which stays the same all the time. That way, no medium shift is needed, because data and shape share the same language from the very start. There is no translation of a program into a building. The program is the building. “Criticality gone,” as Jeff Koons would have put it,[5] might be a relief but yet, at the same time, you need connect, it asks for common objects, things from daily life that you are already familiar with in a non-intermediated way. Beautiful as they may seem to be, parametricist blob structures run the risk of failing to connect with people. They pop up as spontaneous gestures, which they are not, as sublime landscapes or simple natures, which they are not either, instead of as desired cultures, cultivated gardens or possessions that you know for old and that keep you moving. A fluidly determinable geometry does not help much if it has no subject. It needs a subject like a face needs a nose.
In architecture, a normative might be necessary, which should be found outside the liberating shapes that came into existence after architecture had freed itself from the usual design constraints of concepts such as geometry. On the other hand, since any parametricist blob configuration might be pushed a little bit further to become a cube or a sphere once again, then such well-known shapes are still of a different, flowing order. In Thomas Pucher´s works, simple forms such as the circle and the cube work that way. They do not determine the architecture but solely denominate its normative direction. The cube, at the school campus of Amstetten, Austria, in 2010, becomes a cube of education; and the circle, at Mary´s Court, is a rose is a rose is the flower of life. The normative is brought in by a collision of at least two different empirical data, for instance ‘circle’ and ‘life’ or ‘cube’ and ‘education’. That way, Thomas Pucher´s method might be traced back as far as to the posing appearances of the ‘virtuous horse’ or the ‘golden mountain’ as incongruous states in David Hume´s Enquiry concerning Human Understanding. “When we think of a golden mountain”, Hume says, “we only join two consistent ideas, gold, and mountain, with which we were formerly acquainted.”[6] To join these does not presuppose the pre-existence of a third element, say space, in which gold and mountain could be joined. With Hume, they are joined in the mind, not in space, time, language or diagram.
One might argue, that a golden mountain or rather, in our case, a flower of life, would still consist of two natural, extensive elements, flower and life, which share their natural extensions within space and time, and therefore would fit together but that would not take into account that within natural space and time there does not exist such a thing like a flower of life, and that the extendibility of these natural elements, as we know them, is always limited. And if it would be for their shared extensions, their possible overlapping each other within nature, there would be flowers of life or cubes of education in nature, which is something a lot of people hoped to find but there is not such a thing. So the combination must have had another cause or a different origin. The flower of life is not about artifice either, because it would have been possible to find the thing in nature all the time. People searched for it.
Flower and life or cube and education are thought of as two intensities that can extend themselves into each other, while never together forming a fixed system. Education or life might just as well extend itself into another thing, into rain or showers. A relationship between cube and education or between flower and life does not represent anything or rather, what it might stand for does not belong to the sheer activity of relating these things. It is the opportunity, not the motive that the mind designs.[7] That is Thomas Pucher’s method. In his work, it gives rise to the birth of ornament, which is independent from the building it is applied to but at the same time the ornament is not a general pattern, say a façade system, that might be applied to any building at any time. At Mary’s Court, the rose-window ornament doubles the building without coinciding with it. It cannot be missed from the design, since it shapes, measures and scales the building onto a communicative level that the building itself, even in its own shapes, proportions and scales, could not achieve. Without it, first, the constellation of dimensioning directives would stay within the same geometrical system that is already objectified, and second, and remarkably so, since a rather shapeless building volume with an inner court is a well-know general building type, it would subsume all its inner differentiations as a question of mere further detailing. Thomas Pucher’s ornament is neither a detailing nor a graduation. It is not a pattern either. Scale-less in the fractal sense, it is equipped with the possibility of a leap of scale at any place. It is able to both differentiate and integrate at the same time, at Mary’s Court by a gradual increase in scale towards the edges of the building but also at the bending towards the inner court, as well as to be cut off by a sudden down-scaling leap into a fabric around the inner court.
The circle, such as in Mary´s Court, has a meaning but this meaning is a single and singular one, which somehow excludes a possible process of signifying. Had it been a signifier, it might have conveyed other meanings or might have been able to do so within its grammar and the extending of its grammar but it is not. It is not a signifier or at least, it is not meant to be one. It is a shape that does not give meaning. It is itself given meaning to. In the design process it is handled as a symbol. It is not a signifier but a signified. In keeping up the symbolic character, one would say, it means that within a design process it has to be signified by something else. This is actually the case, and here starts an analysis of the design itself, I must add: also during the design process such an analytical phase must start at this point. But for the moment of communication, as for the meaning presumably embodied in the circle at this moment, this meaning as a symbol can only be positive, and there is no meaning of such a meaning. There is no meaning of meaning. There is iconology but no iconography. It is an icon the meaning of which is not embedded in a context. The meaning does not refer to other meanings.
That is the way Thomas Pucher works with what I would call direct meaning. Or iconic meaning, which means that the iconography of one image does not relate to the iconography of another image; they are only related via another medium, say a person’s experience or some sort of encyclopaedia. This means, this architecture has no discourse of its own, it is a linkage of several discourses but it still does not summarize the discipline of such a linkage either nor a new ordering and disciplining apparatus, for that matter. Thomas Pucher’s architecture does not discipline. And, if there seems to be no history or theory to relate it to, this does not mean that history and theory are absent; they stay discourses, the relationship with which stays there. The references the more elaborate shapes bear – the shapes that in the design are designated to be a definite shape that has to bear a meaning – are redundant. Whatever discourse is involved, it is redundant and not expressed either.

