Calling Rowe: After-lives of Formalism in the Digital Age
Emmanuel Petit recently invoked the work of Colin Rowe to render a discussion of architectural precedent relevant for the digital age. Questioning Petit’s approach, this article explores the implications latent in this invocation. In so doing, it highlights their misalignments with the current concerns of digital design practitioners. The article thus focuses on the question of a possible after-life of Rowe’s formalism for the digital age. It starts by charting its genealogical development from Rudolf Wittkower’s humanist grids to Peter Eisenman’s ‘post-functionalist’ pursuits of autonomous form and Greg Lynn’s ‘pliant’ geometries. This showcases the dual historical effect of Rowe’s analytical formalism. From the late 1940s to the present, his disciples employed it both as a historiographical model and as a generative mechanism for architectural design. The history of Rowe’s formalism is therefore intertwined with the contemporary concerns of digital design practitioners, including Petit’s question of theorising precedent. The digital design practitioners’ assertions of autonomy are historically rooted in Rowe’s analytical formalism. In the final instance, Rowe’s analysis was carried out from the perspective of modernist humanism, and this historically remained the case in its various versions from Wittkower to Eisenman. Updating Rowe, as Petit suggested, would therefore only perpetuate a modernist outlook in a postmodern age. A formalism for the present cannot ignore the enduring points of the postmodern critique that preceded it. In conclusion, a contemporary variant of formalism needs to address the debates around its possible synthesis with contextualist concerns. To do so, it also needs to engage with the poststructuralist critiques of the intervening decades. Some examples from recent literature exemplify such an approach. They could therefore serve as useful precedents towards an integrated formalism for the present.
Allen, Stan. ‘From Object to Field.’ In The Digital Turn in Architecture, 1992-2012, edited by Mario Carpo (Chichester: Wiley, 2013), 63-79.
Bar, Tal. ‘Digital Architecture and Difference: A Theory of Ethical Transpositions towards Non-representational Embodiments in Digital Architecture.’ (unpublished PhD thesis, University College London, 2017).
Braidotti, Rosi. Nomadic Subject: Embodiment and Sexual Difference in Contemporary Feminist Theory. New York: Columbia University Press, 2011.
Corbo, Stefano. From Formalism to Weak Form: The Architecture and Philosophy of Peter Eisenman. Surrey: Ashgate, 2014.
Eisenman, Peter. ‘Post-Functionalism.’ Oppositions 6 (Fall 1976).
Eisenman, Peter. The Formal Basis of Modern Archiecture. Baden: Lars Müller Publishers, 2006.
Eisenman, Peter and Matt Roman. Palladio Virtuel. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016.
Engel, Braden R. ‘Ambichronous Historiography: Colin Rowe and the Teaching of Architectural History.’ Journal of Art Historiography 14 (June 2016), 1-22.
Evans, Robin. The Projective Cast: Architecture and its Three Geometries. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1995.
Frampton, Kenneth. A Genealogy of Modern Architecture: Comparative Critical Analysis of Built Form. Zurich: Lars Müller Publishers, 2015.
Hadid, Zaha and Patrik Schumacher. ‘Parametricist Manifesto.’ In Out there: Architecture beyond Building. vol. 5, Manifestos, 11th International Architecture Exhibition La Biennale di Venezia (Venice: Marsilio, 2008), 60-63.
Hershey, George L. and Richard Freeman, Possible Palladian Villas, Plus a Few Instructively Impossible Ones. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1992.
Kaji-O’Grady, Sandra. ‘Formalism and Forms of Practice.’ In The SAGE Handbook of Architectural Theory, edited by C. Greig Crysler, Stephen Cairns, and Hilde Heynen (London: Sage, 2012), 152-164.
Keller, Sean Blair. ‘Systems Aesthetics: Architectural Theory at the University of Cambridge, 1960-75.’ (unpublished PhD thesis, Harvard University, 2005).
Krauss, Rosalind E. ‘Grids.’ In The Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1985), 8-22.
Levine, Caroline. Forms: Whole, Rhythm, Hierarchy, Network. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2015.
Lynn, Greg. ‘New Variations on the Rowe Complex.’ In Folds, Bodies & Blobs: Collected Essays (Brussels: La Lettre Volée ,1998), 199-221.
Miller, Kyle. ‘The Thirteenth Villa.’ Journal of Architectural Education 70, no. 1 (2016), 91-95.
Patin, Thomas. ‘From Deep Structure to an Architecture in Suspense: Peter Eisenman, Structuralism, and Deconstruction.’ Journal of Architectural Education 47, no. 2 (1993), 88-100.
Payne, Alina A. ‘Rudolf Wittkower and Architectural Principles in the Age of Modernism.’ Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 53, no. 3 (September 1994), 322-342.
Petit, Emmanuel. Irony; Or, the Self-Critical Opacity of Postmodern Architecture. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013.
Petit, Emmanuel. ‘Spherical Penetrability: Literal and Phenomenal.’ Log 31 (Spring/Summer 2014), 31-39.
Petit, Emmanuel (ed.), Reckoning with Colin Rowe: Ten Architects Take Position. New York: Routledge, 2015.
Picon, Antoine. Digital Culture in Architecture: An Introduction for the Design Professions. Basel: Birkhäuser, 2010.
Poole, Matthew and Manuel Shvartzberg (eds.), The Politics of Parametricism: Digital Technologies in Architecture. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2015.
Rowe, Colin. ‘Introduction.’ In Five Architects: Eisenman, Graves, Gwathmey, Hejduk, Meier, edited by Peter Eisenman et al. New York: Wittenborn, 1972.
Rowe, Colin. The Mathematics of the Ideal Villa, and Other Essays. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1976.
Rowe, Colin and Fred Koetter. Collage City. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1979.
Rowe, Colin and Robert Slutzky. ‘Transparency: Literal and Phenomenal.’ Perspecta 8 (1963), 45-54.
Schumacher, Patrik. The Autopoiesis of Architecture, vol. 1: A New Framework for Architecture. Chichester: Wiley, 2011.
Spencer, Douglas. The Architecture of Neoliberalism: How Contemporary Architecture Became an Instrument of Control and Compliance (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2016).
Stern, Robert. ‘The Doubles of Post-Modern.’ In Robert Stern, edited by Robert Stern, and Vincent Scully (London: Academy Editions, 1981), 63-68.
Terzidis, Kostas. Algorithmic Architecture. London: Routledge, 2006.
Wittkower, Rudolf. Architectural Principles in the Age of Humanism. London: The Warburg Institute, University of London, 1949.
- Authors retain copyright and grant the journal right of first publication with the work simultaneously licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License that allows others to share the work with an acknowledgement of the work's authorship and initial publication in this journal.
- Authors are able to enter into separate, additional contractual arrangements for the non-exclusive distribution of the journal's published version of the work (e.g., post it to an institutional repository or publish it in a book), with an acknowledgement of its initial publication in this journal.