So the first nations, as children of the human race, first founded the world of technai,
and then the philosophers, who came much later and were the old man of the nations,
founded the world of science.1
At the onset of the twenty-first century we find ourselves living in an age of architectural puzzlement and desolation - puzzlement at the outworn repetition of the 'precarious foundations of modernity' (Solà-Morales,1997; 108), and desolation at the vista of limited stereotypes sullenly marching across our urban centres, products of the same precarious foundations
(Fig.1) View of systems-built tower block behind London low-rise of eclectic design, (photo, Barry Russell; from Barry Russell, Building Systems, Industrialization, and Architecture, John Wiley & Sons, London, 1981, p. 656).
The paradox in global terms lies in the contrast with
the much-vaunted superiority of the West particularly in terms of its emphasis on
creativity, the ever-changing access to technical efficiency and glamorous imagery
associated with international capitalism and communications, themselves gatekeepers of
logistical systems 2 and social contractualism.3
However another view underlines the sterility and megalomania of this urban and
architectural scenario, the inhuman disruption of 'settled' societies through
industrialisation and de-industrialisation in turn, a view easiest approached through
'regionalism' speaking for the unurbanised hinterlands waiting for inevitable
(Fig.2)4 Fireplace design by Pugin, ink drawing, (from Phoebe Stanton, Pugin, London, Thames & Hudson, 1971, p. 30).
The West's celebration of creativity as the mainspring of its cultural hegemony is a consciousness of progress and cultural dominance that began at the Renaissance and is now aped world-wide. Our dominion of nature and its forces seem also to include the very motives of personality and individual fate in the modern practice of psychology, as man is inclusively and completely part of natura as well (according to Spinoza's Deus sive natura). The great dilemma of modern art and architecture is the failure to reconcile the determinism of empirical rationalism with the myth of the liberated artistic genius
(Fig.3) The fantasies of Don Quixote inspired by his reading, engraving by Gustave Doré, (frontispiece from Dorés illustrations for "Don Quixote", New York, Dover Publications, 1982).
Both sides of this dilemma jostle together in the concept of 'design', a Renaissance concept now shared by engineers, fashion-mongers and drug-purveyors ('designer-drugs') alike. But the concept of design has long been riven by the fundamental controversy about what is meant by the word idea, as many following Hume have denied the existence of abstract ideas or universal notions since they agree that sense-impressions or sensory images are particular in meaning and in imagination. However all seem to agree on the power of memory which at least cannot be confused with sense-perception or indeed rational thought. This position seems to support the emergence of the notion of creative genius unbound by the laws of art or held accountable by any artistic standards, to which even Aristotle, founder of such rules, would have been sympathetic.
From visual technê to rhetoric
The fabrica and ratiocinatio of Vitruvius have been usually translated since Perrault as practice and theory respectively, and have long been the comforting targets of contemporary notions of what these might entail including definitions of 'science' or at least knowledge considered as a continuous historical process. The Renaissance champions of classical architecture who were so dependent on Vitruvius could point to his classical corpus of lore, mathematical and procedural, which if it never permitted architecture to become a Liberal Art, at least sustained its role as a Mannerist-Baroque Fine Art, and even an autonomous art of special significance, especially in post-Gothic France, home of cathedral geometers and heroic stone-cutters.6 Sadly for this tradition, the eighteenth century saw the gradual devaluation of Vitruvian doctrine and architecture defiantly broke its links with all other arts, Fine or otherwise (McQuillan, 1998).
If Vitruvius is examined today for its knowledge content, there seems little enough to go on at first glance. In Book I, i, he contrasted knowledge or scientia with talent or ingenium yet both were necessary to produce the 'perfect artificer' (Vitruvius, 1983; 7-9), which meant for him in turn someone literate, an expert draughtsman, an erudite geometer, with knowledge of history, philosophy, music, medicine and astronomy, as architecture is a science of many disciplines - 'architecti est scientia multis disciplinis.' His attempt to give a structure to such disciplines is a list of activities such as Order, Arrangement, Proportion, Symmetry, Decor, and Distribution (Vitruvius, 1983; 25). Arrangement or dispositio is the most coherent as firstly, it is shared with rhetoric, the great creative and public art of the ancient world, and secondly, for Vitruvius it was combined with the geometry of plan, elevation and perspective in a sequence of representational universality most probably stemming from Hellenistic mathematics and optics. He added to this that there 'arise from imagination and invention', again inserting another aspect of rhetoric - inventio, the discovery of the tropes to launch an argument. Since dispositio and presumably invention as well must be accompanied 'cum qualitate' - 'with quality', this seems to mean that while the other procedures such as the graphical plan-elevation-scenography and the whole issue of proportions and modular agreement are distinctly quantitative, the qualitative dispositio and inventio must flourish in the other overarching territory of Virtuvian doctrine, that of myth. Such a movement from quantity of analysis to a synthetic result in the qualitative, an ascent to the kalos kagathos ('beautiful and good') (Dwyer, 1996; 633) is a legitimate interpretation of the Roman architect's position.7 This is most probable given that he did not have any easy access to incommensurate proportion, the harmonic canonics of Euclid, and not at all to Apollonian conic sections, for instance, the most advanced aspect of Greek mathematics, which may have allowed him to reconcile the Unlimited and the Limited in solely mathematical terms.
