Chapter 03: Deconstruction


Contrary to appearances, ‘deconstruction’ is not an architectural metaphor. The word ought and will have to name a thought of architecture, it must be a thought at work … Next, a deconstruction, as its name indicates, must from the start deconstruct the construction itself, its structural or constructivist motif, its schemes, its intuitions and its concepts, its rhetoric. But it deconstructs as well the strictly architectural construction, the philosophical construction of the concept of architecture.

Jacques Derrida

Jacques Derrida, Fifty-Two Aphorisms for a Foreword, printed in Andreas Papadakis (ed), Deconstruction; Omnibus Volume, op. cit., p.69

It is above all the historical split between architecture and its theory that is eroded by the principles of deconstruction.

Bernard Tschumi

Bernard Tschumi, Parc de la Villette, Paris, in Andreas Papadakis (ed), Deconstruction in Architecture, Architectural Design, Academy Editions, London, vol.58, no.3/4, p.38

Peter Eisenman, Carnegie-Mellon Research Institute

Bernard Tschumi, Parc de la Villette

Deconstruction was originally used to describe the critique of literary texts, instigated by the French philosopher and Post- Structuralist, Jacques Derrida, with such writings as ‘Of Grammatology’ (1967). The term ‘Deconstruction’ has recently been applied to architecture. However, certain architects have actually denied this label (for example, Frank Gehry).

Derrida, in his literary critiques of such (helpless) victims as Saussure, Plato, Heidegger and Husserl, seems to have based his attacks upon the ambiguities of certain words, often misreading texts to produce false logic, and thereby deconstruct.

Deconstruction in literary terms is essentially attacking and subverting the givens in an argument, thus producing contradictions in the logic, and rendering statements as meaningless. Translators of Derrida’s writings, from their French originals, have remarked on the complicated language used, which seems to have been written deliberately to confound and confuse, for example, one sentence lasting for five pages. see Barbara Johnson’s introduction to her translation of Jacques Derrida, Dissemination, University of Chicago Press, Chicago 1981 He spends twenty pages of text discussing five words of Nietzsche, a margin note, “I have forgotten my umbrella.” Nietzsche, The Gay Science; Jacques Derrida, Spurs, 1978

Derrida himself has come up with a word play, the term différance: meaning both to defer and to differ (the act of putting off until later/ to be dissimilar). see Jacques Derrida, L’Ecriture et la Différence (1967), translated as Writing and Difference, Chicago University Press, Chicago 1978.Humpty Dumpty displays a similar logic, when he says:

“When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.”

Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass

Derrida seems to empathize with this fictional character, and his term différance is a typical example of this empathy, encouraging ‘flights of fancy which by no means ring true.’ Geoffrey Broadbent, The Philosophy of Deconstruction, in Jorge Glusberg (ed), Deconstruction; A Student Guide, Academy Editions, London 1991, p.51

Derrida also attacks writing, which he regards as being an inferior form of communication. He regards speech as being the only true form, since it brings the listener so much nearer to understanding the true sense of the ideas conveyed by the speaker (Phonocentrism). It is perhaps unfortunate that we are to arrive at an understanding of Derrida through the medium of writing, since the last thing Derrida would wish is for his ideas to be truly conveyed through writing. This is perhaps his reason for writing in such an ultimately confusing style.

Readings of text, Derrida has pointed out, are best accomplished when working with classical narrative structures. What Derrida has referred to as ‘archetexts’ form a framework for his analysis and also a source of operative meanings to be altered. If it is necessary to critique words with words, then a similar methodology must be employed in any Deconstructionist process in architecture, which would necessitate identification of an ‘archetype’, to be an equivalent to the archetext. In architecture, this would derive from the methods and materials of building (and un- building); or its history of archetypal components, systems and forms.

So in assuming that a Derridean deconstruction can be applied to buildings, an archetype must be discovered to serve as the subject for analysis. For Derrida, this took the form of such important literary works as Rousseau’s Les Confessions (1781). see Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore 1976. An architectural equivalent to the archetext must also represent an archetypal source. Very few Modernist or Constructivist- derived building images have been sufficiently integrated into the unconscious societal mind for them to qualify as archetypal. The proposition that such stylistic devices as those of, for example, Malevich, who has been a strong influence upon the work of Zaha Hadid, represent an archetypal source is thus unfounded. People will identify with high-rise housing blocks and shopping centres, reflecting Robert Venturi’s theories on iconography, see Robert Venturi, Complexity and Contradiction, 1966 civic buildings in Greco-Roman styles, and Tudor and colonial houses. James Wines, The Slippery Floor, op. cit., p.137 One of the justifications of Post-Modern historicism has been based upon the supposition that certain past references evoke popular response, and are thus, accordingly, archetypal.

The works Splitting and Bingo by Gordon Matta-Clark dealt with the suburban house as archetype. This recognizable image for Matta-Clark symbolized the stable middle-class American home as an immutable entity. The cuttings in these two works sought to deconstruct this vision, in an attempt to liberate the form of the house, which had come to symbolize containment and suburban alienation.


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