1997.07.21

Losing Face

1


Anthony Vidler, "Losing Face" in The Architectural Uncanny - Essays in the Modern Unhomely (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1992), p. 85-99.

The museum is the colossal mirror in which man contemplates himself finally in all his faces, finds himself literally admirable, and abandons himself to the ecstasies expressed in all the art journals.
Georges Bataille, "Musée"

In a recent article on the architecture of James Stirling, Colin Rowe observed, not uncritically, that the new Staatsgalerie in Stuttgart was to all intents and purposes comparable to Schinkel's Altes Museum, but "without a facade." This lack of facade Rowe found troubling; there was "something slightly crumbly" about the result, a "presence too casually disclosed." Against such a lack of facade, Rowe posed the necessity for walls, the thicker the better; dense and opaque vertical surfaces that would present the building to the eye, not, as with the plan, intellectually and conceptually, but perceptually. A building without such a facade, frontally posed to the approaching viewer, lacked, in Rowe's terms, an essential ingredient of representation. Like the face, the facade operated for Rowe as "a metaphorical plane of intersection between the eyes of the observer and what one may dare to call the 'soul' of the building." For Rowe, indeed, the face/facade, "the existential interface between eye and idea," was necessary for any interaction between building and observer to take place: "when considering intercourse with a building," Rowe concluded, "its face, however veiled, must always be a desirable and provocative item."1

This lack of interest in the face, Rowe has consistently argued, has been a continuous failing of modern architecture. Once the horizontal slab on columns, permeable to light, air, and space, had technically and polemically replaced the vertical load-bearing wall, the facade was inevitably at risk. As expressed in the prototype of Le Corbusier's Maison Domino, the emphasis on the horizontal, on the interpenetration of inside and outside, had created the means for a "free facade"; and this, for all intents and purposes, was no facade, in the traditional sense, at all. The loss of facade would thus simply be the direct result of the loss of the bearing wall, a necessary precondition to the "free facade," which allows the long window to be inserted in what becomes no more than a thin skin stretched across the edges of the horizontal slabs. The bearing wall, the construction of which was simply a preliminary to the marking of its vertical surface as a premonition or intimation of the inside, had, to all intents and purposes, been done away with. The free plan destroyed the fixed facade. "Face," concluded Rowe, "was never a preoccupation of modern architecture."

How might we then interpret Rowe's objection to modernist effacement now raised with regard to Stirling's museum, a building that seems monumental enough and seems to have overcome many of the deficiencies of the Domino model and its stylistic consequences? On one level, we might infer that Rowe, a humanist by predilection, was simply calling for the erasure of any trace of modernist program, and especially so in a building that in other respects seemed to reply successfully to his general criticism of modernism, especially with regard to its replication of a fragmented urban discourse that to all intents and purposes echoes the formal project of Rowe's own "collage city."

On another, more visceral level, Rowe's objection to a lack of face might be an extension of that understanding, derived from Wölfflin and sustained by Geoffrey Scott, that Renaissance building owed its special qualities as an "architecture of humanism" to its direct analogies, in theory and physical presence, to the human body. A confessed Wölfflinian himself, Rowe would seem to agree with the ascription of a corporeal psychology to the experience of architecture, a response of the human body to a building that, for the building to be successful, would have, so to speak, to be matched and instigated by the building itself. We sense an echo of Wö1fflin's conclusion that "we judge every object by analogy with our own bodies." Wölfflin wrote of the "creature"-like nature of the building, "with head and foot, back and front": "we can comprehend the dumb imprisoned existence of a bulky, memberless, amorphous conglomeration, heavy and immovable, as easily as the fine and clear disposition of something delicate and lightly articulated."2


For Geoffrey Scott, the building's "body" acted as a referent for "the body's favorable states," the "moods of the spirit ... power and laughter, strength and terror and calm." Translating the long tradition of Renaissance bodily analogy into psychological terms, Scott identified two complementary principles at work: the one, founded on the response we have to the appearance of stability or instability in a building, is our identification with the building itself: "we have transcribed ourselves into terms of architecture." The other was founded on the fact that with this initial transcription we unconsciously invest the building itself with human movement and human moods: "we transcribe architecture into terms of ourselves." Together, these two principles formed, he asserted, "the humanism of architecture." On the one hand, the "tendency to project the image of our functions into concrete forms" provided the basis for design; on the other, "the tendency to recognize, in concrete forms, the image of these functions" was the basis of all criticism. Thence Scott's impassioned plea for the body in architecture: "architecture, to communicate the vital values of the spirit must appear organic, like the body."3 It might well be assumed that Rowe, following Scott and more directly Adrian Stokes, subscribes to such notions, at least in so far as they prove useful for criticism.

