lecture by Björn Quiring

The beginnings of architectural theory seem to be steeped in Platonism, modelling construction work on the mathematical harmonics of a divine demiurgos. However, things turn out to be more complicated than that: Vitruvius’ “De Architectura”, the only complete treatise on architecture that has come down to us from antiquity, was clearly influenced by Plato, but also by more earthbound philosophers, and it even remains remarkably close to the dirty work of urban planning and construction. When the focus is shifted accordingly, another scenario emerges from the text: an unusually agonal conception of architecture which describes the city as an instrument of war and as a theatre of memory, commemorating diverse powers and their struggles for hegemony. “De Architectura” stresses that cities grow by the commands of the mighty and that, vice versa, architecture serves to structure and amplify their violent voices. It is only consequential that the text describes the movement of human history as a co-evolution of language and architecture, both imitating and modifying natural phenomena. Architecture is thence described not as a work of imitative cosmic creation, but as an appropriation and modification of nature, an intervention in the conflict of the four elements. In this context, Vitruvius develops the first known exposition of the wave theory of sound in order to deal with the acoustic dimension of architecture and with the properties of machines that can produce, enhance or dampen sounds. While it unfolds military, religious and theatrical dimensions of architectural acoustics, “De Architectura” stresses the relation of the word to the physicality of mere sound and engages on several levels with methods to ameliorate urban soundscapes, so the word of the powerful can spread as unhindered and undistorted as possible. Yet the triumphant Roman speech remains constantly threatened by a wordless, noisy and barbaric past which is both resisted and perpetuated by urban planning. It might be inspiring to listen more closely to these noises from the crypt of architectural theory.

appearance at Tuned City
talking sound and building space / 05.07.08