Architecture and Representation - Pier Vittorio Aureli - Life, Abstracted: Notes on the Floor Plan

Life, Abstracted: Notes on the Floor Plan

Pier Vittorio Aureli

Sebastiano Serlio, Plan from Castrametation of the Romans, 1551–54.

Architecture and Representation
October 2017

The simple drag & drop interface makes drawing a floor plan easy. Simply click and drag your cursor to draw your walls.
—RoomSketcher Home Designer

Unlike the characters of Lars Von Trier’s Dogville, in which the Danish director staged a town made of white painted outlines drawn on the floor with some occasional walls and pieces of furniture, we don’t see or experience the plans of the spaces within which we move. Yet plans are everywhere: we spend most of our life within them. By plan I’m referring to what within the discipline of architecture is commonly understood as a “floor plan,” that is, the orthogonal view of a horizontal section of a building.

The making of almost every architectural structure nowadays implies the design of its floor plan. The drawn plan is thus not just an abstraction of architecture but a “concrete abstraction,” since together with other forms of architectural notation, the plan translates many determinations—money, measures, code, gender, class, rituals, beliefs, ideologies, environmental conditions, etc.—into a specific spatial layout. With its conventions of scale, measure, and view, the plan acts—much like money—as a “general equivalent” within which a multitude of determinations coalesce into a measurable “universal” datum.

In what follows I would like to overcome the polarization of abstract vs. physical that has conditioned so much our interpretations of architecture by addressing the floor plan as a “concrete abstraction,” as something that even in its own abstract status of notation is both determined by and determinate of concrete conditions and the way in which we dwell, inhabit, and produce space.

Plan of the Early Natufian architectural remains. Drawing: Gil Harklay and Avi Gopher.

Reification, Ritualization, Abstraction

The history of drawing in architecture is arguably one of mediation, a reification of the way we have come to terms with the space in which we dwell. Reification—which derives from the Latin word res—describes the process through which objects, places, and human relationships become objectified into “things,” or in other words, commeasurable entities.1 We can understand the social as such to be the locus of reification, for in order to function, any social order relies on the reification of features that pertain to the life of its subjects. According to Marx, the human activity of labor becomes a commodity within capitalism, and thus a thing that can be bought and sold, measured and organized.2 Yet if techniques of reification serve as the datum upon which society is organized, they cast a long shadow back into history and encompass within it the very formation of large-scale societies.

Writing, accounting, and legal apparatuses became so important to early societies that they underwent a process of abstraction and brought tangible consequences to the organization of built space. The invention and development of geometry, for example, and its power to give form to space was the outcome of how land was governed. In narrating its origins, Herodotus explains how in ancient Egypt, geometry was born out of the practice of stretching rope to lay out the land, to build dams, granaries, and temples, and most importantly, to parcel out the soil when it re-emerged from water after the Nile’s seasonal flood.3 In commenting on this passage from Herodotus, Alfred Sohn-Rethel remarked that the technique of measuring and parceling was invented not for the sake of cultivators, but for reassessing the peasants’ tributes to the Pharaoh after the flood.4

Yet it would be a mistake to interpret the historical impetus of geometry solely as an instrument of power. The will to geometrically organize space also responds to one of the most important features of early sedentary communities: the ritualization of life. Rituals, sets of actions performed according to a more or less prescribed order, provide an orientation and continuity upon which patterns of behavior can be both established and preserved. For early nomadic communities, daily life meant confronting extreme environmental conditions, and the ritual offered a way to crystallize necessary routines against the chronic unpredictability of existence. This is why when sedentary life began, the ritualization of life shaped the very layout of prehistoric dwellings.

