Architecture and Disjunction: Bernard Tschumi on Polarities Underpinning the Task of Designing

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Unlike the other arts, architects tread a fine line between the subjective and the objective, between dream and reality, in which the products of their imagination bear the onerous task of leaving imprints on earthy reality. Such a tussle between the worlds of the tangible and intangible is evident in art and sculpture, but the utilitarian functions of architecture have endlessly led to debate as to what constitutes the production of ‘good’ architecture.

A disjunction is often felt in the gap between the Pyramid of Concepts and the Labyrinth of Experiences; in the mental processes that accompany the act of creation and the actual social praxis. Bernard Tschumi raises some of these questions in his book Architecture and Disjunction, bringing the role of the architect under scrutiny. He proposes that the architect serves three roles:

  1. The conservative role, where architects are form-givers to existing political/economic priorities of society
  2. The role of the critic/commentator who reveals the contradictions of society,
  3. The role of the revolutionary who uses knowledge to arrive at new urban and social structures — such as what French philosopher Henri Lefebvre has called the drawing upon ‘connaissance’ (knowledge refusing power), as opposed to ‘savoir’ (knowledge serving power).

Archizoom and No-Stop City


Superstudio and the Continuous Monument


‘If one has a passion for the absolute that cannot be healed, there is no other way than to constantly contradict oneself and to reconcile opposite extremes.’

Frederic Schlegel


Tschumi, rather dramatically, refers to this middle point as the ‘rotten point’. A point at which sensory pleasure and reason meet, in which life and death become one — this, he says, is the ‘moment of architecture’. Modernism had long refused to acknowledge the passing of time, painting the built environment with white ‘timeless skeletons’, symbols of purity. Tschumi advocates here an ‘erotic’ architecture,

‘Eroticism is not the excess of pleasure but the pleasure of excess.’


It is when consciousness and voluptuousness meet that the paradoxes are dissolved, and one experiences the ‘double pleasure’ of architecture – the pleasure of space, which is the ‘poetics of the unconscious’, and the pleasure of geometry/order, which is the ‘poetics of frozen signs’.



Beautiful marks of rainfall on the wall of the Tower House, Delhi, by Kamath Design Studio.

The correlation between space and event is a subject that behavioural psychologists Like Robert Sommer have been attempting to decode for years. When one considers experiments like Kuleshov’s, in which the actor’s expression is perceived differently in the context of its ensuing image (watch below), then one wonders whether space is eventually just a uniform datum upon which we inflict activities, or if designed space does actually serve as a medium to catalyse certain life processes. Can content “be dissolved so completely into form that the work of art or literature cannot be reduced in whole or in part to anything but itself”? (Clement Greenberg)


It appears that there is a certain point in the mind wherefrom life and death, reality and imaginary, past and future, the communicable and the incommunicable cease to be perceived in a contradictory way.
(Andre Breton, The Second Manifesto)


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