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Volume 4

Chora 4

2004
Edited by Alberto Pérez-Gómez and Stephen Parcell

Contents and authors

Lewis Carroll - A Man Out of Joint: The Anonymous Architect of Euclid's Retreat
Caroline Dionne

At the age of six months, caroline [dot] dionne [at] mail [dot] mcgill [dot] ca (Caroline Dionne) sailed across the Atlantic ocean twice. She cherishes her Bachelor degree of Architecture from Université Laval. Her favourite questions are those for which there are more (or less) than one possible answer. In the course of her graduate studies in the history and theory of architecture at McGill University, she has become obsessed with geometric ideas.

 

The Breath on the Mirror: Notes on Ruskin's Theory of the Grotesque
Mark Dorrian

mark [dot] dorrian [at] ed [dot] ac [dot] uk (Mark Dorrian) teaches in the Department of Architecture of the University of Edinburgh, where he leads the final-year design studio and lectures in theory and historiography of architecture. His graduate studies were undertaken at IUAV in Venice and at the Architectural Association in London, from which he holds his doctorate. He is currently working on A Critical Dictionary for Architecture (forthcoming from Black Dog Press) and a study of the grotesque. Recent essays include "On the Monstrous and the Grotesque" in Word & Image 16:3 (2000) and, forthcoming, "On Some Spatial Aspects of the Colonial Discourse on Ireland" in The Journal of Architecture and "Surplus Matter: Of Scars, Scrolls, Skulls and Stealth" in Subject/Matter, ed. J. Hill (London: Routledge). From May to August 2000 he held a visiting scholarship at the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal, where he was working on conceptualisations of the Baroque. With Dr Gillian Rose, Department of Geography, Open University, he organised the Landscapes and Politics conference, held in Edinburgh in March 2001. In 1998 he founded, with Adrian Hawker, an architecture and urbanism atelier called metis.

 

Alberti at Sea and Ashore; or, Speculations on Nautical Place from a Universal Man
Michael Emerson

Michael Emerson has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and is presently a graduate student in the History and Theory Program at McGill University.

 

The re-discovery of the hinterland
Marc Glaudemans

m [dot] k [dot] t [dot] m [dot] glaudemans [at] bwk [dot] tue [dot] nl (Marc Glaudemans) (1970) studied at Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands, where he received both his architecture degree and his doctorate. The title of his doctoral thesis is Amsterdam Arcadia. "The re-discovery of the Hinterland". In general he is interested in the "broken" continuum of architecture, in terms of mimesis and poisis. The focus is on the period of the 16th to 18th century. From there, connections to classical antiquity and to the present are investigated with regard to these terms and (so far) with a special emphasis on the relationship between city and country. Postdoctoral research is anticipated, dealing with the notion of Architectural Geography, being an analysis of territory and territorial space as expression of world view in different cultures.

 

The Colosseum. The Cosmic Geometry of a Spectaculum
George L. Hersey

glherse [at] aol [dot] com (George L. Hersey) , who is now retired, taught the history of art and architecture at Yale for 37 years. He is the author of 13 books, among them Pythagorean Palaces: Architecture and Magic in the Italian Renaissance (1976) and The Lost Meaning of Classical Architecture (1988). The present essay will appear as part of a forthcoming book to be entitled Euclidean Processions: A Look at Art, the Eye, and the Brain.

 

On the Architecture of Memory and the Renaissance Studioli of Federico da Montefeltro
Robert Kirkbride

rek2 [at] earthlink [dot] net (Robert Kirkbride) was born in Philadelphia and attended the University of Pennsylvania for undergraduate and graduate school (BA'88, MArch'90). Kirkbride obtained his Ph.D. from McGill and is the founder and principal of the architectural studio Elaboratory, and design director for the furniture company Studiolo. He has taught design studios at the University of Pennsylvania and Philadelphia College of Textiles and Science. He is grateful for Melissa Grey's assistance in surveying the Urbino studiolo, and the Bogliasco Foundation, which supported the completion of this article through a Fellowship and Residency at the Liguria Study Centre, Bogliasco, Italy (fall 1999). Kirkbride lives in New York, NY.

