[Un]built

Raimund Abraham made the distinction between "unbuilt" architecture and that which is simply "not built", thus defending the discipline from economic demands. Bahar Avanoğlu stresses the importance of Abraham’s architecture as a poetic image, as a work of memory and desire of an indeterminate architectural subject; not as a nostalgic evasion of the constraints of reality, but as a vital reminder of architecture as an independent art of building the [Un]built.

Unbuilt, a term generally used to express architectural designs that are not built, or more precisely ‘not yet built’, and thus remain as an unfortunate set of representational drawings on paper deprived of a building form, transforms into a speculative question of its own kind as used by the Austrian architect Raimund Abraham (1933-2010).

This particular term Ungebaut/Unbuilt appears as the title of Abraham’s 1986 exhibition at Galerie Krinzinger and Galerie Museum Bozen, and as the title of his exhibition catalogue. With a certain curiosity, we see that his lecture organized by the Austrian Museum of Applied Arts in 1986, critically deals with the same term, “The Reality of the Unbuilt”. Abraham’s monograph published in 1996 bears again the same title, yet with a slight difference, [Un]Built.A If we take a close look at Abraham’s monograph, we would encounter predominantly a series of intricate drawings along with models, collages, documentations of performative acts, texts (including architectural dream (recordings), poem-like inscriptions…), or some kinetic structures. Indeed, as we browse into his works, one may easily argue that the majority of his works cannot be described as architectural designs that are in the built form of a building. However, the intentionally and unconventionally bracketed “[Un]” should have already seduced us to think twice, making us feel its gravity falling upon the works. Now, as we linger on the projects that are defined as the ‘architecture’ itself, we may perhaps feel the presence of a mysterious character that does not allow us to easily assume that Abraham’s works fit into this traditional understanding of the term, ‘unbuilt’. Either, we cannot claim that they are infeasible to be built – unbuildable; nor waiting to be constructed in the future - not yet built.

As we go deeper into Abraham’s works, we may see that Abraham’s peculiar conception of [Un]Built is deeply grounded in the existential struggle of architecture and architects to resist the socio-political and representational frameworks related with ‘building’ industry. We may not say that this existential struggle is particular just for Abraham. Abraham, born in Austria in 1933, educated to be an architect in Graz, is exposed to a dazed scene in Europe following World War II, that is on one hand, filled with rapid construction sites (as Abraham criticizes later on in the context of Wiener Bauplätze)1, urgently occupied with questions of urban development, and on the other hand seriously determined by active criticism against the cultural lobotomy of the modern from variegated perspectives. The necessity for architects seems to be indispensable at this critical point of time from various perspectives, if one considers the demand for rapid and mass construction along with the urgency of developing a strategic and sensitive urban approach with the intention of dealing with the destructed cityscapes without the erasure of their collective memory. However, the conditions of this demand to serve these needs urge – perhaps opposing the anticipation –, a particular spirit of resistance in a group of architects. The stance of these architects, among which we will see Abraham in particular, seems to foremostly oppose the definition of the architect’s task as the production of a solution in alignment with the economical and socio-political mechanisms that determine the profit of the building industry. Within this urgent demand for architects and urban planners, one can better understand the true radicality of Abraham’s approach denying the authorial and authorized value of their own professional expertise, as it gets closer to the form of ‘architecture without architects’, or to a Heideggerian understanding of building (bauen), dwelling (wohnen) and thinking (denken) as an inseparable unity in its origins.

Abraham’s close friend and colleague, Walter Pichler (1936-2012) describes this division, as one of the most vital dilemmas effecting architecture. In an interview done by Umriss in 1985, we read how Pichler defines the morbid condition, the architects are compelled to comply with: “In architecture, on the other hand, everything functions schizophrenically to the highest degree. Architecture is an illness term. The schizophrenic thing about it is that a man works for others, for something that he cannot represent at all, that does not affect him, that he does not inhabit what he plans, and what he also does not finance with his money. That is why the dilemma in architecture is so tremendous.”2 Pichler is quite clear about his criticality towards well-crafted concepts, adequate programmatic thinking, well-functioning mass-buildings and realising architecture inbetween, as he ridicules those professional experts as “respectful people”. Similarly, Abraham states that “the building industry has been taken over by professionals, practitioners, by certified and authorized architects. Certified and authorized poets, certified and authorized painters, certified and authorized sculptors, certified and authorized directors, certified and authorized philosophers may ultimately serve to express state authority in their own language.”3 The gravity of the concern felt over defining architecture as both an authorial and authorized/certified profession is pressing. According to Pichler, “architecture does not happen just so.”4 The existential question of what ‘architecture’ is if not a profession serving the building industry and the state’s (and/or people’s) utilitarian needs, sets the core of their radical speculation. “Architecture never serves” states Pichler, in their co-authored manifesto “Absolute Architektur” with Hans Hollein. I believe that their question/quest unfolds rather an obscure juncture – however with a radical clarity – that closely refers to a mysterious drive, that perhaps, deliberately escapes our immediate understanding about what architecture is. I may further suggest that we encounter one of the deepest ontological cracks in architecture in relation with the enigmatic drive of [Un]built: Is architecture a ‘building’? In other words, does architecture have to represent the ‘building’?

In Anticipation of Architecture

It is rather important to discuss that within Abraham’s radical conception of [Un]Built, the term ‘building’ does not merely refer to the physical form of a design. We can never assume that Abraham was disturbed by the actual physicality of a construction nor by the materiality of the embodied. In contrast, we read on many occasions that he was seduced by the collision of the ideal and the matter, by the dialectical confrontation of the geometry and the site that is best crystallized as the horizon line. This collision is in fact the main ground for his understanding of architecture. Rather, [Un]Built’s inherent enigmatic drive has a strong emphasis on waiving the anticipation of a built form or the anticipation of a referential and representational model in architecture and thus hopes to ordain ‘architecture’ as the actual construction. Accordingly, Abraham prefers to modify the traditional desire formulated as “the anticipation of building” to “the anticipation of architecture”,B emphasizing the radicality and the importance of this question. He lists “theory” as the first element of his fragmentary notes compiled under the title In Anticipation of Architecture and writes: “Theory is not only the supposition for the evolution of architectural thought, but the supposition for architecture itself. Versus the archaic impulse toward the protection against the forces of nature. Versus the demand for utility. […] This desire for the ‘ideal’ envisions a program beyond utility, demanding a universal interpretation of architectural metaphors. To draw architecture or to build architecture is ultimately the manifestation of the translatability of a poetic text of metaphors into architectural form.”5

We may speak of a drawing, a text, a model, a ritualistic procession or a photograph as architecture and as the actual construction itself, liberating them from their representational obligations of signifying a yet-to-be-built building, bearing the afore-mentioned dialectical confrontations in itself. Abraham unfolds this collision, as he elaborates “On Drawing” – the fifth element of his fragmentary notes in In Anticipation of Architecture. First, he states that drawing is an “oscillation between the idea and the physical, or built, reality of architecture.”6 Then, however, he makes clear that drawing “is not a step toward this reality but an autonomous act to anticipate the concreteness of the ideal.” It seems notably difficult to comprehend, but reading his following lines, we may argue that he rather speaks of a bizarre poetic condition than a seemingly simple unidirectional translation from idea to object (we must perhaps keep in mind the emphasis on oscillation and perhaps also on suspension). He mentions the markings on the white paper as the carvings in stone, and that “the first engravings in metallic plates represent the beginning of architecture.” His understanding of drawing appears not to be referential nor representational, but a radical comprehension of drawing as an embodied construction per se. At this radical level, we may assume the drawing paper as the actual site, the drawing of the line as “the cut into a body”7 through the realm of signs. Instead of seeing the representation of the hidden reality through the paper (or behind the picture plane), the drawing has rather a tectonic and spiritual sensuality on its own.C

