Wednesday, 8 February 2012

being ornamental

[I would, as ever, earnestly love to have your feedback, thoughts and counter-theologies]

- This is a completely unbloggable piece of writing, if you would prefer it as a pdf do email me and I can offer it in a more intuitive format.
- The sketchbook cuttings with which I break up this gargantuan column of text are unrelated to adjacent bits of writing.
- I coin phrases, frequently without justification or explanation. This is the most frequent criticism I recieve, along with long sentences, failed syllogisms and generally erratic clauses.. So to try to preempt that coining complaints: Religiose and religione are pejorative to describe the attitude and faith of the self-righteous, 'religion' would also cover the damage done that I wish to convey, but it comes with too much baggage. Nuditism, differs from nudism as scientism differs from science, it is explicitly a belief in the saving power of the thing. Aedicule is not my coinage, but a real word applied to architecture by Summerson to speak of the phenomenon of the miniature. Angelological, also a real word, describing the study of angels.]

Being Ornamental:
On the motive forces of an ornamental world view and why we disornament

“Lack of Ornament is sign of spiritual strength” (Loos, p21)

Prompted by the enduring criminalisation of ornament, this essay would like to explore ornament's presuppositions in the hope of arriving at such an alternative as might render ornament possible, meaningful and delightful. It intends to speak of the noumenal/phenomenal dualism, which ultimately precludes ornament, as a dualism begetting and begotten by a solipsistic, disembodied and religiose mode of being towards reality: a mode emerging subtly in the work of Ruskin, to a clarity in Semper and triumphalistically in Loos. Analogically, in this dualism, ornament is the optimistic veil of clothing over the naked body of a meaningless reality. Because these three writers employ clothing metaphors, we will speak a little regarding clothes and disrobement's implications for ornament. Finally, drawing on Summerson and Heidegger from this semester's reading, the essay hopes to offer for ornament an antidotal mode of being which is intersubjective, embodied and hedonistic, seen in the play of a dolls house as a ready-to-hand aedicule.

Concerning the Truth problem of ornament, if the answer to Pilate's question “What is truth?”(John 18:38 ESV) is “to say of what is that it is”(Aristotle (Metaphysics 1011b25)), we are left then to ask, what is? And to what 'is' should architecture be true? The problem we make for ourselves is illustrated in the castigation of Ruskin's 'supposed honesty' (Davies, p85) on the basis that Gothic's carved leaves are 'not real leaves'.(Davies, p85) This highlights something of the problem in the modern conception of that 'real' regarding which we are obliged to be honest. For the 'reality' which the modernist defends is here assaulted by no mere foliated dishonesty but an affront to the foundational truth upon which he bases his hope: 'truth to materials' is all when the material is the only ground for truth following the divinisation of a unified system of natural causes. I would contrast this with the real of an allusive universe, wherein reality is found to be a 'this' which is really about 'that'. In such an existence it would be entirely legitimate, and indeed true, to ornament in speaking of what is: that is, the parabolic God, who is there. I am speaking simplistically, but I hope I can draw us out first to the changed 'real' which has occluded our ornamenting, and second drawing us on whither our stone leaves.

I intend to write as academically as I can find the footnotes for, but equally personally, there is something in ornament's person-ality which forgives and requires an appeal to discover, in architecture, those elements which are, in Alexander's terms “alive in themselves...connected to us...personal” (Alexander, p308). Further, by way of apology, arguing through allegory especially in an area so potentially fraught, subjective and emotive as nudity and shame is a risk, but one which seemed a gauntlet run consistent to meet Loos' polemic with polemic by.

If a battle(Taylor, p108) for ornament was being fought at the turn of the twentieth century, the war, I believe, had already been lost. The landscape of available vocabulary and the evidence of any validating demonstration that might have been brought to ornament's defence had already been eroded.

Francis Schaeffer has fashioned some conceptual constructions to make sense of the shift which I will borrow and I will presume on his argumentation somewhat. It interests me less the case he makes for Modernism's origins in the Enlightenment's origins in the Renaissance, which is made by many, but rather the mechanism for its evolution. Schaeffer observes the birth of autonomous man through the expression of a reality read in the dichotomy Nature-and-Grace, where the Grace of heavenly things is the 'Upper Storey' and Nature is those bodily, earthly things in the 'Lower Storey'.(Schaeffer, p16 ) This is a familiar neo-Platonic dualism, but rendered helpfully in a language that is less static than a body/spirit duality. His storeys allow for a progression of concepts to pass into and out of the sacred over time.

