Architectures of Hiding

Ramon Rispoli

Concealed behind Transparencies. A Closer Look at Architecture’s Hidden Performativity.

In his doctoral dissertation, the architect and theorist Andrés Jaque used the example of the Barcelona Pavilion by Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969) to make a case for a performative conception of architecture. Just like gender for Judith Butler, architectures for Jaque are performative inasmuch as they keep reproducing themselves over time: their appearance as stable and unchanging entities is nothing but the result of an ongoing process that, quite paradoxically, hides itself by repeating itself over and over again. The Pavilion’s reflecting pool must be cleaned periodically, the iconic red curtains must be replaced over time, any degradation agent must be kept at a distance. It might be said, somehow, that architecture presents itself as the quintessential “art of space” by removing time from sight.

Following Jaque’s argument, also other common assumptions regarding modern architecture come into question. “To live in a glass house – Walter Benjamin (1892-1940) wrote in 1929, just while the original Pavilion was being built - is a revolutionary virtue par excellence. It is a moral exhibitionism we badly need.” In contrast to the introverted bourgeois world, Benjamin celebrated the inherent transparency of modern architecture, in which he saw a metaphor of brand new ethical and political horizons: “there was nothing to hide,” as the new architectural aesthetics seemed to express. However, modern architectures are by no means transparent, their renowned “transparency” being the result – as already seen – of multiple and repeated acts of concealment.

The image of “timeless Architectures” is continuously reperformed also in the field of knowledge production, i.e. architectural theory, history and critique. Hegemonic narratives – still deeply imbued with Western metaphysics – keep looking at buildings as ageless works of art, programmatically excluding whatever does not fit into the picture: the spatial and temporal framework in which they are inscribed, the many and everchanging ways in which they are acted out by their users, the role that other actors (beside the architect) play in their production and reproduction over time. What does it entail to visualize what is hidden behind “Architecture”? This contribution will try to shed further light upon the aesthetic and political potential of such acts of unfolding.

Keywords: architecture, performativity, transparency, concealment

DR. RAMON RISPOLI holds a PhD in history of architecture and urbanism from the Politecnico di Torino (Italy). He is currently associate professor at the Department of Architecture of the University of Naples Federico II (Italy). His research interests focus on theory of contemporary architecture and design, with particular interest in their aesthetic and political dimensions. He authored two monographies, as well as articles and essays published in academic journals and edited books. He took part in several international conferences and seminars and was awarded with research fellowships in institutions such as the Canadian Centre for Architecture (Montréal) and the Getty Research Institute (Los Angeles).