Any discussion of an industrial-age artefact would be incomplete without the identification of the material form of labour practices [i.e., technology] entailed in its products. My purpose here is to 1.) examine the manner in which this code begins to bare its signification. Becoming in the process ‘more than’ a simple register of 20th century labour practices; which, one might argue should not require nor necessarily admit to its linguistic superstructure. ……and 2.) inspect the antagonism amongst the dom-ino and the older, historic guarantors of semantic order—e.g., the numeric codes of Unification—which it tries to absorb. Giving shape to the rather peculiar geometries (e.g., the sub-basement plan) in the process.
The code (which to begin with is no more than a set of conventional building practices) comes to signification through its entailment in the architectural process. In other words, into the relational structuring of semantic objects: a representational practice. As the process of design does not ‘act the things", but "acts their names" or designates, if we take into account the semiotic affinity between the words design, and drawing in its renaissance sense. Like all other affairs of the world, the architect must necessarily name-of-the-labour.
The building practices are anticipated by the architect, and by this anticipation, frozen into banality……consumed. The transient speech of the labourer is anticipated and hence inscribed, ‘written’-in by the architect. Submerged in the layers of meanings extrinsic to the act of building itself. Yet this overcoding of labour: the transgression of its common-sense rules is not complete. The very materiality—the physis—of the artefact resists the virtuality—the mathesis—of architectural intention. And as such, the language of the labourer may be re-constituted.
Its re-constitution is betrayed by its self-referentiality.
And is the dom-ino a myth? If it is, it is definitely not revolutionary: for revolutions of the kind we began this explanation by do not carry the burden of myth. Revolutions, as Le Corbusier understood them, are actions. They are that in-becoming which reveals the burdens of this world.
The dom-ino is a myth. Just as the Body-of-Lenin in its preserved state is a myth. Just as every Soviet building in the eyes of Malnikov was the Body-of-Lenin. Just as every Roman basilica became, once in the eyes of a persecuted church, the Body-of-Christ!
Paris Metro takes you to the suburb of Poissy. You may thank the railway engineers. From the metro station, you may take a bus or rent a bicycle to reach Villa Savoye. Even before you see it, a vague intuition tells you that you are nearing it. Almost in the way a soldier may be drawn to an ancient battlefield. Soon you will be in front of the villa. Which is built employing mortar and concrete. A rather simple, fragile structure, a match-box of a building. You walk around. You may view the guest book……
The exploration of the dom-ino idea as an independent spatial and structural ideogram—the linguistic—marking labour practices of modernist architecture thus becomes possible. And, as if it were, solely marking labour, the dom-ino would never become a mythological object, it would remain an example of a politicised construction system. And in engaging with the ‘previous’ codes—which are, according to Roland Barthes, already de-politicised; having reverted into the infantile and Oniric ‘false natures’.
It remains for us to see as to how this artefact, the dom-ino, politicises the entire semantic order of the built.
As for the linguistic intention=consumption underlying the symbol of 20th century artefact, the inference by Peter Eisenmann may be brought into operation. In his contention……"If architecture is not geometry, it must in some way be differentiated from it. In order to distinguish any one class of objects from any other, it must be possible not only to signal the difference of that class from all others (a negative signal) but to signal or identify the presence of a particular class itself (a positive signal".
For Eisenmann, then, to distinguish architecture from building requires an intentional act—a sign which suggests that the wall is doing ‘something more’ than literally sheltering, supporting and enclosing; it must embody this significance which projects the idea of wall-ness beyond mere use, function or extrinsic allusion. …"Thus its paradoxical nature: the sign must overcome use and extrinsic significance to be admitted as architecture; hut on the other hand without the use, function and the existence of extrinsic meaning there would be no conditions which will require such an act of overcoming"
In a thinly disguised exercise in establishing a quasi-Cartesian bridge between the world of real qualities of the artefact—those understood by the ‘common sense’—and its micro-structures—the mathematically precise, measurable; mechanisms—Eisenmann concludes. Stating …"thus, architecture is both substance and act". The sign is a record of an intervention—an event and an act which goes beyond the presence of elements which are merely necessary conditions. Architecture can be proposed as an ordering of conditions drawn from the universe of from together with the act of designating conditions of geometry, use and significance as a new class of objects.
The dom-ino, in other words, stands between the scholastic semantic orders in architecture; as amply investigated by Erwin Panofscky (Gothic Architecture and Scholasticism); and an abstract mathesis systematised perhaps the best by Terragni in his various works. This tension, or neat confusion: or the in-between-ness of the dom-ino makes it the representation par excellence of architecture. After all, a Foucault would have said, architecture is a middle practice; like that of law. Standing as it does between the strata in which the pure determination of order is possible; and the strata where the pure experience of it.
"In this sense the Maison Dom-Ino is a sign system which refers to this most primitive condition of architecture, which distinguishes it from geometry, or from geometry plus use and meaning. But more importantly in this context, the Maison Dom-Ino can be seen to reflect a modernist or self-referential condition of sign, and thus a true break… from the four hundred year old tradition of … humanist architecture".
The dom-ino as a kind of for-itself then. The building is perceivable as a product between such an Ideogrammatic, Degree Zero representation and extrinsic significance. It is the dialectical relationship amongst the two that becomes significant as the ‘natural’ (or commonsensical) form is filled with multiple actions.
The Villa Savoye is obtained through an expansion and a distortion of this point of origin. Using the vital confusion stated above. The play, or the creation of this house happens through an articulation of the limits contained within the very structure that supports it.
Thus we have a generic root of the building which is ‘held’ together by the tensions inherent in the relationships between its elements which reinforce the integrity of the model. It becomes wholly symmetrical displaying its objecthood through the structure of internal tensions. As Eisenmann points out, the object may be transformed only by keeping with the rule(s) it has established. And the process of its evolution into other Corbusieran structures is extremely clear in hindsight. The object and the process both are regulated through a determinate transformation of this system.
This self-referential form becomes filled in by the conditions of the modern, reflecting "in its historic evolution a change in the conception of the relation of man and his object world" where the object begins to show signs of ‘autonomy’, Man becoming "the ‘peer’ rather than the determiner of the work". Through a very circuitous route, we come to the same.
The house is qualified, once again to be a machine. Its very skeleton betraying the mechanisms: the mathematic precision, the quantities, the distances and the systemic that goes on to affirm the machine’s status as a machine. Albeit a very different machine when compared to the scholastic, or the mechanisation of design as humanist architecture would have had it. The palisade, or the promontory of the building: its walls and all you could see and apprehend by your senses: as walls divide space (and become, in words of Félix Guattari, wall-machine) are quite secondary.