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Alberto Pérez-Gómez

Alberto Pérez-Gómez is Saidye Rosner Bronfman Professor of the History of Architecture at McGill University. He is the author of Architecture and the Crisis of Modern Science (MIT Press, 1983) and (with Louise Pelletier) Architecural Representation and the Perspective Hinge (MIT Press, 1997).

Titles by This Author

Architectural Longing after Ethics and Aesthetics

The forced polarity between form and function in considerations of architecture--opposing art to social interests, ethics to poetic expression--obscures the deep connections between ethical and poetical values in architectural tradition. Architecture has been, and must continue to be, writes Alberto Pérez-Gómez, built upon love. Modernity has rightly rejected past architectural excesses, but, Pérez-Gómez argues, the materialistic and technological alternatives it proposes do not answer satisfactorily the complex desire that defines humanity. True architecture is concerned with far more than fashionable form, affordable homes, and sustainable development; it responds to a desire for an eloquent place to dwell--one that lovingly provides a sense of order resonant with our dreams. In Built upon Love Pérez-Gómez uncovers the relationship between love and architecture in order to find the points of contact between poetics and ethics--between the architect's wish to design a beautiful world and architecture's imperative to provide a better place for society.Eros, as first imagined by the early lyric poets of classical Greece, is the invisible force at the root of our capacity to create and comprehend the poetic image. Pérez-Gómez examines the nature of architectural form in the light of eros, seduction, and the tradition of the poetic image in Western architecture. He charts the ethical dimension of architecture, tracing the connections between philia--the love of friends that entails mutual responsibility among equals--and architectural program. He explores the position of architecture at the limits of language and discusses the analogical language of philia in modernist architectural theory. Finally, he uncovers connections between ethics and poetics, describing a contemporary practice of architecture under the sign of love, incorporating both eros and philia.

Writing from inside the discipline of architecture, rather than from the more common extrapolations from the history of painting and philosophy, Alberto Pérez-Gómez and Louise Pelletier focus on the implications of the tool of perspective (and the hegemony of vision) for architectural representation. Their primary thesis is that tools of representation have a direct influence on the conceptual development of projects and generation of forms, and that there are alternatives to the reductive working methods of most contemporary practice.

The book examines textual evidence across a broad historical period, concentrating on the relationship between drawing and architectural space in the period from the seventh century to the twentieth century. The book discusses such issues as optical correction and the nature of architectural drawing in selected treatises, revealing the complexity and potential contradiction inherent in any linear history of representation. The authors' ultimate aim is to probe the possibilities of the constructed world—that is, architecture—as a poetic translation, rather than prosaic transcription, of its representations.

 

Between the late Renaissance and the early nineteenth century, the ancient arts of architecture were being profoundly transformed by the scientific revolution. This important book, which won the 1984 Alice Davis Hitchcock Award, traces the process by which the mystical and numerological grounds for the use of number and geometry in building gave way to the more functional and technical ones that prevail in architectural theory and practice today. Throughout, it relates the major architectural treatises of successive generations to the larger culture and the writings of philosophers, mathematicians, scientists, and engineers.

The book leads the reader through the controversy that was generated by Claude Perrault in the seventeenth century. His writings began to cast doubt on the absolute aesthetic value of the classical orders and the "perfect" proportions that were architecture's legacy from Pythagorean times. Thus the once immutable "invisible" system lost its special status forever. The book focuses in particular on eighteenth-century developments in the science of mechanics and emerging techniques in structural analysis which slowly entered the architectural treatises and found their way into practice, often by way of civil and military engineers. And by the nineteenth century, the book notes, even architectural rendering and drawing were radically changed through the introduction of new descriptive and projective geometries.

Tracing these fundamental changes in architectural intentions, Pérez-Gómez challenges many popular misconceptions about the theory and history of modern architecture. At the same time, he suggests an intangible loss, that of a culture's power to express through a building its total mathematical, mystical, and magical world-view.