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John Hejduk and the Cult of Humanism   Kenneth Frampton

shallow-space field

House No. 10 (3/4 series): plan and projection
One-Half House (1/2 series): model

From the late 60's on, two basic motives informed Hejduk's formal invention--the one essentially external--the other internal. The first being the deliberate, perpendicular confrontation of the viewer/user with a shallow space field, into which he is implacably drawn by the primary object of his interest (i.e. the entrance to a house.) The second being the situation of the viewer/user within a fugal space sequence, where the identity of his particular situation at any moment is assured through variations in primary forms that code the space like man-sized Froebel gifts.

back stage realms

Two houses of 1966 exemplify the complementation and opposition of these basic motives. House No. 10 of that year demonstrated the abrupt precipitation of the viewer into a 'shallow-space' field; a field that was first to be experienced as an inflection on the horizon and afterwards discovered as a narrow labyrinth comprised of three different terminal element; elements which were disposed about the ends of an attenuated 'picture-plane'. The contemporary One-Half House offered instead a clustered experience of three very comparable elements within the confines of a walled patio. Where the one used 'three-quarter' elements (i.e. three-quarters of a square, a circle and a diamond respectively) situated at the extreme ends of an elevation, the other used 'half elements (i.e. half of a square, a circle and a diamond) in the center of an enclosed plan. Where the one was primarily an elevational idea that finally condensed into a section, the other was largely a plan idea that was immediately experienced in terms of volume. Apart from these perceptual differences, the internal fugal space systems of these houses had much in common, each being 'coded' by free 'furniture' elements, (e.g. chimney stacks) that reflected in their mass forms the volumes by which they were contained.

This partial opposition between 'building as an external two-dimensional picture plane with spatial evocations' and 'building as the internal coding of three-dimensional lived space' was to be brought into its final synthesis by Hejduk in his so called Element or Babar House of 1972; a design comprising a simple cube, wherein three external sides were rendered black and hence posited as back-stage-realms, with the fourth being rendered white, as the sole two-dimensional facade. Behind this two-dimensional illusion of space (emphasized by the 'cut-out' silhouette of a cloud above the three quarter volume of the house) the internal white reality of the cube 'space' itself was articulated by free-standing Froebel objects. A simple internal volume was thus activated by a cylindrical bath in blue, a square (cubic) kitchen in yellow and a diamond (cubic) chimney in red-each one sponsoring complementary window shapes (circle, square and diamond) and blue, yellow and red stack pipes of comparable shapes outside the cube.

By the early 70's through the dynamic aspects of his 'diamond' exercises Hejduk had been able to shift the emphasis of his work, from the logic of structure to the creation of place, culminating finally in the articulation of a single volume behind a unique two-dimensional facade. This emphasis was to reach its apotheosis in two distinct but related houses. The first the Babar House involved the creation of an enclosed 'realm' beyond the facade; the second, the Wall House turned on the 'collapse' of this enclosure into the facade itself, thereby creating a cantilevered 'realm' beyond the frontal wall. Where the one led to the creation of an internal place contained by walls, the other generated an external place suspended on floors. With these houses Hejduk's 'research' into architectural language came to its logical conclusion in two pieces whose formal resolution afforded little scope for further variation. This much tends to be confirmed by the Bye House (now in working drawings) which for all the subtlety of its rendering adds little to the achievement of the earlier works.

Element or Baber House

Wall House: projection and plan

Bye House: projections

Two interrelated questions arise at this point of impasse. The first concerns the respective limits of painting and architecture and questions the extent to which architecture may be legitimately derived from painting and vice versa. The second addresses the necessary interdependence of architecture and the city and challenges the urban relevance of Hejduk's work. The complex legacy of the Renaissance (always latent in architecture) is fatally linked to any answer we may attempt to these questions, as is the more modern and fragile tradition of Anti-Humanism, which outside of Cubism has been the essential contribution of Twentieth Century art. The achievements of Malevich, Lissitzky, Mondrian, Van Doesburg, Ozenfant and Le Corbusier come to mind not only for their intrinsic worth but also because each of these painters posited an architecture (some more elaborately than others) and the last, as the text of Vers Une Architecture makes clear, in terms that were entirely compatible with the traditions of Western Humanism. But the work of Malevich, Lissitzky and Van Doesburg was decidedly more complex since they projected an architecture that was as removed from classicism as it was from the vernacular. As Lissitzky's essay A and Pangeometry of 1923 makes clear, Suprematist-Elementarism posited an architecture that was the a-logical consequence of inverting the static pyramid of Renaissance perspective; while Van Doesburg in his Leonce Rosenberg projects of the same date, projected an architecture that was a direct exfoliation into three dimensions of the very essence of his abstract-planar painting. In first instance the generic four walls of architecture were obliterated through the illusory thrust of irrational perspective (c.f. Lissitzky's Prounraum), while in the second the most primal elements of architecture, such as a door or a window, were either eliminated wherever possible or systematically reduced. Both Suprematism and Neoplasticism thus posited a millennialistic anti-architecture in which an illusory painterly vision would invade and literally become the substance of the three dimensional world. On the other hand Le Corbusier's Purism, despite its dependence on distortion and free form, largely accepted the frontality of the Renaissance, however much its implicit perspectival pyramid had become flattened through the processes of Cubism.

Piet Mondrian: Composition, 1919
Kasimir Malevich: House under Construction, 1914-15
Van Doesburg: Leonce Rosenberg, 1923
El Lissitsky: Proun, 1923




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