The Piece and the Entirety

The Piece and the Entirety

My intention is to show you some of our work – very few images only, but appropriate to enter a specific world of architecture. These illustrations represent images with many different styles and emotions almost as if they were by different architects. We are not interested in a ‘personal style‘ but very much in a specific attitude aiming towards one direction of architecture which is both intelligible and politically enlightening, and also suggestive and direct.

The light-images and my own body, reading and speaking and acting, form the medium to give you as direct and as clear information about our architecture as possible. This is in fact already a compromise, weakening our position because we are very much looking for the real confrontation with the architectural body which communicates with you directly without words or explanations.

The great architectures of the Gothic age and partly also of the classical periods represent nothing but themselves, even if they are traditional typologies. They form a whole: identical elements representing and represented by themselves. All architectures of our time are representations of other architectures.

Because this situation has become inevitable, we are breaking up these conglomerates of architectural images, dissolving them and seeking to define representant and represented architectural elements. It is an effort to extract from this a sharp and meaningful reality.

What does this mean, this statement about different realities, about lost identity, about representant and represented parts?

It is about all our existential situation which is marked by exchangeable value, ambiguity, lost traditions, lack of utopian perspectives.

Over the last fifteen years international architects have been reacting against this bottomless situation of our postmodern culture in an increasingly unfounded manner with a kind of a postmodern architectural style. This postmodern style, as we know, exploits historical forms, uses art history as a treasure-house or for a funny allusion. Architecture has never been ironical or funny. We cannot accept this ironical and selfish attitude. Almost all the recent museum-buildings in Stuttgart, Mönchengladbach and Gare d'Orsay in Paris are built in a way that promotes the entertainment and amusement of the visitors rather than the perception of the work of art.

This fact proves that architects with such an easy consuming and decorative attitude are finally working against art after having exloited it for daily use. All this corresponds exactly to similar social and political processes.

I could go further into the relationship between architects and art – this would be a text in itself, but just one more comparison may be interesting within this context: I suggest that architects’ interest in art is too concentrated on its decorative aspects in order to find inspiration for form and colour, to
find something to relate to. The so-called Rationalist architects abused René Magritte and de Chirico. Even Le Corbusier, whose talent cannot be compared with any of these architects, was a painting architect and not a painter. This fact has to do with the difficult transfer of the medium, with the reality and specific character of each medium. Our architecture does not relate to any painting or sculpture by exterior analogy. But we are very much interested in conceptual relationships in artwork with a conceptual dimension. For example, I like to follow Godard's camera in ‘Passion’, penetrating a group of actors, which represents a group of people in a famous painting by Goya, or Derek Jarman doing a similar thing in ‘Caravaggio’. Godard's interest is not the reproduction of the fascinating reality of Goya's painting but the analytical and sensual experience with it, the creation of a new reality, independent of the initial image.

The conceptual level of each project acquires more and more importance in our work – it frees us from the obligation to have ‘a personal style‘ – which is actually impossible anyhow.

I do not understand how the older generation could start with ironical historicism and I do not understand either how the younger generation has been dealing with all kinds of ‘constructivisms’, flying triangles, circles, Lissitzkys. I have not seen one project where this neoconstructivist style was going to be more than a graphic game.

In our postmodern culture some of our younger colleagues, especially in Switzerland, are relating to the modernism of the 1950s and 1960s which is also a historical architecture, but it is a history which is closer to us. It is related to our own history, to our personal biography, architecture of which we know, we ‘feel’, we ‘smell’ the images, images which seem to be easier to communicate with because they are almost self-evident. We sometimes say ‘self-evidence’ but there is no more self-evidence, no tradition, no identity, no entirety in our culture, in our architecture. There is rather something like familiarity or just being used to things.

How can I know how a warehouse looks, or a church, or a restaurant, or an appartment building? Should I ask for representant and represented elements of all these objects?

We are all surrounded by objects and parts of these objects. Our world is the world of objects. They are all here, in front of us. They are crippled, ambiguous, decorative, shameless, wonderful. I cannot invent anything new. Everything is already here to look at, to smell, to approach; the city, architecture, all these objects and the images of these objects, all colours, the shining surface of asphalt, the veins in the wood, deteriorating concrete walls, the warm copper on towers, the piss on the green metal walls.

All these images are inside us, disorganised and oppressing us. They are lived-in and living architectures. Our bodies seem to be filtering them out.

We are moving towards these architectural images, we also move together with them in their rhythm – and we are also being moved by them.

Nevertheless, this cannot be the only way that our architectural production occurs. We are not just documentalists of architectural images. The precise stylistic reference itself doesn't interest us at all. The faithful reconstruction of reality is not necessarily worth more than an image of reminiscence of the past. Otherwise, we would be looking for fast and superficial, unpolitical and decorative satisfaction promised by the well-known world of the mass media.

So I move back again, destroying the image I have in my mind – this image whose entirety
was fallacious, is staggering, is falling apart, the more I get involved with it, the more I question it. What. is the constitution of this image? What is its pictorial substance? Destroying the anecdote, I am building up the image again, out of its structural parts which are becoming real and substantial. They are claiming their autonomy within the architectural whole. They want to be constructive, normally functioning, clearly intelligible pieces, as undivided, uncut as possible, born to be built.

Now we have the autonomous elementary piece, the brick, the board, the nail, the colour pigment, wonderful and complete, but boring, an uninteresting document of contemporary technology, an object for the historical museum of the future.

So I flash back again, looking for the image which comes out transformed and clear and strengthened by its structural pieces. These pieces are autonomous, yet serving the whole – they define my images, filling them up with the presence of their reality.
Lecture held by Jacques Herzog at the Polytechnic of North London in the series First Moves, 13 November 1987.

Herzog & de Meuron: La Parte y el Todo. The Piece and the Entirety.
In: Josep-Lluís Mateo (Ed.). Quaderns d'Arquitectura i Urbanisme. Vol. No. 175, Barcelona, Colegio de Arquitectos de Cataluña. Association of Catalan Architects, 12.1987. pp. 10-17.