Gabriel Esquivel and Ronny Eckels
Juan O’Gorman was an admirer of European functionalist architects, especially Walter Gropius and Le Corbusier. His early projects were essentially characterized by the use of reinforced concrete. However, thanks to the influence exerted on him by his professor, José Villagrán García, his work evolved into what has been called New Mexican Baroque. Moreover, when he designed and built his own house on the foothills of Pedregal de San Angel in 1956, which was subsequently demolished in 1969. This is the reason to argue for a new house and the motivation for this project.
O’Gorman produced a surreal, oniric architecture, directly related to his work as a painter. At moments aesthetically difficult but with a high magnitude of affect, the house was not about visions of decay and proto-apocalyptic scenarios like his paintings. It was placed ahead of the visions of the postmodernist architects and their future discourses about the figure. O’Gorman applied architectural and artistic solutions that had points in common with American architecture due to his admiration of Wright’s work. However, this was something else, something atmospheric, affective, and fantastic.
O’Gorman broke the physical boundaries with the notion of an intimate and grounding space by performing an ecological intervention in which nature and its synthetic interpretation came together. The architecture of O’Gorman’s house could be understood as a continuous transformation process, always in the process of becoming, an unfinished work, until its destruction in 1969 by artist Helen Escobedo. O’Gorman could have spent decades working on this project, adding details, polishing forms, and reinventing atmospheres. The O’Gorman House is a combination of painting and architecture, where instead of using a paint and brush technique, O’Gorman used rocks and mosaics applied directly to the walls. After the house’s destruction, the only records available are the multiple images of the house; thus, now the house is only an image.
The complex ecological argument in the O’Gorman House is the confrontation of two conditions: one is about nature from the site itself and the other is O’Gorman’s interpretation of nature as ambiance that creates an envelope enclosing the existing cave or void of the site. He completed his vision with an unnatural sense of a romantic, unapologetic interpretation of ecology, taken from his own particular psychological visions in his paintings. After the destruction of the house, and as a testament to his legacy, it was a compelling proposition to reconstruct a version of the house within a contemporary discourse using the idea of an un-grounding machine as a continuing process of reinvention and a new negotiation of the manifest image.
We can say that O’Gorman developed his idea along aesthetic lines similar to Morton’s ecological argument. In the Romantic tradition, art is directly connected to nature under the guise of the creative genius who goes beyond academic convention and other forms of ecological control, namely ambiance. Both architecture and nature are thus ways of repairing the damage society has inflicted on the individual and the environment.
In regards to the production of ambiance, we must consider a few things. First, we cannot posit an argument in terms of O’Gorman’s house based on some original condition since we cannot trace its history back to a specific critical object or discourse, like his “surreal environment” paintings or his political and social polemical points of view.
According to Morton, “This is even true for those historical movements that name themselves, such as Romanticism or postmodernism. Contemporary art, which makes much of space and environment, retroactively reconfigures all previous art, its ambient qualities. The universality of ambiance is in itself historical, a retroactive effect on our particular moment” (1). This particular argument can easily be applied to architecture as well; however, if we were to continue this house in a new iteration, we would have to include affective ambiance explicitly as an anti-Cartesian desire to penetrate into the first object: the O’Gorman House.
The opportunity for using OOO seems to lie in the possibility of carrying out serious inquiries as a form of design—that is, it considers the interior of the object (the O’Gorman House) in which the new object (the O´OHouse) occurs, reflect on what essential and accidental notes were involved in its creation, and, more importantly, consider how those notes were involved, which means determining the specific structure of the allure of the object. From this point of view, criticism, architecture, and theory would not avoid the original artistic determinations. The O’Gorman House has been considered a cross between art and architecture and criticized in aesthetic terms, producing a conflict between art academicism and architectural criticism. Graham Harman argues that “art avoids academicism when its content manages to reflect or embody the possibilities of its medium, rather than presenting content as an isolated figure whose ground or medium can be taken for granted” (2). The criteria of judgment that Harman suggests works of art should be assessed under includes a conscious examination of their environment and reading their status as a new object, which should be problematized.
The transformation of the manifest image into the knotted image constitutes a machine that first releases the figures from the manifest images in a moment of isolation where the images are de-affected, acting as pure vectors. These low-fidelity images are projected, grafted, and combined according to the specific surface and flow that these vectors direct upon the object. The images are grafted in several flows and planes, producing a series of knots that organize the object spatially. These operations will continue in different flows until the object acquires the desired mass with the potential of re-affecting and re-grounding the object with a new high fidelity.
The knotted image should not be seen as a refinement of the manifest image of the house but as the same original image grafted and knotted through reflective recollections of realities; this knowledge can come from a variety of sources, such as science and/or technology, and its main effect would circumscribe the entities to which the original image is applicable. This knotting and negotiation of the manifest image via computational technology helps to produce an un-grounded scientific object/image. The grafting technique uses the 2D surface conditions, while the knotting technique introduces the image as a 3D object that is capable of spatial articulation of the mass.
The precision and the isomorphism between the structure of the relations between the reference components and expressed by the manifest image is one of the essential requirements for the production of the knotted image and sets up a situation between images. In this particular case, it serves to reproduce a high-fidelity mereology by using computational painterly techniques. In general, the artistic license taken within the knotted image is restricted only by those strategies that can more effectively express the concept or concepts represented.
The introduction of rules of representation through grafting, mapping, projecting, and ultimately knotting can be described as onto-cartography. The practice of onto-cartography is simply the analysis or mapping of spatio-temporal gravitational paths produced by various things and signs in a given situation or world (3). Mapping these interactions helps to ensure the correct interpretation of the concepts described by the scientific image, in other words, a process of movement and becoming. In this sense, it is important to go through a deeper investigation of the technical drawing and all elements that can help to provide greater rigor and accuracy of schemes. This onto-cartographic method allows us to create a new ecology of images or situations within which the O´OHouse interacts. It is in fact an un-grounded new object that retains certain qualities of the original but without any specific figure or iconic image. It can be argued that the O´OHouse is the “real house” given the fact that its production is based on the image documentation that exists on the original house.
When the term vectorial is applied to the figure, it is with the intent of recognizing the trajectory and the flow, not with the intent of interpreting these vectors as geometry to rebuild the object. These vectors create a topological flow to organize the direction of data via grafting and knotting techniques to produce the geometry of the object. Furthermore, these vectors create a structure of spatio-temporal relations or paths along which entities move and become, what Levi Bryant calls gravity.
When declaring the O´OHouse as an un-grounding machine, the notion of organization in a mystical or transcendental sense is not used, pretending that it has an explanatory value in itself. We are referring to the specific relationships that define an autopoietic system. This simply means that the autopoietic organization has linked processes in a specific manner such that these processes can occur and the components constituting the system are declared as a unit. It is for this reason that we can say that whenever this organization is specified in a real system, the system can compensate for a domain of deformations without losing its identity. However, the actual nature of the components does not matter, and the particular properties they own apart from those involved in the transformations and interactions within the system may vary.
1. Morton, Timothy. Ecology Without Nature. Harvard University Press 2009. p. 80.
2. Harman, G. “Greenberg, Duchamp, and the Next. Avant-Garde” in Speculations. p. 250.
3. Bryant, Levi. Gravity of Things. An Introduction to Onto-Cartography. Collin College. University of Dundee. 2012.
Originally published in Antagonismos Architecture Magazine, N5 Drawings of Architecture. Buenos Aires, 2020.