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Architecture today

These and later Gwathmey buildings look as if Rene Magritte had played intellectual billiards with Corbusian toys, a conjunction which is even more apparent in the work of John Hejduk, an architect who admires Magritte.

Hejduk's One-Half House Project is, like all his work, an extraordinary proposition about the ordinary based on a variable metaphysical idea. In this case, three primary solids (cylinder, cube, and prism) are cut in half and placed pinwheel fashion at the end of a circulation spine. The circulation is at right angles to a solid entry wall, so again, as in Meier's work, we have a rotational scheme set against a frontal entrance. Now, however, the rotation is conceptual as well as perceptual: the mind circulates from one primary demiform to the next trying to put them together, trying to understand their relationship, trying to fathom their raison d'Ítre. Certain semantic clues are given (cylinder for piano, triangle for kitchen, rectangle for study) which prove helpful in understanding different areas, but are ultimately enigmatic in their significance. As with Magritte's Collective Invention (1934), a painting showing the inverse of a mermaid with a female tail and fish's head, the enjoyment consists in perceiving a reverse logic. Conventionally functional shapes--the cylinders, rectangles, and prisms popular in the twenties--are given a precise but arbitrary function, and the whole building is paradoxically exploded into three separate parts and an entry. We try to put it together in our mind as rectangular base, semi-circular door, and pitched roof-forms which have fallen on their sides. This is like a chiastic figure (for example, Oscar Wilde : "Work is the curse of the drinking classes") where usual meanings are transposed, although here the semantic transposition is not precise. The syntactical order is, however, worked through with exactitude. Each demi-form is itself halved, in each left half is an emblematic chimney, and each half has its midpoint placed on a relevant axis about which it appears to have been rotated, thus adding a conceptual rotation to the perceptual one.

In Hejduk's Diamond Series Project, developed since 1962, the rotational elements were pushed even further. Here, the inspiration was Piet Mondrian's Foxtrot (1927), Theo van Doesburg's canvases which also set up two grids rotated at forty-five degrees to each other, and Frank Lloyd Wright's plans of the twenties. One should also add to this twenties revivalism the sixties Carpenter Center of Le Corbusier, about which Hejduk wrote: "The shape of the structural columns is round, indicating a centrifugal force and multi-directional whirl."7 In the Diamond Series, round columns set in a tight space close to walls also create a centrifugal force. To this is added the whirl of L-shaped space created by partitions which always partly enclose and partly leave open a room. They spin about an implied center like a whirligig or exploding, twirling fire-cracker. A walk through this maze would force one to go into a spin, or at least a constantly turning route. In nearly every room two right angles are contrasted with the rotational diagonal.

It would appear that Hejduk is merging ideas from several different sources: the open planning and sliding planes which Mies van der Rohe used mostly outdoors; the labyrinth, which is also an outdoor form; and the concepts from painting and architecture mentioned above. There is no obvious raison d'Ítre to this merger beyond formal exploration and creation. It does extend the spatial research of Le Corbusier and others, and it is somewhat paradoxical (the inside-outside labyrinth). But it is as a ruthless metaphysical proposition worked through to one conclusion that this and other Hejduk projects gain their conviction. The Metaphysical School of architecture is largely Post-Modern, as we will see, and Hejduk might be considered one of its members except that his concerns are more purely formal than metaphysical. He has created a primitive semantic architecture (the Babar House, the Bye House, etc.) and that Post-Modern concern makes him more difficult to classify as a Late-Modernist. But his semantic coding remains more private than public, more hermetic than shared. Likewise, as Kenneth Frampton has pointed out,8 his architecture implies an isolated, rural landscape rather than an urban one; it stands apart from any context as the supreme, detached monument, rather than forming part of an order. For this reason it is interesting to compare it to urban schemes of the Rationalists which are also based on a twenties revivalism and rotational order.
Charles Jencks, Architecture today (1982), pp.78-9.

7. See "Out of Time and Into Space" in A+U, 1975:5, pp.3-4.
8. See Kenneth Frampton, "John Hejduk and the Cult of Humanism" in Five Architects, pp. 135-142.




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