[-empyre-] Eve's House: In and Out of Paradise

Christina McPhee christina at christinamcphee.net
Fri Dec 11 17:48:23 EST 2009

dear list, in light of the theme of hactivating design, I want to try  
to open up discussion by example texts rather than by direct  
exposition or argument on my own part. I feel that a core problem in  
design education is to somehow help us to
get at what Louis Kahn called "Volume Zero" and perhaps also what  
Barthes calls "Le degree zero de l'ecriture."  What does this mean?  
Something about getting minds to open up to thinking generatively  
beyond symbols-- and learing to become
selves / brains/ active bodies who do not cybernetically conform at  
all times to systems; who fall into and out of the glitch.  For this  
we have a wonderful archetype in the person of Eve, who 'fails' to  
behave properly in Eden, and asks all the wrong questions.
Upon this basis, my partner Terry Hargrave grew the conceptual frame  
for an undergraduate (third year) conceptual design studio in  
architecture this year (2009).  His writing is so provocative that I  
am reprinting (without his permission I must confess- he is the shyer  
and wiser one). I had some involvement with the studio- both in the  
conceiving of this project and in some crits-- but the core ideas and  
practice are Terry's.  Notice how the narrative moves directly from  
the myth into the 'potential for space as narrative'...and possible  
tactics for Eve's House.

I offer this to all of you in the =empyrean= as a kind of magical, but  
serious, treat.


Eve's House: In and Out of Paradise

by Terry Hargrave (2009)  : a design course introduction

searching for the first [authentic] architecture: space and its  


theorists and architects have long speculated on Adam’s House,  
especially as they sought to invoke a
‘received wisdom’ as to what architecture is and should be [rykwert].  
But Eve’s House remains a mystery,
until now. But as you will see, it is a rich forum for contemporary  
critical explorations. the relationships
between the serpent, Eve and Adam provides western cultural critics a  
basis for
explaining/theorizing questions on morality, gender relationships,  
even human nature. In Eve Pagels’
Adam, Eve, and the Serpent she notes that Jews and christians tend to  
read the Genesis story as a
‘practical guide to moral living’ drawing lessons of moral behavior  
from their story of disobedience.
the story is inevitably interpreted allegorically, storing/mediating  
its messages by means of symbolic
figures, actions or symbolic representations. Eve’s place [rolls,  
actions, struggles, realizations, existential
reality] in the allegories provide the rich stepping off for design  
discourse in this project...temptation,
knowledge of good and evil, realizations of sexuality, complicity with  
the other, condemnations,
expulsion with a promised difficult existence. It is this later  
portion of the story that we seek to understand
and interpret as architecture, Eve’s story as a house, Eve’s House at  
the threshold of paradise.
the place of Eve after the encounter with the serpent continuing into  
and after the expulsion from Eden.
chapter 3 text provides the rich subtext for Pagel’s scholarly thesis  
as well as for our work. We point
you to her third chapter ‘Gnostic Improvisations on Genesis’ for rich  
array of historical interpretations
of this text.

critical spatial practice [too]:

Implying that Eve’s House Project intends to study the potential for  
space to represent both a simple direct
narrative [literal] and a content rich interpretation of that  
narrative [abstract/psychological/political]
we want to introduce a third societal function for your work to  
accomplish: to provide for the
production of knowledge [criticality] via that space. this last  
function, included in what is known as critical
spatial practice, intends to emancipate humans from the circumstance  
that enslave them, and/or
nature from the deleterious effects of mankind. Architectural spatial  
practices extends the traditional philosophy
and social sciences realm of critical theory into the natural world  
essential for human survival.
critical theory has a rich and complex paradigm that can not be seen  
as simple critical thinking, or
working within a context of critique, rather:

critical theory :
“critical theory has a narrow and a broad meaning in philosophy and in  
the history of the social sciences.
“critical theory” in the narrow sense designates several generations  
of German philosophers
and social theorists in the Western European Marxist tradition known  
as the Frankfurt School. According
to these theorists, a “critical” theory may be distinguished from a  
“traditional” theory according
to a specific practical purpose: a theory is critical to the extent  
that it seeks human emancipation, “to
liberate human beings from the circumstances that enslave  
them” (Horkheimer 1982)..” [from the Stanford
Encyclopedia of Philosophy]

fruit of the tree of knowledge
producing knowledge
resisting/ tempting
clothing/ masking/ hiding

“What critical practices share is a fundamental aspiration: to present  
questions and challenges about the way the world
is, the ways we perceive it, and the ways in which we can act in it.  
This aspiration can be described as inherently critical,
because the inescapable implication is that a world with different  
social arrangements, behaviors, or both is possible.
Thus, critical practices are always in a basic sense, politicized….”  
from Kate Dumbolton, Critical Art Practice, Policy
and Cultural Democracy: Opportunity in Contradiction.

