"THE SIXTH ORDER"® part Three.

















The third part of the Sixth Order, equivalent to "Venustas", 'Delight', "beauty", or Conceptual Engineering, in the triad of Vitruvian functions, is called, in JOA:

"The Talking Order"®




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Vertical Time essay




It will seem obvious to a contemporary architect, trained and practised during the last half of the 20C, that the role of the fantastically huge and heavy stone columns of the 'Architectural Orders', their ornamented capitals, and their overhanging and elaborate entablatures, could never have been more than ornamental. To then go on to learn facts which have been known for 150 years, yet consistently suppressed by the apologists for Classicism, and even by the great Moderns, such as Corbusier, that these fantastic confections of stucco and marble were actually stained, waxed and polished strong colours, and partly covered with applied patterns, by the Ancient Hellenes, Persians, Egyptians, Indians, Mayans and Chinese, will serve merely to confirm the contemporary Architect even more strongly in his opinion that the Orders were a merely conceptual, symbolic, and even superstitous instrument with no possible role in the architecture of today and beyond.

But what if these big stone columns were now reamed out by some gigantic boring machine and filled with all the electro-mechanical viscera essential to a contemporary building? What if some of these columns were so large that one could tunnel through their podia, converting them into passageways for people and automobiles? Such eminently utilitarian instruments (which bye-the-bye, could also hold the building up), would need to be given some external form. Their ample surfaces would benefit from some shaping and colouring. One knows the weakness of human beings for 'clothes'.

And then what if these ample exterior surfaces could only be made, for economic reasons, of some artificial, synthetic material, like concrete, plaster or even sheetrock, merely grooved by reglets, and coloured with artificial additives or even mere latex paint? Would it not be necessary to, at least, invent some kind of 'design'? Necessity alone, and the clear weakness for images evidenced by our species (it seems to have waiting, all these millions of years, to find its fulfilment sitting in front of VCR's to watch Soaps), require that Architects abandon their favourite pastime, which is dressing up in Engineers clothes, and do the job the Public expects of them - making something out of the tacky boxes, filled with machines, that we build today.


No Architect, with an eye on his reputation as a Modern, living during the past 100 years, would ever even try to design the 'look' of a big column - as a column, and especially as part of a whole 'Architectural Order'. He would avoid this situation as if even to to solve it (which he would anyway judge to be impossible) meant certain peer-group condemnation. The whole idea strikes the contemporary architect as ludicrous, grotesque, immoral, hubristic, superfluous - mere words can not describe the pure horror and revulsion that flows from a Modernist if he were ever to suspect one of his colleagues of being completely serious about the idea of inventing a real, new, Modern, Order fit for the purpose of planning whole complexes of buildings. Bob Maxwell used the adjectives 'outrageous' and 'terroristic'.

I have to say that at the time, back in 1995, I thought he was joking. I now know, from experience, that he was very precise. Architects, and many of learning, utterly hate what we have done in JOA. Instead of seeing that our achievements throw a lifeline to a beleagured and vanishing Medium and Profession, they simply dismiss it as 'wrong'. Yet Architects are the only people that feel this fierce aversion. Architects are the only people who entertain an unshakeable belief in the terminal demise of their own medium. Other, equally clever and cultured, people regard what we have done, especially at Rice, with an unforced approval and gratitude. In short the Public and many of my colleagues are here absolutely opposed in their assessment of JOA's reinvention of an 'ordered' Architecture.

The place where this becomes most manifest is where it all 'appears on the surface'.


If there is a single abstraction that obsesses Architects and Architectural Theorists, at the present time, it would be 'surface'. What are all contemporary 'architectures' but manipulatioins of mere 'surface'. Whether they are 'straight' boxes, slightly bent boxes, completely fragmented boxes, or (with added curves) plain blobs, more wobbly blobs? Contemporary practice leads ulltimately to the work of the ultimate fragmented, fractured, wobbly and wavy 'Skin Games' of Liebeskind and Gehry.

