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Falling Up Auguste Choisy and the lightness of stone

Alison Moffett

MA History and Critical Thinking Architectural Association 2010-2011


For my mother, Marian Scott Moffett, who showed me the path through history, and my father, Kenneth Moffett, always there to teach the joy of the new.





1. Planche I, Palatin


2. Planche V, Thermes de Caracalla


3. Planche XVI, Bains de Diane a Nimes, Pont de Narni, Arenes D’Arles


4. Planche XIV, Villa Hadriana, Aqueduc Pres St. Jean de Latran


5. Planche III, Basilique de Constantin


6. Planche IX, Thermes de Diocletien


7. Planche XII, Thermes de Caracalla


8. Planche XI, Minerva Medica


9. Planche VIII, Palatin


10. Planche XVII, Arles, St. Remy, Vienne


11. Planche VII, Palatin, Janus Quadrifrons


12. Planche II, Aqueduc Pres St. Etienne le Rond, Colisee


13. Planche IV, Cirque de Maxence, Thermes de Caracalla, Voie Appienne, Sette Sale 45 14. Planche XIII, Pantheon D’Agrippa


15. Planche XXIII, Segeste


16. Platnche VI, Palatin



Falling Up

I tripped on my shoelace And I fell up-Up to the roof tops, Up over the town, Up past the tree tops, Up over the mountains, Up where the colors Blend into the sounds. But it got me so dizzy, When I looked around, I got sick to my stomach And I threw down.1 -Shel Silverstein-


It started like this: an unearthing in the library. Large, dusty, and leather bound, the last return stamp from the 24th of March 1952, the only other date, the 20th of October 1938. The scene is set, a recognizable movie opening. The discovery of a forgotten tome transports us, the protagonist, along a journey through lost lands, utopian constructions, a terrifying and disorienting falling up, and we find, in the end, when the book has finally been shut, that all is well, but that everything is different. The experience has changed the way we look at the world.




To speak in cinematic narrative, fashioning an atmosphere of romance produces a language where, paradoxically, Auguste Choisy’s first publication, L’Art de Bâtir chez les Romains, 1873, is able to sit comfortably and flourish. Here it is not the text itself which carries the weight of the immersive narrative, but the intricate drawings included in the planches. Practically, each does serve their role as graphic depictions of Choisy’s rationalist construction-led theory of architecture, however, they also go further into the imaginative world of irrationality and fantasy. It is interesting to see just how much information is present and can be read from a drawing: how much evidence is shown graphically. In making this exercise, it becomes clear that the Romains drawings not only visualize an inherently 19th century shift in thought, but that they function independently, beyond their useful role as a historical marker of discontinuity. Their value and interest lie in the tension present in their intrinsic irrationality, the juxtapositions of disparate aspects, and through this ordered chaos, the delineation of a new architectural space. Through Choisy’s search for something supremely ordered, a universal theory of architecture – based in that archetypal civilization of Rome – one can read, instead, a multitude of opposing views – yes, rationality is there, but so is irrationality; structure and formlessness; heaviness and lightness; movement and suspension, fantastical romanticism and abstraction. One is left with a Janus-faced quandary, a directional impossibility. It is only at the crossroad of thought that the drawings exist, so we are balancing with no definite direction in which to proceed. It is within the suspension found in the state of in between, like the doorstep of Van Eyck, a place neither interior nor exterior, that this equilibrium is found, not for the lack of answers produced, but for the creation of more questions. The Romains drawings function, not as a narrowing down, a focusing, but as a splintering out, a radiation of ideas and themes which act to define the time in which they were made, creating a constellation of information looking back and seeing forward. In this sense, their relation to the past, which they are addressing, the present, in which they are made, and the future, to which they foretell, is combined and suspended in a dialectical image where ambiguity reigns. As is often the case, this magic happens early in Choisy’s career. Published in 1873, and intended for an audience of engineering and architectural students, L’Art de Bâtir chez les Romains, was only the first in a family of works published by Choisy, all focused carefully on his rationalist, structurally-led theory of construction. This is first explored with Roman architecture; then in 1881, Le Sahara; L’Art de bâtir chez les Byzantins in 1882; Eudes Equigraphiques sure l’Architecture Grecque in 1883; and after a considerable amount of work, the comprehensive, Histoire de l’Architecture in 1898 followed by L’Art de bâtir chez les Egyptiens, in 1903; and Vitruve, published after his untimely death in 1909. Images play an integral role throughout each publication. These range from the elaborate first


drawings in Romains, the simplified, almost abstracted diagrams of the Histoire, onto a possibly less successful use of photography in Egyptiens, and finally back to even more simplified diagrams in Vitruve. However, it is the drawings included in the first book, the Romains, that are here of interest. Using the term ‘drawings’ is almost a misnomer, though one that is still appropriate as, more specifically, these are engravings, a type of printmaking which allows for extremely precise and exacting line work. The significance this leads, contrary to the usual discussion involving the copy and the original, is that these images are not copies of an original, but purposely made prints, arranged to be published and distributed. Positioned within a book, they become a reproducible, proliferating, source of information intended to exist as a plurality - making them, in a sense, all originals. To this end, the scanned versions collected here serve to add another genealogical level, existing as illustrations of what is discussed and precise copies of originals, their very precision questioning the role of the copy as original. In yet another step, and unlike the published originals, these examples sit within this text, rather than at the end, hopefully creating a new dialog to form between written word and image. Within L’Art de Bâtir chez les Romains, the drawings are neatly compiled into the planches at the end. There are 24 in all, delineating, through built examples, the structural construction of Roman vaulting. Of the 24, all are drawn as architectural fragments, predominately shown in parallel projection, becoming the underlying grid work. To narrow the field of interest, the 5 prints, planches XV, XX, XXI, XXII, XXIV which are drawn in elevation, are lovingly done, but not of great importance to this discussion. Neither, are planches X, XVIII, XVIX, which are shown from above, the bird’s eye view, the later two uniquely different as their execution and design originates not from Choisy, but from a colleague, H. Sauvestre. In this, Choisy’s first publication, one can see the exuberance of youth, almost a desire to wow the audience with showmanship. There is a dream-like narrative quality to the drawings, their rationality cloaked in the potent combination of nostalgia generated through the romance of ruins and the hopefulness of utopian fantasy. This cloak is shed in subsequent publications, paralleling the general theoretical movement of the time towards simplification and abstraction. With this shift, the more comprehensive Histoire, whose legacy shines brightly in comparison, ultimately overshadows Romains. However, it is within the Romains that Choisy’s playfulness can be appreciated. Here, Choisy utilizes the slight variations available to parallel projection, adapting their use according to his whim, specifically tailored to each individual drawing. 2 This initial looseness is later lost in the rigidity of the Histoire drawings. From oblique to axonometric (with its further 3 sub-categories: isometric, dimetric, and trimetric), in the Romains, a separate representational technique is used depending on what visual or structural element he wishes to stress. For the purpose of this exploration, the subtle differences are not wholly important, what is important is the fact that Choisy chose the playful route, to explore different visual practices. Certainly, this could be identified as a sign of his youth, a time of exploring


possibilities subsequently narrowed in future years, but it is also indicative of a flexible light-hearted quality unique, within his career, to the Romains. In discussing drawings, it can be easy to slip into talk of technique and draftsmanship. However, first and foremost, Choisy is an engineer and historian. Keeping this in mind, the form of graphic representation he chose for the Romains can be regarded as a collection of fragmented Roman architecture, every fragment detached from its original context, drawn to represent not only the construction method of the building, but also the essence of an idealized Roman civilization: like an encyclopedia, they individually become a complete realm of information. Resembling Walter Benjamin, whose “form of history required not the historian in any orthodox sense,” writes David Frisby in Fragments of Modernity, “but the archaeologist, the collector, the flâneur,”3 Choisy can similarly be viewed as an archaeologist and collector who compile fragments subsequently constructed within the drawings. The history of Roman architecture, and through this lens, the Roman civilization as a whole, is depicted with such minute detail and precision that it becomes a more perfect realization than either the 19th century ruined model, or the actuality of Roman civilization itself, could ever have been. As the drawings, individually, depict fragments that represent the whole, so too does each drawing function within the framework of the text. However, a striving forward into the future echoes this looking back into the past. Each one of Choisy’s Romains drawings is a duality, the many aspects depicted are constantly twinned, seemingly with their opposite in style and implication. Formally, though they represent complete fragments, they are also fragmented, broken sections from a whole, a collection of pieces that can tell a complete story: the lightness of stone, the weighty solidity of masonry construction is belied by its suspension, foretelling the lightness inherent in new construction materials and a major aspect governing the Modern Movement; a romantic narrative of utopia coexists with theories of rationality and the simplicity of abstraction; the delineation of hollowed-out interior space sits alongside a new planar architectural space of uncertainty. All of these accumulations of opposites are elegantly balanced within the simultaneous unstable perception of falling down and building up.





Auguste Choisy worked in a time of great political, economical, philosophical, and aesthetic transformation. The nineteenth century saw some of the greatest change in life and thought the world has ever seen. The discussion or production of a new sort of architectural or representational space is, especially in Germany, rather a hot topic of the time. In order to contextualize just how timely the Romains drawings are, it is necessary to investigate some of this thought process. In Germany, successions of learned men, starting within the second half of the eighteenth century, embarked on a complete overhaul to the conceptions of form and space. On the cusp of modernity, this remarkable upheaval dovetails with a new visual practice. “The expanding efforts to enrich the meaning of these two notions (form and space),” state Mallgrave and Ikonomon in their introduction to Empathy, Form, and Space: problems in German aesthetics, “concurrent with the first practical efforts to forge an abstract or nonrepresentational art, present one of those rare moments in the history of art when a conceptually fertile and suggestive discourse worked in unison with revolutionary practice.”4 This was a dynamic time of upheaval, begun with political revolutions and kept alight by the open Pandora’s box of scientific and technological innovation. Perhaps it is stretching credibility to speculate that Choisy actually read contemporary German philosophical thought, however, visually, through these first Romains drawings, he does manage to create a language that speaks directly to and about a new interior spatial architectural theory. This new dialog can then be enlarged to encompass not only the delineation of the subject matter, Roman architecture, but also the drawings’ unique and paradoxical compositions. Their duality of nature can be personified by one half of Arthur Schopenhauer’s theory on the ‘subjective side of the aesthetic act.’ In his Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung (‘The World as Will and Representation’), 1819-1844, following upon Immanuel Kant’s first ground breaking thoughts on aesthetics and form leads Schopenhauer to become concerned with the ‘subjective side of the aesthetic act’; on one hand based in ‘Platonic Ideas’ or fundamental forms; on the other, on a willingness for the regarding subject to suspend the ‘self’ – to ‘loose themselves’ in the act of viewing. It is this ‘losing oneself’, also referred to as ‘objectivity’, Schopenhauer claims to be found more prevalently in the ‘lower’ arts such as architecture. 5 At first sight, this is surprising, as a basis in Platonic Ideas seems an easy match for architectural understanding. But, Schopenhauer argues that the viewer is affected, not merely by geometric, mathematical structure, but by something grander, “fundamental forces of nature”.6 Architecture’s identifying theme is “support and load, [which] when viewed aesthetically… can only portray the conflict between gravity and rigidity”.7 In defining Schopenhauer’s thoughts upon the subjective, Mallgrave and Ikonomon also manage to parallel the dual nature of Choisy’s Romain’s drawings. The importance is found in the word conflict – a battling of seemingly incompatible elements. Architecturally, these elements are defined as ‘gravity’ and ‘rigidity’, or, to put it another


