Surveying the literature of architecture since the nineteenth century, one can identify two dominant but problematic attitudes, among several, that pursue the task of defining what modern architecture is and should be. The first is the search for meaning and the second is the pursuit of form. This study, following Michel Foucault, asserts that the dual formation of meaning and form is a historical product of modernity and belies architecture's uncritical dependence on language since the nineteenth century. This study is a critique and historical analysis of this pernicious reliance, and constitutes a first step towards thinking of alternative relations between 'words and architecture' in the modern world. In reconstructing this problematic, the paper has called on Foucault's seminal The Order of Things. The study follows his construction of the Renaissance, the Classical and the Modern episteme, and in brief fashion, reconstructs the relation between language and architecture in each episteme. In analysing the Modern, the study focuses on Hegel's Lectures on Aesthetics. Hegel placed architecture in a genre hierarchy within which architecture, because of its material basis, was fundamentally limited in its ability to express the Spirit. For Hegel it was, among the arts, poetic language, and beyond art, the language of philosophy, through which the Absolute Spirit could be atttained. Much of post-nineteenth century architecture has remained within the shadow of Hegel, where architecture's materiality is perceived to be a burden, and in order to secure its relevance in modern society, architecture was deemed to pursue the role of language. As the most recent and sophisticated example of architecture's pursuit of form, the paper analyses the work of Peter Eisenman. Though Eisenman's theoretical writings are replete with post-Hegelian rhetoric, his architecture remains dependent upon the model of language, albeit a structuralist one. The paper concludes that ultimately, the pursuit of meaning and form is unable to face the crucial issue of value in modernity. While the former decides to easily what it is, the latter evades the issue itself. The second installment of this ongoing study will pursue a third possibility alluded to by Foucault, where language remains silent, pointing only to its 'ponderous' material existence.
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