In Rowe's criticism of Stirling's museum, however, the demand was not necessarily for a body but rather for a face, which, with its direct appeal to the notion of a facade, implies a more figurative and mimetic correspondence than one based simply on abstract qualities of height, weight, stability, instability, and the like. Looking for a more direct understanding of the face/facade analogy, we might find it in the more precise physiognomical analyses of the late eighteenth century that compared, sometimes all too literally, a building's front to a human face. We might think of the theories of writers from Le Camus de Mézières to Humbert de Superville, the projects of Ledoux and Lequeu, and, in the later nineteenth century, of Charles Blanc and his disturbing comparison of racial physiognomies with regional styles.4

But this tradition would not explain Rowe's reference to the question of a building's soul; physiognomy as a guide to the inner states of the soul was, after all, largely discredited, save for its survival in Balzac's characterological mythology, following Hegel's devastating attack on physiognomy and phrenology in the Phenomenology of 1807. Yet Rowe insists on the face as an indication of the "internal animation" of a building, at once "both opaque and revealing." Evidently he is implying a less religious and more aestheticized notion of "soul" than was present in eighteenth-century physiognomical theory--perhaps something closer to that sketched by Georg Simmel in 1901, in an essay entitled "The Aesthetic Significance of the Human Face," where he explored the nature of the face as an index of modern spirituality.5

Simmel, struck by the adage "The face is the mirror of the soul," observed that this was no doubt the result of its unity in repose, a symmetry that rendered all the more expressive the even slight distortion of one of its parts. Further, he noted that the structure of the face makes any too--exaggerated transformation in any one of its parts impossible without positively unaesthetic, almost inhuman results. Simmel equated such "centrifugal movement"--characteristic of baroque figures--to "despiritualization," the weakening of the domination of the mind over the extremities of the being. Beyond this, the face is an index not simply of "mind" in the abstract but of individuality in the concrete: "the face strikes us as the symbol, not only of the spirit, but also of an unmistakable personality." Rowe's distaste for faceless architecture would, in these terms, simply be a dislike of the lack of "personality" implicit in the generalist and antiindividualist program of modernism.

This conclusion would be reinforced by Simmel's insistence on the face as a bearer of meaning that far surpasses the body in expressiveness. Indeed, he argued, the very capacity of the body for expression is limited:

Bodies differ to the trained eye just as faces do; but unlike faces, bodies do not at the same time interpret these differences. A definite spiritual personality is indeed connected with a definite, unmistakable body, and can at any time be identified in it. Under no circumstances, however, can the body, in contrast to the face, signify the kind of personality.

Nor is the body able to display psychological processes; its movements are crude when compared to those of the face: "in the face alone, emotion first expressed in movement is deposited as the expression of permanent character." These individual qualities of the face are balanced by its perfect symmetry, by virtue of which either of its two halves can be inferred from the other, each pointing to a higher principle that governs both; "as a whole it realizes individuation; but it does so in the form of symmetry, which controls the relation among the parts."6 The correlates to such qualities in architecture have been theorized since Alberti, and Rowe certainly makes reference to them.


For Simmel the essential characteristic of the face, sealing its position as the most complete model of the relations demanded by the work of art, was then this "task of creating a maximum change of total expression by a minimum change of detail." And of all the parts of the face contributing to this effect of dynamic economy, the eye was, for him, the most subtle and powerful, through its mobility and through the importance of the gaze, which, in painting for example, interprets and structures space itself.

The eye epitomizes the face in mirroring the soul. At the same time, it accomplishes its finest, purely formal end as the interpreter of mere appearance, which knows no going back to any pure intellectuality behind the appearance. It is precisely this achievement with which the eye, like the face generally, gives us the intimation, indeed the guarantee, that the artistic problems of pure perception and of the pure sensory image of things--if perfectly solved--would lead to the solution of those other problems which involve soul and appearance. Appearance would then become the veiling and unveiling of the soul.7

To follow here the implications of such a statement with respect to the openings in a facade--doors and windows--would lead us too far from our argument, but it is clear that Rowe's comment on the soul of the building revealed or at least intimated by its face gains substance in comparison to Simmel's proposition. To strip away the face from the soul would be in some sense to denature the soul itself, or at least to deprive it of that content it received from the face as its expression and representation. The absence of a face would then imply the lack of a soul, for without visibility, nothing may be inferred to exist.