way, an unstoppable force pulling down versus the strain of tensile strength, the tectonic construct, to raise the building up. By meticulously delineating construction methods needed to build up, Choisy captures Schopenhauer’s contemporaneous theory of aesthetic perception when applied to architectural experience, by suspending the construction in a representational mode emphasizing, by its very disregard, Earth’s unceasing gravitational force. If Schopenhauer’s aesthetic contemplation is based in the idealized experience of content, the juxtapositions therein made visible in Choisy’s early Romains drawings, Choisy’s work as a whole can also be said to advance alongside prevailing aesthetic thoughts, from ‘content’ to ‘form’. 8 Heralded by Johann Friedrich Herbart (1776-1841) and Gustav Fechner (1801-1887), these formalist theories of aesthetic value paralleled the subsequent trend towards rationality, practicality, and technological progress. 9 The composition on the page, similar to the arrangement of spatial elements of aesthetic space, as described by Herbart, can be defined by a methodical, building process of parallel planes, a grid work allowing one’s eye to understand figure/ground relationships, but abstracted in a way which leaves ambiguity and the potential for visual movement.10 Based primarily on the adaption of parallel projection, the gridded underlying structure combined with simplification and abstraction of the depicted structures is furthered and enhanced in later publications. The inclusion of narrative-based elements, ‘content’, rather than ‘form’, is dropped, until Choisy reaches the starkly diagrammatic images found in the Histoire and Vitruve. Returning to Romains, the reasoning behind Choisy’s visual representation of space can be pulled from visual construct to subject matter, and once again, we find he engages with a popular zeitgeist, this time a veneration of and general curiosity towards Roman architecture. The 19th century’s predication for making the grand tour, almost an architectural pilgrimage, to visit the grandly rotting works of antiquity, has been well documented. However, it wasn’t until the middle of the century when architectural spatial theory began to be investigated that a new dimension came to be developed concerning the importance of Roman architecture. In 1869, in Zurich, Gottfried Semper, architect and proponent of rationality, gave a lecture in which he proposed the “substructures of vaulted foundations and sacerdotal crypts were brought above ground to form the superstructure of a new spatial art”.11 These vaulted forms ‘brought above ground’ are the specialty of Roman architecture. In this investigation of a ‘new spatial art’ fresh emphasis is placed on the ruins of antiquity, no longer simply allowed to idle within the romantically picturesque. Their archaeology and careful study now contained fresh importance for all of architectural theory to come. Choisy certainly follows the lead, realizing that by harnessing the interiority of the Roman vault, he was entering a modern dialog driven by technology. By following the logic of Siegfried Giedion, one is given the luxury of a 1971 historical overview. Here, he maintains that there is a definite shift in architectural spatial arrangement from what he calls the first space conception, incorporating the original ‘high civilizations’ such as Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Greece, who organized their built environment as ‘volumes in space’; the second, instigated and largely defined by Roman


construction, here spatially defined by the ‘evolution of interior space’; and the third, comprising the 20th century, constructed of planer surfaces and ‘space-radiating volumes.12 The second space conception, so carefully compartmentalized by Giedion, was a contemporary topic of discussion amongst German intellectuals looking to enliven a seemingly stagnated discourse within architecture. In France, this stagnation was blamed on the governance of the grand institution, the Êcole des BeauxArts, founded in 1806, which had become increasingly isolated and introverted.13 In retaliation, rationalists, such as Conrad Fielder, both a great advocate and critic, of Semper, also promoted the Roman vault as the solution to formal architectural questions.14 Specifically, he applauds that revival of interest, the Romanesque style, with its homage to heavy Roman masonry and barrel vaulting. The implications to spatial theory, however, remain the same for both the original Roman and the imitating Romanesque, whose vaulting perfectly illustrated the rational and simplified approach to an enclosure of space.15 The importance of this foundation within the concept of an enclosure, the creation of an interior, is, according to Fielder, a marked departure for a true architecture; one not made up of composite parts, but thought about creatively as an ‘artistic activity’.16 The awareness of an architectural shift away from Giedion’s first conception, ‘volumes in space’, which is naturally defined by a structure’s exterior, towards space as an interior volume under a Roman vault, parallels aesthetic spatial theory, leading towards architectural space being defined as an inhabitation of an interior space. For still, at the time Fielder wrote the above, 1878, roughly the same time L’Art de Bâtir chez les Romains is published, architectural space is thought about in visual terms of what one can see ‘over there’. Three-dimensional constructs such as sculpture and architecture are described in an almost two-dimensional manner – depth is created through the overlaying of planes, much like the layout of a relief.17 Therefore, Choisy’s choice of Roman architecture, specifically the Roman vault, finds him fortuitously, or perceptively, illuminating the moment in history in which the conception of architectural space shifts toward the interior – the space in which the spectator, or more specifically, the perambulator, inhabits and moves. Reasonably, to understand architectural space as a hollow within which a body can move, it is intrinsically important to first think of the built structure as an interior. It was Heinrich Wolfflin, who, in 1886, declared that to experience a building, one must have a body, a projection of empathy onto the built space.18 This discussion of empathy and space was integral to the understanding of tectonics – a term of some popularity in the mid- nineteenth century (both Karl Boetticher and Gottfried Semper publish books with Tectonic in the title).19 In architecture, tectonics allows for the visualization of built form and the forces at play within a construction.20 Fundamentally, it is a term which defines the visualization of a construction-led structure, but it also has the ability to become an architect’s tool, something subjective that can be wielded – a “noble gesture” which can enable our own “empathic participation in the [architectural] experience.”21 In Choisy’s visual depiction of ‘structure’ guided by ‘construction’, he lands upon a graphic demonstration of tectonics, thereby entering into the discussion of empathy and architectural space. Here, August Schmarsow’s theory of


architectural space is particularly appropriate. He writes his treatise, The Essence of Architectural Creation in 1893, twenty years after the first L’Art de Bâtir was published. However, he is the first to discus space as defined by the body’s inhabitation of a volume, its enclosure.22 This experience, combined with the human imaginative inclination, blossoms to become spatial creation.23 It is the projection of ourselves onto the structure that allows tectonic form to become expressive. This empathic projection completes the “act of free aesthetic contemplation when,” states Schmarsow, “we transport ourselves from the exterior that we see before us into the center of the interior space… we strive to open up a remote organism to the analogous feeling within ourselves.”24 The nineteenth century spatial theories transferred an empathic feeling onto an inert building, reproducing the feeling of enclosure as the true form of architectural space. Structurally, the creation of an interior comes to light only with Rome’s elevation of the vault from underground. As Giedion writes, it is “through this development of the vault [that] Rome laid the foundations for the later evolution of architecture.”25 The Roman vault finds its zenith in the construction of Hadrian’s Pantheon in Rome, the ultimate example of a spherically spanned space. “From then on,” states Giedion “all concepts of architectural space would almost invariably be synonymous with the concept of a hollowed-out interior.”26 It is strange, therefore, that when Choisy depicts the Pantheon, it is not the famous half-spherical dome that is shown but rather a section of the supporting ring. In fact, without the drawings helpful title, one might be hard-pressed to identify the building at all. Although Choisy is certainly working within the interior-spatial framework – his theory is constructed, after all, upon the practicality of Roman vaulting – his drawings cause ambiguities to form, pushing the boundaries on what can be considered interior and exterior, subverting the logical construct of Giedion’s second space conception. This subversion is found within the inherent tendency of axonometric projection to play with visual ordering. It is also found in Choisy’s graphical slicing of the structure itself. The Pantheon, as drawn, is defined as only a quarter of a circle, floating abstractly in space. In describing Giedion’s third space conception, he states, “we can perceive a simultaneous striving for both freedom and for order,”27 ‘Freedom’ and ‘order’ could also be descriptive of the juxtaposition present in the Romains planches: the simultaneous presence of ambiguity and rationality. Through Choisy’s unusual use of worm’s eye view parallel projection, we are allowed, as the drawings’ viewer, to move within the drawn space in a new way. Here is depicted interiority, but not from a fixed point. The drawings do represent a hollowed out space of interiority, but they are, at the same time, fragmented and abstracted in such a way as to confuse and disorientate the spectator. Although Choisy’s theory and subject matter beckon towards a cohesive assessment of the interior as a new spatial language, his drawings once again sit uneasily between two camps.



When talking about the depiction of architectural space, especially in regards to Roman architecture, it is of utmost importance to mentioning Piranesi. His presence in the background to Choisy’s image making is obviously one of a Romantic sensibility. However, without his concerted efforts, and prolific image making, the story of Roman architectural representation might be very different today. It was his publication Antichita Romane in May of 1756, which changed the course of Roman archaeology and architectural study.28 In this vast work, in scope and in size, Piranesi promotes his own interests in the preservation and veneration of Roman antiquity. Like Choisy, working a little more than 100 years later, Piranesi captured the public’s imagination through a combination of engineering and architectural understanding, carefully represented through ornate and often overstated engravings, what John Wilton-Ely calls, “the polemical exaggeration of Roman structural techniques”.29 This polemic was only to increase with his 1761 publication, Della Magnificenza ed Architettura de’ Romani. Here, the similarities between the two draftsmen are visualized in a willingness to modify or embellish the depiction of the past for their own reasons. As Antoine Picon states when speaking of the role of images within the architectural treatise, “engraving, in particular, made it possible for alterations to be made to designs which had in fact already been realized.”30 And both of these men were in the business of depicting what was already built. Piranesi’s Rome is oversized; enormous, monstrous foundations of stone (such as the Foundations of the Castel S. Angelo or the Theatre of Marcellus) dwarf the miniature scale figures always included. This seemingly heavy-handed approach was in retaliation for the perceived scholarly threat of Greek superiority; his tactic was a victory by shear size.31 Choisy’s message was less culturally based, but equally personal. In regarding his Romains planches, beyond the obvious artificially precise fragmentation, the depiction of material is in a far superior state than the actual ancient ruined model would have been. Choisy is also ‘improving’ upon Roman architecture, through the guise of precision, to suit his own means, supporting his rationalist construction theory. But here, perhaps, the similarity stops. The greatest difference in practice is that Piranesi works through the lens of perspecitival space, which, when combined with dramatic directional lighting “provides a visual journey for the spectator.”32 Dark and broody, they are seeped in romance and mystery. Their purpose is to pluck the heartstrings of an eighteenth century public already inclined towards the mystic. There is no ‘visual journey’ in Choisy’s engravings. The use of axonometric, or parallel perspective, gives a sense of flatness and uniformity to the architecture shown, while fragmentation works to break apart the Roman tendency to be overbearing, an attribute heightened into an overwhelming feeling of enclosure within Piranesi’s work. Choisy, one could say, borrows from the vocabulary of Piranesi, employing some of the magic and illusion, but leaving behind the gothic weightiness. Where Piranesi illustrates the heaviness of stone, Choisy, a century later, shows the lightness.


