Questions of Authenticity

One of the things I got quite excited about on Tuesday was the idea of authenticity within built form. The traditional notion that a building is authentic in its original state, as intended by the architect or designer can effectively be challenged through the idea of a building going through a process of ‘becoming’, through use and adaptation, never quite reaching a state of completion. What is authenticity within built form?

In 2002, Caruso St John Architects released a statement regarding an upcoming project in London, the Brick House. They actually released two almost identical statements regarding the building, one pre construction, and one as built. In the second statement, a few sentences and words are omitted, signifying a discrepancy between what is said, and what is done. They omit the statement that the ‘roof and ceiling, floors and walls’ will be a skin-like brick surface. There were certain aspects of the design that got lost or diluted at some point within the design process/ construction of the house. So questions can be raised to just what is authentic? Is the building as was intended at the initial concept sketches the authentic thing? Or is the structure at its peak of authenticity when the concept is anchored by the constraints of a reality comprised of economics, physics and contingency, ie. when it is built, however deviant from the very initial projections.


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Caruso St John – Brick House


Architects often speak of Peter Zumthor’s work as authentic, and the reasons for this are that he manages to reach a harmony between the inherent structural properties of the materials as such that he uses, and their surface, ie. sensuous properties. The Therme Vals and the Swiss Expo pavillion are examples of such. The Vals are reminiscent of a quarry, and the material is honest about what it is and what it does. The Expo also, is reminiscent of a sawmill. However, much of architecture doesn’t quite share this material authenticity, in that elements are hidden, materials are not quite structural, and aren’t used for the inherent structural properties. The cavity wall for instance hides a huge amount of technology within its walls – wall ties, insulation of varying types, drips, even disguising structural elements such as blocks or columns. This kind of architecture, it could be argued, is layered albeit deceptive. Contrast this with the singularity and honestly of materials which harmonize their structural capabilities and surface, such as in Zumthor’s architecture, and you have a multifaceted, overlapping, layered kind of architecture.

vals quarry

Therme Vals and Quarry


Swiss Expo Pavilion and Sawmill


One very interesting point about these comparisons between Zumthor’s work and the accompanying images, is that they demonstrate that temporality is central to the configuration of the materiality of these spaces. The Vals is reminiscent of a quarry, and therefore of the moment man takes nature, and transfers it into the realm of material substance, or workable material. Materiality and temporality are entwined.


MacCormack and Peckham argue that authenticity in architecture could be a projection of a desire for the expression of an authentic ‘self’ of the individual. So simplicity suits this idea, the one ‘true’ ‘self’. However, a new idea, as posited by Mary Modeen in ‘Breaking the Boundaries of “Self”: Representations of Spatial Indeterminacy’, is that the self is not a singular element confined to the boundaries of the body, however it is multiple, shifting and fluctuating, finding expression within both the individual in a variety of different selves, and also the environment (breaking into ‘symbolic interactionism’, which talks about how theories regarding self, the projection of self with regards to the ‘the other’ can manifest themselves within our environments).


Becky + Michael

Portfoliot page: Acetate overlays setting up an overlap between a number of different states or selves in the individual


So if we have these multiple faces or selves that change and bleed and overlap, due to the fact that there is no singular way in which people act or behave towards others (it changes depending on how we perceive others or how we perceive their attitudes towards us), then surely THIS is authentic?

if the self is to be projected onto our built environment in an attempt at authenticity, then buildings should be multiple, shifting, overlapping, indeterminate.

I think in light of this, the drawing needs to start layering the alterations to the building, showing the attempts at the manufacture of authenticity, while simultaneously becoming.


One more note. In the spirit of my project, I replaced a lost screw on the bridge of my guitar last week. When talking to a guy about finding a replacement screw, he offered me two screws, one was a chrome finish steel to match the bridge, and another one, albeit slightly shorter, but a different, galvanized finish. I took the galvanized screw because I thought it would be great to indicate that moment in time when a repair took place, narrating the history of the guitar. One thing I still have to look into though is the play between the two steel finishes to make sure theres no reaction between the two coatings, before I start seeing rust or degradation on any of the assembly, not too mention that the clasp is now slightly out of line.


Becoming as illustrated by elements of difference between fixings’

An interesting point would be that if I were now to sell this guitar, the buyer would have doubts about the guitar, seeing it as inauthentic, perhaps losing me money on it. So the difference in fixings, as they are not original, play a huge role in constructing a sense of worth for the buyer.



M, Modeen. (2014) ‘Breaking the Boundaries of “Self”: Representations of Spatial Indeterminacy’, Architecture and Culture, Vol. 2, No. 3, pp. 337 – 359

MacCormack, S. and Peckham, A. (2011) ‘Questions of Authenticity: Brickwork and Found Space’, Architectural Research Quarterly, Vol. 15, No.02, pp. 105 – 118.


One thought on “Questions of Authenticity

  1. Great that you are excited by the question of authenticity. But we want to see how this is explored through your work!

    Your discussion here seems to bring in two separate understandings of authenticity, one that refers to a proximity to an original state and a second that describes something more along the lines of an idea about truth of what is revealed or demonstrated.

    As you bring in your guitar case study as a real-life application of the question… You speculate that a buyer would see the guitar as inauthentic as the new screw seems a later or alien addition. On the contrary, look at the Venice Charter
    which was agreed in 1964 by UNESCO as an international framework upon which the conservation of historic buildings should be carried out. See article 9… “any extra work which is indispensable must be distinct from the architectural composition and must bear a contemporary stamp”. Does this mean that your guitar screw should indeed be of 2015, to be truthful about being a non-original component?

    But, to reiterate, we want to see these ideas explored through your work. What is the progress of your portfolio? How do you intend to use your research time while in NY? All of this for Tuesday please!

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