Plans are nothing; planning is everything.
—Dwight D. Eisenhower

Everyone seems to have a plan: politicians, economists, philosophers, doctors, teachers, even God used to have a plan. Yet a plan is essentially an architectural tool. It is an instrument that acts in a double way: as an accurate description of the layout of a building and as a means of controlling the future. This is inherent to what we can define as ‘the architectural.’ A plan designs an object, unifies diverse, often contradicting, factors into one language and establishes control toward the future. The planned project becomes a projection thrown into the future: a predictive model.

Predictive models visually embody something that is not yet there, or that would otherwise remain abstract. This is why architecture is so attractive to political, philosophical and artistic practice, as the cipher for designing world models. From the Platonian cave through Hegel’s pyramid, the tower of Babel, Nietzsche’s fortress, the columbarium, the honeycomb and the spider web, to Deleuze’s fold—philosophical concepts became architectures, political states became buildings, artistic sculptures became models. All speculative concepts yet concrete.

Prediction is what distinguishes architecture from the sheer making of concrete things. Since its beginnings, the discipline has had to live with a schizophrenic condition, with a conceptual split between its etymological components arche [the beginning or first principle] and techne [craftsmanship]1. According to Aristotle, the essence of architecture’s mode of production lies in foreseeing and predetermining a future end state, a telos. In order to achieve those teleological goals, the architect predetermines and subordinates to a master plan the various elements of a building. Hence he is more than a craftsman, a tektonikos. Following etymology, he combines arche with techne. As an architect he establishes an arche—a principle of authority that is inseparable from the political field.

Greek antiquity lays the ground for the political problem of any architectural practice: a conceptual link between spatial and social order can be traced back to Hippodamos of Milet, the legendary father of urban planning, and therefore as early as the fifth century B.C. Centuries later, in Le Corbusier’s Ville Contemporaine for three million inhabitants (1922) or Rem Koolhaas’s City in the Desert for 150,000 people (conceived in 2006 for any of the United Arab Emirates), this early concept of urbanism survives, showing strong conceptual and practical links between the design of the built environment, on the one hand, and politics, legislations, constitutions, and all sorts of techniques for social organization on the other.

Social engineering became an aesthetic question for someone like Hippodamos, whose social role was as extravagant as his appearance. According to Aristotle’s description in Politics, ‘some people thought he carried things too far, indeed, with his long hair, expensive ornaments, and the same cheap warm clothing worn winter and summer2. His plans for democratic Greek cities (such as the reconstruction of Milet) contrasted significantly with the organic confusion common to the cities of the tyrannical period3; they were as uniform and invariant as his clothes. Hippodamos, a hybrid between artist and lawmaker, pushed the idea that a town plan might formally embody and clarify a rational social order. His diamond grid plans consisted of series of broad, straight streets, cutting one another at 45 and 135 degree angles, that divided an ideal city for 10,000 free male citizens and an overall population of 50,000. He studied the functional problems of cities and linked these to the state administration system. As a result, he divided the citizens into three classes (soldiers, artisans, and farmers), with the land also divided into three (sacred, public, and private). The plan offered nothing less than total design. And the city became an object for an artist-lawmaker.

 The Critical Path

Over the centuries, the notion of the architect has been shaped by multitasking role models: Michelangelo, Leonardo, Brunelleschi, or Alberti were architects, painters, sculptors, war specialists, and writers all folded into one. Beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, when architects began organizing themselves into a professional category, their social and cultural position was legitimized by the seemingly opposing aspects of their work: on the one hand, architects prided themselves on their knowledge of spatial organization enabling the engineering of both physical and social structures; on the other hand, they took pleasure in the artistic aspect of their work, that is to say in sculptures, paintings and all sorts of façade and proportion studies. However, with the modernization of the building industry and competition created by engineers, the architects of the modernist avant-garde subordinated their ‘art’ to engineering. Then came an entirely new twist: with the aid of building technology and of increasingly efficient production methods, architects were able to redesign the boundaries of their profession. Until the 1970s, the architect remained indispensable via the constant renewal of his engineering muscle. But this success came at a high price; complicity with industry interests and state politics in the modernization of space produced fierce criticism that has ultimately damaged the legitimacy of planning as such.

