From parks to museums and then cemeteries: our travels through the scriptures of myth--travels in mythic topography--now makes landfall on the obscure shores of memory and oblivion par excellence. In the "beginnings," architectural works arose to be the dwellings of the gods and the dead. Now, while we are on the threshold of the embalmment of our environment and the paradoxical project for its total conservation, it may be of use to study the relation between the architectural work and the space of death. This reflection of ours could be fittingly prefaced by a quotation from Ernst Jünger's Second Parisian Diary: "Our attachment to museums corresponds, on a lower level, to the Egyptian cult of the dead. What for them was the mummy of the human image is with us the mummification of culture; and what for them was metaphysical Angst is for us historical Angst: not to see our magical expression dissolving in our growing lucidity--this is our concern."
...the fragment used to suggest the loss of a whole. Isn't this the meaning of that macabre practice which led to the heart of Voltaire being kept in the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, and his brain being sold by auction in 1875? The "part standing for the whole"--pars pro toto--is one of the commonest tropes in poetic language. It is termed synecdoche.
--Fragments of a funerary discourse, Architecture as a work of mourning (1983)
Imitating the city (1982)
De Chirico portrayed the world as an archaeological repertoire, reassembling the fragments of reality like pieces in a museum that could be catalogued.
The materials he uses evoke mute symbols, organize the topoi of the dead city, where the subject disappears. Transform the city into a museum: this is the programme simulated by painting. To carry out this transformation, a set of precepts has to be followed:
- the parody of myth and memory, to be celebrated in ageless monuments,
- the dissipation and cataloguing of form in fragments that express the solitude of the object confronted with the whole,
- the replacement of signs by the implementation of an architecture of ideas, acting by contrasts of categories, by condensation of meanings, by assemblage, its purpose being to recreate the world in a willed archaeology.
This means that one does not create the museum on the basis of the true and the real, as after Cezanne, but the city on the basis of the museum, as after De Chirico. The city-simulacrum thus becomes a parody of form, an archaeological park, a cemetery of meanings, a ruin ...
But if the city and the landscape become a catalogue of stratified objects, one must also avoid emptying it - by the artificiality of the techniques of visual communication - of its dimension of the non-visible, namely the dimension of anguish.
Light of my eyes
Leon Krier and Rem Koolhaas, the opposing poles of the contemporary debate, the visionary survivors in a panorama of "weak ontologies", moved briefly along the same path. But that was in the seventies, an encounter was made possible by a common passion for city architecture; when a taste for ironical portrayal--Surrealist in derivation - as well as the proximity of figures that had not yet moved into the distance (Stirling in one case and Ungers in the other) made it possible for them to act in a climate of tolerance. But this brief spell of "jeux serieux" came to an end, and the spread of a ludic attitude in contemporary architecture, taking the place of Surrealist irony, deprived architecture of its practical tasks and set it immediately in the dimension of an activity of signs.
Leon Krier thus moved on to a solitary reconstruction of the universe, resting the answer to the failure of modernist aspirations on a classicism idealized by archaelogy. So his city has become an idealized replica--rather like the restoration work of Viollet-le-Duc--of a theoretical Gothic-classical city.
Rem Koolhaas responded to the same problem with a hallucinated dilation of the premises of the avantgarde, transposing them onto an almost cosmological backdrop and taking as the model for his work the most radical Soviet and Dutch figures of the twenties
--from Mart Starn to Ivan Leonidov.
A completely private world, New Canaan does not admit basic explanations apart from the autobiographical purpose which Johnson has poured so liberally into these buildings. What emerges is a remarkable museum of architecture. True, this is an architecture represented in keeping with the tastes of a single collector and conceived by a single designer - but in this "museum" the uncertainties, the rules violated, the baseless games, the extra-territorial nature of contemporary architectural languages, are ruthlessly listed, memorized and catalogued.
As a great admirer of Jünger, Hans Slemayer, states: "The world, for which the museum is becoming the most sacred theme, is already, by its essence, a world which sees everything in a historical perspective." Philip Johnson probably belongs to this world as well. For this reason he possesses a trait in common with Georg Fuchs. His collector's spirit reaches New Canaan, where it narrates synchronically the story of contemporary architectural uncertainties, arranging in the museum they give shape to, the traces of the interior of his own life as well.
--The house of dreams and memories, Philip Johnson at New Canaan (1982)