On the Interpretation of Architecture
Theory of Interpretation

Vol. 12, No. 2, December 2008


___Robert Miller
  architecture is what blows off in a hurricane



“Essences” are very elusive and are often found, on enquiry, not to exist.
John Summerson

It is a sheer waste of time to look for a difference between poetry and prose.
W.H. Auden

The interpretation of architecture hinges on what we mean by interpretation and what we take to be Architecture.

The project of architectural interpretation presupposes that architecture is an autonomous physical entity, subject to an interpreter, who explains, illuminates, or in some manner ascribes it meaning. According to this view, the value and content of the interpretation lies with the competence of the interpreter, all interpretations being valid (if not equally rewarding).

In opposition I
will assert that Architecture does not, in fact, exist as an autonomous physical entity, the significance of which is subject to the interpretation of variously-qualified interpreters. It will argue, rather, that Architecture is a non-physical construct; that this construct must be activated to come into being; and that, while the interpreter’s competence will condition his reading, there are more- and less-correct activations, their significance and depth being a function, not so much of the interpreter’s perspicuity, as of the construct’s rigor.

Finally, I will suggest that shifting the paradigm by which we understand the nature of architecture would make possible a more productive discourse and more penetrating understanding of our discipline.

1.0  The Matter of Architecture

Although architects may agree on what Architecture is not, they have never been able to say with any precision what it is. From Vitruvius’s Ten Books, to the Blondel-Perrault debates in the seventeenth century, to the missives of the Modern Masters, most architects and architectural philosophers have sidestepped a definition of Architecture as a genus in favor of making a case for the particular attributes in one of its species or the principles of one of its movements. This reticence in articulating the essential nature of the discipline has left us without a common philosophical ground from which to develop a refined practice of interpretation.

From the Renaissance into the twentieth century, the species classical architecture was practically synonymous with the genus of architecture in its entirety. There was no need and no reason to think in terms of a larger epistemological system when the set contained only one authorized member: it was a homology. Competing systems (Gothic, for example) were simply not admitted; adherents to alternative systems shunned, in their turn, the dominant classical ideology.

From the final overthrow of this dynasty developed our disciplinary tendency to sponsor change through revolution, overthrowing past, neighboring, or competing systems rather than finding common ground. Architects of all stripes, since the industrial revolution, tend to establish new positions on scorched earth with an unhealthy dose of self-righteousness, in lieu of developing more complex, nuanced, or hybrid systems. Consequently, the classical system (considered as a continuous tradition, from antiquity onward) remains the richest, most sophisticated, and highly nuanced architectural language in Western culture; most of the others have had only a couple generations of development before being scrapped, to be replaced by a fledgling enterprise bent on inventing first terms and pioneering from scratch.

Meanwhile, what is architecture? Why is it so hard to define? Is it because we don’t understand what architecture is or because we can’t agree on what constitutes architectural quality?

1.1. Defining Architecture

General definitions of architecture, such as François Blondel’s “Architecture is the art of building well [1675][3] or Michel de Frémin’s “Architecture is an Art of building having regard to the thing itself, the person for whom it is built, and the site,” [1702][4] are so generic as to be useless. Although we might expect time and the progression of tradition to provide disciplinary refinement, this has not been the case, as Le Corbusier’s entry, “architecture is the masterly, correct and magnificent play of masses brought together in light,” [1931][5] might suggest.

Not only have general definitions proven unsatisfactory, there are those who find definitions of architecture, by definition, inadequate, under the premise that architecture cannot be defined. Furthermore, perpetual transformations in the conceptualization and expression of architecture, as in art during the twentieth century, have fueled the impression that continual re-definition is, by definition, the nature of the discipline. This has led some to believe that, if architecture could be defined, its definition would already be obsolete. Others hold language incapable to grasping architecture's qualitative nature. Some in this camp have turned to poetics as a way of trying to capture what, if indirect, is at least suggestive of qualitative values, to wit, “Architecture begins when you place two bricks carefully together,”[6] a favorite saying of Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969). Similarly, Louis Kahn (1901-74) grappled with architecture through a veiled metaphorical language: “All buildings do not belong to Architecture. A work of architecture is presented as an offering to Architecture and to its Treasury of spaces.”[7] 

Most thinkers, however, simply duck the problem of defining architecture altogether. Some describe what architecture does without actually saying what it is, as did Steen Rasmussen in his handbook for esthetes and aspiring architects: “Architecture is a very special functional art; it confines space so we can dwell in it, creates the framework around our lives.” [1959][8]  More astute thinkers, such as Robert Venturi, are careful to merely allude to architecture's nature by way of making a case for their particular brand of it: “Architecture is necessarily complex and contradictory in its very inclusion of the traditional Vitruvian elements of commodity, firmness, and delight…. By embracing contradiction as well as complexity, I aim for vitality as well as validity.[9]

For two thousand years, architectural philosophers have struggled to clarify, or contradict the Vitruvian criteria of firmitas, utilitas, and venustas, but Vitruvius, in his basic simplicity, remains the benchmark against which all definitions of architecture are situated. Nelson Goodman's dictum that "description is apt, effective, illuminating, subtle, [and] intriguing, to the extent that the artist or writer grasps fresh and significant relationsships" underscores the flaw with generalized definitions of architecture and explains their lack of poignancy.[10]

1.2. Classification and Cognition

Whether as a discipline we have neglected to peg down the nature and bounds of architecture, or merely failed to reach consensus on what makes its species good, in practice we work within a limited range of unstated yet commonly held ideas about what architecture is. Understanding, after all, does not require comprehension. “Understanding a term is not a precondition [for skillfully using it], and may often be a result of learning how to apply the term and its compounds.”[11]  Pragmatically speaking, understanding is synonymous with operating proficiently around a subject. “Pictures are indeed sorted with varying degrees of ease… just as pieces of furniture are sorted into desks, tables, chairs, etc. And this fact is unaffected by the difficulty, in either case, of framing definitions for the several classes or eliciting a general principle of classification.[12] In other words, just because we can't define something in words does not mean we don't know what it is when we see it.

Our use of architecture, rather than our statements about it, may constitute a body of evidence from which a definition of architecture may be derived. The fool’s errand that is this essay, while nominally to define architecture, is to clarify how we operate around the discipline in order to fix its bounds and offer a system that will admit the a wide range of competing value systems and points of view.

As has already been suggested, architecture is not a natural or universal category; it is not an autonomous thing residing in the world that is subject to human inquiry. “Knowledge is better understood as a matter of social practices, disputes, and agreements, and not as the property of some particular mode of natural or unmediated representation.[13] To define architecture, therefore, is to examine the cultural practices that inscribe it and work backward to a statement that makes these practices comprehensible. That we may have been sloppy with definitions in the past does not mean we have not acted around architecture with precision.