Today, the architect’s artistic aspect might be back on the agenda. Yet architecture is a slow medium—the implementation of a project, from first design to actual construction, takes years. The process, which can either protect ‘artistic’ integrity or diffuse it in an endless series of compromises, is organized along sequential work stages. In Germany, the phases are ordered by numbers—from 1 to 9—while the Royal Institute of British Architects imposes alphabetical order—from A, which involves ‘identification of the client’s requirements and possible constraints on development as well as preparation of studies to enable the client to decide whether to proceed,’ to L, the post-construction. Yet, the coherence of these processes is constantly threatened. The threat (which, depending on the perspective, could also be called ‘the input’) has many faces: clients, users, structural engineers and consultants for heating, ventilation, air-conditioning, electrics, plumbing, and fire protection, let alone the architects themselves.

Only a few are as instructive as Leon Battista Alberti about how the architect conceives a project and how the passage from first idea to its representation necessarily modifies conception. Alberti confesses that he himself conceived building projects with which he was very pleased, as long as they stayed in the mind. After he drew them, he found errors in the very parts that had particularly pleased him while the project was only a thought; further accurate measuring and scaling of the drawings would reveal yet other misconceptions. In the translation from the drawing to a three-dimensional model, more mistakes would appear. The more a project proceeds, the more architecture appears as an art of spatialized time management based on all those instruments that tend to disappear behind the shiny facades and glossy magazine photographs of the final product: schedules, Excel sheets, bar charts, organigrams.

What happens if planning becomes less about exquisitely designed shapes or contours than about rectangular bars in a chart? How do time spans affect the structure of a collaborative project? It seems that this can only be determined through the identification of a critical path. The critical path method, or CPM, is a mathematically based algorithm for scheduling a set of project activities, which—like so many other instruments of project organization—was developed as a by-product of warfare. Following Dwight Eisenhower’s dictum ‘Plans are nothing; planning is everything,’ spoken on the eve of Operation Overlord (the codename for the invasion of Normandy during World War II), this new tool for project management in the construction of submarines was developed in the 1950s by the US Navy. Today, it is applied to all forms of planned endeavour, including construction, software development, product development, research projects, engineering, and plant maintenance. In fact, any project with interdependent activities can apply this method of scheduling. The critical path technique constructs a model of the project that takes into account all activities required to complete the project, the time it will take to complete each activity, and the dependencies between the activities. CPM calculates the longest course of planned activity as well as the earliest and latest time that each activity can start and finish without making the project longer. The critical path is the sequence of activities that add up to the longest overall duration. Any delay of an activity on the critical path directly impacts the completion date.

Completion and After

After completion, new problems occur. New beginnings happen, ultimately questioning whether the condition of a ‘finished’ project does exist at all. Both on the scale of the city, and on the scale of the house the question remains: Is there ever a status of completion? To be sure, there is a legal end to a project when the spatial product is handed over to the client. Symbolically, he or she is even given the key to open the door. And there is a liability for leaking roofs and crumbling columns. But there is no liability regarding the actual use of the design.

Adolf Loos wrote the tale of ‘The Poor Little Rich Man’ who had a house, which he had hitherto inhabited so peacefully and contentedly, made into a Gesamtkunstwerk. An architect designed every detail of the rich man’s home; he anticipated everything from bookshelves to ashtrays, even the pattern on the rich man’s slippers. Then the day came when the rich man’s family offered him birthday presents. The architect, brought in to integrate them in his composition, was furious that the client had dared to accept presents about which he had not been consulted. For the house was altogether finished, as was his client: all was complete. The rich man’s home was perfect and there was not even a detail to be changed or added. Poor rich man—his architecture felt like a sarcophagus. And its inhabitant was like a living corpse.

