The document of the pedagogical system under John Hejduk and his influence at Cooper Union, Education of An Architect: A Point of View offered a persuasive and influential model of what cardboard architectural education should be, especially in its first year.750 By examining it we can better begin to understand the roll of the innocent eye in cardboard architecture.
Emphasizing vision from the title itself on, Education of an Architect: A Point of View aimed to lead the student to the innocent eye through the exploration of the primary condition of architecture as the compositional shaping of space, in turn re-entrenching the artistic autonomy of the discipline and making it stronger through self-critique. Ulrich Franzen announced this as the intent of the project in his introduction to the catalog where he uses the Rowe and Slutzky Transparency essay to relate the underlying premises of architecture at the Cooper Union. The importance of the essay for the pedagogy at Cooper Union Franzen explained is in its use of "a trained eye without recourse to irrelevant 'meaning,'" the innocent eye. This "trained visual sensibility," as Franzen called it, a "reawakened connection between eye and mind," is formed to act as nothing less that an eye in the hurricane of chaos and upheaval of the late sixties and early seventies.751
Hejduk himself had been interested in training the eye since his first project as a student in Cooper Union in 1947. In a two-dimensional studio taught by Henrietta Schutz, Hejduk and his fellow students spent a year creating an illustrated book for Aesop's fables. Hejduk later explained that this exercise "was one of unique importance as a tool for the introduction to architecture. Through a rigorous discipline it trained the eye (visual sensibility) and the hand (tactile sensibility). We learned how to handle a paint brush, and began the exorcising of one's innate feelings toward color, form and space." This exorcising was accomplished by a long period of training with pure forms until the student learned about visual relationships. "Story telling came later," Hejduk wrote. Meaning, language, and subjectivity could be tackled only once the innocent eye was attained.752
Hejduk appears to have followed Schutz's example throughout his pedagogy and his own work, at least until the change in his design methodology around 1974 to what he calls "an architecture of pessimism."753 The problems, or "probings" as Hejduk calls them, of his early projects were, he states, derived from Schutz's two-dimensional design class.754
In his Texas Houses, developed during his years at Texas, Hejduk attempted to refine the visual language that he would go on to teach at Cooper Union:
The Texas Houses are the result of a search into generating principles of form and space in architecture. There is an attempt to understand certain essences in regard to architectural commitment with the hope of expanding a vocabulary. ...
The realization that works in the Arts are the embodiment of specific plastic points of view, that the mind and the hand are one, working on primary principles, and of filling these principles through juxtaposition of basic relationships within the vocabulary of point, line, plane, volume, opened up the possibility of argumentation.755
Hejduk explained that he arrived at the Texas Houses through a deterministic and logical method of design: "The first moves are arbitrary but once the arbitrary beginning is committed, once the initial intuitions are experienced, it then becomes necessary that the organism proceeds through its natural evolution." Since the nine-square grid had been invented by the Texas Rangers, it is perhaps not surprising that all of Hejduk's Texas Houses were based on a nine- square grid.
In Hejduk's next major project, the Diamond series, he addressed the relation between two-dimensional painting and representation and three-dimensional architectural space by tipping axonometric drawings on end to ceate flattened effects. He explained his method in a text that accompanied the publication of the Diamond Houses in 1969.
...When a square form in plan is drawn in isometric, it appears to the eye as a three- dimensional projection. When more than one floor plan is projected in isometric, it builds up quite naturally and still appears as a three-dimensional representation. When the diamond is drawn in isometric and has a plan of more than one floor, a very special phenomenon occurs. The forms appear two-dimensional; the stories overlap each other in primary two-dimensional vision. The form tips forward in isometric towards the picture plane; they are three-dimensional yet a stronger reading of two-dimensionality predominates.756
Hejduk's concern for geometry thus became tied into a concern with the effects of representation on architecture and its perception. By the late 1960s and early 1970s, contemporary with the Education of an Architect exhibit and catalog, Hejduk was involved in a series of houses dominated by an uncompromising geometric condition. These projects were neither built nor expected to be built, rather they existed solely as experiments. Perhaps because the projects only existed in representation, Hejduk's work during this period had a thin, atectonic quality, at its most solid only the thickness of cardboard in a model. This reached its culmination in Hejduk's Wall House, a project organized around a thin wall that served no purpose except to force the architect to deal with its formal implications.
