Operative Drawing I: Miralles

Some notes on a drawing by Enric Miralles of his Calle Mercaders Apartment (1995), previously noted here.

1. The drawing lacks heirarchy. Miralles has no interest in establishing a clear heirarchical reading of the drawing. There is no variation in line weight (although occasionally, he doubles lines closely enough to approximate a thicker stroke). Mobile objects: tables, doors, etc. are not accorded any status distinct from stationary objects. The swings of doors and cupboards are not given a lighter line. Even the heirarchy of drawings is flattened: this drawing was not one of a set, and in it elevations are projected into the same plane, even the same paper space as the plan. Indoor-outdoor are not accorded any heirarchy: the drawing spills into outdoor spaces.

2. Miralles describes the apartment as a heterogenous collection of interacting elements. “Learning how to live with a given, second-hand, structure, like rummaging through the pockets of an old coat, setting the things one finds on a clean surface.” The apartment is historically layered. Each element has its own allegiances. Miralles speaks of “a profound conviction that projects are never finished, but merely enter successive phases in which we perhaps do not have direct control over them or perhaps are reincarnated in other projects of ours.” He describes this as a game of differentials like chess, in which each piece is freighted with its own regulations, capabilities.

“This house works like a chessboard. The pieces move according to the rules of each object… They must always return to the starting point to restart the game… Hence the floor, which set the existing items back in front of the windows… or the paint on the walls, which reveals the discovered fragments, are the rules of the game… Amongst them, moving in an orderly fashion, are tables, books, chairs…”

It has become common to contrast Go and Chess (at least since Deleuze and Guattari did so in A Thousand Plateaus); Go being a game of essentially equivalent and valueless points used to create operative configurations, while chess is a game of innate properties. For Miralles elements are not equal: each is heavily freighted, with allegiances that lie outside the game. There is a process of learning to live with givens, things drawn from the pocket of a coat, things that come from somewhere else, import their own contexts, embody their own rules.

3. This heterogenous field is not a playground of juxtaposed references; nor a chaos or an aporia. I want to distinguish this drawing from two other types of differential field: the semantic field of early postmodernism in architecture, and the fragmentary field of deconstructivist architecture. These are fine distinctions that need some work, because naturally there is overlap. Unlike Moore’s Piazza d’Italia or Stirling’s Staatsgalerie, for example, which are Jencksian fields of reference, Miralles’s drawing of the Calle Mercaders apartment, with its high degree of abstraction, does not juxtapose references. Nor is there the kind of fragmentation or deformation at work that there is in Morphosis or Gehry. It is a field of differences, but without the kenotic impliation that this difference opens onto an aporia.

4. Miralles claims his drawings operate in a non-representative register. He claims his drawings are not representations but operations. They are not a static description of an idea originating elsewhere. The drawing is a kind of calculation.

“I feel I am a participant in the tradition that prizes doing, manufacturing, as the source of thought… Shifts and turns make the paper lose its sheet nature. It is a working structure. Its rules are those of economics and commodity. On these planes there is no concern to represent… it is a task of multiplying a single intuition: of seeing it appear in all its possible forms… of aligning acrobatically, like a game, all the rays of lines that go in a direction… of keeping all the aspects of one’s project on paper. It is not a question of accumulating data, but of multiplying them; of enabling what you had not thought of to appear”

5. Miralles insists on the animate qualities of the elements of the project. Elements have a ‘life’ or rules of their own. If we recall Latour’s proposition that we should acknowledge action on the part of nonhumans, this stops sounding like anthropomorphism or psychological projection. A line across a page divides it. It doesn’t simply represent or refer to a division. Once the line is in place, there is no preventing it from dividing, or at least from differing. Miralles expresses something similar: “I would say this is not so much a line as a beam. A project consists of knowing how to tie up multiple lines, multiple ramifications that open up in different directions”.

These notes formed part of my recent paper for the Interstices Traction of Drawing symposium. They are part of an attempt to think drawing strictly in terms of its operation, something I think is desirable for two reasons. Firstly, by dodging a basically hermeneutic framework, it allows us to avoid unproductively elevating expressivity to a primary role; expression being one among many of the operations performed by drawing. Secondly, it allows for a better reconciliation with some attractive materialist theories (on which more later).

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3 thoughts on “Operative Drawing I: Miralles

  1. Pingback: # MAPS /// The Architectural Plan as a Map. Drawings by Enric Miralles | The Funambulist

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