In contrast to the perfectly designed house of ‘The Poor Little Rich Man,’ Loos remembered the pre-design times or precisely the un-designed house that he lived in as a child:

I did not grow up, thank God, in a stylish home. At that time no one knew what it was yet. Now unfortunately, everything is different in my family too. But in those days! Here was the table, a totally crazy and intricate piece of furniture, an extension table with a shocking bit of work as a lock. But it was ours! Can you understand what this means? [...] Every piece of furniture, every thing, every object had a story to tell, a family history. The house was never finished; it grew along with us and we grew in it.4

In consequence, Loos argues for a strict separation between architecture and dwelling. He fiercely criticizes the total design of the Viennese Secession, and later the fusion of life and design claimed by the modernist avant-garde of the 1920s. According to Loos, a Gesamtkunstwerk such as Josef Hoffmann’s and Gustav Klimt’s Palais Stoclet in Brussels (1905–1911) condemns its users to passivity. Yet is there a way back to the naïve and innocent status of Loos’s childhood house? Is there something beyond the design commodity that has penetrated all aspects of contemporary life described by Hal Foster in Design and Crime (and Other Diatribes), in a late reflection on Adolf Loos’s 1908 treatise Ornament and Crime? 5

From Plan to Non-Plan and Back Again

If the assumption is that a plan has an equational, linear, or parametric relation to its afterlife, the plan can only fail. The inhabitants of the plan do not live according to that plan. Big strategies are always altered into a series of unpredictable tactics. ‘The Practice of Everyday Life,’ or the ‘arts de faire’ [the arts of making]6 as the original subtitle of Michel de Certeau’s seminal book, published in 1980, shifts from the concept of the city to urban practices. Thus architecture, as a pretension of stable conditions, seems more and more like a built-up anachronism, like an inert object with serious problems of adapting to an increasingly unpredictable future. But what is to be done after the failure of ‘the plan’? How to plan in an epoch without a telos?

Throughout the past decades, one of the most common yet problematic answers to these questions was the ‘non-plan.’7 As a reaction against the presumably authoritarian process and slow time rhythms of architectural strategies, event-based tactics seemed to deliver a privileged access to a reality that is understood as heterogenic, open, subversive. Anarchitecture, a term that Gordon Matta-Clark appropriated from Robin Evans, topped the arsenal of metaphors for the concrete and the real. Temporary and temporal tactics in the tradition of Situationism involve leaving the narrow cages of cultural institutions so as to appropriate existing territories and empty spaces in the city.

And yet, in doing so, we run the risk of being ensnared by a ‘festivalization’ in line with the premises of neoliberal deregulation. In places like Berlin-Mitte, New York’s Lower East Side, or London’s Shoreditch, the Situationist dérive and the “non-plan” produce versions of capitalist laissez-faire.

What could be seen optimistically as a subversive strategy of opening and risk is—seen rather pessimistically—just another turn in the on-going extension of systemic boundaries. What seems to be a subversive infiltration or a process of ‘smuggling’8 might turn out to be a sophisticated integration plan—a more or less unconscious expansion of what used to be out of reach and out of control. A new master plan that has learned the lessons of Foucault, de Certeau, and Deleuze.

Somewhere between the Museum and the Construction Site

If there is no way back to the naïveté of a pre-design era—how can one productively deal with the problem of total design and its devices? Can one relate design and life without implying an authoritarian impetus, without producing the kind of design commodity that has penetrated all aspects of contemporary life described by Hal Foster in Design and Crime (and Other Diatribes) 9 in a late reflex of Adolf Loos’s Ornament and Crime from 1908. The answer is not the ‘renaturalization’ of design to an innocent and slightly obscured practice (as if one could let things grow) but rather the consideration of design as a modus operandi, as the making of plans and models. Thus the question is: Can a model be more than an alienating instrument that misuses all sorts of participants, or can it be understood as a productive force, ultimately becoming a tool that reflects its own process of construction?

Architectural models convey an ambivalent status, oscillating between process and form, between conceptualization and contextualization. For centuries, the status of the architectural model remained within the realm of theories of representation. But the increasing use of computer-assisted design (CAD) technologies since the beginning of the 1990s has brought about a radical paradigm shift for this modelling instrument, which now, more than ever, becomes a vector of experimentation. CAD allows for constant feedbacks between computational 3D-models (drawings) and the physical model. The time between the construction of one and the other has significantly decreased, leading to modelling tools that contain the velocity of translation in their name such as the rapid prototype machine that transforms a CAD drawing into thin, horizontal cross-sections and then creates each cross-section in physical space, one after the next until the model is rendered. Such models are less objects of representation than ‘active agents’ in a process. It might be more than doubtable that these agents have brought about a liberation from the authoritarian heritage of architecture, nor are they likely to constitute ‘latent utopias,’ as claimed by Patrik Schumacher in his eponymous exhibition in Graz.10 Rather, this may be a case of the latest version of dystopian architecture. Yet, what is more relevant here is the ambivalent character of the model.

