John Hejduk, Wall House, 1968-1974.
The seventh essay in Hays’s anthology is a precious little three-paragraph tidbit of obscurantist self-importance, pregnant with meaning but wildly frustrating to deal with. (I admit, I went in search of background readings.) Designs for Wall House were developed from 1968-194, though this write up was written in ’72. Like Archizoom and Rossi’s single paragraph entries, this one’s laconism is frustrating in its simplicity yet its disadvantageous window from which to understand the breadth of its implications. In short, Hejduk explains his own search to produce an architectural vocabulary—exercised via first principles and extreme rigor—that reduces the gap between ‘form’ and ‘content’ (see the review of Rowe’s “Introduction”), that is meaningful and consistent enough to articulate arguments about architecture without the need for actual words.
Ironically, there are two vocabularies of which we should remain aware when dealing with Hejduk, especially this tiny writing. The first is the vocabulary that he himself is trying to construct, a vocabulary of elements inherent in the formal experiment of architecture. Although these are numerous—and probably familiar to any designer, artist, and architect who has ever gone to school—he graciously lists them for us theory plebians: point-line-plane-volume, square-circle-triangle, central-peripheral-frontal-oblique, right angle, perpendicular, perspective, sphere-cylindar-pyramid, slab, vertical-horizontal, 2D v. 3D, limited v. unlimited fields, plan, section, expansion-contraction-compression-tension, regulating lines, the grid, symmetry v. asymmetry, configuration, static v. dynamic, and the ever important “forces.”
“All of these begin to take on the form of a vocabulary” of purely architectural elements without modernist ‘content’ that Hejduk continues developing and applying with extreme rigor and over several iterations. The iterative process is absolutely crucial for us to mark. It is firstly the process of creating a valuable design by reviewing each design decision, confirming it is intentional and articulate. Secondly, the iterative process is more or less the equivalent of ‘critical architecture’ that Hays so clearly believes is intimately connected to Hejduk.
In 1990 Hays and Kipnis held a compendium of critics and theorists to discuss the importance of Hejduk to general post-modern architecture. This compendium resulted in the book Hejduk’s Chronotope (1996—two years before Architecture Theory), the introduction of which (written by Hays) describes Hejduk as “an architect who regards contemporary theory with contempt, when he regards it at all (…) whose focus is an architecture neither theoretical nor practical in any conventional sense of the terms.” What Hejduk did instead, he explains, is different: his iterative process and strictly applied/developed architectural vocabulary was the root of ‘critical architecture.’
Critical architecture transcends existing approaches to architecture (both aesthetic and structural—“market conditions, technical systems, regimes of taste, building types”) as well as form-for-form’s-sake. It is a careful critique of what came before, an argument about architecture meaningful for its view on Architecture as a whole as well as meaningful in its own content. Hejduk’s vocabulary and process is about honing that argument and articulating it in purely architectural terms. That is: in specifically non literal terms. Hejduk’s architecture and drawings—equally articulate means of communication, or “argumentation”—are themselves, their space, their elements, their organization, the vessels of the idea. There is no need for words; there is no form-content division. Wall House, and presumably ‘critical architecture,’ is about the reality of achieving architecture’s autonomy, not through form, but through the collapse of form-content into argumentative architecture, architecture that doesn’t need words to explain its purpose. “The arguments and points of view are within the work, within the drawings.”
The irony of this vocabulary comes in its double, the literal vocabulary of Hejduk’s writing. In it there are certain terms that are either hysterical (“FORCES”) or that are, simply, iconic words trailing through Architecture Theory that we need to keep tabs on. These are “vocabulary”, “discovery”, “meaning”, and “argumentation”. (Hejduk also notes a separation between “form and space”, though this isn’t really investigated in this essay, I don’t think.) The value of “vocabulary” is noting the insistence on seeing architecture as a language—probably inescapable because of Baird. “Meaning” and “argumentation” both also share their significance with language, but more pertinently signify architecture’s preoccupation with communication, comprehensibility, and inherent content—whether it is architectural or critical or the content of social values. I secretly suspect the use of “discovery” of belying Hejduk’s positivist agenda to “get to the bottom” of architecture… but I’ll let that lie for now.
The significance of ‘critical architecture’ cannot be overstated…I imagine. I don’t yet know enough about it, so I’mma stay real loose on that. I will note that it was an essential—and perhaps essentially inevitable—step in recovering from Modernism and from early post-modern reactionary architecture. More on this to come, I’m sure. For now I’ll leave you with Hejduk’s last line: “The arguments and points of view are within the work, within the drawings; it is hoped that the conflicts of form will lead to clarity which can be useful and perhaps transferable.”