Heresy of the rite*

Renato Rizzi

The main ritual, the life. The minor ritual, the days. The pulse of existence beats with the same formula in the binomial of Architecture. Arché, the main ritual. Téchne, the minor ritual. An epistemic similarity feared like the plague. It will not be difficult to understand the causes. In fact, the first root, archè-, has been severed from its name as one cuts the head from a body. It was not so much an execution as a sacrilege that continues to be repeated, even today, in the most unsuspected place. In the presumed sanctity of university rooms.

However, this would not have been a scandal if the name Architecture had been replaced by Building. At least no crime would have been committed. Instead the aura of the word Architecture had to remain intact in the prestige of its effigy, while its content had to be completely emptied. Replaced by other. But in order to understand the deception perpetrated by the knowledge of our age, we must pay attention to at least three points:

A- first of all, on semantic structure of the name Architecture;

B- on paradigm of our time;

C- on overcoming Western philosophy.

Only in this way the radical difference between main and minor ritual will be able to emerge. Because the rite however and wherever pervades both our daily acts and our innermost thoughts.

A- The semantic structure of the name “architecture”.

The binomial archè-téchne brings to the stage of the world the pairs of principles in opposition to each other: non dominable-dominable; unchangeable-changeable; eternal-becoming; invisible-visible, etc.

All the powers from the non dominable horizon (the appearance of the whole, the aesthetic) converge in the name Architecture and They cannot in any way be subjected to our rational or irrational will. More explicitly, the indissoluble bonds (the aesthetic) belonging to cosmic laws converge in the semantic structure of the name Architecture. To the indissoluble bonds that govern each smallest part with the whole. The dogmas of the form.

B- The contemporary paradigm.

The technical-social-scientific culture of our time has based its power on the opposite principle. All the things (the bodies) are unrelated, unconnected, and separate from the whole. This is the domain of the technique. The paradox and extreme contradiction of our time. An impossible thing. Only our faith (of atheists) believes this is possible.

C- Overcoming the Western metaphysics.

If we compare the three millennia of Western thought, to which the horizon of the name Architecture belongs, with the paradigm of contemporary culture, the drama clearly emerges. The radical epistemic contradiction between the Great Past (the all tied) and the Great Present (the all untied). But, as already mentioned, since it is impossible for a non dominable to be overpowered by a dominable, it means that our time continues to believe within a negative faith. And a negative contradiction can only produce violence. Despite everything, we do not want to see. The evident proof is for all to see. The immense formless plagues of our megacities or of any other urbanisation or periphery (peri-pherein, carry around without a scope). The loss of form in the formless envelops by now the entire planet Earth in its cultural and factual stranglehold. In fact, we have forgotten that in the synonym for formless another removed word resonates (for superstition or hubris?): death (another non dominable).

We can address the authentic meaning of the word Architecture and of the new ritual that accompanies it only with this awareness: only within the horizon of the all times and histories, only by going beyond the Western Greek metaphysics that has brought the project of the technique to completion in our time (metaphysics and technique are now two overlapping terms). In fact, these considerations move the cultural axis from the exclusive pole of the techniques towards the centre of gravity of the name Architecture. This moving has semantic repercussions with respect to: our name (A1); our responsibility (B2); the sense of the project (C3).

A1- Our name.

The word person (from prosopon, the mask: an external face turned outwards; an internal face turned towards the individual’s interiority) bears an extraordinary structural similarity to the name Architecture. Soul, arché. Body, techné. Soul, what is in common, what binds and constrains us (not only socially). The body, what is not in common, what distinguishes and separates us individually. To the soul belongs zoè, eternal life. To the body belongs bios, the chronological life (inseparable entities). For the Greeks it is the necklace of eternal life: the zoè thread holds all the bios pearls together. Therefore, we are the living example of this non dominable mystery (that we should celebrate with our works). The analogy with Architecture is stronger than any other law, however. Yet, at the same time, we are also referred to as subject. A word separated from its remote origin. Sub-iacere, from the Latin; ipokeimenon, from the Greek. However: “what is under”. But this condition of “being under” is not a preclusion, nor a condemnation, nor even a punishment. (While for the technique we are those who are above, those occupying the command position, even if this assumption is based on a faith in which we believe blindly!). Thus, far from it. Rather, this is the gift that is freely offered to us by the appearance of the worlds, by the appearance of the whole. From the infinite horizon of the eternities of the starry sky. We received a special privilege: to contemplate the spectacles of the worlds.

