Bernard Tschumi

From Academic Kids

Bernard Tschumi (born 1944 Lausanne, Switzerland) is a contemporary French/Swiss architect, writer, and academic; US permanent resident; 1988-2003, Dean of Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Preservation, and Planning.



Throughout his career as an architect, theorist, and academic, Bernard Tschumi's work has reevaluated architecture's role in the practice of personal and political freedom. Since the 1970s, Tschumi has argued that there is no fixed relationship between architectural form and the events that take place within it. The ethical and political imperatives that inform his work emphasize the establishment of a proactive architecture which non-hierarchically engages balances of power through programmatic and spatial devices. In Tschumi's theory, architecture's role is not to express an extant social structure, but to function as a tool for questioning that structure and revising it.

The experience of the May 1968 uprisings and the activities of the Situationist International oriented Tschumi's approach to design studios and seminars he taught at the Architectural Association in London during the early 1970s. Within that pedagogical context he combined film and literary theory with architecture, expanding on the structuralist and post-structuralist work of such thinkers as R. Barthes and M. Foucault, in order to reexamine architecture's responsibility in reinforcing unquestioned cultural narratives. This approach unfolded along two lines in his architectural practice: first, by exposing the conventionally defined connections between architectural sequences and the spaces, programs, and movement which produce and reiterate these sequences; and second, by inventing new associations between space and the events that 'take place' within it through processes of defamiliarization, de-structuring, superimposition, and cross programming.

Tschumi's work in the later 1970s was refined through courses he taught at the Architectural Association and projects such as The Screenplays [1977] and The Manhattan Transcripts [1981] and evolved from montage techniques taken from film and techniques of the nouveau roman. His use of event montage as a technique for the organization of program (systems of space, event, and movement, as well as visual and formal techniques) challenged the work other contemporary architects were conducting which focused on montage techniques as purely formal strategies. Tschumi's work responded as well to prevalent strands of contemporary architectural theory that had reached a point of closure, either through a misunderstanding of poststructuralist thought, or the failure of the liberal/leftist dream of successful political and cultural revolution. For example, Superstudio, one such branch of theoretically oriented architectural postmodernists, began to produce ironic, unrealizable projects such as the 1969 Continuous Monument project, which functioned as counter design and critique of the existing architecture culture, suggesting the end of architecture's capacity to effect change on an urban or cultural scale. Tschumi positioned his work to suggest alternatives to this endgame.

Tschumi's winning entry for the 1982 Parc de la Villette Competition in Paris became his first major public work and made possible an implementation of the design research and theory which had been rehearsed in The Manhattan Transcripts and The Screenplays. Landscaping, spatial and programmatic sequences in the park were used to produce sites of alternative social practice that challenged the expected use values usually reinforced by a large urban park in Paris.

Tschumi has continued this design agenda in a variety of competitions and built projects since 1983. The 1986 Tokyo National Theater and Opera House project continued the research that Tschumi began in The Manhattan Transcripts, importing notational techniques from experimental dance and musical scores, and using the design process itself to challenge habitual ways of thinking about space, in contrast to earlier static, two dimensional representational techniques which delineated the outline of a building but not the intensity of life within it. At a local scale in his 1990 Video Pavilion at Groningen, transparent walls and tilted floors produce an intense dislocation of the subject in relation to norms like wall, interior and exterior, and horizon. At the urban scale in such projects as the 1992 Art + Media school at Fresnoy, France, and the 1995 architecture school at Marne la Vallee, France (both completed 1999,) larger spaces challenge normative program sequence and accepted use. The Fresnoy complex accomplishes this by its use of the space between the roofs of existing buildings and an added, huge umbrella roof above them which creates an interstitial zone of program on ramps and catwalks. This zone is what Tschumi calls the in-between, a negation of pure form or style that had been practiced in the 1989 ZKM Karlsruhe competition project, where a large atrium space punctuated by encapsulated circulation and smaller program episodes developed a more local network of interstitial space.

The capacity of an overlap of programs to effect a reevaluation of architecture on an urban scale had also been tested in the 1988 Kansai Airport competition, Lausanne Bridge city, and 1989 Bibliotheque de France competition. In the Bibliotheque de France, a major aspect of the proposed scheme was a large public running track and sports facility on the roof of the complex, intersecting with upper floors of the library program so that neither the sports program nor the intellectual program could exist without an impact on the other.

With these projects Tschumi opposed the methods used by architects for centuries to geometrically evaluate facade and plan composition. In this way he suggested that habitual routines of daily life could be more effectively challenged by a full spectrum of design tactics ranging from shock to subterfuge: by regulating events, a more subtle and sophisticated regime of defamiliarizations was produced than by aesthetic and symbolic systems of shock. The extreme limit-conditions of architectural program became criteria to evaluate a building's capacity to function as a device capable of social organization.

Tschumi's critical understanding of architecture remains at the core of his practice today. By arguing that there is no space without event, he designs conditions for a reinvention of living, rather than repeating established aesthetic or symbolic conditions of design. Through these means architecture becomes a frame for "constructed situations," a notion informed by the theory, city mappings and urban designs of the Situationist International.

Responding to the absence of ethical structure and the disjunction between use, form, and social values by which he characterizes the postmodern condition, Tschumi's design research encourages a wide range of narratives and ambiences to emerge and to self organize. Although his conclusion is that no essentially meaningful relationship exists between a space and the events which occur within it, Tschumi nonetheless aligns his work with Foucault's notion that social structures should be evaluated not according to an apriori notion of good or evil but for their danger to each other. In this way, Tschumi's work is ethologically motivated, in the sense that Deleuze uses the term to propose an emergent ethics that depends on a reevaluation of self/identity and body. Freedom is thus defined by the enhanced range of capacity of this extended body/self in conjunction with an extended self awareness. By advocating recombinations of program, space, and cultural narrative, Tschumi asks the user to critically reinvent him/herself as a subject.


Bernard Tschumi is credited with one completed structure in the United States, the controversial Lerner Center, on the campus of Columbia University.


"In America, it's more difficult because architects have lost a lot of power; power has fallen into the hands of the builders... the general strategy is determined by the client himself... That's a big problem. And that's what we want to avoid."


  • Tschumi, Bernard:
    • Event-Cities (Praxis), Cambridge, MIT Press (1994)
    • Architecture and Disjunction, Cambridge, MIT Press (1994)
    • The Manhattan Transcripts, London, Academy Editions (1994)
  • Hollier, Denis Against Architecture, Betsy Wing (trans.), Cambridge, MIT Press (1989)
  • Deleuze, Gilles Foucault, Sean Hand (trans.), Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press (1986)
  • Andreotti, Libero and Costa, Xavier Situationists: Art, Politics, Urbanism, Barcelona, Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona (1996)
  • Sadler, Simon The Situationist City, Cambridge, MIT Press (1998)fr:Bernard Tschumi

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