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Aristide Antonas / the

impossible invisibility

Aris Konstantinidis, born in Athens in 1913, was educated as an architect in the Technical University of Munich between 1931 and 1936. Tzonis and Lefaivre consider him as the doyen of contemporary Greek architecture with more than a regional radiance[1]. During the 50’s and the 60’s (and especially between 1958 and 1964) the architect runs “his most fertile period” as Frampton notes[2], designing a whole series of hotels for the Greek National Tourist Organisation. But even if he had the chance of building thus a lot of big complexes Konstantinidis’ architectural values are also very clearly crystallised in his smaller projects --his vacation houses-in which the personal theoretical views of the architect are condensed, in a quasi-standard type building repeated many times with very characteristic identifiable elements: stone walls and stone structure that support concrete beams are giving to these buildings a very strong architectural personality. Konstantinidis’ planning logic comes out of the modernist’s repertoire. He uses a rigid grid pattern and a design methodology clearly indebted to modernism, but he combines modern design methods with a respect for climatic conditions and with an interest for the environment that give to his buildings a unique sensitive comprehension for material and light. All these preoccupations make Konstantinidis’ case particularly interesting once again, in an epoch in which sustainable and ecological architecture are more and more appealing to young architects. Up untill 1981, Konstantinidis published, books that influenced architectural practice in Greece, as deeply as his own architectural work did. In these early books Konstantinidis contributed to a new way of looking at vernacular and popular architecture, invisible till then or treated as unimportant . He focused particularly on vernacular constructions in Myconos (1947), old Athenian houses (1950), churches in Myconos (1953)[3]. With Elements for self-knowledge towards a true architecture (1975)[4] he exposed his own global view of vernacular architecture, emphasising the architectural value of elementary and authentic simple constructions. “The rough, simple bricolage architecture of the urban shack ... a modernised descendant of Laugier’s cabanne rustique is very much at the heart of his preoccupations”[5]. The importance of Konstantinidis’ architectural work was immediately understood in Greece and soon recognised internationally. But his independent character which contributed in the formation of such a strong architecture and made his example so important, drove him little by little into a kind of isolation from the architectural milieu. He always had problems with publishers and collaborators, perhaps more unfortunately with his own clients. The established Greek educational system too always kept him at a distance, and Konstantinidis was never appointed a professor at the National Technical University of Athens. In fact the everyday problems of the profession finally led him in an absolutely

negative position towards even architectural practice itself, which he abandoned quasi-voluntarily after publishing Projects and Buildings, in 1981, containing his complete works[6]. “If somebody came and asked me to build his house, I would answer no”, he writes. “The same negative answer I would give to every state official ... because I’m disappointed (maybe even tired) to see that nobody understands the work that I can do. (16.8.83, p. 163) “Better to be alone and lonely ... although without practice, without work” (16.8.83, p. 164)[7]. Projects and Buildings is still the only existing monograph on Konstantinidis’ work. After this book, his relation to architecture becomes purely literary. In this late literary exercise of his, Konstantinidis changes the internal strategy of his texts. The six books that Konstantinidis publishes from 1987 onwards (after a six year silence), do not have the positive spirit of his first ones. These are books of gloom, sadness and disillusion with a situation that seemed hopeless to him.. Everything that he was looking forward to building, the brave new architectural world he was proposing, he now considered as a shattered, non-realisable dream. He stopped admiring the values of architecture and his writings became invectives against the decline of architecture. This change of his attitude is related to the changes following the processes of modernisation that were taking place in Greece. The simple architecture constructions Konstantinidis loved were rapidly vanishing. Small modest constructions of the suburbs and the countryside were replaced by simply anonymous, atopic buildings of mass tourism and by inferior pseudo-Byzantine buildings or other rustic imitations. In the international context --that is more relevant to Konstantinidis -- architecture turns towards image making more than a poetics of construction that many modern architects would dream of; Konstantinidis enters thus a long period of caustic critique of these years’ architecture. He proves himself vicious and intransigent towards post modernism and his Sinners and Plagiarists (1987)[8] remain a unique document for the breakdown of dialectics between modern and post modern values in architecture. Konstantinidis’ critical attitude is also present in the Architecture of Architecture, one of the last books he published while alive (he died in 1993). The book covers the entire period of his creative life from 1937 to 1990 and takes the form of one long diary. It is not by chance that the promising theoretic title of the book corresponds to an architect’s diary. Entering the theoretical world of the architect, one should admit to deal with an autobiographical testimony. Short texts of a paragraph or small separate essays form an entity of diverse thoughts. We can testify this change of attitude towards architecture while the years are passing. The small and rare texts of the early years become much more violent and explicit in the late ones. What is important however is that through Konstantinidis’ polemic and fierce phrases it is possible to discerne the points that unify the architect’s former, optimistic period with the later,

