Theatrical Tectonics: The Mediating Agent for a Contesting Practice


  • Gevork Hartoonian



This paper posits the idea that the theme of agency in architecture is parallactic. It discusses the tectonic as an agent through which architecture turns into a state of constant flux. The intention is to promote a discourse of criticality, the thematic of which is drawn from the symptoms that galvanise architecture’s rapport with the image-laden culture of late capitalism. In an attempt to log the thematic of a contested practice, this essay will re-map the recent history of contemporary architecture.

Exploring New Brutalism’s criticism of the established ethos of International Style architecture, the first part of this paper will highlight the movement’s tendency towards replacing the painterly with the sculptural, and this in reference to the contemporary interest in monolithic architecture. Having established the import of tectonics for the architecture of Brutalism, the paper then argues that in the present situation, when architecture – like other cultural products – is infatuated with the spectacle of late capitalism, a re-thinking of the Semperian notion of theatricality is useful. Of interest in the tectonic of theatricality is the work’s capacity to bring forth the division between intellectual and physical labours, and this in reference to architecture’s reserved acceptance of technification for which the aforementioned division is vital.

Particular attention will be given to two projects, Zaha Hadid’s Phaeno Center and OMA’s Casa da Musica, where architectonic aspects of New Brutalism are revisited in the light of the tectonic of theatricality.

Author Biography

Gevork Hartoonian

Dr. Gevork Hartoonian is Associate Professor in architectural history and theory at the University of Canberra, Australia. He has taught in many schools of architecture in the United States, including Columbia University (New York City). He is the author of numerous books and essays, including Crisis of the Object: the Architecture of Theatricality (Routledge, 2006) and Ontology of Construction (Cambridge University Press, 1994). He is also the editor of Walter Benjamin and Architecture (Routledge, forthcoming). Most recently, he has published ‘Mies: The Window Framed’, in Fabrications (December 2008). He has served as a member of the editorial group of Architectural Theory Review (Routledge) since 2001, and is guest editor of a special issue of this journal focusing on the subject of architectural drawing (vol. 14, no. 3, 2009). A Korean edition of his Ontology of Construction is scheduled for publication in 2010.