The Latent Dialectic in “Fear of Grids”

(If this seems like it’s coming out of nowhere, it’s because you didn’t read the first post. Honestly, you didn’t miss much.)

Another Pamphlet’s second issue (titled Repetition!) has a page titled “Fear of Grids.” The author writes:

but the grid, in its true, overwhelming, and undeniable abstractness, is much more than a system or symbol of rational order. Its infinite reach and repetition turns it into the exact opposite of what it appears: an irrational, indeed delirious, immersive medium. Its homogenizing tendency doubles as a means to radically sublimate the subject-position at the heart of any design proposition that includes it. Though intensely positional by nature, its resultant is the field rather than the coordinate.

The article proposes two recent ways of thinking about the grid: the grid as a conceptual register and the grid as an affectual (invented term #1) field. Notably, the “modern” view of the grid as free of symbolic content is off the table. How has it been removed? The implicit argument is basically that of Venturi and Scott Brown (critiquing Paul Rudolph’s Crawford Manor in Complexity and Contradiction) and Eisenman (in “The End of the Classical: The End of the Beginning, the End of the End”). Reductively, the claim is that modern architects were naïve to think they were escaping representation with their use of the grid – its performance was (at least) symbolic, whether or not they acknowledged this dimension.

Only slightly more explicitly, the author then applies this same line of argument to the “non-naïve” conceptual use of the grid (presumably thinking about Eisenman’s early architecture.) Because the author is careful to say that the grid is not only a symbol, the implication is that the affectual paradigm has the same relationship to the conceptual paradigm that the conceptual paradigm had to the modern paradigm. Even when the grid is used as a conceptual register (for example, to create a legible index of the design process), the grid has affectual implications in the same way that – even when it was used by modernists – it had (unadmitted) symbolic implications.

Presented in this way, the article’s argument reveals itself as essentially dialectical:

  • Modern architecture thought it was just doing A.
  • Postmodernism showed that, in doing A, it was also doing B.

We have to pause to consider the synthesis, but it’s fairly clear: that in being conscious of B, architects gained the ability to use it intentionally in designing. We resume:

  • Postmodern architecture thought it was just doing B.
  • The article argues that, in doing B, it was also doing C.

Now, presumably, we can wield C: the affect of the grid.

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