BOOK 2: The Counter-Triad
AUTHOR: THANE FIESCOLD
RELEVANT INFO: Thane Fiescold was a mysterious character best known for his architectural treatise "The Counter-Virtruvian Triad: An Architectural Bestiary" which Scofield referenced constantly throughout his work. Little is known about Fiescold's personal life or background, though it is often considered odd that he had such a penchant for Beaux-Arts inspired graphics despite his consistent reference to twenty-first century ideals.
In the early twenty-first century, little-known architectural theorist and amateur mythematician Thane Fiescold prefaced his passionate, nigh-raving, personal treatise with a simple, ominous one line proem:
"Now is the time to fight monsters with monsters."
The line is not outwardly cited nor further referenced by Fiescold— a move not out of character for the author, whose text The Counter-Virtuvian Triad: An Architectural Bestiary often floats between obscure (fictional?) parables and hardline architectural assertions without distinct separation— though the phrase captures the entreating and brooding character of the piece. Nearly a century earlier, the Dimensionist Manifesto, authored by Hungarian poet Charles Sirato in 1936 and co-signed by other famous artists of the time, claimed in its introduction that:
"The absolute need to evolve, an irreducible instinct, has sent the avant-garde on their way toward the unknown, leaving dead forms and exhausted essences as prey for less demanding artists. We must accept—contrary to the classical conception—that Space and Time are no longer separate categories, but rather that they are related dimensions in the sense of the non-Euclidean conception, and thus all the old limits and boundaries of the arts d i s a p p e a r."
Both texts, written during periods of political and technological tumult, press for a departure from classical strictures on understanding and representing space in their respective fields. In their own ways, both Fiescold and the Dimensionists devise a new pantheon of creative muses, bucking the traditional modes of design in search of creating/inspiring higher-level “Cosmic Art.” Where the Dimensionists apply their formula of “N+1” to the prescribed dimensions of conventional art— pushing aspiring dimensionists to extrude their literature from the line to the plane, their paintings from the plane into volumetric space, their sculptures from volumetric space into fourth-dimensional hyperspace, and to also explore the potential for other upper-dimensional art forms through processes such as the “Vaporization of Sculpture”— Thane Fiescold, meanwhile, more directly addresses architecture and its canon by targeting the deeply engrained Vitruvian Triad and proposing that, by turning its tenets of Firmness, Commodiousness, and Beauty on their heads (replacing them with a dedication to what he designates as the Unsteady, the Inimical, and the Uncanny), architects might be better equipped to appreciate and confront the hyper-scaled issues that weighed on the design world and the public at large (e.g. most notably at the time: climate change).
By performing a close reading of Fiescold’s long-forgotten The Counter-Virtuvian Triad: An Architectural Bestiary (only recently uncovered, and transliterated here, in full, for the first time) and by considering it through a Dimensionist lens, it is the intent of this thesis to present and explain in systematic detail how the Fiescoldic Counter-Triad is a uniquely higher-dimensional understanding of the influences and impacts of architecture. The Unsteady, the Inimical, and the Uncanny— if embraced as new tools for spatial and cosmic perception and used to challenge the static and complaisant modes of classic oikological comprehension— have the potential to provide architects with a much needed response to the ever-looming challenges brought forth by the waning Anthropocene. In turn, to demonstrate the value of approaching architecture through this revived paradigm, this triad will be applied to a project with a distinctly higher-dimensional program and purpose: a place of worship for an atomic priesthood tasked with maintaining itself for at least 10,000 years so to propagate the message of radioactive waste’s dangers eternally into the cultural consciousness of life on Earth. Through this project and the amelioration of Fiescold’s theories, it should be become clear that, while architecture has always been in a position to manifest fourth- or even nth-dimensional influence, never before has it been more important for this power to be architecture’s primary instrument of both physical and metaphysical authority.The Old and New Gods of Thane Fiescold
The Old and New Gods of Thane Fiescold