We are thus presented with an apparently clear set of oppositions, between classical humanism and modernist antihumanism, between faced buildings and faceless ones. But evidently Rowe is not indiscriminately opposed to all modern buildings: Le Corbusier is cited alongside Renaissance and baroque architects as ("sometimes") a master of the vertical surface. Certainly we have more than ample evidence that Le Corbusier's very notion of architecture was itself founded, like that of Alberti, on the body, and indeed, the principles of the free plan, as I described them above, reside on a concept of the body that Le Corbusier never tired of repeating. From the house to the city, the body, for Le Corbusier, acted as the central referent: its shape informed the layout of the Ville Radieuse; its analogy infused biology into the mechanics of the city and the building; its proportions were embedded into every measure through the operation of the tracés régulateurs or the modulor. Despite the rhetoric of the free plan and the free facade, there would seem to be a counter-tendency at work in Le Corbusier's work emphasizing the continuity of the humanist position, an ever-present body reflected in and projected into a bodily architecture.

Rowe himself admires the facades of the villas Schwob and Garches that exploit the tension between horizontal floors and vertical walls with considerable skill. The facade of Garches, certainly, seems caught between a representation of its non-load-bearing status and its frontal, entry condition. And this example could be multiplied in Le Corbusier's work--I mention only the Maison Plainex, with its witty symmetry that implies facial characteristics. There are many others. If we need reminding of Le Corbusier's own love of walls, as opposed to "skins," we would only have to turn to an early notebook (c. 1910) to read:

A wall is beautiful, not only because of its plastic form, but because of the impressions it may evoke. It speaks of comfort, it speaks of refinement; it speaks of power and of brutality; it is forbidding or it is hospitable;--it is mysterious. A wall calls forth emotions.8

Similar passages in Vers une architecture, as well as many self-explanatory sketches, reinforce our sense that Le Corbusier's love of walls is hardly less than Rowe's. Certainly Rowe's long exegesis of the qualities of the side wall of the chapel at La Tourette would suffice to confirm that Le Corbusier fills at least some of the critic's criteria with regard to walls.9

What seems to be at stake, then, is not so much the simple opposition humanism/modernism. In the first place, given Stirling's deliberately ambiguous mingling of modernist and classicist codes, his formation of a heterogeneous language that otherwise fascinates Rowe, we cannot easily charge the critic with any form of literalist nostalgia. Secondly, if there is an implied critique of modernism in his question, it is, in the context of Stirling's reformulation of the architectural problem, hardly to be taken in the same spirit as, for example, the same question addressed to Gropius's Bauhaus building.


Rowe's observation gains depth when it is remembered that the precise formulation of Stirling's facelessness was rendered by an implied parallel between Schinkel's Berlin Altes Museum and the new Stuttgart Staatsgalerie. This parallel, indeed, is suggested by a comparison made by Rowe much earlier, in a note appended to his essay on "The Mathematics of the Ideal Villa," that brought side by side for the purposes of tracing the traditional roots of modernism the two monuments of Schinkel's Altes Museum and its (formal) reconstitution in Le Corbusier's Assembly Building at Chandigarh.10 Implicitly, then, Stirling's building completes a series begun with Schinkel and continued with Le Corbusier, operating adeptly with both in order to produce what, for Rowe, must appear as a witty, if not "mannerist," transformation of the classical prototype into the postmodern assemblage, with traces of its modernist typology preserved for dialectical good measure.

And yet, although Rowe does not note the fact, we recognize that Schinkel's museum had itself already begun to suppress what, traditionally at least, might be termed a face. The facade of the Altes Museum was after all formed by the equal colonnade of a "stoa" set into the block of the building. And such a stoa, with no formal indication of symmetry save for applied motifs such as steps or the sight of the attic of the central space, and with a permeability hardly indicative of the thick and vertical wall plane demanded by Rowe, offers little of the kind of "face" presented by other museums of the epoch, such as the temple fronts of London or Munich. The true face of Schinkel's building, indeed, is set behind the colonnade, a wall paneled to receive a narrative history of culture, pierced in the center to provide access to the museum and the stair to the second floor. A facade hidden, then, behind a screen; the "face," however veiled, of Simmel's analogy. Stirling has, in this sense, stripped away not one but two faces, in order to reveal the drum of the central space not now as interior but as exterior surface.

