Missing Link

19 / 04 / - 28 / 06 / 2002
Exhibition / Discussion

Overview and documentation of the work from Vienna-based
Arbeitsgemeinschaft (working group) "Missing Link" (1970-80)

Comments in Architecture (1980)

Aktion mit Stangen und Tüchern. 1970

Arbeitsbericht Projekte 1970 – 72
Karl 365 (1971)
16. November: Eine Utopie in neun wirklichen Bildern (1972)
Treffen auf dem Feld (1972)
Via Nostalgia: Straßenarbeit (1972/73)
STtilleben Weltatrappe (1972/73)
Die andere Seite (1973)
Die verstoßene Stadt (1974)
Asyleum – Großes Hutobjekt (1976)
Via Trivialis Fünf Aspekte zur Straße
Wiener Studien
Comments in Architecture (1980)


"The tendency of the new style is an emancipation of form from materials and pure necessity."

At first glance this statement appears to be a valid characterization of the debate that has flared up in the last few years around the critique of Functionalism and Purism. Utilitarian fulfillment of objectives and moral purism of materials have more than answered their historical role and have become gigantic caricatures of their original pretensions. The introductory quote is not a polemical commentary on Post-Modern formalism. It was written 120 years ago and is Gottfried Semper's opinion on Greek Classicism and his definition of all architectural development.

lt is astounding to what extent Semper's theories, that on the one hand paved the way for Wagner and Loos and on the other hand were often misinterpreted as the forerunners of Functionalism and the theory of truth to materials, have regained their significance now that the historical importance of Modernism is drawing to a close. According to Semper, the "destruction of reality and of the material is necessary where form as a meaningful symbol, as an independent creation of humankind, is to predominate". lt is hard to imagine a more definite contrast to the aesthetic of naked material. For Semper, the liberation of form from its original functions, materials and methods through exaggeration and sublimation is the central artistic method in all areas which define textile design, ceramics, carpentry, bricklaying, metalworking as art forms. Both the impetus and the motive for human reflection and representation are to be found in the principle of Stoffwechsel - the change in materials.

Distance is a prerequisite for conscious reflection on reality. It can be created by other methods and manipulations than the transference of a form into a foreign material. Displacing a form or an object from one context to another can also cause a detachment from reality, in which case the essence of the object itself also undergoes a change. Marcel Duchamp grasped the principles governing these changes of context and utilized them radically in his work.

The methods of permutation and collage are related to change of context. The direct opposition and juxtaposition of heterogeneous elements of reality puts their original reality in question. The simple material fact of the objects thus dealt with is irritated and exaggerated. Similar effects can be achieved by means of change of scale or varied repetition. In all these methods - from change of materials to distorted repetition - the intention to counteract the substantiality of a given material or reality through the various means of superimposition and exaggeration establishes the distance necessary to allow the relative character of reality to manifest itself as a model.

The totalizing tendency of models for the architectural organization of the environment results from the fact that a simplified, specify model must be adopted in the study and administration of the complex environment and begin to go beyond the character of a model and increasingly assume the role of reality itself, instead of merely representing it. This tendency is in fact valid for all areas of inquiry, be they social, cultural models, compositional or functional models, visual, analytic or empirical models. The result of this autonomy is usually callousness and alienation.

In agreement with Semper we can now say that only those models that retain or reproduce the ability to establish distance and reflection are capable of representing their own inner logic and of being reflective through sublimation. Rene Magritte's paintings stand as an example. His life's work illustrates the inner logic of painting as a model through the perceptions that are the result of the knowledge that language and image, perception and meaning are systems of signs with self-governing laws, that they are models that do not perfectly reproduce reality but are only substitutes for it. These paintings are aesthetic in a literal sense (aesthetics equals the science of perception) because they analyse and illustrate the methods and manifestations of perception, and demonstrate as technique and content the methods mentioned above for creating distance, change of materials, permutation, etc.

The immanent methods of aesthetics are dependent on cultural and societal determinants which are true in general for cultural manifestations. Walter Benjamin wrote that "The manner in which human sense perception is organized, the medium in which it is accomplished, is determined not only by nature but by historical circumstances as well, "and that "during long periods of history it changes with humanity's entire mode of existence."

Semper's Stoffwechsel theory derives from the relationship of body and clothing in textiles. For Semper clothing provides not only the principle behind all decoration jewelry, tattooing, make-up, garments ..., but also the origin of the basic architectural elements (ceiling, wall...). The "principle of clothing" determines, apart from the material, structural function, the cultural exaggeration of a commodity and of architecture. The intensification of material and space to the point where it disintegrates in a mirror of illusions has a magnificent tradition in Vienna. But it is an oversimplification to think that justice can be done to the idea of sublimation by the abundant use of brass, marble and mirrors alone.

Another motif is that of furnishing defined volumes. In contrast to Adolf Loos who advocated the use of built-in walls and integrated furniture, Josef Frank promoted the "freedom" of walls and the loose distribution of furniture - a continuation of the Viennese Biedermeier tradition. When this idea is extended to the spatial elements inside an enclosed volume we arrive at the "principle of furniture" for the interior organization of a house: walls, columns, stairs, doors, etc., are individual elements placed in relation to one another inside the clothing of the exterior skin. This theme contains the latent methods of collage, opposition and repetition and illustrates the many layers of tension between inside and outside, space and enclosure.

Designing implies questioning reality by means of the dialectical enrichment of a model and by references to its inner logic. From this standpoint our work is a comment on the various models of the planned environment and on the various models of planning itself, using as means the artistic methods described above.

From: 13 IAUS AUSTRIAN NEW WAVE Architecture 1980. Published by the Institute of Architecture and Urban Studies New York 1980.

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