The received history of architecture is marked by ruptures, when architecture fundamentally changes in response to—or in the service of—new cultural paradigms, such as classical high styles, or mannerist manipulations of these styles. For example, the distilled clarity of high modernism, which was the high style of the twentieth century, gave way to a formalism devoid of a social ideology, tending toward the eccentric forms of the latter half of the twentieth century. History often overlooks, however, those moments in which there is neither a recognizable avant-garde, nor a reigning high style and its mannerist re-capitulation. It is possible that the model of linear, historical evolution can be problematized by other temporal models. Following on the observations of Edward Said and Theodor Adorno, one such temporal model might be described as “lateness.”
There seem to be two ways to think about lateness. First, as a late style that emerges towards the end of an artists’ career. This attributes lateness to a biographical subjectivity, a certain confidence that allows an artist to prioritize expression over convention. This stance is challenged by Adorno, who provides a second reading of lateness through his analysis of Beethoven’s late works. For Adorno lateness is “incapable of being subsumed under the concept of expression.” Beethoven’s late works move away from the capricious use of anomaly and towards a use of convention that fractures conventional motifs such that the fragments do not become mere aberrations, but rather crystallized representations of convention scattered throughout the work. Convention is not transformed, it remains in the work, albeit splintered and displaced. If subjectivity emerges, it is in a contentious relation with convention, such that from that tension, emerges the formal law by which late works are constituted. The outcome is work that sustains tension, that binds together what strives to break apart while stubbornly resisting resolution. As Said writes, lateness “is in, but oddly apart from the present.” It is work outside of time.
Lateness, as opposed to late style, is a mode of temporal resistance that has an internal structural dimension with disciplinary implications. A late work can appear at any historical moment, but it is at those moments during which a dominant paradigm begins to lose its structural tenability that lateness emerges not as an aberrant artistic style, but as a capacity to register the unspoken contradictions within that paradigm. As such, lateness does not consist of negation, or of a rejection of the present. Late works are recalcitrant, “they show more traces of history than of growth,” writes Adorno. Yet they become the seeds of the new.
Today, the present of architecture seems anything but linear. A search for lateness is a resistance to the linear evolution of art, and may hold not only the seeds of a new architecture, but the unfolding of an emerging temporality. Most discourses around the modern deal with space. This course, however, would like to deal with a temporal phenomenon. Following Adorno’s study of Beethoven, students will study moments of fracture within the architectural discipline, ultimately asking: what is lateness in space.
This seminar will involve readings and drawing in a weekly format. The first three weeks will be dedicated to studying scholarship on lateness, beginning with the seminal text “Late Style in Beethoven,” by Theodor Adorno. Class discussion will center around discerning the nature of lateness, using models from literature, music, and painting. The rest of the semester will be divided into five distinct periods – Pre-modern, Modern, Post-Modern, Digital, Contemporary – in which students will be asked to select architectural works from each period and analyze them through drawing in order to find characteristics of lateness.
Assignments will take the form of analytic drawings. Students will analyze and draw buildings of their own choosing, dissecting them in search of signs of lateness. They will be expected to present these drawings in class, articulate the definition of lateness they are working with, and identify the architectural devices that produce that reading.
Part I: Pre-Modern
The pre-modern era was characterized by eclecticism and revivalist styles. Yet the tension between these various styles was paired with a desire to innovate with new materials and structural methods. If late style operates as a hinge between what has come before and what is yet to come, the tendency in this era to look forward and backward could provide some clues to the nature of late style.
Part II: Modernism
Clement Greenberg argues that the origin of Modernism was not a break with the past, but rather a crisis about convention. He argues that the romanticism preceding modernism had been drawing from the past in a superficial mode, pushing the idea of standards and conventions into a crisis point. Innovation became a way to renew the use of convention and to return to precision. If Modern works looked radical in form and appearance, it was not due to a zeal for innovation, but rather, as Adorno argues in Late Style in Beethoven, to free convention from subjectivity. Given that late works are often the seeds of the new, this section of the course will explore proto-Modernism in order to question whether what is late and what is new can co-exist within a single hinge point in time.
Eventually, Modernism evolved into a high style. The later stages of Modernism, however, began to exhibit traces of deviance and disciplinary fracture. The students’ task in this section will be to uncover works that not only deviate from new standards established by Modernism, but that register the contradictions of those same standards.
Part III: Post-Modernism
While there is much debate among architectural historians about the relationship between modernism and post-modernism, it is possible that lateness could be a lens through which the linear interpretation of architectural history is disturbed. As post-modernism fractured the high style of modernism, was it capable of producing work outside of time? Given that contemporary architecture is very different both from Modernism and post-modernism, did post-modernism, rather the producing the seeds of the new produce the seeds of disciplinary fragmentation?
Part IV: The Digital
The digital era has been marked with disciplinary uncertainty. Aesthetic trends have emerged without becoming ‘high styles.’ Parametricism, as a new way of generating form, implies a break with what came before it. Is the digital late relative to its historical context? Or is it late because it exhibits the formal properties of lateness – formal fragmentation and a resistance to resolution? Might the concept of lateness be useful in navigating the role of the digital in contemporary architectural thought?
Part V: Lateness Today
This section of the course will be highly speculative, drawing from discussions, analyses, and findings from the previous weeks. Students will be asked to analyze contemporary architectural works while using the lessons of lateness to theorize the state of contemporary architecture.