 

Architecture, Mysticism and Myth. Modern Symbolism in the Writing of William Richard Lethaby
Joanna Merwood

Joanna Merwood completed a doctoral dissertation entitled "Environments of Cure: Color Theory in Late Nineteenth Century American Architecture" at Princeton University. She received a bachelor of architecture from Victoria Universitv of Wellington in New Zealand in 1992, and a master's degree from the History and Theory program at McGill University in 1995. She has taught architectural design in both New Zealand and the United States.

 

Gordon Matta-Clark's Circling the Circle of the Caribbean Orange
Michel Moussette

After realizing at a relatively young age that it would be a herculean task to isolate a simple formula explaining the entire universe, mr_moussette [at] yahoo [dot] com (Michel Moussette) resolved to establish with clarity the limited set of equations that govern the movement of architecture. Although waiting on top of a mountain with an empty plastic yellow margarine container might be a good way to achieve this lofty goal, recent efforts have been rather directed towards forays into the land of zero and infinity, where the friction of the world exists in the form of certain clearly defined variables. Michel Moussette graduated from the History and Theory Graduate Program of the School of Architecture at McGill University.

 

Geometry of Terror: Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window
Juhani Pallasmaa

office [at] pallasmaa [dot] fi (Juhani Pallasmaa) was born in Hämeenlinna, Finland, in 1936. He obtained a master of science degree in architecture from the Helsinki University of Technology in 1966. He has been the principal of Juhani Pallasmaa Architects since 1983 and professor of architecture at the Helsinki University of Technology since 1991. He was "State Artist Professor" from 1983 to 1988, director of the Museum of Finnish Architecture from 1978 to 1983, associate professor at the Haile Selassie I University (Addis Abeba) from 1972 to 1974, director of the exhibitions department of the Museum of Finnish Architecture from 1968 to 1972 and from 1974 to 1983, and rector of the College of Crafts and Design (Helsinki) from 1970 to 1972.

Professor Pallasmaa has been involved in architecture, graphic design and town planning since 1963. He has designed exhibitions of Finnish architecture, planning, and fine arts that have been shown in more than 30 countries. His design works have been published in numerous exhibition catalogues and publications in Finland and abroad. He has written many articles and lectured in various countries on cultural philosophy and the essence of architecture and fine arts.

Juhani Pallasmaa is member of the Finnish Architects Association, honorary fellow of the AIA, invited member of the International Committee of Architectural Critics, and invited full member of the International Academy of Architecture in Moscow, and was the Eero Saarinen Visiting Professor at Yale University in 1993.

 

The Glass Architecture of Fra Luca Pacioli
Alberto Pérez-Gómez

alberto [dot] perez-gomez [at] mcgill [dot] ca (Dr Alberto Pérez-Gómez) was educated in Mexico and Great Britain, and has taught in Europe and North America, at the Architectural Association in London, and at universities in Mexico, Houston, Syracuse, Toronto and Ottawa. He is now the Saidye Rosner Bronfman Professor of the History of Architecture at McGill University, where he has also been in charge of the History and Theory of Architecture graduate program since 1987. He has been the director of the School of Architecture at Carleton University and of the Institut de recherche en histoire de l'architecture in Montreal. Dr Pérez-Gómez is the author of Polyphilo or The Dark Forest Revisited (MIT Press, 1992), an erotic narrative/theory of architecture based on a kindred text from late 15th century Venice. His first book, Architecture and the Crisis of Modern Science (MIT Press, 1983), won the Alice Davis Hitchcock Award for architectural history in 1984. His most recent book, co-authored with Louise Pelletier and entitled Architectural Representation and the Perspective Hinge, was published by the MIT Press in 1997. Dr Pérez-Gómez is co-editor of CHORA: Intervals in the Philosophy of Architecture.