Hejduk linked the thinness of his architecture, presence and instantaneity:
The wall itself is the most 'present' condition possible. Life has to do with walls; we're continuously going in and out, back and forth, and through them. A wall is the quickest, the thinnest, the thing we're always transgressing, and that is why I see it as the 'present,' the most surface condition. … The wall is a neutral condition. That's why it's always painted gray. And the wall represents the same condition as the 'moment of the hypotenuse' in the Diamond houses — it's the moment of greatest repose, and at the same time the greatest tension. It is a moment of passage. The wall heightens that sense of passage, and by the same token, its thinness heightens the sense of it being just a momentary condition…what I call the moment of the 'present.'757
In other words, it is the thinness of the formal architecture derived from two-dimensions that gives it presentness, but this presentness is achieved only momentarily, at the level of the phenomenological reduction, which as we pointed out above with the help of Derrida cannot exist, being made impossible by the existence of language and history.
750. On the influence of The Education of An Architect, see Val K. Warke, "Education of an Architect and Tadao Ando: The Yale Studio & Current Works," The Journal of Architectural Education 43 4 (Summer 1990): 46.
751. Ulrich Franzen, "Introduction," The Education of An Architect: A Point of View, ed. John Hejduk. (New York: The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, 1971) 5.
752. John Hejduk, Mask of Medusa: Works 1947-1983, (New York: Rizzoli, 1985), 27.
753. On the architecture of pessimism, see Hejduk, Mask, 63.
754. Hejduk, Mask of Medusa, 35.
755. Hejduk, Mask of Medusa, 41.
756. reprinted in Hejduk, Mask of Medusa, 49.
757. Hejduk, Mask of Medusa, 67.
Also in chapter three we examined Eisenman's House series. To recap and elaborate: Eisenman's House series was, at least until House VI, based on seemingly arbitrary formal transformations set in motion upon cubes somehow predisposed to transform along the lines of the nine-square grid. Thus the series was something of an extension of Hejduk's Texas Houses. Indeed, where Hejduk attempted to work through the parameters of a logical architectural language, Eisenman explained that his Houses were an attempt to go beyond both architectural form as the result of either programmatic dictates or the creation of "aesthetically pleasing objects." Form, for Eisenman, would ideally be independent of both program and aesthetic considerations, rather it would be "a problem of logical consistency; as a consequence of the logical structure inherent in any formal relationship." In other words, architecture as idea again. Eisenman believed that, as he wrote,
The capacity to understand, as opposed to experience, this intention does not depend entirely on the observer's particular cultural background, his subjective perceptions, or his particular mood at any given time, all of which condition his usual experience of an actual environment, but rather it depends on his innate capacity to understand formal structures.764
764. Eisenman, 17.
Connected to the virtual house is Eisenman's idea of the transformational process that determines itself. Eisenman's idea of setting up an entirely rational transformational process and letting it work itself out appears to be his goal in his House series and in his dissertation and is similar to the Hejduk's project with the Texas Houses. By tracing through these transformations the viewer would appear to be able to understand the process that led to the generation of the resultant house.
Digital technology replaces the smooth curve of the analog with the jagged edge of the discrete unit. This fragmentation, and the decline of the classical model of vision is exposed in a new way of seeing:
Where once the aesthetics of the appearance of an analogical, stable image of static nature predominated, we now have the aesthetics of the disappearance of a numerical, unstable image of fleeting nature, whose persistence is exclusively retinal--namely, that of the sensitization time, which eludes our conscious attention, once the threshold of 20 milliseconds was crossed--just as with the invention of the ultra-speed camera, whose one million images per second exceeded the composition time of 24 images per second.799
The retinal perception required for video and computer technology is momentary: the perception of the innocent eye. Without having planned it, cardboard architects and the innocent eye furnished a means of perception which anticipates the retinal flux generated by the computer screen, a moment uncannily similar to the moment inside of Hejduk's planar wall.
799. Virilio, 36.