Archi-Text. Ten considerations on textuality.
 
 
1. Books and architecture both belong to the class of textual objects. If we think of a text as the result of an act whose purpose is communication, mediated through a sign inscribed in an available space, then architecture belongs to the textual class.
 
2.
Architectural objects are complex structures that function as texts. When we say “architectural text” we do not of course refer to publishing on architecture, but to architecture as a signifying machine that produces narrations and configurations of the environment. Every project draws on a grammar made up of logical rules, morphemes and semantemes, accents and stylistic registers belonging to the linguistic system of architecture.

3. The literary text in its turn has intrinsically architectural characteristics. The Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, perhaps the most beautiful book ever printed, by Aldus Manutius’s press nearly 500 years ago, is the more typographico representation of the precepts of Renaissance architecture. In the symmetry of the double page the written texts already denote their reference to the architectural world. The written or printed word is installed in the empty space as a construction designed according to functional and aesthetic rules capable of composing a narrative system that “works”.

4. Literary and architectural texts are privileged pre-texts for cultural transitions. If the texts work in a similar manner, it is possible to transfer the interpretative methods from one level to another and from one territory to the next. And so we may find the literary critic, philosopher and translator Walter Benjamin acquitting himself with great versatility while floating between literary hermeneutics and the exegesis of new forms of fin de siècle architecture. Or the rigorous narrative fictional architectures of Winfried Sebald being inspired by the influences of maps, architectural spaces and urban routes; or again, Umberto Eco roughing out a general semeiotics of architecture based explicitly on the pattern of analysis of a literary text.

5. But the opposite is also true. Peter Eisenman in fact systematically adopted deconstructivism as an architectural point of view, interpreting architecture as a narration and the making of architecture as a model of writing. But in a sense, Palladio, too, strongly associated his fame not only with his works, but with the narrative discourse of theory, aided by the mythology of his famous Four Books.

6. The library is the physical and symbolic space in which literary text and architectural text meet. Libraries are devised and designed for the conservation and transmission of knowledge in a textual form. As a collection of texts to be conserved, the paper library is contained by the architectural one. A short circuit and an intersection of container and content are therefore created in the shape of an object – the library – made up of multi-levels of textuality.

7. Architecture and books are inscriptions. Every text is an inscription. A writing is inscribed in a space and organises its forces while constructing forms of living. One can live in a physical space or in a mental one. In both cases the space takes shape while becoming a place, whereas the dialectic of text, space and time constitutes the background of the context

8. Inscriptions are made to stay. To this day we love and read Dante despite the disappearance of the socio-political background that con-textualises his work: there are no struggles between Guelfs and Ghibellines nor does St Thomas Aquinas’s theological Weltanschauung dominate. Similarly, we admire the structure of the Alhambra without making use of its functions as a residence of power; and we are interested in a postindustrial space even though it no longer hosts the activities for which it had been designed. Valid textual writings exhale meanings even after the conclusion of their functional cycle, because they are able to transcend the horizon of their context.

9. Texts, all texts, are messages transmitted to a posteriority. Authors, publishers, patrons and civilisations succumb, but all texts worthy of being passed down almost always succeed, extending the sense of an inscription that remains as a trace and testimony of a concept, of an idea and vision of the world, superseding the contextual, that is to say local and functional meaning, to transcend as a pure signifier.

10. Texts: non-monuments. “I am dying, but that whore Emma Bovary will live forever” [Gustave Flaubert]. If architecture and books are destined to survive their authors and their time, this does not mean they are outside the world and outside time. Unlike monuments, which last and resist only because, from the very beginning, they are thought of as hard, dead, inert objects with neither space nor time nor sense, architectural and literary texts, being good and effective, make themselves contemporary to every time by recontextualising uninterruptedly, ever ready to produce emotions, knowledge and se
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