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Writing Architecture

Manfredo Tafuri and Contemporary Architecture

The influential Italian architectural historian Manfredo Tafuri (1935–1994) invoked the productive possibilities of crisis, writing that history is a “project of crisis” (progetto di crisi). In this entry in the Writing Architecture series, Marco Biraghi explores Tafuri’s multifaceted and often knotty oeuvre, using the historian’s concept of a project of crisis as a lens through which to examine his historical construction of contemporary architecture.

Essays in Architecture

Jeffrey Kipnis’s writing, thinking, and teaching casts architecture as both an intellectual discourse and a lived, affective experience. His essays on contemporary architects are less about making critical judgments than about explication, exegesis, and provocation. In these eleven essays, written between 1990 and 2008, he considers projects, concepts, and buildings by some of the most recognized architects working today, with special attention to the productions of affect.

Today, spaces no longer represent a bourgeois haven; nor are they the sites of a classical harmony between work and leisure, private and public, the local and the global. The house is not merely a home but a position for negotiations with multiple spheres—the technological as well as the physical and the psychological. In A Topology of Everyday Constellations, Georges Teyssot considers the intrusion of the public sphere into private space, and the blurring of notions of interior, privacy, and intimacy in our societies.

A History of Anti-Perspective

For more than half a century, Erwin Panofsky’s Perspective as Symbolic Form has dominated studies of visual representation. Despite the hegemony of central projection, or perspective, other equally important methods of representation have much to tell us. Parallel projection can be found on classical Greek vases, in Pompeiian frescoes, in Byzantine mosaics; it returned in works of the historical avant-garde, and remains the dominant form of representation in China.

Digital technologies have changed architecture—the way it is taught, practiced, managed, and regulated. But if the digital has created a “paradigm shift” for architecture, which paradigm is shifting? In The Alphabet and the Algorithm, Mario Carpo points to one key practice of modernity: the making of identical copies.

In The Possibility of an Absolute Architecture, Pier Vittorio Aureli proposes that a sharpened formal consciousness in architecture is a precondition for political, cultural, and social engagement with the city. Aureli uses the term absolute not in the conventional sense of “pure,” but to denote something that is resolutely itself after being separated from its other. In the pursuit of the possibility of an absolute architecture, the other is the space of the city, its extensive organization, and its government.

Reading the Late Avant-Garde

While it is widely recognized that the advanced architecture of the 1970s left a legacy of experimentation and theoretical speculation as intense as any in architecture’s history, there has been no general theory of that ethos. Now, in Architecture’s Desire, K. Michael Hays writes an account of the “late avant-garde” as an architecture systematically twisting back on itself, pondering its own historical status, and deliberately exploring architecture’s representational possibilities right up to their absolute limits.

Architect Léon Krier’s doodles, drawings, and ideograms make arguments in images, without the circumlocutions of prose. Drawn with wit and grace, these clever sketches do not try to please or flatter the architectural establishment. Rather, they make an impassioned argument against what Krier sees as the unquestioned doctrines and unacknowledged absurdities of contemporary architecture.

Inventing Architectural Modernism

Architecture, at least since the beginning of the twentieth century, has suspended historical references in favor of universalized abstraction. In the decades after the Second World War, when architectural historians began to assess the legacy of the avant-gardes in order to construct a coherent narrative of modernism’s development, they were inevitably influenced by contemporary concerns.

Confronted with the intricate construction details of Italian architect Carlo Scarpa's Querini Stampalia Gallery—steel joined at odd intervals, concrete spilled out of concatenated forms, stone cut in labyrinthine patterns—Michael Cadwell abandoned his attempts to categorize them theoretically and resolved instead to appreciate their idiosyncrasies and evoke their all-embracing affects. What he had dismissed as a collection of fetishes he came to understand as a coherently constructed world that was nonetheless persistently strange.

Architecture and the Visual Arts

In this thoughtful collection of essays on the relationship of architecture and the arts, Giuliana Bruno addresses the crucial role that architecture plays in the production of art and the making of public intimacy. As art melts into spatial construction and architecture mobilizes artistic vision, Bruno argues, a new moving space—a screen of vital cultural memory—has come to shape our visual culture. Taking on the central topic of museum culture, Bruno leads the reader on a series of architectural promenades from modernity to our times.

Essays on Virtual and Real Space

To be outside allows one a fresh perspective on the inside. In these essays, philosopher Elizabeth Grosz explores the ways in which two disciplines that are fundamentally outside each another--architecture and philosophy--can meet in a third space to interact free of their internal constraints.

On Architecture and Energy

In Fire and Memory, Luis Fernández-Galiano reconstructs the movement from cold to warm architecture, from building fire to building a building with and for fire, through what he calls a "metaphorical plundering" of disciplines as diverse as anthropology and economics, and in particular of ecology and thermodynamics.

In A Landscape of Events, the celebrated French architect, urban planner, and philosopher Paul Virilio focuses on the cultural chaos of the 1980s and 1990s. It was a time, he writes, that reflected the "cruelty of an epoch, the hills and dales of daily life, the usual clumps of habits and commonplaces."


Departing from conventional genres of architectural writing, Roger Connah presents an original and wry reflection on the fickle but exciting role that language, semantics, and philosophy have played this century in relation to architecture. Welcome to the Hotel Architecture is a five-part "anti-epic" poem on the culture of architecture—its tribes and inventions, the spectacular and vernacular, and the processes through which names and movements are secured, erased, forgotten, and manipulated.

Poems 1953-1996


The poems of John Hejduk are almost nonpoetic: still lives of memory, sites of possessed places. They give a physical existence to the words themselves and an autobiographical dimension to the architect. Architect Peter Eisenman likens them to "secret agents in an enemy camp."

In this series of overlapping essays on architecture and art, John Rajchman attempts to do theory in a new way that takes off from the philosophy of the late Gilles Deleuze. Starting from notions of folding, lightness, ground, abstraction, and future cities, he embarks on a conceptual voyage whose aim is to help "construct" a new space of connections, to "build" a new idiom, perhaps even to suggest a new architecture.

Topographies of Contemporary Architecture

Differences brings together ten essays written over the past decade by the distinguished Spanish architect and theorist Ignasi de Solà-Morales. Many of the essays have never previously been translated, and the author has provided a new introduction especially for this English edition.

Contemplating the panorama of contemporary art and architecture, de Solà-Morales posits that there is no one way to describe today's practice; instead he concentrates on elucidating the present dynamic of contrast, diversity, and tension.

Language, Number, Money

Kojin Karatani, Japan's leading literary critic, is perhaps best known for his imaginative readings of Shakespeare, Soseki, Marx, Wittgenstein, and most recently Kant. His works, of which Origins of Modern Japanese Literature is the only one previously translated into English, are the generic equivalent to what in America is called "theory." Karatani's writings are important not only for the insights they offer on the various topics under discussion, but also as an example of a distinctly non-Western critical intervention.

The Furnishing of Territories

Earth Moves, Bernard Cache's first major work, conceptualizes a series of architectural images as vehicles for two important developments. First, he offers a new understanding of the architectural image itself. Following Gilles Deleuze and Henri Bergson, he develops an account of the image that is nonrepresentational and constructive—images as constituents of a primary, image world, of which subjectivity itself is a special kind of image. Second, Cache redefines architecture beyond building proper to include cinematic, pictoral, and other framings.