Empiricism.
After the carbon footprint has become a part of the empirical reality of a building and all building materials have been 
subsumed as attributes into its extension, architectural practice has got a much wider scope than it had before. The carbon footprint is not parametricizable as long as the reality of the building would still be confined to the building or town-planning scheme as such. The new reality supersedes that. Such an enlarged empirical reality may be dealt with by an intensified empirical approach of the new architecture, which is, as Thomas Pucher puts it for his, truthful to the site, to the situation, the client and the people. To you and me. It is global but not in a generic sense. Now, the architect who is carefully listening to the client and takes all the particularities of a site into consideration might be no more than the usual cliché of a good architect if after such a thorough investigation a beautiful but incomprehensible design comes out, which would rely upon a mere presentation of its structural engineering or structural or programmatic repetitiveness, as if the latter ones were hidden codes that might be broken, discovered or revealed, once you get interested in it by doing so. As for a development of architecture and its theory, one might argue that an empiricism towards the brief and the site may be of interest only if it is accompanied by an equal or similar empiricism of a design that would be able to elaborate upon the incongruities of a given reality even further. The design itself becomes analytical as well. Otherwise it would hardly make sense to carefully analyse the brief and site in order to come up with a generic design that may also fit quite another brief and quite another site, and which would solely confirm the steadiness of the architect’s personal handwriting (which, in turn, might give the client a feeling of security, though). How personal in its heightened empiricism, Thomas Pucher’s work does not want to exploit a personal handwriting. That way, his architecture may also be classified as rationalistic in a parametrical sense. It need not be deciphered, after by itself it has already dismantled the secrecy of architecture as a craft almost completely.
Architecture itself might be as empirical as is the diagnosis of a given situation in which it becomes involved. A question that would arise from this point would be: Where and in what way architecture by itself would be involved into a given situation to be its empirical mirror. Why would architecture be willing to do so. If its contribution would be to explain a given situation in all its incongruities, how does it find such a given situation. In practice, why are some commissions accepted and others are not, some competitions entered into, and won, and others not. Has architecture a vision or a program of its own? Would it develop by accident or by purpose? An adequacy of architecture may be found in a certain openness at a certain time, through a sort of inner indeterminacy which all great architectures have in common.
But how is such indeterminacy achieved then? If Thomas Pucher’s architecture seems to want to be as transparent a phenomenon as possible, it runs the risk of also breaking up most of the relationships with the great architectures from the past, including the ones which seem to be most akin: Boullée’s, Pugin’s, John Portman’s, and Aldo Rossi’s. But call it a paradigm shift and the great architectures from the past would reappear in a new and more empiric light. This would not mean to rewrite history but to just make a new documentary and to eventually apply the new architecture as a new narrative logic to the great architectures from the past. The new Etienne-Louis Boullée, however, need not differ from the old Etienne-Louis Boullée to appear fresh anew, and without prejudice. Disintermediation is also a problem of theory: You should be able to formulate how a specific architecture contributes to architecture as a whole, especially after this whole is not handled as a medium anymore. Therefore it is important to not drive up the aesthetic similarities with the past, but to do so with the concepts of architecture, such as symmetry, proportion, ornament and the overcoming of tectonics.