After all, architecture’s essential properties are probably known, intuitively at least, to us all. Whether we can satisfactorily define architecture outright, we recognize it in contrast to other categories. As W.J.T. Mitchell puts it: “Each art, each type of sign or medium, lays claim to certain things that it is best equipped to mediate, and each grounds its claim in a certain characterization of its ‘self,’ its own proper essence. Equally important, each art characterizes itself in opposition to its ‘significant other’.

1.3. Architecture vs. Building

While in Western culture architecture has been set in opposition to sculpture, painting, and more recently to technology, its archetypal nemesis is probably building. Recalling Louis Kahn to the stand: “All buildings do not belong to Architecture.[14]  Historically, architecture has been founded upon the basic premise that, in the realm of shelter, there are two domains: architecture and building (or non-architecture) – and, let us put aside until later the question of whether architecture is exclusively confined to manifestations of shelter. After all, if all buildings were accorded the status of architecture, the distinction of architecture would be meaningless. “To admit all classifications on equal footing amounts to making no classification at all.[15]

If 50% of all building-tokens were architecture – if even one in ten qualified – we would still not approach the subset that we intuitively ascribe to the discipline. For sake of argument and for purposes of calibrating our distinction, let us concede that a minute portion  of the built environment qualifies as architecture – I would venture something less than 1%, but the reader may draw the line as seems proper. As Nelson Goodman avows, the principle our weights any particular boundary: “Classification involves preferment; and application of a label … as often effects as it records a classification…. Moreover, the object itself is not ready-made but results from a way of taking the world.[16] We take the world of architecture in the domain of building consistently with how we take celebrated cultural production in other disciplines, say literature vs. writing. In fact, most disciplines have imprecise but widely endorsed gradations of production even if, occasionally, there are hot debates as to whether certain productions qualify for the upper echelons or whether lower echelons should also be celebrated as their higher counterparts.

So let us sound the endoxa surrounding architecture to see how the culturally savvy define the discipline in practice, and try to advance a common system for interpretation. By way of a Control group, we might conduct a reductive analysis on architecture itself, removing every non-essential component to see what remains.

1.4. Material Properties

If we pair archetypal architecture against quintessential building and place each under a microscope, we will find that Architecture is not in the fibers or molecules. Zoom-in to our exemplars in increasingly magnified increments, and compare them. At some point, the profiles and components will pass from recognition and the subjects under glass will be essentially similar. Even if there happens to be a marked difference in quality of materials – slate vs. asphalt shingles, heart-pine clapboard vs. vinyl siding, Pilkington structural glass vs. run-of-the-mill aluminum storefront, gilded guttae vs. fiberglass moldings, onyx vs. gypsum-board partitions, travertine vs. concrete plinth – there is no upgrade in the fabric of what is otherwise building that will transform it into Architecture. One thinks of those splendiferously appointed yet utterly gaudy McMansions, wherein once modest tract housing has been pumped-up and tricked-out with marble veneers and winding staircases – yet one must tread cautiously, for the gaudy, in and of itself, need not eliminate an entry from the architecture column, as Morris Lapidus might have avowed. Because real architecture may be made of poor-man’s materials, as Andrea Palladio or a young Frank Gehry would have opined, we may be sure that material properties are not an essential factor. The essence of architecture is deeper than its material traits.

If not the material itself, doesn’t the craft with which a building is assembled raise the quality of the whole to the level of art? Doesn’t, for example, an Amish barn qualify? While it may be true that exquisite craft, all by itself, can bring a building’s fabric into the realm of the extraordinary, this does not necessarily make the result synonymous with architecture. The proof lies in our Control. One can readily imagine a cheap, poorly crafted architecture, the result of either lack of skill on the part of the builder or an exploration into the privileging of craft on the part of the architect – SITE’s clever but market-quality highway buildings, say, or the notoriously leaky buildings by Frank Lloyd Wright, many of which were built by their inexperienced if well-intentioned owners. The Architecture remains. In the end, while materials and craft are considered characteristic of architecture, neither is indispensible. An Amish barn may be architecture, but it is not because of its craft.

1.5. Formal Properties

fig-1.jpg (17077 Byte)
Figure 1
  Again pitting architecture against building, we can search exhaustively for formal differences (figure 1). If it is possible for a mere building to have a pitched roof, then this formal property is not essential to architecture; if one can imagine a building disposed according to a rounded plan, then curvilinear layout does not an architecture make. Cathedral ceilings, bolection mouldings, boiseries, corbelling, cosmati work, crockets, dados, domical vaults, finials, groins, hornwork, impluvia, lunettes, metopes, pendentives, pediments, pilotti, quoins, rosettes, and all the rest of it – there are no formal elements that, applied to a mere building, would necessarily transform it into architecture. If it is possible for a building to be equipped with some formal element often associated with architecture, but not subsequently transformed into architecture by virtue of its presence, then formal elements themselves cannot be a deciding or essential factor.

Our Control – starting with architecture and stripping it of every non-essential component – confirms this hypothesis. For every specialized case of architecture that utilizes enhanced formal properties of, say, composition (Palladio, Meier), light (Kahn, Ando), color (Holl, Graves), material (Gaudi, Wright), craft (Terry, Scarpa), plasticity (Bernini, Saarinen), relation-to-grade (Le Corbusier, Ambasz), space (Borromini, Mies), structure (Brunelleschi, Michelucci), technology (Eames, Rogers), typology (Loos, Krier), or signifiers (Venturi, Eisenman), we can find countermanding examples that either demonstrate opposing properties or simply ignore the domain entirely. While it may be true that the remarkable handling of light is, in and of itself sufficient to elevate what would otherwise be mere building into architecture, that all architecture need not animate itself through luminosity indicates that light, in and of itself, is not requisite for the genus.

To be sure, formal attributes seem to figure into every architectonic system, but there are no particular formal properties requisite to architecture.

1.5.1. Formal Systems

What about the Orders? Is not this component of the classical system, in and of itself, a guarantor of Architecture?

On the one hand, this is an unfair question: one cannot appropriate an architectural fragment, apply it to a mere building, and claim architectural status for the resulting assemblage as a whole. As John Summerson wrote, “in the classical language the orders are not merely pinned on to the structure but integrated with it,” and this integration distinguishes an appliqué from a whole system.[17] Moreover, the adoption of a complete classical system to the fabric of a mere building is tantamount to genetically re-engineering the original into something entirely different. But no matter, for our Control will throw out both instances of the question: if the Orders are not essential to all manifestations of architecture – and they are not, at least by consensus – then they are not requisite to architecture as a genus. The classical system is one instance of the genus and not a trait of the genus itself.

