The wall

Fig. 1: Erecting the original hut

Excerpt from: Antonio Averllno Fllarete: "Treatise on Architecture", Florence, Bibl. Naz., Cod. Magl. II, I, 140 fol. 5v

Fig. 1: Erecting the original hut

Excerpt from: Antonio Averllno Fllarete: "Treatise on Architecture", Florence, Bibl. Naz., Cod. Magl. II, I, 140 fol. 5v

Cordula Seger

Fig. 2: Brightly painted beam in the Parthenon in Athens

After Gottfried Semper: plate V from Anwendung der Farben in der Architektur und Plastik, Dresden 1836

Fig. 2: Brightly painted beam in the Parthenon in Athens

After Gottfried Semper: plate V from Anwendung der Farben in der Architektur und Plastik, Dresden 1836

The wall is charged with cultural-historical significance. Popular sayings like "to stand with one's back to the wall" or "to bang one's head against a brick wall" testify to the wall being the visible boundary to a specific space, and the collective agreement to respect this artificial demarcation as binding and meaningful.

Terms are closely attached to language and can be defined only in the context of their boundaries. This means that a word's meaning is defined in context with and by being differentiated from other words and their material correlation. The wall to a room therefore is different from a piece of masonry; flat and thin, the wall possesses neither substance nor relief and thus creates no sense of depth. Contrary to this, masonry reacts on both of its sides and establishes both internal and external boundaries, here and there. As an independent architectural element it has the inherent capability to enclose and define - and thus create - space. A wall, however, is inevitably joined to a floor and a ceiling, or an underlying supporting construction, and in essence relies on the spatial transitions for its existence. In terms of these characteristics a wall belongs to the category of filigree construction (in traditional frame construction apparent as the infilling), whereas masonry is considered to be an element of solid construction. In the German language, the difference between filigree construction and solid construction, tectonics and ster-eotomy, is accentuated by a linguistic differentiation: "This tectonic/stereotomic distinction was reinforced in German by that language's differentiation between two classes of wall; between die Wand, indicating a screen-like partition such as we find in wattle and daub infill construction, and die Mauer, signifying massive fortification."1

According to Gottfried Semper's theory - developed in Style in the Technical and Tectonic Arts; or, Practical Aesthetics - the linguistic distinction between wall and masonry is of vital importance. Referring to etymology, Semper derives the German word Wand from Gewand (garment/vestment) and winden (to wind/coil). Semper's classification of the arts is divided into four segments: textiles, ceramics, tectonics (according to Semper mainly apparent in timber construction) and stereotomy, and he lists the wall in the textile category. Within Semper's classification, word origin and ethnographical and developmental determinants are interdependent: "Here, once again, we find the remarkable case of ancient phonetics helping the arts by elucidating the symbols of grammar in their primitive appearance and by verifying the interpretation these symbols were given. In all Germanic languages the word Wand (of the same origin and basic meaning as the term Gewand) refers directly to the ancient origin and type of a visibly enclosed space."2 This overlapping of language and art has significant consequences; as a basic line of reasoning it runs through Semper's whole theory. In 1860 Semper wrote of the imminence of a fruitful interaction of research into linguistic and artistic form. In Semper's opinion the term enables a more pointed discussion on what is real. In his reflections on architecture the writer Paul Valéry approaches this notion in poetical fashion, "Truly the word can build, as it is able to create, but it can also spoil."3

Featuring the wall

Where exactly is the border between the masonry and the wall? As described above, there is a material difference between the masonry's thickness and the expanse of the wall's surface, between constructional autonomy and a corresponding dependency on other constructional elements. However, a transition of form is possible: the masonry can be transformed into the wall. This can be achieved through cladding or with a j ointing technique that lends the wall a textile or at least flat appearance.4 This, however, should not be understood as architectural amusement; the significance lies in the fact that a cladding of any kind generates meaning.

A thin coat of paint, for example, is all it takes to turn the masonry into the wall. In this context the discovery of the colourful Greek architecture in the second half of the 18th century had a significant impact on the architecture theory debate. It is more than the opposing camps of white elegance and restraint versus colourful exuberance. It stands for the transformation of a hitherto plastic concept into a textile one, the conversion from masonry to wall. In the first volume of their Antiquities of Athens, published in 1763, James Stuart and Nicholas Revett included drawings of the Palmette and the Lotus frieze they had discovered at the Ilissos Temple - both are brightly painted. In 1806 Quatremère de Quincy supported the new perception of Greek architecture in a widely acclaimed lecture. Consequently, Semper perceived5 and recognised him as the initiator of this discourse.