In Abraham’s works, the deliberate renunciation of representational obligations of architecture seductively urges us to reconsider the term [Un]Built outside its traditional boundaries. [Un]built’s resistance takes the form of an existential struggle and transforms into an idea where the possibility of an architecture without any anticipation of ‘building’ is tested. Yet, in Abraham’s words, architecture is a “project of desire”.8 Although architecture’s object of desire has been generally defined as the building itself, we see that [Un]built waives this classic anticipation for a building and re-situates its desire. In this aspect, Abraham and Pichler affiliates deeply with art, claiming the ‘non-building’ – that is, the realm of what ‘building’ expels ­– as the actual desire of architecture, as a ground for tension, participation, and as a poetic image, whereby the desire is re-situated within the act of violation of the anticipation of a ‘building’ in manifold forms. In other words, the highest limit that architecture can possibly reach, determined as the anticipation of a building or the building itself, becomes the object of transgression. Transgression of limits, negation of the authorial determination, playing with the left-overs of the realm of the ‘building’ transforms into a poetic condition and seems to be designated as architecture’s actual project of desire by [Un]Built.

I may further discuss that within this framework Abraham (and also Pichler) seek after architecture’s origins in the ‘non-building’ – there is a somewhat archaic spirit of architecture that they are so ardently after: Pichler envisions himself best as a fossil, a species of humankind that has ceased to exist long ago. Abraham regrets the loss of the image of the world. However, it appears to me that their will for architecture as a project of desire, does not fit into a nostalgic escape towards a sheltered home far from actual reality. [Un]built seems rather to take obscure forms of transgression that negates the authorial determination, transforming into a poetic condition. This act of transgression and negative mediation renders it urgently non-past, yet perhaps not of today neither of future. Their project of desire seems rather to suspend/collapse the chronological gravity of time. Abraham’s earlier works that are majorly in the form of megastructures – Compact and Linear Cities, his later works that are in the form of a series of imaginary houses “torn from the terror of the endless landscape”9, and his works that are in the form of interventions situated within urban context, give such a sense of suspension or collapse of the chronological gravity of time. At this point, we seem to enter into the eccentrical time of memory (which is the second element of his fragmentary notes). According to Abraham’s laconic formulation, memory and desire make architecture. The feeling of loss appears to be of grave importance, however we may not assume that this feeling of loss activates a recapitulation of the lost, neither that it takes the form of a historical retrieval. I believe that to understand their positioning, we should discuss the poetic ambitions of the [un]built.

A Program as a Text

[Un]built’s poetic mechanism cannot be discussed without taking into account Abraham’s interest in the question of text as the origin. “This origin”, he states “is evoked as a text which precedes any formal consideration. A program as a text.”10 ‘The program as a text’ seems to be an important riddle that violates the anticipation of a building. Here, while considering the text as the origin, I would like to remind ourselves again to be cautious of an understanding of a seemingly unidirectional translation from idea to object.

The relation between architecture and text is a conventional one. Catherine Ingraham puts this dilemma as follows: “Architecture is clearly not about writing or drawing, and yet, amazingly, architecture is lost without some kind of writing or drawing. Architecture is clearly about buildings, and yet, amazingly, these buildings slip away from our grasp.”11 Surely, architecture’s dilemma cannot be formulated as a duality between ‘text’ and ‘building’. The questions arise as we read Ingraham further: “descriptive language is trying to erase itself, disappear into the object, the building.” What is meant by the ‘text’ deserves a more thorough discussion, which is far beyond the scope of this article. I will try to situate this question on [Un]built’s poetic ambitions that unfold a metaphorical thinking. In the meantime, I think, we will also have to allow our minds not to understand everything immediately, to delay direct reasonings and suspend ourselves in the possibilities of meanings.

In Abraham’s statement, ‘the program as a text’, one could certainly feel the incisive trajectories of Pichler’s reproach against ‘adequate programmatic thinking’. As opposed to ‘programmatic thinking’ that prioritise functional and utilitarian service, ‘the program as a text’ should have another promise: More precisely, we may think of this question on a particular architectural motive that we frequently encounter among Abraham’s works, the house – the sixth element of his fragmentary notes. What would be Abraham’s program for a house?

Indeed, Abraham’s House Without Rooms (1974) promises to “deny the conquest of habitation”, while “horizons appear tilted, verticalized”. We should definitely not overlook that Abraham’s text on this specific work is in the form a poem, Abraham’s homage to poet Stéphane Mallarmé’s (1842-1898) Le Livre. We may assume this homage as its program; we read: “The fragmented elements of the House, archaic by their own nature, become inseparably compressed within a fragile cosmology, denying the conquest of habitation, unless space is stripped of its Euclidean dimensions.” Reading the poem, observing the drawings, along with the photographs/photomontages showing the model at the backdrop of a barren landscape with solemn clouds, we understand that the house consists of three vertical plates: One of them is the core element with a couple of circular openings, and a couple of strictly small platforms on diverse levels along with a strictly narrow staircase attached to it. The rest is two plates that are, in Abraham’s own words, the “armour of the outer walls” protecting “the inner silence” – “metallic reminiscence of ancient shelters.”12 These outer walls bear a couple of semi spherical and cubical cavities pressed (rather than engraved) into the metallic plate, that in a bizarre way resemble caves on a cliff from inside, and a metallic relief from outside.

Fields of Negative Experience

At this point, without further ado, keeping House Without Rooms in mind, I would like to set forth with a particular discussion in literature that is closely related with Mallarmé and project this discussion upon [Un]built’s understanding of the program as text, namely literature as a field of “negative experience”. It is deeply related with what Georges Bataille (1897-1962) calls as “inner experience”, “a voyage to the end of the possible of man” that comes with the supposition of “the negation of authorities” and of “existing values”, leading to an extreme limit.13 In his introduction to Michel Foucault’s (1926-1984) work on Raymond Roussel (1877-1933), Death and Labyrinth, literary critic Pierre Macherey writes on literature is a negative experience and explains the negativity of this experience as follows: ‘to write’ does not mean to show or to make it appear […] it means to resort to every means to break away […] by an unceasing process of distancing”14 Distancing ourselves from direct referential means of the language, lets the meaning of the word to be undecideable, unclaimed, and not-possessed by anyone – it unfolds a metaphorical and poetic space.  Followingly, the words with double meanings are like janus-headed monsters: while meanings are compressed onto a single word, an endless, unknown oscillation of meanings unfolds. The word itself has a chaotic realm. Macherey emphasizes that this metaphorical space of negative experience is non-occupiable by anyone, whereby the attempts to possess (and describe) the object are doomed to fail.

Distanced from their literal meanings, words transpose into enigmatic images; traces on paper, becoming almost directly images, playful projections of shadows. The words, at this certain point, seem impossible to be pronounced. This yet unspoken condition has been often related with the ethos of silence. In the field of negative experience, the words, in Foucault’s words, collapse into silence. According to Foucault, this silence already exists at the origins of language; “in the depth of this language something remains silent”, he states. Within these depths of language where something remains profoundly mute and silent, language transforms into a merciless machine of transgression: “it is poetic in its roots, as well as in its process of creation by this gigantic machinery which marks the points of indifference between the creation and the destruction, the dawn and the death.”15 This poetic machinery casts “images without words” – which circles me back to House Without Rooms.