The pervasiveness of Piranesi created a circle of followers, a ‘Piranesian school’ in Rome to which young French architects and hopeful students flocked. However, a new movement, around the middle of the 18th century saw the closure of the old French academies and the foundation of several, more specifically engineering-based schools – most notably, the Ecole des Arts (1740), Ecole de Ponts et Chaussées (1750) and the Ecole Polytechnique (1794). Society itself was becoming a duality: “while ‘court society’ was still able to recognize itself in the gradation of classical architecture,” writes Antoine Picon “the rising bourgeoisie would increasingly identify itself with engineers whose task it was to organize the territory and to adapt it to the needs of industry and of profit.”33 There subsequently extended, in France, a growing lineage, starting from Jacques-Francois Blondel and Jean-Rodolphe Perronet, two founding fathers of the Ecole des Arts and the Ecole de Ponts et Chaussees, respectively, of practically-minded engineer-architects such as Ledoux, Boullée, Durand, and eventually, Viollet-leDuc. In many ways, the romanticism of Piranesi is not so much the other side of an aesthetic coin as a continuous merging, to be found in the optimistic utopian, occasionally fantastical, visions found in the drawings of the most practically minded. Like the generation before, Choisy too made a journey south. He had his first taste of Roman antiquity in the Rhone Valley in 1865, but it was his trip to Rome and then on to Athens, the following year that cemented his theory on the rationality of economically and materiality-based Roman construction.34 Just 32 years old when he published his first book, L’Art de Bâtir chez les Romains in 1873, this tour de force marked the start of a remarkable career as a teacher and writer of architectural history. With this first publication, Choisy builds upon the foundation of his senior contemporary, Viollet-le-Duc’s rationalist-led architectural theory. Originally centered on Gothic architecture, Choisy employs Le-Duc’s rationalist concepts to work in Roman vaulting. Choisy’s legacy is not as commonly popular as Le-Duc, whose elevated regard could be due to the fact that, alongside publications, he constructed, or at least ‘restored’ actual structures. Choisy’s importance, on the other hand is purely text and image based, there exist no physical, built projects to buttress his theories. Where Le-Duc captured the public imagination with Notre Dame’s new impossibly thin flying buttresses or satisfyingly grotesque gargoyles – a better middle ages than the middle ages ever had – Choisy’s legacy must remain in the two dimensional published realm of drawings and text. It is true that books written for an audience of architects and engineers do not, in themselves, offer much interest to the general public – not, perhaps, in the same way that the restoration of a historically significant and subsequently treasured iconic building, but Choisy’s books, especially the Histoire de l’architecture of 1899, universally acknowledged as his most important publication, carry with them such a persuasive argument, laid out in a logical and easily understandable way, that their importance to subsequent architects, and therefore, actually, to architecture of the built world, far exceeds his remembered legacy. Perhaps, the very characteristics that make his texts popular, that they are logical and understandable, occasionally twist around against him, as his dry conciseness in all things becomes, especially in the Histoire, successively more arbitrary.35 In this sense, when one regards


his images, he is at his best in Romains, when this attenuated and simplified rationality is balanced by irrationality and whimsy. Comparatively undervalued, now, when he is remembered, it is, with obvious reason, for his simplification, his rationality, and the engineering-based importance he places on structure. However, it is within the remarkable Romains drawings, and their ambiguous, almost contradictory mode of delivery created to impart his theories, that first enabled Choisy’s theory’s to flourish. This is still where he really shines and where it just might be possible to find his personality, as on first impressions, Choisy, himself seems an unlikely candidate for lofty acclaim. As Robin Middleton laments, not much is known about Choisy’s personal life since, strangely, no one has thoroughly researched it. The basics give a minimal portrait of a petit engineer, his efficiency and precision tempered by kindness.36 He is described as militaristically precise, “careful in all things” and “very responsible”.37 Alongside this starchy, typically Victorian description comes, very occasionally, a softer insight, such as the touching final statement in the RIBA obituary: “he was always ready at any time to answer communications made to him on various subjects; and his replies were always of the kindest description, for if he differed widely from the views of his correspondent he always managed in his answers to elude the differences and to encourage him in his researches.”38 It is evident that, though he was certainly efficiently precise, he also had a softer side. All of the exacting attributes are painstakingly evident when one views his drawings as a whole. But there is more: a presence, at times within Romains, of a playful imagination, one which is aware of the prevailing trends of the time: the rich history of utopian narrative, entangled with a romanticized view of the past, its archaeological remains, and perhaps a mildly science-fiction-based view of the future. Taken as a framework, Choisy was able to utilize this dreamscape to encircle and enhance his otherwise rather dry rationalist theory. This playful imagination is where we find the “indefatigable dancer”, the lone human characteristic of his youth related by Middleton.39 It is a shame, therefore, that the Romains drawings should be far less appreciated within the works of Choisy as a whole. One utilitarian explanation for this is their size. At once a boon: such detailed delineations deserve a large format, as well as a curse: no one wants to lug around so formidable a tome. For at 30 X 41 cm this will certainly not fit in the pocket. Compared with the Histoire, Reyner Banham calls his Art de Bâtir series, “more specialized and more bulky, and therefore hardly known to general architectural readers”.40 In fact, the Romains is a beautiful publication, leather bound with marbleized inside cover, an exquisite object in itself, something to add worth to a comprehensive library, not, perhaps to lend out frequently to students. Even today, it has never been reprinted (or translated), its mystique maintained by (what is now) ancient leather and thick print-embossed text. However, at the time, the book was considered remarkably refreshing, immediately applauded by his piers, including Reynaud and Le-Duc.41. Clearly conveyed, it describes Roman architecture in terms of the rationality of economics and structural construction. The text carefully and methodically goes through the evolution of material construction,


giving special significance to the arch and vault, for these, Choisy considers to be the crucial elements defining Roman construction.42


For many, usually structural or tectonically inclined architectural historians, such as Reyner Banham or Kenneth Frampton, the later Histoire marks one of the foundation stones of the modern movement. Banham devotes an entire chapter (chapter 2) of his history of the modern movement, Theory and Design in the First Machine Age, to it. In fact, the chapter title is more inclusive: Choisy: rationalism and technique, but the footnote on the first page makes it very evident what will be covered: “This discussion of Choisy and his ideas is based on the Histoire exclusively, since this was the work of his that was most widely read and exercised the most general influence among the next two generations of architects.”43 This is fundamentally true as, when Banham talks about Choisy, he talks mostly about the abstraction found within the small, but numerous, illustrations of the Histoire. Perhaps illustration is not a fitting description. As shown by their interspersed scattering within the text, they are much more than that. The images become diagrams playing a back and forth dialog with the written text, producing a true partnership of text and image. Unlike the planches in Romains, they cannot stand on their own; instead they are diagrams, the cutaway buildings whittled down to their basic elements. “It is this quality of abstraction,” Banham eloquently states “of a logical construction rather than the accidents of appearance, the elegant pattern of black and white on the page, that endeared these illustrations to the generation born in the Eighteen-eighties, the generation which, outside architecture though never out of touch with it, also perfected Abstract art.”44 If these heralds of the future have lost their magical dream-like quality in losing the ‘accidents of appearance’, they have also lost what Antoine Picon calls “tension between invention and rigour” which creates an “ambiguous combination of loyalty to the past with an urgent sense of the need for renewal”.45 Here, Picon is specifically addressing an attribute of the Enlightenment, but this sentiment can be stretched to talk about the Romains drawings. In a sense, when writing Romains, Choisy is still perched on the fence between the thoughts developed within the Enlightenment – itself a time of transition between the ‘approximate world’ and a ‘universe of precision’ – and the quickly transforming modern era led by science and technology. 46 It is this very ambiguity and duality of represented characteristics that makes these drawings so compelling. One should not be distracted by the idea that they seem to have placed a foot in 2 different theoretical camps; what Choisy has done is to delicately and harmonically create a new way of depicting and discussing architectural space.




The vault did not originate in its exalted, heavenly form, soaring overhead, forming Giedion’s second space conception. It seems suitable that we should view Choisy’s Romains drawings as if from underground, from the famously named worm’s eye view, or, less evocatively the chthonic. For, here is the origin of the vault. As Giedion writes, in Egypt’s “New Kingdom the vault still retained its chthonic character, never emerging from subterranean darkness.”47 It isn’t until Roman times that the vaults fly overhead. And it is not until L’Art de Batîr chez les Romains that anyone thinks to represent vaulting with an up-view visual depiction. This is Choisy’s great achievement, one that allows him, graphically, to open a discussion into the budding theoretics of tectonic space. 48 Choisy’s drawings, for all their success in capturing the ceiling’s Prometheus-like ascent, contain, in their very construction the corresponding descent. It is the unnatural placement of the viewer below ground that brings this to mind. As if by a fall, we are removed from the structure, which remains overhead, unattainably out of reach. However, like so many aspects of the Romains drawings, this placement is of a dual nature, for an interior view, looking up to the ceiling, is also naturally one of a building’s inhabitant. In this, the worm’s eye view gives a much more ‘naturalistic’ image of architecture than the more popular (and more understandable) bird’s eye view. Until relatively recently in history, it would be impossible to view a building from far above and yet architecture was often depicted this way. Be that as it may, the fact that not only are we, the viewer of the drawings, allowed to see up into the ceiling, but the worm’s eye view is positioned so that we are also shown the section of constructed supporting walls or pillars, even occasionally the foundations, an intrinsically unnatural position for viewing a building. Underground has long been considered with, if not outright fear, at least a moderate amount of trepidation. After the enlightenment and a less superstitious mindset, the mid-19th century saw evolve alongside the landslide of scientific development, an unquenchable thirst for archaeological finds and voyages of exploration. The drive to dig became a self perpetuating phenomenon, the quest for the discoverable new led to an opening up of historic understanding beyond anyone’s previous understanding. 49 Strangely, the world underground, too, is made up of contradictory themes. It is both archaeologically ancient, the literal layers of the past, while also, through technological and industrial advancement, seen most notably in mining, a vision of the future. The combination of an increased interest in past civilizations and an ever increasing need for natural resources to fuel blooming industry, the subterranean world was literally being mined as never before. This duality of nature filtered through society in the 18th and 19th centuries so pervasively that it became the substance of the stories themselves. Jonathon Swift, Jules Verne, Edgar Allen Poe, and H. G. Wells, are among the most familiar writers to capture the public imagination with tales of utopias unearthed, reflective lost civilizations found underground.


