Posts Tagged ‘Architectural Theory’

Transparency II: Layering of Planes/Layering of Spaces

February 24, 2011 5 comments

Literal Transparency vs Phenomenal Transparency, Real Transparency vs Seeming Transparency, Substantial Transparency vs Organizational Transparency, Actual Transparency vs Implied Transparency, Perceptual Transparency vs Conceptual Transparency,   Transparency of Seeing/Looking vs Transparency of Reading, Transparency of Visibility vs Transparency of Understanding, Transparency of Observation vs Transparency of Interpretation.

Two Modes of Transparency: Literal & Phenomenal

The key aspect to Rowe and Slutzky’s seminal essay on Transparency: Literal & Phenomenal, is the distinction of the two types of transparency, a literal transparency, which will be later described as perceptual transparency, is a quality inherent to substance or matter, such as in mesh screens, translucent walls, etc, and a phenomenal transparency, that is, a conceptual transparency, a quality inherent in the spatial or volumetric organization (Rowe & Slutzky, 1982).

Rowe and Slutzky, quotes Gyorgy Kepes for defining transparency as a result of transparent figures interpenetrating each other without optical destruction, but transparency also implies something broader than optical effects, as it also includes spatial effects. “Transparency means a simultaneous perception of different spatial locations. Space not only recedes but fluctuates in a continuous activity” (Kepes quoted in Rowe & Slutzky, 1982). This overlapping and interpenetrating of figures conjures an ambiguity or contradiction of spatial dimensions.

The concepts and conditions of transparency parallel movements of Relativity theories and their implications; where space-time relativistic thinking allows for two objects to co-exist simultaneously in the same space and time, as such transparency is a space-time condition of betweeness, a simultaneous perception of space.


Perceptual vs Conceptual Transparency: Eye vs Mind, Looking vs Reading 

To introduce new terms into the dialectic of transparency, one can appropriate the terms of Sol Le Witt, and the Conceptual Art movement of the 1960s, in order to reinterpret Transparency as being perceptual or conceptual. Le Witt contrasts the two as follows, “Art that is meant for the sensation of the eye primarily would be called perceptual rather than conceptual” (Le Witt, 1967). Le Witt adds that, “Conceptual art is made to engage the mind of the viewer rather than his eye or emotions” (Le Witt, 1967). Juxtaposing the terms and definitions, Literal transparency can now be seen as a kind of Perceptual transparency as it engages the eye, whereas Phenomenal transparency can be understood as a Conceptual transparency which engages the mind of the viewer, in one’s interpretation or reading of spatial organization.

Here one can differentiate between the operations of ‘reading’ and ‘looking,’ “’Reading’ opposes itself to ‘looking’…as a different kind of visual attention” (Osborne, 2002). Perceptual transparency is a transparency of looking, as the transparent conditions arise due to an overlapping of material or substance, whereas Conceptual transparency is a transparency of reading, thus engaging the mind of the viewer or reader, in order to interpret and understand successive layered spaces as modes of transparent phenomena.

To reiterate the dialectical overlapping and multiple readings of conditions of transparency, literal transparency is a perceptual and actual transparency of seeing or of substance, whereas phenomenal transparency is a conceptual and implied transparency of reading or of organization.


Transparency: Simultaneity & Interpenetration

French Cubism & Italian Futurism – Figure 2 (left): Picasso’s The Clarinet Player, 1911 – literal transparency in Cubism, a figure in deep space, Figure 3 (middle): Braque’s The Portuguese, 1911 – phenomenal transparency in Cubism, a shallow flattened extended space, & Figure 4 (right): Boccioni’s Futurist painting – States of Mind II: The Farewalls, 1911.

Rowe and Slutzky states that any Cubist canvas of 1911-1912 could serve to illustrate the presence of the two orders or levels of transparency, that is, literal and phenomenal, involving the fusion of temporal and spatial factors, and mentions that Cubism was a premonition of relativity invoking the fourth dimension (Rowe & Slutzky, 1982). The typical Cubist motif is described as consisting of “figures…intersecting, overlapping, interlocking…building up into larger and fluctuating configurations” (Rowe & Slutzky, 1982).

In the various manifestos of the Italian Futurist art movement of the early 20th century, key notions of simultaneity, intersection, and compenetration of planes marks the movement’s interest in the expression of dynamism and movement in visual art. The Futurist artist, Umberto Boccioni, in his representation of movement, studied and employed the simultaneity and consequent interpenetration or compenetration of planes, force-lines, and the decomposition of objects, in order to produce dynamism in both painting and sculpture (Coen, 1988).