1.5.2. The Domain of Formal Properties, itself

If there is no particular set of formal properties that are common to architecture, perhaps the foregrounding and articulation of the formal domain itself is sufficient, without recourse to any specific recipe? One thing that can be said for architecture, as opposed to building, is that it tends to problematize some aspect of building and, by so doing, to exploit or enhance some previously dormant potential in the built environment.

Conceptualized by Viktor Shklovsky in his formalist manifesto of 1917, “Art as a Device,” the rationale behind priem ostranenija (literally, “the device for making strange”)[18] is to provoke awareness by pulling the world out of its mundane sameness (the latter approaching the very definition of mere building).

"Habituation devours works, clothes, furniture, ones wife, and the fear of war. If the whole complex lives of many people go on unconsciously, then such lives are as if they had never been. And art exists that one may recover the sensation of life; it exists to make one feel things, to make the stone stony. The purpose of art is to impart the sensations of things as they are perceived and not as they are known. The technique of art is to make objects “unfamiliar,” to make forms difficult, to increase the difficulty and length of perception because the process of perception is an aesthetic end in itself and must be prolonged."[19]

Priem ostranenija, or defamiliarization, makes the world come alive by making it difficult, the unexpected difficulty breaking through our habitual way of regarding and interacting with the world.[20] Preventing standard engagement through unusual, unexpected, provocative (whether outlandish or subtle), or extraordinary details – and what better symptom is there of architecture – not only disallows habitual perception but provokes awakening.

In this way the work of architecture both calls attention to itself and to its genus, for to alter the expected in a positive sense is to expand the potential of the genus. By definition, it also distinguishes itself from other works, which fuels the incessant drive for innovation and improvement. The difference between building and architecture may be the awakening it offers by taking the familiar and making it strange.

Signature architectonic languages are, after all, essentially distinct formal systems that awaken in us a marked appreciation for some aspect or potential in the built environment. Does this not suggest that, in architecture, the formal domain must in some way be brought out of the ordinary? Is not the domain of formal properties – not any particular variant, but the domain in and of itself – a guarantor of architecture?

While pragmatically this may be so, theoretically it is not. The fact that architects periodically have the presence of mind to challenge the standards and conceptions of practice allows for this meta-premise itself to be challenged, and still – or rather consequently – qualify as Architecture.

If an architecture could be developed that was absolutely lifeless, pedestrian, formally indistinct, quotidian, and undistinguished, it would challenge the basic premise underwriting architecture as we know it, and would thus offer a new possibility for the discipline. A step in this direction occurred in 1964 when Bernard Rudofsky grappled for a way to describe and authenticate an Architecture without Architects:The unfamiliar world of nonpedigreed architecture… is so little known that we don’t even have a name for it.[21] Do those remarkable examples of indigenous building and place-making that illustrate Rudofsky’s book qualify as architecture – or not? Is “nonpedigreed architecture” actual Architecture?

The first answer, from the perspective of authorship, is: No. The product of unselfconscious activity is not a work, and, in the system by which cultural production has been certified in the West since the Renaissance, such imprimatur should be requisite for work of Architecture.

The second answer, from the spatio-temporal viewpoint, is: It depends on who’s asking. Essentially, this is the Roman aqueduct problem: just because the Romans did not consider their hydrological conduits to be aesthetic masterworks, does that invalidate them from being so? Obviously, it doesn’t for us – but it did for them. Because classification is not hardwired into the physical universe, it is a matter of cultural discernment, which is a function of who is asking.

This interpretive problem is related to the question of volition: Is intention to make architecture necessary for its production? The fact that so many licensed, trained, and well-intentioned architects endeavor to create architecture, nay, devote their whole lives to doing so, but produce mere buildings tells us only that intention is not a guarantee – it doesn’t prove that it’s not requisite. But if, as with the Roman aqueducts, a later culture’s perspective can supplant authorial intent, then volition must surely be null as a criterion.

The third answer, from the language games vantage, is: It depends on who’s talking. No one seriously considered indigenous buildings to be architecture until Rudofsky so claimed. A sufficiently powerful authorization can alter categorization. As Goodman earlier testified, the “application of a label… as often effects as it records a classification.”[22]  Has Rudofsky sufficiently impacted our system of cultural discernment?

1.5.3. Summary

In summary, it seems that architecture might be recognized by a tendency to distinguish itself in the domain of formal properties, but that this is a characteristic and not an essential quality. As predicted by Goodman, our investigations to date have revealed more about how to operate around a subject than they have yielded comprehension into it.

Lastly, the whole issue over the quality of “mere building” brings into question the prioritization of architecture over building. Just because building is architecture’s “significant other”, to return to Mitchell’s point, does not necessarily mean that building is, itself, devoid of quality. Perhaps the better manifestations of building include nonpedigreed architecture? Here our recourse to endoxa is fuzzy and the trail unravels.

In short, no set of formal traits, material properties, or intentions on the part of its makers are essential to architecture as a genus. Alas, the asseveration of a knowing contractor in the devastating aftermath of a tropical cyclone turns out to be practically true and precisely false: “architecture is what blows off during a hurricane.”[23]

2.0  Architecture as Construct

fig-2.jpg (18594 Byte)
Figure 2
  If Architecture is not to be found in the physical object, then what and where is it?

At this point, we claim to distinguish building from architecture, and yet we can find no essential physical difference and no intentional imperative that imposes the distinction. Given two physical entities, one architecture and one not, we operate with competence around them without being able to define them with precision (figure 2).

2.1. The Concept of Disegno

Historically, there is precedent for locating Architecture in a non-physical entity.

From the reinvention of the classical system in the fifteenth century, partially from increased interest in Vitruvius and partly from an awakened passion for Roman ruins, we can trace our distinct yet parallel traditions of theory and practice. It was the Renaissance concern with an intellectual basis for architecture, founded in ideal proportion and geometry, coupled with a desire to remove the architect from the social sphere of the craftsman, that made it propitious to separate the essence of architecture from its material embodiment. Furthermore, an emerging worldview of a mathematically-governed material universe, expanding the importance of abstract structures underlying cosmic order in Pythagorean, Platonic, Neoplatonic, and St. Augustinian systems, reinforced the idea that architecture might reside outside of physical matter. Although there was ample motivation to find architecture as something non-material, there may also have been something to it.