The act of divorcing these two, Nature and Grace, is an act of authorship, of writing reality as if from outside, usurping the happy authorial relationship Grace had had with Nature which sustained their meaningful integration. Further, the autonomy to elect what exactly to put in these storeys is inherently unstable, with Cartesian doubt and logical positivism among the few tools in autonomy's epistemological toolbox (Tinker & Tinker, p202). Accordingly the Lower Storey degenerates, mechanistically, to an utter determinism. Taylor speaks of an 'intensification, almost exacerbation,' (Taylor, p3) of entrenching mechanisms of Modernism's critical competences and logic. Concurrently, the Upper Storey of ideals and meaning-making mutates to 'Freedom' following the death of God. Even then it struggles against a rising tide of united machinery which is absorbing everything once considered sacred. The unity desired downstairs is exclusive by definition and totalising in its ambition: the particulars of mechanics insatiably consume the fleeting Grace above them.

This does not happen all at once, there is a generational and geographical migration of this dualism and its effects, but, more importantly for this study, there is a migration across disciplines working its way outwards to the slower moving disciplines, in a manner alluded to by Evans, who proposes that “it is not unlikely that harmonic theory passed into architecture as an evacuee rather than as a coloniser.”(Evans, p265) Harmonic theory had pretended authority to define beauty in music by inalienable laws, ratios and mystique, and this indivisibly singular assurance was the composer's confidence. When harmony was exposed as both more complex and less mysterious, we observe the migration of whole-number legitimating mechanisms: we see failed ideals in a flight from a rationality which is ironing out the superstitious glitches of music's upper storey into architecture's, for a time.

Schaeffer identifies the 19th century realisation of the vanity of the project to unify knowledge in this manner:(Schaeffer, p46) this Lower Storey with all of its might of mechanised industry and scientism had not arrived at an ideal, but rather a unified and total pessimism. The chasm to the upper storey had only grown. It now manifested a 'Line of Despair'. The answer here, in both Christian and Secular Existentialism, is a 'Leap of Faith', whereby one resigns one's rationality in order to retain rationalism. A non-rational upper storey is manufactured, untouchably aloof from the demands of the machine below. We do so irrationally, and without thought to consequence because “man as man is dead.”(Schaeffer, p47) Into this non-rational Upper Storey we can store all the faith and fragile fineries that were under threat, for a time.

In using 'upper storey', 'leap of faith' and 'line of despair', I am deferring to this construction, which, for the tidy topology of its diagrammatic reduction of philosophical evolution, appeals for an application in the question of ornament, stowed, safely as it is, in the Upper Storey. Ornament flees hence because, within modernity, it will not fit our systems of knowing. It is dead weight in the machine for living in that we have constructed, and so we must move it to the upper storey to fill the vacuum up there.

The makeshift and unstable resolution to the dichotomy of nature and grace has far-reaching effects. Of chief interest to us is the notion that the instability of this dichotomy precipitates various defence and coping mechanisms which manifest themselves in the detail and debate of ornament. Firstly, in order to legitimise the dichotomy, art and/or ornament within the upper storey becomes sacred in and of itself, so to spiritualise the dispirited man. Secondly, in order to defend itself from the lower storey, art/ornament becomes spectacle, so by sensation to affect the desensitised man. And thirdly, in order to appease both warring factions, ornament is wilfully compromised through an explanatory language of clothing.

Ornament as Sacred: this is Art for Art's sake in the domain of ornament. It is a faith in pure ideal against that age of mechanical reproduction going on full steam downstairs. As Benjamin observes: “art reacted with the doctrine of l'art pour l'art, that is, with a theology of art...'pure' art, which ... denied any social function of art.”(Benjamin, p218) Ornament, in this way, becomes the object of our hope, a mysterious cultic trinket rendered in a sentimental style, which we hope, inexplicably, will save us, and will give, to our building, meaning.

Ornament as Spectacle: an imposed illusion on an epic scale, a decadent and dictatorial substitute for a former ornament. Rather as war, in Benjamin's terms, “supplies artistic gratification of sense perception,” (Benjamin, p235) so ornament is mere affect: a complicity in a Babel project, writ large and defended frankly. Spectacular ornament is the estimation of sensation above any slow, subtle speaking of love, which is surprisingly defended by Moussavi who notes that “ornamental mass movements in a stadium “bestow form to a given matter,' these buildings produce affects that seem to grow directly from matter itself. ... overcom[ing] the need to 'communicate' through a common language.”(Moussavi, p7) Ornament, for her,“is the figure that emerges from the material substrate, the expression of embedded forces”(Moussavi, p8) The use of a passive 'emerge' is indicative of a faith in impersonal, or apparently impersonal, forces, and the ambition to overcome 'communication' is reminiscent of exactly the destruction of language(Debord, Thesis 192) which Debord damns in his Society of Spectacle.

If the sacred and the spectacular are the modes of ornament after the upper storey leap, how is this reconciled to the lower storey? By what unifying picture can one explain the need of these things? Through what allegory can we make this known? I would argue that the metaphor of clothing employed by Ruskin, Semper and Loos, displays the depth and breadth of widespread acceptance of this radically dualised world emerging at their moment in history. Clothes serve as a picture of the freely chosen personal which adorns a given body; they are the demountable image of a thing. Clothing as a metaphor is not self-evidently legitimate and it carries with it assumptions of a dis-integrated world.

