Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Index, Diagram and Precedent

1. Precedent


Current architectural discourse has relied heavily on the indexical processes to help clarify and qualify architecture. However, the diagram, as used today, significantly differs from its origin. Today, the diagram is used in critical response to the basis of modernism. In order to understand continuity, the role of the indexical diagram, as an instrument of operations in coding Architecture, must be reconsidered. The fact that the diagram opened a critical gap, allowing us to penetrate the structure of certain architectural works, ultimately influenced our desire for precedent.


Indexicality has evolved through variants of semantic rules (via process) and tools (like the diagram), which were given to us through groups such as the New York Five, and continues to develop even today. Though significant, there is a need to go beyond the precedent founded in the American academic indexical process, whose legacy still prevails in different degrees.


Through indexicality originally presented a way to use architecture basically as a secondary text and organization strategy, educators now view such methods as a disconnection between architecture as a discipline and architectural history and theory. However, such methodologies as a reflection prove the importance to be closer to architecture. How then, does architectural discourse leave the post-structural position in favor of something closer to architecture as we have always known it?

Indexicality is defined by rules that state that relationships exist between mutually implied existences of sign vehicle token (i.e. icon, index or symbol) and certain aspects of the context of discourse. “The indexical sign token presupposes the aspect of the speech situation and is referentially uninterpretable without some knowledge of context.” (1) Thus, in order to fully understand architecture one must be aware of said context in order to articulate such rules. As such, Architecture requires independent references. These rules suggest a distinction from organization and architecture. However in contemporary discourse architecture cannot respond only to its claims for interiority. While in language one might argue indexicality as referential or non-referential, though Architecture takes a more complicated position: do you call the argument of form referential or architecture of not?

In the past many scholars, notably Silverstein, argued that occurrences of non-referential indexicality entailed not only the context-dependent variability of the speech event, but also increasingly subtle forms of indexical meaning. (2) How is this interpreted in architecture? Architecture depends on its own references but is also conditioned to higher or outside levels of meaning and integration: Architecture today is intellectually, methodologically and materially connected to other fields, and processes are affected by logics traditionally defined as lying outside the field.

1) Silverstein, Michael. "Shifters, Linguistic Categories, and Cultural Description." In Meaning in Anthropology. K. Basso and H.A. Selby, Eds. Albuquerque: School of American Research, University of New Mexico Press, 1976.

2) Silverstein, Michael. "Indexical order and the dialectics of sociolinguistic life". Elsevier Ltd., 2003.

2. Non-Precedent


The index that is interested to discuss would be the one that relates to affect. Affective meaning is seen as "the encoding, or indexing of speakers emotions into speech events. The interlocutor of the event “decodes” these verbal messages of affect by giving "precedence to intentionality" that is, by assuming that the affective form intentionally indexes emotional meaning.  Affective forms enable speakers to index emotional states through varying linguistic mechanisms. (3) These indexes become important in application to other forms of non-referential indexicality, such as sexual or social identity indices. In architecture this process becomes particularly interesting; the simple prerogative is how to induce these intentions for emotion and sensuality into architecture?


Philosophy, aesthetics, the arts and architecture have been shaped throughout history by the platonic concept of a systematic connection between our individual being and the world as a whole. In classical thought, further reinforced through modernism, architecture is defined as a self-enclosed structure; however, this is not without a crucial relationship to the outside. This premise has created a separation between architecture and its exterior agents. This relationship has been described as either a homologous relationship between internal patterns and outside forces, or as a system whose logic is independent of the outside - classic indexicality and what we now call generative architecture.


Colin Rowe, in his essay “Mathematics of the Ideal Villa,” discusses the relationship between the Palladian and the Corbusian Villas in terms of geometry and mathematics on one side and beauty on the other. While Palladio’s plan exhibits mathematical excellence and beauty, Le Corbusier argues in favor of the façade. This distinction is further articulated by the conflict of the “natural relationships” and the “customary demands”; a disruption which seems inherit to geometric rules and responsive to unconscious claims of the beautiful, while perhaps being the beginning to the denial of emotion. The opposition between the interiority (plan and section) and the exteriority (façade) as an expression of beauty (and not as a result of interior precision) began to emphasize reading exercises rather than beauty and the emotional. These complex separations of subject and object isolated architecture from any other type of reference.

