Fragment and the Absolute
If architecture can be thought of as a language, then what happens when syntax is undermined by a singularity of phrases that get rephrased until they are clear? This is at work with John Hejduk. Typically, syntax orders elements, giving meaning in a context or site. The arbitrary relationship between signifier and signified is softened by the context in which it is used. So-called sited, contextual, placed or situated architecture acts this way too. The late work of John Hejduk challenges this notion, as it uses sites differently, opposing the genius loci. The sites he chooses helps him annunciate his language more clearly, so his architecture can self-presence. This is very much akin to the relationship between stage and a television sitcom. His fully matured architecture is first itself, and uses site to acknowledge its own absoluteness, and his reuse of many of his loyal architectural objects, particularly the walled-house typology help confirm this. It is important to examine the work in three “sited” stages, which are the “unsited,” “fictionally sited,” and the “physically sited.”
Real, physically sited projects tepidly tiptoe into Hejduk’s work with some trepidation. One such project is the New Town for the New Orthodoxy, which is located somewhere near Venice. He is unwilling to give it physical constraints, but places it in Europe, and in Italy at best. This aloofness with regard to determined places is apparent even in his representation, which shows an actual Venice in the distance (and also possibly in the foreground). The fore grounding here is telling as it helps him acknowledge Venice as a situation without letting it contaminate the autonomy of the project. Hejduk is afforded the space to inject his own poetical narrative precisely because of his aloofness.
The large, vertical structure as shown in the drawing, a “vertical wall house” with their awnings, evocative of their Bronx and Brooklyn influence It is at once a town for lived and dead. This is a town that “someone” put 18,000 inhabitants in 18,000 houses, and when they become ill and when finally discharged, there is 18,000 graves waiting for them. The town becomes completely full, and then completely empty again. Interestingly, the title is again plays with a linguistic paradox. A new orthodox can only exist to replace an old one, which is impossible because a new town that just emerges out of thin air does not have an old Orthodox with which to rid itself. But what does this first endeavor into town planning get him, when the design does not even have a plan? Instead, it has been replaced by strict narrative. Perhaps Hejduk substitutes a script for a plan, and the narrative for the notational. His architecture tells the story without the notation of parts filling a whole. Here, it makes sense to create a fictional site, away from the messy details, social constructs, and terrors of an actual history. The New Town for the New Orthodox consumes its history at once, and leaves only the objects as its memory.
Hejduk’s masques reveal a love of the double-homonyms- subject/objects, and the metaphysical/physical. This produces a meta-homonym, or an absolute homonym, that best describes his attitude towards context. John Hejduk’s sites are really cites. His phrases are cited and rephrased for an architecture always poetic, absolute, and searching for a way to clarify itself on its own terms.