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Posted 11 Apr 1986

Joost Meuwissen, ‘Editorial’, Urban Blocks. Wiederhall 1. Edited by Joost Meuwissen (Amsterdam: Stichting Wiederhall, 1986), 23.

Wiederhall Editorial

Joost Meuwissen

I love architecture because it is old. In its treatises and manuals it has preserved a dead language up to the present day. Architects argue by rather obsolete formulas. It seems the right way. It is like Latin, a kind of knowledge about things that must have gone wrong long ago. Today it is only acceptable if it were to remain incomprehensible. I do not suppose there is much secrecy in it. It is all too superficial I think, and there is the love.
At school I read Livy and Livy was to be my favourite author. His is the most constructive grammar ever used. It is a real architecture. Dying architects should have it as an obligatory favourite book at their death-bedside table. But most of all I enjoyed copying Palladio very studiously when I was fifteen. In my opinion Palladio was more than a language spoken. It was a grammar flowering in itself. As architecture is the art of ornament, it does not concern built ornament being illustrated in books. It is the manual ornament, the one from the books, which gave building an opportunity for architecture.
Painting and sculpture may have got their autonomy as works of art. They are placed in front of us as mysterious objects to see and get. From its indeterminate distance the visual work of art smiles at both artist and spectator simultaneously. The French would call it a mirror. Architectural works never gained that autonomy. Buildings and schemes kept hesitating about their being works of art. They wanted more. Was not it to exceed any imagination as a fundament to all thought, that Kant in his Urteilskraft designated the Egyptian pyramid (which he never saw) as the Sublime, since we cannot imagine its measures when we see it as a distant object of its own and we could not see it when we actually would imagine measuring it? He took architecture as an instance to slip out of all imagery. On the evil of architecture he might have founded a whole new philosophy without image.[1] But in doing so he would have got to bring back the pyramid into his natural world. Philosophy could have become more architectural but architecture would have been naturalized. Then he might better have taken the moon. And in the common world the materiality of a building would result in being too heavy and too slow again to be embraced by people's will and imagination.
Architecture thus has to trace its uneasiness on its own. Therefore I think we might better continue the literary tradition of architecture and its own imagination on paper as I intend to do, and simply make its manuals and treatises, in which the homogeneity of building, as offered by natural space, always breaks down into parts that can be contemplated, into the tactility of a detail and its extremely scaled-down and sharpened mouldings, and into ornament itself. I do not mean ornament as the startling visual signs on buildings, such as boasted about by Post-Modernism. I refer to ornament as a scriptural knowledge that architecture somehow has managed to save the silent crime and the unrequited stupidity, not in its possible uneconomical superfluity by which it would be just an art according to John Ruskin´s sense of a craft that produces a surplus value, but by keeping up its more strictly primitive and gothic motive of hollowing out its own materiality in order to make a grotto that echoes quite other sounds than the ones that are spoken.

[1]  Gilles Deleuze, Différence et répétition. 2e Edition (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1972), 187.


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