Leon Battista Alberti, in the prologue to De re aedificatoria (c. 1452), made this division between intellectual and material structure clear:

"First we observed that the building is a form of body, which like any other consists of lineaments and matter, the one the product of thought, the other of Nature; the one requiring the mind and the power of reason, the other dependent on preparation and selection."[24]

In Book 1, Alberti went so far as to assert that a single design may be manifest in different buildings, clearly distinguishing between the work of Architecture, as intellectual property, and its material embodiment:

"Nor do lineaments have anything to do with material, but they are of such a nature that we may recognize the same lineaments in several different buildings that share one and the same form."[25]

He even went so far as to claim that buildings are not even necessary to Architecture:

"It is quite possible to project whole forms in the mind without any recourse to the material…. Let lineaments be the precise and correct outline, conceived in the mind, made up of lines and angles, and perfected in the learned intellect and imagination."[26]

Less purely conceptual, Franceso di Giorgio brought in the role of notation and of the unspeakable, non-material, aspects of design. In Book V of Architettura civile e militare (1492), Francesco indicated that a drawing conveys what is not directly communicable in words, but lies in the discrezione and in the guidizio of the artist. In Book VI, he said that architecture comprises not only concetti della mente (ideas of the mind), but that these must be translated into disegno. In his epilogue, he claimed that “without a drawing [disegno] one cannot express and clarify one’s idea [concetto].”[27]

By the middle of the sixteenth century, Daniele Barbaro, the younger but influential protégé of Palladio, theorized that material is pure being, lo essere,  while architecture amounts to the ordering of material by reason, il bene essere. In the annotations to his translation of Vitruvius (1556), he explained that an architectural design is formed in the disegno, defined as the “quality, and the form, that were in the mind of [the maker].”[28] If fifty years earlier in the work of di Giorgio disegno designated something like a cross between drawing and design; with Barbaro it indicates a conceptual work.

With L’Idea de’ pittori, scultori et architetti (1607), Federico Zuccaro rejected the sciences, especially mathematics, as the basis of the Arts and developed a theological, universal, and existential notion of disegno at the Accademia del Disegno of Rome (which he founded in 1593). Seeking a definition for architecture, Zuccaro asserted that disegno interno was comprised of the “form, idea, order, rule, limit, and object of the intellect in which things understood are expressed.”  Furthermore, he claimed this to be a universal form to which the sciences, arts, and moral categories were subordinate. Corresponding to disegno interno, he set up disegno esterno, or drawing, as abstract form, not form in its material substance.[29] This doctrine cast design into a hierarchy of descending planes, from a universal existential order (disegno interno), through ideas and geometric form (disegno esterno), to the material world (building).

In stark contrast to Zuccaro and alone among seventeenth century theorists, Guarino Guarini espoused an aesthetic relativism that summarized the Baroque compromise between absolute principles and sense experience. Following Alberti, Guarini distinguished between design (idée, o sia disegno) and execution (esecuzione). He not only reduced the number of Vitruvian criteria in architecture, suggestive of his willingness to critically evaluate and adjust the rules of Antiquity to the changing conditions of his times, but he interpreted these, not in relation to architecture, but to disegno, clearly prioritizing drawn design over building.[30] While Guarini pledged allegiance to “true proportion” and “true symmetry”, he believed that optical compromise should be made in the built fabric so that pure design, which is only conceivable to the mind, is correctly conveyed to the senses.[31] From this concern for optics, it is clear that the architectural work is an abstract formulation that the building fabric must translate in order to accommodate the earthly and human limitations of the beholder.

Guarini went so far as to justify non-finito, or deliberate incompletion, for purposes of the greater enterprise: “We see that painters and sculptors make images and statues rough and only sketched out to be seen from a distance, [so that] they look better than if they were highly finished.”[32] Thus, Guarino Guarini presented a clear case for building fabric being merely a medium for the transmission of an abstract, intellectually-based design to the beholder. So clear was he in the building’s intermediary role that he was willing to distort its form and diminish its quality in order to improve its effectiveness at provoking the observer to recreate an ideal conception.

Between the fifteenth to seventeenth centuries, we consequently see the concept of disegno vacillate between physical drawing, drawing content (geometry), and a more complex notion of design in the domain of ideas. There was, moreover, a clear separation of the essence of Architecture from the material of the building, and a claim that the building’s role is to facilitate human access to some more ideal order.

2.2. Works vs. Objects

If less ubiquitous in the twentieth century, some architects continued to profess the belief that buildings were merely the material expression of a more fundamental architectural work:

Carlo Scarpa:

Scarpa’s buildings show indeed a constant search set between the actual form (the built one), and the virtual form (the perceived one). The constant manipulation of the discrepancies between virtual and actual forms is the method used of achieving expression. “In architecture,” Scarpa once said, “there is no such thing as a good idea. There is only expression.[33]

Louis Kahn:

"Drawings are, designs are expressions of – and in all instances, expressions of – [the architect’s] striving to reach the spirit of architecture."[34]

Philippe Baudon:

"The edifice is the representation of the project which preceded it."[35]

In all these cases there is a clear distinction between the building, as a form of expression, and the work that is being expressed through the building. Speaking of aesthetic works in general, British cultural historian and theorist Raymond Williams drew a distinction between artistic works and their physical manifestations:

"The true crisis in cultural theory, in our own time, is between this view of the work of art as object and the alternative view of art as a practice…. There is no Hamlet, no Brothers Karamazov, no Wuthering Heights, in the sense that there is a particular great painting. There is no Fifth Symphony, there is no work in the whole area of music and dance and performance, which is an object in any way comparable to those works in the visual arts which have survived. And yet the habit of treating all such works as objects has persisted because this is a basic theoretical and practical presupposition."[36]

Although Williams was speaking of art, the implications for architecture, which is more dependent on an existence in the material world for disciplinary rationale, are clear. We inherit the practical and theoretical presupposition that works of cultural production, especially the visual arts, sculpture, and architecture, are essentially objects, and this misattribution has contributed to our failure to understand the genus of our disciplines from its various movements and tokens.

Updating his classic 1958 tome, Aesthetics: Problems in the Philosophy of Criticism, in his 1980 Postscript “Some Old Problems in New Perspectives,” Monroe Beardsley cited a growing critical awareness at that time in distinguishing the objet d’art from the work itself:

"We are left with a sharp division between artworks that are physical objects (with perceptual qualities) and those that are kinds of physical objects. Here is a standing challenge to monistically inclined philosophers to do away with this dualism…. What an artist creates is not a physical object (that he makes) but a kind of physical object. Even the Mona Lisa, then, should be thought of not as the physical painting but as a kind of painting, which has only one instance."[37]

Even in the case of an image, which is presumably less complex than a work of art, the physical object is merely a placeholder for something else. W.J.T. Mitchell asserts that “the true, literal image is the mental or spiritual one; the improper, derivative, figurative image is the material shape perceived by our senses, especially the eye.[38] He stresses that, far from what the innocent would expect, visual images “are not exclusively visual in any important way, but involve multisensory apprehension and interpretation.[39] If simple visual images are complex multisensory vehicles that conjure up intellectual and sensory experience from another domain, what of the more complex case of cultural works?

