by Christian Schweitzer
I. Kasimir Malevich
Malevich completes the step into pure non-objectivity between 1913 and
1915 with several versions of the picture "Black Square on White
Ground", that is indisputably one of the most important works of
intellectual creativity of the twentieth century.
The black square on the white ground is for him the first form of
expression of the non-objectively sensation: "the square = the
sensation, the white ground = the 'nothingness' outside this
sensation". The "non-form", the "naked, unframed
icon of our time" as
Malevich himself named this picture. Here, for him, every visual or
sensory association with the objectively perceived world is reduced to
silence. This zero - as the "liberating nothingness" - seems to him the
germ-cell of a wholly new form of painting.
In order to develop elements to form with, as he writes, theory and
logic is necessary, which place the irrational of the subconscious
under the control of the consciousness. However for him the conscious
remains only a certain basis. The final solution, the forming itself,
is always subject to the subconscious or superconscious - the emotion
or the sensation.
With on the basis of theory acquired elementary and absolute forms, he
attempts to make in the experience of non-objectivity resounding
"unconscious emotions" recognizable on the canvas. Independent of the
world of objectivity and its abstractly, figured reflexes in the inner
world of the human being (in the sense of Kandinsky), he could now form
colored and formal relationships which correspond to that sensation of
II. Ad Reinhardt
Ad Reinhardt was the only one who, with inexorable resolution, thought
through to end Malevich's fundamentals of non-objectivity and realized
it in his pictures.
From 1954 until his death in 1967, Reinhardt exclusively paints what he
calls "black" or "ultimate paintings". The rigorousness of this step
and the apparent narrowing and denial of his artistic development away
from abstract painting with colorful, geometrically-expressionistic
patterns is astounding.
The constantly square format has mainly the same dimensions, five foot
by five foot, only a few paintings are the exception. The monochrome
black canvas shows a constant, unchanging symmetrical inner structure.
Even the frame does not vary. A black, slightly raised wooden molding
protects the painting and guarantees it its own space.
The composition arrangement appears, unchanged in all the black
paintings. Nine equally-sized squares provide the image field, whereby
each constitutes a ninth of the picture square and is obtained from the
division into three parts of the length of the sides. Due to the fact
that the vertical division in the middle third is left out, there is
created the optical illusion of a cross, with the horizontal arm in
front of the vertical.
The different effect of the black paintings in all the repetitions of
format and inner structure is crucial. The colorfulness of the lead
black diverges within the painting and is always different, from
painting to painting. The same applies to the limited visibility of the
cross-illusion and for the varying thickness of the mat surface, which
does not show any brush structure at all.
The uncomplicated the formal analysis is, the more disquieting is the
effect of the paintings. Because the realization of the geometrical
inner structure does not make anything visible above and beyond it, and
the picture, despite the easily definable scanning, remains alien, the
mysterious and the enigmatic come into effect.
As with Malevich, the absolute form creates an autonomous reality
without individual emotion. However, Malevich's mistake, that with the
expression of the purely sensed the last association with the
objectively perceived world is already left behind, is rectified. The
pure sensation is resolutely replaced by an existentialistic and
nihilistic no-sense, which cannot even justify the, according to
Malevich, highest human quality. They are, for Reinhardt, "the ultimate
paintings that one can produce".
There is no indication at all of Reinhardt having
concerned himself with architecture: he mentions it only once.
Nevertheless, in connection with the creation of non-objective
architecture, his writings take on a special significance.
The key to Reinhardt's understanding of art is his longest continuous
text "Twelve Rules for a NewAcademy" of 1957. This is a tabula rasa
with everything that exists in art up to this point in time. Thus, as
with Malevich, the principles of his art are absolute, and hence the
only true ones. He puts up "six general canons", which have to be
1) No realism or existentialism. 'When the vulgar and
dominate, the spirit subsides.'
2) No impressionism. 'The artist should once and forever emancipate
himself from the bondage of appearance. The eye is menace to clear
3) No expressionism or surrealism. 'The laying bare of oneself,
autobiographically or socially, is obscene.'
4) No fauvism, primitivism, or brute art. 'Art begins with the getting
rid of nature.'
5) No constructivism, sculpture, plasticism, or graphic arts. 'No
collage, paste, paper, sand, or string. Sculpture is a very mechanical
exercise causing much perspiration, which, mingling with grit, turns
6) No 'trompe-l'oeil', interior decoration, or architecture.
The ordinary qualities and common sensitivities of these
activities lie outside free and intellectual art.
