Karim Basbous

At the start of a new century, at a time when the project is often reduced to the literal expression of a “concept” depicted via one single image, we have chosen in this issue to present the work of José Cruz Ovalle, who views architecture as an extended space to be explored thoroughly, not as a product to be consumed.

The Adolfo Ibañez University, a cluster of buildings lying at the feet of the Andes, at first sight simply extends an invitation to wander through its maze of galleries. José Cruz Ovalle, like Louis Kahn, begins each project by exploring the inner nature of its program, before the first line of the design is set down on paper. Kahn saw the National Assembly in Dhaka as a “society of rooms” united by an egalitarian mathematics, and Cruz sees the university as a community of spaces whose very organization represents the freedom to learn, to choose, and to pass on knowledge. For him, the university is not a collection of lecturerooms but rather a form of movement. The project thus took shape in the form of a winding labyrinth through which people are forced to move slowly and experience multiple points of view. For Ovalle there is no hierarchy in the visual experience of a building: a glimpse is just as important as a complete view, and hesitation is as necessary as action. The curvature of the spaces generates a continuous, perpetual orbital motion, a “going towards” that never becomes a retracing of steps. In this way the key idea of the free plan re-emerges: the plan functions to multiply the number of possible routes that lead from one point to another. The perimeters are as abundant as these pathways, and movement expands along them without ever giving the impression that one is getting further away: this is an architecture that diverges and spreads out in all directions, folding in on itself in places to frame confined spaces, under patches of sky like those of Cezanne paintings, “cramped” between the mountainous skyline and the sheltering shade of the buildings’ overhangs.[1]

José Cruz Ovalle himself writes here about the Adolfo Ibañez University. Iñaki Ábalos analyses the impact of his experience of visiting the site. Alejandro Gabriel Crispiani and Fernando Pérez Oyarzun put José Cruz Ovalle’s work as a whole into historical, geographical, and artistic perspective. This issue of Le Visiteur also continues the publication of the proceedings of the international symposium “The project in question,” held on March 14-15, 2008, at the Société française des architectes in collaboration with the CNRS.


If Le Corbusier’s inventiveness took him in totally unexpected directions with every new project, perhaps it was because he had secretly joined the confraternity of builders. Laurent Salomon and Judith Rotbart explore the implicit methods that this “painter who strayed into architecture” elaborated, while Arnoldo Rivkin identifies in Le Corbusier’s late projects some projectual notions that have since remained virtually unexplored, except in the approaches of a few contemporary works. Franco Purini eloquently denounces contemporary society’s disdain for the architectural project. Rémi Rouyer raises materials to the level of primary elements, to be transformed by the technical imagination and the economics of implementation, which open up a new way of projecting. The House of the Project, which heralds the creation of the Centre Pompidou in Metz, has prompted Benoît Goetz to ask a fundamental question: what defines the time and place of architecture? Does it take place in the initial thinking of the architect, in the depiction of that thinking as presented to the client, in the activity on the construction site that gives it physical form, or in the lived-in space that constitutes its purpose?

Ideas have a life of their own, moving between the disciplines, following intuitive affinities that escape the bounds of chronological history and link the aspirations of Louis Kahn, Josef Albers, Wilhelm Worringer, Livio Vacchini, Auguste Choisy, and André Ravéreau. The genealogy traced by Joseph Abram examines two modern-day lines of thought inspired by two separate concepts taken from ancient Egypt: the surface as generative of abstraction, and the rituals of construction as a form of practical knowledge.

Lastly, we publish a transcription of the lecture given by Mike Davis at the Société française des architectes on June 6, 2008, on the future of the city – a site where all kinds of conflicts are crowded together, but also the site where the ecological and moral survival of society is being played out in the wake of a convergence of disasters. Current events add a special flavor to the debate in which Davis and Rem Koolhaas are adversaries; readers may judge for themselves whether recent developments have already shown who is the winner.


[1] “Éloge du vide architectonique,” lecture by José Cruz Ovalle to the Société française des architectes, Paris, November 9, 2007.

