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Architecture, dilatation, unproduction

Pierre Caye
p. 21-30


L’architettura è l’elemento di mediazione tra lo spazio o il tempo e la produzione. La creazione architettonica consiste nel progettare spazi, lasciare intervalli, dilatare. Questa costruzione reciproca di spazio e durata, per mezzo dell’architettura, offre un nuovo approccio all’estetica trascendentale: un’estetica trascendentale, o più esattamente una poetica trascendentale, che determina le condizioni del sistema produttivo per promuovere lo sviluppo sostenibile.

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Translated from the French by Pierre Caye and Susan Pickford.
The french version of this paper, Architecture, dilatation, improduction, will be published in Le visiteur, revue critique d’architecture.

Testo integrale

Pour avancer dans l’architecture
Il faut en dresser le bilan
Il faut comprendre ce qui lui est fondamental.

Henri Ciriani, Vivre Haut.


  • 1 Nietzsche 1998: 49.
  • 2 Ibidem.

1Architecture has long been linked to the question of sovereignty – not only to political sovereignty of mankind, but also to its own artistic sovereignty: architecture serving the political sovereignty of mankind insofar as architecture is often thought of as an instrument of power, but also the architecture serving solely its own interest. Nietzsche’s Twilight of the Idols defines architecture as «Power which no longer needs to prove itself; which disdains to please; which is loath to answer which feels no witness around it; which lives oblivious of the fact that there is opposition to it; which reposes in itself, fatalistically, a law among laws»1. Nietzsche identifies this as «what speaks of itself in great style»2.

2It will have escaped no-one’s attention that the two forms of sovereignty are contradictory from the outset. It cannot be an art in the service of men and their power, and therefore subjected to ends other than itself as utilitarian, functional art, while at the same time claiming to «disdain to please» and to «repose in itself […] with no witness around it». Architecture is the art of reconciling these twin dimensions of sovereignty.

3These two forms of sovereignty – that of mankind and that of art – can be reconciled because the very meaning of the term has changed, to the point that it now appears strange to use a word such as sovereignty, which is increasingly scarce in contemporary constitutional law and politics. The talk is no longer of sovereignty, but rather of governance, which in itself signifies the end of all sovereignty, understood as domination of man by man. In our Western democracies, we have no choice but to take due note of this end. George Bataille quickly grasped the extent to which sovereignty had fled the domination of politics to seek refuge in lovers and artists following the two world wars and the collapse of Europe’s great historical powers. Contemporary political sovereignty does not mean, as Bataille demonstrates, that the meaning of sovereingty has been lost, but rather that it has shifted and changed. And in changing, it has become magnified.

4The real power today, the power that is practically inaccessible and impossible, and therefore genuine sovereignty, is not man’s political domination of man, let alone man’s technological domination of Earth, which, on the contrary, expresses not so much the power of his actions as his incapacity to control their results. Rather, genuine sovereignty is expressed through the mastery of time. The mastery of time lies at the heart of issues of sustainable development of, more exactly, «lasting development», in french développement durable, though it can be hard to grasp from the abundant literature on the question what its duration is, how it is constructed, and above all its relatioship with the issue of development per se. It is so little understood that the subject is increasingly avoided by use of the English expression «sustainable development», in which the issue of how time is constructed and controlled is lost to the point of making the very notion of lasting development and all it implies inefficient, in my opinion.

5I would argue that architecture is an incomparable, privileged technology for constructing and mastering time: as such, it is doubly sovereign since, by means of duration and construction, it guarantees both the power of men over their own destinies and its own power and sovereignty, above and beyond the use and productive ends to which it can be put.

6Two counter-arguments are worth making at this juncture. Constructing duration, or, better yet, constructing duration architecturally does not simply consist of constructing for eternity: many monuments built to last without limit of time are now dead buildings that no longer bear anything, in which cases time has dissolved, vanished, and left for good. Duration is not a question of length, flow or extension, but rather than breadth, I will later be discussing dilation (whose etymological roots lie in latitudo, the Latin for breadth), restraint, tension and intension. Duration is not an infinite addition of instants like grains of sand slipping through an hourglass, but rather the intense prolonging of one single instant, placed, rooted, and sedimented. This dilation of time was theorised and thematised in the Stoic philosopher Seneca’s brief work On the shortness of life (De brevitate vitae), the first book in the history of philosophy to have thought of time in terms of temporalisation, i.e. as a mental and moral construct rather than a cosmological and physical donation.