 

Simplex sigillum veri: The Exemplary Life of an Architect
David Theodore

david [dot] theodore [at] mcgill [dot] ca (David Theodore) completed a thesis in the McGill School of Architecture History and Theory Master's Program entitled "'Aproued on my self: Inigo Jones' Magic Book of Palladio." He lives in Montreal, editing The Fifth Column: The Canadian Student Journal of Architecture, researching the history of the modern hospital (a project of Prof. Annmarie Adams), and writing popular articles about architecture for newspapers and journals.

 

Ranelagh Gardens and the Recombinatory Utopia of Masquerade
Dorian Yurchuk

Dorian Yurchuk was born in 1970 in New Jersey, USA. He earned his Bachelor of Architecture degree at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in New York City, while also attending classes at the New School for Social Research and at Harvard University. In 1998, Yurchuk was awarded the degree of Master of Architecture, History and Theory Option, at McGill University. Current research centres around the link between laughter and healing, as evidenced in sources such as Rabelais's Gargantua and Pantagruel and Joubert's Traite di Ris. Yurchuk's travels have taken him from Anchorage to Kharkiw, and he has difficulty staying indoors. He now works at an architectural restoration firm in New York City, where he beholds, probes and reconstructs facades for a living.

 

Introduction

This fourth volume of CHORA continues a tradition of excellence in open, interdisciplinary research into architecture. While the basic editorial interests and questions remain unchanged, a shifting emphasis reflects the concerns of a new generation of architects and scholars. The CHORA series has sought to articulate alternatives to a facile formalism in contemporary architecture, while rejecting nostalgic or reactionary solutions. The question of how to act responsibly in architecture remains paramount. In the first years of the new millennium, however, this question must take account of our increasingly more powerful electronic tools for formal innovation. Computers are now able to generate new forms that are totally "other" from our traditional orthogonal building practices. This can lead to projects and buildings of complex and novel shape that may be oblivious to their cultural context, intended programs, historical roots, ethical imperatives, and the experiencing body.

In recent years we have witnessed an accentuation of gnostic tendencies with respect to history. This suggests that what we have made has nothing to teach us, particularly if it is older than the Second World War, and that only rational models or an introspective pseudo-naturalism could be a legitimate (instrumental) methodology for design. Perhaps arising from desperation due to difficulties encountered in practice, this historical gnosticism has become almost fanatic. Even in arguments put forward under the guise of critical theory, one senses a disturbing myopia that disregards the historical origin of issues that supposedly have surfaced only recently. Yet, only history in its broad sense - as the "shifting essence" of architecture, within the larger context of our inherited spiritual and philosophical tradition - can help us distinguish between significant innovation and fashionable novelty.

The essays in this volume are driven by a genuine desire to seek architectural alternatives to simplistic models based on concepts of aesthetics, technology or sociology. Their refreshing readings of our tradition acknowledge both the continuity of our philosophical and cultural landscape and the differences encountered in diverse spaces and times. In the absence of a living architectural tradition, these "stories for the future" reveal possibilities in places that are often ignored by conventional historiography and science. While avoiding the dangerous delusions of absolute, transparent truth represented by a single "master narrative," they recognize the need for histories to guide ethical action in architecture.

The growing impact of the Internet and other light-based media continues to create "problems" for architecture. Society remains suspicious of the importance of "lived space," with its uncanny weaving of spatiality, temporality and light. Light, like space and time before it, may soon become a "commodity"; even its "absolute" speed has now been successfully modified. Nevertheless, chora, as a "crossing" of the human and the more-than-human worlds, remains the space of human communication, of communion, of Eros and dreams: the space of architecture. Architecture affects us deeply, despite our predilection for the screen of our PowerBook, and not surprisingly, mental pathologies are on the increase.