Translated from the French by Linda Gardiner

A day in Peñalolén
Iñaki Ábalos
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Beginning of the article…

I write these words having to deal with what I consider to be a geographic injustice; I mean the distance between Santiago de Chile and the European and North American centres where contemporary aesthetic cannons are established. In addition to that distance we have to consider the rigorous attitude of some Chilean architects, among them, undoubtedly, José Cruz Ovalle and his team, with Ana Turell at the forefront, who together, a long time ago, decided to create a complex architecture that makes no concessions, either in terms of outside or inside structure. An architecture born out of solid ethical grounds and which therefore does not live on borrowed devices and features, nor is it into photogenic solutions, etc. We thus find ourselves in a situation in which the least we the “messengers” can do – we who go to and fro – is to testify to what we have seen.

To testify not only to our amazement but also to a reality which is overwhelming.

My visit a year ago to Peñalolén, in the Autumn of 2003, to see the Adolfo Ibañez University, located at the foot of the Andean slopes, was and remains in my memory as a truly important architectural experience, a good bite of the best architecture built today, a unique feast able to satiate those in search of architecture of a superior quality. To be more precise, I can recall very few moments of similar intensity – maybe some in Switzerland; some, very few, in Japan; at least one in Spain.

Inheriting the avant-garde or the stele of form
Alejandro Gabriel Crispiani
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Beginning of the article…

“Tomorrow you will not recognize me” wrote Kasimir Malevitch in 7976 at the climax of his manifesto From Cubism and Futurism to Suprematism. The New Realism in Painting. This phrase, found at a particularly significant point in Malevitch’s writings, illustrates the unmistakably avant-garde preoccupation with being inheritors, with the construction of a future that, though probably unrecognizable, will hopefully continue to be faithful to the search for the new, or, as in the case of Malevitch himself, the New Absolute. Unlike other declarations by the avant-garde, it is not a demand but simply a prediction or, at most, an expression of desires free of any dogmatism or intention to impose. Not that such intentions are completely absent in Malevitch. Indeed, they may be found in various of his writings, but always accompanied (as in so many avant-garde texts) by a sense of freedom that finds perhaps one of its most succinct expressions in the manifesto’s final phrase just cited. It is a sense of freedom that goes clearly beyond the freedom of the artist to create new forms. In other words, it is not simply the freedom to create forms, but rather something much broader that embraces art and what we might call for lack of a better term, the spirit of freedom. It was clearly what Malevitch found to be the spirit of his time, struggling for the complete conquest of reality. The free forms in his paintings, which in many ways mirror in the field of the plastic Filippo Marinetti’s Words in Freedom, are not only able to stand on their own but also seek to inject a new energy into the world and broaden its freedom.

Four simultaneous coordinates
José Cruz Ovalle
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Subheadings of the article…

Form and splendour of a magnitude.

Architecture of the campus of universidad Adolfo Ibáñez
José Cruz Ovalle
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Beginning of the article…


The location of this university, above the city of Santiago, at the foothills of the Andes Mountain Range, establishes the first architectural statement of this work, in that it sets it within a dimension inherent to our American continent: positioned in crucial confrontation with the vastness of nature. This statement holds true for this placement is a location, not simply a plot of land or a site, as it holds within it a magnitude innate to our country and our continent: Extension.

This location before an extension, not enclosed by the urban trace sets us before a freedom of limits of the work, which, together with the non previous representation of this as a building, signifies here, to instigate it from an origin and to generate it without following any model.


The vision of both professors and students, occupying his place, with the freedom conferred by gathering and dispersing in the open air, was a first step towards conceiving the liveable size of the work – prior to its limits – as an entirety spread out before the extension.

An entirety which at a second stage was anticipated, precisely, as a detachment of the open air sky, as if its projection over the earth touched ground at certain points and at others it was frozen at a certain altitude casting its shadow from above.