Islamic Conference Tower.
This does not mean that there could not be direct references that somehow clarify a work. Such is the case at the startling design for the Islamic Conference Tower in Jeddah in 2006. The scheme evokes Boullée at least four times: at the tower itself, at the dome within the tower, through the plinth-garden, and the quasi-sunken inner entrance. Now because of the basic shapes concerned, as for their fundamental, almost platonic geometries, references to Boullée schemes may be made by architects very easily, even unintentionally so. Yet four of them within the same scheme at the same time seem to not be by accident. It may have to do with the sort of brief, since a Headquarter for the Organization of the Islamic Conferences is a world assignment, a sort of once-and-for-all building program, which is somehow comparable to the all-embracing Enlightenment comprehensives from the end of the eighteenth century.
The dome within the tower almost literally quotes Boullée´s Truncated Cenotaphs from about 1790, which presented a dome hidden by a circular or square hollow pyramid over it. In both cases, the dome is not visible from the outside, it is somehow hollowed out from the inside of the built volume or rather built as an interior shape that is only perceptible from the inside. In both cases the domed space has been partly sunk into the slightly partially underground basement volume that surrounds the building as its plinth. At both Boullée´s circular cenotaph and Thomas Pucher´s Islamic Conference tower this socle volume represents a garden as a sort of outside. Both gardens almost exclusively consist of the classic trees that are topical to the respective sites, cypresses at Boullée´s, and palms in Saudi-Arabia. At Jeddah, this garden is conceived of as a rectangular building volume, following another unmistakable Boullée reference, the truncated tower upon a rectangular socle, especially from his Coastal Fire Pole from about 1784, where the socle is a barren square volume, a half-sunken cube without any detailing. The idea of a naturalizing nature, which the socle volumes in both projects convey, actually might be presented through trees or through pure, undeveloped geometry evenly. Such gardens do not represent nature. They present nature as if out from a display case. They show it as a piece of energy production of its own. If there were wind in such architecture, they might have been windmill-parks. They are environmentalist plantations rather than environmental greeneries. In any case, they are no sheer decorations that might have been left out from the built structures they adorn. Garden and building closely interweave.
The geometric pieces by which Thomas Pucher composes his garden building block in Jeddah as floors flowing like an English landscape, the voids of which are challenged to become a sort of hortus conclusus Arabic inner court gardens, which are enclosed by floors rather than by the walls the latter bend into, so that you are always in the garden as well as in the building, are undeveloped geometries only in the sense that they do not develop. They are captured within their well-determined arrow-like shape. The same shape is repeated all over the garden building. It is a flat arrow, the feathers of which may inflect into another level than the one of the arrow itself. Captured within its shape, this element, by which the plinth garden building is composed, is composed itself like the whole of the building, with an arrow-spine-like tower on top and a flowing plinth at the bottom. This shape does not get meaning in the composition, however, for as a shape it disappears completely in the image it builds up, while remaining its only, exclusive part. The jigsaw pieces of garden-shaping building parts stay the same all the time and compose together a volume that is regular both inwards and out. By being vector, inflection and limited shape at the same time, the complicated arrow does not only present the building itself but also classifies architecture as such,[8] as well as the way architecture denominates its style, such as the rose window does with the ogival arch, through a form that as a shape does not define the other form, from which it solely forms a part as a sort of left-out part of the patent pointing form. This means that at Jeddah the building itself is doubled into what in a Gothic cathedral would have been the rose window. The arrow really vanishes into the configuration it shapes. This is a marvellous achievement.   

