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)

29 Lotus International. Quarterly Architectural Review Dietmar Steiner: Architecture of Silence
Reflections on the work of H. Czech, H. Tesar, Missing Link (O. Kapfinger, A. Krischanitz)


"At times, sight and hearing are forgotten and speech fails us utterly. And yet, precisely at such moments, man realises that he has become himself again for an instant."
Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities.

lt is not easy to censure the publicity campaign that has led to the formal inflation of the last few years and draw upon an unspectacularly restrained architecture. An architecture that rejects sensationalism rejects the visual prevarication of architectural reviews and shallow criticism (what Kenneth Frampton described as "one shot per building").

I am persuaded that over the next few years we will observe the exhaustion of surprise effects and historicist superficiality. (The 1980 Biennale of Architecture in Venice would in this way constitute the end point of a certain line of development.) Architecture will be cut down to size and only minor differences will distinguish it from mere building. We shall have to rethink our critical criteria so as to be able to detect the difference between subtlety and banality. Those who occupy themselves with the architecture of silence will not discover new "acts" in the architectural circus. lt is a music of intervals, which does not invite us to gaze entranced at a balancing act between art and kitsch by some new performer but enables us to understand at a glance whether we are in a circus marquee or elsewhere. It is that moment which Musil alludes to in our epigraph, when architecture, which ought to "keep to the background" (Hermann Czech), is perceived in its difference from the humdrum.

In this sense the "condition" of Viennese architecture, in spite of - or perhaps because of - all its contradictions, was able to acquire new valiances. I am thinking above all of the values of that "Group" that organized a collective exhibition in 1980 (Kapfinger, Krischanitz, Hermann Czech, Appelt-Kneissl-Prochazka, Heinz Tesar, Rob Krier). But we could also refer - as a necessary complement - to the most recent works by Luigi Blau, Johannes Spalt, Boris Podrecca, Gunther Wawrik and Johann Georg Gsteu, which are also essential for the clarification of this trend.

International affinities exist with, among others, the "new sobriety" of Rem Koolhaas and Elia Zenghelis, which is however presented with too frivolous an image and hence is in contradiction to the tendency towards simplicity, clear in itself. This comes about whenever theory diverges from practice. Luigi Blau formulated Austrian skepticism towards this sort of dogmatism as follows: "Beware of all hostility towards theory but be even more wary of any tendency towards theory." The good thing about architecture is that there is no such thing as a simple recipe for building, because whenever you approach man and the situation, everything is different, everything is new.

The architecture of silence is concrete and physical. This physical quality is perceptible above all in the new church by Johannes Spalt and it is such that space, matter, odor, all manage to emanate the warm feeling of a home. Perception is thus compelled to acknowledge something more than the image of an object. It leads to the concept of many-layeredness, which also makes possible the interpretation of work connected with the object. We find this concept recurring in Hermann Czech and others, and it goes back to the extraordinary possibility of finding a link through the architectural work with history, by means of the introduction of elements that in their turn speak to us of this history.

Martin Steinmann has used the concept "architecture of the customary" (taking examples from Venturi and Reichlin/Reinhart) for an architecture of memory, which includes place and discipline. The difference that appears in Austria lies in the deliberate diminution - or destruction - of these precise significant elements. Whenever we Austrians make a statement we assert the opposite at the same time. (Where the Germans tend to say -either... or," we tend to say "both... and".) In this way the architects Appelt, Kneissl and Prochazka make use of the precise typology of the central bay in their multi-purpose prefab but they repeatedly break into it by inserting architectural elements that are apparently "primitive" but actually based on effects which are the result of the most painstaking calculation.

The filter for this "blend of adaptation and rejection" (Hans Mayer referring to Robert Musil) is supplied, before all subjectivity, by the site and the task. So the site can be insignificant in itself, since it is the task, the functional architectural and political problem, that makes it into a place of the spirit. The site is further defined in itself by the boundaries assigned to it, which once again link the work to the place. Irony (Czech) and detachment (Kapfinger, Krischanitz) constitute the method to achieve a sophisticated relationship through the suitable architectural means.

