Chora 3: Intervals in the Philosophy of Architecture 

Edited by Alberto Pérez-Gómez and Stephen Parcell 
Montreal: Published for the History and Theory of Architecture Graduate Program, McGill University by McGill-Queen's University Press, 1999.


The essays in the third volume of the CHORA series continue to explore diverse historical and critical architectural issues. The articles are driven by a genuine desire to seek architectural alternatives to simplistic models based on concepts of aesthetics, technology, or sociology. In their refreshing, interdisciplinary readings of our architectural tradition, these essays explore the expanded field of architecture. In the absence of a living architectural tradition, these “stories for the future” reveal possibilities in places often ignored by conventional historiography and positivistic epistemology. While avoiding the dangerous delusions of absolute, transparent truth, and logocentric power represented by History, they recognize the need for histories in architectural discourse.

In a world increasingly reduced to electronic impulses, architecture finds itself in a precarious situation. To redefine architecture’s role in perpetuating human culture, architectural practice requires an effective architectural discourse. The conversation can no longer be shaped by the traditional discourse of metaphysics or theology, nor by science’s specialized theories. While the architect’s work is unquestionably a work of the personal imagination, an appropriate mode of discourse is needed to prevent this work from becoming merely a simplistic formal play or an irresponsible will to power. Appropriate words are imperative for the practising architect, whose activity demands an ethical stance and is always language-bound. Beyond their specific interests, the essays in this volume contribute to articulating an appropriate language for expressing political practices related to architecture. CHORA thus continues to pursue a possible reconciliatory architecture that respects cultural differences, acknowledges the globalization of technological culture, and points to a referent other than itself. 

As in previous CHORA volumes, most of the thirteen essays explore concrete historical topics within a critical framework that opens horizons for the present. Indeed, the past is never truly past, nor is the future truly in the future. This third volume also includes speculative theoretical texts and “projects” in which conventional boundaries between history and fiction are intentionally blurred. It includes Ricardo Castro’s original reading of the Koguis culture in Colombia. As inheritors of a pre-Columbian tradition, the Koguis today still dwell “along the path,” challenging our assumption that permanent, place-bound objects define architecture. Two other essays are concerned with origins in the Western tradition. Maria Karvouni explores philological and architectonic connections between the Greek demas (the political individual) and domus (the house). Mark Rozahegy speculates on relationships between architecture and memory - a “constructive” memory that may be potentially repressive or liberating. In commenting on Vitruvius’s account of the origins of architecture, he draws from Nietzsche’s notion that memory “burnt into the body” is the locus of culture.


Monochrome ancient drawing of huge temple
Perspective view of Solomon’s Temple from Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach’s Entwurffeiner Historichen Architectur (1721), with the Temple surrounded by the great monuments in the genealogy of architecture. This image is based directly on Juan Bautista Villalpando’s reconstruction proposed in his In Ezechielem … (1596 and 1604).


The essays that investigate particular historical topics focus on the period between the late sixteenth century and the present. Myriam Blais discusses technical inventions by the sixteenth-century French architect Philibert de l’Orme, whose work is situated at the origins of our modern understanding of architecture. Alberto Pérez-Gómez examines the late-sixteenth-century reconstruction of the Temple of Jerusalem by Juan Bautista Villalpando. He ponders the significance of this incarnation of the divine archetype and the ethical dilemmas that result from the modern mentality of its Jesuit author. Janine Debanné’s study of Guarino Guarini’s Chapel of the Holy Shroud in Turin challenges the prevalent belief that a scientific mentality underlies this remarkable building. She investigates Guarini’s architectural theory’s theological and philosophical framework and suggests why this building continues to touch us so profoundly in the late twentieth century. Katja Grillner’s study of the early-seventeenth-century writings of Salomon de Cans and his built work in Heidelberg describes a curious Rosicrucian-Protestant world that is situated between the traditional cosmos of the Renaissance and the mechanistic universe of Baroque science.

David Winterton and Franca Trubiano study two architectural writers of the late eighteenth century. Winterton reflects on Charles-François Viel’s “Letters,” an important text that is practically unknown in the English-speaking world. Viel questioned the hegemony of classical (Vitruvian) architecture and sought an alternative architectural practise grounded in a “Nature” invested with spiritual values but no longer unmediated. Viel thus turned his attention to mythical building and myth as a form of speech. Similar interests are present in Jean-Jacques Lequeu’s writings and drawings. While Lequeu’s treatise on physiognomy was the subject of an essay in CHORA 1, Franca Trubiano’s original interpretation concentrates on his more controversial Civil Architecture. Curious anachronisms in Lequeu’s work challenge conventional categorizations in philosophy and art history and anticipate things to come. His self-conscious, self-referential operations in language and drawing also challenge some of our deeply held assumptions about architecture and the appearance of meaning.

Henrik Reeh considers relationships between urbanity and culture in his reflection on Sigfried Kracauer, a significant yet unknown disciple of Walter Benjamin. Reeh’s essay revisits essential questions raised in previous volumes of CHORA concerning modes of participation in nineteenth- and twentieth-century cities following traditional public space and ritual demise. Two articles pursue spatial poetics in architecture by invoking other artistic disciplines. Irena Zantovská Murray reflects on work by the controversial artist Jana Sterbak, describing an embodied architecture that practising architects often disregard. A textual project by artist Ellen Zweig vividly demonstrates the charged poetic space created by filmmakers such as Antonioni and Hitchcock, continuing the series of reflections on dramatic, cinematic, and architectural spaces that have appeared in previous volumes of CHORA. Finally, the present volume includes a parable in the form of a riddle, an experiment in thinking about architecture and its mimetic origins by the Swedish writer and architect Sören Thurell.


Ancient monochrome drawing of a cow
Lequeu, L’Étable à Vache and the Parc des Plaisirs, l’Architecture Civile, pl. 74, figs. 174 and 175; from Duboy, Lequeue.




1. Invention as a Celebration of Materials by Myriam Blais

2. Sounding the Path: Dwelling and Dreaming by Ricardo L. Castro

3. Surface and Appearance in Guarino Gurini's SS. Sindone Chapel by Janine Debanné

4. To See the World as a Limited Whole: Human and Divine Perspectives in the Works of Salomon de Caus by Katja Grillner

5. Demas: The Human Body as a Tectonic Construct by Maria Karvouni

6. Juan Bautista Villalpando's Divine Model in Architectural Theory by Alberto Pérez-Gómez

7. Fragmentation, Improvisation, Urban Quality: A Heterotopian Motif in Siegfried Kracauer by Henrik Reeh

8. Vitruvius, Nietzche, and the Architecture of the Body by Mark Rozahegy

9. A Grand Piano Filled with Sand by Sören Thurell

10. Origins and Ornaments: Jean-Jaques Lequeu and the Poetics of the City in L'Architecture Civile by Franca Trubiano

11. Architecture and the Vegetal Soul by David Winterton

12. Domesticity and Diremption: Poetics of Space in the Work of Jana Sterbak
by Irena Zantovská Murray

13. Absent Bodies Writing Rooms by Ellen Zweig

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