What resonated in the land of imagination had a parallel place in science. Suddenly the earth was found to be much older than previously thought. Now, as never before, the bottom had dropped out of time, leaving an endless and terrifying void.50 In placing the viewer in the position of being underground, though no ground is depicted, Choisy is bringing together the literal subterranean birthplace of the vaults themselves, the narrative of imagination, and a metaphorical depiction of the bottomless void. This last aspect brings with it the chill of the deep, unearthing implications of terror and unbalance, the sense of plummeting over the edge into a subterranean so endless it is not depicted at all. This sublime terror is a knowing the awe of the abyss and surviving, a beauty founded in fear. “The experience of sublimity,” states Rosalind Williams in her book on all things subterranean, Notes on the Underground, “depends on the delicate equipoise of conflicting emotions… sublimity celebrates ambivalence.”51 This ambivalence is strikingly present in the Romains drawings. We are presented with the situation of potentially having toppled off the structure which is now improbably suspended overhead, leaving us with the impossible question: which is worse, an endless drop, or being crushed by masonry? And yet, it is in the pause left to contemplate this unanswerable question that the drawings’ beauty becomes sublime because here, in the face of fear, is felt the exhilaration of survival.



“The process of raising the dead,” writes Leonard Barkan in Unearthing the Past, “is perhaps first of all, a process of reading or identifying the remains.”52 Choisy does raise the dead. He elevates, in every sense of the word, the ghosts of the Roman Empire – extolling their practical beauty, not only by ‘reading and identifying the remains’, but also through a comprehensive rebuilding through drawing. An interest in antiquity is a well-addressed obsession of the time. In picking Rome, Choisy is able to mine a wealth of literary and cultural preconceptions fueled by a long lineage of avid archaeologists and treasure hunters. This interest in Roman antiquity reaches back to the early Renaissance where the Humanist push towards enlightenment carried along with it artists and architects striving to depict the ‘golden age’.53 It wasn’t until 1832, when Greece was liberated from the Ottoman Empire, that the western world realized that many of the marvels of Rome they were attempting to copy, were in fact copies themselves. But, the ruins of antiquity still touched a ready romantic sensibility. They reminded a world in transition, moving ever ahead technologically, of the inevitable end, a nostalgic, bittersweet reflection of society’s own mortality. “As imagination reached further into the past,” states Williams, “it also leapt further into the future. The sight of the ruins of past civilizations inevitably suggested what the present would all too soon become, when what was now on the surface would become part of the buried past.”54 Within the structure of a ruin, therefore, there exists a duality of nature – the distant past exists alongside the possible future. A perfect illustration of this phenomenon is another engraving, Gustav Doré’s, exactly contemporaneous, The New Zealander, from 1873, showing a traveler from a far distant land (and where could be further than New Zealand?) carefully sketching the ruined monuments of a future London.55 The Romains drawings, likewise, harness both the indestructible, ‘eternal’ characteristics of Rome, mirroring the new empirical capitol of London, glorious even in their ruined state, alongside the future promise of a universal theory of construction. Unlike so many before him who either corrected and restored the ruins, or, on the other hand, drew them in all their crumbling, overgrown glory, Choisy choose to depict most of his drawn examples in an in-between state of preserved ruination. The stonework and masonry are finely delineated, with sharp corners and carful spacing, so sharp and so careful that they seem too good to be true, as indeed they are. On perceiving slapdash and careless Roman construction, Choisy laments, “the inaccuracy of the forms is sometimes so great there that to illustrate the ideas of the builders, I had to give these reinforcements a regularity to my drawings that an examination of the ruins could contradict in more than one case.”56 In other words, he improved, an action Le-Duc would surely have recognized. However, alongside the newly perfected regularity, the corners still crumble and vegetation sprouts from the top. As extolled by Doré, they are, above all else, images of ruins, a narrative carrying with it the duality of deep, unimaginable time, alongside the promise of a future to come. It is this inclusion of vegetation, proclaiming ruin, in almost every one of the Romains drawings, which marks the most pronounced ‘whimsical’ aspect. Scruffy, billowy clumps of bushes and trailing vines cling to the upper-most reaches. In all likelihood, ruins at this time, were still mostly


preserved in romantic overgrowth. Acting almost like nature reserves, they harbored a multitude of plant and animal species.57 The forthcoming tendency toward rigorous accuracy, the evolution of archaeology into a measurable science, soon robbed these emblems of romanticism of their leafy adornments: a blessing, say the rationalists, a travesty, say the poets. Be that as it may, Choisy’s inclusion of plant life lends a distinct romantic or utopian narrative to his rational structures. This could also be seen as a holdover from times gone by, some of the dramatics from Piranesi still clinging to the mid-19th century. Either way, Choisy was not the sort of engineer, as evidenced by his exactitude, to have allowed weeds to sprout accidently from his idealized Roman structures. Their presence, like the natural forces behind decay, symbolizes chaos, the uncontrollable: themes which run counter to all that is measurable, practical and rational. Though, at first, it seems, that every leaf is accounted for, and indeed, they are drawn with the unfailing precision expected, on closer inspection there is a looseness, an almost arbitrariness, which implies breezy movement, resulting in the unaccountability of every leafy detail. This amorphousness is inherent to vegetation. As any formal French gardener knows, plant life refuses to be tamed into Cartesian geometry. Therefore, foliage, like that least solid of artifacts, atmosphere, exists outside of perspectival rules, lending itself to “fanciful nonsense.”58 This fanciful nonsense is a much-needed foil against the clean lines of practicality present in Romains and extolled in the Modern Movement. A comparison can be drawn to the roof gardens of Le Corbusier’s or Tony Garnier, who both sought to reclaim the land lost by the building’s footprint, while improving life’s outdoor experience, for, as Le Corbusier states, “on fuit la rue; on va vers la lumière et l’air pur.”59 By the time Choisy was depicting the Roman monuments, they were on the cusp of a great transformation from the stuff of romance, half buried, covered in weeds, the marble burned for lime, only to become excavated, cleaned, occasionally restored and copied, emblems of perfection. The new era of scientific rigor was here to stay. With the removal of every weed, mystery was transformed into logic and practicality.60 This new vision of antiquity was cold and calculated and therefore, one would think, endlessly attractive to the engineer. However, Choisy chose to avoid this possible hollowness, instead portraying the drawings in an aesthetic of irrationality. Though, he knows the language of logic, indeed is promoting this very message in the text, his images tell a slightly different story. Here, he uses irrationality and the romance of a utopian dreamscape, disengaging with reason, to open a new dialog about the future of architectural reasoning. It is through the truly Roman inspiration of the vaults, and subsequently, through his interior viewed depictions, that Choisy lands upon the real importance of the ‘Eternal City’. Eternal it might be, but it is also unattainable, a fantasy. Suitably, Choisy lightly tosses the heaviness of Roman civilization up into the air creating a floating castle in the sky.



Mirroring this visual construct almost perfectly is Jonathon Swift’s 1726 satirical novel, Gulliver’s Travels. It is his third expedition included in Voyage to Laputa, Balnibarbi, Luggnagg, Glubbdbdrib, and Japan that visually echoes the Romains planches. Here, Gulliver is shipwrecked, washed up on a lifeless rocky island only to perceive a floating city approaching: “The reader can hardly conceive my astonishment to behold an island in the air, inhabited by men, who were able (as it should seem) to raise and sink, or put it into progressive motion, as they pleased.”61 This marvelous island, he comes to understand, is solely inhabited by rationalist ‘mad scientists’ too interested in logic to manage real life. A ridiculous tableau ensues in which Gulliver is introduced to the king, other dignitaries, and even given a tour of the inner workings of the island, all the while marking the idiosyncratic logic of the scientifically minded inhabitants. Though the island of Laputa is a satirical depiction of the excesses of 18th century scientific thought, Choisy chooses this framework within which to stage his very 19th century ideas. For, though it is satirical, Laputa symbolizes a scientific utopia. The visual similarities are numerous – from the flat bottom: “smooth, and shining very bright from the reflection of the sea below” mirroring the smoothly sectioned underside of the Roman architecture, always left white, to the masonry buildings and roof gardens.62 Resembling the drawings, the extreme rationality of Laputa’s inhabitants achieves only extreme irrationality. As set out by Francoise Choay, both the drawings and the island of Laputa fall within a utopian structure. Originating, logically, in Thomas More’s Utopia, Choay delineates seven rules for the formation of a true Utopian narrative:

1. It must be a book. 2. The subject, or author, speaks in the first person singular. 3. The text takes on a narrative format. 4. The model society presented is opposed to a ‘historically real society’. 5. This model society is sustained by a model space. 6. This model society ‘is located outside of our system of spatio-temporal co-ordinates: it is ‘elsewhere’. 7. The limitations of space and time do not infringe upon this imagined society.63

When one views each of these prerequisites alongside the Romains drawings, it becomes evident that Choisy has managed to create fully contained utopian worlds within the drawn form. The first rule seems to be the most problematic. As engravings in a series, intended to be part of a publication, though separated from the text, they are neither one thing nor another, existing somewhere between a solitary artwork and supporting illustration. Therefore, to go systematically through the list:


1. L’Art de Batir chez les Romains is certainly a book, causing each individual drawing to be combined with the others as well as the text. 2. August Choisy, both as the author of the text and the drawings (‘Dessine par A. Choisy’) is always speaking in the first person singular. 3. Looking particularly at the drawings themselves, Choisy’s rationalist theory presented is shrouded in narrative. In this case, unlike Piranesi, one without human figures. The viewer becoming the subject of exploration and discovery. 4. Choisy’s ‘presented society’ is opposed to the historical society of Beaux-arts Architectural teaching and representation. In his adaptation of Roman subject matter and engineering-based axonometric projection, he is critiquing the use of ‘styles’ without functional necessity, arguing for a historical precedent for the practical use of new materials, such as iron, steel, and reinforced concrete. 5. The ‘model space’ is here the practical application of parallel projection: isometric, dimetric, and trimetric orientations. This creates a space that is irrational and flattened for the viewer, yet simultaneously wholly rational in terms of measurability relational arrangement. 6. The same argument can certainly be applied to locating Choisy’s model society ‘outside of our system of spatio-temporal co-ordinates’. The axonometric projection, combined with the use of the worm’s eye view removes the structures from our understood spatio-temporal reality, producing a stilled and suspended ‘elsewhere’. 7. These floating islands are not only suspended in and a suspension of space, but their perfect depiction belies all influence of time. Neither of these intrinsically Earthly laws, space and time, here apply.

