Parallax as Critique in Architecture, by Mark Price

The neuroscientist David Marr proposed a distinction between Object-Centered and Viewer-Centered representations, in a progression from ‘primal sketch’, via ‘2.5D sketch’, to ‘3D model’. I would like to investigate this movement using the idea of transcritique as developed by Kojin Karatani in his readings of Kant and Marx, with reference to the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright. I will suggest that Wright’s spatio-structural invention, which expresses a certain ideal of shelter-in-the-landscape, must be understood in the movement between expressionism and functionalism, but not as one or the other.

My starting point is this statement by Slavoj Zizek: ‘What this means is that, ultimately, the status of the Real [thing-in-itself] is purely parallactic and, as such, non-substantial: it has no substantial density in itself, it is just a gap between two points of perspective, perceptible only in the shift from the one to the other’ (The Tickling Object). It is for this reason that in Wright’s architecture the difference between the experience of looking at photographs of the buildings, and the experience of the buildings themselves, is especially marked. The ‘pronounced parallax’ is between two types of representation: the viewer-centered (photo) and the object-centered (experience of the building on site).

Wright’s architecture can be described as neither the phenomenon nor the thing-in-itself, but as properly constituted in the (Kantian) antinomy between the two. This is achieved because his effects of cantilever are grounded in the exigencies of structure and organization (the cantilever ‘speaks’ of its trunk). This is contrasted with certain contemporary currents in expressionism. In these cases the effects are located in the things-in-themselves (or their photographic reproduction): for example, the effect of parallax may be seen as ‘designed-in’ to certain buildings.

Harvard Citation Guide: Price, M. (2012) “Parallax as Critique in Architecture, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 023 May 2010, Available at: [Accessed: 01 June 2012].

1 Comment

  1. Nathan Coppedge Reply

    I would like to draw an elaboration, a trans-extensial analysis, that viewer-centered is indeed interface-centered, that is, it is like a personal analysis-cross-section, this may be what you mean be saying “designed-in”.

    By contrast, object-centered is as though expressive of isomorphic parsing, a narrow but actual distinction suggesting for example, that the objects of philosophy are meaningful in a similar way to text in the context of architecture, but that further “meaningfulness” of real spaces resembles the metaphysical, e.g. there is a level that is “interface” and there is a level that is “interface-extensial”; what I find is that in fact the surface is what represents the object—i.e. hyper-dimension or “data-object”; a paradigm of value through efficiency, whereas metaphysical architecture reaches for a more sculptural, interface-extensial perspectivism which for example may “work with objects” or find value via very actual interpretation or parsing of the objects themselves.

    What this calls for is an “atomic architecture” as I’m sure some have spoken of, also moreover that architecture depends on “data-objects” as mentioned before. The paradigm or paroxysm as I call it, is not just architectonic or metaphysically architectonic, but depends on a perfection of details, down to for example literature, or schematic thinking, broadly conceived. This is similar to a post-modern interpretation of F. L. Wright.

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