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45  |   H O U S E  O F  L E T T E R S
Site-specific work, 2004–2007.

Commissioned for the façade of the Library of the Cité Judiciaire ( Departments of Justice on the Plateau du Saint-Esprit ), Luxembourg, by the project’s architect and master planner, Rob Krier
Not realized [ to date ].


The library façade demanded a special solution. The internal double-flight staircase …  allowed for an almost windowless façade (in the way a closed book reveals nothing of its contents). A conch-like recess in the center stands like a portal on a rustically embossed plinth. Only one tiny door penetrates this solid base, flanked by two pyramid-like steles. The recessed conch-walls were inscribed with excerpts of classical aphorisms of antique law by the artist Ann Holyoke Lehmann, in Latin on the rounded upper section, in French on the left-hand side, and in German on the right. As the inscriptions are difficult to read at this height, the texts are repeated on bronze plaques mounted at eye level on the steles.

     This project … has an uncertain future. I was unable to obtain approval for it from the assigned committee for architectural artworks, although the client would have incurred no costs. I wanted to finance it myself with the assistance of the company responsible for executing the façades.

Rob Krier, Cité Judiciaire Luxembourg, 1991–2008
Edition Axel Menges, Stuttgart/London 2010


The above passage is taken from the eleven-hundred-page book in which Rob Krier documents the seventeen-year-long struggle he waged to design, plan, and build the Departments of Justice on the Heilig-Geist Plateau (“Plateau of the Holy Spirit”) in the City of Luxembourg. It accurately describes HOUSE OF LETTERS as it was projected, yet refrains from expressing the disappointment both he and I felt when, after four years of on-again, off-again planning and anticipation, it became clear that the work, like most of Krier’s art-for-buildings projects within the Cité-complex, was to become a casualty of the pitched battle he’d been forced to wage with local bureaucrats, politicians, and architect confrères. Most infuriating of all, however, was that this was not due to any disapproval of the work itself, nor even to a lack of funding, but entirely to professional jealousies and fraternal infighting. To date, the façade of the library remains blank and blind —which doesn’t mean it must do so forever, for the plans lie ready to be carried out at any time … .

Partial view of the Plateau of the Holy Spirit, City of Luxembourg.

T H E   I D E A

The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg’s great Law Library—the Bibliothèque of the Cité Judiciaire—is literally a House of Letters : a house of writing and of the written and printed word. The work HOUSE OF LETTERS was conceived as the lettering—the be-lettering—of the building’s imposingly arched entrance : a portal to this house of books and of the literature of law and jurisprudence.

The library’s portal nearing completion without its façade’s lettering, far left (above) and center (below).

Photographs from: Rob Krier, Cité Judiciaire Luxembourg, 1991–2008, by kind permission of the author.

The work’s title leaves itself open to interpretation within a variety of disciplines: building and architecture, typography, epistolography, literature, science et al. In it resonates the letter of the law, as does a house of cards : both phrases suggesting the fragility of the constructs Law and Laws, and of Right and Rights ; both waking suggestions of the precarious situation of the body politic itself  and conjuring those ever-present dangers posed to the social contract, the rule of law, and the polity of the state.

But, while the work HOUSE OF LETTERS in no way seeks to invade or interrupt the architecture proper of the Cité Judiciaire—to disturb, that is, the principal form of art in play here, namely, that of building—its characters nonetheless provide a decided, if discreet and measured, counterpoint to the library and the complex as a whole: here, in concrete form, the monumental edifice of ideas that is the justice system precipitates in text and tenet, manifesting itself in letters, rudimentary and sensible, that might—in every sense of the word—be grasped.

The viewer first perceives the 774 large capital letters that the work comprises—my ARK-letters measuring, in this case, thirteen centimeters high and as many millimeters deep—as an orderly, if inarticulate, blanket of type. Gradually, however, the letters’ raised surfaces convey to the reader stopping here—assuming he possesses the patience and attention to detail that the task requires—ten classical principles of jurisprudence that played a vital rôle in the history of the administration of justice, and which helped to shape our contemporary understanding of the European legal system.