Choisy’s use of the utopian narrative serves to produce a mirroring or an inverted double of society, causing another paradox, for utopia, as Choay writes, “which is no place, is nevertheless first of all a space.”64 The reflection, which exists ‘without’ the known Earthly rules, is based upon a real space contained ‘within’. In the drawings, this perception of mirroring is only heighted by the worm’s eye viewpoint, which in itself acts like a reflection, not unlike Narcissus whose gaze down into the pool is in search of his own unattainable beauty. Choisy’s depiction of idealized Rome is in search of Western society’s own unattainably beautiful heritage in order to reflect the possibility of a perfected future. A tumbling down to the underworld or a satirical mirrored reflection are twinned representational devices of the day. Important to add to those already mentioned is Lewis Carroll’s contemporaneous Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 1865, and its sequel, Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, 1871. Here we see Alice’s accidental discovery of an underground, fantastical world in the first, and the chessboard looking-glass world of the second. Though thoroughly


nonsensical, they both employ the suspension of Newtonian laws where time and space are irrational and of little significance. The underground world of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is first discovered through the improbability of a suspended fall after Alice rashly follows the white rabbit down the rabbit-hole:

Either the well was very deep, or she fell very slowly, for she had plenty of time as she went down to look about her and to wonder what was going to happen next.65

This leisurely descent continues, past cabinets and disappointingly empty jars of marmalade, seemingly forever until Alice is set to wondering if she is nearing the center of the Earth. Paralleling this is the new ‘deep time’, the abyss over the edge of the Romains fragments. We, as the viewer have tumbled like Alice, the architecture and the viewer both in suspended freefall. That architecture is also a representation of the built world – a reflection - similar to the Looking-glass world Alice discovers with her kittens:

“Now, if you’ll only attend, Kitty, and not talk so much, I’ll tell you all my ideas about Looking-glass House. First, there’s the room you can see through the glass – that’s just the same as our drawing-room, only the things go the other way. I can see all of it when I get upon a chair – all but the bit just behind the fireplace. Oh! I do so wish I could see that bit! I want so much to know whether they’ve a fire in the winter: you never can tell, you know, unless our fire smokes, and then smoke comes up in that room too – but that maybe a only pretence, just to make it look as if they had a fire. Well then, the books are something like our books, only the words go the wrong way: I know that, because I’ve held up one of our books to the glass, and then they hold up one in the other room.”66

A Looking-glass House is therefore very much like a normal house, except everything is backwards, or skewed out of understanding. Words are unreadable; the implication being that what is known to be fact could, on the other side of the reflection, be untrue or irrational. When regarding the Romains drawings much like a looking-glass world, what we know to be true is indeed inverted or skewed. Heavy masonry constructions float like balloons, the ideal society, based in rationality, is depicted as irrational, illogically upended. Shown its own reflection, society is critiqued just like the utopian narrative. Both stories of dream-like exploration begin, naturally enough, with an implied waking unconscious: the slumber-inducing warm afternoon or the cozy boredom of a winter’s day indoor. The reversal of consciousness, whether in falling asleep, or in waking, marks the start of a new perception: they are both awakenings. “The new, dialectical method of history,” writes Benjamin, “presents itself as the art of experiencing the present as waking world, a world to which that dream we name the past


refers in truth. To pass through and carry out what has been, in remembering the dream!” 67 A new analytic understanding of the past, a ‘dialectical method of history’, is found in a remembrance of a dream attempted once awakened to one’s own time. This awakening is “life’s supremely dialectical point of rupture”.68 But is this an awakening into rationality or a falling asleep into irrationality, or could these be the very same thing? Choisy, it seems, is telling us that they are. Rationality and economy of structure are rigid, an empirical code, which, in their very practicality, become irrational, the measurable becomes ambiguous, the old, new. The overarching metaphor to be found in the Alice books is that to view life without whimsy and magic, the purely rational, leads only to utter nonsense, to the ‘mad scientists’ of Laputa, lost in their mathematics only to appear irrefutably ridiculous. 69 “We have dreamt the world,” writes Borges, “We have dreamt it as firm, mysterious, visible, ubiquitous in space and durable in time; but in its architecture we have allowed tenuous and eternal crevices of unreason which tell us it is false.”70




The matrix of unreason and irrationality develops, curiously, out of the very essence of what is quantifiable and reasonable. Parallel projection, through mechanical drawing, was the representational form of choice for 19th century engineers. It enabled these rationalist minded geometers to depict three-dimensional space without the distortions inherent in vanishing point perspective; images produced remained measurable, often along all three axes, while also fixing relational points firmly in place.71 In choosing parallel projection, Choisy is following in the footsteps of his engineer training though adapting it to a new discipline, architectural representation. The primary method of representation at the Ecole Polytechnique, for the generation before Choisy, was Gaspard Monge’s descriptive geometry, itself born from the exquisitely complex discipline of Stereotomy. 72 Suitably, Stereotomy was, before computers, a necessary method for depicting complicated, suspended, masonry constructions: the curvilinear underside of stairs and trompes. 73 By utilizing parallel projection for its inherent logic and ease at representing Cartesian space, some of the ability to convey convoluted form was lost. However, personifying the enlightenment ideology, “to see is to know”, Choisy chose this method for the swiftness of production as well as the ability for each side to be easily measured and immediately understood. Architectural representation, on the other hand, while naturally necessitating the drawing up of plan, section, and elevation, utilized the painters’ tool, vanishing point perspective. This system renders a comprehensible, often romanticized, view of a building, but accords no measurability or geometrical understanding. According to Hubert Damisch, paraphrasing Leonardo da Vinci, perspective tends to “reduce the viewing subject to a kind of Cyclops, and obliges the eye to remain at one fixed, indivisible point – in other words, obliges it to adopt a stance that has nothing in common with the effective conditions of perception.”74 This truth can be literally revealed through trompe l'oeil paintings, which work solely through the magic of standing in just the right spot, one movement in any direction causing the illusion to slip into what becomes an almost painful distortion. However, we are mobile creatures. In a famous engraving, Les Perspecteurs by Abraham Bosse, from 1648, we see the wandering, nomadic, and yet still very personal field of perspective.75 This image might be said to illustrate the communal while also individual experience of perambulatory space, as subsequently described by August Schmarsow. However, though this engraving shows how perspective can be portable, it is still the individual’s unique eye (and only one of those) that is allowed a particular viewpoint. It falls to axonometric projection to create a truly communal image of space. However, both are only projections, like shadows, attempting to represent aspects of threedimensional space in a two-dimensional form. “Perspectiva artificialis does not imitate vision,” states Damisch, “any more than painting imitates space. It was devised as a means of visual presentation and has meaning only insofar as it participates in the order of the visible, thus appealing to the eye.”76


Parallel projection, is likewise, only a visual tool, which does not imitate visual perception. However, in not attempting to adhere to the ‘cones of light’ logic, it thereby creates a visual language that is comparatively illogical to the human mind. Monocular perspective gives the impression of visual imitation: the information provided allows our brains to understand spatial organization, depth of field, and relational object placement. But, in doing this, the subject, and subsequently, the imagemaker, become trapped within one viewing framework. “Perspective,” writes Damisch, “provides a means of staging this capture and of playing it out in a reflective mode”77: the viewer and the artist become one, each aware of the knowing gaze of the other. The debate is not an easily clear-cut case. Perspective is both a means of viewing and a means of entrapment; not an actual reproduction of what our eye sees, and yet, through light rays converging, it is a resembling of the viewable world. In Choisy’s adoption of parallel projectors, he not only achieves the logic of measurability, but the drawings serve as a visual critique of vanishing point perspective. When viewed in comparison, parallel projection removes the determined viewpoint, eliminating the presence of both the viewer and the creator of the image. This removal both deauthorizes the artist, making the drawings a communal endeavor, and frees up the spectator to become a multiple, a communal viewing. The dissipation of hegemonic prespectival representation produces visual space in which the infinite becomes parallel, or logical, creating the potential for endless repetition. Axonometry, as Lizzitzky states, “created the final illusion of irrational space [by] the unlimited extension of foreground and background.”78 Therefore, by the very removal of converging visual lines, though shaped through rationalism, parallel projection produces an irrational and ambiguous space. This is an unstable environment, where the figure-ground relationship can become frustratingly fluid. No longer is there a troublesome vanishing point, no longer, however, is there understandable depth. “It is,” writes Robin Evans, “ as if we are floating.”79 Therefore, it is no wonder ancient Chinese axonometric painting is referred to as ‘the floating world’. This perception of floating, of suspension, is mirrored between the observer and the object depicted. Like Alice, both are suspended, in this case, above nothingness. Choisy was writing and drawing at a pivotal moment in spatial representation. His use of parallel projection can be viewed as both a marker and harbinger of this shift. If the three-fold team of plan, section, and elevation can be said to have evolved alongside Classical architecture, what then could the adoption of axonometric/parallel projection create?80 Both representational techniques visualize the flat planes of a mostly rectilinear architecture. Axonometry, however, lends a playful ambiguity to spatial orientation and stability. Writing about the Modern movement, Giedion states, “our period has lost interest in purely physical appearance; it is the nature of space that now occupies the forefront of art investigation.”81 Here, the ‘nature of space’ begins to be investigated within his third space conception, initially defined by ‘the planer surface’. The beginnings of this transition can clearly be seen illuminated by Choisy’s choice of parallel projection, which flatten the structural walls in space, producing that spatial ambiguity. The uncertainness of form causes a flip-flopping within the


mind’s eye, nominally contained, after la Gournerie’s insistence, through Choisy’s use of strong directional lighting and the subsequent shadows produced.82 This is a detail later dropped by Giedion’s ‘investigators’, the artists and architects in the next generation. Among these, one can include Leitveld, Van Dousburg and Mondrian in Holland, Le Corbusier and Ozenfant in France, and Malevich and Lizzitsky in Russia.83 This was an age of experimentation, where art and architecture alike were investigating new ways of thinking about space and time. No longer did they need to be distinctly separate, or linearly chronic. Parallel projection mirrored this modern viewpoint, producing visual slips and distortions.84 The shedding of heaviness found with the grounding of perspectival space, led directly to the dynamic planer energy, and lightness of the Modern Movement. The artists and architects listed above were among those who took the basic spatial and temporal precepts produced by parallel projection and extrapolated this out to form the continuity that is the grid. No structure speaks so much of the Modern as the grid.85 Here the surface plan is flattened and continuous; in an analogy to Choisy’s fragmented structures, depicted forms are repeatable endlessly. “In the flatness that results from its coordinates,” writes Rosalind Krauss in her aptly named essay, Grids, “the grid is the means of crowding out the dimensions of the real and replacing them with the lateral spread of a single surface.”86 This unending flatness is distinctly found in Choisy’s depth-defying parallel projection where the three (x, y, and z) axes are always included. Therefore, not only is this a grid in two dimensions, but it also, working as a harbinger of contemporary computer space, can be viewed as a grid-work, a jungle gym, in three. Obviously, Auguste Choisy and his practically–minded colleagues could not have foreseen the computer revolution, but many of its characteristics began precisely because of the representational methods they were exploring in the 19th century – a rational, structural representation of space, rigid and repeatable. It is by placing his collection of architectural artifacts within this gridded framework that Choisy tells his story. But here, as if to negate the possibility, Rosalind Krauss states, “myths are stories, and like all narratives they unravel through time, whereas grids are not only spatial to start with, they are visual structures that explicitly reject a narrative or sequential reading of any kind.”87 In saying this, she is exploring the possibility of the grid itself containing the potential of myth. However, for our purposes, it will suffice to think of the concept of myth straightforwardly, as story. In the Romains drawings, the fantastical elements of utopia and the sublime bring a strong narrative to the Roman architecture depicted, and are therefore firmly at odds with the ‘visual structure’ of the grid. Legitimizing this, Krauss goes on to argue for a ‘structuralist mode of analysis’. Her introduction of Claude Lévi-Strauss allows for confliction and contradiction to co-exist within the picture frame, “therefore, although the grid is certainly not a story, it is a structure, and one, moreover, that allows a contradiction between the values of science and those of spiritualism to maintain themselves within the consciousness of modernism.”88 Within this analysis, the deployment of parallel projection is not only at odds with the presence of a narrative, causing a dynamic friction, but also acts as an underlying


structure that permits the contradictory themes present, of structuralist rationality and romantic utopian narrative, to coexist.