Without a shadow.
Since the garden block where the tower rises from has different floors, and the inner entrance to the tower is from the lowest level of the garden, which is both garden and building at the same time, the actual inner entrance might as well be called a buried architecture, a word used by Boullée, an architecture that might be seen as underground, whilst still viewed from the outside. The all-open opening of the inner entrance of the Islamic Conference Tower has the same triangular or rhombic pressed-down, extremely wide but column-less opening as Boullée’s famous Cemetery Entrance, with which it shares its sole meaning of being the entrance for everyone, for all people.
Is not that what architecture after Pierre Le Muet in 1623 always wants: to be there for all people? And since Boullée’s truncated cone-shaped Coastal Fire Pole was meant to be a warning sign for every sailor, the same question might be somehow phrased in a heightened sense, then are not sailors more everyone than everyone? More everyone than all the citizens of a certain country? Is not the ocean, after Hugo Grotius in 1609, the purest freedom of all? Are not sailors the world people, who present a sort of world-everyone? It is from that consideration that Thomas Pucher in his comment on the project probably makes mention of the desert and the sea, the dunes and waves, as being similar. Instead of Boullée´s fire burning, at Jeddah the sun is burning on top. The tower is loosely covered by a golden sheeting that protects the interior against the rays of sunshine by completely absorbing and transforming their solar energy. At its outside, the tower becomes sun and is, as Thomas Pucher claims, “without a shadow”. (Shadows became an obsession of the late Enlightenment at the end of the eighteenth century.) As with Boullée´s spiral stairs that encircle his Fire Pole, the sheathings at Jeddah are virtually spiral by being symmetrically intertwined. On the basis of the same spiral staircase motive the sheathings keep on moving upwards after the building itself has already stopped for a while by having got truncated such as Boullée´s Fire Pole is. The only reason that the upward continuation of the sheeting can happen in the loosening-up way it does, after the building itself has stopped being there, lies in the special symmetrical design of the spiral. In its regularity of its system of floors, the tower itself can only stop by being truncated but the outside covering, which is in a way independent from the building and its floor system, in order to stay independent can only stop after it gets to coincide with the building after the building behind it gets absent, i.e. by representing the process of deciding how tall the building must be. To be truncated, just as to be beheaded, is a process not a shape. It is a double process even, the judiciary one of taking the decision, and the performing one to implement it. Neither of the two are shapes. The sheathings then go on and on, always being after the building to protect. In their search for the building that is not there anymore, they take over, mimicry or rather put on its system of floors. They loosen up just as the rose window in an ogival arch does. At the top, the shape of solar energy production is taken over by the sun itself. At first, the solar sheets adopt the height of the absent storeys. After that they become lines that only still adopt the absent height not the absent storeys. Then they vanish at all, making room for the sun itself. It is important to stress that the way the tower ends on top is not picturesque at all. It has a regularity of coming into shape of its own. It is by architectural device. Elsewhere I have labelled such a passage as a Karl-Friedrich-Schinkel-series.
[9] It is an example of the well-tempered indeterminacy any great architecture has. During the process of ending the building in the vertical direction, the sun is always on the way of taking over. Rather than firmly stuck into the ground, the building is under the sheltering sky.
It may be argued that a chimney-like fire pole inevitably would also recall the smoke-stacks of the Industrial 
Revolution and not only a general classic architecture of pyramids from some sort of generic Antiquity,[10] yet in this case the industrial reference would also be a generic reference. It would define the Industrial Revolution as just another general history of mankind, and not be aesthetically and stylistically specified. Moreover, both at Boullée´s light house and Thomas Pucher´s solar tower the fire is only on top, and does not come out of the interior of the building. It is not the energy from inside the building that bursts out as from a funnel. On the contrary, it is the energy from outside the building that makes the building into the electricity plant it is. In both cases, the interior of the tower is somehow hidden behind the clothing of the spiral façade. In its turn this interior is defined by the dome that is hidden inside, by way of the sort of same doubling as the rose window does with its cathedral. Being only a part of the hidden interior, the dome has no outside and therefore need not have a drum on top, as if to be meant to be open towards the other parts of the interior that might characterize it. At Boullée´s Round Cenotaph the dome is that way opened towards the darkness of the hollow pyramid over it. At Jeddah the star-shaped opening on top of the dome is to let the sunrays enter through the whole height of the tower on top. The golden dome presents the golden tower as in a golden world. It has the shape of a world. Therefore, the building as a whole has to cast no shadow at all.

