The difference between architecture and sculpture is whether there is plumbing

A man made creation that relates reality and conceptual thought, where the later is manifested through material in a way that provides some kind of meaning to the experience of the former. Such description could be, partly, the essence of any architectural building. Perhaps, the same could also be said as the definition of sculpture as well. Both disciplines seem to share this foundational aspect of constructing meaning trough forms that ultimately require some kind of human experience. Regardless of this major aspect, they remain as separate fields, divergent in one fundamental aspect: function. A utilitarian purpose that informs and justifies architectural creations that is purposely absent in the art field. This appears to be the definitive frontier between one and the other, as Gordon Matta Clark humorously put it:  “One of my favorite definitions of the difference between architecture and sculpture is whether there is plumbing”. However, the assessment of function itself can be rather dubious, sometimes. Matta Clark´s work is perhaps one of the greatest examples of such ambiguity – especially if one takes into account that his sculptures included plumbing. His transformations in abandoned buildings seemed to embody an intended fast forward into a moment of inevitable destruction, where a specific building that was progressively retrieved from it´s functionalist duties can, precisely because of that, be (finally!) perceived a sculpture, or transformed into one, and justify the experience of itself singularly on it´s intended, as well as casual, spatial attributes. When fragile parts are either deliberately removed (in the Matta Clark´s examples) or naturally collapse due to the passage of time, their absence in the composition allows for unforeseen interplays of light, new visual as well as physical connections, exposed materialities, altered proportions, etc.. Through such process of disfunctionalization, willingly or inadvertently, the architectural forms become a constantly changing sculptural field. In fact, perhaps they instantly became a sculpture in the precise moment they cease to be functional. The opposite trajectory could as well be tested, that is, the idea of a sculptural form becoming a functional architectural structure. One could take, as an example, Richard Serra´s steel works, since they are somewhat close to architecture in scale. In his Torqued Ellipse” (1998), one could easily envision operations of utilitarian appropriations that could take place, under certain circumstances. If ‪provided with adequate furniture, such piece could perform as a meeting room, or a small chapel, maybe a recording studio for string instruments or even a gallery room to showcase other smaller sculptures, a yoga hall, a painter´s studio, a beauty salon, and so on and so forth. Through such appropriations of the space, making it functionally performative, the piece would inevitably shift from content to container, and in the process, from sculpture to architecture. It could be argued that the introduction of furniture in a sculpture poses as an alteration to it´s individuality, that is not primarily functional but becomes so due to such distribution of chairs, tables and/or shelves, but then again, the same could be said for architecture as well – a bedroom is only perceived as such if it has, in fact, a bed inside of it, enabling such specific use. If such premises are to be considered, a clear and unequivocal classification of objects between design and art is then never truly possible. In this logic, every object can be contemplated just for it´s aesthetic value and, in the same way, every object can be proven functional for multiple different found purposes. Ultimately, the very same object can then shift infinitely between one and the other category, depending solely by the ways which one decides to engage with it in the different stages of it´s existence.

The fragility of this frontier has been precisely one of the great points of interest in our practice: how to evoque and provoke the possibility of something being possibly perceived as architecture and/or sculpture, perpetually misleading a direct understanding. “Architectural (dis)Order”, a small scale refurbishment project, might be a good illustration of such considerations in our recent built work.

Inside a white box of 7.6 x 3.9 x 2.55m, three differently configured yellow objects are individually placed. As an immediate consequence, one´s physical experience of the previously empty white box has been dramatically altered. The perception of one´s movement, of the box´s limits and of the position of the yellow objects is now inevitably intertwined. The significance of such objects, however, remains subjective and unclear. Under closer inspection, their shape might resemble an abstraction of the classical architectural elements: an architrave, a fallen column and a plinth, arranged separately as a puzzle, only to be revealed when mentally placed together, evoking the experience of a (possible) site specific sculptural piece that engages with the containing space of a (possible) gallery room. Or perhaps, these yellow objects only hold objectual value as (possible) pieces of furniture, produced to store other smaller objects both inside and atop of them. In such scenario, their arraignment might be justifiable simply as a naive attempt to create some kind of spatial hierarchy in a (possible) wall-less apartment, marking and defining different areas according to a specific domestic use: an entrance hall, a central living room and a bedroom with a panoramic view. It´s never truly clear which of these possibilities might be accurate, or, if any actually is. Maybe both might be.


Carolina Delgado (