7It may appear odd, even paradoxical, to discuss time when it seems that architecture is above all a matter of space. In fact, architecture indissociably reflects both dimensions, time and space. Insofar as space is architecturally delimited and constructed, it creates duration; in return, the sedimentation of time contributes to the construction of space and the perception of how it extends. Architecture therefore manages the perfect conversion of space into time and vice versa. The role of the project is to become the favoured instrument of the conversion, making it possible while drawing nourishment from it – the project, that is both the opening of space and the providence of time, in other words, the projection of time forward towards the future. This dialectics of time and space as the project’s constitutive interplay was already at foot in the Renaissance, in Alberti’s De re aedificatoria and Palladio’s architecture. It brings tradition and modern movement together in one gesture, harking back to the origins.


  • 3 Ciriani and Beaudouin 2011: 1000. See also, ibidem: 46, 62 «Dilater pour éviter l’enfermement».
  • 4 Ibidem: 115.
  • 5 Ibidem: 64.
  • 6 «Le temps dépose des couches de sédimentation […]. Tout le monde peut comprendre une tour de 400 mè (...)

8The issue, then, is one of dilatation. The French architect and theorician Henri Ciriani uses the terme several times in his book of interviews Vivre haut, referring not only to the dilatation of space3, but also, like Seneca in De brevitate vitae, to the dilatation of time4, which he also describes as «installer du temps de regard»5, which also needs to be connected with the themes of the deposit or sediment of time6.

9The present essay’s first aim will be to define what it meant by the dilation of space, then to try to understand the shift from the dilation of space to the dilation of time, before concluding by underlining the refluence of time on space, the better to close the spatio-temporal loop, thereby demonstrating the extent to which the architectural connection of space and time forms a sphere or even creates the sphere. The first point, however, will be to define the issues echoed in the notion and thought of dilation in architecture.

  • 7 Seneca: IX, 2.

10Contemporary technologies (new ITC, or information and communication technologies, initially, and more recently NBIC (Nano-Bio-Info-Cogno-technologies) have led to a divorce between man, space and time and being. It is important to avert and overcome this split to establish and warrant man’s place inhabiting the world, it is revealed through the spatio-temporal ubiquity and simultaneity encouraged by modern technology. The phenomenon known as globalisation– i.e. the universalisation of practices rooted in exchange – is based on the ubiquity of the spatio-temporal conditions of human life. Spatial ubiquity is relatively obvious: contemporary technology has sought to accelerate movement and abolish distance. Space dissolves in the virtually of its networks. Temporal ubiquity is apparent in instantaneity and the immediate availability of everything without effort or preparation, so that time, in turn, slips through our fingers like the water of a stream, as Seneca put it in De brevitate vitae7.

11Technological development is polarised by the quest for proximity and the reign of overcrowding. New technologies create an immediacy of relationship between selves. Technology is increasingly individualised, creating an ever greater proximity between artefacts and the human body – a phenomenon known as the law of technological personalisation; it also establishes the same proximity with the human spirit – the law of technological informationalisation.

12The system of production and ubiquity thus appear to be closely connected. Ubiquity encourages exchanges and interactions which, in turn, dynamise the systeme of production by multiplying transitional objects, the flow of objects as propagators of flow, counteracting the absence of duration and place by their very fluidity. The operation of differentiation is limited to the mere succession of objects passing by and disappearing. Ubiquity encourages creative destruction, the permanent renewal of products, just as creative destruction eventually reduces the succession of things to their meaningless repetition in the service of undifferentiated identity. Our system of production thus unites ubiquity, the absence of place and duration, creative destruction, globalisation, and the undifferentiation of reality in one process.

13This is the backdrop against which the architectural process of dilation stands out. Architecturally dilating space-time creates difference or spacing in the indifferentiation of flows, networks, and planes of immanence as a mean of disengaging total mobilisation, the aim being to create alterity in the great processes of mass identification and uniformisation of contemporary technology and its globalisation.

  • 8 Ciriani and Beaudouin 2011: 46, 72, 110.
  • 9 Ibidem: 109-110.