One of the most remarkable early examples of houses as tangible records of ritual existence is the archaeological remains of so-called Shelter 51 in the Natufian site of Eyan, Israel. The Natufians, an Epipaleolitic culture which existed approximately twelve to fifteen-thousand years ago, occupy a unique intermediate position between two distinct forms of life: nomadic hunter-gatherers and sedentary farming communities. Their dwellings consist of circular walls made of stone that cut into the ground while timber posts support a roof presumably made of organic material. Archeologists have noted that Shelter 51 demonstrates a pronounced tendency towards the use geometry in organizing the space of daily life. As explained by Gil Harklay and Avi Gopher, the accuracy of the curved wall, the fairly regular rhythm of the postholes, and the exact concentricity of the entire shelter are all reflective of the intention to produce a precise circular space by using techniques such as a compass arm.5 Such precision in tracing the circle has been interpreted as something more than just building a shelter: the outcome of a ritual practice. It is therefore plausible to interpret Shelter 51 as one of the earliest surviving executions of well-defined plan.

We can see the architectural plan emerging here in the most essential of terms: a drawing traced on the ground that defines the relationships between building elements to achieve a structure in which the position of each is consistent with the whole. According to Harklay and Gopher, the Natufian were familiar with geometrical concepts such as circle and center, which allowed them to establish stable and communicable mental representations of architectural forms. These forms allowed them not only to give precision to their structures, but also to “design” in advance of building. As such, the origin of the architectural plan can be interpreted both as a ritualistic interpretation of space and an abstraction that gives geometric accuracy to space. Here we can see that if to abstract means to pull something essential out of the totality of which it is a part, within the ritualization of life, abstraction is that which is allows spatial and temporal patterns to be established against its chronic uncertainty.

If, according to a tradition of anthropological thought that goes from Johann Gottfried Herder to Paolo Virno, the human is an animal that unlike other species is devoid of specialized instincts and thus affected by a persistent feeling of never being “at home,” it is within language and ritual that this feature of human nature comes to be tamed.6 As a concrete abstraction, the plan is an instrument to impose a normative power onto space and reduce it to a legible geometric figure. There is no doubt that normative power has been, and still is, the principle technique of governance. Yet, as neurologist Kurt Goldstein has argued, normative power is first of all a characteristic of the human mind and its “power of abstraction” to generalize forms and invent new ones.7 Thus if we consider then that the power to produce new abstractions is not just an imposition but also a faculty of the human species, the architectural plan does not only describe the way in which governmental powers capture and domesticate life, but is also a direct testimony of abstraction as the way the human mind inherently makes sense of the world. As such, the power to abstract can also be a way to resist any act of normative power as inevitable and irreversible.

Fragment of the Forma Urbis Romae. Image: Stanford Digital Forma Urbis Romae Project.

Private, Public, Sacred

The large marble plan of Rome known as Forma Urbis Romae is a prime example of how the plan imposes its normative power on lived space. Completed during the reign of Septimius Severus in the third century CE, the Forma Urbis was a ground floor plan, a horizontal section of the city carved into marble slabs.8 Fragments of the map were rediscovered during the sixteenth century and have since, in part thanks to depiction by Giovanni Battista Piranesi as part of his Roman Antiquities, become an emblematic representation of ancient Rome. Measuring approximately sixty feet wide by fort-five feet tall, the map was most probably displayed vertically on a wall in a public building such as an archive, library, or as suggested by several scholars, a public register of property.9

In the Forma Urbis Romae, private and public buildings are often—though not systematically—differentiated in terms of how they are represented: the wall thickness and interior columns of public buildings are rendered, whereas the walls of private buildings are drawn as single lines. Furthermore, there are scalar inconsistencies, with monumental public buildings drawn at a slightly larger scale than the surrounding residential fabric. In clearly differentiating res publica from res privata, the purpose of the map was to function as a cadastral survey of the city, i.e. a map that serves as an accurate register of property. The Forma Urbis Romae manifests the Romans’ extreme attention to partitioning the urban territory into public and private land. But this process of reification in which every parcel of the ground is either one or the other found its point of origin not in the res privata per se, but in the very institution of the res publica and res sacra as parcels of land excluded from commerce.