Petrie in his article on Boccioni and Bergson attempts to draw the possible linkages between Boccioni’s ideas of simultaneity and interpenetration with Bergson’s notions of intuition and duration. Intuition acknowledges movement as being indivisible; and Bergson refers to the time sensed by our intuition as la durée, duration (Petrie, 1974). Petrie mentions that time, duration, and movement were central for both Boccioni and Bergson, as “It was only through movement that the ‘living experience of the object in its very becoming’ could be conveyed” (Petrie, 1974).

“Absolute motion is then, for Boccioni, ‘the motion that the object has within itself, whether at rest or in movement’. The artist must therefore intuit this motion in terms of lines which will reveal ‘how the object would disintegrate following the tendency of its innate forces’. And the interaction of these lines, these forces, will denote…‘interpenetration’ (Petrie, 1974).”

Hence duration, transparency, and simultaneity, executed in the intersection and interpenetration of lines and forms in the image’s movement, for Boccioni and the Italian Futurists, expressed the exaltation of speed as the affirmation of modernity.

“Place, time, form, and color coexist in a single composition conceived to bring out the object’s dynamic reality through a simultaneity not limited to the simple unfurling of an action in time but embracing all the elements that could convey the sensation of speed visually.” (Coen, 1988)

Figure 5 (left): Le Corbusier’s La Roche House; interpenetrating spaces, & Figure 6 (right): Le Corbusier’s Cook House, 1926/27; interpenetrating, interlocking, & blending of interior & exterior, between the roof & interior spaces.

Sigfried Giedion describes in his book, Building in France, building in iron, building in ferroconcrete, “By their design, all buildings today are as open as possible. They blur their arbitrary boundaries. Seek connection and interpenetration” (Giedion, 1995). Giedion relates the notion of intepenetration to both Le Corbusier’s paintings and buildings, with reference to Jeanneret 1924, he writes, “Just as transparent objects interpenetrate in the painting, so Corbusier with every means also lightens the traditional gravity of the house” (Giedion, 1995). Air flows through Le Corbusier’s houses; there is only one indivisible space where the shell falls away between interior and exterior – spatial interpenetration (Giedion, 1995). Transparent simultaneity exists in Le Corbusier’s Cook House, where the exterior roof terrace space and the adjacent interior spaces blend and merge together by means of an interlocking gesture (Giedion, 1995).


Layering & Stratification of Frontal Planes: Layering in Le Corbusier’s Work

Figure 7 (left): Axonometric of Le Corbusier’s Still Life, 1920; layering of frontal planes, & Figure 8 (right) Le Corbusier’s Still Life, 1920.

Figure 9 (left): Axonometric of Le Corbusier’s Villa Stein at Garches 1927/28; layering of frontal planes, & Figure 10 (right): Le Corbusier’s Villa Stein at Garches 1927/28.

Rowe and Slutzky mentions that, “[Stratifications], devices by means of which space becomes constructed, substantial, and articulate, are the essence of…phenomenal transparency” (Rowe & Slutzky, 1982).

The layering and stratification of frontal planes is evident in both Le Corbusier’s paintings as well as his built works. Articulated layered compositions, through the device of stratification, typifying phenomenal transparency are seen in Le Corbusier’s Still Life of 1920, which is then applied to the design of his Villa Stein in Garches of 1927/28. The axonometrics demonstrate the layered configurations of both works; they appear to stretch out and expand the various constituent layers of their flattened conditions as painting or elevation.

Eisenman describes the flattened layered elevations of Le Corbusier’s painting and his Villa Stein as being plans tipped to an upright position, allowing one to simultaneously perceive the whole from a singular viewpoint (Eisenman, 2007).


Adolf Loos: The Diagonal View – The Journey of the Gaze

Figure 11 (left): Section (top) and Plan (bottom) of Loo’s Moller House (Vienna, 1927-8); diagonal arrow denotes the Journey of the Gaze passing though the successive planes/frames. Figure 12 (right): Axonometric of Loo’s Muller House (Prague, 1929-30), illustrating the multiple planes/frames within the interior; a theatre within the house.

Adolf Loos states that his architecture is not conceived in plan, but rather in terms of spaces or cubes, hence the Raum – or Space – plan, which achieves a merging of storeys and spaces into a contiguous and continuous space.

Spatial continuity between rooms was created not by omitting walls but by piercing them with wide openings so that views were always framed…Often the connection between rooms was only visual, as through a proscenium. At their interface, these spaces had a theatrical quality” (Colquhoun, 2002).

As such, the viewer is allowed to ‘journey’ through the space creating a spatial continuum of the layered planes-spaces. This reiterates the notion of transparency as a seeing- or passing-through, that is, a journey, a penetration, or a passing through of the gaze.

Both the plan and section of the Muller House depict a diagonal arrow; this denotes the perspectival view in/out. The diagonality is important, as the arrows in both the plan and section refer to the same view, that is, both arrows are in effect the same, as they both denote the same sequence of framed vistas. The subject in the building engages in a theatrical voyeuristic gaze passing through the framed spaces. The Raumplan demonstrates a framing of frames, a seeing or penetrating through the successive frames of view. Hence, phenomenal or conceptual transparency is achieved, following what Rowe and Slutzky mentioned with regards to the notion of stratification, that is, the sequential layering of frontal planes and spaces.


Doubling of Transparency: Simultaneity of Transparent Dialectics

Rowe & Slutzky mentions in their article on Transparency, that in the transparent overlapping, interpenetrating, superimposing of planes and figures, there exists more than a single mode of transparency, that is, not only is there a physical or literal transparency, that is, an actual or real transparency, but also a conceptual or phenomenal transparency, that is, an implied or seeming mode of transparency (Rowe & Slutzky, 1982). As such, in architecture, not only is transparency a condition of material or substance, permitting the “passing through” of light, air, and sight, but also a condition of organization or ordering. Hence, there exists two modes of transparency, two modes of layering, the Layering of Planes and the Layering of Spaces.

The two modes of transparency can be combined, fused and integrated to achieve a doubling of transparency, a simultaneity of modes of transparent operations. Hence, both the Layering of Space and the Layering of Surface, both the Layering of Volume and the Layering of Façade, resulting in a spatial-surface ambiguity, an ambiguous fluctuation and oscillation of depth of space and surface.

Literal Transparency occurs through the layering and stacking of the physical material of the walls and surfaces, whereas Phenomenal transparency occurs through the layering, overlapping, and superimposition of axes and gridded spatial orders, thus producing an ambiguity of spatial organizations, resulting from a sequential ordering or a successive stratification and layering of space.

A doubling of transparency, both literal and phenomenal, perceived and interpreted. One sees through, sees pass the overlapping glazed or meshed facades, exterior and interior, and one reads and interprets the layered spatial arrangement. An act of inter-modal transparency, literal and phenomenal, actual and implied, seen and read, perceptual and conceptual, co-existing together; a multi-penetration of transparencies, multi-transparent, multi-interpenetrative and interpretive, multi-moded transparency.



  • Coen, E., et al., Umberto Boccioni (New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art: Distributed by H.N. Abrams, 1988) 
  • Colomina, B., The Split Wall: Domestic Voyeurism, Sexuality & Space (NY: Princeton Architectural Press, 1992) 
  • Colquhoun, A., Modern Architecture (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002) 
  • Eisenman, P., “Terragni and the Idea of a Critical Text,” in Written into the Void: Selected Writings, 1990-2004 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007) 
  • Giedion, S., Building in France, building in iron, building in ferroconcrete, introduction by Sokratis Georgiadis; translation by J. Duncan Berry (Santa Monica, CA: Getty Center for the History of Art and the Humanities, 1995)
  • Le Witt, S., “Paragraphs on Conceptual Art.” Artforum (June, 1967) [online]. [cited 3 August 2010] Available from: <>
  • Osborne, P., Conceptual Art (London; New York: Phaidon, 2002)
  • Petrie, B. Boccioni and Bergson, The Burlington Magazine Vol. 116, No. 852, Modern Art (1908-25) (Mar., 1974), 142 [online], [cited 13 October 2010] Available from: <>
  • Rowe, C. & R. Slutzky, Transparency: Literal and Phenomenal, The mathematics of the ideal villa and other essays (Cambridge, Mass., MIT Press, 1982)
  • Raumplan [online]. [cited 14 October 2010] Available from: <>

Figure References

  • Figure 1: B. Colomina, The Split Wall: Domestic Voyeurism, Sexuality & Space (NY: Princeton Architectural Press, 1992). 75. Photoshopped by Author.
  • Figure 2: Picasso’s The Clarinet Player, 1911 [online]. [cited 25 November 2010] Available from: <>
  • Figure 3: Braque’s The Portuguese, 1911 [online]. [cited 25 November 2010] Available from: <>
  • Figure 4: Boccioni’s States of Mind II: The Farewalls, 1911 [online]. [cited 25 November 2010] Available from: <>
  • Figure 5 (left): Le Corbusier’s La Roche House, S. Giedion, Building in France, building in iron, building in ferroconcrete (Santa Monica, CA: Getty Center for the History of Art and the Humanities, 1995), 178.
  • Figure 6 (right): Le Corbusier’s Cook House 1926/27, S. Giedion, Building in France, building in iron, building in ferroconcrete (Santa Monica, CA: Getty Center for the History of Art and the Humanities, 1995), 179.
  • Figure 7 (left): Axonometric of Le Corbusier’s Still Life, 1920; R. Krauss, Death of a Hermeneutic Phantom: Materialization of the Sign in the Work of Peter Eisenman, Architecture and Urbanism. (1112), 1980: 196.
  • Figure 8 (right) Le Corbusier’s Still Life, 1920 online]. [cited 25 November 2010] Available from: < >
  • Figure 9 (left): Axonometric of Le Corbusier’s Villa Stein at Garches 1927/28; R. Krauss, Death of a Hermeneutic Phantom: Materialization of the Sign in the Work of Peter Eisenman, Architecture and Urbanism. (1112), 1980: 197.
  • Figure 10 (right): Le Corbusier’s Villa Stein at Garches 1927/28 S. Giedion, Building in France, building in iron, building in ferroconcrete (Santa Monica, CA: Getty Center for the History of Art and the Humanities, 1995), 182.
  • Figure 11: A. Colquhoun, Modern Architecture (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 82.
  • Figure 12: A. Colquhoun, Modern Architecture (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 80.

AD1: Dark Light – Model Photographs

November 29, 2010 Leave a comment

Advanced Design 1, MArch(Prof) Semester 1, 2010

Transparency: Layering & Passing Through

Photos of AD1 Conceptual Light Study Models by Tash Bell, 2010

Photos of AD1 Sectional Model by Liz Tjahjana, 2010

Transparency is a condition of passing or seeing through. Transparency is connection and continuity; it is a dialectic between revealing and concealing, as well as between seeing and reading. A transparent medium, substance, or matter allows, permits, and invites light, air, and sight to penetrate through. Transparency relates to diaphaneity, translucency, and layering. Translucency can be defined as the condition existing within the continuum between opacity and transparency, between the two polarities of obscurity and clarity, between solid and void. Translucency is where light sifts, filters and penetrates through the successive additive effects of layered, stacked, overlapped or superimposed planes, glazed surfaces, films, or veils. The filtering and penetrating effect of light through translucency achieves a layered glow, where natural light passes through, slows down, softens, bleeds and diffuses from one space to the next, from exterior to the interior, and through different layers of the interior, creating a superimposed overlapping penetrative effect, bringing daylight further and deeper into the space.

Rowe and Slutzky makes a distinction between two types, modes, or conditions of transparency in their seminal essay on Transparency: Literal & Phenomenal. A literal transparency,  that is, an actual or real transparency that is seen, is a quality inherent to substance or matter, such as in mesh screens, translucent walls, and a phenomenal transparency, that is, an implied or seeming mode of transparency that is read, is a quality inherent in the spatial or volumetric organization (Rowe & Slutzky, 1982).

Two or more transparent figures overlapping each other produces a contradiction or ambiguity of spatial dimensions; simultaneously seeming to advance or recede, appearing closer or further, where space continuously fluctuates and oscillates. These transparent planes, objects, or surfaces interpenetrate each other. Transparency permits a simultaneous perception or conception of various spatial locations (Gyorgy Kepes in Rowe & Slutzky, 1982).

Transparency is the layering of planes and/or the layering of spaces, the layering of surfaces and/or the layering of volumes, producing spatial contiguity and continuity between successive or sequential advancing-receding series of strata or spaces.


Perforous Screens: Filtering & Dematerialization

Photos of AD1 Physical Model by Moe Kheir, 2010

Filtering and diffusing light through perforous patterned screens or facades, creating a myriad of patterned shadow effects as the sun changes its position during the course of a day. Henry Plummer describes Atomization as the sifting or filtering of light through a porous screen (Plummer, 2009). Dematerialization is the dissolution of matter through or by light, where thick, heavy, and massive, construction or cladding appears to be dissolved, eaten, or consumed by light itself.

Mesh screens or other finely patterned porous facades have the capability to disintegrate objects into light and air. Screens could be more porous or less porous according to the desired or necessary amount of solar exposure. The control of certain parameters, such as the proportion of solid to void, the relationship between the opaque surface and the porous openings or holes can achieve a seemingly gauzy and mysterious, yet luminous and brilliant, experience of the screen.  Atomized illumination through the fine screens of wood lattice, metal mesh, or other porous surface makes the view outside less clear, less solid, and instead more disintegrative, more vaporous. One only gets a glimpse of the outside through the perforated mesh of fine dots.

The filtered light gets splintered and scattered across the surface of a moiré patterned screen of holes. Light corrodes and dissolves the solidity of mass. Physical mass seems to be pulverized in an intricate interplay of perforation size, surface finish and lighting levels to achieve a condition of lightness and ambiguity in the balance between light and shadow, transparency and opacity of the façade, as well as materiality and ethereality.

The perforous screen like the diaphanous veil or the layered transparent planes simultaneously reveals and conceals, connects and divides in a mode of contiguous discontinuity. Plummer in his description of pulverized light mentions,

“Light becomes caught in screens, sometimes fleetingly…the screens seem to intermittently turn solid, translucent, or transparent, and the next moment dematerialize into nothing. The real wall and building mass appear to fade away, leaving behind a mesmerizing sensation of energy that seems to vibrate….boundaries slip out of focus, at one moment coming into shape and the next moment empty yet loaded with energy” (Plummer, 2009).


Indirect Daylighting: Canalization & Formlessness

Photos of AD1 Sectional Model by Cat Doo, 2010

Indirect daylighting explores the articulation of the formlessness of light. There is no clear boundary between what is lit and not lit; the distinction between light and non-light is undecidable, indeterminate, and ambiguous. The boundary is blurred. Light can be explored to enhance form, make form more pronounced, or alternatively, light can be manipulated to dematerialize form, eat away at the geometry, and make form less distinct. Light is captured by the indirect lighting mechanisms, whether they are carved voids, fingers of light, or channeled networks, and is transported yet transformed as the illumination gets redelivered into the interior space.

Plummer refers to the Canalization of light as being the channeling of light through hollow mass, where artificial routes, labyrinths, and tunnels are carved out for natural forces to penetrate the inner depths of a building. Formless light is given a memorable character whereby the radiation and energy from the sky is collected and sculpted. The flow of light is conducted through daylit voids, cavities, and porous masses, while distributing yet moulding the illumination as it hits the surface (Plummer, 2009).

Washes of natural light arrives from the ‘spaces between,’ from the interstitial spaces formed between the detached wall and the wall proper, in the case of indirect side lighting, or the detached ceiling panel and its adjoining ceiling, in the case of indirect top or zenithal lighting. The inner linings of these detached screens or baffles can be made reflective or coloured, which in turn will have an effect on the redirected light. In the various modes of indirect lighting, such as slots, tubes, conduits, light shafts, light funnels and scoops or some other labyrinthine configuration, the incident light arrives mysteriously as it is reflected or redirected from the inner surfaces of the light baffle, concealing the window or opening. Hence, a ‘sourceless’ light, a light of no apparent or clear origin. (Plummer, 2009).

The opening of light is concealed and hidden away from view, the channel or shaft forces the light to bend, to reflect, and to become more diffused while entering the space. These concealed light sources and hidden apertures can help choreograph or direct a journey, a promenade architecturale, whereby the indirect sources of light are points of command leading one further and deeper into a building.



  • Meyers, V., Designing with light, 1st ed. (New York: Abbeville Press, 2006) 
  • Plummer, H., The Architecture of Natural Light (London: Thames & Hudson, 2009) 
  • Rowe, C. & R. Slutzky, Transparency: Literal and Phenomenal, The mathematics of the ideal villa and other essays (Cambridge, Mass., MIT Press, 1982)

Transparency I: Layering of Planes/Layering of Spaces

October 20, 2010 1 comment

Literal Transparency vs Phenomenal Transparency, Real Transparency vs Seeming Transparency, Substantial Transparency vs Organizational Transparency, Actual Transparency vs Implied Transparency, Transparency of Seeing/Looking vs Transparency of Reading, Transparency of Observation vs Transparency of Interpretation.

Figure 1: Still Life, 1919, Jeanneret/Le Corbusier: overlapping of planes, Figure 2: Müller House, 1929-30, Prague, Adolf Loos: Raumplan as a succession of layered spaces

Transparent (adjective)

Having the property of transmitting light without scattering to that the objects lying beyond and behind are seen clearly; allowing passage of a specified form of radiation; fine or sheet enough to be seen through-diaphanous

Middle English, from Medieval Latin transparent-, transparens, present participle of transparēre to show through, from Latin trans- + parēre to show oneself

Synonyms include: clear, crystalline, liquid, lucent, pellucid, and see-through

Antonyms include: cloudy or opaque

Related terms include: colorless, diaphanous, translucent, semi-translucent or –transparent, glass


Two types of Transparency: the distinction

As can be seen from the dictionary definitions, the term transparency implies the optical or observational notions of showing or seeing through. Colin Rowe and Robert Slutzky in their essay ‘Transparency: Literal & Phenomenal’ refers to a passage by Gyorgy Kepes,

“If one sees two or more figures overlapping one another, and each of them claims for itself the common overlapped part, then one is confronted with a contradiction of spatial dimensions. To resolve this contradiction one must assume the presence of a new optical quality. The figures are endowed with transparency: that is, they are able to interpenetrate without an optical destruction of each other. Transparency however implies more than an optical characteristic, it implies a broader spatial order. Transparency means a simultaneous perception of different spatial locations. Space not only recedes but fluctuates in a continuous activity. The position of the transparent figures has equivocal meaning as one sees each figure now as the closer, now as the further one.” (Gyorgy Kepes, Language of Vision, quoted in C. Rowe & R. Slutzky, 1982, Transparency: Literal and Phenomenal, The mathematics of the ideal villa and other essays)

Rowe and Slutzy continue to add that, “‘Simultaneity,’ ‘interpenetration,’ ‘superimposition,’ ‘ambivalence,’ ‘space-time,’ ‘transparency’: in the literature of contemporary architecture these words, and others like them, are often used as synonyms.” (Rowe & Slutzky, 1982)

However, despite the dictionary definition implying transparency to be a material state or condition of allowing passage, transmission, diaphaneity, amongst others, the notion of transparent planes overlapping each other can suggest further interpretations, such that there is something else at play other than just a physical transparency (Rowe & Slutzky, 1982). This other type of seeming or implied transparency, that is an interpretive transparency, or an interpretive mode of seeing-through, can be distinguished,

“at the beginning of any inquiry into transparency, a basic distinction must perhaps be established. Transparency may be an inherent quality of substance-as in a wire mesh or glass curtain wall, or it may be an inherent quality of organization-as both Kepes and, to a lesser degree, Moholy suggest it to be; and one might, for this reason, distinguish between a real or literal and a phenomenal or seeming transparency.” (Rowe & Slutzky, 1982)

Hence the dual phenomena of transparencyliteral and phenomenal, real or seeming, substantial or organizational, actual or implied transparency.


Transparency in Painting

Rowe and Slutzky comments of the Cubist canvas of the early 1910s as illustrative of these two orders or phenomena of transparency (concepts alluding to space-time relativity), and they compare and illustrate the difference between literal and phenomenal transparency in Picasso’s The Clarinet Player, 1911 (being literal, a figure in deep space) and Braque’s The Portuguese, 1911 (being phenomenal, a shallow flattened extended space).

Le Corbusier’s Still Lifes’ speak of both literal and phenomenal transparency; of both overlapping transparent figures (wine glass and bottle) and overlapping – yet flattening – planes (objects) in space. The painting depicts spatial ambiguities; a property of transparency, due to an illusion of deep yet shallow space; a fluctuation of back and forth movement of objects and planes advancing and receding simultaneously.


Transparency in Architecture

The notion of spatial interpenetration, of which Sigfried Giedeon has mentioned in his texts on Le Corbusier’s buildings, is concurrent with the industrial, art and architectural movements of the era, that is, the fascination with the space-time continuum, relativity and the fourth dimension.

Rowe and Slutzky describes the workshop wing of the Bauhaus as a case of literal transparency whereas Le Corbusier’s villa at Garches as an example of phenomenal transparency.

The vertical layer-like stratification of Le Corbusier’s villa at Garches produces a layering of the interior space of the house and creates a succession or sequence of laterally extended spaces travelling one behind the other (Rowe & Slutzky, 1982).

“throughout this house, there is that contradiction of spatial dimensions which Kepes recognizes as characteristic of transparency….The five layers of space which, vertically, divide the building’s volume and the four layers which cut it horizontally will all, from time to time, claim attention; and this gridding of space will then result in continuous fluctuations of interpretation.” (Rowe & Slutzky, 1982)

This continuous fluctuation of interpretative readings reaffirms the notion of seeming, or what will be later referred to as an implied transparency, as opposed to a real or actual transparency. The fluctuation or oscillating planes or layers produces an ambiguity of spatial depth in its simultaneity of vision or perception of multiple or overlapping planes and readings.

Thus, in architecture, the principles of frontality and stratification, that is, the layering of frontal planes is a device to construct and articulate space in order to achieve phenomenal transparency (Rowe & Slutzky, 1982).


Loos: Raumplan, the Layering of Space

“My architecture is not conceived in plans, but in spaces (cubes). I do not design floor plans, facades, sections. I design spaces. For me, there is no ground floor, first floor etc…. For me, there are only contiguous, continual spaces…Storeys merge and spaces relate to each other.” Adolf Loos

“Loo’s Raumplan…turned the experience of the house into a spatio-temporal labyrinth, making it difficult to form a mental image of the whole” (Colquhoun, 2002). This thus reiterates the notion of space-time interpenetrative spaces of simultaneity. It is such that transparency is a condition of betweeness in these terms of successive and continuous stratification, overlapping, layering, and superimposition of spaces.

The Villa Müller depicts a “[spatial] continuity between rooms…created not by omitting walls but by piercing them with wide openings so that views were always framed and the sensation of the room’s spatial closure was maintained” (Colquhoun, 2002). The viewer ‘journeys’ through the spatial continuum of the phenomenally transparent layered planes-spaces.

As such, Loo’s notion of the Raum – (or Space) – plan is a case of phenomenal transparency, that is, a transparency produced by the organization and articulation of sequential and continuous spaces, divided by planes or frames ordered in a layered or stratified manner.


Eisenman: Actual Transparency vs Implied Transparency

Figure 3: Eisenman’ axonometric analysis diagram of Terragni’s Casa del Fascio: layering of frontal planes, Figure 4: Eisenman’s House II: a layered reading or interpretation; actual vs implied

In Peter Eisenman’s formal-geometrical analysis of the Casa del Fascio by Giuseppe Terragni, he describes the frontal plane of the southwest façade as a series of successive layered planes from front to back (Eisenman, 2003). This interpretive study can be seen as a forerunner to his own investigative projects of layering planes and spaces, seen especially in his early house projects.

In Eisenman’s article on Cardboard Architecture: House II, “the implied planes formed by the columns and beams cut through the volumes in such a way as to create a condition in space where the actual space can be read as layered. The layering produces an opposition between the actual geometry and an implied geometry; between real space which is negative or void and implied volume which is positive or solid” (Eisenman, 1975).

Eisenman then describes a “dialectic or an opposition between an actual relationship and an implied relationship in the environment using the column and the wall, and the wall and the volume” (Eisenman, 1975). Here the actual and the implied relationships of transparent modes or operations are seen in opposition to each other, creating ambiguous dialectic or double overlapping readings of planes and spaces.

Eisenman thus achieves an overlapping-multiple reading or interpretation of transparent yet ambiguous conditions by means of working between two modes or readings of transparency, actual transparency vs implied transparency, or similarly, literal vs phenomenal transparency, or real/substantial vs seeming/organizational transparency, that is, the two modal operations of layering, the layering of Planes vs the layering of Spaces.




  • Definitions courtesy of Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary
  • Colquhoun, Modern Architecture (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002)
  • P. Eisenman, House II 1969 – Cardboard Architecture: House II, Five architects: Eisenman, Graves, Gwathmey, Hejduk, Meier (New York: Oxford University Press, 1975)
  • P. Eisenman, G. Terragni, et al, Giuseppe Terragni: transformations, decompositions, critiques (New York: Monacelli Press, 2003)
  • Rowe & R. Slutzky, Transparency: Literal and Phenomenal, The mathematics of the ideal villa and other essays (Cambridge, Mass., MIT Press, 1982)
  • Raumplan [online]. [cited 14 October 2010] Available from: <>


Figure References:

  • Figure 1: Alan Colquhoun, Modern Architecture (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 141.
  • Figure 2: Alan Colquhoun, Modern Architecture (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 84.
  • Figure 3: P. Eisenman, G. Terragni, et al, Giuseppe Terragni: transformations, decompositions, critiques (New York: Monacelli Press, 2003), 96.
  • Figure 4: S. Cassarà & P. Eisenman, Peter Eisenman: Feints (Milan: Skira, 2006), 84.

AD1: Dark Light – Perforous Screens & Dematerialization

September 19, 2010 Leave a comment

Moe Kheir

Advanced Design 1, MArch(Prof) Semester 1, 2010

Tutors: Dr. Ross Jenner & Adrian Lo

AD1 Night-time Exterior Perspective by Moe Kheir, 2010

Perforous Dematerialization

Filtering & Equilibrium: Establishing a Continuum between Polarities; The Experience of the Topological Unbroken Line

The building, a geophysics institute, rises out in a cantilevered bridge-like structure from the site; where the private wing is submerged, and the public wing is extended out. The space between is a Moebius-like mode of interlocking geometry, strongly elucidating the principle of the topological continuum or the unbroken line. This middle zone is also the entry.

Perforous: perforations, filtering and diffusing light through perforous screens, moiré effects, unbroken brokenness of the view beyond. Seen in the facades, refer to sections, renders and model.

Dematerialization: dissolve matter through or by light, the thick and heavy concrete (with limestone mix) cladding appears to be dissolved, eaten, or consumed by light itself. The natural light is filtered again through the timber slits, a double filtering. This dematerialization is reversed at night, emitting pores of artificial lights.

Equilibrium: the act of balancing, of equalizing, equivalences, finding the middle point or medius/mediation, the act of making equal, connecting while separating, made explicit through the buildings formal configuration on site, in the earth and out of the earth, through the interlocking gesture between private and public sectors, and through the perforous façade linking exterior and interior.

Polarities: equalising the binary opposites or dualities, such as light and heavy, thick and thin, light and dark, under and over, inside and outside, private and public, etc

Continuum: to continue, to extend, to continue and extend without disruption or break, ie unbrokeness, unbroken continuity, an unbroken movement and dynamism.

Experience: spatial experience, architecture as giving shape to experience, through form, material and light/shadow.

Topology: the unbroken line, the loop, seen in the volumetric configuration, balustrades and circulation.

ALO in conjunction with Moe Kheir

AD1: Dark Light – The Layering of Transparency

September 18, 2010 Leave a comment

Liz Tjahjana

Advanced Design 1, MArch(Prof) Semester 1, 2010

Tutors: Dr. Ross Jenner & Adrian Lo

AD1 Exterior Perspective composed with Site Photograph by Liz Tjahjana, 2010

The Layered Glow

Layering, Stacking, Interpenetrations, Overlapping & Superimposition; Layered & Phenomenal Transparency

Transparency literal and phenomenal, from the macro to the micro, reiteration of the initial layering precept through successive levels of shifts and slides. The building bends around the contours forming a double direction – dual axis of superimposing linear block volumes, explicating the fundamental notions of the double axial configuration seen as an underlying order of stratification and collision in planning while constituting interpenetrative spaces and allowing for a successive array of various modes of overlapping, layering and stacking, clearly evident in the conceptual studies carried through to the multiplicity of investigative overlapping of the transitional states of transparency, translucency and opaque surfaces in the resolved building.

The spectroscopic institute is situated remotely from the main observatory hill, due to its particular programmatic requirements. The duality of the axis aided to separate while connect the private and the public zones, both meeting at the space of union.

Junctions, collisions, and overlaps occur throughout the scheme, seen from both the inside and the outside. The junctions are expressed through the articulation of threshold moments and the overlapping aids in the provision of continuum effects, such as a delayed entry.

The disruptions, offsets and shifts suggest a strong sense of dynamism and movement within a clearly static scheme grounded to site. The project implies dynamism and movement; static movement, dynamic stability, unmoving movement, seen in the overlapping, disruptions, slides and shifts of the volume, surfaces and materials constituting a depth of façade.

This dynamism is elucidated in the layered glow, interpenetration of space and surface working with the interpenetration of light by means of the overlapping of glass panels as well as spaces divided by glazed portions of walls, where the glow of natural light bleeds and diffuses from one space to the next, creating a successive superimposed overlapping lighting effect, effectively bringing the exterior, that is daylight, further into and deeper into the interior, an act of multi-penetration.

ALO in conjunction with Liz Tjahjana

AD1: Dark Light – The Labyrinth of Indirect Illumination

September 17, 2010 Leave a comment

Cat Doo

Advanced Design 1, MArch(Prof) Semester 1, 2010

Tutors: Dr. Ross Jenner & Adrian Lo

AD1 Exterior Perspective Photograph by Cat Doo, 2010

The Labyrinth: Giving Form to Formlessness

Indirect Light as Points of Visual Interest to direct a Labyrinthine Journey through Geological Voids

The scheme is designed mainly from the inside out, carving a cavernous geological narrative through the site lead by indirect glows around the corners of circulation spaces. The project has extensively considered a multiplicity of indirect lighting mechanisms for both artificial and natural light. This geological physics institute is situated to the west of Lake Tekapo and has expansive views out, as seen in the café and courtyard spaces. The long horizontality of the building is made evident by the narrative or journey which underpins the project, whilst having a sense of being firmly grounded to the immediate context, with a footpath mediating the transition between the building the ground.

The labyrinth relates directly to the sequence, the journey or the narrative, made explicit in the planning, the section and most importantly the sectional model. The labyrinth works on the principle of the indirect light cast onto the leading walls suggesting further progress deeper into the building, these act as points of visual interest directing one’s gaze and movement.

Articulating the formless, that is, natural light, with carefully considered concealed apertures within the architectural formal gesture is the main guiding principle. The formless form concept is made explicit in the blurred boundary between the indirect light and the physical form of the opening.

The multiple shifts in plane and volume in both plan, section, exterior and interior is a clear result of the careful consideration and articulation of the labyrinthian geological-cavernous journey principle.

The building is entered from the southern higher end, where one descends into darkness, and continues to find his or her way through a meandering route of successive heavy geological spaces where at the end of this journey one is thrusted out to the light and airy open courtyard space of the offices sector, which is at the bottom northern end of the scheme.

The choice of materiality elucidates the narrative though shifts in plane, horizontality, color and tonality. The introduction of the timber detached panels provides a natural contrast to the excessive use of stone, while concealing artificial lights useful in expressing the texture and relief of the stone surface behind.

ALO in conjunction with Cat Doo