USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

Rational Irrationality

K. Michael Hays’s The Crisis of Humanism, the Dissolution of the Object argues that Mies van der Rohe’s work “exemplifies…the central strategy of anti-humanist thought: against…rational understanding, in which the mind is supposed to have a preformed and permanent structure that parcels out the objects of experience, it is now the temporal, historically developed, and irrational structure of society that is determinant.”

Hays states that Mies creates space in a way which it has no inherent qualities of its own. Users makes the space what it is. By interjecting society into a space, the space then has qualities due to its population.

Does space differ on formal and cognitive levels? No. If a house is built on a beach, it is automatically a beach house.

Users do not make a space irrational due to a lack of knowing how they will interact with the space. A space is a space. The use of the space may be defined by the user, but even the user’s intent of use cannot be irrational.

Irrationality is the product of a rational syntax.

True irrationality is not attainable.

Form and space have fundamental physical qualities. Users of a space are predictable. Everything is thought about before acted upon. One cannot act without thinking at all.

Kazimir Malevich, a Russian artist from the early 1900s, exhibited a piece which he believed to be a “zero form” at his 0.10 show in 1915 in St. Petersburg. This piece, entitled Black Square, is quite literally a black square on a white canvas. This form was meant to represent a void.

Can a void be depicted in a 2-D representation?

Can a void be represented at all?

Even if an empty space is surrounded by something which gives it a sense of context and defines its shape, that is not a void. Nothingness is void. A void cannot be demarcated.

0.10 was full of Malevich’s irrational, yet rational, suprematist and transrationalist art. Malevich gave each piece a subtitle, such as, “suprematism airplane flying,” as to get the viewer to look for something nonexistent in the work. By giving the pieces of art seemingly meaningless titles, in an attempt to confuse the viewer, Malevich aims to make an irrational point, and fails. Although the subtitles may be irrational in regard to the work of art, his intent behind the subtitles is entirely rational.

Black Square was placed in the corner of the room, the focal point of the gallery, where the icon would typically be. This makes a nod toward suprematism becoming a new religion. Malevich saw Black Square as perfection. He states that “the corner symbolizes that there is no other path to perfection except for the path into the corner.” One cannot arrive at perfection without a rational syntax.

Despite the fact that Malevich rejected conventional sequences and form, he still utilized these entities, just in a radical manner. His rejection of establishment and normality through art does not mean his work is irrational. Although his final product may be irrational to the viewer, Malevich reduced art to a formulaic existence. By utilizing a rational system to create his irrational art, Malevich succeeded in creating art which appeared to be irrational to the viewer.

Incomprehensible and irrational are not one in the same.

“Zero form” exists as form without a social context. “Zero form” is not irrational, it is simply unattainable. Something is not irrational because it is built out of context or does not fit into its surroundings. The injection of users into a space automatically gives it a rational essence. Once form is put into existence, it is also immediately placed into a social context, even if that context happens to be a lack of social awareness.

The plausibility of a built “zero form” is irrational. Void does not exist.

Sara Tenanes

Filed under: Architecture, Art, irrationality, malevich, rationality, space, zero form


The views and opinions contained in this blog are solely those of the individual authors and do not represent the views and opinions of the University of Southern California or any of its officers or trustees.






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AAU FALL 2013:

University of Southern California
School of Architecture
Asia Architecture and Urbanism
Study Abroad Program

Andrew Liang
Bu Bing
Steven Chen
Yo-Ichiro Hakomori
Andrew Liang
Yuyang Liu
Neville Mars
Academic Contributors:
Thomas Chow, SURV
Bert de Muynck, Movingcities.org
Manying Hu, SZGDADRI, ITDP, Guangzhou
Clare Jacobson, Design Writer, Editor, Curator
Laurence Liauw, SPADA, Hong Kong
Mary Ann O'Donnell, Shenzhen Noted, Fat Bird, Shenzhen
Paul Tang, Verse, Shanghai
Li Xiangning, Tongji University, Shanghai
Daniel Aguilar
Hong Au
Michael den Hartog
Caroline Duncan
Nefer Fernandez
Christian Gomez
Isabelle Hong
Jin Hong Kim
Ashley Louie
Javier Meier
Paula Narvaez
Ashlyn Okimoto
Tamar Partamian
Samuel Rampy
Luis Villanueva
Krista Won
Tiffany Wu