Crivat, Emmanuel, BK, Le Creux bâti: contributions à une sémiotique de l'architecture / Emmanuel Crivat 1985, BU-Censier (1/ 0)
The Built-up Hole: Introduction to the Semiotics of Architecture, translation from French by Irina Wahrig (University of Freiburg) WahrigI@web.de
A Romanian legend from the Middle Ages says that a woman, the builder’s wife, was buried alive in the wall of the Arges Monastery; this praying place could be built up only after this terribly cruel sacrifice had been performed. The evocation of the labyrinth myth, reduced to the space of a vertical grave, kept haunting my memory days after the dreadful earthquake which ravaged Bucharest in March 1977. Standing at the window of my atelier in the School of Architecture , I watched every day the wrecking of a building affected by the calamity. The people who could save themselves found a shelter in a still standing church near the building which was being demolished; contemplating all this, I plunged deeply into the legend: “What soul was still living under these walls?” One morning a crack appeared on one of the church steeples and it got deeper and deeper the next day. I found out that the authorities had decided to demolish the church, taking advantage of the general decision to tear down all the buildings damaged by the earthquake. I could hardly believe it: “what about the sweat, the blood and the tears shut up in these walls?!” Day after day I could see “the walled-in soul” fighting hard to resist the obduracy of the demolishers with the menacing arms of cranes, army cars, cables and hammers but “the walled-in soul” had no power against them, since these walls did not host any more a place of praying visited by “the present-day prince of the fortress”, and the building masters feared the prince, like in the legend.
Favorable circumstance allowed me to continue my studies in architecture in these human locations which were ruled by princes of the past. On my search for “the walled-in soul” I reached a mountain village in the Carpathians where I was supposed to testify the existence of some cave buildings.
“The walled-in soul” vanished in front of these small churches carved in the cliff, in order to send forth a fascinating piece of work emerging from its own body.
Walking into the first cave, I was really happy as if I had been the creator of the emptiness that overwhelmed my own body. The image of the wall remained far behind me, and I had to admit that I could finally think of the architectural space without turning to that image any more.
I have vacillated for a long time between “space” and “architecture” as adequate terms for the horizon of my study intentions, but I have always excluded the possibility of setting apart the two definitions offered by the dictionary of natural languages by using hints of the comparative etymology or by comparing the dictionary explanations (can one really split them up)
According to the semiotic theory of Algirdas Julien Greimas, the term “space” is used first of all to designate the object constructed by expansion, the object in the semiotics of the natural world; secondly, it is used to designate the object of a space semiotics that explains the transformations suffered by the semiotics of the natural world due to the intervention of the humans, and in this case the space object is a “fabricated” object; in the third stage, the definition of the space object according to its visual characteristics alone makes it into the object of the semiotics of architecture (finally architecture); in the fourth stage the space object defined by its three-dimensional value from which one can extract only one element, its prospective value, is a component of the narrative semiotics (“the one-dimensional composition corresponds to the linearity of the text that traces the route of the subject”); finally, in a fifth stage, the space object defined on a two-dimensional plane will become the object of a plane semiotics.
Seen in this perspective, “the space” represents the object of “architecture” only as a fabricated and a visual object, including the narrative programs, but “space is the object of architecture.”
Without taking as final the restrictions applied to the object space, I can place ARCHITECTURE in the horizon of my studies, while the term SPACE will be used as a common denominator for each element that is necessary for the description of the semantic field to be explored.
The question is: shall we describe what we see around in terms of space and analyze this description with semiotic tools, or shall we better start a direct analysis of the elementary assumptions of architecture using the linguistic model as a main point of reference?
The first case seems to look like diving into an ocean of uncertainties where the verbal war has prevailed since the beginning of the history and criticism of architecture. To give only one example, in order to describe the modern architecture (1920-1960), the late modernization (1960-), and the postmodernism (1960-) one would need three parameters <3> grouped according to three criteria: (a) ideological, (b) stylistic, (c) thematic; generic parameters: “ a deterministic and functional form” (modernism) which becomes “adaptability”( in postmodernism).
As far as the details of architectural trends are concerned, according to Charles Jencks, between 1960 and 1980, there are twelve “spaces” (a typology?) described by the names of architects, the names of buildings, by space characteristics and by various adjectives.
1). SCULPTURAL FORM (BRUTALISM, GEOMETRIC EXPRESSION, I.M.PEI, ...)
2). EXTREME ARTICULATION (STRUCTURALISM, HERTZBERGER, EXTREME REPETITION,...)
3).SECOND MACHINE AESTHETIC (MEGASTRUCTURES, POMPIDOU CENTRE, STRUCTURE AS ORNAMENT, ...)
4). SLICK-TECH (STIRLING, MEMBRANE, COMPLEX SIMPLICITY)
5).TWEITIES REVIVALISM (EISENMAN, FRONTALITY & ROTATION, ROSSI, TYPOLOGY…)
6). LATE-KODERM SPACB (POP CONCERTS, EXTREME ISOTOPIC SPACE, COMPLEX SIMPLICITY, ASTRODOME)
7).HISTORICISM (NEO-LIBERTY, VENTURI SCHOOL , RADICAL ECLECTICISM, …)
qui rejoint avec l'ORNAMENT et POST-MODERN CLASSICISM le
8). STRAIGHT REVIVALISM (WAR REBUILDING-WARSAW, BOLOGNA , REHABILITATION,...)
10). AD-HOC URBANIST (GOFF, BOFILL, CONTEXTUALISM, SURRATIONALISM, NEO-RATIONALISM, …)
11). METAPHOR ME
TAPHYSICAL (RONCHAMP, SEMIOTICS, MEANINGIN ARCHITECTURE, ANTHROPOMORPHISM)
12). POST-MODERN SPACE (SKEVS, DIAGONALS, ASYMMETRICAL SYMMETRY, SURPRISES, FRONTALITY/ROTATION…)
It all looks like the outcome of a “creation” meeting, very trendy in the world of publicity, which consists in having a group of simple people speak of or rather freely react to an object, an image or a word which is presented to them as a transient stimulus of their imagination.
One can find little support in this explosion of words (which we refrain from translating for fear of generating “offending connotations”): the last of these “space labels”, THE POSTMODERNISM, is characterized, among other things, by “the semiotic form”, but it seems that the semiotic tools we are referring to must be much more productive in order to be able to face such a descriptive “freedom.”
In the second case, that of the direct analysis of the elementary assumptions of architecture, the field is actually unexplored; except for some incipient ideas proposed by the methodological tools, like “zero degree of architecture”, or the history of architecture as “history of significant forms,” there are only “flashes” of meaning, interesting enough to be taken stock of; it is this field that I have chosen as a starting point of my research work.
<1> A.J.GREIMAS, J.COURTES, Dictionnaire raisonné de la théorie du langage, Paris: Hachette Université, 1979, p.133, art. ESPACE, point 4.
<2> La théorie sémiotique de l'École de Paris.
<3> Charles JENCKS, "La bataille des étiquettes, modernisme tardif contra postmodernisme ", in Nouveaux plaisirs d'architectures, Paris: Centre Georges Pompidou, 1985, pp.25-33.