The hideous sight: the horrific sensible and the construction of space

On some level Fat guessed the truth; he had encountered his past selves and his future selves—two future selves: an early-on one, the three-eyed people, and then Zebra, who is discorporate. Time somehow got abolished for him, and the recapitulation of selves along the linear time-axis caused the multitude of selves to laminate together into a common entity. Out of the lamination of selves, Zebra, which is supra- or trans-temporal, came into existence: pure energy, pure living information. Immortal, benign, intelligent and helpful. The essence of the rational human being.

—Philip K. Dick, VALIS

A painting that can be represented as a waxworks group is a bad painting…What is really terrible, however, is to see an architectural drawing, which, given the medium, one has to accept as an example of graphic art — and there are genuine graphic artists among the architects — carried out in stone, iron and glass.

Adolf Loos

You enter the museum. The edges of your vision blur and tear inward. Simultaneously, all blooms harshly—this is not a heavenly glow, but the sudden arrival of a constellation of blinding stars. You are alone in a cavernous lobby, the atmosphere hanging heavy. Everyone has their back to you, looking at nothing in particular, mechanically acting out potemkin instantiations of social contact. You can see for miles, picking out the delicate filigree on a window panel with ease, though it is easily hundreds of feet away. The potency of the vision, the roaring dread of what could not possibly be real—no one would judge if you vomited, ran outside immediately, or reacted otherwise violently.

Architecture in the public conception is not a sculptural undertaking or even a spatial one, but rather an arrangement and presentation in two dimensions. The city as a skyline on a postcard, or as a collection of facades; the planarity of the walls, ceiling, and floor as the body passes by; the tactical information conveyed through a plan, section, or elevation; and most importantly, the render—the reigning overlord of the architectural thought, concept, and form. At the carnal apotheosis of the fucked up relationship between architecture and capitalism, the render is absolutely essential to get a project produced. The rot of this practice has seeped into the ground, and is now laconically mixing atoms with the groundwater of the field. The hypnagogic experience related above above is not a fever dream, terrifying, or even rare. It is a requirement to produce architecture on a massive, capitalistic scale in our modern age. It is packaged and shown to investors, to boardrooms, meticulously articulated, and proliferated by the cultural-aesthetic apparatus which, more so than space and material deployment, is the medium through which the public comes to architecture.

Adolf Loos wrote of the necessary use of the graphic arts in conveying architecture. Like the render, canonical architectural drawings have long purported to represent the building they invoke truthfully. What Loos disdained was that the drawing was often taken for the building, and fundamentally occluded the act and art of “spatio-hyletic experimentation with the void”—architecture in the sense that it divides, organizes, and enforces Newtonian space. Loos bemoaned that “architectural forms are no longer created by the craftman’s tools, but by the pencil”. He claimed to have circumvented the issue by designing with a fundamentally spatial viewpoint—a weltanschauung that moves along in three dimensions. Advising that “a true building makes no impression as a picture reduced to two dimensions”, Loos continues:

It is my  greatest pride that the interiors I have created are completely lacking in effect when photographed; that the people who live in them do not recognize their own apartments from the photographs, just as the owners of a Monet would not recognize it at Kastan’s waxworks. The honor of seeing my works published in the various architectural journals is something I have had to do without. I am denied the satisfaction of my vanity.

Unpacking this boast spins lines of thought off in multiple directions; obviously, there is the central concept, which is that Loos claimed to produce anti-two dimensional work, or at least work the true form of which recoiled asymptotically from mere representation, which was emphatically real. The other, and more interesting item, is Loos’ allusion to the vast machinery of vaingloriousness that has always circumscribed the architectural practice, like lepers beyond the walls.