The first goal of Thane Fiescold’s treatise is to differentiate between what he believed to be the obsolete issues that were previously of central importance to classical theories of architecture and the real and present threats he believed were on the cusp of unheededly overwhelming his contemporaries. Fiescold illustrates this difference through the use of a folklorish metaphor of warring gods, battling in the realms above for the attention of, and power over, humanity. Fiescold melds the role of historical architecture and classical religion in a particular way, relying on the traditional function of both as instruments for the institutionalization of social order and cultural practices. This was accomplished in both architectural and religious procedure through the cementation of ideological “truths” simply derived from the tautologic parroting of arbitrary foundational customs. As early religions developed their first deities, early architectures created the monuments for them; and together the two played their part in establishing unassailable and static “realities” used to frame and perpetuate the permanent power of the ruling classes. In his own words, here is Fiescold:
Once upon a time, the old gods of this world were oh-so-comfortably anthropomorphic. True, some wore the heads of crocodiles or arrayed multiple divine limbs— but when we looked up at them, we nonetheless saw reflections of ourselves. They mirrored our fits of passion, our stratified power structures, our connections to one another, and our relationships with the outside world. It seemed clear then that we, gods and humans, were created in the image of each other.
These gods were understood to be orderly: representing a higher existence of the individualized, hierarchical, and omnipotent institutions that ruled over many other aspects of human social life, as well as our understanding of nature and our systems of governance. These old gods possessed powers that were totally overwhelming and outside of individual comprehension, but these powers were usually independently recognizable and understandable— should one god be caused to cry, a river might flood the land sublimely— should you please some other god, their smile might shine brightly on your etiolated crops for ages— should an unwitting mortal enter the realm of a particular god, they would receive the representative punishment. We told complete narratives about these gods, with beginnings, middles, and ends, and strove to adhere to the solid morals these stories rendered in excruciating detail.
To steal terms, the old gods were the ultimate portraits of the Latin concepts of firmitas, utilitas, and venustas. Firmitas here being a sort of grounded-firmness— in the case of the old gods it was a concept that captured the unquestionable permanence of the immortals, who could be trusted to rule with divinely consistent and changeless authority for all eternity. Utilitas here represents a commodious-usefulness, which we came to expect from the old gods in the form of predictable patterns of malevolence or benevolence— the old gods had spheres of influence that neatly partitioned the world and metaworlds (or heavens) into dominions of specific and unbleeding jurisdiction. If an individual’s actions broke the established order they could expect a distinct and proportionate consequence. Finally, Venustas here typifies a beauteous-delight, granted to those who sought perfection through peaceful harmony or homeostasis with the old gods— attainable via the familiar symmetry of established ceremonial actions and assimilation into the perceived universal hierarchy.
The long-lauded architect/military-engineer Vitruvius lived in an age of the old gods, though whether he knew any personally is of little relevance, for it is, regardless, independently clear that the presence of these deities— who acted with such predictable potency, who so cleanly split the world into coherent realms, and who touched all of something at once or nothing at all— deeply influenced his work. His prescriptions for proper architecture are cast in the image of the old gods. They emphasize the importance of firmitas as an assurance that “foundations are carried down to the solid ground and materials wisely and liberally selected,” while utilitas ensures the “arrangement of the apartments is faultless and presents no hindrance to use, and when each class of building is assigned to its suitable and appropriate exposure,” and venustas provides a guide to ensure “the appearance of the work is pleasing and in good taste, and when its members are in due proportion according to correct principles of symmetry.” These prerequisites were applied to all architecture— religious or otherwise, public or private.
