The Pyramid and the Mosaic. Otto Neurath’s encyclopedism as a critical model

Andrea Alberto Dutto


Otto Neurath, one of the founding members of the Vienna Circle, took up a firm opposition in relation to his colleagues. Instead of searching for an ideal language, he asserted the possibility of a ‘universal empiricist slang’, including both everyday and scientific language. Particularly, Neurath conceives of a comprehensive theory of a unified science that postulates the necessity of orchestration within the discursive procedures in science, inspired by the model of encyclopedism.

In the field of architecture, a similar encyclopedic endeavor was undertaken in Italy by Mario Ridolfi who, together with other leading exponents of architectural culture, conceived the Manuale dell’Architetto at the end of World War II. This construction handbook provided  support to engineers  during the intense period of post-war reconstruction. Unlike any previous attempt to document building culture, this collective work aspired to create a shared language able to cross the boundaries among the various fields of building science.

Finally, encyclopedism is considered as a possible ‘foundation’ for building design as a shared practice, with a specific focus on Ridolfi’s late research on the relation between traditional construction methods and housing design, in the countryside around Umbria.

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