Iconography, or the problem of representation


I'm pretty sure I saw Ed Bacon's daughter, or Kevin's sister, on TV the other night in the documentary Rittenhouse Square. Besides the family resemblence, she was speaking about the various efforts/groups behind the caring-for/protection-of the square.

I'm pretty sure Edmund Bacon would have been the first to tell you that he wasn't the architect of Love Park.

"Our boy Holden [Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye]says, "What we fear most is the other guy's face."
--Six Degrees of Separation

Mar 15, 06 6:00 pm  · 
Josh Emig

I wasn't really arguing, but okay ...

Rodin, who is a sculptor like Robert Indiana, creator of the iconic LOVE sculpture, the inspiration for the nickname of Philadelphia's JFK Plaza, of which Edmund Bacon was the planner ... Ed Bacon is Kevin Bacon's father.

Mar 15, 06 6:44 pm  · 
not per--corell
jump, I really can't discuss VSBA architecture with you because I know too much, ie, I know a lot of the buildings first hand, and I know all the writings of Venturi, Scott Brown and Izenour, and I know a lot about how the firm operates because of a friendship with one of their former associates. Relatively speaking, you know very little, and thus I find your 'critique' mostly uninformed and even somewhat misleading.

holy crap was that pompous. i bet even venturi wouldn't say he knows so much about his work that he can't discuss it with someone else.

Mar 15, 06 7:42 pm  · 

jump jumped to a lot of conclusions before there even was a discussion, just like not per corell just did.

What bothered me most, however, is that jump was confusing the issue and then asking me to respond/defend issues about VSBA architecture that were not exactly the issues relative to VSBA work that I brought up 03/03/06 11:17^. I just didn't want to get involved withn the web of issues that jump was creating. If jump had better defined "I mean have you SEEN any of venturi's built work? great writer, terrible practioner..." then there would have been a very good discussion, I'm pompously sure.

Mar 15, 06 8:06 pm  · 

Isn't Zaera Polo's proposition providing a slippery slope to architecture as pure sculpture? Claes Oldernburg as architect?? It seems to me that it is one thing to use an image or 'icon' as a strategy/to extract the idea, and it's very much another to simply stuff program into a predetermined shape. It's reducing architecture to its most simplistic, imagistic status. I also wonder how many figurative, shape-ful buildings a city and urban fabric can sustain.

Mar 15, 06 9:57 pm  · 
Michiel van Raaij

Yes, architecture folds into sculpture, just think of the Statue of Liberty.

But that's not the case here with iconography, as Alejadro put it forward. Although I agree that there's an element of sculpture or art involved, but can any architecture escape that? I don't think so.

Architecture is in its core hybrid, unpure, composite. The double agenda of Alejandro materialises that impurity.

Mar 18, 06 8:57 am  · 

Alejadro wrote:
we forecast the development of a discipline of form with a double agenda, operating simultaneously as an organizational device and as a communicative device

Of all the images within this thread, what is mostly only seen are images/iconography that operate as a 'communicative devise'. There has been very little attention given to images/iconography as 'organizational devise'.

This makes me wonder whether there even is a real 'double agenda' at work here.

The terminal communicates as a wave, but is the terminal really organized like a wave? Does the terminal communicate as a wave because 'waves' of people move throught it? It seems you could say that. But is the building itself really organized like a wave? Waves are for the most part ephemeral and non-symmetrical, aren't they?

A stadium looks like a nest (actually it looks more like basket weaving), but is the stadium really organized like a nest? Do large waves of people converge on a nest and then sit (on some eggs) and watch and then fly away? [If the answer is yes, then we very much have an example of reenactionary architecturism, although real nests are not organized to handle more than a few occupants.)

Gnomes with pointy hats may have a iconographic communicative relationship with a group of high pitched roof buildings, but are these buildings really organized like gnomes apart from being randomly scatterd like the gnomes in the picture? Have there been studies showing that qnomes organize things in a ramdonly scattered manner?

How do you organize a building based on a sneaker? Moreover, what type of building would be apropriate to organize like a sneaker, a building to be used by lots of sneaky people?

I wonder what a real 'double agenda' building looks like.

Mar 18, 06 10:42 am  · 

It's been a while since I've read the fifth chapter of Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture: "Contradictory Levels Continued: The Double-Functioning Element." Maybe I'll read it again tonight.