(Fig. 4) Ionic capital with simple proportions, (Paros Archaeological Museum).
In Vitruvius' treatment of 'arrangement', 'species' - meaning the mathematicals - was linked to ideae and to the geometrical programme of plan-elevation-scenagraphy, situated with the imagination and invention (rhetorical), and the support of precedent not far behind (rhetoric as memory),8 usually appearing as tropes of dedication or references to foundation myths and so on. He believed in Reason, a belief which included a 'respect for the numinous' in the words of Frank Granger (Vitruvius, 1983; xiv), perhaps with a Stoic reserve for such hubristic experiments so soon after the Civil Wars ended by his master, Augustus. It is widely agreed that Vitruvius' clumsy style betrayed a shaky relationship with the treatises he was using as sources, and this omission is understood as part of his retardataire and narrow outlook in some major aspects of his subject. This conservative stance was marked conclusively by his choosing not to refer to the dramatic introduction of concrete dome-making at this time in Italy. While he described the sourcing of volcanic materials and the hot springs of Baia, he omitted any mention of such domes which surely questions his awareness of what architectural creativity meant for his time, saved only by his command of domestic decoration. To sum up at this point, for Vitruvius the technê of geometry and proportion was bound to the technê of rhetoric under the power of myth and ritual in a seemingly continuous process. The fate of rhetoric as a Liberal Art survived until the sixteenth century when Ramus amalgamated it with logic, and its participatory power has been questioned ever since (Grassi, 1980b).
Since geometry has had undeniable links with architecture from time immemorial, can the methods of the history of science reveal occasions of creative change and transformation in European experience, in the sense of 'Kuhnian scientific revolutions'? William Addis has wittily identified such an event three centuries before Vitruvius, in the 'rapid transition of small-scale and relatively temporary folk architecture to a monumental architecture (initially comprising mainly temples) which was on a large scale and had to be long-lasting.'(Addis, 1990; 115)9 This transition from the seventh century B. C. onwards, the appearance of the great Greek temples of painted marble, carved columns and stone beams posed the distinctive phenomenon that the upper parts dictated the lower parts and therefore necessitated careful reconsideration of precedents and rules, and forced them to communicate these decisions both to the workforce and the patrons. No doubt there arose a disciplinary awareness of a series of 'structural' and formal problems focusing professional solicitude and responsibilities, but did it constitute a 'scientific revolution'? Addis admits that 'designing buildings is even more of a human activity than science is' and 'Progress in structural engineering has been as much due to breaking down of intellectual barriers as technological ones' (Addis, 1990; 115). But there seemed to be little breaking of intellectual barriers in this transition - such astute observers as Plato and Aristotle made surprisingly no mention of any great temple construction in their day, just as Vitruvius was silent on domical concrete. At least for Vitruvius but long after the event, the intellectual challenge of overcoming the transition to monumental stonework is reflected in his treatment of ordonnance, in the Doric Order for instance, as witnessed in his pages, and interwoven with his burden of myth and memory of precedence.
(Fig. 5) The problem of the Doric corner or angle contraction in temple architecture, (J. J. Coulton, Greek Architects at Work, 1977, Fig. 18).
While it is the mythical aspect of Vitruvius that makes him uniquely valuable today, it was the explanatory power of this transition from wood to stone that fascinated our forefathers as the Renaissance unfolded, the genetic fallacy of the Primitive Hut in the hands of Francois Blondel, Perrault, and Laugier. The dignity of this story was bound up with abundant ritual found in almost every culture (Rykwert, 1971), and also by the salvific power of craft in traditional societies, repositories of what knowledge existed, and hardly distinct from magic. Despite the overweening thrust of classical philosophy and mathematics, the persistence of the power of handcraft, organon organôn or the 'tool of tools' for Aristotle, survived to the Renaissance reinforced by hermeticism and alchemy. The primal efficacy of craft as both knowledge and art can be seen in the Homeric instance of the marital bed of Ulysses, guarantee of the individuality and identity of its maker, and faintly echoed by the references of Plato and Aristotle to making and tradecraft as metaphors of being and becoming. Later developments saw the recognition of mathematics as philosophy in the period of recovery in the Renaissance, while Aristotle had linked rhetoric to philosophy as epideictic or demonstrative rhetoric which concerns worthiness and blameworthiness or rhetoric as poetics (Garver, 1998).