Without any gaps.
In Jeddah at the dome, Thomas Pucher reaches an architectural formula and not only a categorical approach such as at the determination of the relationship of garden and building or the relationship of levels upground and underground. This is expressed in the architect´s comment on the project through the phrase “without any gaps.” This is remarkable, because as a formula, the dome mainly consists of gaps. The detailing of its ornamental pattern is, in quite an abstract way, but notwithstanding that abstraction, not in a mechanical way, conceived of as scale-less or better as a total abandonment of the concept of scale. The closer a fragment is to the eye of the beholder, the tinier it may become. Thus, the closest size of the dome is the eye itself. That way, it is not about perspective. And conversely, the bigger the distance a fragment takes from the spectator’s eye, the bigger it becomes, so at the biggest distance of its parts the dome would coincide with the world or with the universe, which is not about perspective either. In moving away from and to the defined simple shape of the dome, the fragments may be also twisted, and their shapes are then adjusted so in order to always form the closed whole of the dome as seen from the designated viewpoint. Quite different from the identical pieces that build up the configuration of the garden, the fragments of the dome, by twisting, could take on every shape. So from the awning of the symmetry of the fundamental shape – the dome – any differentiation into its actual shape is possible. A part of the dome might even get bigger than the dome itself. Thus the dome never gets a scale and is not able to get a scale even. By controlling the proportions of its elements, though, it becomes a scale itself as being the one and only scheme that defines the relationships of various possible systems of proportions that its elements might share with each other. Such a shape might also be called a symmetry, because it is always in the middle. By this, the idea of symmetry is touched upon in a very deep architectural sense, which is at the very heart of architecture. Symmetry is not a shape. It need not be an axis either. It is the denomination that left and right rather may be different than be the same or be a similarity. It is not about shape or the mere perspective of having a view of a shape. It is about the depth of shape. As a shape, it disappears through its mere size. It is hidden in the tower; as a scale-less system on its own, however, it is a denominative presence.
Such a denominative shape of a dome, the parts of which might be as well smaller or bigger, depending on their distance from the eye of the beholder, and in that way can get any possible shape by twisting, might be called a primary form in architecture. The dome itself is primary, prompting every shape possible, and doing so in order to get all the architectures of the world within reach. As a definition, if it is a definition at all, it must be derived from Pugin, who in his True Principles points out that the sloping tops of a buttress’ recesses, for example, must increase in pitch as they go upwards in order to still be noticed, with the consequence that this architectonic detail, the buttress and its recesses and slanting top, simply disappear the further they go upwards, except, says Pugin, if you look at the object from a distance.[11] But it is not from a distance that we observe the universe. It is observed from within. An elevation that in principle can be infinitely small or big is like a system sunk into itself but at Thomas Pucher´s dome, it seems to be also the opposite at the same time: The higher a facet of the dome is situated in the dome, the taller it becomes, so that such an open system of a facetted dome actually becomes finite. It is an indication of the ‘primary character’ of this primary dome, which is finite and helplessly locked in itself, like a rose window. It denominates the building only by its quality of selfless, one might say aesthetic, disposability.