2.2.1. Art as Experience

A similar search for the location and nature of a work, and its method of activation, directed John Dewey’s 1934 treatise, Art as Experience. With words that anticipated those of Scarpa and Kahn, he wrote:

"The work of art… is not only the outcome of imagination, but operates imaginatively rather than in the realm of physical existences…. The formed matter of esthetic experience directly expresses, in other words, the meanings that are imaginatively evoked…. And yet the meanings imaginatively summoned, assembled, and integrated are embodied in material existence that here and now interacts with the self."[40]

Several points might be gleaned from Dewey in our accounting for Architecture, the first being the undeniable distinction between the work and the physical object: “The undeniable fact of the collective cultural origin and import of works illustrates the fact… that art is a strain in experience rather than an entity in itself.[41]

This acknowledgement of participation of physical matter in the work, without the physical matter itself being the work, is critical. Although writing prior to semiology (which has given us a more rigorous account of meaning), Dewey was quite clear that physical art was merely a medium. “In every work of art… meanings are actually embodied in a material which thereby becomes the medium for their expression…. Meanings and values that are wider and deeper than the particular here and now in which they are anchored are realized by way of expressions.[42]

Second, Dewey realized that physical matter alone was incapable of accounting for the complexity of the aesthetic work. He distinguished between knowledge (as mental activity) and aesthetic experience (as distinct from life experience), thus incorporating sensual response to the physical art as a critical domain in a work. “In both production and enjoyed perception of works of art, knowledge is transformed; it becomes something more than knowledge because it is merged with non-intellectual elements to form an experience worthwhile as an experience.[43] This incorporation of sensual experience that is made possible by the physical medium of art, without the work itself being reduced to the physical object, is important to Architecture.

Finally, Dewey theorized that the real work of art was, neither the art object nor the viewer’s experience, but a fusion of the two: “The medium of expression is neither subjective nor objective, but is an experience in which they are integrated in a new object.[44] While Dewey’s choice of words obscures the difference between a work and its experience, it rightly emphasizes the activation of a work via the medium of the physical object and makes that activation central to the definition.

2.3. Notation

Literature and the performing arts, that don't invest the finished work is not invested in physical matter, may reveal something about the nature of aesthetic disciplines that do. In this regard, Raymond Williams raised the distinction between a work and its notation:

"In literature (especially in drama), in music and in a very wide area of the performing arts, what we permanently have are not objects but notations…. This makes the case of notation, in arts like drama and literature and music, only a special case of a much wider truth."[45]

2.3.1. Literature

In the case of the novel, which may be reprinted in any number of editions by a variety of publishers in a multitude of formats, there is no question that the physical artifact is not, itself, the work. The book, like the manuscript that preceded it, is only a notation for the work, which is really the body of ideas and their expression entailed therein. During composition, the author tentatively commits the work to notation, re-reading and amending until the notation effectively conjures up the world of the work. Fortuitous errors and unexpected discoveries in the notation may lead, in turn, to alterations in the work – there is usually a reciprocal relationship.[46] But from the beginning it is clear that the manuscript is a code intended to unlock and reveal the work for a reader. As for the activation of this notation, literature’s disciplinary tradition respects a relatively broad range of readings, both in their oral delivery and their substantive interpretation, and usually embraces both multivalence and alternative meanings as beneficial to the interpretive process.

2.3.2. Music

The case of the symphony is more complex. As a notation, the score is analogous to the book but its activation is more tightly controlled. While a concert pianist might play the transcription of an orchestral symphony, disciplinary tradition will not accept this as a bona fide activation unless the altered score has been penned by the composer, or by a devotee of authorized pedigree, and until it has been accepted into the canon as a work in its own right (as, for example, some of the more than sixty transcriptions of Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition have surely not).[47] As for activation, any pianist may tackle a bona fide score, but audiences and critics alike will regard this, or any performance, as a faithful activation only within narrow tolerances of technical skill and fidelity to the particulars of the score in all its nuance and complexity.

Vis-à-vis literature, we consequently find in music a higher standard of acceptance in a work’s activation, but a greater misunderstanding as to what constitutes the actual work. Although listeners are likely to accept a stellar performance as being the work itself, the composer’s work resides no more in this activation than it does in a reading in the case of literature, as both Beardsley and Williams point out. In both cases, the book/score is a notation from which the reading/performance is but an activation that endeavors to manifest, but never comprises in total, the actual work.

2.3.3. Architecture

Is this not analogous to architecture?

The architectural drawing (or model, or specification, or working drawing, or rendering) is a notation from which the building is constructed as a kind of reading or performance. Multiple buildings may be constructed from the same notation set, each with its own deviations and aberrations, just as in publishing or performance. As in recital, a work of architecture may receive a stellar or a poor performance. Flaws in the building mar the architecture’s manifestation and may detract from our ability to decipher the work, but they don’t actually diminish the quality of the work – only our ability to recreate it. The experience of a building will vary in interpretation and appreciation according to the inhabitant’s competence, experience, and focus, just as in literature and music. The architectural work itself is, not the building, but what the building and its notation refer to. Antonio Gramsci:

"In reality, the 'work of art' is the 'project' (the sum total of the designs and plans and calculations with which people other than the architect, 'the artist-planner', produce the building)…. The relation between the project and the material building is the same as that between the 'manuscript' and the printed book."[48]

Learning from the traditions of literature and music, where primary artistic structures are seen as autonomous entities manifest in the physical world, how might we start thinking more rigorously about Architecture?

2.4. Works as Constructs

fig-3.jpg (27711 Byte)
Figure 3
  Architecture, considered as a work and overlapping the domain of ideas and the world of physical existence, might be referred to as a construct. In psychology a construct is an object of perception or thought, formed by a combination of present with past sense-impressions.[49]

The benefit in adopting this term in the case of artistic and architectural works is that it expands the notion of an intellectual structural model to encompass sensation and contact with the physical world. Merging intellectual with sensory domains, but not implying universal form or a separate plane of existence (as did Plato in his theory of Ideas or Forms), we might consider a construct to be an abstract structure that anticipates properties of its own material embodiment (figure 3).[50]

In a more pronounced way than does poetry or music, the architectural construct anticipates a notation’s physical existence as well as the experience of that materialization through the senses. Consequently, the construct cannot rightly be considered as merely intellectual (any more than can a symphony).

Don’t let the abstractness of an architectural construct limit your sense of its potential to anticipate its own physical existence. A complete architectural construct accounts for its own concretization in material, sensual, and spatial domains. Consequently, like music, it deals in realms beyond the intellect. In this way, problems of habitation, materiality, space, context, and other criteria related to a building’s physical existence are part of the world of Architecture even though they are not the medium of a construct.

Partly the product of conscious speculation, but also formed by unthinking habitual practices that may have been handed down over generations, a construct is the result of will but partly beyond the conscious and intentional aim of the architect.