Mar 18, 06 11:19 am  · 

non of this is pure.
the nature isn't pure. how could it be? it has to survive all the coplexities and the contradictions.
can anybody bring the megastructures into this now?

Mar 18, 06 12:53 pm  · 

one love one hydropolis

Mar 18, 06 1:56 pm  · 

This must be Bath, England or something.

"I hate to burst your bubble, but now we have to move to a megastructure called Stolen Thunder.

Mar 18, 06 2:21 pm  · 
Michiel van Raaij

Further reading:

'The Iconic Building' - Charles Jencks

'The Hokusai Wave' (article in Volume, and Quaderns) - Alejandro Zaero-Polo

And I got this tip via e-mail:
'Architecture in the Age of Divided Representation; The Question of Creativity in the Shadow of Production' - Dalibor Vesely

Are there more relevant sources?

Apr 8, 06 9:18 am  · 

12 Reasons to get back into Shape - Somol in Content

Art and Obecthood by Micheal Fried

The Cunning of Cosmetics - Jeff Kipnis on H&deM

Log 5

Architecture and Content: Who’s Afraid of the Form-Object? - Pier Vittorio Aureli

Critical Architecture: Between culture and Form - Micheal Hayes

and of course: Iconography, or the problem of representation - discussion on

Architecture or Techno-utopia - Felicity Scott

Intricacy - Gregg Lynn

Rosalind Krauss on Brancussi and Duchamp in Passages in Modern Sculpture

Apr 8, 06 12:56 pm  · 

AZP's scientific Autobiography in Havard Design Magazine
and George Baird's article in the same issue - Criticallity and its Discontents.

Apr 8, 06 12:58 pm  · 
Michiel van Raaij

Nicht Disneyland - Stanislaus von Moos

UN Studio UN Fold - Aaron Betsky's text on form

Notes around doppler and other moods of Modernism - Robert Somol and Sarah Whiting

Remix Mies - Michiel van Raaij; 'de Architect' march 2006 (Dutch)
(I send the English transcription to HDM, but I don't think there interested... )

J-turn, where's that text of Pier Vittorio Aureli published?

Apr 10, 06 6:07 am  · 

so I've finally read this whole post, and it's finally relevant to a project i'm working on, so if any of you are still around, consider this scenario:

what about a functional building inside of an abstracted iconic "sculpture" that makes both historical and local architectural references? the essential idea being that the physical exterior form (iconic image) sacrifices nothing to the function of the building, which sacrifices nothing to the form. those affected by architecture are in two camps, public, or those who interact with the image of the architecture either personally or through the media, and to whom the buildings communicates something through its form through image-culture and art; and private, or those who are the users, and whose principal interest is in the building functioning and providing a meaningful experience, which is unlikely to be informed by the image-form of the building (e.g., to private users of EvE's nikken project, there is no compositional necessity for you to be wandering around inside an elf, or for the program execution to be informed by that reference).

in the case of my project, the space between is not poche, but actual space, and those who enter the building will, momentarily, be aware of passing from an image-form into a building-machine by looking up and recognizing this as a condition that architecture is forced to deal with

it is a simple articulation of the idea that form and function could be relieved from their rocky marriage while maintianing joint costody of their confused offspring, architecture.

contextually, this idea is highly relevant to the project, but since it is a competition that has not yet been announced, i will not discuss it.

also, would it make a difference if architects were more skilled as sculptors? the typical execution of a venturian decorated shed is either a billboard or an EIFS form. it could be more beautifully expressed with architectural elements, ala lebbeus woods. the only time i have seen this in practice would be in the gehry project posted above, where the fish scultpure out front is well constructed of architectural material, and is part of the buildings's elevation and organizational composition, even though it provides no functionality (yes, i know it shades the glass a bit, but primarily it is an iconic element).

also, this brings up an important note regarding the market: not only does the imagery make the building accessible to the public, but not cramming a program into a fish keeps costs way down. in both of these ways, i think it is relevant to the projective discourse. i'm quite interested to hear your reactions, since my neoduckist colleagues can't seem to shake their PTS syndrome about postmodernism and the shed

Aug 4, 06 8:28 am  · 
vado retro

read yourself some cassirer...

