Marianna Charitonidou

The Relationship between Interpretation and Elaboration of Architectural Form: Investigating the Mutations of Architecture's Scope



Marianna Charitonidou
2014-2018 (Doctoral Degree awarded unanimously on 13 September 2018)

Advisors: George Parmenidis (Professor NTUA), Jean-Louis Cohen (Sheldon H. Solow Professor in the History of Architecture Institute of Fine Arts of New York University) and Panayotis Tournikiotis (Professor NTUA)
Examiners and readers: George Parmenidis (Professor NTUA), Jean-Louis Cohen (Sheldon H. Solow Professor in the History of Architecture Institute of Fine Arts of New York University) and Panayotis Tournikiotis (Professor NTUA), Pippo Ciorra (Professor School of Architecture of Ascoli Piceno, University of Camerino, MAXXI), Constantinos Moraitis (Professor NTUA), Bernard Tschumi (Professor GSAPP Columbia University of New York) and Kostas Tsiambaos (Assistant Professor NTUA))

In my PhD dissertation, I examined how the concept of the addressee of architecture has transformed throughout the twentieth century, demonstrating how the mutations of the dominant means of representation in architecture are linked to the evolving significance of the city’s inhabitants. It presents the ways in which the reorientations regarding the dominant modes of representation depend on the transformations of architects’ conceptions of the notion of citizenship. Through the diagnosis of the epistemological debates corresponding to four successive generations – the modernists starting from the 1920s, the post-war era focusing on neorealist architecture and Team 10, the paradigm of autonomy and the reduction of architecture to its syntactics and to its visuality in the 1970s and the reinvention of the notion of the user and the architectural program through the event in the post-autonomy era – it identifies and analyses the mutations concerning the modes of representation that are at the heart of architectural practice and education in each generation under consideration. It traces the shifts from Le Corbusier and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s fascination with perspective to Alison and Peter Smithson’s Cluster City diagrams and Shadrach Woods’s “stem” and “web”, on to Peter Eisenman’s search for logical structures in architectural components’ formal relationships and his attraction to axonometric representation, and finally to the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) and Bernard Tschumi’s concern with uncovering the potentialities hidden in the architectural program. Special attention was paid to the concept of dispositif as understood by Michel Foucault. What interests me mostly regarding this concept is that it does not treat the heterogeneous systems – that is to say the object, subject, language, and so on – as homogeneous. In parallel, not only the different systems are characterised by heterogeneity, but the inside of each system is also understood as heterogeneous. In other words, the systems are composed by interacting forces that are at a continuous state of becoming, “always off balance”, to borrow Gilles Deleuze’s words. Such an understanding of the articulation of systems and of the relationships within each system implies that what is at the centre of the interest when an object of research is comprehended as dispositif are the relationships between all the parameters and the relationships between the interacting forces composing each parameter. My choice to place particular emphasis on the use of drawings as main means of evidence is based on the hypothesis that new conceptions of space and new modes of inhabitation are addressed through architectural design process before they have been theorised. These reinvented modes of assembling the real and the fictive dimension of architecture are addressed through written discourse much later than their concretisation though the establishment of specific dispositifs of architectural non-discursive signs. What I argued is that there is a time lag between the elaboration of new conceptions of fabrication of space assemblages and modes of inhabiting the constructed assemblages and their theorization. My research was based on the hypothesis that one can diagnose how the concept of architecture’s addressee is transformed through the study of how the modes of representation that are at the epicentre of the interest at each historical time change. The way the modes of representation change show how the conception of architecture’s addressee change. The realisation that at each historical era a certain mode of representation was privileged was pivotal. My strategy of interpreting how the architects conceive the notion of “architecture’s addressees” through the investigation of how they fabricate their drawings permitted me to examine conjointly two questions that in most cases are treated independently and in isolation one from the other: the question of the transformation of the modes of representation in architecture and the question of transformation of the concept of the addressee of architecture.