However, the age of the old gods has since come to an end. By extension, in the context of the Anthropocene, so have we, as we once understood ourselves, come to an end. There are new beasts that trod titanic over the modern mortal world— whether the old gods have died and these new demiurges have taken their place, or if the old gods have merely morphed over time just as our anthropic-impacts have— it is undeniable that the previously perceived order of the universe is no longer adequate. As the problems of our world prove more and more interconnected and tangled up in physical-, social-, and temporal-networks, the neatly divided realms of the old gods are no longer distinguishable. The relevance of singular deities or singular human occupants/regimes (each an image of the other) dissolves as new inexplicable entities pop/flow in and out of multiple typological dominions all at once— with an impermanence, incalculable scale, and unpredictable formal variance that horrifies their observers. These may be framed similarly to Timothy Morton’s hyperobjects— seen as sticky and phasing influencers that osmose their way into every aspect of daily life, often unexpectedly— examples might include what we call Climate Change, Totalitarianism, Evolution, Radioactive Waste— but generally speaking, they are nebulous monsters beyond our control (who, like the Lovecraftian cosmic entity Cthulhu, lay dead in wait for uncountable eons— dreaming— as we led our lives, blissfully unaware of the lurking threat).
In the face of these monsters, we need new beasts of our own, greater than ourselves, to pray to. Why shouldn’t architecture be the field to provide these for us? Just as Vitruvius’ architectural triad could be understood as a reflection of the old gods and their influence, a new architecture based on the qualities of these new demiurges might prove better suited to making apparent these horrors that haunt us today. By challenging our architecture to help us collectively catch glimpses of the sublime and eldritch monsters that lurk within our world and metaworlds, we can prepare our populaces to confront them and attempt to comprehend them. To do so, this treatise shall itemize in detail the value of a totally counter-Vitruvian triad as a means to this new architecture, one which will challenge the long-ingrained vestigial primacy of firmitas, utilitas, and venustas which was derived from the old gods.
Fiescold’s dark and foreboding depiction of cosmic horrors and other forces looming over the discipline of architecture, if not the entirety of planet Earth, is undoubtedly dramatic. Perhaps it would be beneficial, however, to attempt express exactly why architecture is so well suited to the task of embracing these new challenges and escaping the sway of Fiescold’s “old gods.” The truth is architecture is one of the few human practices capable of manifesting persistent higher-dimensional appreciation and influence. This is a virtue that has always been present in architectural creation, though it has never before been its primary objective.
Thane Fiescold himself mentions the idea of Timothy Morton’s hyperobjects, a term used to encapsulate grand-scale processes spanning nearly inconceivable swaths of time, space, and spacetime. Architects traditionally invest a considerable amount of time into predicting and maximizing solar exposure through a structure’s orientation and the use of shading elements to block or enhance the amount of light let into the building during a specific times of the year. This is fourth-dimensional excercise— an activation of the astronomical movement of the Earth around its own axis as well as the Earth around the sun— which proves that architects have the special ability to navigate temporal dimensions while designing and can also translate those higher-dimensional cosmicalities to the scale of the everyday human experience. However, this approach, in the context of the previous architectural paradigm of the Vitruvian Triad, is often reduced to something that is merely indefinitely predictable, uniformly harvestable, and situationally applicable. In other words, the third-dimensionality of our past outlook projects a cartesian tractability to all aspects of the known universe, where even if the specific coordinates of an object were not static, they could be assumed to change with a predictably constant velocity that could be related to all other cartesian actualities at any time. The Vitruvian triad epitomizes the complaisant (as opposed to cosmic) view of architecture: where the concept of firmitas dictates a physical permanence of built-structures for users, utilitas prescribes precise means of performance by users, and venustas controls precise means of effect on users.