Aug 4, 06 9:20 am  · 
Michiel van Raaij

Mister '5', how does your project differ from the 'Duck'-model? If you separate the image from its program, that's what you get.

Projective iconography as Alejandro Zaero-Polo (AZP) from Foreign Office suggests it mixes the two, to recollect the starting point of the discussion for new readers of this discussion.

And please, don't be shy to post some images of your project, if you think it is relevant.

And also a question: what is EIFS or PTS short for?

The approach you suggest seems to me also linked to the writings of Rem Koolhaas in SMLXL and Delirous New York. In a big building the skin is loosened from the program it is supposed to represent. AZP again tries to reconnect the two, to again address the problem of representation.

What kind of image does your project uses, and what kind of representation do you try to achieve?

Greg Lynn did a competition project for the Eyebeam in NY where the skin literally is loosened from the building. The loose skin folds into itself on some parts.

And yes, I think that projective architects need to know more art. Not necessarily sculpture. If you build an object, it is important to look at other objects in for example the arts. A lot of architects do that. Herzog & de Meuron are one example. Claus en Kaan are another (Dutch) example.

78 examples of iconographic architecture at: Michielangelo

Aug 4, 06 11:16 am  · 


The duck suggests that the duck is itself a building, and that the duck is architecture (as in AZP). In this way, the functional aspects of the building must be bult into a duck, thereby sacrificing some of their programmatic or circulatory abilities. Alternatively, the form sacrifices some of its representational or iconographic ability, as in it may be disproportioned. Also, there exists no space between duck and building, form and function, and it panders the fallacy that form and function are harmonious. Sectionally, it is merely duck poche with a program drawn negatively into it.

EIFS=exterior insulating and finish system, a favorite since the dispopularity of stucco for duckist projects.
PTS=post traumatic stress

I'd prefer not to post images until i submit the project to the competition, but I will eventually bring them here. Regarding the project, I aim to present a poetic image to surround a functional one, in the way that a mythological story surrounds historical events. To participants in actual events, the truch of those events matters (to participants of buildings, functionality, and finding the wc or cash register matters); to third parties, the externalities of historical events, myths, can take on more meaning and become more significant than historical knowledge of the events.

What I am proposing is very much koolhaasian, in many of his varied comments over the years, eg “Maybe some of our most interesting engagements are uncritical, emphatic engagements, which deal with the sometimes insane difficulty of an architectural project to deal with the incredible accumulation of economic, cultural, political but also logistical issues.”

Separating form from function frees up each of them to best acheive their ends, unencumbered by compromise given to any of the "economic, cultural, political but also logistical issues.”

Rooms in houses are treated this way: you are free to add formal beauty to a blank wall through a coat of paint (traditonal, direct, skin) or by hanging a painting, standing an object, or leaning a bookshelf. All of these function separate from the functional architecture of the room, but serve an architectural purpose, to give formal pleasure to a space.

I agree with you that iconography is a valuable aspect of architecture, though I am also skeptical that it can be applied formulaically. It is certainly the most valuable as a technique for branding architecture. Peter Eisenman, I think, was wrong in saying that buildings are no longer responsible to provide communication, as they were in the past, since we now live in an information age. Architecture is responsible to this age, and ought to provide an identifiable and communicable image, as does a jeep or ipod. However, unlike VSBA, I think it is the responsibility of the profession to take commercial ideas, the billboard, and apply the design process to them. The venturian approach of putting up simple signs, "viva ugly", would be like refusing to build on an idea. Capitalism (and bolshevism) demands that architecture communicate SIGNificantly, and it is the architects responsibility to innovate and provide increasingly improved products. Viva signs, but signs can be improved. Viva electromagnetic communication, but television and internet achieve more than radio.

I am not presenting this idea as in keeping with AZP; I am simply acknowledging the validity of iconic architecture, and presenting a tehory of an architecture that makes fewer compromises (valuable commercially for efficiency reasons).

Aug 4, 06 2:39 pm  · 
Michiel van Raaij

Well, Mister '5' that sounds very functional. As I understand it you put the duck next to the shed. The duck is the beautiful sign next to a beautiful shed. Theoretically.

That is an interesting approach that not new, but however very suitable for some projects. Check out for instance Corpus.

The advantage of that approach is in my view the possibility of the contrast between the form and the box (function as you argue), that is both very old and very beautiful. The statue or fountain (form) contrasts to the rectangular plaza, in my view.