pessimistic one. Konstantinidis’ last period is usually dismissed in Greece as one of complete decadence. Nobody really understood his provocative crescendo, because of the aggressive style of his last books. Konstantinidis was thus misunderstood because of his style; he was underestimated and his texts were not worthy of serious discussion. Konstantinidis did not proceed either with a clean, theoretical argument, (continuous and consistent enough to follow), nor with an assemblage of abstract juxtaposed poetical thoughts; his texts are hostile to the reader; they invite rejection. In fact, he considered writing as a form warfare: “By writing”, he notes, “an architect can make war with a weapon that building does not possess”. (20.2.80, p.121) When Konstantinidis takes pen in hand it is mostly to attack. “Thus I say:”, he writes typically, “-you do not deserve a building of mine, which would put in your hands something you are not in a position to evaluate and understand ... not mention to love. And you would only know how to destroy it”. (16.8.83, p. 163). We have to be careful however. In Konstantinidis’ case verbal excess is only a device through which he presents his ideas. There is a systematic intellectual framework at the core of his tempestuous writing. There are clear ideas to be found in the depths of the text. Konstantinidis’ strategy is not to be considered as an irrational attack. If there is war, it is because something is to be protected. The loathing, which is obvious here, conceals a well constructed, consistent interpretative position. The loathing leads to a deeper system of aesthetic evaluation. It is the affirmation of a return to the self and the sign of a highly personal, idiosyncratic culture. “Let no one imagine that it is an easy matter to develop this feeling to the extent necessary in order to have this physical loathing”, writes Nietzsche in one of his five lectures on education[9]. And exactly in the same way that in Nietzsche’s lectures (as Jacques Derrida remarks), “it is disgust that controls everything”[10], the main governing power of Konstantinidis’ texts is disgust. Indeed we have to listen carefully to Konstantinidis, for his fierce words veil an ethical position. His invectives could bring to light. what he ment by the term “truth” (aletheia) which is a notion that could orientate us in the architect’s thought. For Konstantinidis, truth is considered an easy thing to grasp, if one had applied a ”correct” analysis. He fails however to offer a clear picture of what this analysis was like. He does not even provide us with the conclusions of such an analysis. Things are totally disfigured by the theoretical glasses he’s wearing and we have to decipher from the disfiguration of things, the type of the glasses. What is normally understood thus as aggressiveness and loathing in his text, can lead to bringing together the pieces of a puzzle. And the image that the puzzle could represent is not difficult to describe.

For Konstantinidis truth must be revealed in architectural form. Konstantinidis’ notion of truth is not at all general or vague. The Architecture of Architecture, inspite of its polemics, could put forth the view of truth quite clearly. Of course this view echoes modernist theory. It is not a coincidence that Mies Van der Rohe says in a 1964 interview: “Everything I’ve read (and I’ve read a lot in my life) was directed toward finding an answer to the question of truth. What is this thing called truth? Everyone uses the word but who can really explain it? To learn that the truth is relative requires a long search. It took me years to find out; to find out how to make a clear, honest construction.”[11] I do not think that Konstantinidis would agree that the truth is relative. He fought for one truth and he was often desperate when people could not see it. But we could often argue that he shares the same theoretical background as Mies[12] ; Konstantinidis is keeping the modern perspective in respect to the truth and finds natural what really is not: the idea that good architecture is a question of truth. For him, in fact: there is only one possible and correct truth, one correct way for things to be. With the passing years Konstantinidis got depressed by the impossibility of educating people for the truth. “... nothing is ...”, he observes, “what it should be” (17.8.83, p. 164) We can observe that truth is to be expressed in a specific formal strategy: coherence. For Konstantinidis form follows truth. But truth could be described as a triple function for coherence. Form thus has to cohere in first to nature. Building is an intervention within nature and this means that nature and the site are to be recognised in order to be respected. This is where Konstantinidis departs in a radically different way from Mies Van der Rohe. Mies does not feel site is that important. He is interested “in a good building”; then he “places” --as he says-- the building “in the best possible spot.”[13] On the contrary, for Konstantinidis, an architect has to act as nature, he has to give forms to buildings as if the buildings sprang from the ground. “What I would build” young Konstantinidis writes, “would have to stand on the ground as trees” (p.31, 10.1.38). And later: “...the tree (and therefore the architectural work) has a form, the right height and can live in time.” (p. 206, 17.9.84) Nature itself is to be a consideration , the first consultant for the architectural form. Good architecture provides us with buildings that cohere to nature. The second aspect of coherence that proves a true architecture is related with the life that takes place inside the building, in its internal space. Form must cohere with life. “Architecture should embrace man and serve all his needs; functional and intellectual.” (10.12.83, p. 173). This second Konstantinidis' idea on coherence has to be considered as an evolution of Louis Sullivan’s leitmotif (“form follows function”)[14]. Konstantinidis prefers the term “life” to “function”. One of his main ideas for the building, to which he returns frequently (e.g., pp 75, 82, 149, 188, 239, 312 ), is that