The architect's work issues from the personal imagination, and an appropriate mode of discourse is needed to prevent this work from becoming a simplistic formal play or an irresponsible will to power. CHORA continues to pursue a reconciliatory architecture that respects cultural differences, acknowledges the globalization of technological culture, and points to a referent other than itself. As in previous volumes, these 11 essays explore concrete historical topics within a critical framework that suggests possibilities for action. This selection includes Marc Glaudemans's original speculation on the "nature" of urban space, beyond a dualistic concept of nature versus culture, or bounded versus unbounded. Exploring the relationship between the Greek chora and the hinterland of "modern" (17th-century) Amsterdam, Glaudemans's conclusions are provocative in our age of megalopolis. In a topic related to the crucial "theatrical" dimension of chora (prominent in the first volume of this series), George Hersey also addresses the origins of our tradition. In his interesting study of the Roman Colosseum, he articulates the importance of a cosmic geometry in the place for spectaculum in Rome. Echoing Hersey's concerns in the 18th century, Dorian Yurchuk's analysis of Ranelagh Gardens examines the theatricality associated with architectural meaning during the early modern period. This detailed case study demonstrates the cultural relevance of spaces for "play acting," which are often disregarded in our quest for the "tectonic" aspects of architectural precedents.

Three essays in this volume examine early Renaissance subjects. Michael Emerson, in his study of Alberti with particular reference to Cusano, attempts to redefine Renaissance architectural space with respect to cosmography and geography. Emerson admirably accomplishes the difficult task of describing its "otherness," without resorting to concepts of "ancient," medieval," or "modern." Robert Kirkbride offers a reading of the Umbrian studioli as a crossing of medieval memory practices and the new emerging philosophical interests of the Renaissance. While the Urbino and Gubbio studioli embody knowledge, Luca Pacioli's architectural writings demonstrate how this capacity of architecture is concentrated in the hands of the craftsman. Alberto Pérez-Gómez's exhaustive reading of the treatises of Luca on architecture demonstrates the nature of the craft as the epiphany of theological wisdom, akin to alchemy.

Three essays in this volume discuss the work of 19th-century British figures. Joanna Merwood and Caroline Dionne both articulate possibilities for architecture emerging in the wake of the final disintegration of a Western "cosmological picture." Merwood examines the true possibilities of modern symbolic intentionality in the writings of William Lethaby, often misleading in his self-expressed purpose. Dionne discusses architectural lessons to be found in the works of the poet and mathematician Lewis Carroll. The writer of Alice never accepted (like Edmund Husserl) the final demise of Euclidean geometry and its substitution by non-Euclidean geometries. Mark Dorrian's perceptive essay on Ruskin's theory of the grotesque raises the issue of mimesis in relation to the "new subject" which emerges in Europe after the demise of the Ancien Regime. Ruskin, who questioned the power of the reductive camera lucida to reveal anything of substance about reality, was nevertheless fascinated by mirrors, and by the capacity of the daguerreotype to reveal monstrosity - the "other side" of reality - through its "index." This awareness opens up strategies, later developed by Walter Benjamin, for the engagement of new forms of representation in architectural endeavours.

Two of the three essays devoted to 20th-century topics pursue spatial poetics in architecture by invoking other artistic disciplines. Michel Moussette eloquently describes the accomplishments of Gordon Matta-Clark, whose "architectural interventions" and literal "deconstructions" have defied categorization. Continuing the series of reflections on dramatic, cinematic and architectural spaces that have appeared in previous volumes of CHORA, including his own work on Tarkovsky's Nostalgia in Volume 1, Juhani Pallasmaa offers a reading of Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window, a film that has now attained cult status in some architectural circles. Closing this trilogy on 20th-century "architects," David Theodore explores ethical/formal questions in the work of Ludwig Wittgenstein, the philosopher of language whose concerns have often been regarded as "naturally" kindred to those of architects. Theodore pays careful attention to Wittgenstein's involvement in actual architectural tasks and draws some unexpected and fascinating conclusions.