Chora 5: 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, 2007.


“Chora” was the ancient Greek word for “space.” During the past two hundred years, space has become associated with the unbounded, homogeneous space of three mathematically quantifiable dimensions, but this modern notion did not exist in ancient Greece. Although we tend to oppose “space” and “place,” this distinction also was not evident to the Greeks. “Place” was described as a bounded, limited domain by Archytas of Tarentum (428–347 B.C.) in a now-fragmentary treatise on place and later by Aristotle (384–322 B.C.) in Physics. For the Ancient Greeks, space was neither homogeneous nor limitless.

The concept of space as an unbounded domain seems to have emerged during medieval times. In the sixth century A.D., Johannes Philoponus challenged many of Aristotle’s ideas and developed a new concept of space as an empty void into which bodies could move; however, this was not yet an infinite space. Near the end of the medieval era, during the thirteenth century, St Thomas of Aquinas demonstrated the need for a concept of the infinite without endorsing it, arguing that it illustrated one of God’s unique characteristics: infinity. Starting in the Renaissance, new notions of space emerged to accompany scientific discoveries and cultural developments. The global territorial conquests at that time were driven by a hunger for something resembling the modern notion of unbounded space rather than for bounded place. Later, the vistas of the Baroque garden ambitiously projected space to infinity. In these situations, space became associated with the universal and was privileged over place, which had become associated with the particular and the intimate.

The notion of place, however, was not lost. A commonplace in the theory and practice of late-eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century architecture and landscape architecture was the ruin. Located in particular places, ruins offered gateways to ancestral worlds. The fascination with the classical world, the emergence of travel journals and descriptions, and the consolidation of the novel during the eighteenth and particularly the nineteenth centuries engaged particular places in various ways. To express this expanded field of cultural meanings, the word “place” was joined by more modern terms, including “site” and “landscape” -- an old word with a long history.


monochrome drawing of "zombie like creatures" walking around
Andreas Vesalius, De humani corporis fabrica (Basel, 1543), plates illustrating book 2. Wellcome Institute Library, London. Proposed rearrangement of plates.


In architectural discourse and praxis during the past thirty years, there has been a concerted effort to recover and develop concepts of place and to challenge the relative importance of bounded and unbounded domains - place and space. Phenomenology, for instance, has guided both theoreticians and practitioners in studying the condition, characteristics, and prospects of particular places.

Today, as the processes of global homogenization continue to creep detrimentally into architecture and into rural and urban landscapes, there is an urgent need to reconceive architecture as a place-making practice rather than strictly as a spatial practice. Two chapters in this volume of Chora address the issue explicitly: philosopher Edward S. Casey’s “Looking around the Edge of the World: Contending with the Continuist Principle and the Plenarist Passion”; and architectural historian Marco Frascari’s “Horizons at the Drafting Table: Filarete and Steinberg.” These chapters were first presented at the international colloquium “The Limits of Place in Architectural Discourse,” which was organized by the Institut de recherche en histoire de l’architecture (IRHA) while I was its director and was hosted in collaboration with the Canadian Centre for Architecture during the spring of 2002. Both chapters focus on the role of boundaries in “place” -- in particular, the horizon. Casey’s essay points out that edges are “something that we don’t usually pause to consider ... [and] are found everywhere ... [a] virtual tyranny in our ongoing lives.” To him, edges provide a complex mediation in our engagement with the phenomenal world. He begins with a discussion of ancient Greek naval exploration beyond the bounded basin of the Mediterranean and the Greeks’ anxious encounter with the limitless ocean, which they found both alluring and terrifying. Following his analysis of edges in geography, Casey reflects on anxious arguments in philosophy for a dense, continuous world of being or appearance in response to fear of the utter void that we presume to be its alternative. With implications for architecture, he suggests that Merleau-Ponty’s idea of the fold avoids this binary opposition and reminds us of the necessity of edges.

In a different mood, Frascari’s chapter is an important call to everyone involved in making architecture. He introduces another type of edge, the horizon -- not the ancient Greek horizon, where, according to Heidegger, things begin to appear, but the horizons that “architects trace ... within the horizons of their drafting tables,” showing how architecture emerges through the act of drawing. To pursue this thought, Frascari focuses on two “comic” characters whose personal horizons intersected in Milan, although they were separated by centuries: Antonio Averlino, a Renaissance architect and treatise writer, better known as Filarete; and Saul Steinberg, a twentieth-century architect who became famous for his work as a cartoonist for the New Yorker magazine.


Black and white photo of Ancient Hindu temple
Brihadesvara Temple, Tanjavur (1000 C.E.), in Percy Brown, Indian Architecture: Buddhist and Hindu Periods (Bombay: D.B. Taraporevala Sons, 1965), plate 67, fig. 1.



1. Fugitives in Sight: Section and Horizon in Andreas Vesalius's De Humanis 

2. Roads and a Mountain, a Lake, and a Runway: Interpreting Infrastructure at Mae Hong Son, Thailand by Barry Bell

3. Erudite Laughter: The Persiflage of Viel de Saint-Maux by Ramla Benaissa

4. The Hybrid: Labrouste’s Paestum by Martin Bressani

5. Landscapes of Memory: Philosophical and Experiential Parcours at the Musée des monumens français by Jennifer Carter

6. Looking around the Edge of the World: Contending with the Continuist Principle and the Plenarist Passion by Edward S. Casey

7. Horizons at the Drafting Table: Filarete and Steinberg by Marco Frascari

8. Opening the Eye: “Seeing” as “Knowing” in Vastusastra (Indian Architectural Theory) According to the Treatise Manasara by Jose Jacob

9. Projecting Utopia: The Refortification of Nicosia, 1567-70 by Panos Leventis

10. Vitruvius and the French Landscape of Ruins: On Jean Gardet and Dominique Bertin’s 1559 Annotations of De Architectura by Daniel M. Millette

11. Ruskin and Viollet-le-Duc: Figures of Ruin and Restoration by David Spurr

12. The Enigma of Pyramids: Measuring Salvation in Renaissance Rome by Nicholas Temple

13. Foreword by Ricardo L. Castro

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