As an abstract structure that is pointed to by many notational forms, none of which is complete and parts of which are inconsistent or ambiguous, there can be no complete or exhaustive notation covering every aspect of its associated construct.

Moreover, architectural constructs are not fixed. They are usually the collaborative effort of many, the work in its totality being rarely grasped by anyone with each participant having a different sense (or an alternate version) of the construct – precisely as in literature and music. Thus, the architectural construct, like its notation, may be finished at some point, but it is never truly complete, will span multiple domains, and always exists in a suspended state of development.

2.4.1. Universal vs. Overlapping Constructs

Whether constructs are universal and differently interpreted, or simply exist as alternative versions that approximate a common vision, is purely theoretical; in practice it amounts to the same thing. Because our only access to a construct is through interpretation, in both senses of human perception and medium rendition, we never apprehend constructs in a direct or complete sense.

That constructs incorporate domains outside thought also means that they exceed the capacity of the mind to contain them.

First of all, an architectural construct is probably sufficiently complex that it cannot be contemplated at once, similar to a novel or symphony. Technically therefore, it can’t exist in the mind.

Secondly, the capacity to anticipate its own physical manifestation requires that constructs entail domains beyond conceptual ones. A construct may concern patterns of sunlight animating a space through various daily and seasonal cycles. While these aspects of physical existence can be conceived of, they are not in any palpable sense conceptual. Architectural constructs anticipate non-mental domains and require graphic notations to describe them, most requiring extra-intellectual faculties to decipher.

No claim is being made that constructs are transcendental; they do not have an existence outside the world as we know it. They are not universal in the sense of residing outside of cultural discourse. Neither are they fixed. Constructs are the product of human activity (some would say creation; others would dispute this term). That some artists experience the production of a work as the discovery or uncovering of something that is already there does not indicate prior or transcendental existence; that some architects believe primary architectural qualities to be universal, i.e. transcending cultural difference, may be a matter of cultural synchronicity.
fig-4.jpg (27546 Byte)
Figure  4
  Yet, it is not entirely a fiction to say that any given project has a single construct that is accessed by many, for the various notations that point to that construct are fixed, objective documents. At the same time, the activation of those notations requires interpretation and no two interpretations will be the same. Thus, it may be more accurate to say that any single work will have multiple, overlapping constructs that approximate each other, the set that is common to all being a metaconstruct that is available to no one (figure 4).

In semiotics, Umberto Eco has theorized the problem of multiple interpretations relative to their parent constructs with the concept of the Model Reader: a function that exists only in theory and is a construction of the text. “To make his text communicative, the author has to assume that the ensemble of codes he relies upon is the same as that shared by his possible reader. The author has thus to foresee a model of the possible reader (hereafter Model Reader) supposedly able to deal interpretatively with the expressions in the same way as the author deals generatively with them.[51] We might adapt Eco’s concept in the case of architecture as a Model Inhabitant.

2.5. Activating a Notation

In music, a notation is activated by a musician for the passive engagement of the listener.[52] As is widely recognized, the conductor and musicians bear the lion’s share of responsibility for this interpretation. As all notations are less-than-complete references to their constructs, there is always discretionary room, requiring judgment and interpretation, in the endeavor to make present the construct.

In the case of architecture, there is a similar necessity for interpretation in the construction of a building from its notation, although the performative role differs. The builder is not so much performing (or bringing the construct present) to an attending audience as transcribing the original notation into a second-order notation, at a larger scale, and in a multi-sensory medium. As Christian Hubert says, “to think of buildings themselves as only referents, as pure objects, is to overlook their own participation in a process of vision and of language. Buildings too can be seen as representational.”[53] A building that is also Architecture is a kind of notation, the purpose of which is to enable the inhabitant to conjure up the construct.

To return to Williams, interpretation is an integral part of activating a notation, and not an act of judging or ascribing meaning to something already encountered.

"These notations have then to be interpreted in an active way, according to the particular conventions. But indeed this is true over an even wider field. The relationship between the making of a work of art and its reception is always active, and subject to conventions, which in themselves are forms of (changing) social organization and relationship, and this is radically different from the production and consumption of an object. It is indeed an activity and a practice, and in its accessible forms, although it may in some arts have the character of a singular object, it is still only accessible through active perception and interpretation…. What this can show us about the practice of analysis is that we have to break from the common procedure of isolating the object and then discovering its components. On the contrary we have to discover the nature of a practice and then its conditions."[54]

The nature of architectural practice indicates that the work of architecture consists of a construct (an abstract structure that anticipates properties of its own material embodiment), recorded in various forms of notation, that are sometimes further translated into a building (as a performance or a second-order notation). The role of the Model Inhabitant, in parallel to the design team, is to activate the construct by interpreting the first and second-order notations and bringing present the construct in mind and experience.

2.6. Conventions

Above, I have informally referred to the work in a culturally significant building as capital-A Architecture and the building fabric that embodies it as lowercase-a architecture (the word, architecture, italicized in both cases, following the standard convention by which books, paintings, and other major works of art are are set in italics). While this symbolization is useful, the precision of the paradigm would be facilitated by a more meticulous system of conventions.

Transposing Umberto Eco’s work from semiotics, we might employ graphic conventions that, while cumbersome, are more precise:[55]  


the building that is a manifestation of architecture (double-slashes, set in italic):
a thing or physical object


the building-as-notation for architecture (single-slashes, set in italic):
a thing or physical object intended to be understood as notation  


a notation for architecture (single-slashes):
something intended as an expression or sign-vehicle, whether written or oral


an architectural construct (guillemets):
the content unit referred to by both /architecture/ and /architecture/


a construct-replication as activated from its notations (guillemets and single-slashes):
the interpreted content unit, conjured up from either /architecture/ or /architecture/

fig-5.jpg (31714 Byte)
Figure 5
Using these conventions, we can summarize our epistemological model of architecture, as distilled from practice, as follows (figure 5):

An architect composes a construct («architecture»), in the process of which it is committed to various forms of notation (/architecture/). Other members of the design team, working from oral and graphic notations (/architecture/), recreate alternative versions of the construct («/architecture/») that, as a function of the accuracy and descriptive power of the notations, approximate the original. As the construct is developed and expanded, the set common to all authorized constructs amounts to a metaconstruct («architecture»), which replaces the original architect’s version as the authoritative work, though it is available to no one. The original architect’s construct is now a facsimile-construct («/architecture/») like everyone else’s, though the authority of each participant’s position in the power network of the design team will prioritize the constructs accordingly.

A contractor builds the work in the form of a building (//architecture//), in the process of which the design team’s notations are transcribed into a larger, multi-media, second-order notation (/architecture/). To the degree that the builders "interpret" the notation during transcription, they may add to the construct in a positive sense or may simply make it more difficult to find the construct for the noise.