Drawing of the lettering of HOUSE OF LETTERS, superimposed on an elevation of the library’s facade.

Located at the very top, within the portal’s arc—whose curves anticipate the circular arrangement of the rooms and hallways in the building proper—at a maximum height of thirty meters, these words and phrases can be deciphered in their original, archaic Latin; their French and German equivalents (written without punctuation, diacriticals, or umlauts) can be read upon the upright rectangular fields to the left and right—respectively—of the windows above the building's entrance. Each of these two modern-language versions is expressed in twenty-seven lines of nine letters apiece, thus transporting the original Latin’s  weighty content using exactly 243 letters—in itself no mean feat of translation.


The inscriptions in Latin within the conch of the entrance portal read:
U B I  S O C I E T A S,  I B I  J U S

F I N I S   L E G U M   C O N S I S T I T   I N   A C Q U I R E N D O   C O N S E R V A N D O   M I N U E N D O 

L E X   U N O   O R E   O M N E S   A L L O Q U I T U R 

Q U I L I B E T   P R A E S U M I T U R   B O N U S,   N I S I   P R O B E T U R   M A L U S

N E M O   D A M N A T U S   N I S I  A U D I T U S   V E L   V O C A T U S

I N   D U B I O   P R O   R E O   I U D I C A N D U M   E S T

N U L L A   P O E N A   S I N E   L E G E

P O E N A   D E B E T   C O M M E N S U R A R I   D E L I C T O

J U S   E S T   A R S   B O N I   E T   A E Q U I

J U S T I T I A   E S T   F U N D A M E N T U M   R E G N O R U M

The inscriptions in French on the upright conch-wall to the left of the entrance ( from the German by Michèle Métail ) read:

D È S   Q U’ I L   Y   A   S O C I É T É,   I L   Y   A   D R O I T

C O N Q U Ê T E,   P R É S E R V A T I O N,   S U P P R E S S I O N   D U   D R O I T   C O M M E   B U T   D E S   L O I S
L A   L O I   I M P A R T I A L E

P R É S U M É   I N N O C E N T

P A S   D E   C O N D A M N É   S A N S   A U D I T I O N   O U   C I T A T I O N

B É N É F I C E   D U   D O U T E

P A S   D E   P E I N E   S A N S   L O I

L A   P E I N E   À   L A   H A U T E U R   D U   D É L I T
A R T   D U   B I E N   E T   D E   L’ É Q U I T É

S U R   L A   J U S T I C E   S E   F O N D E   L’ É T A T

And the inscriptions in German on the upright conch-wall to the right of the entrance ( German by Susanne Wülfing   and AHL) read:

R E C H T   B I L D E T   S I C H,   W O   G E S E L L S C H A F T   I S T

R E C H T S S I C H E R H E I T   D U R C H   G E S E T Z E


G R U N D S A T Z   D E S   R E C H T L I C H E N   G E H O E R S

I M   Z W E I F E L   F U E R   D E N   A N G E K L A G T E N 

K E I N E   S T R A F E   O H N E   G E S E T Z

S T R A F Z U M E S S U N G 

D I E   K U N S T   D E S  G E R E C H T E N

G R U N D L A G E   D E R   S T A A T E N   I S T   G E R E C H T I G K E I T

Model [1 : 1] of the lettering for HOUSE OF LETTERS [detail], each letter 13 x 1.3 cm [height x depth].

Postscript.  At one point in the process of developing HOUSE OF LETTERS,  when  the work had seemed well on its way to being realized, I built a life-size model of a section of the piece, in which the raised lettering is represented in its full width on one of the upright conch-walls [arc=189 cm=3.55° ; chord=186.2 cm]. Originally intended merely to confirm my calculations, the mock-up turned out to be so handsome that it strengthened Rob Krier’s resolve—and mine—to see the work become reality. Ultimately, however, its tantalizing corporeality served only to render our disappointment in the work’s not having been executed all the more severe.