The model is somewhere in-between. It is in a condition that is still that of a project and yet one close to realization. A material reflection of a yet-to-be-finished thing. Between an ideal condition and the working situation. Alberti was the first to include the model, in his pedagogic theory of architecture De Re Aedificatoria (most often translated into English as On the Art of Building), and to understand the problem of the model as a negotiation between that which is ‘conceived by the mind’ and that which is ‘found in nature.’ For Alberti, this was not a matter of categorical distinction, but rather a problem of translating one mode of operation into another. And this did not involve imposing one category onto another, but rather implied giving the notional a perceptible body, of absorbing the tangible and visible material into a mental construct. The disentanglement and assertion of the model as autonomous entity, including its own subsequent museum quality, can be traced to as early as Antonio Sangallo’s model of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome in 1538–1543 (and a couple of years later, the wooden maquette by his successor Michelangelo). The model is operative within both the exposed, dirty reality of the building process and the protected shelter of the art space. The operative use of the model coexists or can be replaced by a speculative, universal function. In the first case the model is a working tool that establishes an approximation from one scale to the next, for instance from a 1:500 mass model over more and more detailed models to a 1:1 mock-up at the construction site. Whether or not, in the latter case, architectural models are autonomous objects in their own right is an aesthetic debate. The model seems to live an existence between construction site and museum, raising the ultimate question of whether the rather abstract aesthetic condition could actually work as a site of construction.

The work of authors like the Jesuit and architectural theorist Abbé Marc-Antoine Laugier comes close to that condition. In his Essay on Architecture from 1753, Laugier reconstructed (or rather invented) the primitive hut as an explanatory model of the discipline as such and of the beginning of human habitation.11 Others, like Quatremère de Quincy, added the tent and the cave, Gottfried Semper defined the cloth as the origin of any kind of architecture. The model can come after, i.e., after all the failures and catastrophes, as a post-production or a ‘retroactive manifesto,’ as Rem Koolhaas subtitled his 1978 text Delirious New York. Hence the model cannot only anticipate a reality but it can also operate in the other direction. It can reinvent the past and thereby invert the temporal logic imposed by architectural practice. Instead of modelling toward building we could envision a process from building to (re-) modelling.

Models for Compromise

The two-directional character of the model between the spaces of production and of the museum might be inherent to the field of architecture, yet it is more explicitly used (and productively misused) in the visual arts. The model acquires the status of an installation, always on the edge, between a decontextualized speculation and a potential inhabitation. In fact, it becomes possible to use such a model as a commentary on the space of art (and its institutions) and on artistic practice as such. This is no longer about the dichotomy between the museum and the construction site, but an attempt to define the museum or the gallery as a construction site. Hereby the use of architecture seems to act as a reference to the real world, implying social practices and aspirations.

The architectural models might be physical, digital or purely an idea corpse. Rirkrit Tiravanija’s Dom-Ino (A Fall demonstration) from 1998 is a 1:1 wooden reconstruction of Le Corbusier’s Dom-Ino house from 1915, whereas his work Untitled 2002 (he promised) is a fragment of R. M. Schindler’s residence in West Hollywood (1921–1922). We find a digital version of a model in Liam Gillick’s video Everything Good Goes (2008) in which a person sitting in front of his computer reconstructs a 3D digital model of the Salumi factory from Jean-Luc Godard and Pierre Gorin 1972 film Tout va bien. The Salumi factory is the site of a negotiation between striking workers (who seize the factory), the patron, union representatives, and two media people, ultimately becoming the site where the revolution versus reform problem is staged. Throughout Everything Good Goes, Gillick (via voicemail) refers to a Volvo moment of June 17, 1974 as a model, where workers look out into the nature beyond their factory windows, constantly learning, improving their teamwork and blurring work and leisure.