Images Without Words and House Without Rooms

The above mentioned reading urges me to put Abraham’s House Without Rooms and Mallarmé’s Un coup de dés side by side. The reminiscence between the armour of the relief walls and the poem’s mise-en-page strikes me in particular. Although any formal analogy should not be fully credited, I feel this reminiscence allows a bizarre reflection between the two – perhaps similar to the 16th century analogical correspondences made between a plant and an organ. Un coup de désC points to Mallarmé’s emphasis on the importance of the page as an inherent part of the poem. “Paper intervenes each time an image”, and violates the regular order of words.16 More precisely, he writes: “Words rise up unaided and in ecstasy; many a facet reveals its infinite rarity and is precious to our mind. For our mind is the center of this hesitancy and oscillation; it sees the words not in their usual order, but in projection (like the walls of a cave), so long as that mobility which is their principle lives on, that part of speech which is not spoken.”17 As words are distanced to their regular order by the intervention of the paper in Un coup de dés, we may see that in House Without Rooms, the un-occupiable (the wall) intervenes with the regular order of the seemingly occupied stations, distancing all the elements of the house from their regular order. The wall in House Without Rooms as the paper in Un coup de dés acts as the intervener and transforms into the unexpectedly integral part of the house. The wall is not just a divider between the spaces, as the paper is not just a sheet holding the words.

The wall is also responsible for the tectonic compression of the space: The space in House Without Rooms, is extremely verticalized – (one could say the space is the wall itself) - making the habitation of the space almost impossible, allowing almost only a mobile state of occupation: Ascent, descent, suspension in the compressed space, … unclaiming any kind of possession of space in the traditional sense. The compression seems to disorient the space, in such a manner that we may see the human figureD in a horizontal position in the vertical section and in a vertical position in the horizontal section (the plan). This spatial compression does not happen only physically but also mentally. If we remind ourselves of the above-mentioned definition of the House Without Rooms, we remember that he mentions that there is an “inseparable compression” of “the fragmented elements of the House” “within a fragile cosmology”. This appears to me to hint at the versatile compression of elements, that unables us to define them either as the room, the window, or the door…, making the elements oscillate between a variety of meanings. Indeed, we read about this particular architectural condition in Abraham’s words as follows: “The Elements become the House itself, transformed into simultaneous projections of Room, Window, Wall, Sky, Earth, Stair, Door. And within this total fusion of objects and sensations, bodies are transmuted into forms.”18 This compression and oscillation that comes with it, sets the metaphorical space of the negative experience, where meanings are left undecided. On one hand we may have ‘images without words’. On the other, we may have a ‘house without rooms’, or ‘architectures without buildings’.

Denial of the Conquest of Habitation

As I mentioned earlier, ‘house’ is the sixth element among Abraham’s fragmentary notes. The conflict within the idea of a house that “denies the conquest of habitation” is notably curious. About the imaginary houses that he has worked on over decades almost as an obsession, he states that he responds to the “archetypal ritual of dwelling”: Among his houses, we see Earth-Cloud House, House with Curtains, House with a Permanent Shadow, House with Three Rooms, House with Two Halves, House with Two Horizons, and perhaps most notably House for Euclid, Loci Ultimi. I would like to draw attention to the metaphoric particularity of these houses as they all appear to be non-resident-friendly.

Although most of them seems to be located on extremely barren, endless landscapes, is it possible to assume that they are completely isolated from the humankind? Perhaps, we may not easily assume that these houses are isolated, both latently and openly. Abraham is intrigued by the question of the absence of humankind, but he rather chooses to point out the dialectical confrontation between its presence and its absence.19 In Last Abodes of Mankind, we see a what appears to be a homeless person sleeping with a packaging cardboard partially wrapped around his/her body. It is the same figure that we see in the atlas of images attached to the fragmentary notes (this time, the figure is on a sidewalk). Who might they be, if not residents or users owning a property?

This question is difficult to deal with. I would like to start with a continued speculative reflection of the negative experience onto this question. As the meaning remains undecideable and unclaimed, and as the meaning cannot be decoded by a certain writer nor a single reader, architecture also liberates itself from any legitimization by the authorized users or architects. Relatedly, Abraham questions whether a pedestrian should be coded as a person who walks on the sidewalk to find her/his way: “The question is not how well a pedestrian precinct has been designed. Rather, the question is what the program of the pedestrian precinct actually signifies. The question is how the existential dimension of human beings has been reduced to the dimension of a pedestrian. The formal consequence is not important. There are programs which are deeply rooted in the urban structure, such as the Städtebilder by Walter Benjamin. He says that ‘it does not mean a great deal if you don’t find your way around in a city. But it requires some training to get lost in a city the way you get lost in a forest.’”20

Who is the pedestrian yearning to get lost in the city? Who is the person lying on ground in Abraham’s Loci Ultimi?E I believe that these figures are closely related with architecture’s project of desire and memory; and that this question of the figures in Abraham’s works should not be discussed only in a level of the textual subject. In other words, we should not restrict ourselves to the people directly referred to in the works, or rely on a strictly direct autobiographical ground. We might see, read about, feel or sense the “I”(s), “she”(s), “he”(s) or “they”(s) of the works. However, should the “I” of the drawing necessarily refer to the architect, or the Other? Can we claim to know the Others? Relying on my on-going discussion, I am urged to think that there is yet another unknown poetic compression in work: a compression of subjects to an undecideable poetic subject that cannot be claimed by anyone.

The Question of the Poetic Subject

We might see the hints of this poetic compression of the subjects in Abraham’s repetitive use of the same lying figure, both in In Anticipation of Architecture and Loci Ultimi. This lying figure seems to transform into an enigmatic image of the “archetypal existence”21 of humankind, a reflective correspondent of the architectural compression. However, we should probably note again that this figure is not just one particular figure nor an anonymous figure representing the mass.

We might further discuss that this compression also happens in such a level, that the poetic subject becomes inseparable from architecture itself. In the poem that Abraham wrote for his work The Hospital: The House of Hope, Houses of Birth, Houses of No Return (1980), he quotes Franz Kafka: “Prometheus, goaded by the pain of the tearing beaks, pressed himself deeper and deeper into the rock until he became one with it.”22 At this point, I think we should again be careful not to picture this condition of compression as a homogeneous uniformity between architectural design and the people. This uniformity would lead us back to an understanding in which architecture guides and shapes the people, or in which architecture is directly formed by people’s needs. I believe that this strong compression hints rather at an inseparable archetypal image, or a spiritual impresa,23 an intense metaphoric relation between an idea and an image.

We may remind ourselves of Abraham’s particular interest in the carvings in stone as the beginning of architecture, Abraham’s radical comprehension of drawing as an embodied construction, and his comprehension of the line as the cut into a body through the realm of signs. The uncanny, yet strongly imaginate reminiscence between Prometheus pressing himself deeper into the rock and the drawing as the carvings in stone is striking. Through this analogical reflection, the image of Prometheus pressing himself into the rock transforms into the image of the line that is cut into a body. I believe that this strong analogy between the act of drawing/cutting a line into a body and the act of pressing your own body into the rock points at a mnemonic and desirous marking (on the site, on people, or on images) left through an architectural act. This architectural act is highly metaphorical that the act of drawing transforms into an associative compression of manifold acts of engraving, pressure, cutting. These markings do not necessarily leave a visible cut in the body but certainly provide of a spiritual trace. They are immediate, but always distancing themselves from the referential and thus delaying and preventing the possession of meaning. Within this mechanism, I believe that the poetic subject and architecture transform into the alchemists of each other – spiritually and tectonically inseparable from one another.

