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In the beginning there was Nothing.

Ricoeur tells us, in Time and Narrative, Book One, that Saint Augustine of Hippo thought this, arguing that God, before He Created, created Nothing.

Yet everything that comes into being, comes into existence in the company of its opposite, its other, its double. Black comes with white, life with death and ham with melon. Why should Nothing be the exception? So what is the negation of nothing? Surely it is not Something. Nothings eat somethings for breakfast. No the only thing strong enough to oppose nothing is another negation. So when negation brought nothing into being (or was it the other way around?), they began to circle around each other, aware that they had a problem. Two Nothings were probably going to be difficult neighbours.

The origin of the Universe has been described as due to a 'wobble'. Perhaps it was a wobble in the life of Nothing caused by the sight of its opposite:- another Nothing. By this argument, Creation was an accident that was bound to happen. God blinked. When He opened His eyes was it the same Nothing that he saw, or its Negation? Creation was the product of the instability of Nothing. It was caused by Nothing and, well, is it for Nothing? Beginning with a Bang, it will end, for humanity at least, with another bang - a piece of stellar debris or some lava-boil erupting from our sluggish core will wipe us out. Until then we can, at least, remain clear-headed.

The 20C was the only century that humanity has been unable to build itself a lifespace in which it could represent its understanding of 'the larger picture'. Phenomenology leads to sex, drugs and rock and roll. It is not enough to found philosophy and is the death of Architecture. There can be no 'vision' without that point in infinity at which meet the parallel rays thrown out by every eye. Today we have that black hole in working order. We know the direction in which lies that terminus which consumes even the most decentred discourse of a Francophone Fountain of Difference. We have a Big Bang back in some sort of working order and can do an Architectural Microcosmos again. So why is the Bang eight-lobed and yellow?

Number is one of those things. To the numerate numbers are individuals with qualities. The the innumerate one number is the same as another. In fact numbers are both and all of these. 0 is bracketed by 1 and &endash;1. Ones divide into twos, twos divide into fours. Division (which can be called difference) is the vital phenomenon. Or, to put it another way, the Cartesian language of mathematics by which man both makes and fakes the vital 'istoria' of the cosmic machine. The yellow star is History. It hovers between stability and chaos. It shinks back to singularity and then expands to an infinity of incomprehensibility. The Big Bang is the moment that the singularity of Negation divided, first against itself, negating negation in the coincidentia oppositorum of Cusanus, and then, by some incomprehensible inversion, running on and on….dividing and dividing………

The Bang was a 'pure event', a synaptic frenzy, the first protest demo in the binocular vision of pure blindness. It was not light, or energy, or power. But it held the blueprints of them all inside its gambler's dice. Fire is its mundane embodiment today. Every fire that burns on earth, shooting its interstellar dust, like spit that misses the spittoon, into our clear atmosphere, rehearses the 'Act of Foundation'. Out of it came Light. But light is proven only by its 'shadow': darkness. Colour is the stain which matter leaves on light, all the way down to its death in the fagged-out freezer of 'space'. A planet of Matter circles the Sun of Fire. On one side it is white, on the other black. But as Professor Keith Cooper, of Rice, advised, "only an Architect denotes a planet as solid by building it of cinderblock".

Architecture denotes that the ceiling of a room is covered by an 'Entablature'. This figure shows, on the interior, as a 'coffer', coffre (Fr), or cassone (It.), meaning chest of valuables. The privileged occupant of the Interior has a view up into this chest, as if its caelum (Lat. sky) had been chiselled away by a coelum (Lat. chisel). What is it that this peculiar cavity reveals. Is it a sunflower, burnished in gold and somewhat conventionalised?

The grammatical meaning of the coffre is as roof to one of the doorless cavitations of the primordial vacancies in brute matter described by Serlio as 'rooms'. Larger rooms are measured by the number of these 'standard hypostylar modules' they reveal above them. The lexical meaning is more accessible. Yet because Lexicons always link beyond the medium, these revelations are more 'fantastic'. Here the 'cassone' contains the valuables brought on the Tablated Trabica on its voyage as the Raft of the Founders. The primary cargo, denoted by the golden floret, is the lens of a pinhole camera into the large cavity above it. So far as one can tell, from the infinite repetition of these small glowing 'points' the cargo above is always the hearth fire, ancestral ash-cone of the civic sacrifices, light in the darkness of ignorance, and sun in the blackness of entropic history.

