Architecture and Abstraction
320 pp., 5 x 8 in, 60 b&w illus.
- Published: November 7, 2023
- Publisher: The MIT Press
A landmark study of abstraction in architectural history, theory, and practice that challenges our assumptions about the meaning of abstract forms.
In this theoretical study of abstraction in architecture—the first of its kind—Pier Vittorio Aureli argues for a reconsideration of abstraction, its meanings, and its sources. Although architects have typically interpreted abstraction in formal terms—the purposeful reduction of the complexities of design to its essentials—Aureli shows that abstraction instead arises from the material conditions of building production. In a lively study informed by Walter Benjamin, Karl Marx, Alfred Sohn-Rethel, and other social theorists, Architecture and Abstraction presents abstraction in architecture not as an aesthetic tendency but as a movement that arises from modern divisions of labor and consequent social asymmetries.
These divisions were anticipated by the architecture of antiquity, which established a distinction between manual and intellectual labor, and placed the former in service to the latter. Further abstractions arose as geometry, used for measuring territories, became the intermediary between land and money and eventually produced the logic of the grid. In our own time, architectural abstraction serves the logic of capitalism and embraces the premise that all things can be exchanged—even experience itself is a commodity. To resist this turn, Aureli seeks a critique of architecture that begins not by scaling philosophical heights, but by standing at the ground level of material practice.
“Architecture and Abstraction poses one of the most important questions facing the profession: what might it mean to be an architectural worker today? In a lucid and brilliant account that reaches back to evidence of early building, the authority of Renaissance architects, and the economic power of the nineteenth-century builder as well as the more recent proliferation of data centers, Aureli traces the genealogy of that question to new powers of measuring and calculating as they drive capitalist accumulation, separate manual and intellectual labor, and control what and how we build.”
Adrian Lahoud, Dean of School of Architecture, Royal College of Art
“In his latest book, Pier Vittorio Aureli has identified and studied a phenomenon that underpins almost everything we do, usually beyond our awareness. In this case, the universality of the subject – abstraction – comes about, paradoxically enough, by constantly reducing reality. Through architecture, Aureli shows how we cannot do without abstraction, but we can, and should, try to master its influence.”
Christophe Van Gerrewey, Professor of Architecture Theory, Ecole Fédérale Polytechnique de Lausanne
“Situating abstraction as derived from the material relations within a socio-political context, Aureli's pivotal study on the developing kinship between abstraction and architecture elucidates how architecture's methods of production become intimately intertwined with capital. Rooted within a thorough historical and theoretical analysis of the design and building of a range of projects, Aureli presents a fascinating lineage, critique, and mechanism to reclaim abstraction within architectural production.”
Neeraj Bhatia, Architect and Urban Designer; Principal, THE OPEN WORKSHOP; Associate Professor, California College of the Arts