Lastly, I would like to especially speculate on the possible compression of us - the readers of the work - onto these poetic subjects. As we assume that Abraham’s works could be regarded as poems, the question of the reader becomes essential. Peggy Deamer critically points out that the reader is structurally embedded in the architecture of Abraham’s long-time colleague at the Cooper Union, the poet-architect John Hejduk (1929-2000) and writes that we are encountered with “[…] the possibility that architecture might function not on the traditional axis of architectural meaning – building to user – but on an alternate axis of ‘me’ and ‘you’.”24 I believe that this kind of a structural embedment of the reader is also valid for Abraham’s works.

However, I think that it is essential to discuss the reader as an ambiguous, undecideable poetic subject. The reader as a poetic subject is not an irrelavant question in poems, especially when lyric poems are concerned. In the context of lyric poems, the pronoun ‘I’ is transformed into an anachronistic, ambiguous condition through the recitation or the reading of the poem, whereby it is impossible to define the reciter as a passive reader dubbing the lines of the author, nor the recitation as a mimetic act.25 Each reading creates variegated coexistences of ‘I’s of different spatio-temporalities transforming the lyric ‘I’ into a poetic subject.

I believe that the act of ‘reading’ Abraham’s works (visually, internally or in any other ways) partakes in this afore-mentioned poetic compression, initiates an even more comprehensive oscillation of meanings including the reader. The reader as the poetic subjectF, is in this way inseparable from architecture; and I believe that this compression is able to create an intense alchemical oscillation making architecture happen without any fulfilment into a building. Although [Un]Built marks a period of time that is not so distant from today, its ambitions might be considered to be outdated from certain aspects. However, I believe that there is a critical significance in approaching this constellation of works not only from a purely historical perspective. [Un]Built, then and still, questioning the measures given to conventional experience in architecture, unfolds other conditions of experience in anticipation of architecture, that demonstrate an enigmatic obscurity and that are quite difficult to comprehend. Although these poetic conditions cannot be justified under conventional terms, I believe that this incomprehensible spiritual affiliation and poetic compression are quite vital in architecture, preventing architecture from being reduced to a utilitarian possession. It reminds us of the precious moments of drawing, as a moment of fracture into the paper, as a moment of an immersion of the poetic subject into the paper, and as the moment of becoming the drawing itself.

*This article is based on my introductory essay for Şiir/Mimarlık: Binanın İhlali (İstanbul: İletişim Yayınları, 2021). I would like to thank Christoph Ramisch, İpek Avanoğlu and Nizam Onur Sönmez for their comments.

[Un]built

2/23/2023

Notes on a Poetic “Compression”

Raimund Abraham made the distinction between "unbuilt" architecture and that which is simply "not built", thus defending the discipline from economic demands. Bahar Avanoğlu stresses the importance of Abraham’s architecture as a poetic image, as a work of memory and desire of an indeterminate architectural subject; not as a nostalgic evasion of the constraints of reality, but as a vital reminder of architecture as an independent art of building the [Un]built.

1 Raimund Abraham, in: Brigitte Groihofer (Ed.), [Un]Built, Vienna 2011, p.110. 

2 Umriss: Architektur ohne Architekten, 1/ 1985, p. 25. 

3 Groihofer 2011, p.110.

4 Umriss 1/1985, p. 25.

5 Groihofer 2011, p.101.

6 Ibid. p.102.

7 Ibid.

8 Ibid p.110. 

[Un]Built

In Anticipation of Architecture

Tectonic Notes by Bahar Avanoğlu

Unbuilt, a term generally used to express architectural designs that are not built, or more precisely ‘not yet built’, and thus remain as an unfortunate set of representational drawings on paper deprived of a building form, transforms into a speculative question of its own kind as used by the Austrian architect Raimund Abraham (1933-2010).

This particular term Ungebaut/Unbuilt appears as the title of Abraham’s 1986 exhibition at Galerie Krinzinger and Galerie Museum Bozen, and as the title of his exhibition catalogue. With a certain curiosity, we see that his lecture organized by the Austrian Museum of Applied Arts in 1986, critically deals with the same term, “The Reality of the Unbuilt”. Abraham’s monograph published in 1996 bears again the same title, yet with a slight difference, [Un]Built. If we take a close look at Abraham’s monograph, we would encounter predominantly a series of intricate drawings along with models, collages, documentations of performative acts, texts (including architectural dream (recordings), poem-like inscriptions…), or some kinetic structures. Indeed, as we browse into his works, one may easily argue that the majority of his works cannot be described as architectural designs that are in the built form of a building. However, the intentionally and unconventionally bracketed “[Un]” should have already seduced us to think twice, making us feel its gravity falling upon the works. Now, as we linger on the projects that are defined as the ‘architecture’ itself, we may perhaps feel the presence of a mysterious character that does not allow us to easily assume that Abraham’s works fit into this traditional understanding of the term, ‘unbuilt’. Either, we cannot claim that they are infeasible to be built – unbuildable; nor waiting to be constructed in the future - not yet built.

As we go deeper into Abraham’s works, we may see that Abraham’s peculiar conception of [Un]Built is deeply grounded in the existential struggle of architecture and architects to resist the socio-political and representational frameworks related with ‘building’ industry. We may not say that this existential struggle is particular just for Abraham. Abraham, born in Austria in 1933, educated to be an architect in Graz, is exposed to a dazed scene in Europe following World War II, that is on one hand, filled with rapid construction sites (as Abraham criticizes later on in the context of Wiener Bauplätze)1, urgently occupied with questions of urban development, and on the other hand seriously determined by active criticism against the cultural lobotomy of the modern from variegated perspectives. The necessity for architects seems to be indispensable at this critical point of time from various perspectives, if one considers the demand for rapid and mass construction along with the urgency of developing a strategic and sensitive urban approach with the intention of dealing with the destructed cityscapes without the erasure of their collective memory. However, the conditions of this demand to serve these needs urge – perhaps opposing the anticipation –, a particular spirit of resistance in a group of architects. The stance of these architects, among which we will see Abraham in particular, seems to foremostly oppose the definition of the architect’s task as the production of a solution in alignment with the economical and socio-political mechanisms that determine the profit of the building industry. Within this urgent demand for architects and urban planners, one can better understand the true radicality of Abraham’s approach denying the authorial and authorized value of their own professional expertise, as it gets closer to the form of ‘architecture without architects’, or to a Heideggerian understanding of building (bauen), dwelling (wohnen) and thinking (denken) as an inseparable unity in its origins.