As noted by scholar Yan Thomas, in Roman Law it was precisely the practice of forbidding something to be traded—as in the case of res publica and res sacra—that defined res privata as something that could be, and thus acquire monetary, or commercial value.10 Understood in this way, the opposition between res publica and res privata that has so strongly influenced the historical rhetoric of public space is less of an antagonism than a mutual condition. Both res publica and res privata are part of a vast process constituting the juridical sphere, in which every controversy can be quantitatively assessed and resolved. Accordingly, the inclusion of something into the domain of res implies a process of abstraction in which things become identifiable by their value, and the juridical and commercial aspects of society become one.

Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Forma Urbis Romae, from Antichità Romane, 1756.

The impetus for subjection to the quantifiable order of res was perhaps the outcome of the very conflictual nature of Roman society. It is not by chance that both the Forma Urbis Romae and earlier monumental plans such as those executed under Augustus and Vespasian were produced in times immediately following periods of civil unrest. Against the constant stream of struggles, controversies, litigations, and disputes, the Romans attempted to quantify the city, and thus make it a commensurable space.

Vitruvius, in his De Architectura Libri Decem, presented three main techniques to correctly draw, and thus design architecture: ichnographia (plan), ortographia (elevation and section) and scenographia (tridimensional rendering).11 While orthography and scenography represent buildings as they appear when built, ichnography, defined as the tracing of a geometrical projection of a building’s horizontal section, is an abstraction of the building that represents a datum not visible from within the built structure itself. Yet it was precisely this “invisible” datum that allowed the juridical value of places to be determined.

Within the Roman Empire, agrimensores (“land measurers”) and gromatici (from groma, the surveying instrument) played a crucial role in tightening the relationship between geometry and economy. The work of partitioning the land was not just bureaucratic and managerial, but often a highly symbolic affair that involved religious rituals such as auspices and acts of consecration. Here we can see that the juridical abstraction of the city into patrimonial values was not at odds with the ritualization of space upon which the planning of cities was founded: both were instrumental to augment and facilitate social consensus. A plan of the city such as the Forma Urbis is thus not just the definition of the city’s value organized into res publica and res privata. The topographical certainty of this partition and its geometric intelligibility is also the political basis on which the empire rests and defines its sovereignty. It is that which makes the abstraction of urban territory possible.

Plan of Benedectine Monastery, known as the Plan of St. Gall, ca. 830.

Function, Diagram, Form

The Forma Urbis Romae demonstrates how within the tracing of the plan seemingly opposite processes such as abstraction and the ritualization of life are not mutually exclusive. And indeed, in many ancient cultures the tracing of lines on the ground was first and foremost a ritual whose consequences were both symbolic and pragmatic. The place in which the ritualization and abstraction of life become most clearly evident through the delineation of the plan is the architecture of the monastery. Gradually developed from the tradition of the ancient domestic space, coenobitic monasteries were built not only as places of prayer and contemplation but also as apparatuses to direct daily life in all of its physical and mental aspects. Monastic life was possible only if monks were able to live their life as a voluntary and incessant worship to the point that there was no difference between life as such and the monastic rule.12 This meant that not just prayer and liturgy, but all aspects of life including working, eating, and sleeping had to acquire a ritualized form. Each aspect of the monk’s daily life was therefore translated into a typical space: dormitory (sleeping), refectory (eating), library (studying), workshops (working), etc.

Within the architecture of the monastery, abstraction is performed as the organization of discrete, specific moments into more generalizable and repeatable patterns.13 This spatial condition was reflected by an architecture made of simple, generic, and rhythmic forms. Incidentally the first known architectural drawing is the so-called “ideal plan for a monastery” preserved in the library of St. Gall, Switzerland.14 Drawn on five parchments sewn together, the plan was drafted in the monastery of Reichenau under the supervision of its abbot Haito and sent to Gozbert, the abbot of St. Gall. In addressing Gozbert, Haito wrote that the purpose of the plan was for the abbot of St. Gall to “exercise your ingenuity and recognize my devotion.” This means that the plan was not meant to be the blueprint for a specific project, but rather a diagram (completed with an extensive text and legend on its back) to help the abbot to define the disposition of the different spaces and their use.