14But what does dilating mean? Dilating consists in creating infinitising effects within finite limits. While cosmology includes the finite in the infinite, architecture includes and circumscribes the infinite in the finite. Dilating means opening while circumscribing – circumscribing to open a stucturing horizon where before there was only undifferentiation; it also means opening the better to close or to place an opacity, to quote Ciriani8. Ciriani also refers to this play of opening or closing, of infinite and finite, as folding9 – the process by which the fold creates a bifurcation that closes off one horizon and open another.

15I will illustrate my argument with two examples, one drawn from the classical humanist tradition in architecture and, more precisely, from Palladio, its emblematic architect, and the other from Henri Ciriani himself.

16There is one important notion that is useful in defining the Palladian art of planning space and laying out itineraries within it: in frontal perspective, convergence lines are stopped by a wall, by details and opacities that attract the gaze, pinning it, guiding it, and directing it in its course. It clearly illustrates the play of opening (perspective) and closing (frontality), the promise of infinity proper to perspective and the law of architectural finity of which walls, details, and opacity are constant reminders.

  • 10 Ibidem: 112.
  • 11 Ibidem.

17Ciriani’s notion of captive space, while different from frontal perspective, does nonetheless still have some of the dialectic of closedness and openess. Captive space marks the capacity of interiors to integrate the landscape outside into its own space and hold it inside. Ciriani writes that a captive space is «l’espace à partir duquel la nature est présente dans le bâtiment»10, or, in other words, «c’est un événement fondamentalement intérieur, mais c’est bien l’extérieur qui le fait vivre»11. This creates a chiasmus in which the infinity of space represented by the exterior is delimited and captured by the interior, which is thereby augmented, dilated, expanded and infinitised in turn: the infinite passes into the finite as the finite passes into the infinite. What, then, is dilation in this instance?

18In cases of dilation by frontal perspective, dilation is the densification of space not by the addition of the various constructions but rather by the multiplication of convergence lines and their frontality, which in turn multiplies the possibilities for the gaze to journey through ordered architectural space: the densification is not the result of the fullness of the construction filling space, but rather of the void of architecturally ordered space and the itineraries made possible by the void. In the case of captive space, the process of densification is rather different, in the very movement of the chiasmus between the interior and the exterior, and in the intertwined, simultaneous passage from the infinite to the finite and from the finite to the infinite.

  • 12 Ibidem: 115.
  • 13 Ibidem.
  • 14 Ibidem.

19The dilation of time flows from the dilation of space insofar as captive space and frontal perspectives both use the play of emotion to create displacement: «Introduire la notion d’émotion, c’est parler de déplacement»12. Emotion clearly contains «motion». According to Ciriani’s, «l’émotion déplace la sensation de matière et par voie de conséquence vous déplace aussi»13. As an agent of displacement, «l’émotion produit une dilatation du temps»14. Motion and emotion are created in and through rhythm – what Vitruvius calls «eurythmia», Alberti «concinnitas», Quatremère de Quincy «harmonie linéaire» and Le Corbusier «acoustique plastique». Rhythm orders and constructs time. There can be no temporalisation without rhythm. Reference should be made here to what ancient moral and wisdom called «temperantia»: not temperance, as the Latin is usually, and somewhat lazily, translated, but rather temperament in the way musicians talk about a «well-tempered clavier». Rhythm intones and tempers the displacement of our emotion, and that is how it creates duration, understood not as the extension of time but rather as it dilation and intensity.

20The dilation of time in turn contributes to the project’s rumination, morphogenesis and deployment. The time of the project and the duration of sedimentation of the mental processes involved in fine condition the dilation of space. The architectural space-time loop is therefore complete. Neither time nor space are absolute. They dilate, and the dilation takes us into a fourth dimension, in which time inhabits space and space shelters time. The limit becomes a threshold.

21Architectural dilation brings us back to the question of architecture’s sovereignty discussed at the start of the present essay. Traditional political notions of majesty and authority likewise express processes of dilation: majesty derives from the latin major, the comparative of magnus not «great» or «very great» but «greater», marking the very movement of dilation, also found in the term «authority», which derives from the Latin verb augere, augment, grow. The meaning of majesty and authority depends both on what is augmented (space and time rather than power, in this instance) and the way the augmentation and dilation take place (through architecture and the project rather than through politics). It seems to me that in this age of radical challenge to political sovereignty, it is useful to think about such notions, which are fundamental to man’s relationship with the world, taking account of the diversity of their manner of constitution, rather than simply carelessly consigning them to the dustbins of Western history, at the risk of seeing them being smuggled back under cover, clothed in highly unpredictable, dangerous forms.