This again leads to a peculiar reversal. For Schinkel, as is well known, built up his model museum from a number of architectural elements each meaningful in its own origin and again in combination with the other elements. These may be identified as the overall block, similar in its courtyard parti to the royal palace that faced the museum across the square; then the inset entry stoa that, on approach screened the panoramic vision of the historical development of culture on the wall behind, and on the upper floor screened and frame the equally panoramic view of the city of Berlin, with the royal palace and Schinkel's own architecture school building prominent left and to right; finally, inset into the composition, the central rotunda, a miniature Pantheon, with dome and internal colonnade. Such a combination of type forms taken from historical architecture brought together the Greek ideal of civic accessibility embodied in the stoa, a type of the agora rather than the acropolis; the sequence of rooms en suite characteristic of the palace turned museum and responding to the chronological exposition of the objects; and the temple of memory or Pantheon, emblem of Rome but also of the absolute suprahistorical nature of aesthetic quality, a reminder of the nature of "art" in the historical work of art.

When, as in Stirling's museum, such an assemblage is dismantled, the effect is immediately to alter the meaning of each element and thereby of the whole. Thus Stirling takes away not only the facade of the Altes Museum but also its front sequence of rooms turning the original palace plan into a U-shaped block reminiscent of the old gallery to one side. The site of the original stoa is marked by a terrace, reached by a ramp from street level. Then the stair, once set behind the stoa, is turned into a second ramp that rises from this terrace to the entrance and gives access to the courtyard in the rotunda. This rotunda, without dome and open to the sky, presenting interior and exterior volumes by virtue of the high surrounding wall, is no more than the "shell" of the Pantheon, blasted open and left to stand as an absent presence, a space returned to the city by an act of violence to a monument. Another ramp curving along the inside wall of the rotunda leads to the upper level of the site. The effect of defacing has been, so to speak, to disembowel, to reveal the inner organs without protection or representation. The rotunda offers its curved wall as if turning its back on the visitor, who is left without even a porch, that usual manner of entering a Pantheon-like rotunda. Rather there is the entrance lobby, a glass-faced curvilinear pavilion standing in front of the line implied by the front ends of the U-block. The message seems to be one of deracination, of indeterminacy, of discomfort with the monumental face of past institutions; of a tentative reconciliation of architecture and the city, revealing the elements of architecture in order in a second moment to facilitate their dispersion into the city fabric.


But the type of Schinkel's Altes Museum was not available for Stirling, for all the appropriateness of the model for his German audience, without having been submitted to considerable transformations during the modern period. Indeed, a glance at the ground plan of Le Corbusier's Musée Mondial immediately reveals the debt owed to its German predecessor; the square plan, framed by a U to the rear, and the central, cylindrical volume of the Sacrarium both refer back to Schinkel and anticipate Stirling's version.

Following Rowe's own lead, in his comparison of the Altes Museum and Le Corbusier's Palace of Assembly at Chandigarh, such an analysis would reveal "a conventional classical parti equipped with traditional poché and much the same parti distorted and made to present a competitive variety of local gestures--perhaps to be understood as compensations for traditional poché." If this comparison were to be systematically developed one might notice, for example, the transformation of the original stoa into a kind of propylaeum or gigantic umbrella porch, almost freestanding in front of an uneven and broken wall that screens the first row of interior columns; the formation of the U-shaped block framing the interior hall by the joining of three separately conceived blocks, each with its independent columnar grids and exterior sun breakers; finally the displacement from the center of the central circular volume, one equally independent as an element, surrounded by its own interior-exterior wall and reinforced by its own circle of columns that neatly intersect with those of the interior hall in order to bring its spinning form to (provisional) rest. The ramp, finally, turned at right angles from the original position of Schinkel's central stair, balances the offset site of the council chamber, and the entry itself is displaced one bay to the right of center.