The plan shows a complete monastic complex made of approximately forty buildings including churches, houses, stables, kitchens, workshops, a brewery, an infirmary, storage, and even a special house for bloodletting.15 The St. Gall plan placed remarkable emphasis on the compound’s functional aspects, such as circulation and the storage of goods.16 All of the different spaces are planned within a grid, which allows for an efficient organization of such a wide range of different activities. The result is an architectural plan for the management of life, within which everything was measured in terms of space but also in terms of time, which was obsessively defined by clocks and the sound of bells.

As in the case of the Forma Urbis Romae, an important feature of the St. Gall plan is the way it is drawn. The walls of the monastery are abstracted as thin, single lines. In this way, the drawing shifts attention from the physical structures themselves to their functional and spatial organization. The St. Gall plan shows the potential effect of abstraction on form and thus anticipates what would become one of the fundamental tendencies of modernity: the becoming-diagram of architecture.17 A diagram is commonly understood as a means to convey information through symbol and figure, and as such, it is used to synthetically represent concept and form. In contrast to this definition, Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, and Félix Guattari conceived of the diagram as a machine that directly produces effects of power.18 For these thinkers, the diagram has nothing to do with representation; rather, the diagram is what it does: it makes an instance of power not simply legible, but effective. The organization of medieval monasteries represents an early example of how a diagrammatic abstraction could become architecture itself, reduced to its simplest form: a composition of walls defining intervals of space.

By carefully choreographing the monk’s daily routines, the monastery became a fundamental model for industrial civilization. We should not forget that, unlike in antiquity when it was considered an unworthy sphere of life, better avoided or delegated to slaves, it was within the monastery that labor was first recognized to be an essential aspect of life. The monastery thus became a model for modern institutions in which the floor plan becomes the sine qua non of architecture, such as the hospital, prison, factory, school, and above all, housing. At the same time, the spatial ritualization of daily routines became the model for movements and projects that challenged the inevitability of industrial capitalism, such as Charles Fourier’s Phalanstère, whose deliberate and obsessive scheduling of the inhabitants’ life was inspired by the tradition of monastic rule.

Francesco di Giorgio Martini, plans for Casa dei Signori, from Trattato di Architettura Civile e Militare, pre-1482.

Oikos, Economy, Housing

As archaeologist Richard Bradley has argued, domestic life found its origin in the ritualization of life.19 If for millennia rituals were not limited to religious practices, with the administrative separation of home and sacred space that occurs with the formation large-scale societies, the rituals of domestic life became increasingly focused on the management of the household.20 It is within this condition that the house becomes the locus of economy in the original meaning of the word as oikonomia (house management).21 The term oikos does not refer to the house as artifact but to the house as household whose organization is founded on the despotic relationships between father and son, husband and wife, and master and slave. Unlike politics, in which power relations are based on discussion and conflict, within oikonomia, relation was considered to be the necessary outcome of biological life, and thus unquestionable.

Within many ancient Greek cities, political and economic space were clearly separate between the polis and the household. Yet this separation concealed a paradox: while domestic labor was hidden in the silent space of the oikos, political life was possible only if it is supported by the labor of the home.22 Within this condition, household management is the activity of housekeeping, that is to say, maintaining an adequate order so that life within the house can unfold in a frictionless way. Housekeeping is a spatial praxis described by ancient texts as the housewife’s ability to know the location of every object needed to maintain family life within the house. Household management can thus be understood as a taxonomic order that assigns every moment of daily life to a specific place in the house.23 Economy thus implies the translation of life into a typical spatial arrangement—a plan—and it is in this way that the form of the house is the most tangible manifestation of economic relations.