Abraham’s close friend and colleague, Walter Pichler (1936-2012) describes this division, as one of the most vital dilemmas effecting architecture. In an interview done by Umriss in 1985, we read how Pichler defines the morbid condition, the architects are compelled to comply with: “In architecture, on the other hand, everything functions schizophrenically to the highest degree. Architecture is an illness term. The schizophrenic thing about it is that a man works for others, for something that he cannot represent at all, that does not affect him, that he does not inhabit what he plans, and what he also does not finance with his money. That is why the dilemma in architecture is so tremendous.”2 Pichler is quite clear about his criticality towards well-crafted concepts, adequate programmatic thinking, well-functioning mass-buildings and realising architecture inbetween, as he ridicules those professional experts as “respectful people”. Similarly, Abraham states that “the building industry has been taken over by professionals, practitioners, by certified and authorized architects. Certified and authorized poets, certified and authorized painters, certified and authorized sculptors, certified and authorized directors, certified and authorized philosophers may ultimately serve to express state authority in their own language.”3 The gravity of the concern felt over defining architecture as both an authorial and authorized/certified profession is pressing. According to Pichler, “architecture does not happen just so.”4 The existential question of what ‘architecture’ is if not a profession serving the building industry and the state’s (and/or people’s) utilitarian needs, sets the core of their radical speculation. “Architecture never serves” states Pichler, in their co-authored manifesto “Absolute Architektur” with Hans Hollein. I believe that their question/quest unfolds rather an obscure juncture – however with a radical clarity – that closely refers to a mysterious drive, that perhaps, deliberately escapes our immediate understanding about what architecture is. I may further suggest that we encounter one of the deepest ontological cracks in architecture in relation with the enigmatic drive of [Un]built: Is architecture a ‘building’? In other words, does architecture have to represent the ‘building’?

In Anticipation of Architecture

It is rather important to discuss that within Abraham’s radical conception of [Un]Built, the term ‘building’ does not merely refer to the physical form of a design. We can never assume that Abraham was disturbed by the actual physicality of a construction nor by the materiality of the embodied. In contrast, we read on many occasions that he was seduced by the collision of the ideal and the matter, by the dialectical confrontation of the geometry and the site that is best crystallized as the horizon line. This collision is in fact the main ground for his understanding of architecture. Rather, [Un]Built’s inherent enigmatic drive has a strong emphasis on waiving the anticipation of a built form or the anticipation of a referential and representational model in architecture and thus hopes to ordain ‘architecture’ as the actual construction. Accordingly, Abraham prefers to modify the traditional desire formulated as “the anticipation of building” to “the anticipation of architecture”, emphasizing the radicality and the importance of this question. He lists “theory” as the first element of his fragmentary notes compiled under the title In Anticipation of Architecture and writes: “Theory is not only the supposition for the evolution of architectural thought, but the supposition for architecture itself. Versus the archaic impulse toward the protection against the forces of nature. Versus the demand for utility. […] This desire for the ‘ideal’ envisions a program beyond utility, demanding a universal interpretation of architectural metaphors. To draw architecture or to build architecture is ultimately the manifestation of the translatability of a poetic text of metaphors into architectural form.”5

We may speak of a drawing, a text, a model, a ritualistic procession or a photograph as architecture and as the actual construction itself, liberating them from their representational obligations of signifying a yet-to-be-built building, bearing the afore-mentioned dialectical confrontations in itself. Abraham unfolds this collision, as he elaborates “On Drawing” – the fifth element of his fragmentary notes in In Anticipation of Architecture. First, he states that drawing is an “oscillation between the idea and the physical, or built, reality of architecture.”6 Then, however, he makes clear that drawing “is not a step toward this reality but an autonomous act to anticipate the concreteness of the ideal.” It seems notably difficult to comprehend, but reading his following lines, we may argue that he rather speaks of a bizarre poetic condition than a seemingly simple unidirectional translation from idea to object (we must perhaps keep in mind the emphasis on oscillation and perhaps also on suspension). He mentions the markings on the white paper as the carvings in stone, and that “the first engravings in metallic plates represent the beginning of architecture.” His understanding of drawing appears not to be referential nor representational, but a radical comprehension of drawing as an embodied construction per se. At this radical level, we may assume the drawing paper as the actual site, the drawing of the line as “the cut into a body”7 through the realm of signs. Instead of seeing the representation of the hidden reality through the paper (or behind the picture plane), the drawing has rather a tectonic and spiritual sensuality on its own.

In Abraham’s works, the deliberate renunciation of representational obligations of architecture seductively urges us to reconsider the term [Un]Built outside its traditional boundaries. [Un]built’s resistance takes the form of an existential struggle and transforms into an idea where the possibility of an architecture without any anticipation of ‘building’ is tested. Yet, in Abraham’s words, architecture is a “project of desire”.8 Although architecture’s object of desire has been generally defined as the building itself, we see that [Un]built waives this classic anticipation for a building and re-situates its desire. In this aspect, Abraham and Pichler affiliates deeply with art, claiming the ‘non-building’ – that is, the realm of what ‘building’ expels ­– as the actual desire of architecture, as a ground for tension, participation, and as a poetic image, whereby the desire is re-situated within the act of violation of the anticipation of a ‘building’ in manifold forms. In other words, the highest limit that architecture can possibly reach, determined as the anticipation of a building or the building itself, becomes the object of transgression. Transgression of limits, negation of the authorial determination, playing with the left-overs of the realm of the ‘building’ transforms into a poetic condition and seems to be designated as architecture’s actual project of desire by [Un]Built.

2/3 of Triptychon Nine Houses: House with Curtains, House with Flower Walls, House with Two Horizons, House with Tree Walls, House With Path, House with Internalized Shadow, 1972-1976 – Deutsches Architekturmuseum, Frankfurt am Main; © Archiv Raimund Abraham
House with Curtains, 1975 – © Architekturzentrum Wien, Sammlung
Hospital: House of Hope, Houses of Birth, Houses of No Return, Sectional perspective, 1980 – 2023 ©Photo Scala, Florence
House for the Sun, 1974 – © Architekturzentrum Wien, Sammlung
House for Euclid, 1984 – © Architekturzentrum Wien, Sammlung
The Last House, 1984 – © Architekturzentrum Wien, Sammlung
Earth-Cloud House, 1966
House with Permanent Shadow (for Peter Kubelka), 1973  – Deutsches Architekturmuseum, Frankfurt am Main; © Archiv Raimund Abraham
House for Two Friends (House, Oggau, Burgenland, Austria, Raimund Abraham and Walter Pichler), 1963 – San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, © Abraham / Pichler, photograph: Don Ross
01 | 10
2/3 of Triptychon Nine Houses: House with Curtains, House with Flower Walls, House with Two Horizons, House with Tree Walls, House With Path, House with Internalized Shadow, 1972-1976 – Deutsches Architekturmuseum, Frankfurt am Main; © Archiv Raimund Abraham

9 Ibid, p.101.

10 Ibid p.110.

11 Catherine Ingraham, Architecture and The Burdens of Linearity, London 1998, p.114.

I may further discuss that within this framework Abraham (and also Pichler) seek after architecture’s origins in the ‘non-building’ – there is a somewhat archaic spirit of architecture that they are so ardently after: Pichler envisions himself best as a fossil, a species of humankind that has ceased to exist long ago. Abraham regrets the loss of the image of the world. However, it appears to me that their will for architecture as a project of desire, does not fit into a nostalgic escape towards a sheltered home far from actual reality. [Un]built seems rather to take obscure forms of transgression that negates the authorial determination, transforming into a poetic condition. This act of transgression and negative mediation renders it urgently non-past, yet perhaps not of today neither of future. Their project of desire seems rather to suspend/collapse the chronological gravity of time. Abraham’s earlier works that are majorly in the form of megastructures – Compact and Linear Cities, his later works that are in the form of a series of imaginary houses “torn from the terror of the endless landscape”9, and his works that are in the form of interventions situated within urban context, give such a sense of suspension or collapse of the chronological gravity of time. At this point, we seem to enter into the eccentrical time of memory (which is the second element of his fragmentary notes). According to Abraham’s laconic formulation, memory and desire make architecture. The feeling of loss appears to be of grave importance, however we may not assume that this feeling of loss activates a recapitulation of the lost, neither that it takes the form of a historical retrieval. I believe that to understand their positioning, we should discuss the poetic ambitions of the [un]built.

