Massimo Cacciari, “Eupalinos or Architecture,” 1980.
Per usual, Hays breaks down Cacciari’s mostly impenetrable essay of non-Architectural metaphysics with a casual heads up: though guised as a review of Tafuri and Dal Co’s book Modern Architecture, “Eupalinos or Architecture” is a “concise meditation on the problem that has preoccupied Cacciari in all of his architecture-theoretical writings: the relation of architecture, the metropolis, and nihilism.” Massimo Cacciari was an Italian philosopher and theorist interested in Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Wittgenstien, so the nihilistic, exclusively theoretical, and metaphysical majority of this essay isn’t a surprise.
In the way of a concise breakdown, the nigh invisible goal of this essay is to find specific theoretical answers to Architecture’s contemporary problem: “what form does authentic architecture take in an age where authentic dwelling is impossible?” Cacciari will end up with Mies van der Rohe, but begins with Heidegger, reconstructing his universe only to tell us how it is fundamentally incompatible with modern/contemporary architecture, thereby telling us why this question is such a problem. From Heidegger we go to Nietzsche, then to Urban Planning, the City Beautiful, and Foucault’s already familiar heterotopias, a welcome familiar reference that conditionally settles the conflict between the antiquated Geviert and the contemporary Metropolis.
Heads up, this is a longer review than usual, because the material is so ridiculously dense (and also simply ridiculous). But it is as concise as I could get it while not leaving out too much. (Or you could jump to the conclusion and then skim the body, if you're in a hurry.)
We start with Heidegger because that’s where Tafuri and Dal Co leave off, keeping in mind that nihilism is Cacciari’s forte and true preoccupation. From Heidegger we get a majority of the philosophical meat and reference used for the rest of the essay: the concept of Fragwürdiges, Heidegger’s architecture-dwelling-lodging set up, the Geviert, and the Home (noun) – Dwelling (verb) focus. These construct the paradigm that has presumably reigned for most of human history but is now incapacitated by the single summary icon of the modern world: the Metropolis.
It should be noted that this ‘paradigm’ is not so much an aesthetic or philosophy, but is held by Heidegger as the a priori natural state of human living obscured by the Metropolis. Let’s quickly look at this set up, as it is crucial to make internal sense of this essay. Architecture produces “Dwelling,” the perfect unity between man and nature and god and nothing—the ‘fourfold’ unity called the Geviert. Dwelling produces a Home, which produces Dwelling. Yes, this paradoxical loop is a problem. The Fragwürdiges is Architecture’s “fundamental relation to the world and to things, [and] its language as the existence of such a relation;” it is epistemic, historical, and relational architecture theory, basically. (And that’s all I’m gonna say about it because, shocker, I’m not a Heidegger expert and cannot be bothered by this idyllic metaphysical bullshit.)
It is important to see that this set up is used to reject modern and contemporary architecture’s pretense to re-thinking what it means to dwell in a house, or in a housing community. Specifically, I’m reminded of the Bauhaus’s Haus am Horn (1923), designed by George Muche, Walter Gropius, and Adolf Meyer, with furniture by Breuer and lighting by Moholoy-Nagy, which was designed as an experiment to specifically re-imagine living in the house in the 20th century (during extreme inflation). But at this point Cacciari repeats an already familiar dictum in this essay: he is explicitly not talking about the specific form or material of architecture, but only its theory.
This pretense of architecture (both “modern” and “contemporary,” in this essay) is simultaneous to the corruption of the delicate cycle of dwelling-architecture-dwelling by the Metropolis. In the City, ‘poetic dwelling’ (“dichterich wohnen”) is impossible because of the non-place-ness of the city; the Metropolis has no location within the Geviert, and so Dwelling is impossible. Thus we arrive at Cacciari’s true review of Tafuri and Dal Co’s book: “The history of contemporary architecture is therefore a phenomenology of non-dwelling.” (There’s still more to go.)
But, don’t despair! The non-dweller of the Metropolis becomes the Subject of the Will to Power; homelessness makes the individual more potent over his surroundings, more actuating. Thus we transition from Heidegger to Nietzsche, and from a negative metaphysical rejection of the Metropolis to something akin to an extremely uncomfortable and awkward embrace excruciatingly close to Nihilism’s abyss. From this positive vantage, Cacciari moves on to actual architectural references: Urban Planning and the City Beautiful. Firstly, Urban Planning began as an exercise in nostalgia for Dwelling. Secondly, it functioned by integrating the many different and conflicting logical systems of the City and consequently failed. Then, Urban Planning tried to justify its nostalgic agenda by paradoxical ethical codes of communal living, and so petered out. Thirdly, Urban Planning is useless in the City, because the city is illogical. Then Cacciari mentions the Brutalists and various architectural preoccupations with memory and time, regarding them as attempts to fight the already conclusive desacralization of place and time in the City.
