Facade -poche: The performative representation of thickened window -walls in the works of Marcel Breuer, Richard Neutra, and Jose Luis Sert
Facade-poche, a term introduced and defined in this dissertation, designates the surfaces and inhabitable depths enclosed with “thickened” window-walls in late modern buildings. It is configured by platforms, window-walls, and overhangs, all of which create well-shaded, inhabitable, and external depths. Unlike a facade that behaves as a visual object, like a picture plane in the street, the inhabitable depth of the facade-poche makes the building and site operative for human use. Particularly in late modern architecture, thin window-wall configurations began to adopt sectionally thickening elements in order to improve its function of sunshading and lessoning glare. Meanwhile, the thin window-wall as a representative modern style was exploited as a voyeuristic tool and picture frame. At the same time, technical considerations of moderating glare and sunlight prompted the instrumental development of new glazing systems and sunshading devices. Yet, both drives neglected the patterns of use that occur in the transitional space between the building and the site, the facade and the street.
My emphasis on human use is motivated by a desire to redirect considerations of ‘form and function’ toward the questions of ‘what a building does to us’ and ‘what a building represents.’ This theoretical direction will question traditionally divided architectural representations—iconic, tectonic, structural, and regional—and propose a more embracing mode of architectural presence, the performative representation. Performative representation will be differentiated from functional aesthetics by considering the topics of the site and the life practices, which present tasks beyond technical and aesthetic ones. Selected examples of the facade-poche from postwar America—the works of Marcel Breuer, Richard Neutra, and Jose Luis Sert, representatively—will support this proposal and provide a diversity of human use, both in non-urban and urban situations. I will argue that these facade-poches sustain the renewal of human use and in doing so, represent traces and possibilities of inhabitation from the scale of intimate to urban experiences.
This argument suggests a new concept of the physiognomy of architecture in the perception, construction, and interpretation of the facade-poche. While the philosophical tradition of physiognomy, i.e. body and soul correlation, gave rise to an expressive, but merely surfacial facade, another tradition—the anonymous but shared tradition of cultural praxis—has given rise to another facade, one that is thicker, inhabitable, and expressive of life.