Denis Hollier, “Architectural Metaphors”, 1974.
Hollier’s essay, from his book Against Architecture, might better be titled “Architecture Prefigures and Knows Everything.” It has two absolutely fabulous claims: that architecture inherently prefigures all other fields of study through its own metaphorical nature; that architecture requires the use of all other fields and is therefore the best, most encyclopedic field of study. Understandably, this essay requires a slight suspension of disbelief, but I assure you it is internally consistent for the most part, and at least makes for fun reading.
Despite the ongoing discussion(s) in the “11 Weeks” readings, “architectural metaphors” does not mean metaphors, signs, or representations used to create architecture. What it designates are the metaphors and references employed by other fields likening their structures to architecture. “There is a façade, generally concealing some sordid reality; there is the secret, hidden architecture itself that one discovers in seemingly the freest works of art, in living beings, indeed in the universe itself (…); pillars are not all literally pillars of the church; keystones prevent systems (whether political, philosophical, or scientific) from collapsing; to say nothing of foundations, etc., etc.”
Even the root of structural linguistics, Hollier notes, is itself an architectural metaphor. But this is in part because architecture itself is metaphorical. In Hollier’s definition, architecture is everything that is not pure building, is “whatever is aesthetic” about a building. “Architecture, before any other qualifications, is identical to the space of representation; it always represents something other than itself from the moment that it becomes distinguished from mere building.” Consequently, architecture instantaneously represents structure, communicability, metaphor, and ideology, taste, &c.
This is a fabulous application of architecture that makes every architect, prof., and student smile. It is a clever rereading of the state of architecture theory: instead of arguing that architecture was one thing that is veering to the realm of representation (Lefebvre) or that it should do that (every other semiotic/Structuralist theory), Hollier reverses the pattern. Architecture is, instead, inherently representative and therefore inherently metaphorical, and by extension every field of study that is remotely consistent (which they all are for sakes of reason and communication) is also inherently architectural. “There is consequently no way to describe a system without resorting to the vocabulary of architecture. When structure defines the general form of legibility, nothing becomes legible unless it is submitted to the architectural grid.” Weirdly this is the second consecutive day I’ve been reminded of Harold Bloom, who often totes the idea of ‘prefiguring.’ Just as one author may anachronistically prefigure another’s work, so architecture prefigures the structures of other fields.
Just in case situation architecture as the prefiguring metaphor of all other fields of study was not enough, Hollier performs a parallel maneuver: the process of architecture necessarily incorporates all other fields and therefore is the most encyclopedic, most omniscient field of study. Architecture itself has no model except for nature itself, and so forms itself as an homologous parallel to nature. Architecture is the microcosm, resulting in a weird but mostly understandable dualistic metaphor: “It is less that architecture is cosmic than that the cosmos itself is architectured”—architecture is natural and nature is architectural.
Most importantly, because it has no specific model to speak of, architecture must first create it—instead of executing a plan (building) the architect must first conceive if it (architecture the process). “Conception as a precondition implies recourse to all branches of knowledge,” and therefore “all branches of knowledge converge in architecture, which for this reason occupies the position that can be very exactly defined as encyclopedic.” Because of this, we get the best one-liner in all architecture history: “Omniscience is the architect’s greatest virtue.” Thus we complete the second operation of Hollier’s essay: “architecture knows everything.”
Now that I think about it, Hollier’s identification of architecture as inherently representative and metaphorical is not necessarily so exclusive to Aldo Rossi’s theory. At least, Rossi must necessarily recognize architecture as inherently representative in order for his own idea of architecture to function. This is also a necessity for Denise Scott Brown’s idea that architecture (as type of pop ephemera) communicates cultural values. “Architecture,” as it is anything more than building, is composed of cultural values. While Hollier is more concerned about the fundamental metaphor of architecture itself, perhaps Scott Brown is interested in specifically unpacking the composition of that metaphor. Nonetheless, ‘representation’ is synonymous with ‘’communication.’
A quick Hays note, from his intro to this essay: "Hollier's essay represents an indictment of architecture's fundamental and unavoidable confinement and violence that would later, with the writings and projects of Bernard Tschumi, Rem Koolhaas, Mark Wigley, and others, be seen as a potential for new areas of investigation, for an architecture that undoes itself."