Young Architects continuously manipulate this notion of 'surface' through the computerised, prothsetic digitalia of their absent hands, hands that no longer even feel the agony of their amputation, or the pens and pencils they once (very recently) held. Phosphorescent surfaces slide and wave and billow, sliced, meshed and rotated, inverted and translated to and from until no one knows any more what is surface and what is surfaced, what is past, present or future. The aimless computer surges with a hopeless, lifeless, unintentionality, like a giant sponge with no millenial hope, or ambition, towards a vertebrate cortex.

Yet to an intellectual, surface is illusion. It is mere visual, iconic, appearance. Surface is always downgraded in the search for the reality that lies behind it. Surface is always to be stripped away, layer by layer, or rendered transparent, or rendered communicative. It is to be written-over, inscribed, painted, made the canvas for a language that could penetrate its veiled, blinded, filmed-over, eye. The latest kind of 'surface design' embodies this elevated mood of high-powered critical theory, mistily enveloping the new breakthgough architecture of CADCAM in which shapes digitised on the computer screen feed straight through to the machines in the factory.

The preferred surface is semi-transparent. The popular form around which the computer maps this filmy skin is the blob (close relation, in architecture, to the Quonset (Nissen) Hut). Add the two together and the cutting edge design tool is revealed as a curvy no-shape shell which reveals the vague outlines of an inconsequentially pragmatic interior assembly. It was said of Senator Huffington, that if one looked into his eyes, one saw all the way to the back of his head. What can one say of the 'new cladding', for example, of the Apple computer - design icon of the media-savvy? "That if one gazes deep into the infinity of its filmy layers one comprehends the laws of....... injection moulded plastic?"

Between surface as intoxicated, narcotised and stimulated to an excess of dissolution and disintegratioin, and surface as 'dirt' to be scrubbed away from the shining, visceral, visage of truth, what is to explain the current obsession? Why bother with such trivia? Why, especially, give it such huge puffs of philosophy?

The answer is to be found elsewhere than contemporary 'critical theory'. The attempt to buoy-up the shattered wreck of Architecture by lashing together likely planks of text purloined from other more robust structures is a diverting intellectual exercise, indeed it is more attractive than the fagged-out 'modernity' that our newly itinerant 'philosophes' have come to keep afloat. But they should know (if only for their own survival as the whole ship falls to pieces) that the reason for the interest in 'skin games' comes from other sources than their Texts.

Professor Kenneth Frampton reveals its rationale at the end of his magisterial "Studies in Tectonic Culture", subtitled "The Poetics of Construction in Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Architecture", published in 1995, by the Graham Foundation, and MIT. On page 381, six pages before his mournful end, Frampton refers to a less ambitous book, by R. Gregory Turner, titled "Construction Economics and Building Design: an Historical Approach": New York, Van Nostrand Rheinhold, 1986.

"Gregory Turner reports that the massive and solid building structure, which at the turn of the 19C constituted 83% of value, has now, 100 years later, fissured into very distinct technologies and parts. The only part which has not changed markedly, in its fraction of cost, is the foundation. This has continued to consume a steady 12.5%. of Budget. The biggest single change has been in the proportion spent on mechanical services. This has risen nearly twelvefold, , over the past century, from 3% to 35%. The massive, solid, body of the 19C building, has at the end of the 20C, been whittled down to a structure of slender, but very strong, column and beam frames with suspended floors of steel and concrete.

This anti-gravity "structural skeleton" uses-up a further 20%. It replaces the massive, loadbearing, 19C, walls, both interior and exterior, that carried relatively short-span floors. An entirely new technology of lightweight interior partitions and suspended ceilings has grown up to cover-over all the tinny mechanical equipment and "fill-in" the gaps between the thin steel columns. These partitions can be finely engineered and finished. Even though they have become light, thin, and far from durable, they now consume 20% of the building budget. This also has been, like the skeleton frame, "deducted" from the 19C Architects 83% budget for a solid, meaty, building bulked-out by solid, loadbearing, stone, brick and wood all liberally coated with thick, horsehair, plaster.