By changing the architectural narrative of order to better align with an already active cultural shift towards higher-dimensional thought, architects would be able to lead the world towards replacing the malignancy of a complaisant (or third-dimensional) perception of dwelling with a cosmic (or nth-dimensional) one. Nth-dimensionality integrates elements of the cosmic unknown into the everyday experience, stripping away the comforts of the calculable third-dimension by confronting individuals with the unknowable influence of fourth-dimensional longevity and the upper-dimensional universe-branching (or polyreality) of unforeseen consequences. More than ever, the consequences of human action are a felt and physical reality that cannot be trivialized— whether they are the results of the accumulated wave of actions by generations past or the relentless fretting-over of prospective consequences of contemporary actions. Consequences can be embodied by seen-effects (like the development of new ecological conditions by climate change) or felt-effects (like the seeping presence of political shifts/imperatives in everyday decisions or thoughts).
As Fiescold claims, now is the time to fight monsters with monsters— now is the time confront the higher-dimensional problems with higher-dimensional perceptions. And he is right that if we are to open ourselves up to this level of cosmic thinking, we must first develop new theories— “new gods!”— that are less reductive. In the sections below, Thane Fiescold delves into the elements of his counter triad, the Unsteady, the Inimical, and the Uncanny.
The Unsteady | Instabilitas
The most immediate question that comes to mind when picturing what it is to be counter-Vitruvian is: can architecture exist that is not firm? If you read firmitas not as wholly structural but rather as a fixedness or groundedness, an opportunity for manipulation arises. How frequently we view the built structure like the old oak tree: stable through age, sturdy through thickness, with deep roots— static and interminable in face of any storm. Unripening and stationary. Our challenge here is to consider an architecture uprooted. This will be our first blasphemous act, the first of our contemporary trinity: Unsteady architecture. The establishment of what me might call instabilitas.
The Unsteady opens for us a path to indeterminism, precariousness, and movement in architecture. As is true when we confront unsteadiness in the new demiurges, the Unsteady demands a special level of attention— we must take each step along it cautiously or run the risk of losing our footing. The Unsteady would feel its growing pains. It might wobble or wriggle. It might melt and even flow like a liquid at times. More than anything though, the Unsteady can never be understood to exist in a singular realm of existence— whether it shifts position over time, or when touched, or in response to particular environmental conditions or other relational stimuli.
One example of the Unsteady might be seen in the ReActor House designed by artists Alex Schweder & Ward Shelley in 2016. This structure balances on a single point, which allows it to rotate a full 360 degrees in the x-y plane as well as tilt drastically in the z-y/ z-x planes. Unsteadiness can be seen here both through the formal unpredictability caused by the structure’s constant movement, but also through the social dynamism Schwader and Shelley tapped into by designing the space for two occupants, who impact how the other can occupy the structure based on the distribution of their individual body weights. The structure is not always fully accessible, but it consistently communicates the underlying logic of its conflicting inputs that dictate its position.
This project depicts quite comprehensibly the strength of the Unsteady to highlight for an occupant the consequences of their own as well as others’ actions with the space, through multi-sensorial feedback (which causes visual, haptic, and equilibrial interpretations for both occupants). However, there is the potential for further distancing from a firmitas-groundedness that might be introduced by opening the space to more occupants, creating a series of similar structures that would only connect/relate to each other when balanced perfectly, or by infecting the site with some element of danger that would force occupants to be extra weary of their movements so as to not imperil themselves or their equipoisal neighbor.
In 1920, Vladimir Tatlin, a Russian artist and architect, unveiled a 20 foot tall model of his proposed Monument to the Third International, commonly referred to as Tatlin’s Tower. The structure, which was never fully realized, was meant to act as a grand monument to the communist ideals that had won out after the 1917 October Revolution. The structure’s complex, double-helix form was meant to support 3 separate, inhabitable geometric solids that would rotate at separate speeds: at the base a cube that would revolve once per year, while a pyramid in the central layer that would revolve once per month, and at the top, a cylinder that would make a full revolution every day.