I do not agree that it is very Koolhaas. He doesn't do 'form', to my recollection. Or does he?

Aug 4, 06 4:19 pm  · 
Michiel van Raaij

Check out my article on 'the Iconic Building' of Charles Jencks in the Urban Design Review

Geoff Manaugh put also something down about it: BLDGBLOG

Aug 4, 06 4:27 pm  · 


I suppose I consider it koolhaasian because I consider it a projective strategy (and rk is a perhaps latent projectivist, cf. prada and shopping). Architecture suffers greatly from its inability to prove to the market that it is worth the market's money. As such, the force of the profession should be to address th\is issue. Much critical architecture, to me, is like the impoverished member of society becoming disheartened with their place, and resigning to a life of non-productive 'fuck you'.

Also, I think Kh does do form. All architects do. Even highmodern architecture ala Pierre Koenig et al. was expressing the beauty of the efficiency of industry, a symbol the market want association with. All other architecture communicates more than its own ability to withstand gravity and the elements and accomodate program, and is therefore formal.

Yes, I agree with you re: the fountain on the plaza. I think the separation can be more meaningful than most would realize. Of course, primarily, it is an efficent, even high modernist approach, just simply one that acknowledges form as an essential responsibility of a building.

Aug 4, 06 5:27 pm  · 
the cellardoor whore

eventually the duck wants to quack image is only image. it is a philosophical duck, therefor it does not see itself as just a resultant instance of architecural imagery. the adage: if one duck is a building's image then all buildings' images are ducks (sitting,dormant or actively quacking like that one). arguing that the architecture's bowels (circulatory routes) are mimetic of the duck's is simply advancing the analogy with the level of understanding duckness. whether the duck has turned from eidolon to techne, from an image to a field of methodical application and technology is an interesting argument. one can claim either:

1-replicating the innards of a duck is still not a technology. the image is still the tyrant. the architecture is a trace of the logic of duck, nothing less or more. every attempt to replicate the biology of the duck is an attempt to replicate, to mimic, the duck and its science. there can never be really a jump from subservient replication to a self referential growth


2- replication is a tool. tracing is the lowest denominator of science, a duck is a threshold to an understanding of order. this is the backbone of 'genetic architectures' and 'emergent architectures'. bottoms up.

but there is not really that huge difference between the first duck and the second duck. here is where duck as architectural discourse waddles in. the image is a sensorial paradox,historically. the schism in optics between the hellenic period (light as emanating from the object=> the eidolon being imbedded within the object) and the modern tripartite mediated relationship of object-light-eye results in the following paradox: if a building looks like a duck, is it an inherent property of the building to be a duck or is the duck nothing but the mediated visual shell that is a deliberate ploy of vision to point out: what you see is not what is...what you see is merely the mediated.

quack (mother duck machine says)

Aug 5, 06 7:39 am  · 
Michiel van Raaij

Mister '5', I agree with your first point. Architecture needs to prove its relevance to the market.

I'm wondering whether or not architecture in the United States is stuck in Modernism because of the culture there. Herzog & de Meuron did a secondary project in San Francisco. The Dutch architect Erick van Egeraat (from the Goblins-appartments in Danmark) suggested some months ago that American culture, which is based on 'makeability', has become outdated. Everything can be made right now. According to him the next issue is about quality, not anymore about quantity.EEA. To me that is part of the shift towards a projective practice.

It is too easy to say 'every architecture is form'. It is true, but I think it is more productive to argue about 'more form' or 'less form'. And it is true that it is very modern to speak about form. But I am not so sure that iconography is still a modernistic project, I would suggest it is beyond that, since it addresses a different agenda. Rem Koolhaas is a difficult subject. Some claim he is projective, but he himself is so damn critical about iconography that I am not sure about that.

Dear Cellardoor Whore, will it ever be possible for you to think outside your academic bubble? You sound Eisenmanian when you talk about replication. It is interesting what you say, but then you end with 'what you see is not what is... what you see is merely the mediated.' So what?

What you see has never been what is. That is not even the point of the visual, of the mediated. Who cares about the truth? Maybe more interesting is the 'sensibility' of architecture, as Somol and Whiting argue - the experience, the performance.

I'm not sure what you mean with the shift from the hellenistic to the modern tripartite... could you elaborate more on that?