To the degree that this second-order notation has been successful, inhabitants will be empowered to experience the building (//architecture//) as «architecture». Adept critics will interpret the building as a notation (/architecture/) and endeavor to conjure up the construct («architecture»), arriving at a reasonably faithful recreation thereof («/architecture/»). The Model Inhabitant is the interpreting function that, if she could exist, would grasp the depth and nuance of the «architecture» in its entirety.

This process, in which we may refer accurately to architecture in five different but related forms, illustrates why there has been so much confusion over the definition and nature of architecture.

2.7. Of Quality and Significance

A few last items of business.

While this epistemological system helps explain what Architecture is and where it resides, it still falls short of providing an acid test; for, if something less than 1% of the built environment qualifies as architecture (per my original calibration), many more must surely be regulated by constructs. Although architecture resides in a construct, the existence of a construct does not, in and of itself, guarantee the status of architecture.

Is building, too, not really a construct? If the difference between building and architecture is one of cultural, and not physical, distinction, mustn’t building, like architecture, depend on a similar referential activation?

2.7.1. Building- vs. Architectural-Constructs

It has been intimated here that building is “just material construction” while //architecture// is capable of activating a construct. Yet, it would seem that all intentionally designed buildings (and, conceivably, a great many others) must have associated constructs. In fact, any time a building project is premeditated or when an existing building is contemplated as a building, a construct (or something like it) is invoked. All of these cannot possibly be accorded the status of architecture.

How and why, then, are the chosen few determined?

Among the countless construct-notation-building systems, most will be shallow, incomplete, inconsistent, irrelevant, or otherwise of marginal value. These are not architecture. Many others will be highly competent, but otherwise undistinguished. These we might debate. Alternatively, flawed notation will keep many otherwise meritorious constructs from recognition; because we only have access to a construct through notation, there is no way to know.

2.7.2. Quality vs. Significance

Out of all works of Architecture, distinction will be accorded only to those of quality and significance. While these factors are interrelated, it is useful to consider them separately.

The first subset will be recognized for its disciplinary quality: the particular content or rigor of the construct, the extent and power of its notation, or the effectiveness of its manifestation as a building. In this group, some exceptional aspect from among the complex of facets that make up the work will garner recognition for its sheer competence within the system of architectural production. This might variously be called disciplinary quality, internal quality, aesthetic quality, or quality of the work as a work.

A second subset of works, which may or may not have disciplinary quality, will be distinguished for cultural significance. In this case, a work’s temporal position relative to other works will make it noteworthy: who did what when, and who did it best? This set will have two criteria: breadth and depth.

There are two ways that cultural works contribute to their disciplinary trajectories: by breaking new ground (thus, expanding the breadth of the discipline), or by penetrating terrain that has already been furrowed (thus, developing disciplinary depth). As an example of breadth we might cite Le Corbusier’s villa series of the 1920s; in the depth category, Richard Meier’s subsequent development of Le Corbusier’s architectural language.

Of interest in this regard, due to their striking formal similarity, are three houses that were designed and built within five years of each other. Although Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House (1945-51) would be nominated for significance in the category of breadth (cutting new ground), Philip Johnson’s Glass House (1947-49), designed after but completed before the Farnsworth, would be admitted only for its disciplinary quality (it advanced neither the breadth nor depth of Mies’s project). Paul Rudolf’s Walker Guest House (1952) might slip in with the Glass House for quality, depending on the calibration of our meter, but rates only a footnote under cultural significance.

Who gets to make these determinations?

Cultural discernment, such as which constructs are admissible as architecture, is made by persons occupying nodes of power in the disciplinary network. Name-brand architects head up this list. Recognized authorities, such as the architecture critic of the New York Times (until 2007 Herbert Muschamp) or the reigning dean of American architects (until 2005 Philip Johnson), are empowered to decide by virtue of that recognition. But establishment nodes may be compromised or cancelled out by other voices who have garnered alternative power (Hal Foster or Jeffrey Kipnis in the 1980s) and these, by virtue of their alternative pulpit, often become establishment voices (as did Andres Duany).

In short, qualifying constructs are determined by consensus of the culturally empowered. This is why any designation is time-determined and why what might be regarded as notable in one era may be dismissed in the next.

2.8. Non-buildings as Architecture

The possibility that a building, //architecture//, is just another notational form of a construct, «architecture», returns us to the question of whether architecture as a discipline need be constrained to shelter. According to this paradigm, it does not.

Although architecture’s essence may be grounded in the meaningful habitation of buildings, its medium need not be limited to shelters or building-like objects. Furthermore, any vehicle that can effectively document some aspect of the construct gains validity as a notational form, as digital notation indicates. Once building is accepted as just a specialized form of notation, /architecture/, we no longer need to privilege it over other forms of architectural notation. It is a special case, to be sure, with conditions and challenges uniquely its own, but it need not have priority over drawings, models, texts, photographs, or other forms of architectural notation.

This is why a poor construction does diminish «architecture», even though architecture is not reducible to craft and materials. Moreover, it is possible to have generated a rich and fulfilling sense of a construct («/architecture/») based on non-building notation – only to be betrayed upon encountering the //architecture// itself. The building may be poorly built, or it may be of exceptional craft and unfortunately assembled according to a poor notation. Some drawings and models may, in fact, be more effective conveyors of «architecture» than their associated buildings (//architecture//), as evidence in the work of Aldo Rossi. Brilliantly and evocatively depicted in drawing, the Borgoricco Town Hall is a perfect dud as //architecture//.

The notational capacity of architectural documentation explains why buildings that have long since been demolished can continue to live and exert a powerful influence as constructs, e.g., Mies van der Rohe’s German Pavilion in Barcelona, 1929-1930. How this famous /architecture/ came to be demolished after standing for only one year, was re-built to the specifications of an altered first-order notation to become a second-order notation distinctly different from the first, and was still regarded as the same architecture, only shows that people maintain constructs as the site of architecture in practice, if not in cognition. Although the two cases of //architecture// were different in certain details, broken chronologically by fifty-five years, and overseen by different architects, the «architecture» was essentially the same.

This reciprocity between construct and notation explains, lastly, how an architect who realized only one building (//architecture//), and that a remodeling, holds a place in history as one of one of the most fertile and imaginative architects of all time – in spite of this one building. Giovanni Battista Piranesi’s corpus of etching-notations are so powerful that his legacy for «architecture» surpasses many architects with extensive records of building. As Antonio Gramsci mused, “an architect can be judged a great artist on the basis of his plans even without having materially built anything.[56]



The author would like to thank James Thomas and Ray Huff for their careful reading and close scrutiny of this text in its early forms. John Jacques provided clues and insights into the concepts of a work; Eduard Führ spotted both large holes and small leaks in the argument. This project is much the better for their efforts, as am I.

