eter Eisenman, “The End of the Classical: The End of the Beginning, The End of the End,” 1984.
In this essay, Eisenman continues to seek “a space for architecture outside the traditional parameters of the sensuous and the built, concerning himself instead with what may properly be called a conceptual architecture—one that seeks…to replace the built object with a diagram of its formative procedures (…).” (Hays, emphasis mine.) Eisenman continues to rationalize this through the historical critique of modernity that structures this essay. The conceptual, procedural architecture object that represents “the new model for architecture” is one free from the classical fallacies that dominate architectural production since the fifteenth century; it is not the opposite of classical, but rather “not-classical,” and represents only itself and its own process. Consequently, we are walked through the three major classical “fictions” in order to see how their antiquation frees architecture to be something new.
According to Eisenman, the three fictions of classical architecture are representation, reason, and history—heavily and admittedly borrowed from Baudrillard’s Simulations (1983)—and each served a different purpose: “”representation was to embody the idea of meaning; reason was to codify the idea of truth; history was to recover the idea of the timeless from the idea of change.” In so far as they simulate meaning, truth, and timelessness, these three fictions are fundamental operations of the “paradigm of the classic,” and architecture that pursues this paradigm or is created along these fictive parameters is “classical.”
[Note the parallel construction of this essay from Eisenman’s 1976 essay “Post-Functionalism,” in which the historical construct of modernity validates the excavation of Modernism for formal values. Here, Eisenman is setting up the “paradigm of the classic” or “classical architecture” as a trend preserved from the fifteenth century through to the twentieth, in order to justify a “new model of architecture” in the 1980s that, predictably, will define itself in terms of negating the previous paradigm.]
Until the end of the Medieval, there are certain truths that were self evident, based on the concept of time as being eternal. First, “things [simply] were,” they were taken at face value, a piece of architecture was simply itself. Second, part of the face value of a thing was the simple truth of its being. Third, as time was eternal, a piece of architecture was naturally created to last forever. But with the advent of the Renaissance came awareness of historical time, of change, and a lost of the timelessness of the previous age of architectural and artistic production.
Architecture became representative in that it represented historical forms in order to verify the message of the present—that message being that the piece of architecture was timeless. Historical forms were valued as being naturally timeless, and they were exploited in order to confer that same value on present architecture. Likewise, the loss of self-evident universal values in the Renaissance became the root of the search for reason in architecture. Literally, anxiety about how to begin an architectural project in order to make something timeless produced a rationality of types and historical reference. As rationality was seen as the means to truth, the more rational an origin point, the more truthful the architectural object. But most catastrophic was the loss of ‘timelessness’ itself, causing not only these fictions in architecture but also the belief in presentism and the zeitgeist—that the present time was somehow the historical culmination, the end, the final phase of historical change, or that a utopian perfection was immanent.
In the 20th century, Modernism replaced historical with utilitarian referents as the receptacle for meaning. The affected rationalism of Functionalism replaced historical typologies, but the representation and reason of the functionalist paradigm remained the means of validation for architecture, of creating a timeless architectural object. This seems like typical historical criticism from the ‘80s, but most fascinating is Eisenman’s incorporation of the zeitgeist as historical method. Modernist movements embraced the zeitgeist mentality as a means of breaking with history; the present was teleologically broken from the historical and was also the culmination (or apotheosis) of history. The zeitgeist/presentist mentality then allowed for modernist forms to embody truth, the truth of the values of the present. The irony, of course, is while trying to represent the timeless through presentism, the modernists were replicating something that was quintessentially temporary.
So, to some up Eisenman’s history, the “classical” is a lie (“fiction”) constantly trying to validate its own products based on an ancient/medieval paradigm of timelessness. But the role of Baudrillard here is critical: because they weren’t consciously trying to falsify meaning, truth, or timelessness, movements from the fifteenth century to the first were merely simulating those things. “Fiction becomes simulation when it does not recognize its condition as fiction, when it tries to simulate a condition of reality, truth, or non-fiction.” The objective then becomes to find the model for architecture when all other origins are proven to be simulations. Obviously the recovery from this classical paradigm isn’t its negation, but what he calls “not-classical” architecture.
“Not-classical” is an extension beyond the three classical values based on the promise of creating architecture as a text and not as an object. (Here begins the obfuscatory, circular language of ‘deep theory.’) “Not-classical” is an architecture embodying its own language that consciously declines to simulate anything, representing nothing but itself. Eisenman calls this “dissimulative” architecture and likens it to wearing a mask, where the mask is obviously not simulating a reality but consciously referring to its own fiction. So “not-classical” architecture refers only to itself and its not-reference to the outside or historical world.
The “not-classical,” “textual,” procedural architectural [object] is further defined be a conscious rejection of the historical paradigms of an origin and an end (hence the name of this essay: the end of the classical means the rejection of absolute origin and end). “The end of the beginning” is the opportunity to arbitrarily choose an origin point for an architectural project and developing that idea through its own internal rationale. Eisenman calls this arbitrary origin a “graft” and its development “motivation,” describing that a “not-classical” architectural text is replete with “traces” that signify its textuality, its motivations. The “not-classical” architecture is a text of process, not an end object.
Previously I’ve referred to Eisenman’s objective as the ‘theoretical object,” and I retain that phrase as a viable abbreviation. The “theoretical object” has always been understood to be an ongoing process, one that embodies only its own elements and the syntactical evolution of an internal motif. Eisenman briefly revists the ‘70s dialogue about elitism, saying that “traces” allow any person capable of seeing them to read the architectural text, but this is old news in a new, more refined form. Hays bids us look at Eisenman’s House X (1975) and House El Even Odd (1980) as representations of this “not-classical,” “textual,” procedural architectural text-object, best summarized by Eisenman’s description of House X: “the house is not an object in the traditional sense—that is, the end result of a process—but more accurately a record of process,” what we might call an index (which is still an object). In terms of a text that is its own referent, I am also reminded of Robin Evans's analysis of Libeskind's Chamber Works, which you should also read.