Semper attributes the symbolic aspects of the creation of space to the wall. Visible from both inside and outside,

Fig. 3: The non-loadbearing columns are part of the wall design.

Karl Friedrich Schinkel: Friedrich Werdersche Church, Berlin (D), 183C

Fig. 3: The non-loadbearing columns are part of the wall design.

Karl Friedrich Schinkel: Friedrich Werdersche Church, Berlin (D), 183C

Fig. 4: View of building with iron frame

Viollet-le-Duc: coloured plate from Entretiens sur l'architecture, 1812

Fig. 4: View of building with iron frame

Viollet-le-Duc: coloured plate from Entretiens sur l'architecture, 1812

the ornamental envelope to a building carries and unveils the spatial and architectural expression of the construction as a whole. The wall, freed from its loadbearing function, defines the building and conveys meaning. The following quotation illuminates both the differentiation between and overlapping of masonry built for constructional purposes and a wall carrying a more symbolic meaning: "...even where solid walls are necessary, they are nothing more than the internal and invisible framework to the true and legitimate representation of the spatial idea, of the more or less artificially worked and woven assembly of textile walls".6 In Friedrich Schinkel's Friedrich Werdersche Church in Berlin the symbolic aspect attributed to the wall becomes particularly obvious. The Gothic ribs visible in the nave do not have any loadbearing function, they do not meet at the centre of the vaulting, and where usually the boss should be, a gap hints at the absence of support. Here, the Gothic ribs are part of the wall I ining, or rather its setting.

The central importance of the wall in the 19th century also unfolded against the background of a distinction John Ruskin established in 1849, the distinction between "building", the purely assembly aspect of construction, and "architecture", the decorative aspect.7 This differentiation has its consequences. Architecture's symbolic and communicative claims are stressed as decorative added value in comparison to a solely technical implementation. Expressed more pointedly: cladding is the equivalent of architecture.

Of frames and the framed

In the middle of the 19th century Eugène Viollet-le-Duc developed a structural rationalism. It defined the constructional framework as a necessity. Viollet-le-Duc differentiated between primary and secondary elements: among the former, he lists the mechanics and structure of a building, whereas the latter, like walls and infilling, may be painted and decorated.8 Such a differentiation incorporates architectural elements into a hierarchical structure - ornamentation and decoration are permissible only when devoid of any constructional function. Viol-let-le-Duc's theory was demonstrated in a project for a house with an iron frame, whose I oadbearing structure is openly visible, while the gaps are filled with enamelled clay bricks.9 The topic of infilling appeared in a new light as around the turn of the last century the use of reinforced concrete in combination with a frame increased. This is the case with Auguste Perret and his pioneering use of reinforced concrete in an apartment block at 25 rue Franklin in Paris. Here, Perret formulated and demonstrated the idea of structure and infilling in the sense of frame and framed.

It is quite telling that - according to Perret - the beginning of architecture is marked by the use of timber frames,10 which in the early 20th century - thanks to the new building material r einforced concrete - was experiencing a contemporary reinterpretation. The frame defines and accentuates the framed and attributes true meaning to it. However, the frame to the rue Franklin building was not a naked concrete construction, it was also made explicit by cladding. In that respect the simple, smooth ceramic tiles were clearly distinguishable from the decorative floral motives of the infilling. The wall is given the significance of a picture enclosed in a constructional frame. It acts as a metaphor for the soft, interchangeable and perpetually changing medium in general. The infilling and its surrounding tectonic structure of construction elements are engaged in a dialogue. Only this dialogue and the discursive intensity of the discussion about the style reveals a building's character and its atmospheric intention. The dialogue defines the building's character - the richness of interrelated, interfering moods, which are able to go beyond a purely practical evaluation - and emphasises it with architecture. So the ceramic cladding enabled Perret to differentiate between the primary and secondary construction elements and at the same time accentuate the logical construction of the building as a whole. In this respect he satisfied both Semper's request for cladding that generates meaning and Viollet-le-Duc's aspirations to a hierarchic structure.