To identify how architecture can be rhetorical is the question that is still posed for us in a world dominated by technics and technology, whose dominance seems to be never questioned as an explanation of how things are. Yet creativity is the indispensable element in all production, just as technology must always be interpreted in terms of ontological considerations and temporal horizons (Harries, 1997; 230).
From Christian to secular universalism
The paradox of the Mannerist-Baroque age was that a proto-Scientific Revolution was already afoot in the bosom of quattrocento Renaissance art, in the guise of linear perspective and the elite practice of projectivity10 at the courts and universities of Europe. Linear perspective was a mathematical method of representing visual reality, always repeatable by non-mathematicians or the talentless, to give a repeatable result - a clear adumbration of the scientific method of empirically investigating the world of matter and a manifestation of a limited creative trait in the production of illusion. Nevertheless the links to ultimate meaning was maintained through the doctrine of disegno where the transcendent in the form of usually Christian exemplarism was locked into a structure of intuitive, i.e. contemplative11 mathematics. Supported by an operational geometry sometimes characterised by manus occulata (the emblem of an eye implanted in the palm of the hand), the ancient organon - the hand, was guided by the now immense superiority of the eye, likened to the Divine vision of power and creation. Such a unity of intellect and artistic personality was held forth by the titanic figure of Michelangelo, at once the manifestation of genius and proponent of disegno sans pareil. Bernini, Borromini and Guarini were able to exploit a sense of transcendence in the geometry of projection and the plastic command of all parts of architecture and decoration to an unparalleled degree. By the end of the seventeenth century these various new doctrines of Renaissance art had spread across Europe
(Fig. 6) Technics and archaeology triumphant - Fontanas erection of the Vatican Obelisk, (from Templum Vaticanum, Rome, 1694).
(Fig. 7) Varied examples of spires the synthesis of Gothic and Classical forms, influential in North America (from Gibbs Book of Architecture, 1728).
but developments were also in train that were to threaten its very existence.
Post-medieval architecture can be clearly understood through its relation to mathematics. Traditional mathematics was a virtual world of meaning supported above by metaphysics and a cosmic vision based on Pythagorean, Ptolemaic and Christian cosmology, and below by the world of sense and indubitable mundane form.12 The highest procedures of this virtual world was the Platonic reform of the irrational number and figure through the doctrine of mean and extreme proportion, but only an elite could enjoy this, having to master Bks. V and VI of Euclid. Most contented themselves with discrete arithmetical formulas and simpler rules, best known from Palladio, and even though the trammel of Manaechmus and the mesolabium of Eratosthenes was available,13 it was strictly the lore of the devoted and the adept. This is proved by the Blondel-Perrrault dispute in the wider Battle of the Ancients and the Moderns, where for Blondel the Renaissance roots of his elite geometrising were vague for him, while his opponent Perrault had no access to it at all.14 Such a significant doctrine - the mimetic cosmogony of modeling the progression from point to infinity or the practice of continuous proportion, was eventually swallowed up in the development of calculus, in the formulas of addition to infinity. Even Blondel's own students never followed him, and today we know the procedure as the Golden Section, or better in the German expression, die stelige Proportion (Ghyka, 1977; 125). Today the cosmic resonances of generation and progression are remote (in a world of Darwinian evolution drawn from economic models), but the Platonic anchorage of this virtual world is found in the Timaeus (31c-32a).
The extinction of the living tradition of harmonic geometry was ironically parallel to the rise of mathematical physics, Cartesian mechanism, and the empirical induction of 'modern science'. If Vitruvius long before had demanded that dispositio be advanced 'cum qualitate', this became impossible for the 'new philosophers' due to the Galilean elimination of quality from the language of nature, now approached solely under number and figure. While it was easy enough for architecture to become also mathematised through the regularisation and then elimination of the Orders (Pérez-Gómez, 1983), there seemed to persist a distrust of such certitude, signified by the eighteenth-century search for 'taste', the general 'je ne sais quoi' of artistic expectation, and the pursuit of architectural 'character' specific to the rank and purpose of a particular situation. This search for specifics, later to blossom into functionalism, was accompanied by an awareness of climate as an index of social being, a discovery of Montesquieu promoted by Voltaire in searching for a new social understanding of man (Collins, 1965; 100-101). This demand for undreamed-of determinants of form went world-wide as the Primitive Hut was now found standing on the shores of many a tropical sea or remote wilderness, and the search for a natural architecture was already identified in Fingal's Cave on Staffa off the coast of Scotland (Smith, 1969; 18-20),
(Fig. 8) Fingals Cave, Island of Staffa, Scotland; engraving by P. Mazell after John Frederick Miller (from Smith, 1969, Plate 18).