Today we search for further articulations of the index unto a hyper-indexicality; understood as a detachment from the trace of architectural processes. This is one way to argue the need for a change and move towards new possibilities.


When architecture is constructed in which combined elements are easily indexed, affect is immediately lost as the viewer is negated the sensation of the subject in favor of a recognizable order, direct references to architecture present or not. The subject/object distinction then makes internalizing affect impossible.


Peter Eisenman suggests that today the subject of architecture is a subject of information and images, a subject of the spectacle, and a subject that architecture does not seem to fully understand. The object of architecture is today indisputably iconic and disseminated to the public as visual spectacle. (4) Eisenman argues that “the process, which included the trace, codes, and other reading strategies, could be understood as the affective aspects of architecture. However, the mediated context that is now so totalizing of experience makes it necessary to rethink these ideas of close “reading and writing”. (5) Eisenman reframes himself within this new context by suggesting that even in the most critically formal architecture (his own) the possibility of new non-referential processes like affect are still possible.


It seems that the explorations within the last three decades can be described as moving from index and text, to maybe something like affect and sensation. Is this process important to understand and document, or is it a simple transformation of the classic diagram and only figures like Eisenman and his disciples became interested in this particular evolution?


So now that the validity of critical theory is being questioned, could a new form of diagram, a prototype, serve as a tool to save the diagram from formal and analog practices, to a digital hyper-indexicality and beyond?


Within this non-referential index, the process of architecture is simply conceived as a rational endeavor. However, the “infection” of the index via complex referential processes that involve affect, sensibility and technology makes the architecturally strict references almost impossible.


The non-referential condition of hyper-indexicality should be concerned with a new form of architectural discourse employing the reinvention of the diagram outside of architecture, an articulation of the figural, interest in technology, effects, affect and sensation. Through the exploration of new tools, references, and techniques architecture can reactivate and contaminate the index, going beyond precedent to the ultimate eradication of the index.


If we are moving away from index and text to a new condition, then the question changes from signification and meaning to the production of sensation in performance.  What tools do architects have to work with?


Through this reevaluation, the distinction between convention and codification in architecture, to reassess the application of operations such as transformation, mutation, decomposition, displacement, dislocation, and hybridization among others should come to light. These operations were classic forms utilized to generate meaning, organization and ultimately form. It was assumed that the analysis of different ways of codifying architectural indexicality could open up historic buildings’ structures to readings that reinvent the mutual interdependence of spaces and geometries. These particular investigations gave certainty that architecture was a kind of open source that should be accessible to all. The exploration of indexical operations of specific architectural projects profited from the tension which arises between the bounding quality of geometry and the indeterminacy of space. Architecture should no longer be content to perform operations on precedents but should move beyond these boundaries to deal with the limitations of geometry, technology, new materials and fabrication. The use of precedent as part of the tail end of the post-structural era could create more critical problems, however the dilemma of precedent as a formative academic tool will always prevail.

3) Besnier, Niko. Language and Affect. Annual Reviews, Inc, 1990.

4) Eisenman, Peter. Post-Indexical Criticality. Studio Review Notes. Yale School of Architecture, 2006.

5) Eisenman, Peter. Ibid.



1.     Besnier Niko. Language and Affect. Annual Reviews, Inc, 1990.

2.     Eisenman, Peter. “Diagrams and Diaries”. Universe Publishing 1999.

3.     Eisenman, Peter. “Post Indexical Criticality”. Studio Review Notes. Yale School of Architecture, 2006.

4.     Rowe, Colin. “Mathematics of the Ideal Villa and Other Essays”. MIT Press. 1976. Paperback version 1987.

5.     Silverstein, Michael. “Indexical order and the dialectics of sociolinguistic life”. Elsevier Ltd. 2003.

6.     Siverstein, Michael. “Shifters, Linguistic Categories, and Cultural Description.” In Meaning in Anthropology. K. Basso and H.A. Selby. Eds. Albuquerque: School of American Research, University of New Mexico Press, 1976.

7.     Sturrock, John. “Structuralism and Since: From Lèvi Strauss to Derrida (Opus Books). Oxford University Press. 1981.

Sunday, September 19, 2010


Waiting for the final pictures. Coming Soon.

Friday, September 10, 2010

La Riviera Ceiling Preview

Final step to completely finish the project.