These three excisions: Services, Structure and lightweight Partition walls and ceilings, have removed 75% of the Building Budget from the Architect's previously solid medium, all of which 'lay under his pencil'. All that is left, according to Gregory Turner, for the 'external wall' of this gossamer stucture, is a mere 12% of budget. The Architect must face his peers, revealed to him by 20C scholarship with more clarity than ever befoere for their whole 9,000-year history, naked but for this pathetic fig leaf. Is it any wonder that Frampton, who was an experienced Architect before he turned to writing and teaching, ends on a note of despair? How can an architect, working today, possibly hope to 'progress' beyond his forefathers when he has lost control of almost the whole building budget to new-fangled Engineers?

Can it be any surprise that, in the USA, many large firms of Architects have been bought-out by consortia of the Engineering Consultants that now spend at least 67.5% of Budget, entirely outside the Architect's control and participation? The previously all-powerful "man of taste and education" is now relegated to conversations with cladding manufacturers about the depth and frequency of what the Americans call "reglets". These are the grooves between the inoffensive planes of what Vernooy calls, rightly, "machine-produced veneers".

After these indignities the Architect is displaced, even, from the choice of partition finishes, carpets, and light fittings by "Interior Designers". Even more threatening, to the Architects status and utility, is the combination of the large scale film-set contractors from Hollywood with "theming" Graphic Designers and Illustrators. This new formula has reached critical mass in Las Vegas, where silicone rendered hot-wire formed polystyrene cladding technology enables the fastest-growing city in the U/S.A. to erect 6,000 bed hotels in themed cityscapes within two years of project inception.

Frampton's book is a requiem for the loss of congruence between Construction, Structural Support and Architecture. Yet this "filleting-out" of the structural frame and floors from the massive, plastically sculpted body of late 19C Architecture was seen, only 60 years ago, as a good, progressive, "Modern" development. Early 20C theorists viewed these changes in building technology and economics as a way of "proving" the ambitions, some 200 years later, of the mid 18C theorists, such as Blondel for the Encyclopaedists, and the Venetian Friar Lodoli. For it was this "rigoristic" and "puristic" (as the 18C called it)) critique of Architectural Ornament that first proposed the ambition to transform Neo-Classicism into a manifestation of "positive reason".

Mid 20C Architects, such as Mies van der Rohe, canonised steel and concrete frames, originally invented in the last quarter of the 19C. His buildings in Chicago raised the structural innovations of Le Baron Jenney, some 80 years later, to permanent Architectural ideality in such buildings as the diminutive Farnsworth House, the Campus complex of IIT and the skyscrapers of Lake Shore Drive. Yet, as the scale of these buildings increased, so did their betrayal of their "rigorist" or "structurally purist" ambitions. Lake Shore's refined steel "columns" are no more than decoration applied to a rough steel carcass cased in fireproof concrete.

Professor Frampton quotes D. Andrew Vernooy, who writes:

"The seminal achievements of Heroic Modernism, which used the structural system as the syntactic basis of configuration, are now difficult to duplicate in the current context of ordinance and performance....for the most part the envelope has been relieved of the burden of structural clarity...faced with the need to reconsider the need for the plastic responsibility of the exterior wall, one asks to what end or ends should the craft of architecture be directed?"

The functions of the finish layer, as Vernooy dumbly laments, "Have ceased to include evidence of the production of material and the production of device. It has become instead a reflection of cultural fashion".