These turning elements of the tower communicate a similar aspect of the Unsteady as depicted by the ReActor House, though here, rather than spatial unsteadiness, Tatlin’s Tower connects more strongly with a temporal unsteadiness. While traditional architecture often interacts with temporal perception, changing slowly through just the effortless rising and setting of the sun, Tatlin is more successful is activating the Unsteady by confronting occupants with 3 separate windows into the Tower’s fourth-dimensional shadow, changing perceptual scales with each level. However, a true sense of unpredictability, which is at the heart of fully fledged unsteadiness, is not achieved here. Lost in the rigid desire for complaisant immortality in order that plagued traditional architectural theory, Tatlin created a piece that, while it interacts with time, it does not activate it fully to capture change over time.
Perhaps as a better example of capturing true, unsteady hyperspace is Katie Paterson’s Future Library Project (Framtidsbiblioteket) located outside of Oslo, Norway. The project was started in 2014 when a thousand trees were planted in a cleared plot in the Nordmarka forest to the North of Oslo. The aim of the project is to allow the trees to grow undisturbed for 100 years and once during each intervening year collect a piece of writing from one notable author of the time until, in 2114, the trees will be harvested and their lumber processed into anthologies of the 100 authors’ works. The works will be kept secret until the project’s conclusion. Here, through continued ritual, Paterson is capturing spacetime and parceling it backwards and forwards. Those who interact with the project before it is completed are positioned face to face with the nth-dimensional cosmicality of the endeavor branching forever between infinite possibilities — left to ponder the likelihood that the ritual will not be maintained, that the texts will be lost, feeling cheated out of an object from their own time that may come to define them but which they will never know themselves— and those interacting with the project after its completion will be left with a set of material artifacts completely of the past, but specially designed for the “present,” dripping with sticky, hypersolid viscosity.
Fiescold concludes his description of the Unsteady thusly:
The value of the Unsteady comes from its creation of arresting moments where one must be fully aware of their surroundings to ensure safe circulation, tied with a formal ability to communicate— through motion, distention, alteration, or some other method— the impact of both the structure and its occupants on each other and the outer world. This value will, as with many things that are unsteady, balance on a knife’s edge of constraining factors— it will be necessary to offset an occupant’s routine in a way that is never entirely predictable or graspable without conscious negotiation while also not becoming an impediment that takes away from the overall experience or seriously risks the safety of any occupant. This may become possibly through specialized zones of disruption, or repeatable but interchangeable recipes for fluctuation (like Henri Pousseur’s musical “composition” Scambi) which remain infinitely open to interpretation.
The Inimical | Adversitas
We next must tackle how one might justify an architecture that is not necessarily useful to it’s occupants. We’ve all heard Le Corbusier’s famous declaration that “a house is a machine for living in” and it’s million interpretations— but what is the difference between a house (a machine?) that is dotingly servile and one that self-possessedly altruistic? Commodity is far too often interpreted as the provision of the path of least resistance— the erasure of obstacles. With ultimate efficiency in mind, one might propose a “machine for living in” that pumped air in and our of a space better than your lungs, regulated temperature better than your pores, provided circulation so optimized you would hardly traverse more than a few steps a day. For the singular human occupant, is there anything more utopianly commodious? What if we instead challenged ourselves to picture the house as a machine for living better? A machine for helping everyone live better? With that goal in mind, the machine might function slightly differently— perhaps making your lungs, pores, and legs work harder than before if it deemed that necessary for the benefit of the self collective in the long term. This super-anthropic purpose might be described as adversitas, or an Inimical motivation.
The Inimical is an architectural approach that will not hold your hand. Inimical architecture is not concerned with the likes of you, and it will never let you forget that. Spaces might be far apart— perhaps because Inimical architecture believes the exercise will do you some good, perhaps because it is using the intervening space for some higher purpose— you shall never really be certain. Inimical architecture may be wholly unnavigable if it deems that necessary. Inimical architecture will be an enigma that you are not meant to figure out, and it will thwart you if you try. However, if you just trust the Inimical, it will reward you handsomely in the long run.