Ruskin's considerable opus presents us with a certain contradiction regarding ornament-as-integral or ornament-as-applied. This is illuminated in Chatterjee's reading of Ruskin, particularly with reference to his prescriptions regarding restoration. My hypothesis would venture that a younger Ruskin speaks critically of the ornament-as-detached-from-social-core, any alternative to which he is later at a loss to provide philosophical means to enable and so endorses a totally compromised restoration-as-veneer. In doing so, he exposes his deeper conviction as to the centre of architectural meaning, in what constitutes a long crisis of faith for him, a crisis which, I will argue, corresponds to Schaeffer's line of despair and the death of man.

For the notion of Ruskin as no mere revivalist in his concept of the value of Gothic I am indebted to Hardman who establishes two categories in Ruskin's architectural vision, that of 'Primary' and 'Secondary' architecture, where, "Secondary architecture … is imported and propagandistic … superimposed by imperial requirements … pseudo-transcendentalist rather than truly mythical or realist… it is a merely imaginary aesthesis … that exists in vacuo … its hypothesised population, undifferentiated or stereotyped..."(Hardman, p192) and, "Primary architecture … is rooted in landscape and vernacular traditions. It exists in perpetuity … it is reconciled to the accidents of its own material, not offering to ‘defy’ the fallen nature of the world and its inhabitants."(Hardman, p193) The Primary is the architecture Ruskin would like to believe in, one which romantically, and against his deeper assumptions, he seeks to promote.

Chatterjee expounds the contradiction in Ruskin, first by establishing the manner in which Ruskin conceives a building as a person, “endowed with spirit”(Swenarton via Chatterjee, p3) and “expressing personality”(Swenarton, via Chatterjee, p10), where ornament is its “bodily expression of thought”(Ruskin via Chatterjee p3), and crucially that can “die”(Ruskin via Chatterjee, p3) and it is “impossible ... to raise that dead.”(Ruskin via Chatterjee, p3) In this little handful of slightly strained and contextless quotations we can derive, firstly, Ruskin's abandonment of a resurrection faith, which is a resignation to Schaeffer's death of man, but much more importantly, we see the sentiment that buildings 'live' and, Chatterjee expands, that their life consists in those externalities of ornament and façade and so dies architecture in the decay and disruption of surface rather than by any structural failure: “The whole finish of the work was in the half inch that is gone.”(Ruskin via Chatterjee, p4) The prominence of façade in a Ruskinian view of architecture, or at the very least, among the Ruskinianisms that he, even unwittingly, inspired, is corroborated by the much attested power of his illustrations to inspire, which far outweighed the substance of his social argument in the minds of much of his readership.

However, it is in Ruskin's friendship and intellectual exchange with Carlyle's Transcendentalism, that we find, perhaps, the firmest grounds to speak both of Ruskin's shifting spiritual convictions and of the theoretical framework which explicitly informed his theory of ornament. Hardman summarises the Ruskin's shift thus:“urgently seeking a viable alternative to ... medieval Christian humanism, ... in Dante's response to Aristotle ... he knew this would be inadequate for the harsher world of Darwinism and aggressive imperialism”(Hardman, p191) Darwinism was, for Ruskin, an imperialism laying siege to, and scaling the walls of, his upper storey.

In their letters, Carlyle speaks of casting off his former faith as “Hebrew old clothes” and within this frame Ruskin speaks of his faith as “fluttering in weak rags,”(Ruskin, Works 36 p115) under the torment of those “Geologists' ... dreadful hammers”. Surveying their correspondence, Cate, sees at last a Ruskin emerging, “closer to the Carlylean mould and farther removed from the faith of his fathers"(Cate, p14) Furthermore, that in Ruskin, "the gulf between his rational and his emotional approaches to the world widened, rather than narrowed, in the course of his life.."(Cate, p58)

Carlyle's intriguing book Sartor Resartus, is suggested by Chatterjee to have been formative in Ruskin's adoption of a clothing frame of ornament. We see in this book a theory, an ontology, considered through clothes. Carlyle claims:“Clothes have made Men of us” (Carlyle, Sartor Resartus) where otherwise we would merely be, “To the eye of vulgar Logic ... a Soul, a Spirit, and divine Apparition.”(Carlyle) and cements the dichotomy thus: “his Body and the Cloth are the site and materials whereon and whereby his beautified edifice, of a Person, is to be built.”(Carlyle) And so then, within this construction, “The first purpose of Clothes, as our Professor imagines, was not warmth or decency, but ornament.”(Carlyle)

Within this framework, Ruskin's understanding of ornament as the location of both the soul and the person of a building in the manner of clothing, is made clear. In attempting this mystical division Ruskin uses categories of labelling which fit snugly into Schaeffer's storeys, he goes so far as to label “higher” the elements of ornamentation over against the technical and construction “lower” elements which it masked.(Chatterjee, p5)

