The Ruins of Representation Christian Hubert, 1981.

"Of Exactitude in Science"


...In that Empire, the craft of Cartography attained such perfection that the Map of a Single province covered the space of an entire City, and the Map of the Empire itself an entire Province. In the course of Time, these Extensive maps were found somehow wanting, and so the College of Cartographers evolved a Map of the Empire that was of the same Scale as the Empire and that coincided with it point for point. Less attentive to the Study of Cartography, succeeding Generations came to judge a map of such Magnitude cumbersome, and, not without Irreverence, they abandoned it to the Rigors of sun and Rain. In the western Deserts, tattered Fragments of the Map are still to be found, Sheltering an occasional Beast or beggar; in the whole Nation, no other relic is left of the Discipline of Geography.

From Travels of Praiseworthy Men (1958)
J. A. Suarez Miranda



The errors of those ancient Cartographers are, of course, clear. These enormous maps were no more exact than their predecessors, for size and scale are not to be confused. Nor could these ever more cumbersome objects hope to substitute themselves for the Empire, despite an unacknowledged desire to do so. Mountains, rivers and cities would never spring forth from them. Like written texts, they would always remain flat sheets with marks inscribed, representations of the Empire, never substitutes. Perhaps those scholars would have been wiser to have built models rather than maps. They might have created an analogical Empire, a replica fit for kings, not just for beggars and beasts (fig 1.) Thereafter, if some calamity should befall the original, the site of the Empire could simply be transposed. In retrospect, their discipline might be called Architecture.
Aldo Rossi, "Teatrino Scientifico" 1978

The domain of inhabitable objects that architecture claims as its own finds its first intimation in the model. The model purports to present architecture, not represent it. Unlike the signs of language, whose signification is primarily a matter of arbitrary convention, the relation of the model to its referent appears motivated, in the sense that it attempts to emulate or approximate it. The adequacy of the model is defined by resemblance. In Charles Peirce's terms, the model is an iconic sign, directly resembling its referent by sharing its characteristics. Its colors and proportions are identical to those of its referent, and, most importantly, it is a three-dimensional object. Furthermore, the scalar relation, because of its mathematical character, does not appear as arbitrary convention but as necessary rule. If buildings are thought to be the ultimate referents for architecture, then the model could be thought of as its semi-fictional account. The fact that the model must be built reinforces its claim to motivation. While its materials may differ, the models fabrication itself becomes a form of surrogate building which serves to explicate the workings of architectural drawings by translating them into three-dimensional form. In this manner, the model is a sort of test of the design (fig. 3).


Bramante model for the Pavia Cathedral, 1488.

The construction and possible deconstruction of the model have the capacity to clarify attributes of the composition or the assembly of building elements. The craft of building models may be seen as the displacement and condensation of the craft of building, an attempt to recover the aura of the work by fetishizing the facticity of surrogate objects. Model-making might be seen as playing the role that stone cutting previously played in the education of architects -- their first tectonic marks upon material as these are inscribed into the history of building (fig. 2).
Guiliano Romano, Palazzo del Te, 1526-1534.
Analytical model by Janine Centuori and Evan Douglis. Fourth Year Studio, the Cooper Union, 1980.

Perhaps the model concretizes the ontic condition of the project. It exists as desire -- in a kind of atopia, if not utopia. It holds out the promise of inhabitation, even it does not fully afford it. The poignancy of a collection of Ledoux models constituting an ideal but unrealized "city", of John Hejduk's series of models for the unbuilt Bye House, conflating the progression of the design with the anticipation of its own ruin, underscores the model's condition of being just outside the limits of building.

For the space of the model lies on the border between representation and actuality. Like the frame of a painting, it demarcates a limit between the work and what lies beyond. And like the frame, the model is neither wholly inside nor wholly outside, neither pure representation nor transcendent object. It claims a certain autonomous objecthood, yet this condition is always incomplete. The model is always a model of. The desire of the model is to act as a simulacrum of another object, as a surrogate which allows for imaginative inhabitation.