In that he mentions architecture (and interior design) in connection
with styles of art, he accepts and adopts Malevich's definition of
architecture as art. In the same breath he immediately revokes its
general legitimization as such.
He criticizes the architecture of his time as a style being
trompe-l'oeil, i.e. a visual illusion. Architecture employs a form of
expression in which one can no longer differentiate between imagination
and reality. Exactly what his criticism aims at, remains speculation.
However, it is possible, here also, he follows Malevich's analysis of
architecture as a compromise between engineering and 'false' art.
For architecture that follows the concept of non-objectivity, it means,
however, that Reinhardt's rules for a new art are, at the same time, to
be applied to architecture. These "twelve technical rules" to be
1. No texture. Texture is naturalistic or mechanical
and is a vulgar quality, ... No accidents or automatism.
2. No brushwork or calligraphy. Handwriting, hand-working and
hand-jerking are personal and in poor taste. No signature or
3. No sketching or drawing. Everything, where to begin and where to
end, should be worked out in the mind beforehand. ... No line or
outline. ... No shading or streaking.
4. No forms. 'The finest has no shape.' No figure or fore- or
background. No volume or mass, no cylinder, sphere or cone, or cube or
boogie-woogie. No push or pull. 'No shape or substance.'
5. No design. 'Design is everywhere.'
6. No colors. 'Color blinds.' 'Colors are an aspect of appearance and
so only of the surface.' Colors are barbaric, unstable, suggest life,
'cannot be completely controlled,' and 'should be concealed.' Colors
are a 'distracting embellishment.' No white. 'White is a color and all
colors.' White is 'antiseptic and not artistic'... White on white is 'a
transition from pigment to light' and 'a screen for the projection of
light' and 'moving' pictures.
7. No light. No bright or direct light in or over the painting. Dim,
late afternoon absorbent twilight is best outside. ...
8. No space. Space should be empty, should not project, and should not
be flat. ... The frame should isolate and protect the painting from its
surroundings. Space divisions within the painting should not be seen.
9. No time. 'Clock-time or man's time is inconsequential.' There is no
ancient or modern, no past or future in art. 'A work of art is always
present.' The present is the future of the past, not the past of the
future. 'Now and long ago are one.'
10. No size or scale. Breadth and depth of thought and feeling in art
have no relation to physical size. Large sizes are aggressive,
positivist, intemperate, venal, and graceless.
11. No movement. 'Everything else is on the move. Art should be still.'
12. No object, no subject no matter. No symbols, images, or signs.
Neither pleasure nor pain. No mindless working or mindless non-working.
These rules are radical. Many of them appear at first
glance to be
unrealizable in architecture. But even non-objective painting cannot
free itself from its objective medium of the canvas drawn over the
frame and covered with paint. Non-objective paintings will always have
a shape and a size, and therefore can never be non-objective. From a
philosophical point of view they are nevertheless non-objective if they
have originated in the consciousness to be non-objective and find the
means of application which depicts this.
From this aspect architecture can take the step into non-objectivity.
To do this, architecture has to be created with the intention of being
non-objective, with the consciously developed means, to express it. The
matter of the built must become the canvas which disappears behind the
expression of non-objectivity. This means that the technical and
structural necessities lose their meaning for the content and that
which is represented. They become obsolete in terms of reason and
legitimization of architecture.
III. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe
In architecture, in the first half of the twentieth century, the ideas
of functionalism in the "International Style" prevailed over
expressionist and cubist tendencies. The classic Modernism, through its
close connection with art, whether it was at the Bauhaus or in the De
Stijl Group, acquired an importance as a pendant to abstract art. Even
though it possesses formal features of this, such as the reduction of
the shape of the buildings to elementary forms and the replacement of
figurative ornament in favor of an elementary aesthetic, it
nevertheless still remains, in terms of subject matter, far behind the
philosophical methods of abstraction. It did not fulfil the demand to
remove the concrete reality as a layer of deception from the real
essence of a thing in order to expose the sole, valid order of its
being. Architecture owed the necessity to not longer represent the
reality of function and technology through a new aesthetic, but to
create a new reality.
The dominant position of a no longer questioned functionalism hindered
every attempt of an abstract or non-objective architecture. Each
utterance, that sought to overstep the boundaries of the objectively
perceived world, could be reduced to absurdity by alluding to its
During the thirties the leading figures of Modernism recognized that
the pure functionalism, which they had developed themselves, was a
blind alley. That the idealistic value of a building, as Le Corbusier
calls it the "excitation and emotion of man", simply is not created on
account of practicality and rationality. A need arose to go above and
After the Second World War architects such as Le Corbusier began to
link their rationalistic architecture with an emotionally-charged
expressive language of form and materiality. Yet, just as Le
Corbusier's paintings remained objective, these attempts did not, in
subject matter, reach beyond expressionistic architecture.