A Program as a Text

[Un]built’s poetic mechanism cannot be discussed without taking into account Abraham’s interest in the question of text as the origin. “This origin”, he states “is evoked as a text which precedes any formal consideration. A program as a text.”10 ‘The program as a text’ seems to be an important riddle that violates the anticipation of a building. Here, while considering the text as the origin, I would like to remind ourselves again to be cautious of an understanding of a seemingly unidirectional translation from idea to object.

The relation between architecture and text is a conventional one. Catherine Ingraham puts this dilemma as follows: “Architecture is clearly not about writing or drawing, and yet, amazingly, architecture is lost without some kind of writing or drawing. Architecture is clearly about buildings, and yet, amazingly, these buildings slip away from our grasp.”11 Surely, architecture’s dilemma cannot be formulated as a duality between ‘text’ and ‘building’. The questions arise as we read Ingraham further: “descriptive language is trying to erase itself, disappear into the object, the building.” What is meant by the ‘text’ deserves a more thorough discussion, which is far beyond the scope of this article. I will try to situate this question on [Un]built’s poetic ambitions that unfold a metaphorical thinking. In the meantime, I think, we will also have to allow our minds not to understand everything immediately, to delay direct reasonings and suspend ourselves in the possibilities of meanings.

In Abraham’s statement, ‘the program as a text’, one could certainly feel the incisive trajectories of Pichler’s reproach against ‘adequate programmatic thinking’. As opposed to ‘programmatic thinking’ that prioritise functional and utilitarian service, ‘the program as a text’ should have another promise: More precisely, we may think of this question on a particular architectural motive that we frequently encounter among Abraham’s works, the house – the sixth element of his fragmentary notes. What would be Abraham’s program for a house?

House without Rooms, horizontal/vertical section, 1974 – © Architekturzentrum Wien, Sammlung
Raimund Abraham, "In Anticipation of Architecture. Fragmentary Notes", in: Brigitte Groihofer (Ed.), Raimund Abraham [Un]built, Vienna 1996, p. 78.
House without Rooms, horizontal/vertical section, Core element, montage, 1974 – © Architekturzentrum Wien, Sammlung
House without Rooms, horizontal/vertical section, Model, external view, 1974 – © Architekturzentrum Wien, Sammlung
House without Rooms, horizontal/vertical section, Drawing, 1974 – © Archiv Raimund Abraham
House without Rooms, horizontal/vertical section, Sketches, 1974 – © Archiv Raimund Abraham
01 | 07
House without Rooms, horizontal/vertical section, 1974 – © Architekturzentrum Wien, Sammlung

12 Groihofer 2011, p.68.

13 Georges Bataille, Inner Experience, New York 1988, p.7.

14 Pierre Macherey, “Sunarken: Foucault / Roussel / Foucault”, in Ölüm ve Labirent, Michel Foucault, Istanbul 2018, p.13.

15 Michel Foucault, Death and the Labyrinth, London 1963, p.115/49.

16 C. Wall-Romana, Cinepoetry:Imaginary Cinemas in French Poetry, New York, 2013, p.68.

17 G. Agamben,“The Dream of Language”, in The End of Poem, Stanford, 1996, p.43-61.

18 Groihofer 2011, p.68.

19 Raimund Abraham, “Negation and Reconciliation”, Perspecta, vol.19, 1982, p.7.

20 Groihofer 2011, p.110.

21 Abraham, Perspecta 1982, p.7.

22 Groihofer 2011, p.132.

23 Dalibor Vesely defines impresa as “a figure of representation that consists of a carefully chosen and structured image together with a short text, both bearing on the same meaning.” Dalibor Vesely, Architecture in The Age of Divided Representation: The Question of Creativity in the Shadow of Production, Cambridge 2004, p.214.

24 Peggy Deamer, “Me, Myself, and I”, in K. Michael Hays (ed.). Hejduk’s Chronotope. New York 1996.

25 Mutlu Konuk Blasing, Lyric Poetry: The Pain and the Pleasure of Words, Princeton 2007.

Un coup de dés

Human figure

Last Abodes of Mankind

Tectonic Notes by Bahar Avanoğlu as poetic subject

Indeed, Abraham’s House Without Rooms (1974) promises to “deny the conquest of habitation”, while “horizons appear tilted, verticalized”. We should definitely not overlook that Abraham’s text on this specific work is in the form a poem, Abraham’s homage to poet Stéphane Mallarmé’s (1842-1898) Le Livre. We may assume this homage as its program; we read: “The fragmented elements of the House, archaic by their own nature, become inseparably compressed within a fragile cosmology, denying the conquest of habitation, unless space is stripped of its Euclidean dimensions.” Reading the poem, observing the drawings, along with the photographs/photomontages showing the model at the backdrop of a barren landscape with solemn clouds, we understand that the house consists of three vertical plates: One of them is the core element with a couple of circular openings, and a couple of strictly small platforms on diverse levels along with a strictly narrow staircase attached to it. The rest is two plates that are, in Abraham’s own words, the “armour of the outer walls” protecting “the inner silence” – “metallic reminiscence of ancient shelters.”12 These outer walls bear a couple of semi spherical and cubical cavities pressed (rather than engraved) into the metallic plate, that in a bizarre way resemble caves on a cliff from inside, and a metallic relief from outside.

Fields of Negative Experience

At this point, without further ado, keeping House Without Rooms in mind, I would like to set forth with a particular discussion in literature that is closely related with Mallarmé and project this discussion upon [Un]built’s understanding of the program as text, namely literature as a field of “negative experience”. It is deeply related with what Georges Bataille (1897-1962) calls as “inner experience”, “a voyage to the end of the possible of man” that comes with the supposition of “the negation of authorities” and of “existing values”, leading to an extreme limit.13 In his introduction to Michel Foucault’s (1926-1984) work on Raymond Roussel (1877-1933), Death and Labyrinth, literary critic Pierre Macherey writes on literature is a negative experience and explains the negativity of this experience as follows: ‘to write’ does not mean to show or to make it appear […] it means to resort to every means to break away […] by an unceasing process of distancing”14 Distancing ourselves from direct referential means of the language, lets the meaning of the word to be undecideable, unclaimed, and not-possessed by anyone – it unfolds a metaphorical and poetic space.  Followingly, the words with double meanings are like janus-headed monsters: while meanings are compressed onto a single word, an endless, unknown oscillation of meanings unfolds. The word itself has a chaotic realm. Macherey emphasizes that this metaphorical space of negative experience is non-occupiable by anyone, whereby the attempts to possess (and describe) the object are doomed to fail.