an architectural work has to become a “vessel of life”. And, of course, for Konstantinidis the life contained in a building was not a matter of personal preferences. ”Life” was again a question of truth. He conceived of the life to be contained in a building as the one true life, that is a life exempt of falsehood and decoration. For this reason he did not accept every building program, nor every client. The client to accept the rules of truth; and truth was a domain over which the architect had absolute control. The imperative of coherence, both with the building’s surroundings (the land and nature itself) and internal life, originates in what might be called a strategy of silence. Obviously, silence is not possible to achieve, when there is construction. All construction entails a breaking of the rule of silence, which is conceived by Konstantinidis as a kind of sin. The form of a building has to be conscious of this sin. Konstantinidis however neither proposes to hide buildings under the ground, nor to camouflage them with ivy in order to render them invisible. He pushes his logic of coherence one step further; it is his very last step that is usually understood as his first and only: architectural form has to cohere to construction itself. Architecture for him has a strict duty not to betray construction; “a good architect must never ...embellish the constructive truth. Any decorative element is useless and needless and unacceptable”. (8.3.42, p.76) The purpose is --in Mies’ words-- “to make a clear honest construction.”[15] But in such a different theoretical background. For Konstantinidis construction and its logic is nothing by itself. Following the construction as Mies did is to him a sin. On the contrary if there is an inevitable wound and a sin to occur through building, then for Konstantinidis construction --the means for producing form-- has to maintain the logic of coherence to the end; construction has to become form itself. Form has to be a representation of construction; form has to show itself as construction[16]. But construction is just the last step. Inevitably it has to subordinate to nature and true life. While clearly presented, the general idea of Konstantinidis has to deal with an impossible invisibility. The general idea is: not to push against the context’s data. The site, the interior life and construction itself are forming a world to cohere with; they have to be understood and their own logic is to be followed. Follow the truth means for Konstantinidis to follow the context. Respect to nature that is so important in Konstantinidis’ theoretical nexus, is not comprehended as obedience to natural forms, but rather as a comprehension of the landscape’s and the natural processes’ logic. Through this comprehension of the nature’s logic the architecture which Konstantinidis is proposing has to do with the protection of norm and the hate of exception. “Architecture is not to play with aesthetic research. Architecture is to complete and perfect what nature failed to finish. We build houses to embellish our lives according to the landscape”. (10.12.83, p. 173) “... and why should we always look for the strange and the novel ?