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe solves this conflict for himself in that he
achieves an abstract architecture, and above and beyond that
intuitively approaches the non-objective way of thinking.
With his emigration to the United States in 1938, Mies turns his
priorities in the search for idealistic values ultimately towards the
absoluta of pure construction and pure space.
He regards the attempt to renew architecture in terms of form, as a
failure. The discovery of form leads nowhere and does not rise above
the "duration of a vogue", is therefore transient and according to
Malevich without value. Absolute, everlasting values arise only there
where the construction is the bearer of "the Gestalt of space" and thus
the bearer of "the sense of the spiritual substance". Exemplary of this
for Mies are the Romanesque period and the Gothic. Accordingly, a
renewal of architecture can only result from the
construction and not through arbitrarily supplied motives. Building and
sense are one. The method of building is of decisive and
witness-bearing significance. The construction not only determines the
form, it is the form itself.
Mies is the first to take the step into a truly abstract architecture.
In his pursuit of the absolute, the pure construction and the pure
space, he achieves a complete abstraction of the expression of the
built. Nevertheless, this concept remains questionable. The
construction is subject to engineering and thereby a continuous
development. Mies recourses to principles of construction that have
already been applied in industrial buildings for decades. At what point
in the development, therefore, is the construction "pure" and thereby
absolute? Mies did not recognize that the construction, in the way he
used it, only had the importance of an abstract representation of
construction and with that its significance reduced into the
background, in favor of the concept of pure space.
In this circumstance his buildings approach a non-objective
architecture in which the construction is not the means as such but an
auxiliary means. For completely non-objective architecture one would
have to, in a reformulation of Mies' assertion, claim: Neither form nor
construction is the objective, but the result of the work.
IV. Jean Nouvel
In the sixties concepts of abstraction and non-objectivity play only a
minor role. Constant developed, in 1960, his "New Babylon", that was
based on an illusory "new social organization" and an impossible
"change in morals and thought". His visions would have called for a
restructuring of human psyche into an abstract being and remain
therefore a Utopia, that, contrary to his opinion, could never become
In 1962 Hans Hollein and Walter Pichler proclaimed an "absolute
architecture" that "freed from its actual object, the human being",
should attain non-objectivity. Architecture should be created for its
own sake, be without purpose, "not serve but rule". "The human being is
only tolerated in its domain, he will suffocate or live therein." This
claim is one of the most radical theses in the manifesto on
architecture and never went beyond the stage of a statement of
Further development in architecture manifested itself in Brutalism,
Neo-Modernism, Postmodernism, Deconstructivism, Minimalism,
Sculpturalism, Post-Postmodernism, etc. Everything is possible, nothing
has durability, copies of copies, short-lived vogues, already obsolete
at the moment of creation. New subject matter is processed through new
forms of expression, extended through new technical developments, and
new arrangements of old concepts. These, however, do not further the
principles of architecture. Only isolated examples of interesting
aspects can be found with regard to non-objective architecture.
Jean Nouvel acquires a special meaning here. His work reflects the
attempt to make architecture immaterial, to abstract and dissolve it in
substance and in form. Nouvel says very little regarding his
fundamental concept of architecture, however, strong parallels can be
made to the observations of the media and technology theorists McLuhan,
Virilio and Baudrillard. Thus Paul Virilio writes:
City planning is running into trouble, architecture is
always changing, the abode is left only as the anamorphosis of a
threshold. Apart from historical nostalgia, Rome is not longer in Rome,
and architecture is no longer architecture but in the geometry and
time-space of the vectors. The aesthetics of the building disappear in
the special effects of the communications and traffic machine, in its
transport and transmission apparatus. ... After architecture as
sculpture, comes the artificiality of cinematography, in reality as
well as figuratively: architecture has itself become a film. The city
is superseded by an unusual motor activity, a gigantic, dark projection
room to enthuse the masses, where the light of (audio-visual and
automobile) speed replaces the sunlight. ... The speed of motion
reinforces its absence.
From this consciousness Nouvel develops, among other things, concepts
and aesthetics, which would fulfil Ad Reinhardt's rules with regard to
non-objective architecture. This becomes particularly clear in the Onyx
Cultural Center in Sant-Herblain of 1987-88.