The construction of a new society had been politely launched by the Freemasons using 'ancient' and not-so-ancient architectural lore and imagery, and the search for an emancipated 'style'15 based on 'an art of fantasy of pure invention' was already launched by Boulée and Ledoux (Picon, 1988; 254). The creation of the alleged inaugural simplicity of architecture based on the conjectural historicism of the new rationalism since Descartes (Collins, 1965, 67) was to banish for good the devalued canons of Vitruvius and the artificial excesses of Borromini and his Baroque 'companions-in-crime'. The collapse of the Baroque in the face of Neoclassicism tore down with it the symbolic structures of the traditional world, leaving behind our world of divided representation (Vesely, 1985), and therefore the problem of creativity today.
The seal of modernity in art is the efficacy of the avant-garde. The struggle to politise art in the service of liberal democracy was indeed revolutionary, and went to the very core of the traditional sense of individual power within limits and corporate participation that understood its ends within the polity. Traditional architectural creativity was achieved not just through the harmonious matching of means and ends, but the alliance between the corporate personalities of the family, the guild, the city, the church and the state, all of them sometimes combined in the same person, but even so, capable of sufficient distanciation that permitted the unexpected to emerge with confidence and decorum leading to the slow and continuous modifications of ancient, medieval and Baroque building. The rise of modernity meant that there was the replacement of the teleological by the efficient category of form, hence systematisations of construction, typology etc., and it can equally be dramatised by the replacement of mythopoeisis by the emancipated prophecy of Utopian projection in terms of secular Millenarianism (Berdyaev). What is forgotten in this projection of the new and the revolutionary, is that, as Otto von Giercke pointed out, the politics of liberal democracy has removed almost all the mediating institutions between the 'Sovereignty of the State and the Sovereignty of the Individual' rendering the city relatively powerless, a drama enacted by the American constitution by the middle of the last century (Frug, 1984; 246). The contemporary urge to erect 'urban design' as a mediating discipline between strategic planning and architecture lacks a sufficiently powerful patron or patrons, and can never fill the gap.
From universalist philosophy to Vichian philology?
The Vichian emphasis on sensus communis as a foundation against the instability of the human will, (for him the field of philology), can be compared with the rationalistic attack by Descartes and Kant on the 'popular' and 'common' thinking in a negative sense (Grassi, 1980a; 170). But what is sensus communis founded on? Vico answered by pointing to the ingenium, which ' . . . penetrates and binds together in a common relationship . . . things that appear to the workaday man uncommonly fragmentary and disconnected' and through such a bond 'things are shown to be connected and related' (Grassi, 1980a, 171). This was a prominent Baroque or traditional awareness dependent on analogy: the faculty of knowing is the 'ingenium, through which man observes and creates similitudes'(sic) as well as 'Ingenium is the capacity to integrate disunited and dissimilar things' (ibid.). This is the essence of metaphor which Aristotle extolled as the most difficult challenge, and for Cassirer as the basic principle of verbal as well as mythic thinking, the principle of pars pro toto (Cassirer, 1953; 92). On this basis it is also possible to understand the imagination which for Vico the establishment of relationships or common factors which confers meaning on sense perceptions through the transferring of similitudes; imagination becomes 'the eye of the ingenium, or the original faculty of letting see (phainestai)' quoting Vico (Grassi, 1980a; 172). In other words, 'there is in every work of art an ever new and powerful testimony to the spiritual energy that generates order' through the classical and still relevant theory of representation or mimesis (Gadamer, 1986; 100-103). The ingenium rises fromwithin, i. e. is not deductive in its source, but it should also correspond to the world-picture, and such correspondence is the truth-giving dimension of all great art.
(Fig. 9). Alvar Aalto, interior, Imatra Church (from Charles Jenks, Modern Movements in Architecture, Harmonsworth, Penguin, 1985).