All these models incorporate a social and political promise. They negotiate a possible world model; in Gillick’s case, a discursive model on the edge of post-Fordist production. In his reading, ‘the notion that the team-worked, flexibilized environment is a way to induce people to create predictive models that are resistant to true projections of future circumstances.’ There is a condition of redundancy yet, in pragmatic terms, still a project and, in a speculative sense, a projection. The promise might be out of reach but it has not disappeared. People are still working on it, and more importantly: they are doing it together. They compromise.

To the ears of an architect, the notion of compromise does not sound good. It sounds like your work is being, or will be, spoiled. The more you approach the status of ‘real building,’ the more you compromise; as in the problematic notion of ‘collaboration,’ the communal seems to be close to concession and treason. Yet, there is another interpretation of compromise, one that does not imply a deviation from an ideal project but a model that is shared and changed. This latter version would understand compromise in a literal sense, as a common promise that is shared within a model.

Can a physical construct maintain a discourse? In itself, not just housing it by providing an empty space? Can it address the totality of life without acting authoritarian? Becoming neither a functional piece nor the object of disinterested aesthetic contemplation but one that is dependent on social events and political situations? A physical public thing, a res publica that is shared?12 This model would work as an assembly in the sense of Bruno Latour’s neologism Dingpolitik.13 On his trajectory from Real-politik to Dingpolitik objects turn into things, i.e. they become active. Things that in a Heideggerian sense are able to assemble and gather people, yet with Latour’s twist, which extends the meaning of das Ding [the thing] towards the issues that Heidegger and his followers always rejected, namely science, technology, economy and industry. These physical things would be based on an unsolvable problem: the hybrid condition of an inhabitable model. Yet, the categorical problem could bring the greatest potential: the architectural model as a medium in which political metaphors and physical manifestations collapse into one phenomenon.

The essay was originally published in Meaning Liam Gillick, ed. Monika Szewczyk (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2009).

  • 1. Nikolaus Hirsch, On Boundaries (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2007), p. 10.
  • 2. Aristotle, Politics, pp. 1267 b 15–1268 a 16.
  • 3. See Jean-Pierre Vernant, Mythe et Pensée chez les Grecs (Paris: Editions la découverte, 1990), p. 212.
  • 4. Adolf Loos, Spoken into the Void: Collected Essays 1897−1900, (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1982), pp. 23–24.
  • 5. See Adolf Loos, “Ornament and Crime,” in Ornament and Crime: Selected Essays, ed. Adolf Opel, trans. Michael Mitchell (Riverside, CA: Ariadne Press, 1998). Originally published in 1908.
  • 6. Michel de Certeau, L’invention du quotidien, vol. 1: Arts de faire (Gallimard, Paris, 1980). English edition: Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, trans. Steven Rendall (Berkley, CA: University of California Press, 1984).
  • 7. Jonathan Hughes, “After Non-Plan,” in: Non-Plan: Essays on Freedom, Participation and Change in Modern Architecture and Urbanism, eds. Jonathan Hughes and Simon Sadler (Oxford: Architectural Press, 2000), pp. 175−178.
  • 8. Irit Rogoff, “Smuggling. A Curatorial Model,” in: Under Construction. Perspectives on Institutional Practice, eds. Vanessa Joan Müller and Nicolaus Schafhausen (Cologne: Walther König, 2006), pp. 124–127.
  • 9. Hal Foster, Design and Crime (and Other Diatribes) (London: Verso, 2002). p. 11. Zaha Hadid and Patrik Schumacher, eds., Latent Utopias—Experiments within Contemporary Architecture (Vienna and New York: Springer Verlag, 2002).
  • 10. Ibid.
  • 11. Marc-Antoine Laugier, An Essay on Architecture (Los Angeles: Hennessey & Ingalls, 1977).
  • 12. Nikolaus Hirsch and Michel Müller, “The Architectural Thing. The Making of ‘Making Things Public’, in: Making Things Public. Atmospheres of Democracy, eds. Bruno Latour and Peter Weibel (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2005), p. 536.
  • 13. Bruno Latour, “From Realpolitik to Dingpolitik—or How to Make Things Public,” in Making Things Public. Atmospheres of Democracy, eds. Bruno Latour and Peter Weibel (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2005), pp. 14−41.