The late architect Balthasar Holz left behind several series of drawings that have influenced architects of my generation, including me. He also bequeathed to us some of the strangest writings to inhabit the domain of architectural thinking, over which scholars and others in the field continue to puzzle today. One example: “Only those who love architecture can destroy it.” Another: “The danger of the false optimist is that he probably an architect.” In any event, the following is a selection of his aphorisms or comments concerned with ideas of ‘transformation’ that are thought to illuminate his series of drawings I have elsewhere called the “White Drawings.” Given their actual appearance, I now call them “transformers.” Ironically, their physical state, deteriorating because of conditions in which they were stored for many years, have become further, if unintended (?), illustration of Holz’ probing, sometimes disturbing, often arguable insights.

Holz apparently believed that the act of designing is no more than the beginning of a process of formation and reformation, that is, trans-formation, that continues far beyond the architect’s domain of intention and control. The emergence of any variable along the way changes a building’s or space’s form for the rest of its evolution, and these variables are usually unpredictable. Hence, design is important, but limited in its effects. Holz’s contempt for architects who set out to create ‘masterpieces’ is barely concealed in his aphorisms, and this tends to give an impression that architecture would be better off without them. However, I think Holz actually believes that architects are absolutely important as initiators of a transformative process.  Designing, in effect, sets rules by which all future transformation is perceived and handled. He is, it seems, demanding more of architects than most presently give—namely, that they factor into their designs the subtle and variable impact on architectural form of the unpredictable and the unknown.  

A note about terms: when Holz writes of “frames,”  it is probably in the same sense as the physicist Ernst Mach’s “inertial frames” that establish relative spatial relationships, but also the “frames” defined by sociologist Irving Goffman as the conceptual devices though which we perceive the world and each thing in it.


 “Time condemns us to change. We would rather not change, but we have no choice.

 Change does not happen in a sequentially linear way, but simultaneously, in many directions at once.

 Each thing is growing and decaying at the same time, only at different rates.

 Change is not defined in a sequence of succeeding frames, but in a matrix of frames that each occupy the same space and moment.

 Change is not defined by a steady sequence of frames, but unpredictably within a field of probabilities.

 Architecture is a conflict between differing ways and means, never a harmonious resolution of them.

 Architecture is a form of conflict from which change emerges, first of all to architecture itself.

 Architecture that does not bear the traces of conflicts that created it is dead architecture. 

 The conflict of differences in architecture dooms and redeems it.

There is no ideal form of an idea, but only a set of equally suitable variations on it.

 Change provokes variations of an ideal form, or, orders of its probability.

 The task of the architect is to set in motion, in a particular direction, a chain of events he cannot control.

 Transformation. Transmutation. Transfiguration. Terms that dignify the fate of architecture.

 Architects, like most people, like what is new and fear what is old.

 Architects do not understand change, how it works and what it means—and they do not want to understand.

 Architects want to protect their designs from changes made by others, who they think do not understand them. They are right—the others do not understand and that is exactly their virtue. That is exactly the virtue of the changes they want to make.

 Architects strive for a moment of perfection—when their building is finished. But as soon as that moment passes, their building begins to decay. A finished building is really unfinished, the first frame of a descent to destruction.

 Architects must embrace the decay of their buildings, at least mentally. They should forget about perfection, the complete realization of their design, and understand that the only truly finished building is a heap of rubble.”

Bathasar Holz

About this entry