Undisciplinary is the personal wiki of Martin Zemlicka.

Monika Mitášová — Is Critical Architecture Possible?

06.05.2014, Czech Technical University, Faculty of Architecture

Apparently this horribly advertised lecture was part of Monika Mitasova’s habilitation process, I only knew about it via word of mouth, which is a shame as it was very good and quite unlike a typical architecture related presentation.


Straight away it is clear that Monika will be explaining Peter Eisenman’s views of/on critical architecture, referring almost purely to his work on Guiseppe Terragni’s Casa del Fascio that he explored in his 1963 thesis (The Formal Basis of Modern Architecture) and 2003 book on Terragni (Transformations, Decompositions, Critiques1).

The lecture was dense with information and visuals, much of which has can be found in Eisenman’s work (it was, after all, a recapitulation of his research). This mean I took hardly any notes. However, some things/thoughts that stood out:

  1. Eisenman, after Greenberg, thinks that architecture is, to some degree, autonomous. Meaning it has it’s own internal expression.
  2. Some thoughts that were thrown around to help understand what is meant by critical architecture:
    1. critical architecture “demystifies” previous assumptions
    2. critical architecture is that which creates precedents. Meaning: that which is alternate to the now. (think: the avant-garde is, by definition, the forefront of the masses)
    3. critical architecture is that which allows for critical (ambiguous) interpretations (problematic). This is very much related to the point above.
  3. Practically everything in the Casa del Fascio was custom made, overseen by the architect. This allowed to house to be completely new and *original.

At the post lecture question time is where it got more interesting, as it is where we started to get the opinions of people in the room and not Peter Eisenman.

  1. Jiří Ševčík mentions something along the lines of “the problem of this approach is it’s unsocial”
    1. It is unclear if he was referring to Eisenman’s understanding of architecture, or Terragni’s building. Monika stated that Terragni’s building did have a social agenda, but did not state anything on Eisenman’s approach.
  2. An overdressed (three piece suit, pocket square) young boy/man wanted clarification the role of post-factum interpretation in Eisenman’s understanding of what constitutes as critical architecture. Does it mean that, for example, a building can be critical only after it is built and reinterpreted, or, to put it another way, were Palladio’s villas critical only after somebody re-interpreted them? Monika replies that no, one does not need time and to be re-interpreted in order to be critical, one can already be critical with regards to past (in the current present). It seems that there was some confusion with Eisenman’s notion of critical architecture and Eisenman’s notion of canon.


I have hard time swallowing any claims of the autonomy of architecture. These views come up quite frequently under different names: elementary forms, architectural truth, autopoiesis, allusions to architecture as a distinct language, &c. Eisenman of course is very much in line with the latter of these claims, with much of his early work relating to semiotics, and much of his thinking/building revolving around Architecture, capital-A, self reflexive on the discipline.

The issue is that even if one were to take the linguistic approach, that which Eisenman uses as a basis point for architecture’s autonomy one can easily see and conclude that it actually points to the opposite. Language is dependant on externalities, it is shaped by outside forces and there is nothing fundamental about grammar2. Knowing that, it becomes difficult to argue for the fundamental necessity of certain architectural forms or concepts, it turns into just another form of reductionism justified by conventions.

So much for comments on autonomy.

One has to applaud Eisenman’s study of Terragni, it reveals the building to be an interesting topic historically (the state of the Fascist party at the at point), architecturally (it’s inventiveness and genesis) and intellectually (the potential readings of it). What particularly caught my attention was how, for a building that appears extremely stable, it is full of intended ambiguities; for example the trick of needing to open a window for it to gain a full platonic shape, making the building be in a kind of exponential limbo about it’s solidity. It seems clear, but it isn’t and can never be.

It raises interesting questions which I’ll have to consider. How to make an architecture that acknowledges the ambiguity of things? How to show the instability of any object’s self conception? Can we do it without slipping ito metaphor? It’s a very OOO thought, hence my interest in it.

  1. Considering the relative obscurity of this book, I was surprised to find it has an above-average quantity of reviews on amazon, of which only 3 are favourable. 

  2. See, for exmaple, Kohn’s recent (and excellent) How Forests Think, one of who’s many topics is the influence of the surrounding world on language.