One interpretation of the Inimical includes vivariums with closed ecological systems such as the infamous Biosphere 2 research facility. The complex was designed with the expressed purpose of simulating the required systems necessary to support human life on an otherwise inhospitable planet. While the primary purpose of the structure is to house human life, the Inimical responsibilities of the structure require that it also accommodate, both programmatically and structurally, the many other species that kept the ecosystem in equilibrium and the 7 separate biome areas that housed them. As may well become the case as humanity is forced to confront hyper objects like Climate Change, the architecture of Biosphere 2 is dedicated more closely to the collective than any individual human occupant. However, this physically static system does not fully exemplify the potential of more advanced inimical structures, which might utilize artificial intelligence or other more dynamic modes of prioritizing energy harvesting or other self-regulated purposes. These might conflict with the motives of their occupants more than the Biosphere 2’s simple limitations on physical space and designation for non-anthropic programing.
The architectural value of the Inimical— as opposed to the more social benefits of the whatever purposes Inimical buildings are programmed to work toward— would be created when human inhabitants suddenly find themselves intersecting “non-human” higher level spaces of inimical buildings— it may be that certain rooms are deemed “non-human” for certain sections of the day or that specific “non-human” elements penetrate human space and then withdraw without warning. Some Inimical spaces may be highly attuned to the local climate and the position of the sun, while others may completely ignore it, forcing occupants to address these issues on their own. Finding the correct balance here too will be important for maximizing collective good while still accommodating occupants enough for them to be healthy and productive.
The Uncanny | Perturbitas
Classically, venustus’ eponymous goddess, Venus, was paired with the malformed, repulsive Vulcan; who was cast from Mount Olympus for his appearance— it is easy to claim that ugliness is the antithesis of beauty. But there is a naturalness to the ugly. We are not challenged by the plainly unattractive, for it provides the balance necessary for us to find delight elsewhere; and so often the humdrum, like their tutelary smithing-god, unfettered from the superficial as they are, are instead dedicated to the unlovely but necessary productivity.
Instead, consider the what Freud calls the unheimlich— the un-homely— the Uncanny: what we might call perturbitas. The power of the Uncanny comes from its deftness on the cusp. The cusp between memory and reality, between outer sense and inner sense, between the wanted and unwanted. An Uncanny architecture can have all the trappings of triadulous space but feel off as a consequence of small and subtle changes. An Uncanny architecture may play against spacial norms— as Frank Lloyd Wright loved to do— condensing or expanding rooms beyond expectation. Unexpected materials may be caught in an act. Doors may not lead where they’re supposed to. Whatever the change, you will sense it, uneasily. As the new demiurges are sticky and phasing, as we claimed before, so must Uncanny architecture be viscous in a creeping way that feels inescapable.
One example of an Uncanny space is Étienne-Louis Boullée’s proposal for the Cenotaph of Issac Newton. Boullée is famous for his sublime designs, and sublimity can add greatly to the un-homeliness of a structure— but even more fascinating in this example is Boullée’s flipping of the sensations of day and night. By allowing small pricks of sunlight to enter the giant sphere of the cenotaph, Boullée adorns the walls with an illusion of starlight. The result is intended to be disorienting but majestic, encouraging visitors to forget entirely that they are indoors and instead lose themselves in the vast grandness of “space.”
It is difficult to say whether Boullée’s use of the platonic sphere adds to or hinders the uncanniness of the piece— it’s familiarity provide a certain comfort, but then again the exaggerated scale makes it undeniably intimidating. The uncanniness of the piece could be enhanced by enhancing the illusion, or by distorting it by somehow allowing occupants to get closer and see its imperfections.
The architectural value of the Uncanny is in the exploration of meta-anthropic, irregular, or extra-dimensional interventions. Where venustas aimed at promoting a calm sense of homeostasis, it is the job of the uncanny to call sharp attention to the aspects of an architecture that take more than they give, or exist in a way that is totally beyond you.