He omits to mention that one of the reasons for the abandonment of "structural and tectonic rigorism" is its technical inefficiency and cost disavantages. Steel and concrete frames are used by the building industry much as a corsetiere uses whalebone. They are rough armatures whose main purpose is to support a far more important, and costlier, layer of finishes. Steel comes from the rolling mills distorted by the heat of its rapid cooling. If it is welded and worked it is made even more crooked by heating. If it is to take its place as a finished surface, as precisely aligned as cut stone, wood or glass, or even hand laid brickwork, it must be re-heated completely and slowly annealed. This removes its economics from the realm of mere "structure" and places it into the category of "luxury finish". The problem here is that raw steel or concrete, in all of its material "honesty", is seldom seen as repaying the cost of its re-manufacture to raise it to the level of precision expected of the 'finished skin'. As a result, the Architectural strategy of "structural honesty" tends to be relegated, somewhat ironically, to the category of buildings intended to shock and contradict Constructive Economy and Technical Logic, like Galleries of 20C Art!

"Structural rigorism", like much else in 20C Architecture, is a hangover from worlds long past and gone. The only people who lament the passing of 20C High Modernism are those to whose lot it has fallen to teach its History. They make the mistake, as Historians often do, of projecting their knowledge as a recipe for current action.

Surface in the 21C building industry, means sheeting, whether of mere sheetrock, or of something more solid, like glazed bricks and pre-cast concrete. It can never mean the meaty body of the 'old', 19C, 'Traditional' building. In JOA we welccome this change. But this is because our researches, readings and inventions have enabled us to treat as a liberating progress what Frampton sees as disastrous decline. We see the flexibility of the 'mammalian' body of contemporary buiding, with its division of 'membra' into skelton, viscera and skin as an invitation for Architecture to leap ahead and conquer problems it never could resolve before. We sieze these technical opportunities with enthusiasm and delight. We employ them, to the limit of their technical capability, to re-encode and re-encrypt our decipherments of the Medium so that it is capable of both coming massively 'down-market' (ie. costing less) as well as doing things it never could before (like coinciding all 3 Vitruvian Functions on a single columnar footprint).

We have proved that this late 20C technology is the means to reinventing the sine qua non of Architecture, its Trabeated Orders and its Decoration, or as we call it, its Scripted Surface. Our 'pie-chart', derived from Gregory Turner's figures, shows how JOA have 'recovered for Architecture' even more of the building budget than was enjoyed by the Profession in the 19C. Far from regarding our achievment as the work of 'terrorists', the Profession should seize it as the only genuinely tough and durable lifeline on offer.

Our system guarantees that wherever a building, and a site plan, uses the Working Order the whole budget, while still remaining expended by the same kinds of sophisticated Engineers who handle it today, produces Architecture automatically. The peculiarity of the reception of these ideas and methods is that it is the guarantee of 'success' with the Public that so terrifies the Profession. After deciding, in the 1910's, to 'abstain' from participation in 'Popular' culture, and saturating themselves for the half century since 1950 in the conversation of mechanicals, to be offered a technique that is both 'Pop' as well as arcanely erudite, is like winning life's lottery - a sure way to lose friends, health and happiness. Better by far to remain poor, frustrated, and a failure - heading toward a decent cultural extinction.

Critical Theory, in our system, is either Architectural Theory (which we have shown is sufficiently real, and sufficiently arcane, to satisfy any reasonably ambitous metaphysician), or it is superfluous to the Project.



End of "The Talking Order",

Return to "Innovations: The JOA Toolbox




* JOA can be reached by E-Mail at anthony@johnoutram.com , by telephone on +44 (0)207 262 4862 or by fax on +44 (0)207 706 3804. We also have an ISDN number : +44 (0)207 262 6294.




Model of FloorEastern light in the Gallery


Each design is made up from individual A3 laser prints whose pigment is transferred to curved A3-sized plaster tiles. The tiles were all physically cast and erected, constituting 90% of the cost. But they were 'struck dumb' by being painted a 'proprietary' colour called 's(h)tone'. £100,000 was donated, by a cultivated lover of Art, expressly to do the Monoprinting. The money was demanded back when the monoprinting was cut from the project. Apparently this was the first time a donation had ever been returned by Cambridge. It was quite a shock for the 'graphically-challenged' Brits to realise that Architectural Graphics had a solid cash value.

