assemblage + architecture
- ---- by Jeffrey A.BellIn his inﬂuential analysis of Ten Canonical Buildings: 1950-2000, architect and theoretician Peter Eisenman draws upon Deleuze, Derrida, and others in demonstrating how the history of architecture has been a continual attack upon traditional dualisms within architectural practice - namely, the dualistic relations between subject/object, figure/ground, solid/void, and part/whole (E 2008). Eisenman draws particular attention to Deleuze's concept of the figural and Derrida's understanding of the undecidable as effective starting points for rethinking architecture as a practice that is irreducible to an either/or relationship. Eisenman could equally well have stressed Deleuze's concept of an assemblage. An assemblage, for Deleuze, entails a consistency of elements that is irreducible to a traditional dualism - e.g. form-substance relation - and yet assemblages 'swing between territorial closure that tends to restratify them and a deterritorializing movement that on the contrary connects them with the Cosmos' (D&G 1987: 337). Assemblages therefore risk, yet avoid collapsing into actualised stratification or actualised deterritorialisation. An assemblage is thus a dynamic assemblage, a multiplicity that is drawn into a plane of consistency that maintains itself without being reduced to either side of a dualistic relation.Crucial to connecting Deleuze's understanding of assemblages with architecture is the important role multiplicity plays for Deleuze in developing a philosophy that avoids dualism. In response to the claim that Deleuze (and Deleuze and Guattari) put forth a philosophy that relies on numerous dualisms - such as virtual/actual, deterritorialisation/reterritorialisation, intensive/extensive, etc. - Deleuze denies the claim and argues that what he and Guattari have sought to do is to 'find between the terms. . .whether they are two or more, a narrow gorge like a border or a frontier which will turn the set into a multiplicity, independently of the number of parts' (D 1987: 132). Similarly, the architect avoids dualism by finding an assemblage that is a multiplicity irreducible to the dualistic terms that are used to identify what it is the architect is doing.To clarify by way of example, an important dualism among architectural theorists in thinking about modernism is that between autonomy and heteronomy. Modern architecture, as exemplified by Le Corbusier among others, stresses the autonomy of function in opposition to an architecture that relies upon historically and culturally dependent designs and motifs. It is for this reason that Le Corbusier, in his Towards a New Architecture, will look to American grain elevators for inspiration and criticise the ornately designed buildings found in the Baroque revival architecture of his day (C 1986). The ideal for an autonomous architecture is to produce a building whose design is independent of the cultural context, including references to earlier styles and periods. This is evidenced in Le Corbusier's Chandigarh project in India as well as his proposals for Algiers. The design of these buildings bears no relationship to the architectural styles one would find in India or Algiers, and hence the autonomy of the architecture. Peter Eisenman will also stress the autonomy of architecture, which for him means that an architect ought to concern himself with addressing purely architectural problems and solutions and they should avoid drawing non-architectural elements into their work. Eisenman's Houses I-XI, for example, are thus for Eisenman purely architectural assemblages that do not refer to anything other than architectural elements. Architect Michael Graves, by contrast, has defended the use of the figurative in architecture and has designed buildings that clearly represent other historical and cultural elements - take his Swan and Dolphin resort at Walt Disney World, where a large swan statue is prominently used in the design. Despite Eisenman's concern for avoiding dualistic relations within architecture, it appears he exemplifies an autonomous as opposed to a heteronomous architecture.With Deleuze's concept of an assemblage we can rethink this dualism between autonomous and heteronomous architecture. As a dynamic and consistent multiplicity of elements, an architectural assemblage 'swing[s] between', to recall Deleuze and Guattari's formulation cited above, 'territorial closure' on the one hand and a deterritorialising movement on the other. An autonomous architecture thus swings in the direction of territorial closure for it excludes and disenfranchises elements that are not part of the architectural territory; and a heteronomous architecture swings towards a deterritorialising movement in that it includes non-architectural elements (e.g. swans, dolphins, etc.). As an assemblage, however, the point precisely is the swing between these two tendencies, the dynamic tension that neither resolves the tension dialectically, nor becomes actualised as one tendency in opposition to the other. From this perspective, architecture is an assemblage that involves both territorial and architectural elements and deterritorialising non-architectural elements.The concept of an assemblage also elucidates Aldo Rossi's understanding of the city in Architecture of the City (R 1984). With his notion of locus, or place, Rossi is able to set forth an understanding of the city that neither reduces it to being a single place, an organic totality, nor reduces the city to being the result of a totalising plan or function (as was Le Corbusier's ideal). Rather, a city consists of a series of significant places - or loci - that together constitute an assemblage that is irreducible to the places themselves but which is not a totality separable and distinct from these places. A city is thus an assemblage or emergent property of these significant places.More recently Reiser + Umemoto have incorporated Deleuze's concepts of multiplicity and assemblage into their architectural design procedures (RU 2006). In contrast to an Aristotelian model that would seek to find a mean between two extremes, Reiser + Umemoto call for an architecture that entails both extremes. They seek, in short, to pursue assemblages that simultaneously swing towards territorial closure and deterritorialising movement, and in doing so develop an architecture that avoids the traditional dualisms of form/matter and order/disorder. The concept of an assemblage is therefore not only a productive way of using Deleuze's thought to rethink architectural practice, it has increasingly become incorporated by architects themselves as an integral part of how they both conceptualise and carry out their work.
The Deleuze dictionary. Revised Edition Edited by Adrian Parr . 2010.
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