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Levent Şentürk

Published Apr 14, 2021

In the 1960s, when a mathematician (Le Lionnais) and a man of letters (Raymond Queneau) decided to combine literature and mathematics in an unconventional way, they would never guess that the oulipo (or the atelier for potential literature) would be one of the most long-lived currents in the history of art (Brotchie, 1998). The keyword for the abbreviation was “potential” and perhaps it became a legend due to this word. Le Lionnais foresaw a potential atelier for any sort of interest –be it music, cooking, even architecture. Today oulipians are best known for their motto which coins an oulipian as “a rat who builds a maze in which s/he plans to escape”. Oulipians expanded their artistic resources by baptizing their predecessors as “plagiary anticipatory”. There are numerous authors, including Gérard Genette (1997) and Douglas Hofstadter (1985) who are not on the table but maybe counted among unintentional protagonists of the playful group.

There are potentially infinite techniques to be borrowed, appropriated, if not shoplifted from the oulipian repertoire for architecture, especially for the architectural studio. An oulipism in architecture can be named as postar, i. e., potential studio for architecture. Architectural brutalisms and minimalisms are lipograms in their own right, by being conscious limitations in materials as well as structural principles. Any architectural experiment as a postmodern assemblage could also be seen as an anagram, which is a rewriting of a word, phrase, or sentence by using all letters one time in different orders, to create new meanings or to ban meaning intentionally. These techniques are named translations by oulipians in the broadest sense and there are numerous translational techniques invented by them. A monolithism in architecture would be the equivalent of a monovocalism –in which a certain vowel is used for all the text and all others are omitted intentionally. Further arithmetical limitations can be applied –a variable of the avalanche technique invented for poetry can be used as a playful, rhythmic, in disguise composition technique of a limited number of chosen architectural elements. Another common technique is the chimera, which is based on the hybridization of a number of texts. The chimera is a monstrous being, having different parts of different animals. In architecture, the chimera associates with postmodernist eclecticism. Haikuzation, which is a reductive operation in poetry, can be applied to the drawings or three-dimensional drawings or models of iconographic buildings like the Farnsworth House of L. M. Van der Rohe, the Villa Savoye of Le Corbusier or the Kaufmann Residence of F. R. Wright, etc. –the resultant parody will definitely not resemble the input but will have striking new potentials as irrational outcomes. Lexiconic techniques can also be useful in architectural experiments; for example, a homolexically translated building would use the same elements of a specific design in a completely different assembly, so it will be a false/demonic restitution. Similarly, a li-po-lexical (lipo is the former abbreviation of the oulipo; so most of the techniques are prefixed with lipo-) action consists of omitting nouns, adjectives or verbs from a text. In architectural design terms, an archpolexical technique can be operated in a variety; beginning from a certain architectural element (omitting all the doors of a building) to omitting a more profound planimetric entity (banning all the corridors in a building). Simple numeric alterations in height can have dramatic results in architectural design, although this would not be genuinely oulipian.


Brotchie, A. (1998). Oulipo Compendium. Trans. Harry Mathews. Atlas Press, London.

Genette, G. (1997). Palimpsests. Literature in the Second Degree. Trans. Channa Newman, Claude Doubinsky. University of Nebraska Press, US.

Hofstadter, D. R. (1985). Metamagical Themas: Questioning for the Essence of Mind and Pattern. Basic Books, US.

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