In view of this preliminary transformation, the Stirling Staatsgalerie might be said to be already a second-degree version of the Schinkel prototype, operating on Schinkel by way of his modernist re-interpretation. One might extend Rowe's comment logically to read "a Palace of Assembly without a facade." Thus Stirling's central circular volume would be at once a memory of the Pantheon rotunda and of an empty assembly hall; the ramp would already be included in the elements of the project; the three-sided U of offices already substituted for the courtyard parti; the entrance already off center, and, most importantly, the rear wall of the "stoa" already eroded into a screen.

Such a formal transformation was, as we have noted, however, already present in the Musée Mondial where Le Corbusier retained a reference to Schinkel in plan while entirely reformulating the type in section. The first-floor plan of the Corbusian museum is, indeed, uncannily similar to Stirling's own reformulation of Schinkel. In both, a U-shaped block frames a central circle; in both, the original dome of the Pantheon has been lifted: in the case of the Musée Mondial, Le Corbusier has substituted the inner space of a high pyramid; in that of the Staatsgalerie, Stirling has completed its ruination, opening it to the sky. Le Corbusier himself made the point that, with the entire monument raised up on pilotis, the distinction between front and back had been erased, thus beginning the process that Stirling accomplishes by means of the continuous public route through the site from top to bottom. In this sense, Stirling would not simply be destroying the Pantheon, or attacking Schinkel's monumental version of history, but also gently criticizing the idealistic and quasi-mystical aspirations of Corbusian modernism.

With the results of this "Wölfflinian" analysis of formal techniques in mind, we might enquire, by way of conclusion, as to the specific causes of Stirling's apparently ambivalent attitude toward monumentality. In the first place, of course, this would be attributable to the modernist rejection of what Sigfried Giedion called the pseudomonumentality of the nineteenth century, the routine "misuse" of shapes from the past, the devaluation of traditional language, a loss of monumentality attributable to no "special political or economic system."11

In the second place, and in the context of postwar Germany, Stirling's resistance to traditional monumentality stemmed evidently from his opposition to a specific variety of pseudomonumentality, that of the Third Reich. The memory of Nazi "misuse" of Schinkel's neoclassic forms rendered a direct and "postmodern" quotation of Schinkel, or any other classic image, immediately suspect. Thus we might well read Stirling's "empty center," with its ruined columns, as an ironic gesture that explodes the monumental focus of the building to the city, to imply the inhabitation of an already ruined monument or at least the establishment of a cemetery at its heart. And with the heart exposed and dead, the dismantling of all the other organs followed, culminating in the loss of face. It is as if Stirling were commenting on the reuse of an already ruined nineteenth-century monument, following Giedion's pathology- "the so-called monuments of recent date have ... become empty shells"-to the ironic letter.


And yet, of course, the very citation of Schinkel, however ruined, was in itself suspect, and especially in the context of a new museum dedicated to memory, and one that, despite the fragmentation of its parts, evidently aspired to and attained a form of monumentality of its own. This has inevitably led to charges of a kind of "fascism" leveled against Stirling himself. Peter Bürger recently commented on what he called the "fascist" overtones of the Stuttgart museum, a design that has been assailed by traditional modernists and traditionalists alike.12 Frei Otto and other neomodernists committed to a "democratic" architecture of flexibility, indeterminacy, and technocratic "lightness" found Stirling's walls, terraces, and monumental cylinder "inhuman"; Professor Benisch, winner of the third prize in the competition, saw distinct echoes of "totalitarian" architecture, one dedicated, he stated, to an autonomous and formalistic (and therefore socially meaningless) play of quotations. Even the building workers, not to be outdone, spoke of the architect wishing to rival Speer at the Zeppelinfield at Nuremburg.

Certainly, the building of a "ruin" by a British architect in the center of a city itself devastated by war seems to have overdetermined its negative reception, especially as the ruin refers to a museum that was indeed ruined by the bombing. Stirling's "best of intentions" have been canceled by a context that no merely formal irony could expect to overcome.

In these respects, then, the notion of an escape from or effacement of monumentality would seem to turn back on itself, implying the immediate absorption of the most "critical" vocabulary of references and the monumentalization of any institutional form, however veiled its "soul." The very eradication of the face that veils representation becomes symbolic in its own right, monumentalizing, despite itself, the most difficult contradictions in the debate over monumentality.