Semper, one among a number of 19th Century theoreticians seeking a legitimising origin to the practice of architecture, a seeking which I would posit is for them a search for a cosmological argument for the new God upstairs. Alluding to the source of ornament, Semper's identifies a 'Hearth' at the centre of ancient architectures, however, notably, he proceeds to marginalise this theoretical centre as he progresses into his analogy of ornament as dressing; going so far as to claim that cultural evolution necessarily entails such a separation of hearth from decoration. From the outset Semper presumes that decoration impersonally evolves through uncritical adoption of dead forms inherited without communicated meaning. This is the justification made for his particular anthropological method: “Hellenic culture could only have arisen on the humus of many past traditions long since dead and decayed and from alien motives brought over from without and no longer intelligible in their original meaning.”(Semper, p101) This theory of Hellenic evolution foreshadows the widespread default to spectacle following a disbelief in language's capacity to carry meaning. His method of navigating history is one that relies on the inspired autonomous individual, in this case Semper, to be our guide and interpreter of these mysteries, the high priest who makes plain and makes relevant the decoration in which his audience and client are to be bedecked.

Using this method, he argues that architecture begins with the hearth,“Throughout all phases of society the hearth formed that sacred focus around which the whole took order and shape. ... It is the first and most important, the moral element of architecture.”(Semper, p102) This hearth is not simply a form of fire at the geometric centre of a construction, but rather the sacred non-negotiable which defines a culture: “[architecture should] also make the form and character of its creations dependent on the ideas embodied in them...”(Semper, p102) it argues that craft follows concept, and that the way we world-build is derived from the unifying world-view that we have. But here ends any examination into that relationship, indeed, in speaking of Ruskin's hopes (Mallgrave, p188-9) for such authenticity, Semper protests:“How unfair it is to reproach our architects for lack of invention, when there is nowhere a new concept of universal historical importance being pursued with force and vigour. First provide some new ideas; then we architects shall find architectural expression for them. Until then, we have to be content with the old.”(Semper, p284)

What follows in Semper's writing on architecture is a substantial emphasis on 'dressing the body's nakedness'(Semper, p254), its analogies and applications. Explicitly praising the Greek thus: “Among these old traditional, formal elements of Hellenic art, none is so profoundly important as the principle of dressing and incrustation. It dominated all of pre-Hellenic art and by no means diminished or languished in the Greek style, but survived highly spiritualised, serving beauty and form alone, more in a structural-symbolic than in a structural-technical sense.”(Semper, p248) This spiritualisation of the ornamental process aims thus: “the material disappears behind the radiant polychrome dressing and becomes pure form.”(Mallgrave, p39)

The interaction a young Loos made with Semper in his 1898 article The Principle of Dressing(Loos via Risselada, p122), where by referencing Semper's argument for the derivation and legitimation of ornament from ancient wall-hangings, Loos reveals his roots and true affections. It becomes clear that where he fails in practice to embody the polemic of Ornament and Crime, it is where he has not fully realised the opposition of the faith he has in an evolution of culture towards the mechanically hygienically determined and the hope and memory he still holds that architecture should yet be delightedly evocative. From his practice it could be argued that the interiorising of ornament in work of Loos' practice reflects the privatisation of faith which is embarrassed at its irrational affection for ornament. The embarrassment stems from a flaw in Loos dichotomy: that is too absolute to attain. This is shown in the contrast he makes between two contemporary attitudes towards ornament.

Firstly: “The aristocrat...knows that the hours in which they work are their holy hours. The revolutionary would go to them and say 'It is all nonsense.' Just as he would pull down the little old woman from the wayside crucifix and tell her: 'There is no God.' The atheist among the aristocrats, on the other hand, raises his hat when he passes a church.” which is an excellent preaching against hypocrisy even if it assumes no 'holy time' and only power play. However, he does not escape religione as this critique leaves a religiose gap to fill.

Secondly, to fill the void left by the revolutionary, Loos establishes his own notion of the Upper story, assuming that this dualism is the mode by which primitive people engaged ornament, and that we in our current condition merely exchange in the content of the non-rational upper storey, Loos substitutes Art for art's sake as the opiate joy“I tolerate ornaments on my own body, when they constitute the joy of my fellow men. Then they are my joy too... for they all have no other way of attaining the high points of their existence. We have art, which has taken the place of ornament.”(Loos, p24)

I have attempted to parallel Ruskin, Semper and Loos' dichotomous language regarding ornament to illustrate how the comparison of architectural ornament with clothing assumes and exacerbates the divided self. I will now argue, within their clothing language, that this dualism is always power-play trading in shame, in a way much similar to Scheler's discussion of shame and the dualised man: “the essential characteristic of shame [is] conflict between man's spiritual powers and his servitude to his body. [Scheler] speaks of a bridge or passage between these two orders of being that is essential for man in order for him to be human. This is shame rooted in the nature of man.”(Lynd, p262 Note:22d)

To the extent that this dualism is pursued it observably leads to a nudistic mode of being and building, that is, by shame, to the morally, emotionally, or politically motivated abandonment of ornament and clothes. And this is no mere strip tease, but a moral crusade driven by the religiose zeal that lies at the heart of modernism: the division of the personhood of a person from the parts of their being is a reductive exercise of power, observable across imperial political powers responsible for the absurdity and depravity of much 20th Century social architecture.