Your suggestion that architecture would do a 'quack' is nice. The Dutch architect Lars Spuybroek of NOX (I'm sorry that I'm constantly quoting Dutch architects... I'm working on that...) has just won a competition with a bridge that makes sounds with the wind. NOX > Art > Windchimes Bridge

Aug 5, 06 3:43 pm  · 
the cellardoor whore

eisenman is the furthest thing from my mind. eisenman, to my concern, is not even vaguely relevant to my points. he would never see his building as a duck.

i do not understand what you mean by an 'academic bubble', though it sounded like you meant it in a pejorative way. in which case, your mother is academic.

"What you see has never been what is. " this is very untrue. this only started to be a possible conjecture after plato's attack on appearance. why? because his was a culture rife with the truth of appearance. the hellenic greeks stood apart from their predecessors through an acute sensibility of the appearance of form. the greek tragedians would reveal the truth not in the object but in the sight. sight was fallible and corrective, not its object. odysseus was odysseus on arrival, athena's obfuscation is a deliberate test of penelope's sight, her honour and her love for him. oedipus lost his sight after not percieving what teiresias foresaw, this latter having himself lost sight in seeing athena (again her, flicking sight on and off) naked. sight was a process of seeing the object, its truth. it took plato, by attacking this most greek cult of perception and appearance (classic art history question: compare pharaonic statues to hellenic statues), to create the gap between image and truth.

you talk like the image was born when you were. anyways, i find you a bit repuslive now after that silly bubble comment.

Aug 5, 06 4:19 pm  · 
Michiel van Raaij

Dear cellardoor whore, I'm sorry about that judgement, and I take it back. Your posts are sometimes a bit hermetic. I associate that with people that are locked up in their academic bubbles - academics that have lost all contact with reality. But your posts are just short sometimes.

I love your explanation about the development of the gap between image and truth. That's a welcome contribution to the debate.

Aug 8, 06 2:19 am  · 

Lately I've been into Rorschach Ink Blot Test Architecture. Makes things a lot easier, like no more concerns over iconography, representation, indexicality, etc. It's whatever the beholder thinks it is.

Apr 16, 08 10:08 am  · 
Michiel van Raaij

That looks really good. I don't think building plans can be that representational or iconographic. It tends to stick on vertical surfaces, or envelopes, as Alejandro calls it.

Iconography however is not something you can escape from. You never lose it!

; )

Apr 16, 08 10:43 am  · 

Michiel, in quickly scanning through this thread again, what came to my mind was the fluid associational glue that bonds icons and representation, hence the idea of Rorschach Ink Blot Test architecture. Yes, iconography is somehow always going to be there, but just maybe the associational glue could remain forever elastic as well. Or is it that the iconography remains forever elastic and the associational glue is somehow always going to be there?

What's next? Yikes Architecture!

Apr 16, 08 11:28 am  · 

"Additionally, there is an exhibit of three Calder sculptures within the forecourt of the Rodin Museum. I found myself really admiring all these sculptures because I now see a 'real' virtual architecture in them."

So maybe there really is a Calder Museum of Virtual Architecture. Yikes indeed!

Jul 24, 08 10:03 am  · 

For example, if I were commissioned to design content for some real (generic) building whose 'skin' was an electronic screen, I'd propose a vast series of 'webpages' that act as a museum of architecture, thereby making the building, at least on the surface, a 'virtual museum of architecture.' I wouldn't necessarily be advertising Quondam, rather I'd be cloaking real generic architecture with many architectures. It wouldn't really matter what goes on inside the building because that will probably change from year to year, and the 'bulk' of the building's real architecture will be literally superficial and ironically really virtual.

I could go on and on, like pondering what kind of content I would propose for a hospital that had screen facades, or electronic/iconographic houses that change decorations by seasons or holidays, or even imagining the imaging of a house of ill-repute.

Sep 1, 08 10:00 am  · 

The articles and the house the hole places are nice before i am not seeing these are all but after visit this i very happy.I think it is very good price your websites are useful for all the people. your design also very good and if i want to create site , it will be useful for us not only me for all the people also.


Adult Dating

Jan 20, 09 1:36 am  · 

"And what if you have to design a Gynecology Clinic?" asked me a teacher back in the student days....

Jan 26, 10 4:58 am  · 

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