We might now better understand Stirling's attempt to invent a form of monumentality that weaves the museum back into the city once more, dispersing its architectural contents as so many half-ruined elements that resist any reintegration into a classical unity. Stirling's decomposition of Schinkel, via Le Corbusier, seems in the light of this brief history of representation somehow inevitable, an unwitting paradigm of what the German philosopher Arnold Gehlen has termed (in French) posthistoire.

But this said, and with all respect paid to the brilliant formal gestures that result, we might also recognize one further characteristic of Stirling's building that marks it out as entirely different from either its nineteenth- or its twentieth-century predecessors. In both Schinkel and Le Corbusier, as we have noted, architecture is indissolubly bound to the contents, real and ideological, of the museum. In the Altes Museum, the sequence of rooms that assemble the schools of western painting in chronological order is posed against the calm Pantheon at the center that establishes the notion of ahistorical permanence; the public, semipermeable face of the stoa confirms the museum's connection to the city. Architecture operates as both representation and instrument for the display of a nation's history and its artistic heritage as the active ingredient of continuing cultural development. It is at once sign and agent of a living history.

Similarly, in Le Corbusier's Musée Mondial, the grand route of time is extended back to prehistory and forward to the ever-expanding present, working to insert temporality and spatiality across cultures and peoples into a universalizing frame that, again, proposes history (enlarged in its scope by the sciences of anthropology, ethnology, and geology) as the foundation of the future. The central volume, or "Sacrarium," universalizes the western Pantheon and acts again as a center of atemporality. Here too the architecture operates as a symbol and mechanism and is tied to its contents.

But with Stirling's museum, as with so many other contemporary museums, this "content" is now dispersed into a generalized notion of flexibility. The brief no doubt called for a series of well-lit and well-ventilated rooms of certain sizes; but their structure, sequence, and scale are in the event subordinated to the debate among the architectural fragments at the center of the museum. The consequence of this withdrawal from program is to place all the burden of signification on the architecture itself, freed entirely of any contemporary obligations, speaking only of its relationship to the past. But we have seen that while this "speech" relies on a set of carefully selected precedents, museum paradigms, these are used to indicate the presence of a museum without the inconvenience of their former significations. Theodor Adorno characterizes this condition in his essay on the "Valéry Proust Museum": "Once tradition is no longer animated by a comprehensive substantial force, but has to be conjured up by means of citations because 'It's important to have tradition,' then whatever happens to be left of it is dissolved into a means to an end"13


Posthistoire, we might then assume, would privilege the internal discourse of an architecture turned on itself, an architecture disassociated from its cultural obligations, at least insofar as this culture has lost any secure belief in its own history. Perhaps this is what disturbed Colin Rowe the most, as he contemplated the lost face of history at Stuttgart.

To leave the critic-historian adrift, as it were, before the shards of history at Stuttgart, however, would be to ignore the peculiar nature of that history. For the fragments of architectural types all too neatly exploded by Stirling are, in the end, pieces of a history itself constructed artificially. The desire of the historian and thence the architect to make architecture speak has forced its fragmentation into allegorical units, made up from pieces of the past. In this sense it might be said that what Rowe experienced at Stuttgart was the product of the history he himself had elaborated with post-Wölfflinian expertise, one that deliberately tore the fragment loose from one context in order to press meaning on it in another.

Taken to its extreme, such a history would result in the endless circulation of signs, the foreclosure of history itself, a fate that does not dismay the neoconservative adherents of posthistoire. As Habermas has noted, Gehlen's "sigh of relief" in the face of what he sees as the "crystallization" of culture and the death of Enlightenment leads all too quickly to the cheerless admonition favored by Gottfried Benn, "Count up your supplies":

The possibilities implanted in [modern culture] have all been developed in their basic elements. Even the counterpossibilities and antitheses have been uncovered and assimilated, so that henceforth changes in the premises have become increasingly unlikely.... If you have this impression you will perceive crystallization.14

Against such a bleak future of endless repetition, one easily imagined within the premises of "collage architecture" and certainly practiced by exponents of postmodernist allegory, the history of the modern museum offers at least one alternative understanding of architectural representation: the recognition that the construction of a contemporary architecture has to remain entirely distinct from the history that it shelters. Architecture would here be denied a representative and allegorical role in order for it to take on a spatial and structural existence independent of its contents.

