“For what made function any more <<real>> a source of imagery than elements chosen from antiquity?” – Peter Eisenman
Best known by projecting the Holocaust Memorial, Peter Eisenman is also an important deconstructivist theorist. In his article “The end of the classical” published in 1984, he makes a profound and sharp analysis of the modernism to think what would replace it. In his analysis he identifies three great architectonic fictions perpetuated by the modernists and this text is about the first of them, the fiction of representation.
Eisenman begin with the renaissance’s architecture which, inspired in classic models, used them as base in a way that their meaning in the present was derived from the buildings of the past. For this reason Eisenman claims that the first fiction, even if involuntary, comes from the renaissance, because their works we simulations of previous projects, therefore, fictions of a meaningful architecture.
“Modern architecture claimed to rectify and liberate itself from the Renaissance fiction of representation by asserting that it was not necessary for architecture to represent another architecture; architecture was solely to embody its own function. With the deductive conclusion that form follows function, modern architecture introduced the idea that a building should express– that is, look like– its function, or like and idea of function.”
However, an essential question:
“For what made function any more <<real>> a source of imagery than elements chosen from antiquity?”
The attempt of using function to transmit the message of utility would be the same fiction of the renaissance using the classical to give meaning to their works, says Eisenman. The modernist architecture would be then, and yet, still a simulation, even if using a new vocabulary, because its meaning came from outside, the building being only a representation of the meaning.
“Functionalism turned out to be yet another stylistic conclusion, this one based on a scientific and technical positivism, a simulation of efficiency. From this perspective the modern movement can be seen to be continuous with the architecture that preceded it.
For in trying to reduce architectural form to tis essence, to a pure reality, the moderns assumed they were transforming the field of referential figuration to that of non-referential <<objectivity.>> In reality, however, their <<objective>> form never left the classical tradition. They were simply stripped down classical forms, or forms referring to a new set of givens (function, technology). Thus, Le Corbusier’s houses that look like modern steamships or biplanes exhibit the same referential attitude toward representation as a Renaissance or <<classical>> building. The points of reference are different, but the implications for the object are the same.”
Thus the modernist choice trapped them in the very place they wanted to leave, history:
“The commitment to return modernist abstraction to history seems to sum up, for out time, the problem of representation. It was given its << Post-Modern>> inversion in Robert Venturi’s distinction between the <<duck>> and the <<decorated shed.>> […] In this sense the stripped-down <<abstractions>> of modernism are still referential objects: technological rather than typological ducks.”
By subverting one the most popular adages of architecture, Peter Eisenman make it clear that there’s no obligatory connection between form and function as the modernism made us believe. At light of the deconstructivist critic, it’s interesting to go back to another areas of knowledge, like the minimalist movement, and analyze the use and the objective of the forms.