22I will begin this section by justifying the somewhat mysterious term of unproduction in the essay’s title, and explaining the link between dilation and unproduction, and the road from one to the other. Unproduction is the opposite of production, that which operates outside production and its system. Architecturally speaking, the term is all the more paradoxical since architecture and the conception of architectural projects develop a genuine mode of technological thought, or even – as I have often argued elsewhere – lie at the roots of the modern technology. However, it needs to be pointed out that this means that which is now completely absorbed into the productive system was unproductive, i.e. non-productive, in origin.

23Which means that architecture and its conception are neither a creation in the Romantic sense – something that arises ex nihilo – nor a production in the industrial, capitalist meaning, to take the two opposite extremes of the Western poiesis, i.e., the being thought of as that which has occurred and that which is emerging. The worst would be to consider that Architecture occupies the middle ground between two extremes, between the artistic and industrial dimensions of production. That would be placing it in a non-place rather than in the middle ground – a situation that would only serve to discredit it, reducing it on the one hand to a secondary, purely fonctional, practical art forms, and on the other to a backwards industry reliant on the inventiveness of other sectors. Accepting this intermediary solution and its function as mediator between art and industry would certainly lead to the loss of architecture’s political and artistic sovereignty.

24It needs to be considered how architecture escapes these categories of creation and production to take up a position below or beyond the question of production. It is important to consider this singular, almost paradoxical conjunction of technology and unproduction and what it means for technology to be tasked not with serving production but with circumscribing an effective, operatory experiment with unproduction; in other words, it is important to enquire after the nature of unproductive activity, which produces an œuvre which is not caught up in the productive flow of being – its disappearance as well as its emergence. It would be a mistake to think that the task belongs exclusively to monuments: it is the very essence of Architecture, setting the fate of all architectural œuvres and, consequently, operations.

  • 15 Proclo 1965: 60; Proclo 1966: 95; Proclo 2007: 154.

25To answer these questions, I will make use of metaphysics, as is my wont, going back as far as what doubtless represents the matrix of Western thought – neo-Platonism. One aspect that particulary deserves attention is neo-Platonism’s singular surprising definition of technology (to technikon). Proclus’s Commentary on Plato’s Timaeus notes: «Combining technology with natural spontaneity (autophues) mirrors the divine creation, which depends, on the one hand, on its own limit (horos) and, on the other hand, on that which proceeds (proion) from being (to einai) and essence (ousia15. This clearly points at the metaphysical brutality that creates the greatness of this kind of philosophy.

26It is important first of all to underline how foreign Proclus’s definition is to our usual criteria: thus defined technology does not serve the growth and intensification of production, but rather aims to limit them. It does not contribute to the total mobilisation of the being, but rather to its measure, protection, maintenance and duration.

27The current understanding of technology is radically foreign to Proclus’s definition. In the productive sense of the word that has arisen since Galileo, Descartes and the industrial revolution, technology has been entirely given over to the self-development, and intensification of nature. The synthesis between technology, production and sel-development that is such a powerful characteristic of our contemporary took time to come about; philosophers long saw technology as a body foreign to physis – an element that slows or even exhausts it rather than contributing to its power and distribution. This is the meaning of Heidegger’s critique of technology, which therefore signifies the existence of a difference in nature between technology and production. However, the twofold technological revolution of the last half-century – ITC and NBIC – has, on the contrary, eradicated this difference and driven the convergence of technology and physis in the name of intensifying being and it processes of spontaneous, autonomous production: this is reflected by cybernetics, complex systems, self-organisation and chaos theory, which began to emerge in the post-war period, formalising the alliance between technology and nature the better to explain being as productive self-proceeding.

28What does it mean to use technology to limit the self-proceeding of nature, as Proclus recommends? It is important to avoid reading Proclus’s definition over-hastily, particularly what he understands by technology as a limit. For Proclus, the idea is by no means to produce artefacts, to configure the world, giving it shape so that the power of nature can be more easily harnessed for men, thereby finding itself straitjacketed to the detriment of its own emergence and of what it can achieve in its own right and in all innocence, beyond the calculations and the computations of reason and the search for utility. If we take this as our definition of the limit, then Heidegger’s critique of technology as enframing, blocking and exhausting being is relevant.