Xenophon’s Oeconomicus compares the perfect conditions for harmonic cohabitation to a dance where everything is ruled according to a carefully orchestrated choreography whose performers are not just objects, but bodies.24 It is precisely here that we see how domestic space produces the most generic condition for production: everyday life. It is also in this way we can understand how a house houses, or becomes housing. While the noun “house” emphasizes the symbolic dimension of the domestic realm, “housing” focuses on the functioning of the house. In the western world, housing as a specific architectural project emerges in the late middle ages when ruling powers began to consider the welfare of workers to be the fundamental precondition for a city or state to be productive and generate wealth. Interestingly, at the moment housing becomes a proper architectural project, the floor plan is understood as an increasingly essential datum for its production. From Sebastiano Serlio’s treatise on domestic architecture to Catharine and Herriet Beecher’s model for “The American Woman Home,” housing is conceived from the vantage point of the plan.

Left: Workers Dwelling in Towns. Right: Double Cottages for Two Families. From Henry Roberts, The Dwellings of the Labouring Classes, 1850.

While in the middle ages domestic activities would often coalesce within one room, from the fifteenth century onwards we see an increasing separation of domestic activities and their clustering within specialized spaces: chambers, antechambers, kitchen, bed-rooms etc. Within the development of housing, subdividing the house into rooms becomes the most pressing task for the architect, and it is within the plan that spatial relationships become most immediately legible and thus susceptible to be addressed by the strategic deployment of openings and partitions. One project that brought “the art of plan subdivision” to its finest and most perverse development is Henry Roberts’ seminal and influential pamphlet titled On the Dwelling of the Labouring Classes, submitted for consideration to the Institute of British Architects in 1850.25 Roberts collected arguments and proposals for the construction of working class housing based on three models: the lodging house, the apartment, and the cottage. Roberts’ pamphlet reflects the capitalist “philanthropic” response to working class unrest towards the increasingly harsh living conditions in the nineteenth century industrial metropolis. As such, Roberts’ Dwelling of the Labouring Classes should be understood as a form of “well-tempered austerity” within which housing reformers provided a minimum of workers’ welfare—domesticating their “unruly” and “immoral” behavior—while binding their life to work, property, and above all, family living.

In the pamphlet’s appendix, Roberts presented specific design proposals for dwellings that range from lodging houses for single men and unmarried women to houses and double cottages for families. The plans are strikingly accurate. Particularly in the most famous of them, the “Model House for Four Families,” Roberts drew every detail and named every space according to its function. As Robin Evans noted in “Rookeries and Model Dwellings,” Roberts’ “architecture of reform” is essentially about specifying movements and distinguishing spaces. The plans carefully orchestrate movement from room to room while ensuring no room would become mere passages to others like enfilades. In Roberts’ models, the plan becomes a mosaic of different rooms, each with its clearly defined function and arranged according to a clear gradient of privacy.

What was a stake in this careful planning of the home was, in Roberts’ words, ”the preservation of domestic privacy and independence of each distinct family and the disconnection of their apartments, so as to effectively prevent the communication of contagious disease.”26 Yet what in these plans seems to be effectively prevented is communication altogether, evincing a capitalist intent to replace the solidarity typical among working class families and households with the petit-bourgeois ideology of “privacy” and self-containment. At the same time, it would be a mistake to believe that the only thing at stake in Roberts’s plans was ensuring the separation of sexes and the “decency of intercourse.” Roberts links the design of the “dwelling of the laboring classes” to an economy of means that carefully balanced dweller welfare with investor profit. Roberts argued that when houses were bespoke to the behavior of nuclear families, a high level of property management could be expected, and thus “a fair return in interest on the outlay would be obtained by the investors.”27 This economy of means infused all details of the plan. By clearly separating apartments and giving each of them an autonomous entrance, for example, each housing unit would have less windows than what was subject to the then-expensive window tax. In Roberts’ model houses, economy both in the sense of home economics and as large scale social organization overlap and become one, and the plan becomes the most legible hieroglyph of a political economy crystallized into space.

