Daniel Libeskind's three lessons in architecture : an allegory on the tools of the (post-) modern architect

Ioannidou, Ersi (2017) Daniel Libeskind's three lessons in architecture : an allegory on the tools of the (post-) modern architect. In: The Tools of the Architect : EAHN Conference; 22 – 24 Nov 2017, Delft and Rotterdam, The Netherlands. (Unpublished)


For the Venice Biennale 1985, Daniel Libeskind constructed Three Lessons in Architecture. The project consists of three large machines; The Reading Machine, The Memory Machine and The Writing Machine. Libeskind claims that he built these machines in order to retrieve the experiences of making architecture by handicraft, intellectual control and industrial production. The underlying argument is that ‘the weapons’ of modern architecture – methods of drawing, making, thinking and writing about architecture that originated in the medieval monastery – were slowly becoming defunct; the architecture of humanism and its respective technology of the mechanical machine were about to end. Libeskind stresses that his machines do not work in the realm of objects but in the realm of ideas. They are means of investigation rather than finite objects in themselves. They are experiments in different forms of realism: technical, functional, social and psychological. In this sense, they are ‘objects of knowledge’ similar to early scientific experimental instruments; they demonstrate a belief. Architectural objects – particularly models – are often made to emphasise the materiality and three-dimensionality of architecture. In Three Lessons in Architecture, while materiality and functioning are still important, ultimately the purpose of the object is the representation of a possibility. The actual workings of the machines matter in as much as they give a vivid image of the metaphor constructed ‘between the axis of technology and the axis of architecture.’ Three Lessons in Architecture is a visual allegorical tale. It appropriates past technological imagery to discuss the tools of the architect in a moment when the existing ‘weaponry’ is about to be supplanted by new ways of thinking and making; as a result, it is both nostalgic and visionary. Nostalgic in the outward appearance of its handcrafted constructions and its erudite referencing of the past; visionary in its statement with regard to the future of production of architectural knowledge and experiences. Three Lessons in Architecture uses allegory as a potent tool for design exploration which brings into architecture knowledge from a wide range of fields. Allegory allows the architectural object to become ‘metaphysical equipment’ and making to be deployed as a critical tool articulating theory. This paper analyses Three Lessons in Architecture as an allegorical project that uses of the machine as medium to construct a ‘figurative theory’ of the tools of the (post-)modern architect.

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