Fig. 5: Playing with variously decorated ceramic panels, view of upper storeys

Auguste Perret: apartment block, 25 rue Franklin, Paris (F), 19C3-C4

Fig. 5: Playing with variously decorated ceramic panels, view of upper storeys

Auguste Perret: apartment block, 25 rue Franklin, Paris (F), 19C3-C4

The glass wall

Auguste Perret defined frame construction as a development of timber construction and tried to apply the same formula to utility buildings - as in the garage for the Société Ponthieu-Automobiles de Paris, where he, so to speak, aggrandised the principle of infilling and framing with the large central glass rosette. Contrary to this, Walter Gropius consciously tried to break away from the division into framing and infilling with his factory building for the Fagus company in Alfeld an der Leine (1911-14). Gropius placed a box-type facade of glass and steel in front of the line of the columns and - as an architectural quintessence - around the building's corners, thus expressing the desire for transparency.

The glass wall, however, allowing an unobstructed view both of the inside from outside and vice versa, and letting the observer's eye penetrate the surface, once more leads to the question of whether a surface can carry meaning. A transparent glass wall's ability, or inability, to generate architectural meaning first became a relevant topic for discussion with the construction of the Crystal Palace in London in 1851. "Joseph Paxton, gardener and engineer, erected the envelope of iron and glass, whereas the decoration - in the primary colours red, yellow and blue - was contributed by the artist and architect Owen Jones. The decorative forms, and even just the coat of paint covering the iron frame, were intended - at least seemingly - to uphold the traditional functions of architecture as a symbolic expression of society as a whole."11 Interestingly, the glass infilling itself was not assigned any symbolic function - this had to be added by the architect.

The building as a container for displaying goods spectacularly - as emerged with the Crystal Palace - has continued in the form of the department store. In the years following the First World War, the use of glass curtain walls in the construction of commercial premises was developed in America. The technological prerequisite here was the

Fig. 7: External view of Alhambra Courtyard - structure versus architecture

Joseph Paxton: Crystal Palace, London (GB), 1851

Fig. 7: External view of Alhambra Courtyard - structure versus architecture

Joseph Paxton: Crystal Palace, London (GB), 1851

development of toughened glass with better load-carrying capacities. As expressed in the term curtain wall, the glass elements hang like textiles from the edges of the concrete floors, which cantilever beyond the line of the columns. Seen from the outside, the glass facade surrounding the building is perceived as an independent skin and thus deviates from the traditional understanding of a wall existing only within a compound floor-ceiling structure.

Fig. 8: The first curtain wall in Europe wraps around the corners to enclose the whole building.

Walter Gropius: Fagus factory, Alfeld a. d. Leine (D), 1911-25; view from south-east, condition after 1914

Fig. 8: The first curtain wall in Europe wraps around the corners to enclose the whole building.

Walter Gropius: Fagus factory, Alfeld a. d. Leine (D), 1911-25; view from south-east, condition after 1914

Viewed from the inside, the transparent glass wall virtually rescinds its ability to delimit a room not only in reality, but also symbolically. Wall and window blend into each other in the sense of a structured opening. What the contemporaries of historicism had perceived as a deficit in the Crystal Palace - that the glass envelope itself did not possess any expressive power - is seen as a quality by classical Modernism. It maintains that only "neutral" buildings allow their occupants a sufficient degree of freedom. However, classical Modernism does not refrain from charging the material with ideological meaning: glass stands for light and air, and thus for a positive openness towards the outside.

Economic interests were just as important in encouraging the use and development of the material. In the department store category, introduced at the end of the 19th century, the main issue is the visibility of the goods on display. The interior was systematically aligned towards the outside and acted as an information medium for passers-by and potential customers.

The curtain wall is exemplary for the alienation of what a wall traditionally should and must achieve. However, there were also other interesting approaches, like the effort prior to the First World War to use glass as a meaningful construction material and to intertwine the functions of wall and opening. Bruno Taut's "glass architecture", inspired by the writings and aphorisms of Paul Scheerbart, made use of glass bricks, prisms, floor and wall tiles in order to create a differentiated interior atmosphere.

The self-sufficient wall

In the 1920s the "De Stijl" architects amalgamated the principles of filigree and solid construction with the help of thin panels made of reinforced concrete, and elevated the wall plate to a constructional, space-generating and creative principle. Consequently, the hierarchy of primary and secondary building elements was abandoned visually.