Ivan Leonidov, Design for a Club of the New Social Type, Variant A, 1928.

Other Plans

Before the Renaissance, empty space was considered a vacuum, a lacuna which, precisely because of its intangibility and incommensurability, could not be grasped. Yet with the proliferation of techniques to accurately measure space that flourished in the late middle ages, empty space was no longer an incommensurable reality, external to the world of physical objects, but a datum that could be used to measure the objects it contains.28 Within this space the floor plan is thus not just the projection of the horizontal section, but the projection of all the parameters that materially define the space in which we dwell. But the floor plan’s abstraction of spatial relationships is not just informed by the calculus that allows us to measure space. As we have seen, such an abstraction is deeply interrelated with the social contingencies that animate and ultimately produce space. The floor plan acts as mediating device, a Rosetta stone that reveals all the conniving techniques for domesticating its subjects. Yet it is precisely because the plan is always imagined and constructed in this way that it can be re-assembled to anticipate alternative forms of life, different from the ones that have been enforced through the deployment of specific plans.

Such an operation would firstly require understanding disciplinary aspects of architecture and their historical determinations not to be pitted against one another as in the fruitless cold war between “form” and “content.” Up until today, the history of architecture has been largely been written as a succession of styles. Another possible reading would focus on the way strategies of normalization, standardization, and typologization have been put forward in the attempt to conform lived space to certain economic and social conditions. While buildings’ elevations the use of specific ornamental features often present the most ideologically charged aspects of architecture, the floor plan of buildings reveal how inhabitation is organized in the most literal terms. As argued by Robin Evans, “If anything is described by an architectural plan, it is the nature of human relationships, since the elements whose trace record—walls, doors, windows, and stairs—are employed first to divide and then selectively to re-unite inhabited space.”29 A history of architecture through floor plans would reveal the way life has been constantly ritualized, abstracted, and thus reified in order to become legible and organizable. Understood in this way, the plan demystifies the naturalization of power relations since it shows how they have always been deliberately constructed by the formation of habit and perception.

With the rise of novel ways to design and coordinate the vast apparatus of the building industry such as BIM (building information modeling) software, the floor plan is no longer the primary object of design. Starting to design a building from its floor plan, as suggested by architects like Alberti and Le Corbusier, may have become an obsolete praxis (even in architecture schools), since today architects can design a building in plan, section, and elevation simultaneously. Yet this does not mean that the control of the floor plan has ceased to be a relevant parameter. In fact, the logic of the “plan” as apparatus has arguably becomes even more pervasive vis-à-vis the way in which life is managed, organized, and put to work. It is for this reason that we should shy away from looking at plans as autonomous objects. Instead, we should view them as where both reification and the “power to abstract”—two essential ways to construct space—can be reclaimed from the way they have become commodified. After all, it is precisely the reclamation of abstraction and reification from their instrumentalization for the sake of profit and exploitation that we still call, for lack of a better word, socialism.


A fundamental explanation of the phenomena of reification is contained in Georg Lukacs’s History and Class Consciousness in the chapter “Refication and the Consciousness of the Proletariat.” Glossing Marx’s discussion on the passage from use value to exchange value within the organization of labor, Lukacs emphasize how the pervasive organization of labor as a process capable of making human labor itself a commodity required a vast “quantifiable continuum filled with quantifiable “things.” As Lukacs wrote in a crucial passage: “We are concerned above all with the principle at work here: the principle of rationalisation based on what is and can be calculated. The chief changes undergone by the subject and object of the economic process are as follows: (1) in the first place, the mathematical analysis of work-processes denotes a break with the organic, irrational and qualitatively determined unity of the product. Rationalisation in the sense of being able to predict with ever greater precision all the results to be achieved is only to be acquired by the exact breakdown of every complex into its elements and by the study of the special laws governing production. Accordingly it must declare war on the organic manufacture of whole products based on the traditional amalgam of empirical experiences of work: rationalisation is unthinkable without specialization.” George Lukacs, History and Class Consciousness. Studies in Marxist Dialectic, trans. Rodney Livingstone (London: Merlin Press, 1971), p. 84.