“...modern man uses his clothes as a mask. So immensely strong is his individuality that it can no longer be expressed in articles of clothing. Freedom from ornament is a sign of spiritual strength.”(Loos, p24)

Emphatically what I am arguing for is not new clothes but a change of metaphor. However, I will indulge the sentiment as far as it helps explain the whither of our stone leaves. Clothing in this case is that expression of freedom and personhood which has been put into the upper storey for safekeeping from the rationalistic determinism of our body beneath.

In exploring the disornamenting disrobement parallel, it seems right to cite first, the early 20th Century German Free Body culture, particularly Pudor, an exact contemporary of Loos and author of Nacktkultur and then the slightly later Suren of Man and Sunshine. Clothes for Pudor are a weapon by which“the aristocracy of the "upper 10,000" held the nation down”(Pudor, p122 via Williams, p26 ) paralleling Loos' political advocacy for “...those trades that groan under the tyranny of the ornamentalist...”(Loos, p23) For both Loos and Pudor man is primarily a spirit, they share a gnostic vision of future hope and a platonic contempt for the material, sensual and embodied. Consistent with Corbusier, these advocates of Modernism, “sensuality and sensible experience are inferior to rationality” (Taylor, p108) and even, for Suren, that, “the body itself was a completely asexual object: yet another machine for living in.”(Worpole, p44-45)

Each of these nuditisms aggressively attempts to celebrate a crucially atrophied notion of what it means to be human. Each shaming, with a frequently racist contempt, the supposed unevolved primitivism of the dressed and embodied. This because the total person is fragmented and accordingly the parts war against one another, body against clothes, function against delight. This idealistic iconoclasm is an over-realised, future-focused construction latent still, I would venture, in the joyless minimalism of heaven-is-elsewhere warehouse churches.

Secondly, and a little later, but notably related, I would raise the nudity as Kundera presents it in his Unbearable Lightness of Being. Indulge me in an extended quotation:“Marching naked in formation with a group of naked women was for Tereza the quintessential image of horror. When she lived at home, her mother forbade her to lock the bathroom door. What she meant by her injunction was: your body is just like all other bodies; you have no right to shame; you have no reason to hide something that exists in millions of identical copies. ... Since childhood, Tereza had seen nudity as a sign of concentration camp uniformity, a sign of humiliation. There was yet another horror at the very beginning of the dream: all the women had to sing! Not only were their bodies identical, identically worthless, not only were their bodies mere resounding soulless mechanisms – the women rejoiced over it! Theirs was a joyful solidarity of the soulless. The women were pleased at having thrown off the ballast of the soul – that laughable conceit, that illusion of uniqueness – to become one like the next.”(Kundera, p54)

This imposed division of body from individuality is not the idealism of the former, Nacktkultur, rather, is the fallout from that. The consequences of that past idea, visited on the third and fourth generations. If the former was proactive, this is the reactive inheritance of learnt soullessness, which trades in shame as compensation. Visible, architecturally, I would argue, in second generation, disornamented, monolithic, social housing, in which the shame of the depersonalised is imposed, with a policed joyfulness, on their children: who no longer have any right to shame.

Thirdly, and briefly, in this little naked triptych, I will invoke Wink's non-violent reading of the Sermon on the Mount: “And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.”(Matthew 5:40 ESV) Wink, writing in Engaging the Powers, contextualises this action as one of naked resistance:“Only the poorest of the poor would have nothing but a garment to give as collateral for a loan”(Wink, p169) And in this action. “The creditor is revealed to be not a legitimate moneylender but a party to the reduction of an entire social class to landlessness, destitution and abasement.”(Wink, p179)

If Loos' is proactive idealism and Tereza's mother's is reactive brokeness, then this is a subversive use of disrobement, which still uses confrontational shaming (because in Judaism the shame was the beholder's rather than the naked's(Wink, p179)), which still employs a division of body and person, but in this case it is a critique of the dualism. It states that by taking away my ornament the empire is doing violence to the integrity of my whole person. The aim of such a protest, in Wink's excellent words, is to “depotentiate” the Powers that Be “by deft lampooning... burlesquing its pretensions to justice”(Wink, p179)

Architecturally and immediately we could look at OccupyLondon, rendered in an architecture of bare essentials and set against systemic injustice, they are actively engaging the present, and vulnerably. Vulnerability is the key, I believe, because Loos similarly hopes to critique, by sardonic lampooning, the aristocratic powers who have so debased building by the unjust employment of a subjugated workforce towards a Secondary architecture, but Loos critiques unvulnerably, he was not stripped naked, he bore no cross.