The rhetorical model for Vico is one of invention, or finding the topics, therefore topical, derived from the places of the ancient art of memory. Our overweening dependence on literacy has absolved us from the need for the invention of topics and for the intimate utilisation of places.
Our lack of discrimination between space and place reveals what is at stake in the potential of modern architecture. 'Space' implies openness and freedom, suggests the future and invites action, but on the negative side space and freedom are a threat to what 'place' symbolises, security which we know so well - we are attached to one and long for the other (Arnheim, 1997; 101). Our buildings must acknowledge both the sheltering power of place and the indefinite promise of open space (Harries, 1997; 175). Brancusi in his Colonne sans fin may have been aware of the Romanian myth of the columna ceruli which is an axis mundi or 'pillar of the sky', so that man can communicate with the heavenly power (Eliade, 1985; 93),
(Fig. 10). Brancusi, Colonne sans fin, (Romanian National Tourist Office).
Le Corbusier's celebrated Church at Ronchamps refers to a chthonic cave with the only release through the towers, fulfilling a demand for the 'perpetuity of archaic symbols relative to human habitation' (Eliade, 1985; 123). Such an artistic hermeneutic must recognise the centrality of the experience of finitude in terms of both cosmic and cultural contexts and the continual discovery of our ontological structure (Levy, 1992, 68).
While the end of the social may be recognised in the simulation of the same, that Baurillard and others have noticed (Smart, 1992; 128), the search for improved political forms and hence artistic form must engender a release in our creative powers, despite all the difficulties that arise on every side
(Fig. 11) Action Committee, Sorbonne, Paris, May 1968, (from Charles Jencks, Modern Movements in Architecture, Harmonsworth, Penguin, 1985).
The creative goal of architecture lies in its grasp of any exemplary situation (Eliade, 1985) encompassing place and space with Vichian ingenium, through a visual rhetoric of both vision and action. The field of the modern arts properly belong to philology, domain of the human will in a finite world, beyond logistics. To focus on such a field, we must engender a new narrative for our creativity as the horizon for rhetorical gestures and resonances that are genuinely participatory rather than meaninglessly provocative.
1 Vico, Nuova Scienza seconda, par. 498, quoted in Grassi (1980a; 176).
2 'Today logistics has, on the basis of other considerations, also rejected metaphysics as a process of scientific thinking, but it dismisses "humanist" ideas as well' (Grassi, 1980a; 166).
3 George Grant has critised Rawl's contractual theory of liberalism, as earlier liberals recognised connections to an absolute such as the good (Greenspan, 1996; 207).
4 His imprint on the Palace of Westminister confirmed the alliance of eclecticism and national identity, a point not missed by the Germans who translated True Principles of Pointed or Christian Architecture to aid the completion of Cologne Cathedral, the most important building in Germany (Crewe, 1986; 130).
5 'Technology' is a seventeenth-century neologism, indicating mastery of the arts, namely the Liberal Arts.
6 I have prepared a paper on this topic: 'Architecture as a Discipline: From the Liberal Arts to the Fine Arts'.
7 The connection between the ratio of building and the natural order lay in decorum, and therefore all modes of social expression were governed by rhetorical principles, as John Onians has pointed out (Onians, 1988, 36). Onians sees such connewctions being set up in Aristotles Ethics and on to Ciceros De officiis, indicating the development of a stylistic vocabulary for sculpture and music before Vitruvius (Ibid., 36-38). Such a vocabulary may have well been developed for architecture, only echoes of which are heard in Vitruvius, as we have lost all ancient Greek treatises.
8 The link of rhetorical memory to Platonic anamnesis was available (Eliade, 1977; 52)
9 Addis does not entertain the role of Egypt in providing the exemplars of a great stone architecture.
10 This concept ranged across most parts of intellectual culture and underpins my 'Geometry and Light in the Architecture of Guarino Guarini, unpublished Ph.D. thesis, Cambridge University Library, 1991 (also microfilm, British Library, London).
11 There is a long-standing confusion between intuition as contemplation, and the later intuition as devoid of any visual imagery, typical of modern aesthetics since Baumgarten and Hume.
12 The Internet has been put forward as the modern analogy of traditional mathematics, revealing a complete lack of understanding of the efficacy of such a virtual world, i. e. with no intelligible superstructure.
13 Both instruments were used to find extreme and mean proportion but were condemned by Plato in the well known remarks quoted in two places by Plutarch.
14 I have investigated this in my forthcoming 'The Mathematics of Nicolas-François Blondel and the Four Problems of Architecture'.
15 Hitherto style was a literary term, but now applied to the visual world to indicate evolutionary development (Collins, 1965; 67),
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