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Words and Buildings: A Vocabulary of Modern Architecture

av Adrian Forty

Thames & Hudson, 2000

Space
Space
What I am really interested in is designing architectura1 space. Neil Denari, 1993, 95 Space
What I am really interested in is designing
architectura1 space. Neil Denari, 1993, 95
Space is the most luxurious thing anybody can give any-
body in the name of architecture. Sir Denys Lasdun, 1997
Any definition of architecture itself requires a prior
analysis and exposition of the concept of space.
Henri Lefebvre, 1974, 15
Much of the ambiguity of the term 'space' in modern
architectural use comes from a willingness to confuse it
with a general philosophical category of 'space'. To put
this issue slightly differently, as well as being a physical
property of dimension or extent, 'space' is also a property
of the mind, part of the apparatus through which we
perceive the world. It is thus simultaneously a thing
within the world, that architects can manipulate, and
a mental construct through which the mind knows the
world, and thus entirely outside the realm of architectural
These remarks, two by contemporary architects and
one by a philosopher, might lead us to suppose that in
'space' we have found the purest, irreducible substance of
architecture - the property unique to it, that sets it apart
from all other artistic practices. But if this might seem
reassuringly consensual and certain, our confidence will
go as soon as we discover how little agreement there is as
to what is meant by 'space'. And any remaining faith that
space might be the fundamental category of architecture
becomes even more precarious when we realize that any
of the above remarks, had they been uttered before 1890,
would have been entirely meaningless outside a small
circle of German aesthetic philosophers: as a term, 'space'
simply did not exist in the architectural vocabulary until
the 1890s. Its adoption is intimately connected with the
development of modernism, and whatever it means,
therefore, belongs to the specific historical circumstances
of modernism, just as is the case with 'space's' partners,
'form' and 'design'.
Since the eighteenth century, architects had talked
about 'volumes' and 'voids' - and they occasionally used
'space' as a synonym: Soane, for example, referred to
'void spaces' (602)' and to the need in devising the plan
to avoid 'loss of space' (603).' Although 'space' is often
still used in this sense, it was to convey something more
that 'space' was adopted by modernist architects, and it
is with these superposed meanings that we shall entirely
concern ourselves here.
practice (although it may affect the way in which the
results are perceived). A willingness to connive in a
confusion between these two unrelated properties seems
to be an essential qualification for talking about archi-
tectural space. This confusion is present in most of what
is said about architectural space; it finds its expression in
the commonly held belief that architects 'produce' space -
a belief implicit in the statements of Denari and Lasdun
quoted at the opening of this entry. It was part of the
purpose of Henri Lefebvre's The Production of Space
(1974) to expose the problem created by this distinction
between space conceived by the mind and the 'lived' space
encountered by the body; Lefebvre's book, the most
comprehensive and radical critique of 'space', calls
into question almost everything about space within
architecture described in what follows - but despite its
force, it has had, as yet, little impact upon the way space
is still customarily talked about within architecture.
The development of space as an architectural category
took place in Germany, and it is to German writers that
one must turn for its origins, and purposes. This
immediately presents a problem for an English-language
discussion of the subject, for the German word for space,
Raum, at once signifies both a material enclosure, a
'room', and a philosophical concept. As Peter Collins
pointed out, 'it required no great power of the
imagination for a German to think of room as simply
a small portion of limitless space, for it was virtually
impossible for him to do otherwise' (1965,286). In neither English nor French can a material
impossible for him to do otherwise' (1965,286). In
neither English nor French can a material enclosure
so easily be linked to a philosophical construct, and
consequently 'space', as a translation for the German
Raunt, lacks the suggestiveness of the original. An
example of the possibilities present in German, but
lacking in English, can be seen in the translation of
Rudolf Schindler's 1913 'Manifesto', discussed below.
As well as an awareness of the effects of translation
upon the meaning of the term, we should also take
into account the effects of time. 'Space's' meanings
in architecture are not fixed; they change according to
circumstances and the tasks entrusted to it. When Denari
and Lasdun enthuse about space, we should not assume
that they mean by it what, say, Mies van der Rohe meant
by it in 1930. We must, as always, proceed by asking to
what the category spoken of - in this case 'space' - is
being opposed: the reasons for valuing 'space' in the
1990s are not the same as those in 1930. Despite the
tendency of speakers to imply that they are talking about
an immutable absolute, 'space' is no less transient a term
than any other in architecture.
The preconditions of modernist architectural space
How far the terms used in architecture are borrowed
from previously developed philosophical discourses, and
how far they arise from experiences and perceptions artic-
ulated within the practice of architecture, is sometimes
hard to say: in the case of 'space', though, there seems
to be clear evidence that the development of a discourse
about space within philosophical aesthetics preceded its
coming into use within architecture. While we should not
conclude from this that philosophy supplied the entire
framework for the architectural concept, there is no doubt
that it partly provided it. In so far as architectural 'space'
originated out of philosophical concerns in nineteenth-
century Germany, there are two distinct traditions of
thought to be taken into account. One, the attempt to
create a theory of architecture out of philosophy rather
than out of architectural traditions, centres on Gottfried
Semper; the other, concerned with a psychological
approach to aesthetics, though it has some links to Kant's
philosophy, only emerged in the 1890s. While in practice,
the distinction between the two schools of thought was
not so great, it will be helpful to consider them separately.
More than anyone else, it was German architect and
theorist Gottfried Semper who was responsible for the
introduction of 'space' as the principal theme of modern
architecture. In advancing his wholly original theoretical
account of the origins of architecture, the first to do so