Karl Marx, “Chapter 2: The Process of Exchange” in Capital. A Critique of Political Economy, Volume One, trans. Ben Fowkes (Penguin Classics: London, 1990), 178–188.


Alfred Sohn-Retel, Intellectual and Manual Labor. A Critique of Epistemology (The Macmillan Press: London, 1978), 90.


“Hence geometry did not appear to the cultivators in their own garb, but in the attire of the Pharaoh’s tax officials accompanied by their field measurers.” Ibid. 91.


Gill Harklay, Avi Gopher, “A New Look at Shelter 131/51 in the Natufian Sit of Eynan (Ain-Mallaha), Israel” in PLoS ONE 7, 10 (2015), ; See also: A. Nigel Goring-Morris and Anna Belfer-Cohen, “A Roof Over One’s Head: Developments in Neolithic Transition,” in: Jean-Pierre Bocquet-Appel and Ofer Bar-Yosef, The Neolithic Demographic Transition and its Consequences (Berlin: Springer, 2008), 239–286. Because the architectural refinement of Shelter 131/51, Haklay and Gopher have interpreted as the communal room of the village, yet its form is exemplary of many Natufian dwellings some of which were often use as communal spaces or even graves.


See: Paolo Virno has defined this line of anthropological thought “the tradition of modesty” because it theorized the human animal as deprived of those specialized instincts that characterized all the other animal species. For Virno language itself and the human ability to make a “world” are faculties that supply to the lack of specialized instincts. This hypothesis has been further developed by philosopher Massimo De Carolis who has interpreted the ritual as praxis related to the human species’ lack of specialized instincts. See: Paolo Virno, Scienze Sociali e “Natura Umana” Facoltà di linguaggio, Invariante Biologico, Rapporti di Produzione (Rubettino: Soveria Mannelli, 2003), 26; Massimo De Carolis, “La costruzione della Normalità:dal rituale al mercato’ in “Filosofia Politica” n. 1, 2014, 59-76; see also: Johann Gotfried Herder, “On the Origin of language” in Jean-Jacque Rousseau and Johann Harder, Essay on the Origin of Language, trans. John Moran and Alexander Gode (University of Chicago Press: Chicago 1986).


See: Kurt Goldstein, Human Nature in the Light of Psychopathology (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1940). In commenting the thought of Kurt Goldestein in relationship with abstraction Matteo Pasquinelli has argued that for the German Neurologist “Antagonism with the environment, the struggle for adaptation, always proceeds by the invention of new equilibria, habits, norms, and categories. Adaptation always happens via the production of new abstractions.” See Matteo Pasquinelli, “The Alien Hand of Technosphere: Kurt Goldestein and the Trauma of Intelligent Machines” in Technosphere Journal (October 2015), .


On this exceptional document of ancient Rome see: Gianfilippo Carettoni, Antonio M. Colini, Lucos Cozza, and Guglielmo Gatti, La pianta marmorea di Roma antica. Forma urbis Romae (Rome: Danesi Editore, 1960). See also: David West Reynolds, Forma Urbis Romae: The Severan Marble Plan and the Urban Form of Ancient Rome (Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Michigan, 1996).


See: Liba Taub, ‘The Historical Function of the ‘Forma Urbis Romae’” in Imago Mundi 45 (1993), 9–19.


Yan Thomas, “La valeur des choses. Le droit romain hors la religion,” Annales. Histoire, Science Sociales 57, 6 (November/December 2001): 1431‒62.