The "desire" of the model is perhaps most explicit in photographs of models which are virtually indistinguishable from photographs of buildings. The intervention of another form of seemingly motivated representation -- namely photography -- reinforces the claim to verisimilitude. But the truth of the model does not lie in its referential nature since as simulacrum the model denies the possibilities of its own autonomous objecthood and establishes the building as the ultimate referent, as a reality beyond representation.

It is perhaps an articulation of representation itself which seeks a resuscitation of a "reality" beyond the limits of the sign. In Jean Baudrillard's words, "The sign is haunted by the nostalgia for overcoming its own convention, that of being arbitrary. It is haunted by the idea of total motivation. It aims at the real as its beyond and abolition. But it cannot jump over its own shadow: this real is produced and reproduced by the sign itself. It is only its horizon. Reality is the fantasy by which the sign protects itself indefinitely from the deconstruction that haunts it."

Moreover, to think of buildings themselves as only referents, as pure objects, is to overlook their own participation in a process of vision and of language. Buildings too can be seen as representational. To understand a building as a concatenation of similar motifs at different scales -- as in a Palladian church facade, is to apply the same mode of representational reading to buildings as is applied to models. The building may become imprinted with the traces of its own representation. Peter Eisenman's "cardboard architecture" or the buildings of Michael Graves or Aldo Rossi come to represent their own representations. They are at once pictures and buildings.

It is in this reverse current of representation that the architectural capacities of the model come into play, exposing architecture's claims to verisimilitude as based on seeming motivated relationships, on a realism of objects in relation to their meanings and of representation to reality. Peter Eisenman has consistently sought to subvert the workings of representation. Reversing the tricks of model photography, Eisenman emphasized the cardboard qualities of his earlier houses (fig. 5). His recent axonometric models expose the conventions of axonometric drawing by translating them literally into three-dimensional form. The reading of a building as a model or a model as a drawing denies the epistemological fantasies of an architecture that postulates both an object and its adequate representation as its origin or end. Eisenman's deconstructive strategy puts object, process, and representation in unending play.
Peter Eisenman, House 2, Hardwick, VT, 1968.

The play between representation and objecthood has also been of explicit interest in Modernist painting and sculpture. Much of the richness of Modernist pictorial experience lies in our perception of the tensions between the actuality of the work as an object and its representational readings -- between paint and picture -- or else between the object and the artistic activity, as ironically described in Jasper John's "Fool's House" (fig. 4.) Following the directions indicated by Picasso's guitar, which translated Cubist syntax into actual space (fig. 6), a number of works have situated themselves of the bounds of pictorialism and objecthood, locating the concerns of art at a crossroads of painting, sculpture, and architecture.


left: Jasper Johns, Fool's House, 1962. right: Pablo Picasso, Guitar, 1912.

In the planar constructions of Russian avant-garde art, for example, the discovery of the surface and objecthood of painting intersects with the investigation of the pictorial nature of the wall to open a space in which the visual and the physical maintain an uneasy balance. This planar dimension might be considered similar to the space of the model. In Ivan Puni's relief (fig. 7), a Cubist pictorial syntax becomes a redundant supplement to actual physical form. But the shallow space of the relief and the composition of the construction are themselves spatial translations of developments in avant-garde painting. In this meeting-space of actuality and representation (which is, incidentally, flattened and obscured by photography), the most ideal conception coexists with an affirmation of the absolute materiality of the object. It allows ideas to become models. As in collage, the real becomes, to some extent, representational, and the representational real.
El Lissitzky's Proun Room (fig. 8) and Piet Mondrian's studio (fig. 9) might then be considered full-scale models, responding perhaps to Suarez Miranda's criteria. They announce a new relationship between painting, sculpture, and architecture, in which works of art are no longer contained within exhibition spaces but become continuous with them.

left: El Lissitzky, Prounroom, Berlin, 1923. right top: El Lissitzky axonometric drawing
Reconstruction 1979: S. Guggenheim Museum right bottom: Piet Mondrian, Paris Studio, 1926.