The repetition inherent to this underlying grid work of parallel projection is further mirrored by the implied repetition possible by the depicted built structure. Choisy wields the drawing pen like a scalpel, carefully choosing to fragment each form to suggest repeated duplication, leading to the possibility of an endless structure. His technique is founded in the principle of showing, in the clearest possible way, the rational basis of Roman construction. However, the consequence of parallel project is such that these fragments, precise enough to carry all the information to construct the whole, could replicate out indefinitely. Within this act, Choisy is simultaneously reducing the architecture to fragmentary ruin, while also producing a fragment as a pattern piece, a model that acts as creator. There is a multiplicity of meanings behind the word ‘fragmentation’. It can be a complete object removed from its context, such as Marcel Duchamp’s ready-mades – the ‘found object’ or ‘object trouvé’, which have their own unique story, but in the removal from their environment and placement in a different context, such as a gallery, they become something new; or a piece broken off from a whole, debris, something amputated. Both of these connotations play an important role in the Romains drawings and are reflected forward, into the Modern Movement and surrealist art of the 20th century. An evocative example of this legacy of duality is found within the “Metaphysical” paintings of Giorgio de Chirico, those done from 1909-1919. Here, the portrayal of ‘reality’ is indebted to its removal from its usual environment, its context. 89 De Chirico is working under the umbrella of the Surrealists, who employed techniques of collage and juxtaposition in order to invoke new narratives, new physiological interpretations. When regarding a De Chirico painting from this time, it is not only the de-contextualizing and rearrangement of fragmented objects which stand as reminders of Choisy’s use of fragmentation, but the treatment of architectural structure, as a melancholy emptiness, one arch marching after the next, that evokes the potential for endless repetition. These structures, too, are stylized and simplified, but De Chirico, like Choisy, employs the deep shadows inherent to strong directional lighting, preventing the simplification from becoming pure abstraction. If one looks at planche V, the Thermes de Caracalla, for instance, the half arches imply, in their mid-leap, that they continue on, could continue on, ad infinum, while the deep shadows not only keep a slight sense of depth but add a melancholy drama, much like De Chirico’s repeating arcades. Though their vocabulary is similar, their message is conflicting. Choisy employs the dual nature of fragmentation in order to illuminate the inherent rationality of the built world, De Chirico’s paintings, by contrast, sought to undermine what he considered to be the backbone of the modern world: rationality and order, to find the true l’espirit of the age.90



The incomplete form, the ruin or the fragment, is intrinsically fascinating, for it implies a stilling of time, both in its portrayal of deep time, the ‘ravages of time’, and the view one is given of a possible future, revealing a path of investigation. It symbolizes an in-between temporality in which multiple meanings can co-exist. The act of collecting these fragments of time, this historical archaeology, for Choisy, is a careful unearthing and presentation of fragmented forms, at once a collection and a deconstruction of artifacts. Walter Benjamin writes of his ‘destructive character’ who plays the role of historian by demolishing, “because he sees ways [through the past] everywhere, he always positions himself at crossroads… What exists he reduces to rubble, not for the sake of the rubble, but for that of the way leading through it.”91 It is within this destruction or deconstruction that Choisy positions his theory of construction – a building up within a framework of crumbling down. Like Benjamin, Choisy’s approach to history is refined, destructive, and methodical. It acts to ‘find the way through’, to show the path towards a rationalist, modern, future through the rubble of the past. In investigating the rubble-lined path, Benjamin’s aim is, “to assemble large-scale constructions out of the smallest and most precisely cut components. Indeed, to discover in the analysis of the small individual moment the crystal of the total event.”92 Similar to Benjamin’s Arcades Project, his uncompleted text on modernity, Choisy uses the visual language of a collection, himself becoming the collector who makes the choice of Roman artifact to be rebuilt. These are selected and draw, functioning as the ‘smallest individual elements’, the forms that will exemplify the whole, in this case the idealized Roman civilization acting as a reflection of the modern civilization. The message encased in ‘Rome’ is clear; the archetypal civilization built their structures based on the local availability of material and labor, and structurally practical construction methods. The architecture created is the outcome of this logical combination; form following the course of construction. The ‘eternal city’, he argues, is based on just this rational basis, which is why it worked (when it worked) and why it is a model theory to apply again: this rational approach must be the true backbone to architectural theory of the future. The fragment as totality has its foundations even further back into the 17th and 18th centuries with the idea, formulated by Leibniz, of the ‘monad’. Envisioned as a ‘dynamic unit’ that can multiply out as a ‘self-contained and self-sufficient’ creator of others.93 These units act like an encyclopedia of knowledge, containing enough information to produce others. “For the true collector,” states Benjamin, “every single thing in this system becomes an encyclopedia of all knowledge of the epoch.”94 It is through the fragment as ‘monad’, encyclopedic fragments, that Choisy is able to portray his economical and rationally led theory of construction. The text gives a written and exacting description, but the drawings manage to tell the whole story, fully, in each image. The Romains drawings not only look to antiquity and the Enlightenment for theory and visual models, they also harness fragmentation to act in a forward-thinking, entirely modern way, once again showing their dualistic nature. Suspended between the past and the future to come, fragmentation can also be read as a removal from context, from the ground and the environment. Therefore, they also


depict fragments in that very literal sense of the word, pieces removed from the whole. Representing a totality, they simultaneously resemble incompleteness, the only aspect left to ground each of the architectural fragments is the title given at the bottom of the image. So, though context is not entirely removed, it is carefully controlled by the elimination of all the surrounding buildings or visual clues, leaving the sliced sections of architecture to tell their story alone. This modern sensibility of fragmentation, where objects are removed from their context, and are subsequently left open to sampling, realignment, and juxtaposition, often, without a supporting context, can bring about the creation of new narratives. The drawings’ placement within such a didactic book, whose very message is founded upon an idealized society, precludes any complete removal of a historical or environmental context. However, when simply viewing the drawings, the unusual depiction of the architecture floating freely contrasted by the ‘realistic’ drawing method, the materiality and ruination of the stonework, and the natural spontaneity of the vegetation, all act further to remove them from customary architectural representation. Contradictorily, this duality can at once describe 19th century thought, as existing between an older worldview and 20th century modernity, while at the same time be used to describe Modernity itself. Though the Modern Movement, led by the avant-gardes was indeed a 20th century phenomenon, Modernity and the drive to be ‘modern’ stretches back much further in time and is more difficult to define. The search to define Modernity and its origin is a well-researched topic of seemingly endless fascination. A common theme is the prevalence for continual change, for destruction and rebuilding, the juxtaposition of contrary forces. Modernity, as Marshall Berman defines is, “a paradoxical unity, a unity of disunity: it pours us all into a maelstrom of perpetual disintegration and renewal, of struggle and contradiction, of ambiguity and anguish.”95 This is Benjamin’s ‘destructive character’, the destroyer and rebuilder, the chaos of collapse and rebirth. This juxtaposition can also be found in Benjamin’s definition of modernity as: “the new in the context of what has always been in existence.”96 The new sits within a foundation of the old - but this is an ever changing, ever ambiguous, unstable, existence. Quoting Marx, to be modern is a state in which, “all that is solid melts into air.”97 Certainly, in the more than century and a half since he wrote this, Capitalism has indeed eroded much that had remained stable in life. His insightful premonition finds a visual manifestation in Choisy’s drawings, as they illustrate the most solid of architectonic forms, heavy Roman masonry, irrationally, as the lightest of forms, ‘melting into air’. In this sense, they are the very visualization of being modern – the old and the new, a constant renewal, the crumbling down of ruins and the building up of construction. The idea that a work of art only comes into being the moment of its ruin is a concept that lies at the heart of the work made by 1970’s artists Robert Smithson and Gordon Matta-Clark. To invoke the sit-specific art of the seventies seems a far cry from a nineteenth century engineer’s engravings. However, fundamental characteristics connect across time. While the evolution of abstraction born from parallel projection finds itself in the ever-increasing simplicity of the grid, the juxtapositions


present in the Romains drawings can be said to find their descendants far and wide, outside of linear, two-dimensional drawing altogether. One such example is Robert Smithson’s Partially Buried Woodshed from 1970. He, like Choisy, is working with an already present structure, though in this case, the choice is not the ennobled distinction that is Roman vaulting, but the simplified structure of the humble shed. However, both depictions of structure are ‘ruined’ by the artists, whether by drawn fragmentation or in Smithson’s case, literally breaking the roof truss by piling on earth. The act of ruin ‘enables’ the architectural element to become something more. In both cases this destruction facilitates a renewal. This scene of death and rebirth, a “ruins in reverse”, destabilizes time, what Smithson refers to as “the opposite of the ‘romantic ruin’ because the buildings don’t fall into ruin after they are built but rather rise into ruin before they are built.”98 The word ‘building’ can be substituted for ‘work of art’, both of which come into being through this retroactive ruination. MattaClark also starts with the already built, and like Choisy, has a propensity to remove the architectural structure from its foundations, in his case, literally to dig, removing the space “under the foundation, [serves to] liberate the building’s enormous compressive, confining forces simply by making a hole.”99 This creates a new relationship with the ground, paralleling Choisy’s inclination to suspend the building overhead. The similarities go further; Matta-Clark defines architectural space in its deconstruction, through cutting and removing, a fragmentation in reverse. Instead of a piece of architecture, we are left with a hole. However, they are both reflections of the same process, revealing the construction method, the tectonics, the necessary practicalities of building assembly, while also addressing new ways of thinking and comprehending space. In Matta-Clarks words:

The thing I would really like to express is the idea of transforming the static, enclosed condition of architecture on a very mundane level into this kind of architecture which incorporates… this sort of animated geometry or this animated, tenuous relationship between void and surface… [it] implies a kind of kinetic, internal dynamism of some sort.100

This architectural dynamism is associated with the sublimely unstable, what Pamela M. Lee refers to as a “free fall”.101 This psychological assessment of the spatial experience is conditioned on the observer’s capacity to move freely within the space. Once again, both Matta-Clark and Choisy are addressing an architecture of the interior, while simultaneously reassessing how that interior space is comprehended. Though the subject matter concerns the space of enclosure, one views both their work twodimensionally: Matta-Clark’s work is primarily viewed and remembered through photography, Choisy, through engravings. Of course, the major difference is that Choisy’s drawings have never taken another form, while the photography of Matta-Clark’s work is both the work itself, and a documentation of the work that no longer exists. However, both artists ‘compose’ their images, often adopting a viewpoint which is confusing or disorienting, further adding to the virtual instability, the ambiguity of positive and negative, what is up and what is down.


