Chora 4: Intervals in the Philosophy of Architecture 

Edited by Alberto Pérez-Gómez and Stephen Parcell 
Montreal: Published for the History and Theory of Architecture Graduate Program, McGill University by McGill-Queen's University Press, 2004.


This fourth volume of CHORA continues a tradition of excellence in open, interdisciplinary research into architecture. While the fundamental editorial interests and questions remain unchanged, a shifting emphasis reflects a new generation of architects and scholars' concerns. 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. However, in the first years of the new millennium, 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 "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 concerning history. This suggests that what we have made has nothing to teach us, mainly if it is older than the Second World War. 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 broader context of our inherited spiritual and philosophical traditions - 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 aesthetics, technology, or sociology concepts. 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 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 our PowerBook screen, and not surprisingly, mental pathologies are on the increase.


Monochrome drawing of a young lady laying down on the side
Alice is caught in space. From Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures under Ground (London: Macmillan 1886).


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 our tradition's origins. In his impressive study of the Roman Colosseum, he articulates the importance of 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. In his study of Alberti with particular reference to Cusano, Michael Emerson 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 Renaissance's new emerging philosophical interests. While the Urbino and Gubbio studioli embody knowledge, Luca Pacioli's architectural writings demonstrate how this capacity of architecture is concentrated in the craftsman's hands. Alberto Pérez-Gómez's exhaustive reading of Luca's treatises on architecture reflects 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 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 concerning 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 horror - 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 work on Tarkovsky's Nostalgia in Volume 1, Juhani Pallasmaa offers a reading of Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window. This film 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.


schema in monochrome of some sort of plan
Alberti at sea: Alberti’s horizon and radius. From Joan Gadol, Leon Battista Alberti: Universal Man of the Early Renaissance (1969).




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

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

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

4. The re-discovery of the hinterland by Marc Glaudemans

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

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

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

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

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

10. The Glass Architecture of Fra Luca Pacioli by Alberto Pérez-Gómez 

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

12. Ranelagh Gardens and the Recombinatory Utopia of Masquerade by Dorian Yurchuk

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