The tile designs are shown in the eight-story registers in which they would have been applied to the 5'0" (1.5M) diameter columns. Each panel covers two floors. Thus the bottom one is Ground & 1st, the next one up is 2nd & 3rd, and so on. These are the four sets of 'overprinted' designs that were completed. Some of the columns were not 'specially overprinted', that is to say they would have been covered with only the sequence of the eight vertical patterns shown below. The only patern remaining uncompleted before cancellation was the Northern Ventilation Mast. The main theme I was working-on for this 'overprinting' was Hyacinthos, whose blood was spilled by Apollo when he struck him with a discus. The impregnation of brood-mares by turning their backsides into the north wind also seemed promising.

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juapocloudsubtleJUENDCLOUDSUBTLE jupericloudsubtleFront View

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"Apotropaic/ Endland/ Periphery/ South", are the names of the patterns overprinted on pairs and groups of four or more columns. This enables columns to define 'rooms' which enclose each other, narrowing down to the pair of 'apotropaic' patterns that frame the entrance to the 'Can-do' room of the 'Gallery'.

The vertical overprinting of sets of columns is placed on top of a regular set of eight patterns which are the same on every column.


"Liquid/ Solid/ Gaseous/ Combustive"

"Ocean/ Earth/ Atmosphere/ Solarity".

" Conception/ Birth/ Speech/ Sight/ (Thought*)"

These four groups of two, making a total of eight patterns, illustrated above, embody the phylogenetic and ontogenetic narrative (my interpretation of Riceour's 'succession of generations').

*The 'fifth register', 'above' "sight", is that of "thought". It is embodied in the Capital. which is, for the most part in JOA, black, cuved and shiny.

As built they are read from the bottom upwards. In the case of this illustration, the lowest pair of floors is on the left. This may be seen by checking the under-print pattern in the more realistically-arranged illustration of the four over-printed column-designs.

The 'Video-masonry' columns emerge like fireworks from the black and white marble floor that 'churns' with the waves of the interlocking Serpents of Infinity. (This was also 'cut' during the panic attack of the 'fiat nihil' when all 'scripted surfaces' not already built, were erased - an act of gratuitous intellectual vandalism typical of Europe's iconically paranoid 'High Culture'). I offer thanks, in this case, for the USA, Texas, Houston, and Rice University - without which JOA's whole 40-year Project would have remained, as Scots Courts can verdict: 'unproven'.


Rotunda in daylight

The patterning on the external columns, of the Hague Rotunda,which are 'quatrefoil' in footprint, is made in curved glazed bricks that are shorter than the standard British brick. This was done so that the diagonal lines, in the patterns, would lie at 45 degrees - equidistant from vertical and horizontal. 'Normal' bricks are three times as long as they are high, and do not give us this symmetry. In any case, in the Netherlands there is no such thing as a 'normal' brick - there being at least three alternative 'standard sizes'. Also the brick is called a 'baksteen' or 'cooked stone' - so much nicer than the awful raw stuff the French like to use.

The pattern is 'full' on the Northernmost column and has been overflooded with grey dust and lava, encrusted in the 'darkness of light' so that the Southernmost one shows almost nothing shows of the inner fire of the iconic narratives. The conceit is that the imagination flowers in darkness and is dispelled by the cold light of day.

There was also the fact that a 'Temple - form' like the Rotunda should be brilliant with textuality and blaze like an iconic furnace. This was hardly appropriate in a 'shop' so the laws of propriety required that the iconic richness be diminished - a sad retreat from a fully-splendoured columnar array, but necessary even so. This is not a 'dumbing down'. It is the manifestation of a loss of 'seriousness' without compromising the 'seriousness'. Indeed the most 'serious' act was my decision to deny the City one half of the iconic decoration. I certainly felt it as a great (serious) loss.

Rotunda Column 6Rotunda Column 5Rotunda Column 4Rotunda Column 3Rotunda Column 2Rotunda Column 1