How more fertile is the ... eternally usual, in which lives the specificity of each place and some superior laws of the soul” (21.9.41, p.73). What is not common is for Konstantinidis prohibited. He blames architects that are looking for the “exceptional and the unique”; they will be lost , he says, “in a vain and useless adventure” (7.3.88, p. 298). Construction thus is not for him a show; it is another necessary context to respect. Architecture is not to create form out of any construction in order to underline it, in the way that high tech architecture does it. To follow the logic of construction cannot be but the result of a necessity for coherence, which gives us a moral law. Even what is regional is admired as disclosing these principles of coherence: Greek regional architecture discloses its value through truth and by extension, it discloses a “modern” idea; the western and modern argument Konstantinidis uses brings to regional architecture its value. He does not seem to be influenced by any specific architectural paradigm either in plan or section, and he does not of course use any specific pictorial elements of regional descent in his elevations. He interprets the logic of regional constructions in terms of truth, the only thing his buildings have in common with regional paradigms is his own conception of truth. If Konstantinidis admires Greek regional architecture, it is because the modern theoretical repertoire was already able to validate it[17]. It was an unadorned architecture, functional and --by necessity-- respectful of nature. He admires the logic of vernacular, but he refuses to use any clear representation of it in his compositions. This is why Konstantinidis’ case is dramatically different from that of Pikionis (the other major figure of postwar Greek architecture) which deals with one problem of memory; he cares about tradition. He wants to inscribe his architecture in the same path opened by the masons of the past. For Pikionis architecture is a memory problem. For Konstantinidis architecture is a problem of truth; there is nothing in true architecture to commemorate, nothing worthy to investigate beyond the fact of building comprehended as a function of context. “Architecture does not commemorate neither plays theatre nor creates theatre sets”. (10.12.83, p. 173). Konstantinidis cares about truth; and truth for him has no history. Truth teaches us architecture has always been the same. An architectural inquiry is an investigation for truth. Regional architecture, even if it often serves as exemplary for the display of truth, never gets involved in the heart of Konstantinidis argument. Truth itself is announced in architecture by the idea of a form coherence and architects need to express this truth in order to create good buildings. Expressing architectural truth is respecting a triple scheme for building: nature, life, construction. These three factors describe for Konstantinidis the field for an architectural event; there is an urgent need to save the field itself; the context for architecture is not something exterior to building, it is

provided by the sole act of building. The context neither represents any abstract concept of the past nor any traditionally built environment; the context is the field of building itself. And saving the context means to build silently. In building, silence is the goal (coherence is another word for silence). Silence is the culmination of architecture. Even more: silence is an end to fight for; and the Architecture of Architecture is a bombardment of silence.

[1] Alexander Tzonis, Liane Lefaivre, “The grid and the pathway: an introduction to the work of Dimitris and Susana Antonakakis in the context of modern Greek architectural Culture”, in: Atelier 66, New York, (Rizzoli, 1985), pp. 14 - 25, p. 17. [2] Kenneth Frampton , "Life Begins Tomorrow", in: Europa de Postguerra 1945 - 1965: Arte Despues del Diluvio, Barcelona, 1995, pp. 539-553, "The case of Greece: Regionalism versus Modernization", p. 553. [3] Two “villages” of Myconos, (Dio “choria” ap’ ti Mycono) [in Greek], Athens, 1947; The old Athenian houses, (Ta palia athinaika spitia) [in Greek], Athens, 1950, Small churches of Myconos, (Xokklisia tis Myconou) [in Greek], Athens, 1953. [4] Elements for self-knowledge - Towards A true Architecture, Athens, 1975. [5] Alexander Tzonis, Liane Lefaivre, “A critical introduction to Greek architecture since the Second World War”, in: Post War Architecture in Greece 1945-1983, ed. Orestis Doumanis, Athens, Architecture in Greece Press, 1984, pp. 16-23, p. 20. [6] Projects and Buildings, Agra, Athens, 1981. [7] All translations by the author. [8] Sinners and Plagiarists or the taking off of Architecture, (Amartoloi kai kleftes i i apogeiosi tis architektonikis) [in Greek], Athens, Agra, 1987. [9] On the future of our Educational Institutions Homer and Classical Philology, New York, 1964, (1909 - 1911), p. 58-59. [10] Jacques Derrida, The ear of the other: otobiography, transference, translation, Lincoln and London, 1985, (1982), p. 23. [11] Katherine Kuh, “Mies Van Der Rohe”, in: The Open Eye: in pursuit of art, (Harper & Row, 1971), pp. 33-39, p. 33-34. [12] Konstantinidis’ relationship with Mies Van der Rohe is a subtle subject to handle; a single point of view underlies both his positive 1966 article (Bauen + Wohnen, 5, 1966, p.193-194) and his 1987 negative critique (Sinners and Plagiarists, op.cit., pp. 233-235). [13] Katherine Kuh , op.cit., p. 35. [14] See also Sinners and Plagiarists, op.cit., p.56. [15] See above (11). [16] On this point Konstantinidis insists more in Contemporary True Architecture, [in Greek], Athens, 1978.

[17] See also Frampton Modern Architecture: a Critical History, 3rd edition, (Thames and Hudson), 1992.

the impossible invisibility  

text on the writings of the Greek architect Aris Konstantinidis

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