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The Tortoise And The Eagle: On The House In The Work Of John Hejduk

Part 1 Dissertation 2001
Edward Murray
University of Edinburgh Edinburgh | UK
When the American Architect John Hejduk died in July 2000 he left an extensive body of architectural projects which were almost exclusively academic. This dissertation, following the lead given to us by Daniel Libeskind in his introduction to ‘The Mask of Medusa’, begins by considering Hejduk’s relationship with the realm of architectural practice. The academic nature of the projects places Hejduk on the edge of this realm, freeing his work from the requirements of the market place. This freedom from a system without being entirely removed from the system allows the work to become critical.

By introducing Anthony Vidler’s characterisation of Hejduk as a vagabond architect, this theme of the critical ‘outsider’ is supplemented by that of the ‘wanderer’, who is an outsider by virtue of being homeless, and who embodies a critique of the bourgeois society of which he is ultimately a product. Vidler also applies the wandering or roaming aspect of vagabondage to the imagination, and specifically to the urban poets of late 19th and early 20th century France. This coupling of the critical and the poetic leads us to examine Hejduk’s role as a ‘poet-critic’. To this end Giorgio Agamben’s ‘Stanzas’ is introduced, a discourse on the relation between poetry and philosophy which addresses the role and nature of the ‘poet-critic’.

Karl Marx, in his analysis of the rented premises of the proletariat ties the market place to an uncertainty with regards to dwelling. This provides a link with Vidler’s homeless vagabond, and leads us to consider the house in Hejduk’s work. An analysis is proposed of two of his projects; ‘The House for the Inhabitant who Refused to Participate’ and ‘The New England House’. Both address the issue of the dwelling, or, more specifically the non-dwellable. The role of the house is considered both in its ideal conception as an object of criticism and in the possibility for it to house homelessness and so provide the freedom to dream.

Edward Murray

This was a wonderful dissertation - perfect length, choice of material, focus, and structure and concluded in a manner utterly pertinent to the subject matter. At times too many quotations but generally extremely well written.

Clearly Hejduk has been understood. Clearly he has been inspiring. Given that his project work has been elucidated so well through the two chosen project examples, I would like to read a similar treatment of his three built works.

The vagabond, or wanderer, and the flanêur are very good allegorical figures that illustrate the position between the Participant and the Non-Participant - the figure in the system that is aberrant to the system. The overlapping of Agamben's discourse on the relation between poetry and philosophy is also a great choice. In Agamben's 'Means Without End', Agamben takes the same position but speaks specifically about the refugee, another example of the wanderer. He argues that the urbanite has as much a histry of the refugee as a history of the polis. Therefore, the suggestion of a phenomenological authentic condition of dwelling is questionable. Residence, and especially urban residence, is a condition caught in a dynamic tension between what one imagines as authentic dwelling and the seeking of refuge. This is entirely consistent with Hejduk.

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