José Cruz Ovalle, architect: an approach to a situation
Fernando Pérez Oyarzun
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Beginning of the article…

The activities of many architects may be readily situated in a specific context. In such cases, both the meaning of their work and the modalities of its development are best understood in terms of their personal biographies and their geographical and cultural backgrounds.

This does not hold true, however, in the case of Jose Cruz, whose work is best seen from the standpoint of a certain movement – a movement between places, between activities and between diverse dimensions of architecture. His oeuvre is tensioned by polarities whose presence generates the system of coordinates by which we may properly comprehend his work.

“Simply a painter who has strayed into architecture”
Judith Rotbart and Laurent Salomon
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“I would object to any formulas and any tools that restricted my freedom by an iota.”
Le Corbusier

“Whoever seeks anything from freedom but freedom itself is doomed to slavery.”
Alexis de Tocqueville

“A work is made for itself alone: it emerges out of a man and is finalized when he can wring no more out of himself, when he has extracted everything, tried everything, granting himself pleasures that perhaps no one else will ever enjoy.”
Le Corbusier

Beginning of the article…

[…] If the questions raised by Le Corbusier keep coming back to haunt us, it is surely because they are so much more fertile than any of these. In Paris in 2004, experts discussed this point at a colloquium held at the Pavillon du Brésil.[1] We heard a number of architects and historians “explaining” Le Corbusier. We remember in particular the lecture given by Dr. Hindermeyer,[2] who told us that towards the end of his life Le Corbusier had said to him that he was “simply a painter who has strayed into architecture.” What did he mean by this confession, voiced so late and so fraught with significance? Is there a connection between the “outsider” status and the uniqueness of the work? Is there a special connection to be discovered between the “pictural” and the “spatial”?[3] How does this tally with his mistrust of the functionalist movement, which restricts the architectural methods proper to an ideologically modern project? Is it the belief that revolutionizing the ideology of architecture does not necessarily lead architects to revolutionize architecture itself?

[1] “Le Corbusier messager,” international colloquium held in Paris, 24-25 September 2004.
[2] Jacques Hindermeyer was Le Corbusier’s personal physician.
[3] Around 1930 Lucio Fontana worked out a number of precepts about the ways in which the picture can be destroyed from within in order to be transmuted into a concetto spaziale. He called this transmutation “picturality,” suggesting the ability of the pictural to describe three-dimensional masses. In this sense the pictural art is the essence of Le Corbusier’s approach to architecture (Agnès Violeau, Mosta-Heirt, de la picturalité, April 2005).

Unseasonable invention
Arnoldo Rivkin
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“I do not know what meaning classical scholarship may have for our time except in its being ‘unseasonable,’ – that is, contrary to our time, and yet with an influence on it for the benefit, it may be hoped, of a future time.”
Friedrich Nietzsche, Thoughts Out of Season, Part II

Beginning of the article…


Let us venture to diagnose the problem: the architectural project is suffering from schizophrenia. Between boring theoretical work and the bromides of the media, writing on architecture exposes the difficulty it faces in identifying the project’s real issues. At the same time, architectural creations themselves are proof of the development of unique works which, far from exemplifying simple “avant-gardism,” are opening up new areas of experimentation.

Unlike the preceding decades, in which critical and historical thinking (on theory and history, the architecture of the city, etc.) coincided with the construction of repetitive structures with no exploration of the possibilities of space, today everything is happening as if each construction was the expression of thought in motion, thought that theoretical work has a hard time keeping up with. The danger is that these projects will be reduced to “fashionable” architecture, to phenomena connected with a transitory reality, remaining blind to the new perspectives which they sketch as a form of thought. There is an essential distinction between thought “in action” and action itself, between “potentiality” and “power,” that “mediatised” writing can only ignore.

In the text he wrote as his final testament, Le Corbusier wrote that “nothing but thought can be bequeathed to posterity.” He left behind a theory that his readers believed they could glimpse in texts too hastily classified as doctrinaire, whereas in reality his theoretical work was condensed in the intelligence of his final projects, projects still without successors.