The major site-specific project, Comincal Intersect, from 1975, once again solidifies Benjamin’s definition of modernity as the new which sits within the context of history. Here Matta-Clark ‘cuts’ through two derelict buildings, slated for demolition in the historic district of Les Halles in Paris. Nos. 27-29 rue Beaubourg represent the old, being swept away, the conical cut through, a viewing apparatus focused on the new Pompidou Center under construction right behind. The hole produced serves both to connect, visually, as well as to still time, to create a suspended moment in which the ‘refuse of history’102 can pile up, the new existing in the presence of that which has been. As Lee suggests, it is risking literalism to apply Benjamin’s musing directly onto Matta-Clark, or for that mater, Choisy’s works.103 However suggestive Benjamin’s writings are, such as the evocative images of ruination, the fundamental aspect of a dynamic force, a dialectical enquiry, persists, and finds resonances in these very modern works.



Returning to the drawings, the most frequent placement of the amputated architectural elements is floating, separate, in the center (or central, if there is more than one) within the bounding frame of the picture plane (ex. planches II and III). However, there exist three (planches VI, VII, VIII) that defy these rules, the architectural examples overrunning the border. Here, the fragmentation is most notably a slice along the underside, removing it from the lower built level and foundations. In their escape from the picture plane, the overall impression is an image of complete form. The implication is a continuing of the structure outside of the bounding frame. It is not surprising, therefore, that the most striking images are planches VI and VIII, carefully composed to depict a circular structure while showing only a part. The first is Minerva Medici, which depicts three ruined bays of an implied circular chamber, the second is the Pantheon, as mentioned before, not showing the famous dome, but instead, the ring of the supporting drum. The Pantheon, then as now, epitomizes the Roman use of geometry to achieve architectural perfection. Here too is the evolutionary climax of the vault, found in the half-spherical dome, itself mirroring the greater, celestial dome overhead. However, once again, this literal visual reminder of the heavens is not depicted. Instead, we are given an abstracted section, which is even lighter than the original by the loss of the dome. Interior space here has taken a step further along the spatial evolutionary chain, it has lost its ‘interiority’, causing a shifting or melding of inside and out. Added to this ambiguity is the implication of movement, another very modern concern, inherent to a circular form. Unlike the depiction of a domed space, in portraying the Pantheon as a ring, or a section of a ring that implies the whole, what is suggested is the continual revolving of a wheel, or Zoetrope, a novelty of the time. This image, more than any other of the planches, anticipates the very modern future envisioned by Reyner Banham or Buckminster Fuller, one based in a combination of technology, utopia, and suspension. Almost an image of science fiction, the quintessential model of this is found in Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. Here is another ring, spinning slowly in space, suspended above the Earth. It is a wonder of precision, construction and rational-based design. One cannot help thinking Auguste Choisy would approve.




A future conducted by technological innovations, one day leading us to the stars. Its birth can be traced back to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, a time of unquenchable interest in physics, in science and knowledge, exploration and discovery. This thirst leads to huge leaps in industrial and technological innovation which touching every part of life. Within the built world, the most pronounced change came with the industrialization of iron production. Finally, there was a material that could span large distances with a delicacy and lightness that belied its strength. Utilized first by engineers, iron truss work and columns found their place in bridges, railway station, and factories.104 These public-works projects, initiated by engineers, anticipate the lightness of the 20th century’s Modern Movement. Their strength lay in iron’s ability to span large spaces. The act of vaulting a space, to leap, in real terms, is a suspension in time and space of the building mass. With the industrialization of iron, this mass was greatly reduced. The most significant example of this was Crystal Palace, in London. Built for the Great Exhibition of 1851, it was “so big that it seemed to contain infinity within itself.”105 The repeatable fragmentation of the Romains and the replicated modular units of Chrystal Palace imply the same rhythmical infinity. Another great innovation was what was possibly the first European elevator, though certainly the first in France, built in 1867 for the Paris exhibition.106 This heralded a general movement upward, away from all that was grounded and immovable towards the excitement of speed, lightness, and modernity, a movement that found its zenith in 1889 with the Eiffel Tower. “Nothing else on earth gives so powerful a sensation of being in free space,” writes Banham, “free of any reference to the gravity-dominated structure of all other architectural space.”107 These emblems of modernity, creating the feeling of floating in ‘free space’, are products of the engineers. While architects of the Beaux-arts were still dealing with ‘styles’, engineers were embracing exciting new materials to create exciting new structures. In his 1923 manifesto, Le Corbusier proclaims, “the engineer, inspired by the law of Economy and governed by mathematical calculation, puts us in accord with universal law. He achieves harmony.”108 The engineers of the 19th century were truly the innovators and harbingers of lightness and suspension, but the originality of Choisy’s historical methodology was to package this innovation in the masterwork of Roman antiquity, the ‘golden age’. So, although Choisy is depicting heavy Roman masonry construction, he is working within a discipline concerned primarily with the technology of lightness. And, by suspending the weightiness of Roman construction overhead, Choisy produces a visualization of the impossible or the irrational. The duality of this lesson is nicely mirrored by Le Corbusier, exactly 50 years later, when writing about architecture’s lesson from Rome he proclaims:


“Passion can create drama out of inert stone.”109 The drama Choisy creates in depicting Roman construction comes through as the pervading and very modern sense of lightness and levitation. In depicting the Roman fragments through a worm’s eye view, Choisy suspends them in the clouds and atmosphere overhead. Through the purposeful omission of the ground, much like the upward movement from Paris’s newly installed elevator, these drawings give the experience of an architectural ascent, an impossible lightness of stone. This springing into the air, freeing oneself from the foundations that tie to the ground is also seen literally by the carefully sliced underside, the cut surface left blank to illustrate their artificial amputation, as well as practically, their constructional crosssection. This abstraction is carried further, as exemplified, once again, by planche XIII, the Pantheon. Depicted, is an increasing simplification, the arch of the wall starting at the top right with full, intricate material delineation and ending off the bottom edge of the paper as a simplified geometrical diagram. To finish in abstraction is a foretelling of modernity. And, it is the shift within one drawing that draws attention, causing the juxtaposition, and allowing the abstraction to stand out in stark contrast. The drawing of the Pantheon shines for many reasons, but one can find similarities in each of the Romains planches: areas of greater material delineation sit alongside the simplified, abstracted, and geometrical. In all, the feeling of weightlessness is a harbinger of a central theme of the Modern Movement. No longer was a building defined by its presentation or perception of bulk and weight. The Modern Movement was defined by a lightness of touch, buildings float, often literally, off the ground, or, if not literally, at least they give that impression. The ground floor recessed and painted a dark color, gives the further semblance of disappearance.110 As the structural support moved from solid, masonry-constructed walls, to the Domino-house model now so familiar, thin, iron or steel columns became the architect’s application of the engineer’s lightweight public works. In writing about lightness, Italio Calvino uses the metaphor of the myth of Perseus and Medusa. “To cut off Medusa’s head without being turned to stone, Perseus supports himself on the very lightest of things, the winds and the clouds, and fixes his gaze upon what can be revealed only by indirect vision, an image caught in a mirror.”111 The beheading of the Gorgon is not the end of the story. Her spilt blood gives rise to Pegasus, the winged horse. Through the indirect gaze of reflection, the threat and weight of stone is transformed into lightness and grace. In another analogy, Yve Alain Bois speaks of perspective as the slain Gorgon, “petrifying the viewer”, while axonometry is the “flying horse springing from Medusa’s blood” freeing the image, the heaviness of stone becoming lightness.112 The entrapment of monocular perspective is liberated by the plurality of views given by parallel projection. If these drawings represent the shedding of historical weight, it is because they manage a duality: the weightiness of heavy masonry construction they are depicting is simultaneously the lightness of the Modern Movement, a suspension overhead. Though what is shown is stone and brick, what is implied is the potential, born through the practical application of new materials and construction technology, to create the beauty of a dynamic new architectural language. And it is with


great exactitude that this is accomplished, for Choisy, whose character is both precise and yet playful, truly exemplifies Calvino’s observation that “lightness… goes with precision and determination, not with vagueness and the haphazard.”113 Choisy’s genius is found in the decision to meticulously portray opposites that sit harmoniously together, to position the “new in the context of what has always been in existence.” A continual death and rebirth, the very visualization of being modern is shown in engravings that can also easily converse with the pictorial language of the eighteenth century. Perhaps, no matter the age, there exist works of art that only come into being the moment of their ruin. These sit precariously between understandings, impossibly encompassing opposites. But, a sensibility which can look back to show the future, not a obliteration of the past, but an incorporation through investigation, can utilize a strategic mining of history to slingshot forward. In many ways, every author or artist ‘creates’ his or her own history. As J. L. Borges states, “[their] work modifies our conception of the past, as it will modify the future.”114 There is a moment in time that is out of time – a suspension of temporality, in which the artwork can exist. In the Romains drawings, we are shown, with this pausing of time, a view into the heaviness of the past that is constantly bounding towards a future of lightness.