The clothing metaphor, with the epistemological arrogance that it entails in authoring a division of reality between 'function' and the 'frivolous', is advanced by a metaphor-maker who necessarily defines himself against a childlike submission to any world bigger than he, and with that definition loses his wonder and commits himself to an ever deepening entrenchment in the knower's supposed sufficiency under the banner of the project of progress. I would argue that this sentiment, the hope in the saving power of man's intellectual evolution, is there in the three writers we have considered:

“Pompeii [belonged] to the decline of art that had again become childish,” (Semper, p250)
“mere toys” (Ruskin, Seven Lamps p46)
“We have outgrown ornament” (Loos, p20)

Loos states the ambition most clearly, speaking frankly about cultural evolution, impeded by what he calls “stragglers”(Loos, p21). Even conceding that Loos is employing hyperbolic polemic, nevertheless, this is hugely problematic, the cost he proposes to stake for progress will be the child sacrifice of eugenics. If we make 'progress' absolute, if we make it a moral measure, we will appreciate neither the sacred value of the straggler nor the sustaining importance of child's play.

I will conclude this essay with a consideration of vulnerability, of play, of what it means to come to an ornamental kingdom like a child, and the crucial ways this redresses our dualism. I will argue that play is functional, and unselfconsciously so, in the best and broadest definition of humanness. Play is a pointing toward and a delighting in the reason man is. It says of what is that it is and, what is more, is shows why it is.

To this end, Summerson introduces the device of the aedicule, which is, at the same time, a metaphor and a methodology. Establishing from the outset that the aedicule is a creative work which finds its origins in “infantile phantasy”(Jung, p83, via Summerson, p1) or, in his illustration, by play, as with a dolls house: “There is a kind of play common to nearly every child; It is symbolism – of a fundamental kind, expressed in terms of play. This kind of play has much to do with the aesthetics of architecture.” (Summerson, p1) What is more, this mode of being, so obvious in children, of fascination and intensified sensation constitute a love which, he hopes, “none of us ever entirely grows out of”(Summerson, p2) Play, in this aedicular framework is a place-making, it is an act of creative choosing, naming, valuing and making personal. It stands as a 'small house' against the 'big house' of top-down institutions and impositions on the personhood of people.

What makes this particularly relevant is the contrast he draws between an aedicular mode of architecture and the playless mis-readings of Gothic which he highlights in a critique of Viollet-Le-Duc who missed the point of Gothic qua Gothic by giving primacy to technical premises, and so inevitably arriving at “the 19th-century fallacy that architecture is a matter of structure plus adornment.” By contrast, the aedicular methodology is an integration, it is a playful rescaling, a fractal reproducing, which delights by extension and allegory, it sees man caught up in a cosmic excitement, “in the infinity of the great, but also in the infinity of the small ...a world of bewildering activity and infinity”(Worringer via Summerson, p26) The claim of the aedicule is that we do not live in a depthless universe, flattened to a human, rational scale, prescribed by theoreticians, disembodied and aloof. Rather, we live in a world re-enchanted, enlivened, one angelological that longs that we be caught up in worlds within worlds. These are the hopes that are at play in play, they are, a little bit, magic.

In my introduction I asserted that ornament died a death at the hands of solipsistic, disembodied, religiose men who dualised the world at the eventual cost of the exclusion and illegitimation of ornament. And Play is our antidote? It will embody the disembodied, hedonise the religiose and integrate the solipsistic? There is the hope.

What then is Play? Play is the excellent both-and of engaging specificity:“a pleasure in the relationship between [child] and the setting”(Summerson, p2); and totality: “[play] should awaken...the great thought of the inner constant living unity of all things and phenomena in nature”(Jacobus, p17); through the fantastical“the heightened consciousness [arising from the] all-involving spell of make-believe”(Huizinga via Jacobus p8 ) or “constructed analogy”(Summerson, p1); and mundane: 'playing is doing...[playing] is a basic form of living.”(Winnicott, via Jacobus, p9)

Very essentially, play is a free act freely engaged, echoed throughout the literature:“a definition of pure play: the activity is free, undertaken voluntarily...” (Huizinga, via Jacobus, p8) “I would understand play as that activity which is freely and spontaneously entered into..” (Johnston, p34) Freedom is the prerequisite for childish abandon is the prerequisite for the ornament that Alexander praises in Kairouan tiling which display: “a spirit of childish abandon...created whenever a person is truly free, and doing only whatever is essential, whereas the artificial, excessively formal, careful, calculated quality in a thing always comes about when the person is not sufficiently abandoned, and not free.”(Alexander, p212) This is a freedom-for, by contrast, Loos' is a freedom-from,“we have fought our way through to freedom from ornament”(Loos, p20) which is, at best, a second best freedom, a mere breaking of a bounded set is a liberation unto agoraphobia, a sailing adrift on Crossan's lighthouseless sea.(Crossan, p44)

