If architecture today can be said to be witnessing a paradigm shift similar to what took place between modernism and postmodernism in the 60s and 70s of the last century, how is it possible to understand the nature of that shift and where it might be going? There are many explanations of what happened in the past in the time of such shifts; one of those explanations concerns a term used by the Russian formalist Victor Shklovsky called “baring the device.” The critic Rosalind Krauss used this term to help explain how one might understand any such future shifts. What Krauss argues is that within any paradigm there appear anachronistic manifestations that logically don’t quite fit into the then-existing paradigm, which in fact are, in retrospect, the signals for a future paradigm. For example, she cites the linguistic model that had no logical relationship to the formal model of the modern, but its presence was accepted at the end of the modernist paradigm in the 1960s. This linguistic model was destined to become the underpinning for the postmodernist paradigm.
Krauss’ argument, initially following from Shklovsky, is that the device is something that inhibits a direct transparent representation between a sign and its object. This inhibition dams up transparency and forces a kind of opacity on the object. Because of this opacity, the attention is shifted from mimetic representation to the experience of the being of the object. As Krauss writes, “to force the viewer to encounter the picture as first of all a flat object is for the painter what Shklovsky’s ‘baring of the device’ is for the writer.” This damming up supposedly reveals the cognitive ordering, the inner structure and workings of an object. But as Krauss points out, this inherency of the device to the object was perhaps only true of the modernist paradigm. As modernism began to shift, it was realized that many times these devices were the early signals of a shifting paradigm. This seminar will attempt to uncover the nature of such devices in architecture, whether as diagrams or some other form of cognitive ordering. The argument will be that such ordering is necessary, no matter the style, site, or program, for something to be called architecture.
This seminar will involve readings, writing, and drawing in a weekly format. There will be four distinct periods of study in the seminar – pre-modern, modern, postmodern, and contemporary paradigm shift – and we will analyze devices from these four periods as three different traits:
- inherent to the paradigm
- signaling a shift
- false precursors
The theoretical basis will be to elaborate each successive operation of the device. Using analytic drawings, each week each student will find a single device in an existing building that would serve to identify one of the three traits mentioned above in each of the four periods.