Essays on Architecture
By Hubert Damisch
Edited and with an introduction by Anthony Vidler
Translated by Julie Rose
Trained as an art historian but viewing architecture from the perspective of a “displaced philosopher,” Hubert Damisch in these essays offers a meticulous parsing of language and structure to “think architecture in a different key,” as Anthony Vidler puts it in his introduction. Drawn to architecture because it provides “an open series of structural models,” Damisch examines the origin of architecture and then its structural development from the nineteenth through the twenty-first centuries. He leads the reader from Jean-François Blondel to Eugène Viollet-le-Duc to Mies van der Rohe to Diller + Scofidio, with stops along the way at the Temple of Jerusalem, Vitruvius’s De Architectura, and the Louvre. In the title essay, Damisch moves easily from Diderot’s Encylopédie to Noah’s Ark (discussing the provisioning, access, floor plan) to the Pan American Building to Le Corbusier to Ground Zero. Noah’s Ark marks the origin of construction, and thus of architecture itself. Diderot’s Encylopédie entry on architecture followed his entry on Noah’s Ark; architecture could only find its way after the Flood.
In these thirteen essays, written over a span of forty years, Damisch takes on other histories and theories of architecture to trace a unique trajectory of architectural structure and thought. The essays are, as Vidler says, “a set of exercises” in thinking about architecture.
About the Author
Hubert Damisch is Emeritus Professor of the History and Theory of Art at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris. Over the course of a long and distinguished career, he has held posts at Cornell University, Columbia University, and the Center for Advanced Studies in the Visual Arts, Washington. He is the author of The Origin of Perspective, The Judgment of Paris, Skyline: The Narcissistic City, and A Theory of Cloud: Toward a History of Painting.
About the Editor
Anthony Vidler is Dean and Professor of the Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture at The Cooper Union, New York. He is the author of Warped Space: Art, Architecture, and Anxiety in Modern Culture(2000), and The Architectural Uncanny: Essays in the Modern Unhomely (1992), both published by The MIT Press, and other books.
“Hubert Damisch is one of the very few philosophers who have taken the field of architecture seriously. This book will be the first time English-speaking readers will have the privilege of reading his provocative takes on a range of issues from geometry and perspective, to Le Corbusier and Diller and Scofidio.”
– Mark Jarzombek, Professor of the History and Theory of Architecture, MIT
“This translation of Hubert Damisch’s incisive and profound essays on architecture is long overdue. Among Paris intellectuals, Damisch is unquestionably alone in having considered designs and building as theoretical objects. From archetypes such as the column or the wall, to the works of Le Corbusier, Adolf Loos, and his close friend Jean Prouvé, considered in compelling detail, he highlights with utmost elegance fundamental issues in architecture.”
– Jean-Louis Cohen, Sheldon H. Solow Professor in the History of Architecture, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University; author of Architecture in Uniform, The Future of Architecture Since 1889, and Le Corbusier: An Atlas of Modern Landscapes
“Drawing from an enormous range of historical subject matter, from the Renaissance to the present, Damisch probes not what architecture was but what architecture is—what kind of knowledge, what kind of thing, the philosophical nature of its existence, and how architecture functions as a fundamental postulate for our being in the world. Reading Damisch writing architecture leads us through origins and ends, disciplines and practices, and produces sheer exhilaration of architectural thought.”
– K. Michael Hays, Eliot Noyes Professor of Architecture Theory, Harvard Graduate School of Design; author of Architecture’s Desire