The Architecture of Movement
Patrik Schumacher 1996
Published In: ARCH+ 134/135, Wohnen zur Disposition, Dezember 1996 German: Architektur der Bewegung
"To see the system of movement as a key to space remains an exception in architecture. In other areas, e.g. dance, such ideas have been conceived."(1)
1. The quest for the space of movement as the quest for an Other Space
Can there be a theory or a conception of space beyond the "arch-architectural" space of modular control?
Is there an alternative tradition, an alternative paradigm of space or at least the theoretical possibility of defining space through movement alone, without an independent and prior system of reference? How do I design a system of circulation without presupposing points to be connected? A system of connection that defines its points of destiny from within itself? The circulation-system runs in circles and turns into its opposite, a dance: a movement without motivation, ultimately to be understood as the escape from the architectonic system. How does the dance define itself and its space without cartesian grid? Not without fundamentally subverting the whole notion of definition, of rationality and objectivity as resting on regularity and reproducability. The "definition" of space through movement becomes the solipsistic fiat of gratitious subjectivity. Per definition such escapist "architecture" must remain exceptional. This escape from Architecture - to be traced historically - becomes a revolt against architecture and attains a philosophical as well as political dimension, in as much architecture as "the system of systems"(2) remains the original reference of any notion of structure and order. (Here emerges the problematic of a selfconcious deconstructivism.(3))
The idea of an "architecture of movement" depends upon an architecture of (modular) order being presupposed logically as well as historically.
Logical: a-rythmic, creative movement is only identifiable through its negative definition as de-viation from the algorythmically compartmentalized space. The perception of space becomes "subjective" as deviation from the objective order of space. Time becomes "subjective" as deformation of the objective relations established by mechanically produced time: the hand traverses the modular space of the clock's face.
Freedom/subjectivity registers and thinks itself against the framework of an institutionalising "architecture". The technology of architecture gives birth to such concepts. ("Architecture" sigifies not any kind of built something, but first of all a formal system, postulating a structure as an ordered whole conceived and errected in reference to such system.)
The space of movement and experience of the picturesque English landscape garden emerges in the 18th Century as the artificial reconstruction of the natural. It offers itself as the unknown and confronts us with the unforeseen. It does this playfully and comfortably, embedded in the familiar and transparent order of architecture that has already conqered the unknown alien. More existential than playful seems Baudelaire's flaneur who's dis-tracted and desire-driven movement dis-figures the architectural space of the 19th Century city. Guy Debor's psychogeographical "derive" continues this dis-membering anti-tradition in the 20th Century: The disoriented drifting within the body of the city has (anti-)method as it expects unexpected spaces of encounter, potentially revolutionary "situations" that re-open the possibility of the "Other". Debor's Situationism is Anti-CIAM, Anti-planning, Anti-architecture, an architecture of movement. All those architectures of movement are comprehensible only as atempts to suspend the territorialized architectural space. This counter-movement is always also part of a political movement, because the order of architecture is always also a political order. This regards also the movement of the English landscape garden, that was part of an aesthetic revolution carried forward by the ascending bourgeoisie of the 18th Century. The landscape garden validated and took part in the unrestrained usurpation of space by early industrial capital. Considering parallel developements in France, Manfredo Tafuri (4) identifies in Laugier's naturalizing architectural theory the urban ideology of capitalism, which aetheticizes as vital "uproar and tumult" the dynamism of urban growth that can no longer be contained within the formal system of baroque planning.
In the case of Debor the political dimension is absolutely selfconscious and ecxplicite, and his movement becomes part of the movement towards 1968. The same applies to the philosophy of Deleuze and Guattari (5) that is the basis for the recent american architectural debate around the notion of folding: a political critique as critique of a rigid, hierarchical and "territorializing" order is put forward in the form of a quasi-geometry. Deleuze and Guattari are scetching open, flexible and fluid anti-architectures, permanently moving in and out of shifting networks of relation. The space of the nomades - a "smooth space" defined in opposition to modular "striated space" - is the paradigmatic metaphor.
Here, within the ambit of 1968, one finds as well the political and philosophical origin of Deconstructivism, propably the the most extreme and selfconscious anti-architecture of movement in the 20th Century. But before deconstructivism makes sense, a long historical process of construction has to be presupposed.
2. The Production of Space as Elimination of the Other
Architecture is geo-metry, the founding technique of man's appropriation of space. Following Mark Cousins, the history of mankind, in relation to space, might be described as a successive internalization, in real as well as in conceptual terms, an integration of the surrounding into the interior of the city. Athens still had an edge-condition, whereby it met the unknown and uncontrolled Other. Greek cosmology can still ask questions concerning the end of the world. The whole middle ages exist within aristotelian cosmology, the city remains a closed circle, departure from it being adventure, and the map stops at the white terra incognita.