Vitruvius, Ten Books on Architecture, eds. Ingrid D. Rowland and Thomas Noble Howe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 1.2.2.


On the history of monastic architecture in the West see: Wolfgang Braunfels, Monasteries of Western Europe: The Architecture of the Orders (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1972). For a radical interpretation of monasticism as the making of a form of life see: Giorgio Agamben, The Highest Poverty: Monastic Rules and Form-of-life, trans. Adam Kotsko (Redwood City: Stanford University Press, 2013).


This is why the plan of Benedectine and later Cistercians monasteries was often organized according to modular structures.


On this drawing see the important: Walter Horn, Ernest Born, Plan of St. Gall: Study of the Architecture and Economy of, and Life in, a Paradigmatic Carolingian Monastery (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1980).


Facilities were planned to enact specific uses of space. The lack of heating in the dining hall, for instance, was meant to discourage the excessive enjoyment of meals.


This also because Benedictines gave so much importance to labor and production making monasteries not just places of contemplation but “factories.”


This tendency will manifest itself in the increasing standardization of architectural components both in terms of their design and materialization and in the rise of what in lack of a better term we can define as “generic architecture.” Francesco Marullo has identified the rise of generic architecture in the emergence of a specific kind of floor plan: the “typical plan.” See: Francesco Marullo, Typical Plan. The Architecture of Labor and the Space of Production (Ph.D. Dissertation, Technische Universiteit Delft, Berlage Institute, 2014). See also: Francesco Marullo, “The Typical Plan as Index of the Generic,” in The City as a Project, ed. Pier Vittorio Aureli (Berlin: Ruby Press, 2014), 216–260.


See: Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (New York: Vintage Books, 1977); see also Gilles Deleuze, Foucault, trans. Sean Hand (London: Continuum, 2006).


See: Richard Bradley, Ritual and Domestic Life in Prehistoric Europe (Oxon, UK: Routledge, 2005); See also: Richard Bradley, “A Life Less Ordinary: The Ritualization of the Domestic Sphere in Later Prehistoric Europe,” Cambridge Archaeological Journal 13, 1 (2003): 5–23.


See: Gwendolyn Leick, Mesopotamia: The Invention of the City (London: Penguin Books, 2003).


See: Aristotle, The Politics, trans. T.A. Sinclair (New York: Penguin, 1957), 62; Scott Meikle, Aristotle’s Economic Thought (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997).


Aristotle himself implicitly acknowledged this paradox when he spent the first book of Politics on the organization of the household.


The plan a taxonomic ordering of space has been investigated by Alejandra Celedon Forster. See: Alejandra Celedon Forster, Rhetorics of the Plan. Architecture and the City (Ph.D. Dissertation, Architectural Association, 2014).


Xenophon, Oeconomicus, trans. Ralph Doty (Bristol: Bristol Classic Press, 1998), 23.


See: Henry Roberts, The Improvement of the Dwellings of the Labouring Classes (London: Ridgway, 1859); See also: Robin Evans “Rookeries and Model Dwellings. English Housing Reform and Moralities of Pivate Space” in Translation from Drawing to Building and Other Essays (London: Architectural Association Pubblication, 1997), 93–117.


Ibid., Roberts, 10.


Ibid., 12.


In other words, the system of orthogonal projections praised by architects and artists such as Leon Battista Alberti, Raphael, and Palladio as the most trustable representation of architecture, before such as system would be finally codify by Gaspard Monge in his Géométrie descriptive, was only possible when the space of these projections was quantifiable.


Robin Evans “Figures, Doors, Passages” in in Translation from Drawing to Building and Other Essays (London: Architectural Association, 1997), 56.

Architecture and Representation is a project by Het Nieuwe Instituut, The Berlage, and e-flux Architecture.

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Architecture and Representation is a collaboration between Het Nieuwe Instituut, The Berlage, and e-flux Architecture.

Pier Vittorio Aureli is the co-founder of Dogma and teaches at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne.


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