Photo: Hertha Hurnaus

The Interpretation of Architecture as a Methodological Problem

In this essay we hope to address a few methodological issues in interpreting a work of architecture that have gradually shown themselves to be problematic and at the same time productive. If we accept interpretation as one possible approach to an architectural work, then the fundamental issue of interpretation becomes the question of the sense of the work in relation to, and in distinction from, preestablished and relatively stable meanings. An equally important range of issues, related to the first and fundamental one, has to do with rethinking not just the relationship between interpretation and overinterpretation, but also positioning the interpretative act: i.e., asking whether interpretation takes the work of architecture to be its primary point of departure and defers to its composition and nature (its “workliness”), or whether interpretation is considered the fulfilment of the process of creating the work of architecture. Beyond these ranges of problems, there arise two derivative ranges characterizing the nature of interpretation. The first concerns an architectural work’s autonomous and heteronomous semantic layers, and the second relates to the association between a method of interpretation’s “repeatability” and the uniqueness of a work of architecture. We endeavor here to remark on each of these ranges of problems while also striving to propose a possible answer to the questions raised within them. In this process we draw from established art-historical, semiotic, and architectural conceptions. To a conclude with a concrete example, we present a brief description of how we interpreted one of Dedeček’s major works, the Slovak National Archives in Bratislava.


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