[1] John Summerson, The Classical Language of Architecture (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1963), 8.

[2] Wystan Hugh Auden, The Dyer’s Hand (NY: Vintage International, 1989) 23.

[3] François Blondel, Cours d’architecture enseigné dans l’Académie Royale d’Architecture, Part I, Paris 1675, p. 1 (facs. of 2nd ed. 1698, NY: Hildesheim, 1982) from Hanno-Walter Kruft, A History of Architectural Theory (NY: Princeton Architectural Press, 1994) 131.

[4] Michel de Frémin, Mémoires critiques d’architecture contenans l’idée de la vraye & de la fausse Architecture, Paris 1702, p. 22 (facs. repr. 1967) from Kruft, A History, 139.

[5] Le Corbusier, Towards a New Architecture, translated from the thirteenth French ed. by Frederick Etchells (London: J. Rodker, 1931), reprint (NY: Dover Publications, Inc. 1986) 29.

[6] Paul Heyer, Architects on Architecture: new directions in America (NY: Walker and Company, 1966) 28.

[7] Ibid., 396.

[8] Steen Eiler Rasmussen, Experiencing Architecture (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1959) 10.

[9] Robert Venturi, Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture (NY: Museum of Modern Art, 1966) 22.

[10] Nelson Goodman, Languages of Art (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 1976) 32-33.

[11] Ibid., 25

[12] Ibid., 24. The possible objection that we must first understand what a man or a unicorn is in order to know how to apply “man-picture” or “unicorn-picture” seems to me quite perverted. We can learn to apply “corncob pipe” or “staghorn” without first understanding, or knowing how to apply, “corn” or “cob” or “corncob” or “pipe” or “stag” or “horn” as separate terms. And we can learn, on the basis of samples, to apply “unicorn-picture” not only without ever having seen any unicorns but without ever having seen or heard the word “unicorn” before. Indeed, largely by learning what are unicorn-pictures and unicorn-descriptions do we come to understand the word “unicorn” (p. 24-5).

[13] W.J.T. Mitchell, Iconology: Image, Text, Ideology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986) 30.

[14] Heyer, Architects on Architecture, 396.

[15] Goodman, 32.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Summerson, 15.

[18] Robert H. Stacy, Defamiliarization in Language and Literature (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1977) 2.

[19] Ibid., 34.

[20] J. G. Merquior, From Prague to Paris (New York: Verso, 1986), 21-22.

[21] Bernard Rudofsky, Architecture Without Architects: a short introduction to non-pedigreed architecture (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1964) 2.

[22] Goodman, 32.

[23] Statement in regard to Hurricane Hugo certified to be true; speaker unidentified. From architect Kenneth Huggins, Charleston, SC.

[24] Leon Battista Alberti, On the Art of Building in Ten Books, Joseph Rykwert, et. al., trans. (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1988) 5.

[25] Ibid., 7.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Hanno-Walter Kruft, A History of Architectural Theory (NY: Princeton Architectural Press, 1994) 58.

[28] Ibid., 86.

[29] Ibid., 97.

[30] Ibid., 106.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Guarini, Nino Carboneri and Bianca Tavassi La Greca, ed. (Milan, 1968) 18; from Kruft, ibid.

[33] Marco Frascari, “The Tell-the-Tale Detail,” Via 7: The Building of Architecture (1984), from Kate Nesbitt, Ed., Theorizing a New Agenda for Architecture: an anthology of architectural theory 1965-1995 (NY: Princeton Architectural Press, 1996) 507.

[34] Richard Saul Wurman, ed., What will Be Has Always Been: the Words of Louis I. Kahn (NY: Rizzoli, 1986) 27.

[35] Philippe Baudon, "Structure and Signs” A.D. Profiles: Viollet-Le-Duc (February 1980): 91, from Marco Frascari, “The Drafting Knife and the Pen,” in Rob Miller, ed., Implementing Architecture: Exposing the Paradigm Surrounding the Implements and the Implementation of Architecture (Atlanta: Nexus Press, 1988) h3.

[36] Raymond Williams, “Base and Superstructure in Marxist Cultural Theory,” New Left Review 82 (Nov-Dec 1973), reprinted in Problems in Materialism and Culture (New York: Verso, 1980), 47.

[37] Monroe C. Beardsley, Aesthetics: problems in the philosophy of criticism (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 1988) xxvi.

[38] Mitchell, 32.

[39] Mitchell, 13-14.

[40] John Dewey, Art as Experience (NY: Berkeley Publishing Group, 1934) 285.

[41] Ibid., 344.

[42] Ibid., 284.

[43] Ibid., 302.

[44] Ibid., 299

[45] Ibid.

[46] On the reciprocity between notation and construct, Gioachino Rossini (writing to Louis Engel) said, “When I was writing the chorus in G Minor, I suddenly dipped my pen into the medicine bottle instead of the ink; I made a blot, and when I dried it with sand it took the form of a natural, which instantly game me the idea of the effect which the change from G minor to G major would make, and to this blot all the effect – if any – is due.”  From Auden, The Dyer’s Hand, 16.

[47] While Vladimir Horowitz’s 1946 transcription has surely made the canon, it is not certain that Emerson Lake & Palmer’s 1971 rock version has. And what of Duke Ellington’s? By comparison, competent translations of literature into other languages are not considered to endanger or transform the work in this sense, perhaps because the number of readers fluent in multiple languages, who can verify the transcription, is much lower than in the case of music.

[48] Antonio Gramsci, David Forgacs and Geoffrey Nowell-Smith, ed., William Boelhower, trans., Selections from Cultural Writings (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1985) 131.

[49] The Compact Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed., s. v. “construct.”

[50] On Plato’s doctrine of Forms, Frederick Copleston interprets them as being germane to this notion of a construct: “The essence of the Platonic theory of Ideas is not to be sought in the notion of the ‘separate’ existence of universal realities, but in the belief that universal concepts have objective reference, and that the corresponding reality is of a higher order than sense-perception as such.”  A History of Philosophy, V. 1 (NY: Doubleday, 1962) 151.

[51] Umberto Eco, The Role of the Reader (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1979) 7.

[52] Without complicating this presentation, let it be noted that readings and musical receptions are never truly passive, as made clear over the past quarter century by many, including Umberto Eco. See Role of the Reader.

[53] Christian Hubert, “The Ruins of Representation,” in Kenneth Frampton and Silvia Kolbowski, eds., Idea as Model (NY: Rizzoli, 1981), 19.

[54] Williams, 47.

[55] Umberto Eco, A Theory of Semiotics (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1976) and Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986) ix.

[56] Gramsci, 131.