The methodological choice to use a means very specific to architecture, such as its very modes of representation, in order to diagnose the mutations of the way architecture incorporates or responds to situations that belong to different spheres, such as the social and political domains, reveals the articulations between architecture’s specificity and its social and institutional context. The PhD dissertation is based on a generational organisation and unfolds around four generations. For each generation, the research focuses on emblematic architects that affected significantly the epistemology of architecture of the corresponding generation. Two aspects that are at the heart of the analysis are: how each of the architects under study conceive the “observers”, who interpret their architectural representations; how through the design of buildings they shape a model of “users”, who are to inhabit the spaces they conceive. In each representation, because of the fact that the conception of form in architecture addresses to a use, the construction of a “fictive user” takes necessarily place. The first generation, which includes Le Corbusier and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, is characterised by the tendency to define in a holistic and homogenised way the “fictive user”. The analysis shows how, during this period, the construction of the “fictive user” is focused on the assumption of the existence of a “universal user”. In the case of the second generation, which begins in 1945 and includes Ludovico Quaroni, Ernesto Nathan Rogers and Team 10, the concept of the “fictive user” is defined according to national contexts. In this period, we can discern the development of ethnocentric models not only in architecture but also in cinema as in the case of Neorealist Italian cinema. For the third generation, the analysis focuses on the modes of representation of John Hejduk, Peter Eisenman, Aldo Rossi and Oswald Mathias Ungers and shows how their approaches are related to the tension between the individual and the collective. An aspect that is also examined is how the architects under study corresponding to the third generation introduce the critique of functionalism in their design process. The fourth generation, which includes Rem Koolhaas and Bernard Tschumi, is characterised by the effort to reveal that within the same “fictive user” there are opposing trends and forces. The “fictive user”, therefore, is perceived as a fragmented and multidimensional subject. The thesis unfolds the reasons for which in each generation a mode of representation was privileged and shows how the primacy of specific modes of representation is linked to the way the “observers” of architectural drawings and the inhabitants or architectural artefacts are conceived.
Regarding the first generation, examined in the first part of the PhD dissertation entitled “The Homogeneous Aesthetes: Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier’s Addressees”, I demonstrated that what was at the centre of interest during the modernist era was the individuality of architecture’s addressees and their bourgeois identity. Architecture, in this case, symbolized the property value. I examined the reasons for which Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier attached particular importance to the use of the perspective representation. The analysis of the particular features of these architects’ construction of perspective representations for their architectural projects was treated as a diagnostic mechanism. What my research diagnosed was how the above-mentioned architects conceived the relationship between universality and individuality, which was of particular importance not only to the above architects but also to the architectural modernist discourse in general. The second generation is examined in the second part of my PhD dissertation, entitled “Post-war Engaged Users as Activators of Change: Ludovico Quaroni, Ernesto Nathan Rogers and Team 10’s Addressees”. What was at the core of architectural epistemology in these creators’ work were the intensification of interest in the concept of user and the impact of the standardization of architecture on the concept of mass-production. The shift from an understanding of architecture’s addressee as individual towards its understanding as user occurred progressively. I could refer to the emergence of Ernst Neufert’s Bauentwurfslehre as a first sign of such a reorientation, but the most significant mutations occurred after WWII and are related to the ambiguity between citizenship and consumerism. In the third part of the PhD thesis entitled “Subjects as Interpreters of Signs: Peter Eisenman, John Hejduk, Aldo Rossi and Oswald Mathias Ungers’s Addressees”, I examined yet another shift in the understanding of architecture’s addressee: this time, rather than being apprehended as a user, he became a subject. I demonstrated how this conception implies that the meaning or signification of architecture cannot but be co-constructed by the architect and the addressee. The elaboration of the term “subject” implies the complementarity between object and subject and the complementarity between the architect and the addressee for the establishment of the meaning of architecture, reminding us the important fact that the interpretation of architecture depends on the de-codification of architecture by its addressee. In the fourth part of the PhD thesis entitled “The Fragmented Subjects as Actors of Programmatic Devices: Rem Koolhaas and Bernard Tschumi’s Addressees”, I analysed the processes through which Koolhaas and Tschumi converted the concept of program in architecture into a design strategy, taking as a starting point of the design process the dynamic nature of urban conditions.

In the following article you can read an extended summary of my PhD Dissertation: Marianna Charitonidou, “Architecture’s Addressees: Drawing as Investigating Device,” in villardjournal 2, Università Iuav di Venezia, 2020.

My PhD dissertation was based on archival research in various archives at the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal, Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles, Fondation Le Corbusier in Paris, the Library of Congress in Washington DC and the Museum of Modern Art of New York (Mies van der Rohe papers), Avery Library’s Department of Drawings & Archives at Columbia University in New York, and Museo nazionale delle arti del XXI secolo (Aldo Rossi papers) among other institutes.