As the representation of an objective, this method crystallizes into the aesthetic program. “...Build on a site so that it seems to have always been like that ...,” posits Hermann Czech, adopting a universal outlook in taking up this position, which rejects the falsely exceptional. Not Úlitist but community-minded, not cozily but frugal, not striking but discreet, these terms determine the key values of this aesthetic aim.

Out of this renunciation of ostentatious originality there is an increasing rejection of the prevarication of ballyhoo with architecture limiting itself to variations on previous achievements. "The task is not to display but to suggest," is Heinz Frank's statement of his position with regard to this particular question. The specific quality appears first of all in participatory visual enjoyment, in the vital search for the experiences of solution.

"Second look architecture": so Stanislaus von Moos defined the work of Otto Salvisberg. This aptly characterizes a new shop designed by Luigi Blau, identifiable only after it has been pointed out: although it is located in a favoured area of Vienna, it is merely a shop and nothing more to such an extent that Gertrude Stein could have said of it: "... I will never tire of repeating that everyday life is everyday life in every moment of everyday life this everyday life is everything there is in life."

A shop is a shop and architecture is enriched by everyday accessories. It is a collage but not ballyhoo or provocative, an almost mannerist reference to the above-mentioned multilayeredness. In Luigi Blau it is symbolized by the differing durability of the materials used. In the door of a new travel agency by Kapfinger and Krischanitz the multilayered quality becomes literal, since an inner enclosure separated off the offices, makes the building's structure explicit, and the outer shell - the third layer - appears juxtaposed to it. The extension of a villa by Hermann Czech interacts with the old structure and with the projecting veranda so as to make the layers of the juxtaposition apparent.

In this way the architecture of silence gives a wide range of answers. Faithful to the concept that a statement gives rise not only to its opposite but also leaves room for intermediate assertions, Robert Musil (in Man Without Qualities) expresses through Ulrich his skepticism towards the reality of language: “And so every word wants to be taken literally lest it should become deceit but nothing should be taken literally or else the world would be turned into a madhouse!" There's only one way out: language itself and the kaleidoscope of intermediate tones. This also admits the possibility of producing architecture, despite everything.

On the basis of this architectural language Heinz Tesar considers that "within a constant dialogue conducted by things amongst themselves, we achieve an architecture which is unhurried, calm, characterizing language. Comprehensible in its simplicity and valid in time, in its multiple layers." An unspectacular work in one's repertory relegates originally as an end in itself to the sphere of architectural obscenity. Tesar's latest designs display his insistence on a precise theme, whose preliminary forms are worked out in drawings until they achieve expression, in their significant form, as architectural fact.

In this sense it's possible to speak of 'the architecture of monologue (of which there are either self-stated schools or currents in Austria). Architecture enters into conscious relationship with a relative renunciation, which has no claims to totality and mediates a dialogue with its own laws. The limits and possibilities which it sets itself are no different from a formulation of the rules of the game. The game itself, however, is never evident and direct.

Analytically, in this can be acknowledged a refined orchestration of events alluded to. In this way, every detail of the travel agency by Kapfinger and Krischanitz contains within itself a secret history which is developed and defined until it fits into the attainment of the architectural purpose, the end for which the work exists. The irritation of perception that arises out of this lies in the collage principle: "In the counterposing or juxtaposing of heterogeneous planes of reality, the latter reciprocally call in question one another's original reality” (Kapfinger and Krischanitz). So the collage is not here understood as a bringing together of the irreconcilable so much as a method for transforming the multi-layeredness of every solution into a dialogue. A moritage of levels of meaningfulness that permits multiple levels of interpretation.

In all the works of the architecture of silence, an almost mysterious effect can be noticed: they evince the spiritual activity that has originated them and induce an analytic approach. Yet despite this, there always remains a residuum which acts as a message to the future. Of this broadened concept of architecture, the architects Appelt, Kneissl and Prochazka write: "It is even a good thing that the principle of the unresolved residuum remains: though all may be concluded, this doesn't mean the problem is resolved, imperfection is not conflict, the conflict must appear." This is also valid in the case of a political position that reveals the "relative character of reality as a model" (Kapfinger and Krischanitz).

From: 29 Lotus International. Quarterly Architectural Review. Milan, 1980.

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