It follows from Horkheimer's definition that a critical theory is  
adequate only if it meets three criteria, ie,
it must be all at the same time:

1 explanatory,
2 practical,
3 normative.

that is, it must explain what is wrong with current social reality,  
identify the actors to change it, and provide
both clear norms for criticism and achievable practical goals for  
social transformation. Any truly critical
theory of society, as Horkheimer further defined it in his writings as  
director of the Frankfurt School's
Institute for Social research, “has as its object human beings as  
producers of their own historical form of

Tactics for Possible Criticality

tactics to achieve the three criteria are situational and must be  
designed. For example: in the case of Eve,
Pagels production of knowledge meets the first two [if the work  
presents questions and challenges about
the way the world is and our perception of it, then it acts as a  
tactical means for achieving the first two
criteria]. the third criteria is one of action, What is to be done  
about it, and when to do it. In pointing to
how we perceive Eden, Pagels refers to Eden not as paradise but as the  
place of paradisial virginity. Furthermore
she presents infinite questions about the interpretations of the Adam  
and Eve, as garnered from
historical documentation as well as her own postulations. But,  
avoiding the third criteria of critical theory,
she never tells the reader what to do about it. But that is your job  
through the design of Eve’s House.
Although tactics would seem to be endless, very little serious  
attempts have been made to research or reveal
them.critical art practices are well established and culturally  
supported. their histories are lively,
much more so than those of the architectural variety such as employed  
in the viet nam veterans Memorial
in Washington dc, Jewish Museum in Berlin, and several works by Samuel  
Mockbee and the rural
Studio. A beginning list of tactics would have to include:

1 defamiliarization... setting up a familiar experience only to have  
it shift over time.
2 swerve... [Heraclitus] harmony of ‘being’ in flow yielding to the  
swerve of ‘be
coming’ through chance/free-will/etc.
3 exhaustion... [tafuri] of existing themes and styles
4 transgression of boundaries... [tafuri, cruz]
5 and so forth

to do:
1. read Pagel, raun, Genesis 3
2. Identify a key Issue or metaphor about Eve. We don’t want you to go  
into an existential crisis over critical
theory vs critical or traditional theory, but we do want you to give  
some thought to how Eve’s House
relates to the broad issues of societal views on morality, gender  
relationships, even human nature. obviously
this is not a simple puzzle waiting for you get it right, rather it is  
an open inquiry awaiting both your
analysis and positions recorded and projected. At some point you will  
want to identify a key issue concerning
Eve and develop it through the House project. For example:

eve : consciousness vs knowledge
eve : bifurcational vs continuum
eve : seeking the unknowable limit vs obedience
eve : private womb vs knowable to the other
eve : free will vs being/non-being

3. Written text. In a 300 word paper, present an analysis of Eve as  
you see ‘her’ under the title of the
issue as noted above. the paper is part of the project and needs to be  
incorporated into its visual offerings.
4. the House. through making a well crafted model, study the potential  
for space to represent both a simple
direct narrative [literal] and a content rich interpretation of that  
narrative [abstract/psychological/political]
as well as to include societal function for your work to accomplish:  
to provide for the production
of knowledge [criticality] via that space. the Issue should guide you.  
this is an architectural project too,
so it is expected that the House is not merely a catalog of the  
written text[s] but serves per the desires of
architecture too. In the end you are responsible for the project; the  
text is your impulse but the spaces,
bounding mass/materiality and their ordered/disordered structuring is  
your alone. Scale, 3/8” + 1’

Keisler drawings towards the Endless House
Sanford Kwinter, ”critique is always a critique
(and therefore an elaboration) of
what already exists, implicitly reconstituting
this preexistence as a static thing.”

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