Everyone wants to be a Bacon, the “painter of heads, not faces.”1 Arch­itects seem to be taking quite a literal stab at this, by severing the head of their animals before literally scaling up their bodies and calling it a building. The architecture for these buildings, lie in the abstraction of the figure.

It feels like these architects (mentio­ned in my examples) literally executed Deleuze’s metaphorical take on the Body and Figure. Deleuze talks of how the face (belonging to the Body) “looses its form through techniques of rubbing and brushing.”2 The head (belonging to the Figure) is the abstract entity that exists under the face. It cannot be disfigured. In more of a metaphoric sense, “Bacon pursues a very peculiar project as a portrait painter: to dismantle the face to rediscover the head or make it emerge from beneath the face.”3 Bacon’s paintings have the quality of alluding to a form which we, as viewers, instantly associate with a body. The bodies are not meant to be literally read as a human or animal body; they take on a more abstract quality of being a mass we make associations with due its familiarity with our dictionary of known images. Bacon tries to abstract this known image by disfiguring the body—the abstraction of the body reveals the Figure. I understand the Figure to have a loose association, or a resemblance to so many things that one can no longer delineate it to a single body.

I think that the architects mentioned in my examples, are in search of an abstract figurality in attempts to do away with the literality of the known body. Ironically, they literally take an animal body, disfigure it, and then chop off the face, as a final stroke to reveal the head. Literality closes conversation—it is exactly what it appears to be.
Perhaps this is the reason, “Jason Payne kept it a little under the wraps”4 and only recently admitted in a gallery talk with Moss that his inspiration for the profile of Rasberry Fields comes from the posture of a cow. In his paper for Log, Todd Gannon opines h ow the subtitle “The New Shingle Style… is far more provocative” than “swerves into the animalistic” nature of the project.5 I agree with him completely, because saying that a building looks like the “body of a cow reclining in a pasture” turns the conversation toward the obviously formal aspects of a cow’s body.6 The abstract nature of a style defined by its creator (and predecessors) allows for multiple readings- the complex mind enjoys the array of possibilities.

I think that one way to save work from being so easily put under a category of “it looks like…” would be to layer it with signs. By signs, I mean, references that subtly influence work. The beauty of signs is that they form a network of associations, and cannot be delineated to a single reference. Subtle signs are abstract by definition, because you can only be so sure of what a sign may mean.7 A richness of meaning and a disassociation of preconceived notions come from a layering of signs, and only a close reading can reveal its many sources of inspiration. Literality will be lost when one cannot pin down a single origin or end to what the sign may refer to.

Hejduk’s architecture extracts meanings and signs from one field and applies it to another “using the symbol as a point of departure.”8 In the Wall House II, Hejduk uses the same trope of beheading architecture, but does it quite differently, in comparison to the architects mentioned in my examples.

Wall House II is severed at the neck with the swift slash of an elegantly useless wall. Its disproportionate thinness blocks the living space from the elongated circulation space. Walking on the long ramp, one only encounters this barring wall—it leaves you guessing- what maybe on the other side? Looking up at this tall wall, one does not anticipate the disfigured, squished blob on the other side. The wall thus severs the body, and reveals the figure in the imagination of the person approaching the blob. Unlike the other projects, the head is rejoined to the Body. The reattachment of the Head back to the Body allows for an abstracted reading because one cannot possibly imagine what happens on the other side of the Wall. If the head was not rejoined, or if the wall was absent, the building would fall back into literality. 

The wall creates a sentiment of “Otherness,” a “sense of something else being present in a work… another space which does not conventionally belong to it… there is something inexplicable in the relationship between elements.” I think that the “otherness” comes from not being able to track a sign back to its system.9 The person walking on the ramp is aware that the long passage must lead him somewhere or to something apart from a tall dead wall. The other side of the house is only hinted at, thereby abstracting the nature of a traditional circulation path in a building. In the living space, one knows that there has to be a way out of the building—it is through the ramp, on the other side of the wall. Once again, our traditional notions of house as an enclosure that has an opening to the exterior is abstracted by the presence of the wall. The façades of the building are even more enticing, because walking around the building is like encountering the front of four different structures. The building is abstracted in elevation and plan because it only hints to the existence of other parts. The Wall House II is a unique example of beheaded-rejoined architecture, and stands to exemplify the abstracted Figure.
Literally Bacon

Anushka Jhaveri
April 2015

1-3,7. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (Chapter 4: Body, Meat and Spirit, Becoming-Animal. Chapter 7: Year Zero Faciality) University of Minnesota Press, 1987.

4. Todd Gannon, Five Points of Thesis, SCI Arc Media Archive. Last viewed March 31,2014.

5-6. Todd Gannon, Of Rasberries, Rawhide and Rhetoric, LOG Winter/Spring 2012.

8-9. Weijing He, When does a sentiment become an architectural concept? Otherness in Hejduk’s Wall House 2. Journal of Architecture, Vol. 10, No. 2 (April 2005)