We are the spectators of enchantment, of wonder, of astonishment, as well as of terror, of fear, of the anguish for a universe that welcomes us, protects us, questions us, troubles us. And at the same time it scrutinises us, more curious than we are to be mirrored in the enchantment of the works we are supposed to create.

Here, then, is how the rite would change if bound to the new (and always original) condition of our being: from nominativi to dativi. It would no longer be the individual Ego that would prevail as the source of the will to power: the condition of nominativo. But the Self, that condition which, re-emerging from the depths of the soul, would reverse our vision into the condition of dativo. The thruster-centre of the Ego is replaced by the acceptor-centre of the Self. By destiny, since time immemorial, we have always been the privileged ones. This radical reversal of our vision is the biggest proof of the greatest gift that belongs to us. It can be assumed that our body, a unit of spirit and flesh, is the most complex and mysterious device in the universe through which the eternals appear, in order to be contemplated here, on this Earth, on which we live our sensory experience as if it were a miracle. Quite! We are this mystery-miracle. We are those who receive from the eternal horizon of the non dominables (archè) the rays that rekindle the matrixes of the images. These images have always been imprinted and mute in our souls (zoè) from which they are generated, and the final forms of the works feed off them, in order to be contemplated by those same eternals from which they come and to which they belong, coming back to them.

B2- Our responsibility.

This radical change of vision implies a very severe intellectual, as well as individual, effort. The transition from arbitrariness (of the téchnai) to singularity (of the arcuai) is certainly not easy to implement. Nor is it automatic. Rather, we must have the strength to break out of the world of (false) security (semantic paradox, sine-cura) of technical and regulatory knowledge to enter the world of appearance (the eternal horizon of the immutable). We must have the courage to face the reign of the risk, of the form. A real exile for our minds and our education. From uncritical anonymity to the loneliness of singularity, it is a long step. Because each of us, being a temporal absolute, is always a new adam appearing on the world stage, destined to repeat the originality of the beginning in its infinite richness. Just as we are forced each time to leave our eden to develop the project ahead of us.

C3- The sense of the project.

We are now faced with the secret hidden in the word Architecture. If the terms placed by the semantic structure of its name stand at the extremes of the whole (non dominable-dominability, eternal-becoming, etc.); if the extremes of our existence lie between the impassable limits of birth and death, then the terms of the project must also occupy a similar spatiality. Precisely because each of us is a project that must be brought to its manifestation. Indeed, every project, like every existence, lies between a debt contracted with our predecessors (birth) and a gift to be returned to our successors (death). In other words, between an eden of the beginning and an eden to be delivered. The whole childhood is full of the rite of enchantment of the world. There is no difference for a child between non dominable and dominable. He is everything. He identifies himself in all things. Total unity. But like every adam, he too must leave the enchanted (and dangerous) world and walk into the places of consciousness. It will take the whole of life to rework the childhood experience (the Greek anamnesis) and translate the enchantment of the early time into the awareness of the works (understood in the most general sense of the word).

Only then, at the height of maturity, or at the peak of one’s time, will the time come for the project to be handed over to our future successors.

In this profound perspective the sense of the Architectural Project expands itself. But we should get used to writing, and at the same time thinking about the word in at least two different ways. With a capital ‘P’ when referring to the first root, archè. With a lower case ‘p’ when referring to the second root, téchne. Only the Project of the archè can guarantee unity of meaning to the plurality and diversity of the projects of the téchnai, always maintaining the inseparable link between the eternal and the present.

This is how the dynamics of the (new) ritual of the Project can be outlined, to which we should adapt in respect of the singularity of Architecture. Of the works. Of ourselves. Of the world. Because of that sense of modesty (aidôs, the religio of all authentic doing) that should pervade our works always inscribed between the two extremes: the Eden of the beginning, the debt-gift of enchantment; the Eden of delivery (NaTaN in Hebrew, paradosis in Greek), to return that initial gift.


The cultural horizon to which this paper refers comes from many different works, ancient and modern. But in this context it is better to remember the main contemporary heretical authors: Emanuele Severino, philosopher (Brescia, 1929-2020). Carlo Enzo, theologian (Venice, 1927-2019). Derek Walcott, poet (Castries, S. Lucia, 1930-2017); Andrea Tagliapietra, philosopher of the history of ideas (Venice, 1962). If one were to point to a concrete, even if totally ignored, example of the above themes, one would refer to the poetic and architectural work of John Hejduk, architect (New York, 1929-2020). Cfr. R. Rizzi, John Hejduk. Incarnatio, Marsilio, Venice 2010, et, R. Rizzi, S. Pisciella, John Hejduk. Bronx. Manuale in versi, Mimesis, Milan-Udine 2021.


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