Should the occupant of such an Architectural, 'trabeated', interior wish a better view of the cassone interior, he must strip away the veil of the ceiling entirely. He will then be able to enumerate and describe the contents of the Ark itself. This is either an invitation to the inscription of an empty vessel, voyaging without the proper cargo with which it will sustain and plant the new foundation, such as we had no alternative but to record in the ceiling of the Judge Institute, Cambridge, or it is the pleasant task of cataloguing the the plenitude of colonising tools that we were able to record in the Vaults of Duncan Hall.

The enrafted cargo enclosed in the Cassone of the Faculty of Computation, Rice University, has already been shown to descend from Nothing to the existence of Matter, Light, and the serpentine Oceans. The taxonomy continues with the elaboration of two canonic histories of the 'Time of Foundation': an Oriental and an Occidental.

In the Oriental version the rootless Raft, wandering in search of its 'fruitful grounding' is transfixed by an act of will, a re-enactment of the Big Bang, which anchors it to the 'submarine mountain'. This watery tumescence, guarded by the Serpent Vrta, is shown as the infintude of the blue oceans that link night and day in a serpentine embrace. The sinuous representative of inertia, infinity and the endless return of the same upon itself, is sundered and split into four quarters. The dark sun, the 'fire in the rock' is released and rises up a predermined progression, emerging from the waters, floating on them as an earthy lotus, breathing forth to the four quarters on the airy medium of the voice and finally achieving the fiery eye of the cakra.

This progression, by occurring in the vertical axis, is, in the Shaper Ceiling, elided by being 'seen from below'. The yellow star is both Lotus and Cakra, the Ocean the diagonal blue square of foaming spirals and the outflowings of the airy 'word', quartering the horizon, are the four rivers that flow out of the sundered mountain of black and white cubes, crystallised out of the diurnal history of earthly time that hold, nonetheless, their ancient genesis in cavities of fire and ice.

In the Oriental Version, the grounding of the Ark of the Founders goes unrecorded. The ramshackle vehicle of their voyage, the green boat of reeds, a disembodied eye of Horus, wanders on the face of the waters. Each of these canonic tubes, although only matted together and not crafted as in the Occidental version, nevertheless carries within it the 'trabeated' fire of a potential axiality. It is shipwrecked and sundered by the violence of the act of founding and grounding which releases the cycle of creation to pursue its predetermined cycles with an Oriental force and brilliance, all the way up to its final apotheosis and the subsequent collapse. Strangely, this latter, the inevitable death and reincarnation, is a final stage that is definitely, very definitely, not envisaged by the Occidental Version.

In this other history, the Raft is imperishable Reason. Its Cartesian span, infinite as any reticulation, enmeshes the planet, rendered here as a blue square of ocean - square because the Earth is solid, blue because it belongs, mainly, to the whales. The time of the Occident is the linear time of Progress, not the cyclic time of the Orient. Progress can not collapse and begin again, springing afresh from the ruins of the old dynasty. It has to press for ever onwards, becoming one with time itself. The sun and moon cycle across the sands and rivers of the yellow 'sand-bars' of the Western Ark whose 'canonic beams' are cored. Like the pulsating orifices of space-ships, with the blood of power.

This wandering craft, far from shattering to be reconstituted out of the debris of the expected periodic cataclysm, comes to carry the entire history of the Earth. Entry to its palace is under six gateways, altars whose horned acroteria are the leaves of the new crop which the Voyagers carry to the New Foundation. Even the four shattered quarters of the primordial tumulus that once buried the 'germ that was always there', obscured by the coil of Time, are caught in its reticulated embrace. All that escapes from the 'embrace of reason' are the four 'outspeakings' that flow from the centre of combusion, like roads stretching out into the void of the Cosmos. These 'heavenly' blue waves expel their ethereal refreshment into an unformed field of Light and Darkness, Fire and Energy. Is anyone listening? Is the Cosmos a mirror in which we can find our image, or are we, like Bram Stoker's invention, Count Dracula, unique and therefore invisible to the Creation, living only in the Eye of God?

Tragedy is the echo which returns when the distance between what ought to be and what is can be measured by the outstretched rule of the canonic law. How can any history measure up to the rule of the tragic until it can know what it is to be 'as things should be'?