Architecture and politics
Franco Purini
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Beginning of the article…

It is true that architecture is not a political activity (although it can be regarded as a political problem). But it is even more true that every human activity results from some vision of the world which in turn cannot help being inherently political. The first of these two statements is simply a reaffirmation of what Manfredo Tafuri wrote in the 1970s, that “architecture is not a revolutionary activity,” by which he meant that since the art of building operates at the level of superstructure, it cannot change the economic conditions and conditions of production which generate social dynamics; it can merely represent them. However, although architecture does not belong to the Marxist category we call the structure, no architectural activity, as just noted, is devoid of political significance, because it is the outcome of choices related to the basic elements of reality. Architecture is thus political, because it always expresses some sort of judgment about the world; but its political character is obliged to remain, so to speak, oblique and indirect. If we look more closely at our opening statements, we see that in fact we need to revise the implications we draw from them: they seem to express not so much a contradiction but rather an ambivalence. In some sense, politics intersects with architecture in whatever way the latter is expressed, even though it is quite difficult to establish a cause-effect relation between any one architectural creation and its political and social impact.

Pixel and surplus
Rémi Rouyer
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Beginning of the article…

How does the technical imagination work in the act of projecting? How is memory transmitted and transformed into a structured physical object? If there is no permanent bond between matter and form, this is probably because mediating systems are introduced with a certain amount of distancing, to ensure that the link is maintained for the time being but that the materials do not acquire some absolute, intrinsic, and immutable order of their own.[1] If this is so, how do they then take on form at the moment of genesis of the architectural project, and through what series of actions and processes are they “in-formed”?

[1] This essay emerges from my doctoral thesis presented to the University of Paris (I-Panthéon-Sorbonne), Architecture et procès techniques. Les figures de l’imaginaire, 2006, directed by Antoine Picon.

The house of the Project
Benoît Goetz
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“Question a painter, a poet, a musician, a mathematician, and you will oblige him to become conscious of his own activity: that is, to come at the metaphysics of his art.”

Beginning of the article…

Not far from the Metz train station, that monstrous Wilhelmine edifice that Maurice Barrès referred to as a “pie” and a “huge block of paté” in his delightful patriotic novel Colette Baudoche, another much friendlier monster is under construction: the “little Beaubourg” designed by Shigeru Ban, to which a significant portion of the collections of the Centre Pompidou will be transferred in 2010. Close by the cranes and the concrete structures rising out of the ground stands an odd little structure, a kind of “folly” open to the public: the House of the Project. Here the visitor will find plans and scale models of the future building and enjoy a panoramic view of the construction site from a viewing platform, outfitted with telescopes just like the world’s major tourist attractions. But in this case the object on view is an unprecedented one – a building whose very definition is not yet fully established.

Clay and stone

Ancient Egypt and the architectural rationalism of the 20th century

Joseph Abram
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Beginning of the article…

“Now we see the pyramids in full presence. There prevails the feeling ‘Silence,’ from which is felt Man’s desire to express. This before the first stone was laid.”[1] Louis Kahn experienced this sense of silence and eternity during his trip to Egypt in 1951, when he first saw the pyramids of Gizeh. He stayed in Cairo for several days, taking the time to absorb their luminous presence. Their pastel shades, yellow ocher, red ocher, tawny, raw Sienna, and golden-brown, seemed with their “perspectival plane surfaces” to have captured something of the massive solidity of these strange monuments. Kahn was traveling around the Mediterranean, starting in Italy, where he had stayed at the American Academy in Rome. There, he said, he spent most of his time “looking at the light.” From Italy he continued on to Delphi, Athens, Corinth, Luxor, Karnak, Saqqara, and Cairo.[2] The drawings he made at this time, the early 1950s, were profoundly different from those that preceded them.[3] His vision of things had changed and was no longer representational. Instead it plunges the spectator into a kind of colorful abstraction, in which planes and masses appear to be equivalent. Kahn’s biographers have noted that while at Yale he was close to Josef Albers,[4] formerly a professor at the Bauhaus. Impressed by Albers’ thinking about art, he had invited him to teach at Yale; he especially admired the series of paintings entitled Homage to the Square.[5] It was probably the role assigned by Albers to color, both as surface and as density, which formed the theoretical basis of Kahn’s own new style. His Egyptian drawings are both solid and abstract. They offer a very fine representation of the Pyramids, bringing to a climax a unique aesthetic tradition in which ancient Egypt was adopted as one source for the modern. This tradition first saw the light of day in the worldviews of Alois Riegl and Wilhelm Worringer,[6] originating around the same time that the concepts of Kunstwollen, abstraction, and Einfühlung emerged in the field of art history. It was introduced into the domain of architecture via a quite unexpected route, the theoretical speculations of Walter Gropius about industrial building construction in the United States.