A freedom-for, by contrast, is centred on and submitted to a play-Thing that is material and ready-to-hand. In this way play is embodied, it rewards presence and it carries the tacit know-how of craft. A happy point illuminated by Heidegger and Polanyi both playing with hammers. Heidegger for whom the hammer is used without theorising to such an extent that in fact by theorising we would more likely make a mistake. And Polanyi points us to knowledge of and delight in materials, tools and processes accessible only through that bond with the thing, developed in a dual awareness and desire "When we use a hammer...I have a subsidiary awareness of the feeling in the palm of my hand which is merged into my focal awareness of my driving in the nail."(Polanyi, p55 via Jha, p57) So must play be, and cannot be so if we are theorising ornament at any distance from the craftsman's bench.

Barthes extends this, combining an argument for play's embodiment with a politically motivated notion of freedom, to speak of a specific virtue of wood in play's materiality contrasting with the “embourgeoisement” of Barbie and her plastic which “destroys all the pleasure, the sweetness, the humanity of touch..”(Barthes, via Warner, p15) instead rather, “...when the child handles [wood] and knocks it, it neither vibrates nor grates... it is a familiar and poetic substance, which does not sever the child from close contact with the tree”

It is by the desire inherent Polanyi's tool-guiding that I would carry us to the hedonism of ornament which I believe to be antidotal to the religiose mis-constructions of ornament. Ornament, has been filed in our upper storey, the constructed panic room, in which the non-rational arts are safe from the aggressive hegemony of determinism below. From this vantage art and ornament-as-art luxuriate in their redundance which is their privilege as sacred objet in the cult of Art for Art's sake. This, by all accounts, is a corruption of ornament, and in Freud's discussing toys and totems, it has been said that “there can be no doubt that art did not begin as art for art's sake.”(Freud, via Jacobus, p20 ) And in Rookmaaker's defence of the creative gift“it also does not follow that art is to be for art's sake. Just as a tree, being more than the totality of its functions, nevertheless has functions,” (Rookmaaker, p112) In elevating ornament to religione it is divorced from the very currency of hedonism on which basis it would function, and that basis is an intersubjective gift exchange of love by needs and desires met and affections reciprocated.

This exchange is a meeting of subjects and the end of solipsism, thereby establishing ornament as both a means and an end for relationship, relationship with the other and the ordinary. The ornamental relationship is perhaps more legible in the practice of play. In play, I believe, we meet Rookmaaker's tree in the manner Buber celebrates, to quote part of his beautiful encounter with a tree:“It can, however, also come about, if I have both will and grace, that in considering the tree I become bound up in relation to it. The tree is now no longer It. I have been seized by the power of exclusiveness....Rather is everything, picture and movement, species and type, law and number, indivisibly united in this event.”(Buber, p14) Playing is meeting thus and “the player is called into play by a potential co-player or play object, and while at play, treats other players and/or "playthings" as personal, creating with them a community that can be characterized by "I-Thou" rather than "I-It" relationships.”(Johnston, p34) “[Play] weaves the fabric of subjectivity, fastening the ties between self and other,”(Warner, p9) In this way play is a shameless relating with the real, here returning to Scheler's notion of shame that originates in dichotomising body and spirit: “the essential characteristic of shame [is] conflict between man's spiritual powers and his servitude to his body. [Scheler] speaks of a bridge or passage between these two orders of being that is essential for man in order for him to be human.”(Lynd, p262 Note:22d) What we can offer is less a bridge than a causeway of play.

To conclude and return to the beginning, we play for Truth. To interrogate Winnicott's transitional object theory of play, in which, through play, the child that we were and are transfers from subjective omnipotence into an objective reality: What is that objective reality and when do we cease transitioning? I would propose, always, to read our happy stone leaves as such, as eternal transitional objects serving a constant transitioning unto the biggest dimensions of a depthless objective reality of perpetual wonder.

I have attempted to parallel Ruskin, Semper and Loos' dichotomous language regarding ornament and its comparison to clothing as a way that leads to a divided self and so to shame. I have then hoped to contrast these with the parallels found in Summerson and others who allude to an (assumed by some to be unachievable) alternative of shameless undivided wholeness that finds itself in most basic play. There is a worldview uncomplicatedly presented in the Bible that declares that we are children in our Father's arms(Luke 15:20 ESV). I would argue that this in-our-Father's-arms-ness is the prerequisite for play and so the prerequisite for ornament. Am I allowed to say that in an academic essay? If it is a true truth, then it is the truth to which architecture must be true, it is the how and why of ornament. If true.