The comprehension of such ideas is one thing, the description of them, their embodiment in some medium that we may share with each other, for that is what cultures and societies do, is another. McLuhan has established that it is the particular Medium which governs the means of such representations. So I must now digress to explain the nature of 'iconic engineering'.

Basically, it is 'supermarket graphics' applied to the surfaces of buildings. The purpose of it is to inscribe the human lifespace with 'scripted surface', as well as, or rather in order to render intelligible, 'scripted space'. Societies have often done this. All of the fresco painting of the Italian Renaissance was installed in order to 'billboard' certain ideas that have, today, gone out of circulation, along with the 'Media' of Biblical Christianity, and of 'Classical Antiquity' in which they were situated, by which they were invoked, and through which they were comprehended by all who used those buildings.

What I call 'supermarket graphics' is the Medium of our own time. Its pedigree is, of course, not only popular and mundane, but arcane. It was invented by the Painters of the early 20C, one of the most brilliant times in the history of graphic invention. Its contemporary universality is a testament to the capacity of Picasso, Klee, Leger, Matisse, Gris, Dufy, Miro, Chirico......., the list of the early 20C magicians is as long as the roll-call of their successors is brief - mere footnotes to the main chapters - nuts and bolts on the blueprints already given by the 1920's.

Iconic engineering exists as does all of this kind of graphical composition, between two intentions. The advantage of one tends to the disadvantage of the other. All icons, existing in the public realm, as Architecture must tend to, cleave towards pictoriality. The photograph, or worse, the 'chocolate box' picture is the lure that guarantees instant comprehension. This is the equivalent, in graphics, of the Philosopher's Stone. By this I do not mean any instrument of Alchemical Magic, but the actual pebbles, proffered to each other, by the savants in Gullivers Academy, in lieu of the suspect verbalisation "stone". The 'real thing', like the chocolate-box graphic, brings all ratiocination to a close. It is what it is, and nothing more beyond its patent, evident, and sufficient Being. It corresponds to the absent mentality of that headless chicken whom Sartre called "l'homme moyen, sensuel".

The opposing principle, which was the magnificent, if mainly suicidal, invention of the mainly suicidal early 20C, is Abstraction. The effect of abstraction is to divest graphics of its tendency to pictoriality, or any sort of significatory links to circumstances existing outside of the paint and paper of the graphical object. The payoff is the huge unleashing of a species of mental extasy. The pure beauty of paintings executed by de Kooning when part of his mind (the 'normal' part) had decayed away, illustrated the existence of this 'extasy of the abstracted'.

The quality that is unleashed is the capability of the trained mind to grasp formal congruences in a Graphical (or any other) Medium, when almost all distinguishing qualities are stripped away. This is why monochrome photographs tend to give more aesthetic pleasure than coloured ones. What the natural objects lose of their specific 'nature' they gain within the formal boundaries of the 'graphical' medium. Surfaces lit by the monochromatic light of a black and white photograph cease to be snow, or skin, or bark, or fur, but become 'merely formal' surface-qualites, and begin to 'sing a song of surfaces'.

This effect can properly be termed 'linguistic' in the sense that whereas stones, as such, are always precisely dumb stones, or even 'that particular stone', the word 'stone' is first of all, as a 'thing in itself', a word. It is situated in language and related first to all other words, and the grammatical and lexical vitality that is situated in the mind of the speaker and hearer.

Each medium is itself in the sense of being given and understood as natural. It imposes an envelope of natural elements. these are to be welcomed. The ceiling is not the real sky. It is the sky of a room. Only a grammatical illiterate, a profferer of pebbles, would confuse sky and ceiling in a glass roof,and expect it to be anything except a 'showstopper', a thought-blocker that would bring the mind to a grinding halt. Especially so is this at night, as the eye, that window to the mind, meets the inky vacuity of a sky unilluminated even by the solar furnace.

Every glass ceiling confirms the opinion of the literate public (which, oddly, is growing) that Architecture is no longer a medium for an educated person and has been lost to a brotherhood of space-plumbers whose highest achievements - Pompidou, Lloyds, Bilbao - are like the peculiar effusions built by craft apprentices for their final exam - incomprehensible and excessive displays of manipulative skill. Gehry does not even draw, let alone write, but builds little models out of bricolage, like a milliner, which are then enlarged through the wondrous prosthesis of CADCAM, to more than life size and fitted (somehow or other) with doors and windows .