Architecture's formal systems start to conquer the landscape during the Renaissance. The italien villa emerged as the castello could shed its fortifications and the control over the hinterland was completed and asserted by way of extending architecture's geometry - the order of the city - all the way to the horizon, thus placing all of nature under its spell. This finds its pendent in the representation of space through perspective construction which, according to Alberti, starts with the gridded horizontal plane, thus domesticating everything in advance. Everything that might happen to occupy space is always already safely positioned. The medieval realms are trancended. City, landscape and villa are unified into the "integrazione scenica". Venice's reclaimation of the Veneto in 16th century was the politico-economic agenda setting the task for the Palladian Villa. The villa transposes the urban architectural order into the hinterland, formally sizeing upon the colonizing grid imposed under the centuriatio system that devided the land relentlessly into squares of 625sqm. The Villa was placed at major crossing points within this system formally enhancing the intersecting axes. Palladio recommends to raise the axial streets against the fields and to line them with a regular rythm of trees, while the piano nobile was again raised above the intersection. This was the first precise articulation of a comprehensive modular and hierarchical order. Here emerges the space of the controlling perspective, which found its historical peak in the service of 17th century French Absolutism, as the land was built into a state.
(This historical process of appropriation is traced by Clemens Steenbergen and Wouter Reh's "Architecture and Landscape"(6), a brilliant study attentive to the various formal strategies by which the ever-resistant geo-morphology is forced under architecture's rule.)
3. First Dance: Toying with the tamed Other
18th Century England: The period in which Palladianism and its dialectic extension - the english landscape garden - is proliferating in England is the period when the land is finally brought under the total jurisdiction of private property and made accessable through the comprehensive transport network of roads and canals. This process of territorialization leaves no space for ambiguity. All formerly common land is turned into private property according to parliamentary act regulating this so called "enclosure". This process of appropriation is accompanied by a rationalization of the agricultural geometry. The resulting chessboard pattern was marked by hedges and drywalls. The canals imposed a horizontal datum: an architecture of dykes, tunnels and aqueducts defined the hilly topography as de-viation. The roads were straightened and their surface hardened. Signposts and milestones were introduced, effectively subsuming space and movement under the modular order of the map. Manufacturing industries, accompanied by new settlements, spread out into the country, utilizing the water-energy available along the rivers. A whole new class of country nobility (with bought titles) settled on country estates crowned by Palladian Villas. This massive urban colonization of the countryside was the framing context of the emerging landscape gardens, those artificial zones of nature's irregularity and freedom, playful escapes from the architectonic system. The picturesque garden was a labyrinthine, mythically charged space, without visual boundaries, impenetrable by the controlling gaze, only to be revealed through movement. But this movement was no longer measured by milestones and signposts, it followed another drama, allowing for surprise and even sublimated horror. Such sublimated experience of the danger of untamed nature was theorized in Burke's 'Philosophical Inquiry into the Origins of our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful' from 1756, postulating a new aesthetic category.
If the Sublime and the Picturesque are signalling moments of relief, moments of freedom from and a reaction to Architecture, they also pave the way for an urban developement which is no longer fully controllable by the (baroque) architectural formalism.
4. Modern Modularity
One might argue (with Tafuri) that the sublime as aesthetic value became a means by which the emerging bourgeoisie could sublimate and aesthetizise its chaotic industrial urbanization, unbearable to a classical sensibility.
In this respect one might then interpret Modern Urbanism as a late atempt to finally bring the chaotic capitalist urban landscape into the domain of architecture. The urban models of Tony Garnier, LeCorbusier, Frank Lloyd Wright, Ernst May, Ludwig Hilbersheimer etc., all these are based on the classical geometric canons of modularity, conceived as tabula rasa structure. The more complex and open spatialities emerging through suprematism, futurism, cubism, and neoplasticism are assimilated into (anti-)architectural spatial experiments on the scale of the villa only. This new sensibilty and concept of space, which Sigfried Gideon (7) termed "space-time", did involve subjectivity and movement, whereby the identity of a spatial unit (a "room") would shift with the respective position of the moving subject. The spatial units - or rather no longer units - would enter into successive alignments, dissolving the possibility of unitary identity implied by the notion of the room or module.
Giedion discovers within the "Parkways" around New York an architecture of movement on an urban scale. "The fundamental law of the parkway: there must be unobstructed feedom of movement."(8) Because the highways neither follow straight lines nor any algorythm, but are rather lead by the natural topography, they convey to Giedion the illusion of a totally free movement: "a feeling like nothing else so much as sliding swiftly on skis through untouched snow."(9)
Despite Giedion's claim that "space-time" represents the essence of the modern epoque it remained marginal within overall 20th Century construction, which, based on the fordist mode of production, was bound to be relentlessly modular. The history of 20th Century urbanism between 1920 and 1980 was following the paradigm of the modular "Siedlung", being reproduced on an everextending scale throughout this period.
