Architecture of surface : the significance of surficial thought and topological metaphors of design
Islami, Seyed Yahya
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In the early twentieth century, the modernists problematized ornament in their refashioning of architecture for the industrial age. Today, architects are formulating different responses to image and its (re)production in the information age. In both discourses of ornament and image, surfaces are often the perpetrators: visual boundaries that facilitate false appearances, imprisoning humanity in a shadowy cave of illusion. Such views follow a familiar metaphysical model characterized by the opposition between inside and outside and the opaque boundary that acts as a barrier. This model determines the traditional (Platonic) philosophical approach that follows a distinct hierarchical order and a perpendicular movement of thought that seeks to penetrate appearances in order to arrive at the essence of things. This thesis deploys Gilles Deleuze’s philosophy to advance a different understanding of surface, image and appearance in architecture. Using the Bilbao Guggenheim Museum as a catalyst, the thesis argues that many of the concepts with which commentators and critics analyse contemporary architecture follow models of thought that consider surfaces and their effects as secondary categories. Given the significance of visual (re)production and communication for contemporary society, the thesis proposes a different model based on surface as that which simultaneously produces, connects and separates image and reality. This non-hierarchical approach is inspired by surficial philosophy, which relates to Earth, to geology and topology, conjuring up a diversity of concepts from the thickness of the crust to the smooth fluidity of the seas. The result is an unfamiliar, polemical model of thought that does not define surface as a limit or barrier, rather a medium, a pliable space of smooth mixture. In this model, difference is not in the opposition between the two sides of a boundary line, rather it occurs upon and within the surficial landscape that consumes categories, promoting nomadic movements of thought that offer greater flexibility towards creativity and new possibilities. In surficial thought, images and appearances are not artificial copies of an originary reality, rather they possess a unique reality of their own. This approach allows architectural imagery to be theorised as a positive surfacing of architecture beyond disciplinary lines and the locality of a specific time and place.