The stage is another privileged locus for a convergence between actual and representational space. Scenography is one of the margins of architecture in which the bounds between picture and object are effaced, and this conjunction might also afford us some understanding of the workings of the model. In the Teatro Olympico (figs. 10.11), built to the designs of Palladio and Scamozzi, the spaces of illusion, of classical recall, and of actuality are united through perspective, and the theater and the city are integrated as two aspects of a single paradigm. The Teatro constitutes a strategy for the renovation of the city, through an introspective transformation of the city into a theater. Once within the theater, the frons scenae opens up onto a "street scene" in which perspectival representation literalizes a realm lying somewhere between actuality and illusion. This, perhaps, is the space of the model. The street scene can be entered, yet its recession is rapidly foreshortened, so that its representational perspectivalism is destroyed by the intrusion of the subject.

left: Andrea Palladio and Vincenzo Scamozzi, Teatro Olympico, Vicenza 1579-1585 model
center: view of theater. right: Aldo Rossi, Teatro del Mondo. Venice Biennale, 1979-1980.


Palladio's theater finds a contemporary counterpart in Rossi's floating theater in Venice, which transforms the city into theater (fig. 12). In this case, the Teatro del Mondo is a full-scale model, but a model nonetheless: its juxtaposition with the church of Santa Maria della Salute underscores its representational relationship to the city, and while it is large enough to contain plays inside it, its real stage is clearly outside. As a smaller scale, Rossi's Teatrino Scientifico (frontispiece) returns the city to the space of the model. Within the theater there is an implied continuity between the foreground "models" of the Galaratese and the receding backdrop of the Modena cemetery. This exemplifies that preoccupation with the nature of representation in drawings, models, and buildings which is Rossi's obsessive concern. Rossi's work continuously presents and represents. His analogical enterprise, like Surrealism, juxtaposes the "real" and the imaginary, allowing for a continual interplay, a constant substitution. And like Surrealism, his work foils any attempt to find a resting point in the real.

Yet the classical theater has a tradition of posing as a simulacrum of reality, in which the theater's theatricality lies in its play for the spectator, in its demand for willing suspension of disbelief without disclosing its fictional nature. At the most recent Venice Biennale, entitled The Presence of the Past, the theatrical capacities of the model and its potential for historical mystification were only occasionally subverted by the model's critical potential. The Strada Novissima purported to represent both the urban interventions of the Renaissance -- as in the Strada Nuova in Genoa -- and their theatrical counterparts -- as in the Teatro Olympico. But in this confusion of City and Theater, "history" repeats tragedy in the form of farce. Like the recent repetition of the Chicago Tribune Competition, the "Postmodern" nostalgia underlying this exhibition glorified the lulling promise of the simulacrum. The Strada Novissima, built by the technicians of Cinecittà, was a triumph of scenographic delusion.

Leon Krier's insistence upon real materials in his segment can be seen as the most deluded of all in its denial of the inherent representationalism of the model. On the other hand, the suspension of disbelief insisted on by Krier was undermined in Hans Hollein's sardonic exploitation of the dual capacity of the model as both object and representation. Loos's Tribune Tower proposal of 1922 parodied the iconographic and proportional problems of the skyscraper by identifying them with those of the "primary sign" of architecture, the column. Hollein's "quotation" of Loos (fig. 13) is a scale model of the skyscraper which also happens to be the size of a column. It situates the history of architecture within a broken syntagm, between nature and culture, and like Loos, makes denial the strongest affirmation.


In the world of Borgesian imagination, Suarez Miranda turns out to be as much of a fiction as the Empire he visited. Borges' quotation is finally revealed as a "quotation," a writing ironically disguised as reading. Through this oblique device Borges reminds us of our own demands for a history whose problematic is not so different from the model. A history permeated by nostalgia, which seeks to recuperate the lost origin of architecture, can only succeed in denying the conditions of its own making. Like the theater and the simulacrum, it can only demand the suspension of our disbelief in order to distract and compensate for the loss of a genuine sense of historicity. It seeks to deny its own presence by a mystification in the name of the real, and proposes history as a book, open for perusal and quotation, without admitting that history is in the writing.