5. Movement within the module
Within and against this modular mass production LeCorbusier developes the seemingly unproblematic idea of an architecture of movement, best exemplified by his classic icon of modernity: the villa Savoye, one of the few built experiments in modern "space-time". Within his Oevre Complete, edited by LeCorbusier himself, the photographic sequence through the interior of the villa is inconspicuously subtitled "promenade architecturale". If the thus suggested analogy to promenading through a park, landscape, or urban environment is taken serious, one faces an uncanny (unhomely) paradox: The inhabitant of such an environment would have to be conceived as a flaneur, a stranger in his own house. In his own house, where he once knew himself safely kept and reassured of his identity, the scene should constantly vary, offering change, surprise and the unknown, re-emerging over and again as the unfamiliar and never becoming his home.
A similar spirit haunts the Villas of Adolph Loos: Spatial sequences merging across the shifting levels prevent fixed identities to take root anywhere. Communism would move through such spaces, if the exterior would not have been secured architecturally as a discrete, hermetic unit. The same is true for LeCorbusier's Villa, who's landscape-like quality is constricted into a cartesian envelope, thus clearly and objectively defined as object and property. Only within the four walls does spontaneous movement extrude its space from the given, inexhaustably ambiguous spatial substance.
6. Movement beyond the module: Two limit cases
Such a conception of space as generated by spontaneus movement entails an understanding of Being and Dwelling at its point of disappearance. Architecture can only approximate or simulate its implied disappearance. The work of Zaha Hadid and of Berkel&Bos might be interpreted as such an anti-Architecture. Particulary I shall reference two residential projects, where the question of Being (and being at home) is most radically challenged.
Ben van Berkels multi-storey housing project for Borneo-Sparenberg radicalizes the dissolution of the stable, modular framework of orientation that would locate one's home within the structure. Ten maisonette units - three-dimensionally complex figures - are entangled into one another, thus constituting a rectelinear mass. Within this tangle the single unit looses its identity and integrety. The dweller is no longer able to overlook where his property starts and ends. He disappears into an inconceivable burrow-geometry. The public outside space penetrates and "erodes" the block. The three-dimensional jigsaw conjures a continuous labyrinth of interstitial spaces, that, while operating as access and lighting space, allows for a strange "promenade architecturale". A potentially liberating space, that comes as surprise within a multy-storey building, a type that has hithertho been the paradigm of modularity.
Zaha Hadid's design (1991) of a villa for the Hague ("Spiral in the box") proceeds from what seems at first to be a purely formal contradiction or contrast: between a violently dynamic interior and a strictly modular exterior. The envelope is prefigured by the setback rules and rigidly positioned within the grid of Koolhaas' masterplan. This given volume is conceived as indivisible continuum. Any form of devision into levels or cells is suspended. The dichotomous distinction between programme areas and circulation areas is erased. Everything seems to be shot through with movement. This dynamic thrust seems caught and fixed within the given cubic grid, yet it remains unsettling in as much as the cube itself is undermined and distorted by the thrust of the "movement".
The internal anti-geometry touches, twists, and cuts the architectural envelope. The facades seem to follow the spiralling drift as they transform along a sequence from opaque, translucent, to transparent.
The spiral is the means by which the whole three-dimensional field of the volume remains open and continuous. It is not to be understood as geometric figure. It does not follow any geometric rule but bends and twists out of pure "willfullnes". Endless design variations bear witness to the indeterminacy of the morphology, within limiting parameters like maximum incline, smoothness of curves etc. Exact geometrical determination - a constant or algorythmically controlled radius - is excluded, like anything that would lead to uniformity. Everywhere variations within the field are offered as local (and temporary) possibilities of identification, without ever implying an unambiguous territorialization of the space. A dynamic of inhabitation is thus suggested that radicalizes Adolph Loos' "Raumplan" and further enhances the fluidity of the relational play.
This "topography" of movement deterritorializes - potentially - the hierarchical structure of the family as well as the related rigidity of the functional zoning of the house. The creative play - the (anti-)principle of the "soft" free-form furniture of the sixties - is here swollowing the whole house. The inescapable identification and labelling of the standart territories like "living room", "master bedroom" etc. is always possible and can even utilize certain valences or latencies offered within the free-form morphology. Nevertheless, such labels remain subject to the destabilizing forces of movement and subjectivity. Those inscriptions mutate into absurd stipulations. The spiral-house remains an unhomely bunble of open questions, born from willfullness, lust and an urge for freedom. This overstretched architecture tears at a brittle social edifice and sets it into motion.
1. ARCH+, Nr. 131, "Information der Architektur",
p.14, Joachim Krause interviewd by ARCH+,
2. Denis Hollier, "Against Architecture", M.I.T. Press, 1989, S. 33
3. Mark Wigley, "The Architecture of Deconstruction", M.I.T. Press, 1993
4. Manfredo Tafuri, "Architecture and Utopia", M.I.T. Press, 1976
5. Gilles Deleuze, Felix Guattari, "Mille Plateaux", Les Editions de Minuit,
6. Clemens Steenbergen, Wouter Reh, "Architecture and Landscape",
7. Sigfried Giedion, "Space, Time and Architecture", Harvard University Press, 1941, Fifth Edition 1967
8. ebenda S. 824
9. ebenda S.825