You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there. – Yogi Berra

There are no original ideas. There are no special moments. “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”1 It has all been done—even as I write this, I am paraphrasing a Barenaked Ladies song lyric. The readings from our final week of coursework discussed ideas in the realm of object-oriented ontology, architectural discourse, and finding real comparisons between seemingly fundamentally different objects. While attempting to discuss new ideas, these readings primarily find alternate ways to echo older concepts. As a response to these readings and those discussed during this term, I would like to propose my own theoretical approach to architecture by taking an idea from our ecologically-minded friends: RRR, or Triple-R. You are likely familiar with this approach, because it is certainly not a new idea, as it is otherwise known as ‘Reduce. Reuse. Recycle’. Using the RRR method, critical analysis can be made in relation to Bernard Tschumi’s discussion of the Pyramid and Labyrinth alongside Tom Wiscombe’s references to flat ontology and emergence theory; Jason Payne’s essay on doppelgangers and Gilles Deleuze’s critique of the simulacra; and also, how Friedrich Nietzsche’s genealogical discourse as it relates to my original thesis on the Holmes’ quote/Ecclesiastes 1:9. There are no special moments. There are no original ideas. Comparison and analysis fuels philosophers and theorists, but architecture persists purposefully through replication.

REDUCE. Both Tschumi and Nietzsche discuss a simplification in the organization of ideas, either by way of the Pyramid or through essences, respectively. For Tschumi’s, the Pyramid, or ultimate model of reason, in terms of space, describes that the “architectural object is pure language and that architecture is an endless manipulation of the grammar and syntax of the architectural sign.”2 He goes on to describe how architectural objects are thus reduced to being self-referential—“Forms do not follow functions but refer to other forms, and functions relate to symbols.”3 In this sense, one can then refer to Tom Wiscombe’s essay Discreteness, or Towards a Flat Ontology of Architecture. Here, Wiscombe discusses the reduction of objects in terms of a flat ontology. Instead of a generic part-to-whole philosophy, he describes a way of architectural elements—mass, interior, surface articulation, ground—being whole parts that correlate to each other, that empathize with each other. In other words, each discrete part is no longer a component of a larger whole, but now are individual wholes that exist equally but differently. This reading of part-to-whole can be likened to the reduction of objects to a description of their essences, or rather, their ‘inward nature, true substance, or constitution of anything’ (according to Objects are thus reduced, but also are given a more complete status in that they are defined by themselves and not by their parts.

REUSE. Ideas, concepts, and movements in architecture have been primarily founded on the practice of copying. The philosopher Gilles Deleuze goes into great detail on the idea of copies and simulacra in his essay, Plato and the Simulacrum. These superficial iterations of a style or concept can lead to false reproductions. Similarly, architect Jason Payne introduces the notion of doppelgängers, or the ghostly image or remnant of a living (present) thing or being. Payne uses this term to compare two seemingly different entities—an asteroid, and an Albanian bunker—to create a closeness between the objects. Payne breaks down his comparison of the asteroid and bunker as both being: big, black, and blank—three completely vague yet (in context) completely relevant adjectives. Together the concepts of false iterations or copies (simulacra), and of the evil twin (doppelgänger) are borne out of a strategy of reuse in architectural philosophy and theory. By copying a style or concept, it becomes reified, reaffirmed as a concrete thing. Classicism had been done by the Greeks and Romans thousands of years ago—Neo-Classicism was not a new idea, but the simulacra of repeated antiquity. In the same way that doppelgängers present us with two or more inherently unlike things, by comparing their differences, they become complete iterations of each other. Reuse becomes a standard operation in furthering architectural practice in ‘new’ and ‘innovative’ ways.

RECYCLE. The argument of historical precedents versus genealogy in philosophy goes back and forth between the notion that there is a disconnect between eras or movements of thought. For example, in the history of architecture, historical precedents tell us that each concept comes from a linear descendant (one after the other). Genealogy, on the other hand, takes a more deeply rooted understanding of concepts and sees them as being closely linked, each influencing the next in some way, similar to how the act of recycling works. By recycling a material, it is given an opportunity for new life and a new way of being, but only within the constraints of its physicality. Similarly, architectural theories and movements are recycled over time, each time re-introduced in a more progressive or more developed way, but only able to be advanced within their own philosophical or ideological constraints. On this topic, Deleuze quotes Friedrich Nietzsche, “For we moderns have nothing of our own. We only become worth notice by filling ourselves to overflowing with foreign customs, arts, philosophies, religions, and sciences; we are wandering encyclopedia…You can only explain the past by what is highest in the present.”4 We are only capable of becoming what we are (or could be) based on our materiality—architectural objects are equally restrained, and the act of recycling proves it.

Wiscombe states in The Object Turn: A Conversation, “Discoveries in architecture are clearly different from discoveries in science, because they can only be assessed based on their cultural relevance at any given time.”5 From the perspective of Triple-R (RRR), as well as the verse from Ecclesiastes/Sherlock Holmes, it must be argued that in fact there are no discoveries in architecture, because each ‘new’ idea is simply a restatement of a previous thought or action. If it can be called a theory of practice, RRR can be accurately applied to architectural philosophy, past and present. For example, the theory of Object Oriented Ontology (OOO) gives us the concept that objects exist equally but differently to human beings and vice versa. While this could be contested, RRR gives us a way of understanding how OOO can exist in current architectural discourse. There are no original ideas—architectural theory simply gives us a means to observe and to analyze; through reducing concepts, reusing their fundamental properties, and recycling forms, new ideas may not necessarily be created, but old ones can be perpetuated. The discourse can and will continue, and new generations can be included—after all, it is not only about the design, but also about how architecture is discussed. Our means and methods will never be new or truly innovative, but they can be purely provocative based on how language offers a different description, and how the practice of RRR is utilized in each case.

Ashley Hastings
April 2016

1. Ecclesiastes 1:9 New International Version

2-3. Tschumi, B. (1998). The Architectural Paradox. In Architecture Theory Since 1968 (pp. 25-51). Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

4. Nietzsche, F. W. (1957). The Use and Abuse of History. New York: Liberal Arts Press.

5. Gannon, T., Wiscombe, T., Ruy, D., & Harman, G. (2015). The Object Turn: A Conversation. Log, 33. Retrieved December 16, 2015.