Geometry.
Different from John Portman´s buildings, where a simple geometry is predominant and coincides with the expression of programmatic security, and there is no difference in the geometric handling of simple shapes, their linear connections, and the symmetry of those shapes and connections, and which is convincing by its blissful ignorance, which leads to the idea that geometry as a panoptical structure, assuring the security by surveillance, may also have an reassuring effect on the public,[12] at Thomas Pucher´s the geometry does not show itself directly, as an enouncement of its own, at least not on the level of the use of the building. It organizes the design but not the program. In fact, the program is loosely distributed over the available geometry as over a sort of container, which is almost always too wide. Thus, the geometric shapes stay basic ones, which overcome their direct expression as belonging to a geometric order by either bending and flooding over their edges, as do the parapets in the audience room at the winning competition entry for the Warsaw Concert Hall in 2010, or by vanishing as in the iconic arrow-like basic shape of the garden-basement of the tower in Jeddah, where the arrow icon does not show up anymore, after it has found its place in the configuration of which it is a building stone.
Geometry is always conveyed through denominative, well-defined shapes that may be called ‘tower’, ‘dome’ or ‘garden’. They are not some floating in-between and parametric shapes but reductive typologies that need a name for being born out from a classification. Since a classification category does not show up in the classification itself, I mean, since a presentation of different tower shapes next to each other does neither define ‘tower’ nor the parameter on the basis of which the different towers are classified in the classification – it could be their height or, quite differently, their proportion, i.e. the ratio of width versus height, whereby both of these possibilities lead to extremely different representations of the classified series of towers itself, thus convey a different concept of towers but not their meaning as towers – accordingly, they should become substantiated at another rate.
Thomas Pucher´s architecture is about event instead of space. It is not the object that is described but the experience of the visitor or the making or composing of a structure to be built out of basic elements which have no meaning by themselves. The arrow-like basic element for Jeddah does not mean arrow, it only arrows as being part of the jigsaw puzzle in the culminating image of which the arrow as a shape disappears. Actually, Thomas Pucher’s decorative patterns are neither decorations nor patterns. They are not ornaments in the applied sense either, insofar as an ornament in architecture has been commonly understood as a shape that is applied to a building that also might do very well without such an addition.
Similarly, in the renderings of the Warsaw Concert Hall design the quasi-historical garden patterns do not seem to play a role. People in evening dress are just floating towards shrubs and greeneries – mainly boxwood and yew. The greenery is – at least in the renderings – conceived of as a sort of cut sponge in favour of another plane than the ground surface upon which the people move: The one on top of the cut boxwood hedges, upon which the people are not supposed to move. It is a referential plane on ankle height. After there is an ankle iconography from the real history of garden design, which tells us that the low box hedges were meant to hide and present the ankles of the women, the low box hedges which shape the heightened garden level in the inner court of the Warsaw Philharmonic may tell us that in a similar way the people themselves in their evening dresses become part of the sponge, just as the curvedly cone-shaped yews do, in order to leave their carbon footprints in these gardens by now. The evening dresses are also cut, indeed by a tailor, and the people’s hairstyles are also cut, indeed by a barber; and the draught which blows from the all-round openness of the wall around the area on ground level feels similar as the one of the hairdryer that has modelled your hairdo.
The wall around invites people underneath and people on top. The thickness of the wall gets bigger towards the top. At the same width as the footway on the top is the extruding plinth below – a canopy over what might have been a similar footway at the bottom. This plinth is not for walking upon but rather for walking underneath – but people do not walk along it. They walk through. It is an in-between, an entrance that has no certain location or a certain designated area. No ticket office to pass, it is the entrance for all people.

 


[1]  Colin Rowe, ‘Character and Composition; or Some Vicissitudes of Architectural Vocabulary in the Nineteenth Century’, Colin Rowe, The Mathematics of the Ideal Villa and Other Essays (Cambridge, Massachusetts, and London, England: The MIT Press, 1980), 59-87.

[2]  [Eugène Emmanuel] Viollet-le-Duc, Dictionnaire raisonné de l’architecture française du XIe au XVIe siècle. Tome huitième (Paris: F. de Nobele, 1967), 42-43.

[3]  Bernard Cache, Earth Moves. The Furnishing of Territories. Edited by Michael Speaks, translated from the French by Anne Boyman (Cambridge, Mass.-London, England: The MIT Press, 1995), 84-85.

[4]  Patrik Schumacher, ‘Parametric Diagrammes’, The Diagrams of Architecture. AD Reader. Edited by Mark Garcia (Chichester: John Wiley & Sons, 2010), 260-269.

[5]  Jeff Koons, ‘Baptism. A project for Artforum’, Artforum International, Volume XXXVI No. 3, November 1987 (New York: Anthony Korner, 1987), 101-107.

[6]  David Hume, An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding, paragraph 13, Enquiries concerning Human Understanding and Concerning the Principles of Morals. Reprinted from the posthumous edition of 1777 and edited with introduction, comparative table of contents, and analytical index by L[ewis] A[mherst] Selby-Bigge. Third edition with text revised and notes by P[eter] H[arold] Nidditch (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975), 19.

[7]  Gilles Deleuze, Empirisme et subjectivité. Essai sur la nature humaine selon Hume (Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1972), 138.

[8]  Bernard Cache, 2.

[9]  'Six under a Tennis Court'. Translated by Michael Bischoff, Daidalos. Architecture Art Culture, 67, March 1998 (Gütersloh: Bertelsmann Fachzeitschriften GmbH, 1998), 110-115.

[10]  Helen Rosenau, Social Purpose in Architecture. Paris and London Compared, 1760-1800 (London: Studio Vista, 1970), 138.

[11]  A[ugust] Welby Pugin, The True Principles of Pointed or Christian Architecture. A reprint of the first edition with a foreword by Marina Henderson (London: Academy Editions, 1973), 17-18.

[12]  John Portman and Jonathan Barnett, The Architect as Developer (New York: McGraw Hill, 1976).


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