Distanced from their literal meanings, words transpose into enigmatic images; traces on paper, becoming almost directly images, playful projections of shadows. The words, at this certain point, seem impossible to be pronounced. This yet unspoken condition has been often related with the ethos of silence. In the field of negative experience, the words, in Foucault’s words, collapse into silence. According to Foucault, this silence already exists at the origins of language; “in the depth of this language something remains silent”, he states. Within these depths of language where something remains profoundly mute and silent, language transforms into a merciless machine of transgression: “it is poetic in its roots, as well as in its process of creation by this gigantic machinery which marks the points of indifference between the creation and the destruction, the dawn and the death.”15 This poetic machinery casts “images without words” – which circles me back to House Without Rooms.

Images Without Words and House Without Rooms

The above mentioned reading urges me to put Abraham’s House Without Rooms and Mallarmé’s Un coup de dés side by side. The reminiscence between the armour of the relief walls and the poem’s mise-en-page strikes me in particular. Although any formal analogy should not be fully credited, I feel this reminiscence allows a bizarre reflection between the two – perhaps similar to the 16th century analogical correspondences made between a plant and an organ. Un coup de dés points to Mallarmé’s emphasis on the importance of the page as an inherent part of the poem. “Paper intervenes each time an image”, and violates the regular order of words.16 More precisely, he writes: “Words rise up unaided and in ecstasy; many a facet reveals its infinite rarity and is precious to our mind. For our mind is the center of this hesitancy and oscillation; it sees the words not in their usual order, but in projection (like the walls of a cave), so long as that mobility which is their principle lives on, that part of speech which is not spoken.”17 As words are distanced to their regular order by the intervention of the paper in Un coup de dés, we may see that in House Without Rooms, the un-occupiable (the wall) intervenes with the regular order of the seemingly occupied stations, distancing all the elements of the house from their regular order. The wall in House Without Rooms as the paper in Un coup de dés acts as the intervener and transforms into the unexpectedly integral part of the house. The wall is not just a divider between the spaces, as the paper is not just a sheet holding the words.

The wall is also responsible for the tectonic compression of the space: The space in House Without Rooms, is extremely verticalized – (one could say the space is the wall itself) - making the habitation of the space almost impossible, allowing almost only a mobile state of occupation: Ascent, descent, suspension in the compressed space, … unclaiming any kind of possession of space in the traditional sense. The compression seems to disorient the space, in such a manner that we may see the human figure in a horizontal position in the vertical section and in a vertical position in the horizontal section (the plan). This spatial compression does not happen only physically but also mentally. If we remind ourselves of the above-mentioned definition of the House Without Rooms, we remember that he mentions that there is an “inseparable compression” of “the fragmented elements of the House” “within a fragile cosmology”. This appears to me to hint at the versatile compression of elements, that unables us to define them either as the room, the window, or the door…, making the elements oscillate between a variety of meanings. Indeed, we read about this particular architectural condition in Abraham’s words as follows: “The Elements become the House itself, transformed into simultaneous projections of Room, Window, Wall, Sky, Earth, Stair, Door. And within this total fusion of objects and sensations, bodies are transmuted into forms.”18 This compression and oscillation that comes with it, sets the metaphorical space of the negative experience, where meanings are left undecided. On one hand we may have ‘images without words’. On the other, we may have a ‘house without rooms’, or ‘architectures without buildings’.

Denial of the Conquest of Habitation

As I mentioned earlier, ‘house’ is the sixth element among Abraham’s fragmentary notes. The conflict within the idea of a house that “denies the conquest of habitation” is notably curious. About the imaginary houses that he has worked on over decades almost as an obsession, he states that he responds to the “archetypal ritual of dwelling”: Among his houses, we see Earth-Cloud House, House with Curtains, House with a Permanent Shadow, House with Three Rooms, House with Two Halves, House with Two Horizons, and perhaps most notably House for Euclid, Loci Ultimi. I would like to draw attention to the metaphoric particularity of these houses as they all appear to be non-resident-friendly.

Although most of them seems to be located on extremely barren, endless landscapes, is it possible to assume that they are completely isolated from the humankind? Perhaps, we may not easily assume that these houses are isolated, both latently and openly. Abraham is intrigued by the question of the absence of humankind, but he rather chooses to point out the dialectical confrontation between its presence and its absence.19 In Last Abodes of Mankind, we see a what appears to be a homeless person sleeping with a packaging cardboard partially wrapped around his/her body. It is the same figure that we see in the atlas of images attached to the fragmentary notes (this time, the figure is on a sidewalk). Who might they be, if not residents or users owning a property?

This question is difficult to deal with. I would like to start with a continued speculative reflection of the negative experience onto this question. As the meaning remains undecideable and unclaimed, and as the meaning cannot be decoded by a certain writer nor a single reader, architecture also liberates itself from any legitimization by the authorized users or architects. Relatedly, Abraham questions whether a pedestrian should be coded as a person who walks on the sidewalk to find her/his way: “The question is not how well a pedestrian precinct has been designed. Rather, the question is what the program of the pedestrian precinct actually signifies. The question is how the existential dimension of human beings has been reduced to the dimension of a pedestrian. The formal consequence is not important. There are programs which are deeply rooted in the urban structure, such as the Städtebilder by Walter Benjamin. He says that ‘it does not mean a great deal if you don’t find your way around in a city. But it requires some training to get lost in a city the way you get lost in a forest.’”20

Who is the pedestrian yearning to get lost in the city? Who is the person lying on ground in Abraham’s Loci Ultimi? I believe that these figures are closely related with architecture’s project of desire and memory; and that this question of the figures in Abraham’s works should not be discussed only in a level of the textual subject. In other words, we should not restrict ourselves to the people directly referred to in the works, or rely on a strictly direct autobiographical ground. We might see, read about, feel or sense the “I”(s), “she”(s), “he”(s) or “they”(s) of the works. However, should the “I” of the drawing necessarily refer to the architect, or the Other? Can we claim to know the Others? Relying on my on-going discussion, I am urged to think that there is yet another unknown poetic compression in work: a compression of subjects to an undecideable poetic subject that cannot be claimed by anyone.

The Question of the Poetic Subject

We might see the hints of this poetic compression of the subjects in Abraham’s repetitive use of the same lying figure, both in In Anticipation of Architecture and Loci Ultimi. This lying figure seems to transform into an enigmatic image of the “archetypal existence”21 of humankind, a reflective correspondent of the architectural compression. However, we should probably note again that this figure is not just one particular figure nor an anonymous figure representing the mass.

We might further discuss that this compression also happens in such a level, that the poetic subject becomes inseparable from architecture itself. In the poem that Abraham wrote for his work The Hospital: The House of Hope, Houses of Birth, Houses of No Return (1980), he quotes Franz Kafka: “Prometheus, goaded by the pain of the tearing beaks, pressed himself deeper and deeper into the rock until he became one with it.”22 At this point, I think we should again be careful not to picture this condition of compression as a homogeneous uniformity between architectural design and the people. This uniformity would lead us back to an understanding in which architecture guides and shapes the people, or in which architecture is directly formed by people’s needs. I believe that this strong compression hints rather at an inseparable archetypal image, or a spiritual impresa,23 an intense metaphoric relation between an idea and an image.