29However, what Proclus actually writes is very different. He refers to the «limit that proceeds from itself» (ho éph’eautês horos). The limit that proceeds from itself is the limit technology imposes on itself before it is the limit it imposes on the proceeding of being. This modifies the very meaning of the limit. The limit does not inform objects or configure a world, rather, it is of the order of differentiation, mediation, separation, distancing, spacing – in a word «dilation», without which no «human» world could be settled, the world being here thought of as a protective ark rather than a system and a machine.

30Technology and its limit as such withdraw from the field of production. They are of the order of withdrawal or withholding, not of advancing, i. e. of producing, etymologically speaking, pro-ducere coming from to lead (ducere) ahead (pro), or of causing emergence. This is why it is appropriate to use the term «technology of unproduction».

31Neoplatonism enables us to think of technology as an interval, distancing, dilation. But as purely metaphysical form of knowledge, it stops at the dimension of being, its substance, and power. It is up the architecture to undertake the spatio-temporal translation of the work of interval and distance carried out by metaphysics in being. We owe the dilation of time and space to the age-old dialogue between metaphysics and architecture.

  • 16 Vitruvius: I, 1, 1.

32And here we are finally back again at the fundamental definition of architecture given by Vitruvius in the opening lines on his treatise: architecture as fabrica and ratiocinatio, theory and practice, or rather practice and theory16. I have suggested a number of alternative translations, since I am constantly returning to the founding duo of architecture –technology and knowledge, or more recently and more in conformity with the architectural object itself, the building site and the project. I would now like to put forward a new translation that can encompass the three others – fabrica and ratiocinatio, production and unproduction. The etymology of fabrica clearly suggests production, as it derives from facere, to make, to produce. Given the way the building site produces the world, there then arises the ratiocinatio, the architecture’s own intelligence in its project, ratiocinatio then being deduced as the meditation thats escapes production and places it at a distance, the better to critique it: in the strict sens, unproduction.

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Ciriani, H. and Beaudouin, L.
– 2011, Vivre haut. Méditations en paroles et dessins, Paris, Archibooks - Sautereau

Nietzsche, F.
– 1998, Twilight of the Idols, tr. by D. Large, Oxford, Oxford University Press

– 1965, In Platonis Timaeum commentaria, ed. by E. Diehl, Amsterdam, Adolf M. Hakkert
– 1966, Commentaire sur le Timée, tr. fr. par A.J. Festugière, Paris, Vrin-CNRS
– 2007, Commentary on Plato’s Timaeus, tr. by H. Tarrant, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press

2003, De otio - De brevitate vitae, ed. by G.D. Williams, Cambridge - New York - Melbourne, Cambridge University Press

– 1997, De architectura, a c. di P. Gros, tr. it. di A. Corso e E. Romano, 2 voll., Torino, Einaudi

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1 Nietzsche 1998: 49.

2 Ibidem.

3 Ciriani and Beaudouin 2011: 1000. See also, ibidem: 46, 62 «Dilater pour éviter l’enfermement».

4 Ibidem: 115.

5 Ibidem: 64.

6 «Le temps dépose des couches de sédimentation […]. Tout le monde peut comprendre une tour de 400 mètres à condition que l’on sente que la dimension du temps y a été déposée» (ibidem). See also, ibidem: 66.

7 Seneca: IX, 2.

8 Ciriani and Beaudouin 2011: 46, 72, 110.

9 Ibidem: 109-110.

10 Ibidem: 112.

11 Ibidem.

12 Ibidem: 115.

13 Ibidem.

14 Ibidem.

15 Proclo 1965: 60; Proclo 1966: 95; Proclo 2007: 154.

16 Vitruvius: I, 1, 1.

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Per citare questo articolo

Notizia bibliografica

Pierre Caye, «Architecture, dilatation, unproduction»Rivista di estetica, 58 | 2015, 21-30.

Notizia bibliografica digitale

Pierre Caye, «Architecture, dilatation, unproduction»Rivista di estetica [Online], 58 | 2015, online dal 01 avril 2015, consultato il 12 juin 2024. URL:; DOI:

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