Alexander, Christopher Nature of Order, Book 1 Phenomenon of Life (Berkeley, 2002)

AristotleMetaphysics 1011b25

Benjamin, Walter Illuminations: The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (trans. Harry Zorn) (Pimlico, London 1999)

Buber, MartinI and Thou (trans Smith, Ronald Gregor) (Continuum, London, 2004)

Carlyle, ThomasSartor Resartus Project Gutenberg,

Cate, George AllanThe Correspondence of Thomas Carlyle and John Ruskin (1982, Stanford)

Chatterjee, Anuradha – Birth, Death, and Rebirth: Reconstruction of Architecture in Ruskin’s Writings (Interstices Under Construction Symposium, Tasmania, 2011)

\\Swenarton, Mark – 'Ruskin and “the Nature of Gothic”' in Artisans and Architects: The Ruskinian Tradition in Architectural Thought (Macmillan, Basingstoke, 1989)

\\Ruskin, John – Works 36 - Letters of John Ruskin 1

\\Ruskin, John – Works 8

Crossan, Dominic – The Dark Interval: Towards a Theology of Story (Niles, Argues, 1975)

Davies, ColinThinking About Architecture (Laurence King, London, 2011)

Debord, Guy – Thesis 192

Evans, RobinThe Projective Cast:Architecture and its three Geometries (MIT Press, 1995)

Hardman, MalcolmIntellectual lens and Moral Retina: A Reappraisal of Ruskin’s Architectural Vision, Ruskin & Architecture (Spire Books, 2003)

Jacobus, Mary & Warner, MarinaOnly Make Believe: Ways of Playing (Compton Verney, 2005)

\\Barthes, Roland – 'Toys' in Mythologies, selected and translated by Annette Lavers (New York, 1972)

\\Freud, Sigmund – 'Totem and Taboo' (1913)

\\Huizinga, JohanHomo Ludens: A Study of the Play-Element in Culture, trans. R.F.C.Hull (London,1949)

\\Winnicott, D.W – Playing and Reality (1971) (Hove:Brunner-Routledge, 2001)

Jha, Stefania Ruzsits – Reconsidering Michael Polanyi's Philosophy (Pittsburgh, 2002)

\\Polanyi, MichaelPersonal Knowledge

Johnston, Robert KThe Christian at Play (Wipf & Stock, 1997)

Kundera, Milan – The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984)

Loos, AdolfOrnament and Crime (1908)

Risselada, Max(Principles of Cladding) Raumplan Versus Plan Libre: Adolf Loos Le Corbusier (010 Publishers, Rotterdam, 2008)

\\Loos, Adolf Principles of Cladding

Lynd, Helen Merrell – On Shame and the Search for Identity (1958) (Harcourt, Brace&World Inc, New York)

Mallgrave, Harry FrancisGottfriend Semper:19thCentury Architect (1996)

Mallgrave, Harry Francis & Hermann, WolfgangThe Four Elements of Architecture (CUP, Cambridge, 2010)

Moussavi, FarshidFunction of Ornament (Actar, Harvard, 2006)

OED Online Oxford University Press.

Rookmaaker, Hans The Creative Gift (IVP, Leicester, 1981)

Ruskin, JohnThe Seven Lamps of Architecture: Lamp of Truth: XV (Dover, New York, 1989)

Schaeffer, FrancisEscape from Reason (IVP, Downers Grove, 1968)

Semper, GottfriedThe Four Elements of Architecture (Trans Mallgrave,Harry Francis and Hermann, Wolfgang)(CUP, Cambridge, 2010)

Summerson, JohnHeavenly Mansions: An Interpretation of Gothic (Norton, 1998)

\\Jung, C – Psychological Traits (Trans. H G Barnes)

\\WorringerForm in Gothic, trans. H. Read (1927)

Taylor, Mark C Disfiguring: Art Architecture Religion (Chicago, 1992)

Tinker & TinkerFifty Years on - the Legacy of Francis Schaeffer - Churchman, Vol.119 Issue 3 (Autumn 2005)

Williams, John Alexander – Turning to nature in Germany: hiking, nudism, and conservation, 1900-1940

\\Heinrich Pudor – Nacktheit und Kultur (Stuttgart, c.1907)

Wink, WalterEngaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination (Fortress Augsberg, 1992)

Worpole, KenHere Comes the Sun: Architecture and Public Space in Twentieth-Century European Culture (Reakton, 2000)

1 comment:

Abre Etteh said...

Hello Phil,
I enjoyed the essay and I must say I never thought I'd hear the name of Francis Schaeffer in an architecture theory essay. I've been exploring similar themes in my graduate course also. I've read a few texts relating to this topic you might find useful:

Gevork Hartoonian; Ontology of Construction [On Nihilism of Technology and Theories of Modern Architecture]

Sedlmayr's, Art in crisis: the lost centre. [it's a good general reading on influence of modern thinking on art and architecture]

Regarding the idea of positive freedom, Dallas Willard's paper: Nietzsche vs Jesus Christ [you can find it on the Veritas forum website] in the book; A Place for Truth. Where he discusses later in the essay, truth and its relation to freedom and community.

There is also the wider discussion on ornament being eclipsed by the idea of the tectonic, which i suppose could be the topic of another essay altogether. Hope this is all useful, keep it up!