It is at this point in our journey we arrive upon the heterotopia. Thank Foucault! Up to this point we have been drowning in a metaphysical world full of curious conflicts, where the natural world of the peasant (basically, hello Adolf Loos) is irreconcilable with the modern world. But with the heterotopia, this idea of ‘place-ness’ finds a little familiar traction in the City.
The Metropolis is a system of simultaneity and illegible, illogical juxtapositions—everything is going on, and it’s going on next to everything else, and simultaneous to everything else. This is why Urban Planning-as-logical-system failed. But the heterotopia, the idea of dis-continuity of place among the milieu of the City, has the curious distinction of conditionally resolving dwelling and the Metropolis and contemporary architecture. The heterotopia is not a Home for people, not the Home of dichterich wohnen, but a ‘Dwelling’ (noun) for the values of a community, and “in this way [heterotopias] regain possession of places to return to, of promised lands, of churches which console one against the Diaspora of languages and disciplines.”
What is left is the question, what form does authentic modern/contemporary architecture take? As he has said, Cacciari is not interested in architectural form per se, and somewhat leaves us with Heidegger’s vomit-inducing “listening to the Geviert,” or some such nonsense. We are introduced to a new and fabulous interpretation of Mies’s architecture. Apparently, Tafuri and Dal Co end with Mies, so Cacciari returns to Mies to find a response to his original Heideggerian problematic.
In short, Mies makes no pretense to make places for Dwelling. As he said in his 1923 essay “Bauen,” “We want Building to signify truly and only Building.” His 1923 Project for a Brick House is a labyrinth, an assemblage of program parts. His more stylistically typical Pavilion (1929) is even more so, an assemblage of building parts, of materials, and as such it is as object par excellence, instead of a place. Even this can be reduced further: Mies’s glass. Glass is the enemy of privacy, is the antithesis to Home, and so from his 1921 prismatic skyscraper we are know Mies cannot be bothered with Dwelling, and that, by extension, modern/contemporary architecture has an alternative function altogether.
The interweaving of philosophical and architectural material in this essay is a perfect example of the confusing meta-layer of architectural theory that easily obscures theory's relevance to architectural material and, most problematic, to contemporary architectural evolution. In this essay, Cacciari is trying to understand a question of co-dependent factors: what are the exact roots of change of Dwelling (a philosophical problem) in the 20th century? These two elements are architectural (re: building or the City) and philosophical. In short, what I retrospectively see as irritating romantic idealism (Heidegger's Geviert) represents a contentment of place and fulfillment of an individual's character prior to the modern age (the City). Cacciari, by means of Heidegger and Nietzsche, is trying to understand how we moved away from "Dwelling" and turns to the consequences of the Metropolis as the likely root of investigation. A product of this investigation is the resolute allegation of nihilism in the architecture of Mies (and Adolf Loos), realized by Mies's own rejection of the relationship between a building and "Dwelling" through his own architecture-interested-architecture (an iconic product of modernity) and his use of glass. Urban Planning and the City Beautiful are brought into this as natural consequences of mankind's "nostalgia for 'Dwelling,'" nostalgic products with no real logical or moral place in the Metropolis. (Hence, their problematic history.)
Here are a couple of notes in the way of a conclusion or further reading. For other conversations about the Individual and the Metropolis, or the simultaneity of the Metropolis, see Tafuri’s “Toward a Critique of Architectural Ideology” as well as Koolhaas’s “Life in the Metropolis” and Delirious New York.
Cacciari references plenty other ideas we are familiar with from the anthology while not actually being specific, preoccupied as he was with metaphysics and nihilism. For monuments, the city and memory I’m vaguely reminded of Scolari. In terms of the countryside, pre-modern isolation of the Geviert and the search for authenticity, I’m reminded of the Realists and Adolf Loos.
I also remain curious about the inclusion of this essay in the anthology. Obviously it was included for more than its nihilistic leanings, and I expect it has to do not just with the ‘negative thought’ school and possibly more to do with the metaphysical poetics of architecture in the postmodern age, metaphysical language that is still present in some pedagogical settings.
Also, in case you were wondering, Eupalinos was a hydraulic engineer in Megara in the sixth century, c.e. We know he was responsible for the ‘Tunnel of Eupalinos’ from Phaedrus, in which Socrates explains his story. It is also, and more importantly, a reference to Paul Valéry’s 1921 essay “Eupalinos ou ‘larchitect,” an allusion strengthening Cacciari’s critique of Tafuri and Dal Co.