'ICONIC ENGINEERING', otherwise described as





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Engineering we understand. But what is 'Iconic".

This is a word used mostly in Art Criticism - and Advertising. Aby Warburg coined the critical use of the term "Iconography" only in 1912, just before Europe blew itself up. He was registering a major shift in Art Criticism away from the formalistic and stylistic division of painting, sculpture and architecture into 'Periods' characteristic of 19C writing. What interested Warburg, Edgar Wind, and their colleagues of the early 20C, were the 'meanings' of works of Art. They initiated an approach to Art that released it from its imprisonment within categories of 'fine' versus 'applied', Gothic versus Classical, and so on. The critical technique they released allowed Art to enter the universal intellectual medium of intelligibility that has come to be named, variously, semiology, semantics and Linguistics.

The mediating entity between written critique and the image of a painting is an entity named an 'icon'. The way that I operate this mediation is to treat an icon as the drawing of a visual metaphor which has been originally 'born' in a text in short in words. The icon is a picture of a verbal birth. This why it is native to Advertising, and other forms of 'persuasion'. It is also why it is useful to Art Criticism, which itself seeks to mediate the phenomenal into the verbal. Iconography leads the critical writer to a surer understanding of the Religious and Courtly Art which we have inherited from the past - and why it was commissioned. We would have no major works at all from Michaelangelo, Raphael et. al, if it were not for the 'motives' which 'powered', and 'empoweed', their creation. One would merely have the knick-knacks one finds today in the Galleries of Personal Therapy that we have sunken to call Art. The Courts of the Renaissance voted fortunes for the 'tools' which it bought from its 'artists'.

The role of the Artist, -Painter, Sculptor and Architect, in that order -was well understood by the theorists of the Modern State, as initiated, and explained, by L.B. Alberti. It was to clothe the new institutions of the Ideal (let us say Rational) State in the garb of the Golden Age, state of primordial truth and virtue. They were in every sense 'servants of the politico-economic project' of their time. However Alberti was no pragmatic fool, nor was he a mere court toady. He was very clear who was serving who. His 'project' was to invent a way of serving Masters, whom he entirely accepted must always tend to be self-serving, probably venial, and always 'politically-motivated', in such a way that the results would, as he put it, 'secretely' introduce the 'truth of philosophy'. Alberti intended, therefore to establish a Medium that always 'spoke philosophy'. In short the Medium that Alberti and his intellectual colleagues created was 'double-coded'. On the one hand it served the 'worldy' purposes of the Institution that paid for the 'Art', and on the other, it carried a 'philosophical' level of intelligence.

Now all this was done for centuries, perfectly well. Why can we not do it today? For it is fact that one of the strangest things about the 20C is the general failure of Architects to incorporate anything from 20C Painting and Sculpture within their own technique. All of the so-called 'fine arts' (exemplified by the ideas of Clement Greenberg) have cut themselves off completely from any 'venial purpose'. By so doing they have become mere week-end entertainments, part of the holiday industry. The serious side of life, what little remains of it in our so-calleld 'culture without major narratives' is stripped of both venial advertising as well as philosophical discourse.

And all this is entirely unnecessary! There is no good reason (apart from the taboos of the Architectural Profession) why 20C graphics, with all of their post-perspectival properties, can not be usefully employed in Architecture in a very similar way to that in which architecture has always used 'painting'.

Naturally, we are not talking of a man on scaffolding doing fresco. Although it is precisely via this old (and excellent) technique that JOA came our successful methods.

The best example of our work in this field can be found on the Website site, in 'Projects' of "Duncan Hall", (1993-7), Houston, Texas.

After that we designed a great ceiling for the Groenmakt, Den Haag Project.

The most elaborated 'surface scripting' that we have yet invented, was designed before these two projects. It was for the "Judge Institute" (1991-5), Cambridge. This is beginning to be illustrated in the special section of 'Innovations' that describes the 'Working' ,or 'Robot', Order that we call the 'Talking' Order'.

Neither the Groenmarkt or the Judge interiors were installed. the Judge has a pleasant interior but it does not bear decipherment and the parts that do are, inevitably, jokes at Cambridge's expense. Iconics are the clues to the crime of culture. They cannot lie!

However, Both the Groenmarkt as well as the Judge, have very beautiful external 'Talking Columns'.


So the only way to really be persuaded of this, absolutely critical part of the JOA Project, by which we believe it either stands or falls, is to GTT (as the record shows against certain names of discharged inmates from the prisons of Arkansaw, meaning Gone To Texas).

The design, fabrication of the huge 'scripted surface' components on the interior of Duncan Hall took a mere 8 months, from commission to erection. However behind that lie 27 years of sustained physical experimentation in JOA, costing hundreds and thousands of pounds of Fee-income, the acquisition of a major library of books, a lifetime of iconic literary researches and two major projects which 'fell at the last fence' when it came to commissioning their 'scripted-surface' interior. Even 'after the event' when the 'Video Secco' ceiling had been proved and erected in Texas, my Netherlands Developer Client totally failed his own Architectural Project. Europe still dreams of fresco and painted palaces, and still remains moribund and incapable of turning anything that they know into work of direct contemporary equivalence to their inheritance.

So, pour 'encourager les autres' JOA publishes, for the first time, some of the 'scripting' techniques that JOA have proved over the past 27 years. These are all 'industry-standard' methods, whereby the ordinary, inexpensive, surfaces of ordinary 'working' buildings can be enlivened with an 'iconically-engineered' 'scripted surface'. We call these "Blitzcrete "®, "Doodlecrete "®, "Video Masonry", and "Video Secco".



End of "Scripted Surface",

Return to "Innovations: "Automatic Architecture"



* 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.