We may remind ourselves of Abraham’s particular interest in the carvings in stone as the beginning of architecture, Abraham’s radical comprehension of drawing as an embodied construction, and his comprehension of the line as the cut into a body through the realm of signs. The uncanny, yet strongly imaginate reminiscence between Prometheus pressing himself deeper into the rock and the drawing as the carvings in stone is striking. Through this analogical reflection, the image of Prometheus pressing himself into the rock transforms into the image of the line that is cut into a body. I believe that this strong analogy between the act of drawing/cutting a line into a body and the act of pressing your own body into the rock points at a mnemonic and desirous marking (on the site, on people, or on images) left through an architectural act. This architectural act is highly metaphorical that the act of drawing transforms into an associative compression of manifold acts of engraving, pressure, cutting. These markings do not necessarily leave a visible cut in the body but certainly provide of a spiritual trace. They are immediate, but always distancing themselves from the referential and thus delaying and preventing the possession of meaning. Within this mechanism, I believe that the poetic subject and architecture transform into the alchemists of each other – spiritually and tectonically inseparable from one another.

Lastly, I would like to especially speculate on the possible compression of us - the readers of the work - onto these poetic subjects. As we assume that Abraham’s works could be regarded as poems, the question of the reader becomes essential. Peggy Deamer critically points out that the reader is structurally embedded in the architecture of Abraham’s long-time colleague at the Cooper Union, the poet-architect John Hejduk (1929-2000) and writes that we are encountered with “[…] the possibility that architecture might function not on the traditional axis of architectural meaning – building to user – but on an alternate axis of ‘me’ and ‘you’.”24 I believe that this kind of a structural embedment of the reader is also valid for Abraham’s works.

However, I think that it is essential to discuss the reader as an ambiguous, undecideable poetic subject. The reader as a poetic subject is not an irrelavant question in poems, especially when lyric poems are concerned. In the context of lyric poems, the pronoun ‘I’ is transformed into an anachronistic, ambiguous condition through the recitation or the reading of the poem, whereby it is impossible to define the reciter as a passive reader dubbing the lines of the author, nor the recitation as a mimetic act.25 Each reading creates variegated coexistences of ‘I’s of different spatio-temporalities transforming the lyric ‘I’ into a poetic subject.

I believe that the act of ‘reading’ Abraham’s works (visually, internally or in any other ways) partakes in this afore-mentioned poetic compression, initiates an even more comprehensive oscillation of meanings including the reader. The reader as the poetic subject, is in this way inseparable from architecture; and I believe that this compression is able to create an intense alchemical oscillation making architecture happen without any fulfilment into a building. Although [Un]Built marks a period of time that is not so distant from today, its ambitions might be considered to be outdated from certain aspects. However, I believe that there is a critical significance in approaching this constellation of works not only from a purely historical perspective. [Un]Built, then and still, questioning the measures given to conventional experience in architecture, unfolds other conditions of experience in anticipation of architecture, that demonstrate an enigmatic obscurity and that are quite difficult to comprehend. Although these poetic conditions cannot be justified under conventional terms, I believe that this incomprehensible spiritual affiliation and poetic compression are quite vital in architecture, preventing architecture from being reduced to a utilitarian possession. It reminds us of the precious moments of drawing, as a moment of fracture into the paper, as a moment of an immersion of the poetic subject into the paper, and as the moment of becoming the drawing itself.

*This article is based on my introductory essay for Şiir/Mimarlık: Binanın İhlali (İstanbul: İletişim Yayınları, 2021). I would like to thank Christoph Ramisch, İpek Avanoğlu and Nizam Onur Sönmez for their comments.

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9/26/2023Randa A. Mahmoud

Lost in Gourna

Hassan Fathy was brilliant and visionary, but an early project was strongly rejected by its residents. Randa A. Mahmoud studied Gourna to get behind the paradox of Egypt's Great Architect. read
23/09
Lost in Gourna
Article 23/08
8/29/2023Grisi Ganzer

Pandora's Boxes

Grisi Ganzer’s report on the collaboration on the German Pavilion for the Venice Architecture Biennale features his impressions and experiences building a bar counter for the Pandora Culture Centre. read
23/08
Pandora's Boxes
Article 23/07
7/27/2023Bart Lootsma

Diffusions

Text-based AI generates realistic images of diffuse origin. Imperfect and open-ended, they irritate our aesthetic sensibilities and change the entire visual culture. read
23/07
Diffusions
Article 23/06
6/28/2023Denis Andernach

Andernach's Houses

Free of constraints, Denis Andernach draws his houses as pure architectures in abandoned landscapes. He unites elementary forms with imagined purposes. read
23/06
Andernach's Houses
Article 23/05
5/24/2023Pedro Gadanho

Learning from Hippie Modernism

An environmental avant-garde grew out of the resistance against the post-war society of the late 1960s. While their efforts were derided as esoteric, time has come to learn from their approaches. read
23/05
Hippie Modernism
Article 23/04
4/27/2023Giacomo Pala

Pineapple Modernity

The intersection of globalization and modernity: the pineapple and the emergence of a new architectural paradigm since the 18th century. read
23/04
Pineapple Modernity
Article 23/03
3/29/2023Claudia Kromrei

Case come noi

An island, three writers and three houses in which they lived, loved and worked. In Capri's idyll, the buildings unfold the personality of their builders and stage their self-absorption. read
23/03
Case come noi
Article 23/02
2/23/2023Bahar Avanoğlu

[Un]built

Separating "unbuilt" architecture from the one "not built", Raimund Abraham's oeuvre is a vital reminder of architecture as a work of memory and desire and as an independent art of building the [Un]built. read
23/02
[Un]built
Article 23/01
1/18/2023Wolfgang Bachmann

New Land

An excursion into an unknown area: In his travelogue about Lusatia, Wolfgang Bachmann speaks of official GDR stage scenery,, West German-influenced reappraisal – and Baroque splendour. read
23/01
New Land
Article 22/07
11/23/2022Bettina Köhler

Liebe du Arsch!*

Can one discard buildings? Can one overcome ignorance and greed? Does love help? Bettina Köhler’s answer to these questions is “yes” in her investigation of beauty as the custodian of durability. read
22/07
Liebe du Arsch!*
Article 22/06
10/19/2022Fala

Fala meets Siza

Fala and Álvaro Siza are bound by origins but separated by age. In a personal encounter, the 89-year-old Pritzker Prize winner talks about that which is still reflected in Fala's own work today. read
22/06
Fala meets Siza
Article 22/05
9/22/2022Anna Beeke

Trailer Treasures

Within mobile home parks, Anna Beeke encounters a clear desire for individualized place. In her photographs she shows how prefabricated units are the same, but different. read
22/05
Trailer Treasures
Article 22/04
8/20/2022Mario Rinke

Open Meta-landscapes

Mario Rinke pleads for supporting structures that are not conceived for a use, but out of the place. In these meta-landscapes, architectures can occur episodically. read
22/04
Open Meta-landscapes
Article 22/03
7/1/2022Virginia de Diego
caption

Reductio ad absurdum

Through deliberate destruction a former bunker can be preserved. Its relevance is created out ouf its absurdity. read
22/03
Reductio ad absurdum
Article 22/02
7/1/2022Jerome BeckerMatthias Moroder

The balance of chaos and structure

In conversation with Jerome Becker and Matthias Moroder, Marc Leschelier emphasises his aversion to functionalism and stresses the importance of architecture as a form of expression. read
22/02
Chaos and Structure
Article 22/01
7/1/2022Gerrit Confurius
Teatro di Marcello, Rom, Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778), ca. 1757

Permanence as a principle

Gerrit Confurius recalls the end of the printed edition of Daidalos and recommends the principle of permanence as a strategy for the future tasks of architecture as well. read
22/01
Permanence as a principle
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