When the wall plates are to be accentuated, colour plays a vital role: architects and artists from the "De Stijl" group painted entire walls, and the edges of the painted

Fig. 9: The setting for the plate

Theo van Doesburg, "Maison particulière" (in conjunction with C. van Eesteren), "counter construction" (Analyse de l'architecture), 1923, pencil and ink, 55 x 38 cm

Fig. 9: The setting for the plate

Theo van Doesburg, "Maison particulière" (in conjunction with C. van Eesteren), "counter construction" (Analyse de l'architecture), 1923, pencil and ink, 55 x 38 cm

Fig. 10: Roadside elevation showing the entrance at the side

Gerrit Rietveld: Rietveld-Schroder House, Prins Hendriklaan 5C, Utrecht (NL), 1924

plates abutted in such a way that the volume of the building became secondary to the concept of a floating structural assemblage. Accordingly, Arthur Ruegg van Doesburg's "Maison particulière" comments: "Looking back, the use of colour, which suggests an open method of space creation, can be understood as progressive criticism of an architecture still defined by the traditional rules of structures and the enclosed room."12 So while the tinted wall was designed to accentuate the abstract quality of the building and ostensibly denies its importance, it still becomes significant in a historical context through the attitude it conveys: traditional principles are undermined in order to communicate a new understanding of space.

Intimacy and representation

The wall in the narrower sense of the word is conceived from the interior space. The one, specific space finds its delimitation here: "The wall is the one constructional element that defines the enclosed space as such, absolutely and without auxilliary explanation. The wall gives the enclosed room its presence and makes it visible to the eye."13 The saying "within one's own four walls" illustrates the strong focus on the enclosed interior space.

As the influence of the middle classes started to grow in the 19th century, interiors gained increasing relevance as a venue for collective self-presentation. Walter Benjamin attributed the "enclosing" power - for which he created the figurative term "sheath" - to the lifestyle in the 19th century. The "dwelling" of a person, Benjamin writes, carries that person's "fingerprints" and can "in the most extreme case become a shell".14 In the Art Nouveau period with its ideal of an interior designed coherently in all aspects, Benjamin saw a break with the idea of a room as an enclosing structure. "Art Nouveau is rocking the very foundations of the nature of housing".15 Continuing this train of thought we note that Art Nouveau with its floral and organically curving motifs emphasises the flatness of the wall and directs our attention to visual effects and not to the atmosphere of the space. Accordingly, the interior was flattened to a film around 1900, and the mistress of the house, performing her duties of representation, merges, so to speak, into this surface of social projections. This interpretation is affirmed by a photograph of Maria Sèthes, who, wearing a dress designed by her husband Henry van de Valde, blends in with the room's interior, which was designed as a Gesamikunsiwerk. A merger between the wall decoration and the lady's housecoat takes place. Considered in a history of architecture context, this is taking Semper's clothing principle to the extreme. If the interior is perceived as a defined living space, however, the design principles of Art Nouveau are doubly restrictive towards women because the interior has been assigned as their central living space. Adolf Loos was strongly opposed to stylistic art - and he counted

Fig. 11: The woman has been photographed in such a way that she seems to merge into the room.

Photo of Vienese fashion designer Mathilde Fröge, c. 1905, with self-designed "Reform" dress. Ms Fröge is standing in front of a cabinet by Kolomanr Moser and is wearing jewellery by Josef Hoffmann

Fig. 11: The woman has been photographed in such a way that she seems to merge into the room.

Photo of Vienese fashion designer Mathilde Fröge, c. 1905, with self-designed "Reform" dress. Ms Fröge is standing in front of a cabinet by Kolomanr Moser and is wearing jewellery by Josef Hoffmann

1 Ke n n et h Fra m pto n : Studies in Tectonic Culture: The Poetics of Construction in 19th and 20th Century Architecture, London, 1995, p. 5

2 Gottfried Semper: Der Stil in den technischen undtektonischen Künsten. vol. 1, Frankfurt/M 1860, p. 229. - English translation: Gottfried Semper: Style in the Technical and Tectonic Arts; or, Practical Aesthetics, vol. 1, (Semper's emphasis).

3 Paul Valéry: Eupalinos, Frankfurt/M., Leipzig 1991, p. 78.

4 See the essay "The pathos of masonry" by Âkos Moravanszky, pp. 23-31. The mixing of solid and filigree construction was initiated by Semper, who assumed that every well-built masonry wall represented a type of weaving due to its jointing principle.

5 Gottfried Semper: ibid., p. 218.

7 The distinction between design and architecture also had repercussions for education around 1800. For example, in France the "Ecole Polytechnique", whose focus was applied technology, was founded in 1795. The growing specialisation provoked a separation between the disciplines, which has had a lasting effect on the understanding of design and architecture, and is only slowly moving towards the necessary union.

