Architecture in the Age of Divided Representation
In this long-awaited work, Dalibor Vesely proposes an alternative to the narrow vision of contemporary architecture as a discipline that can be treated as an instrument or commodity. In doing so, he offers nothing less than an account of the ontological and cultural foundations of modern architecture and, consequently, of the nature and cultural role of architecture through history. Vesely's argument, structured as a critical dialogue, discovers the first plausible anticipation of modernity in the formation of Renaissance perspective. Understanding this notion of perspective against the background of the medieval philosophy of light, he argues, leads to an understanding of architectural space as formed by typical human situations and by light before it is structured geometrically. The central part of the book addresses the question of divided representation—the tension between the instrumental and the communicative roles of architecture—in the period of the baroque, when architectural thinking was seriously challenged by the emergence of modern science.
Vesely argues that to resolve the dilemma of modernity— reconciling the inventions and achievements of modern technology with the human condition and the natural world—we can turn to architecture and its latent capacity to reconcile different levels of reality, its ability to relate abstract ideas and conceptual structures to the concrete situations of everyday life. Vesely sees the restoration of this communicative role of architecture as the key to the restoration of architecture as the topological and corporeal foundation of culture; what the book is to our literacy, he argues, architecture is to culture as a whole. He concludes by proposing a new poetics of architecture that will serve as a framework for the restoration of the humanistic role of architecture in the age of technology.
About the Author
Dalibor Vesely is a Director (Emeritus) of graduate studies in the department of architecture and member of Emmanuel College at the University of Cambridge.
"Vesely's book is...intelligible, generous in form and content, concisely illustrated and designed to last."—Helen Mallinson, Building Design
"Spanning from medieval optics to perspectival invention, and from baroque rhetoric to Cartesianism and the paradoxical instrumentality of contemporary aesthetics, Dalibor Vesely's critical-phenomenological thesis establishes a new theoretical datum for all discourse concerning the predicament of architecture in our time."
—Kenneth Frampton, Ware Professor of Architecture, Columbia University
"This remarkable book is unique in its brilliant density, every word distilled from a thousand thoughts, articulating possibilities for the practice of architecture by weaving together the deep threads of the Western tradition, from the Middle Ages to the present day. Vesely demonstrates the centrality of architecture to culture—not as a dream, nor as an aesthetic or functional artifact, but as a communicative practice. This rare work, combining historical erudition with philosophical insight, lives up to Socrates' demand that wisdom remain alive, even when written down; a 'living, breathing word.'"
—Alberto Pérez-Gómez, Saidye Rosner Bronfman Professor of the History of Architecture, McGill University
"This is an extraordinary and wonderful book. Deeply researched but unlike any other study in architectural history, it both illuminates and stirs apprehension, a deep unease."
—Robin Middleton, Columbia University
"This book illuminates a critical issue: the place of creativity in a time dominated by modes of thought that reduce design to a method of production. Vesely's insightful studies advance a number of compelling arguments: that the Greek sense of praxis can be identified with the phenomenological description of pre-reflective experience; that the absence of a 'ground' for contemporary culture need not lead to relativism, because history itself confers cultural orientation; and that the prospect of representation in contemporary architecture can only be understood in the light of its historical antecedents, from the development of pictorial perspective through to cubism, surrealism, and most recently telepresence."
—David Leatherbarrow, University of Pennsylvania
Co-winner of the RIBA Trust Book Award given by The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA)