Posts Tagged ‘Stratification’

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.