without reference to the orders, Se~nperproposed that the first impulse for architecture was the enclosing of space. The material components are only secondary to spatial enclosure, so 'the wall is that architectural element that formally represents and makes visible the enclosed space as such' (Der Stil, 254). In this and other remarks about the primacy of enclosure over material, Semper suggested that in space creation lay the future of architecture. Just how he arrived at this insight is uncertain: in so far as his ideas about architecture were developed from philosoph- ical origins, as distinct from architectural ones, it is prob- able that they owed something to his reading of Hegel's Aestbetics. For Hegel, 'enclosure' was a feature of archi- tecture's purposiveness, and as such, therefore, entirely distinct from, and inadequate to its aesthetic, idea-bearing property. However, the whole thrust of Hegel's account of architecture was to address the question of how what arose originally out of the satisfaction of human material needs might at the same time be purely symbolic and purposeless, the independent embodiment of the Idea (see vol. 11, 631-32). In his exploration of this question, Hegel . did briefly discuss enclosed space, and although his rem- arks were undeveloped they are nonetheless highly sugges- tive, particularly in relation to Gothic religious architec- ture, which he saw as transcending its purposiveness, and in which, by means of its spatial enclosure - 'differen- tiated in length, breadth, height and the character of these dimensions' (vol. 11, 688) - an independent religious idea was realized. According to Harry Mallgrave, 'enclosure' was being talked about amongst architects as a theme of architecture in Germany in the 1840s - he cites Carl Botticher's essay 'Principles of Hellenic and Germanic Ways of Building' (1846)- but no one went so far as Semper in suggesting that spatial enclosure was the fundamental property of architect~re.~Although Semper's remarks about space were brief, his influence, both on those who agreed with his arguments and those who did not, was great. For1those German-speaking proto-modern architects who first articulated 'space' as the subject of architecture in the first decade of the century, there is no question but that he was the source of their conception of space. We find Adolf Loos in his article 'The Principle of Cladding' of 1898 claiming in Semperian terms that 'The architect's general task is to provide a warm and liveable space'; he went on to say that 'effects are produced by both the material and the form of the space' (66). The Dutch architect H. P. Berlage, in a 1905 lecture ('Thoughts on Style') published in German, stated 'Since architecture is the art of spatial enclosure, we must emphasize the architectonic nature of space, in both