The site of the center is defined by a ten-hectare, triangular parking
lot serving a supermarket and a department store. The parking area
leads towards a small artificial lake, around which a park is to be
created. Thus the site is defined by cars and commerce, busy in
daylight, dead at night. Nouvel's solution is a perfect, all black
half-cube, set at an angle to the lines of parking spaces, at the apex
of the triangle but off-center.
The facade of black concrete and two large-size window surfaces is
screened at a small distance by a black all-surrounding grating. In
this way no light can be reflected from the black concrete, it is
completely swallowed up. The effect is confusing since there is an
impression of an all-light-absorbing object, a black hole.
The auditorium and the other interior spaces are strictly rectilinear,
following the defining grid of the exterior. They are finished in
corroded galvanized metal plates, the floors are polished concrete,
light is provided by arrays of red lamps under grey metal lighting
gantries - gloomy, disorientating nowhere-spaces, making the theatre
stage all important. In the basement underneath the foyer is a huge
empty hall without any function accessible only through hidden
entrances. This space, empty of meaning, is forming a counterpoint to
the spectacle to be presented above. It negates the spectacle, it
absorbs it like the light is absorbed outside and therefore even
withdraws the function of the spectacle.
Onyx originated from a reaction to the context, the periphery, in
connection with Nouvel's fundamental theme of immateriality, which, as
a result of computer age, has taken on a special meaning. Olivier
Boissière compares Onyx with the enigmatic, non-objective monolith from
Stanley Kubrick's film "2001", and Conway Lloyd Morgan states, that the
building predates cyberspace, and that it is the first virtual
building. The building, however, is not developed in the consciousness
of achieving non-objectivity. Since here the themes virtuality and
periphery allow a formally almost non-objective architecture to be
created, it shows the relevance of non-objective architecture for the
present in the reverse conclusion.
V. Non-objective architecture
There remains the question of why. Why produce non-objective
architecture? Just because it could be done? Because it would have
relevance for the present?
That non-objectivity would have a fundamental effect on architecture is
indisputable. For all disciplines, in which it found entry, such as
art, classical music or philosophy, the consequences have been
With "the ultimate pictures of the twentieth century", to those the
philosophical concept of non-objectivity gave birth, changed the
understanding of painting and art in itself. These paintings convey
neither substance nor statement. Their legitimization relates only to
their mere existence, art is just art. It has thereby, discarded its
traditional function. Today, art must neither be good nor beautiful,
neither edifying nor educative, not even be visionary, to have
In classical painting, traditionally the highest form of art, new
subject matter was always made conveyable through the development of
new media of expression, be it through new painting techniques or new
forms of representation. Because painting, in non-objectivity, no
longer imparts any subject matter or any statement, because in these
paintings "Nothing" is depicted, there is not anything that can ever
again be depicted through the medium of painting that goes above and
beyond that. With that, painting has reduced itself to absurdity, has
worn itself out. Lucio Fontana expresses this conflict in 1962 with the
shredding of an empty canvas.
Painting has lost its position as the highest form of art. Certainly
new subject matter continues to be expressed through the medium of
painting, however, new tendencies in art no longer derive from
painting. And even nothing has been created that painting itself would
have developed further. Art, in the search for means of expression, has
abandoned painting and taken possession of other media.
Architecture never effected the inclusion of non-objectivity, as one of
the most important intellectual potentials in the twentieth century. It
therefore, in its basic structure and mechanisms, in contrast to all
the other creative disciplines, continues to remain rooted in the past.
The effect of this can already be noticed, since the answers repeat
themselves and exhaust themselves in an 'all-is-possible'. Architecture
is in danger of losing its position as a philosophical and artistic
concept. Architects have come to a point at which they can no longer
gloss over their intellectual deficit. Subject matter will continue to
be conveyed by means of form, material, construction and texture. The
building as the ultimate reality is no longer be asked after.
As with art, with the abandonment of painting, architecture will only,
by means of the intellectual concept of non-objectivity, be able to
develop new possibilities of expression, which go above and beyond the
imparting of subject matter through that which is built. Even when the
buildings as means of expressing architecture should be reduced to the
absurd. Just as art has changed so will architecture change and no
longer be that which we understand by it today.
The "ultimate buildings of the twentieth century" will yet have to be
designed, built and discussed, so that the potential of non-objectivity
can be absorbed and intellectually digested in the knowledge and
thinking of architects, in order to effect the connection with our time
and it's about time.
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published in show your hand,
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Kasimir Malevich, 'Architection',
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Mies van der Rohe, 'Crown Hall',
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