8 Robin Middleton: "Farbe und Bekleidung im neunzehnten Jahrhundert"; in: Daidalos "In Farbe", No. 51, Berlin, 15 March 1994, pp. 88-89.

9 See Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc: Entretiens sur l'architecture. Atlas, Paris, 1864 PL. XXXVI.

10 Au g u ste Pe rret : Contribution à une théorie de l'architecture, 1952, quoted by Frampton 1995 pp. 125-26.

11 Susanne Deicher: "Polychromie in der englischen Architektur um die Mitte des 19 Jahrhunderts", in: Daidalos, ibid., p. 91

12 Arthur Rüegg: "Farbkonzepte und Farbskalen ir der Moderne", in: Daidalos, ibid., p. 69.

13 Gottfried Semper: Der Stil in den technischen und tektonischen Künsten, vol I. Frankfurt/M 1860, p. 227.

14 Walter Benjamin: Das Passagen-Werk. Gesammelte Schriften Bd. V1. Frankfurt/M. 1982, p. 292. - English translation: Walter Benjamin: The Arcades Project, Cambridge, Mass.,1999

16 Hugo Koch: "Ausbildung der Wandflächen", in: idem: Die Hochbaukonstruktionen. Des Handbuches der Architektur dritter Teil. Vol. 3, no. 3: Ausbildung der Fußboden-, Wand- und Deckenflächen, Stuttgart, 1903, pp. 101-22

17 Gottfried Semper: ibid., p. 231, footnote 2

Fig. 12: The clothes and wearer are part of a Gesamtkunstwerk setting.

Maria Sethe, wearing a dress designed by her husband, the architect Henry van de Velde, photographed in their house in Uccle near Brussels, c. 1898.

Gottfried Semper loved role-playing, which serves as a binding convention and simplifies human interaction. To take part in a public debate he used coded gestures and images. "I believe that dressing-up and masquerade are as old as human civilisation itself, and the pleasure in both is identical with the pleasure in all the activities that make humans become sculptors, painters, architects, poets, musicians, dramatists - in short: artists. Any kind of artistic creation on the one hand, and artistic enjoyment on the other, require a certain carnival spirit - if I may express it in modern terms. The smouldering of carnival candles is the true atmosphere of art. The destruction of reality, of the material, is necessary where form is to emerge as a meaningful symbol, as an independent creation of man."15 Semper's fondness for carnival was countered by Modernism with its moral request for sincerity, which led to a decline in the fullness of expression. It was left to post-Modernism to rediscover the communicative potential of the wall and combine the principles of clothing and cladding.

Fig. 12: The clothes and wearer are part of a Gesamtkunstwerk setting.

Maria Sethe, wearing a dress designed by her husband, the architect Henry van de Velde, photographed in their house in Uccle near Brussels, c. 1898.

the designs of Henry van de Velde, Secession and the Wiener Werkstätten among these. Loos harshly criticised Art Nouveau's dramatic elaborateness and promoted the idea that interior spaces have to reflect their occupant's personality and not express some arty architect's narcissistic self-complacency,

From clothing to cladding and back

The wall's expressive powers today mostly appear to be reduced. The third volume of the Handbuch der Architektur,16 published in 1903 in Stuttgart, dedicated individual chapters to various wall coverings - stone, paper, leather or woven fabrics - and to techniques like painting, wallpapering, incrustation, stucco, mosaics or wood panelling, and to "artistic painting". Contemporary works, however, concentrate mainly on what is intended to be hidden behind the wall,

This shift in the importance and perception of the wall is also reflected on a linguistic level: while the 1903 manual speaks - in line with Semper - of wall clothing, today only the term cladding is in use. The cladding refers to something that is meant to remain hidden or come to the surface in an altered state; thermal insulation, vapour check, air cavity, etc. occupy the space between wall and cladding.

Fig. 13: Entrance beneath fascia of marble and grey granite. The motifs are reminiscent of the early Renaissance and emphasise the central transition to the building.

Robert Venturi, John Rauch: Gordon Wu Hall, new common rooms for Butler College, Princeton University, New Jersey (USA), 1980

Fig. 13: Entrance beneath fascia of marble and grey granite. The motifs are reminiscent of the early Renaissance and emphasise the central transition to the building.

Robert Venturi, John Rauch: Gordon Wu Hall, new common rooms for Butler College, Princeton University, New Jersey (USA), 1980

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