[1] Louis I. Kahn, “Architecture: silence and light,” in Louis Kahn, Essential Texts, ed. Robert C. Twombly, New York, W.W. Norton, 2003, p. 229.
[2] On Louis Kahn, see David B. Brownlee and David G. De Long, Louis I. Kahn: In the Realm of Architecture, New York, The Museum of Contemporary Art of Los Angeles, Rizzoli, 1991; Louis I. Kahn: le monde de l’architecte, Paris, Centre Georges Pompidou, 1992.
[3] Cf. Jan Hochstim, The Paintings and Sketches of Louis I. Kahn, New York, Rizzoli, 1991.
[4] Cf. Luca Rivalta, Louis Kahn, la construction poétique de l’espace, Paris, Éditions du Moniteur, 2003, p. 54-59 ; Robert McCarter, Louis I. Kahn, London and New York, Phaidon, 2005, p. 47-50.
[5] On this work, see Eugen Gomringer, Josef Albers, son œuvre et sa contribution à la figuration visuelle du XXe siècle, Paris, Dessain et Tolra, 1972. On Albers’ theories, see Josef Albers, Interaction of Color, New Haven, Yale University Press (revised edition), 2006.
[6] The notion of Kunstwollen (artistic will) was introduced by Alois Riegl (1858-1905) in reaction against the deterministic theories of Gottfried Semper (1803-1879), whom he accused of reducing style to the material conditions of its creation (Alois Riegl, Stilfragen, Vienna, 1893; Problems of Style, Princeton, 1992). In order to understand the history of styles, Riegl proposed to investigate the “artistic will” of the cultures which created them. Kunstwollen assumes an absolute correspondence between the type of art and the collective aspiration that underlies it. It designates the universal component in art but at the same time relativizes it: through this artistic will, civilizations have expressed different, even conflicting conceptions of the universe. The notion of Einfühlung (empathy) was developed by Theodor Lipps (1851-1914) in order to define the unique relationship that binds object and subject in the course of aesthetic contemplation. Psychological aesthetics, of which Lipps was one of the major proponents, held that the subject identifies with the object by humanizing it. Worringer wrote: “The simplest formula that expresses this kind of aesthetic experience runs: Aesthetic enjoyment is objectified self-enjoyment. To enjoy aesthetically means to enjoy myself in a sensuous object diverse from myself, to empathise myself into it.” Wilhelm Worringer, Abstraktion und Einfühlung, Munich, Piper Verlag, 1911; Abstraction and Empathy: A Contribution to the Psychology of Style, Ivan R. Dee, 2007, p. 5.

Who will build the ark?

The architectural imagination in an age of catastrophic convergence

Mike Davis
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At the threshold of unprecedented global emergency – as temperatures, oil and food prices, slum populations, and urban violence all soar in unison – mainstream architectural practice has never seemed more blasé, self-referential or morally irrelevant. Indeed, the profession’s celebrity stratum increasingly resembles an apocalyptic cult dedicated to the unsustainable architectural and socio-economic hyperboles of Dubai and Las Vegas. On a planet where more than two billion people subsist on two euros or less a day, these dream worlds inflame desires – for infinite consumption, total social exclusion and physical security, and architectural monumentality – that are clearly incompatible with the ecological and moral survival of humanity.