With a ceiling graphic , on the other hand, such ideas - of universal content - as the Big Bang, the Sun, the Hearth Fire of the Founders, the Light in the Darkness (also termed the 'fire in the rock', can be not only introduced on their own, or singly, both of which would be a touch puerile, but assembled into a relationship to a multiplicity of other contingent and consequent notions - all of some interest to an educated, literate person, even if not to an Architect.

A microcosmos, which is the old name for this capacity of Architecture to construct conceptual universes, is not a photograph of the Cosmos, glued-up to the ceiling. Nor is it a contraption that drags the sun and moon around, in real time, across a bedroom ceiling. Only a time that had managed to become as profoundly illiterate of Architectural technique as did that of the 20C, could conceive of such abject, literal-minded cretinism. But where, as Gordana Korolija remarked at the beginning of one of her brilliant discourses upon the 'ars perspectiva' does one begin to dispel the fog of self-induced ignorance (always the most impenetrable)?

One must 'read'. There is no other way to become literate. Unread Egyptians would boil papyri and imbibe the soup. Reed soup, unfortunately, does not a super reader make. But where are the texts either built, or written, or drawn ( for it is the 'icon' that unites the building with the word)? Who can 'read' the texts of a century whose highest ambition was to eliminate literacy as a lifespace technology? Who even wants to 'read' such useless inventions - useless, that is, to grasping-together either the future or the past in some operational conjunction with which to make a literate present? Before even beginning to approach the 'iconic' offspring of the marriage of Philosophy and Architecture one must learn what is to read.

Here one discovers 'emplotment'. Narrative, to give it its more conventional name, is the offspring of the warring cohabitation between 'chocolate-box' Lexicon, as prone to supine sloth as is induced by a diet of such delicacies, and 'mad-artist' Abstraction, prone to self-obsession and hyperactivity. Narrative is that which weaves the two into coherent inventions that combine the given realities of Nature and the compulsive conceptualisations of Man, making out of them the 'microcosmic parallel lifespaces' that are the natural habitat of a thinking being. Emplotment is the ingenious weaving of a larger fabric, rather than the mere folding and felting of a plotless world, hammered into a monstrous, subanimate, contingency, described by Deleuze.

Without narrative, linguistic horsepower merely strips the gears of a vocabulary lying on the tongue of the speaker like an impossible multiplicity of sentences, none of which can be prioritised. When siezed of a plot, the cast can work together and enact the power of the, newly-dramatised, Medium. Tragedy is the Presence that weaves the dead past and the unborn future into a Present. The warring opposites of perfect Lexicality and perfect Grammaticality lose themselves in the magnificence of their joint creation, the story of the Ideal and the Real. Without the capacity to embody the Ideal, as a real presence, the Reality of History can not be given proper 'tragic' status. The acquisition of the 'real' is entirely consequent upon a culture's capacity to embody the ideal as real potential.

The embodiment of these conceptual idealities is the role of Media, such as Architecture. Yet it can never be, by definition, Architecture's exclusive function. This is because the pragmatic component of the human lifespace is an indispensible accomplice to the tragic history of the ideal and the real. We are not building stone temples to Hymen in some sterilised vegetable amnesia (sorry 'pleasure park')! Modern Architecture has, even, to embody the 'tragic poetic' of such as a Warehouse Lorry park, as JOA did in Poyle, close by London Heathrow, in 1976-79. In fact it is easier to invoke real poetry in such places, than it is in the contemporary Art Gallery, which tends to echo with the brittle sword-strokes of Poseurs.

The place for 'Art', in Architecture, is to provide the 'Scripted Surfaces' whose function it is to adumbrate the complex idealities of the Philosopher's Garden. It is upon this landscape of ideas that human beings come into full existentiality, standing in, on, and within the Microcosmos of their own invention. Of which the principal, and most magnificent, component is not Space, which comes to Architecture like Mother's Milk, but impalpable Time, the most unnatural of architecture's capabilities, and the ground of its greatest 'tragedic' utililities........


End of "Something about Nothing",

Return to "Act of Foundation ®". .






* 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.




A drawing of "Nothing".The Duality of Nothing

2 Nothings + big bang

Shaper Ceiling