“You’re astonished: where, in that terrain so rationally organized, mapped out, delineated, calculated, measured – where is there room for spontaneity, for ‘madness’, where is the delirium, where is the blindness of desire, the ‘mad love’ that the surrealists idolized, where is the forgetting of self? Where are all those virtues of unreason that have shaped our idea of love? No, they have no place here. For Madame de T. is the queen of reason. Not the pitiless reason of the Marquise de Merteuil, but a gentle, tender reason , a reason whose supreme mission is to protect love.” pg 31.
“By slowing the course of their night, by dividing it into different stages each separate from the next, Madame de T. has succeeded in giving the small span of time accorded them the semblance of marvellous little architecture, of a form. Imposing form on a period of time is what beauty demands, but so does memory. For what is formless cannot be grasped, or committed to memory.” Pg 34.
[Slowness, Milan Kundera, 1996]
These two passages from Slowness get the gist / essence of the architecture of OFFICE KGDVS. In ways more than few, OFFICE’s works are driven by several degrees of reason and measure -of geometry, proportions, rhythm, architectural precedents, economy, and so on; it is also driven by, as is popularly known, by references to works of art that are more often than not about the spontaneous, delirium, desire, ‘mad love’, surreal, forgetting of self and so on. I think it is precisely this tension between the measured and mad, the reasoned and the spontaneous, the delineated and the surreal that makes the work of OFFICE so interesting. This tension is what makes the reasoned and the measured so tender and not hard and idealistic. The reason in their work understands the messiness of the world, their measured lines know that they are being drawn on uneven terrains, their plans know that they are one among several other plans (only a bit more precise than others).
References in architecture are typically seen as direct quotations. In the works of OFFICE you always notice that the references play a more vicarious role. They are not so much a dictionary of a formalism in architecture but rather are much like Warburg’s Atlases. They are a cloud of desire, a space of friendship, an ecology of love. Their presence if always felt but never literally.
How is this kind of formalism different from that of the modernists or even than those of the post-modern architects? I will borrow from Graham Harman’s idea weird formalism and argue that Office’s formalism is a kind of formalism made weird by mixing tenderness to stoicism of logic.
Formalism in architecture and art usually means a way of dealing with the work of architecture by setting internal logics and norms which will guide the making of the work. One can imagine the series of diagrams produced by J. N. L. Durand in Precis. One can even think of the series of exercises done by Eisenman in the formal analysis of canonical architectural works. Usually, in such exercises, where a diagram is either derived or imposed, the key intention is to mobilize abstraction or to get at the abstract logic that is governing the coming together of the form. There are two presuppositions in the formalist thinking: 1) The internal logic of the work is distinct and for itself -which means that the work is done for work’s sake and not for any ulterior motives; 2) the world and things in the world are understandable as abstract models of their form.
In the works of Office KGDVS, the first aspect of the work is very strongly present -as Kersteen would agree. The operative tool for Office has been the plan. The plan becomes the tool which organizes spaces, or one can even say distributes spaces according to a geometrical gesture on the site -a circle, series of parallel lines, square, square inside a circle, a line, etc. However, what one does not see, unlike Eisenman, FOA, Serie Architects… to name a few, is the primacy of the diagram. For Office, the organizer of the project is not the diagram but the gesture of the plan. In that sense there is also a certain degree of opaqueness to the work as opposed a transparency of the diagram -which is all too literally available for reading.
Such gestures can be seen in almost all plans of Office. The plans of the building are always positioned in a way that they distinctly appear on the site -often deliberately reveal the difference between the form of the building and the form of the site. One does not see the endless of reworking of an underlying diagram to either compose or decompose the form of the project -this would entail the second aspect of formalist practice / thinking. Instead, what one sees is the delineation of the limit of the work and working of the form within the set limit -so to speak. Note that for the classical formalist architects it is abstraction that is key, not the gesture. This way, by combining gesture and geometry Office’s Formalism is distinguished from those that of the modernists. And as is well known, there is a certain sense of tenderness to the geometric gestures of Office’s works which is perhaps difficult to say about many of the modernist formalists.
One can say that this very mixing of tenderness -alternatively it can also be referred to as subtleness- is what makes the formalism of OFFICE weird, engaging and beautiful.