Shel Silverstein. Falling Up (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1996), p. 7. Hilary Bryon. “Measuring the qualities of Choisy’s oblique and axonometric projections” in Auguste Choisy (1841 – 1909) L’architecture et l’art de Batir ed. Javier Giron and Santiago. (Madrid: Instituto Juan de Herrera. 2009), p. 46. 3 David Frisby. Fragments of Modernity:theories of modernity in the work of Simmel, Kracauer and Benjamin. (Polity Press. 1985, 1988), p. 193. 4 Harry Francis Mallgrave and Eleftherios Ikonomou, intro and translation. Empathy, Form and Space: problems in German aesthetics, 1873-1893. (Santa Monica, CA : The Getty Center for the History of Art and the Humanities) 1994. p. 3. 5 Mallgrave and Ikonomou. p. 9. 6 Schopenhauer, in Mallgrave and Ikonomou. p. 9. 7 Mallgrave and Ikonomou. p. 9. 8 Mallgrave and Ikonomou. p.17. 9 Mallgrave and Ikonomou. pp.12-14. 10 Mallgrave and Ikonomou on Herbart’s visual relations: “The formation of the spatial network or grid depends on our arrangement of the idea into images. The result is a series of associated elements, such as a composition of intersecting, converging, or parallel lines, from which we then infer the third dimension… Ideas do not simply relate to one another in Herbart’s scheme but modify and condition each other, leading us “to fill out” what is presented from our analogous experience and to project more familiar forms onto the new forms on which we are attempting to impose an order.” pp. 12-13. 11 Mallgrave and Ikonomou. p. 34. 12 Sigfried Giedion, Architecture and the Phenomena of Transition: three space conceptions in architecture. (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1971), p. 3. 13 Giedion. Space, Time, and Architecture. (Cambridge, Mass and London: Harvard University Press. 1967 (original 1941)), p. 212. 14 Mallgrave and Ikonomou. p. 34. 15 Conrad Fielder. “Observations on the Nature and History of Architecture”. 1878. In Mallgrave and Ikonomou. p. 142. 16 Fielder. p. 142. 17 On Hildebrand’s theory of space: “Like the other two fine arts [painting and sculpture], architecture is confronted with the problem of unifying forms into effects of relief… regardless of Hildebrand’s repeated concern for movement in spatial experience, he arrives at this formative principle of the plane because of his emphasis on the visual perception of space.” Mallgrave and Ikonomou. pp. 38-39. 18 Heinrich Wolfflin. “Prolegomena to a Psychology of Architecture” in Empathy, Form, and Space: Problems in German aesthetics 1873-1893. (Santa Monica, CA: The Getty Center for the History of Art and the Humanities, 1994) p. 150-162. 19 Karl Boetticher, Die Tektonik der Hellenen, Potsdam (1852) and Gottfried Semper, Der Stil in den technischen und tektonischen Kuensten, Brunswick (1861), Munich (1863). Found in Eduard F. Sekler. “Structure, Construction, Tectonics” in Structure in Art and in Science ed. by Gyorgy Kepes. (London: Studio Vista, 1965), p. 89. 20 Sekler. p. 89. 21 Seklar. P. 93. 22 August Schmarsow, “The Essence of Architectural Creation”. 1893 in Mallgrave and Ikonomou. p. 286. 2



Schmarsow, in Mallgrave and Ikonomou, p. 287. Schmarsow. in Mallgrave and Ikonomou, p. 293. 25 Giedion. Architecture and the Phenomena of Transition. p. 141. 26 Giedion. Architecture and the Phenomena of Transition. p. 146. 27 Giedion. Architecture and the Phenomena of Transition. p. 6. 28 John Wilton-Ely. The Mind and Art of Giovanni Battista Piranesi. (London: Thames and Hudson, 1978), p. 48. 29 Wilton-Ely. p. 59. 30 Antoine Picon. French Architects and Engineers in the Age of the Enlightenment. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), p. 11 31 Wilton-Ely. p. 46-59. 32 Wilton-Ely. p. 46-47. 33 Picon. p.10 34 Robin Middleton, “Auguste Choisy, Historian: 1841-1909” in International Architecture. v. V, no. 1 (1981), p. 37. 35 Antonio Becchi. “Vitruvius in the Sahara: Auguste Choiy’s philology plafonnante”. in Auguste Choisy (1841 – 1909) L’architecture et l’art de Batir. p. 4. 36 Middleton. p. 37. 37 Middleton. p. 38. 38 R. Phene Spiers, F.S. A. Journal of the Roayl Insitite of British Architects. Obituary. (25 Sept. 1909). pp.741-742. 39 Middleton. p. 37. 40 Reyner Banham, Theory and Design in the First Machine Age. (Cambridge, Mass: The MIT Press, 1960, 1980), p. 23. 41 Middleton. p. 37. 42 Auguste Choisy. L’Art de Bâtir chez les Romains. (Paris: Ducher et Cie. 1873) 43 Banham, footnote 1 to chapter 2, p.23 44 Banham, p.25. 45 Picon, p.6 46 Picon, p. 7 47 Giedion. Architecture and the Phenomena of Transition. p. 139. 48 Bryon. p. 42. 49 Rosalind Williams. Notes on the Underground: and essay on technology, society and the imagination. (Cambridge, Mass. and London: MIT Press, 1992), p. 17. 50 Williams. p. 31. 51 Williams. p. 85. 52 Leonard Barkan. Unearthing the Past: archaeology and aesthetics in the making of Renaissance culture. (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1999), p.61. 53 Wilton-Ely, p.45. 54 Williams, p. 43. 55 Christopher Woodward. In Ruins. (London: Vintage, 2002), pp. 1-2. 56 Auguste Choisy, L’Art de Batir Chez les Romains. 1873. p. 41 - 42. Found in Lynne C. Lancaster. “Auguste Choisy, and the Economics of Roman Construction” in Auguste Choisy (184 – 1909) L’architecture et l’art de Batir. 57 “An English botanist named Richard Deakin in his Flora of the Coloseeum (1855) gives the most beautiful of all descriptions of the ruin. Deakin catalogued and illustrated no less than 420 species of plants growing in the 6 acres of ruin… Some flowers in the Colosseum were so rare in western Europe that the only explanation for their presence was that nearly two thousand years before their seeds had been scattered in the sand from the bodies of animals 24


brought from the mountains of Persia or the banks of the Nile for the gladiatorial games.” Christopher Woodward. p. 23. 58 Hurbert Damisch. A Theory of /Cloud/: toward a history of painting. (Stanford University Press, 2002), p. 15. 59 Jean-Philippe Garric. “Des arbres sur les voûtes au ‘jardin sure le toit’. Classicisme et modernité de la vegetation dans L’art de bâtir chez les Romains d’Auguste Choisy”. in Auguste Choisy (1841 – 1909) L’architecture et l’art de Batir. pp. 196-197. 60 Woodward, p.24. 61 Jonathon Swift. Gulliver’s Travels into several remote regions of the world. (London, Paris, New York: Cassell Peter and Galpin, 1871 (original 1726)), p.187. 62 Swift. p. 187. 63 Francoise Choay. The Rule and the Model. (Cambridge, Mass and London: MIT Press, 1997), p. 34. 64 Choay. p. 138. 65 Lewis Carroll. “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” in The Annotated Alice: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. (New York: Clarkson N. Poter, Inc, 1960), p. 26. 66 Lewis Carroll. “Through the Looking Glass and What Alice found there” in The Annotated Alice. p. 180-181. 67 Walter Benjamin. The Arcades Project. (Cambridge, Mass and London: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1999), [K1, 3] p. 389. 68 Benjamin. [N3a, 3] p. 464. 69 Martin Gardner, introduction and notes to The Annotated Alice. by Lewis Carroll, p.15. 70 J. L. Borges. Labyrinths. ed. Donald A. Yates an James E. Irby (London: Penguin Books, 2000, 1962), p. 243. 71 Robin Evans. The Projective Cast: architecture and it three geometries. (Cambridge, Mass and London: The MIT Press, 1995), p. 339. 72 Evans. p. 328. 73 Evans. p. 181-183. 74 Hubert Damicsh. The Origin of Perspective. (Cambridge, Mass and London: The MIT Press, 1994), p. 35. 75 Damicsh. p. 37. 76 Damicsh. p. 45. 77 Damicsh. p. 46. 78 El Lissitzky. “Kund pangeometrie”. Found in “Metamorphosis of Axonometry” by YveAlain Bois. Daidalos. No. 1 (1981), p.44. 79 Evans. p. 339. 80 Evans. p. 199. 81 Giedion. Architecture and the Phenomena of Transition, p. 266. 82 Bois. p. 56. 83 Giedion. Architecture and the Phenomena of Transition, p. 266. 84 Bryon, p. 59. 85 Rosalind E. Krauss. “Grids” in The Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths. (Cambridge, Mass and London: The MIT Press 1986), footnote 1 p. 12. 86 Krauss. p. 10. 87 Krauss. p. 12-13. 88 Krauss. p. 13. 89 “De Chirico shows us reality while removing it from its usual surroundings (le dépaysant). He is a dépaysagiste.” - Cocteau, “Le Mystére laic” (no. 38), pp. 47-9. Found in Christopher Green, “Classicisms of Transcendence and of Transience: Maillol, Picasso and de Chirico” in 54

On Classic Ground: Picasso, Léger, de Chirico and the New Classicism 1910-1930. Ed. Elizabeth Cowling and Jennifer Mundy. (London: Tate Gallery, 1990), p. 276. 90 Green. P. 279. 91 Walter Benjamin. “The Destructive Character” in One-way Street, and other writings. (London: NLB, 1979), p. 159. 92 Benjamin. The Arcades Project. [N2, 6]. P. 461. 93 Ernst Cassirer. The Philosophy of the Enightenment. (Princeton University Press. 1951, 1979.) pp. 29-32. 94 Benjamin. The Arcades Project. [H1a, 2] p. 205 95 Marshall Berman, All that is Solid Melts into air: the experience of Modernity. (London and New York: Verso, 2010), p.15. 96 Frisby. p. 193. 97 Berman. p. 15. 98 Robert Smithson. “A Tour of the monuments of Passiaic, New Jersey”. 1967 in Robert Smithson: The Collected Writings. ed by Jack Flam. (Berkley. Los Angeles and London University of California Press, 1996), p. 72. 99 Gordon Matta-Clark interviewed by Donald Wall, “Gordon Matta-Clark’s Building Dissections” Arts Magazine (March 1976) pp. 74-79 found in Object to be Destroyed: the work of Gordon Matta-Clark by Pamela M. Lee. (Cambridge, Mass and London: The MIT Press, 2001), p. 67. 100 Gordon Matta-Clark quoted in “Interview with Gordon Matta-Clark” by Judith Russi Kirshner. Gordon Matta-Clark (IVAM), p. 389. Found in Lee. p. 153. 101 Lee. p. 154. 102 Benjamin. The Arcades Project. [N2, 6]. P. 461. 103 Lee. p. 184. 104 Sigfried Giedion, Space, Time, and Architecture. pp. 164-176. 105 Reyner Banham. Age of the Masters: a personal view of modern architecture. (New York, Evanston, San Francisco, London: Harper and Row publishers, 1962), p. 56. 106 Giedion. Space, Time and Architecture. p. 210. 107 Banham. Age of the Masters. p. 58. 108 Le Corbusier. Towards a New Architecture. (London: John Rodker Publisher, 1927), p. 11. 109 Le Corbusier. p. 5. 110 One of the best examples of this is Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoy at Poissy: “Instead of invading, excavating of otherwise monumentalizing this perfect setting, the house appears to touch it as little and as lightly as possible, like a helicopter poised for departure.” Reyner Banham in Age of the Masters. p. 19. 111 Italio Calvino. Six Memos for the New Millennium:The Charles Eliot Norton Lectures 1985-86. (New York: Vintage Books, 1988), p. 4. 112 Bois, p. 57. 113 Calvino, p. 16. 114

Borges, p. 236.


Alison Moffett  

'Falling Up Auguste Choisy and the Lightness of Stone' History & Critical Thinking 2011