European Architecture before WWII – Domestic Fictions – The Triumph of Writing over Drawing in Modern Architecture

Posted: April 15, 2018 in Uncategorized

Lots of cool photos to accompany Colomina’s “Split Wall.” Fascinating stuff!

“The look is directed . . . in such deliberate manner as to suggest the reading of these houses as frames for a view.”

— Beatriz Colomina, “Split Wall”

“But with all the interrogation of the word feminine, one sometimes forgets that in France in the late 1960s, it was the word écriture (writing) that was the common denominator for a wide range of explosive practices and publications.

Norton Anthology of Literary Criticism, “Introduction to Hélène Cixous”

“My architecture is not conceived in plans, but in spaces (cubes). I do not design floor plans, facades, sections. I design spaces. For me, there is no ground floor, first floor etc…. For me, there are only contiguous, continual spaces, rooms, anterooms, terraces etc. Stories merge and spaces relate to each other. Every space requires a different height: the dining room is surely higher than the pantry, thus the ceilings are set at different levels. To join these spaces in such a way that the rise and fall are not only unobservable but also practical, in this I see what is for others the great secret, although it is for me a great matter of course. Coming back to your question, it is just this spatial interaction and spatial austerity that thus far I have best been able to realize in Dr Müller’s house.”

–Adolf Loos, Shorthand record of a conversation in Plzeň (Pilsen), 1930



Villa Müller
Adolf Loos, architect
Prague, Czech – 1930



Villa Savoye
Corbusier, architect
Poissy, France – 1928 – 1931


  1. Natalie Van Orden says:

    Looking through these pictures, I’m still wrapping my brain around Colomina’s argument that our architecture is subconsciously shaping us for “domestic fictions” that we carry out without having any idea that we are being molded.
    It helps me to think about the example Karl brought up in class about language. I am currently in a phonetics and phonology class, and we frequently discuss how what native language we learn determines what sounds we are able to distinguish from one another, and what sounds are allophones of the same phoneme, just varying in production from speaker to speaker. One particular case stood out to me, which is the case of vowel epenthesis for native Japanese speakers.
    American loanwords have vowels inserted into them in places that are taboo consonant clusters in Japanese, so for example a word like “McDonalds” becomes “MakuDonarudo.” The most fascinating thing about this process is that substantial evidence shows that the vowels are not inserted because of pronunciation difficultly, or to better fit Japanese orthography, but instead because native Japanese listeners hear the inserted vowels when they are not actually there.

    The phonological rules of Japanese are so strong that they actually alter speech perception. This is not only true for Japanese, but for every native language. We learn the rules and constraints of our native language, and our brains do such a good job adhering to our native language that we don’t even know that our perception is being altered from the auditory waves our ears pick up to our interpretation of language in the brain.

    Much like the process Colomina is describing, this phonological process is subconscious. We have no comprehension of how it shapes our language abilities until we start to analyze it.

    • Ivan Lee says:

      To further build on this comment by Natalie, I’ve noticed this subconcious change in how someone speaks in my family, who all comes from Vietnam. Not only do they sometimes add in extra letters or drop off a few consonants at the end of a word, but they seem to add a melody to their sentences. I’ve learned that this is mosty as a biproduct of the Vietnamese language since it’s a tonal language, meaning how you say a word and the inflections you include are as important as the word itself since how you say the word can change the word. An increase in pitch when saying a word could mean something completely different than a flat constant pitch on a word. I haven’t asked them if they can hear pitches or inflections in English words yet but I am now definitely interested if they do.

      • I know of tonal languages from my brother, who speaks Chinese. While it’s not a prevalent phenomenon in the West, we nevertheless use something to it when inflecting words in order to signify indicatives, subjunctives, or interrogatives. In any case, languages are essentially large self-referential systems of differences. Their phonetic and syntactic rules can be described in the abstract, but there remains an inescapable need for a material bodily and social infrastructure for language to function. While I didn’t exactly phrase it this way in class, the majority of our recent assigned readers have argued over the precise form and scale of the infrastructure necessary to sustain an ideological superstructure. While Benjamin was interested in a cinematic infrastructure, Colomina and Crimp focus more intently on architecture.

  2. The phenomena you describe aligns very well with my attempt to discuss the ‘materiality’ of language, in the broadest sense. We like to feel that we are in conscious contorl of our thoughts, words, and actions. But they are constantly motivated by our unconscious material conditions. I think this is crucial to recognize for a number of reasons. The one I’ll mention now is that progressives are so determined to police right and wrong expression that they make en lemies of allies for making ‘mistakes’ that, at some very basic level, are simply unavoidable. The result of their impatience is very often not progress but rather regress. I don’t want to blame any group. Because, ultimately, we are all in this together, whether we care to admit it or not. I guess that, here, I would reiterate, to all sides, Colomina’s words (from my most recent post, in Spanish): Our biggest troublemakers are poor writers. And I would suggest that the same goes for readers. We need to mix our critical thinking skills with empathy.

  3. Natalie Van Orden says:

    I have heard about the process you are describing of groups cannibalizing their own members. I read an article where Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was explaining her concern that “there’s a quickness to assign ill intent” in the left. I think this is an important idea to discuss, and while it applies to all groups, and I think that it’s positive of Adichie to provoke this discussion within her own political leaning. I think that part of the polarization we are currently experiencing comes from people feeling left out or left behind on current issues, whether they realize this or not, and becoming defensive and angry in response. We are all human, and we cannot help but make mistakes that we don’t even realize we are making, but as members of groups and causes, in order to keep people from feeling left behind and defensive, we have to have a certain degree of understanding about the human condition. We need to understand that not everyone comes from the same background as us or has the same understanding, and we have to be willing for people to learn and grow and get better. We cut off more people than we help when we aren’t willing to let people grow.

    • Maintaining good will and solidarity within complex groups is very challenging, to say the least. That’s why some of the most impressive activists are not even the charismatic leaders so much as the grassroots organizers. It’s not for nothing that ‘organization’ is a dirty word amongst authoritarians.

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