Certain historical museums have demonstrated this form of architectural autonomy. One might cite the rear gallery of John Soane's house, where historical fragments are attached to a geometrical and almost aclassical structure, or the more comprehensive exploration of abstract classicism at the Dulwich Art Gallery, where structure, lighting, and spatial definition come together to form additive units that present (rather than represent) the museum's exhibits. Schinkel himself, perhaps following Wilhelm von Humboldt's concept of historical objectivity, approached such a separation in the private museums of the Prince Regent at Kleinglienicke and at the home of von Humboldt at Tegel. In both buildings, the historical fragment is clearly distinguished from its architectural frame. Contemporary equivalents that might offer some resistance to the excesses of "cultural crystallization" might be, for example, Louis Kahn's Kimbell Art Museum at Fort Worth, where the studied relationship between structure and lighting seems to extend the lessons of Soane's Dulwich; or, finally, Raphael Moneo's museum of Roman artifacts at Mérida, where a simple repetitive wall and arch structure creates a haunting ambience that, without citation or mimicry, is entirely appropriate to its contents. In all these examples, the refusal to dismember architecture allows for a provisional contract with the present, and thus escapes, for a moment at least, the contradictions of historical representation.

For it is perhaps not an accident that all these examples are truly faceless: the interiority of Soane's museums, with even Dulwich awkwardly entered through a private mausoleum, is echoed by Schinkel's homes for collectors, while the structural logic of Kahn and Moneo resists any application of a representational facade. Against the dramatic "call for a lost facade," acted out by Stirling and so elegantly analyzed by Rowe, these quiet structures have preserved a space for architecture in a modern museum where, as Bataille noted, "one must take account of the fact that the rooms and objects of art are only a container the content of which is formed by the visitors."15


1. Colin Rowe, "James Stirling: A Highly Personal and Very Disjointed Memoir," in James Stirling: Buildings and Projects, compiled and edited by Peter Arnell and Ted Bickford (New York: Rizzoli Publications, 1984), pp.22-23.

2. Wöfflin, Renaissance and Baroque, p. 77; Geoffrey Scott, The Architecture of Humanism (1914; New York: W. W. Norton, 1974), p. 177.

3. Scott, Architecture of Humanism, p. 159.

4. There has been no comprehensive study of the idea of physiognomy in architecture; for a brief sketch see my The Writing of the Walls: Architectural Theory in the Late Enlightenment (Princeton: Princeton Architectural Press, 1987), pp. 118ff.

5. Georg Simmel, "The Aesthetic Significance of the Face" ["Die äesthetische Bedeutung des Gesichts," 1901], translated by Lore Ferguson in Georg Simmel, 1858-1918, edited by Kurt H. Wolff (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1959), pp. 276-281.

6. Simmel, "The Aesthetic Significance of the Face," pp. 278, 280.

7. Simmel, "The Aesthetic Significance of the Face," pp. 281.

8. Charles-Edouard Jeanneret (Le Corbusier), "Le Construction des villes," unpublished maniscript, c. 1910, quoted in H. Allen Brooks, "Jeanneret and Sitte: Le Corbusier's Earliest Ideas on Urban Design," in Helen Searing, ed., In Search of Modern Architecture: A Tribute to Henry-Russell Hitchcock (New York: The Architectural History Foundation and MIT Press, 1982), p. 286.

9. Colin Rown, "La Tourette," in The Mathematics of the Ideal Villa and Other Essays (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1976), pp. 186-200.

10. Colin Rown, "The Mathematics of the Ideal Villa," in The Mathematics of the Ideal Villa and Other Essays (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1976), p. 16.

11. Sigfried Gideon, Architecture, You and Me (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1959), p. 29.

12. In a remark during a doctoral seminar sponsored by the Mellon Foundation in Princeton University School of Architecture, Spring 1988.

13. Theodor Adorno, "Valéry, Proust Museum," in Prisms, translated by Samuel and Shierry Weber (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1981), p. 175.

14. Arnold Gehlen, "Über kulturelle Kristallisation," in Studien zur Anthropologie (Neuweid, 1963), p. 321, quoted in Jürgen Habermas, The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity, translated by Frederick Lawrence (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1987), p. 3.

15. Georges Batille, "Musée," Documents, 5 (1930):300; repronted on Oeuvres complètes, 1:239.

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