Chora 6: 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, 2011.


Continuing its dedication to innovative and open scholarship that challenges the conventional view of architecture’s history, this sixth volume of CHORA also revitalizes efforts to establish an effective, interdisciplinary dialogue on architecture. Characterized by a cross-cultural and temporal scope and supported by diverse approaches to the problem of architecture’s history, the individual topics examined here are united by their desire to investigate alternative models of architectural meaning. Beyond the orthodox reading of architecture defined by the drive of aesthetics or technology, CHORA's academic forum presents research that recognizes the potential of architecture to ethically and poetically connect with humanity. It also addresses a need for an architectural discourse that embraces histories of architecture as both evidence of cultural difference and as precedents for responsible action. The authors of the thirteen chapters included here recognize the imperative of such scholarship.
One recurring concern in this volume of CHORA is the ritual and cosmological origins of architecture and their connection to the public realm of political and social interaction. For example, in “On Fire and the Origins of Architecture,” Lian Chang probes the metaphorical significance of fire in architectural origin myths, beginning with the Vitruvian story of fire as the linguistic origins of architecture. Chang’s study looks at the Greek associations of fire with the civilized, the social, and the technological and at how this strengthens architecture’s connection with both language and society. With similar emphasis on the cultural value of architectural origins, Santiago de Orduña relates Aztec mythology and ritual sacrifice to architecture’s potential to engage humans with the phenomenal world. By illustrating the cultural specificity of Aztec symbolism, Orduña illustrates that the Christian appropriation of Aztec symbolism was at odds with the Aztecs’ embodied understanding of nature. Orduña’s historical understanding of ritual sacrifice as an ethical act therefore suggests a contemporary cultural value for Mesoamerican metaphor and poetics.


Four persons attached upside down by rope to a pole and flying and turning around a giant pole.
Voladores de Papantla at the exterior esplanade of the National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City. © Peter Olshavsky


The power of drawing as a poetic translation of the architectural imagination is a prevalent theme in the chapters by Roquet, Lending, and Zou. In the former, Nicholas Roquet focuses on the artistic persona and process of William Burges in Victorian England. Roquet looks at the cultural meanings of Burges’s emulation of Villard de Honnecourt in his Vellum Sketchbook. He is primarily concerned with the impact of this adoption of a fictional persona on Burges’s artistic process through drawing. Mari Lending’s chapter also addresses the relationship between the architectural imagination and the narrative potential of architecture as drawing. In her exploration of the multidimensional layers of meaning in the text, drawings, and drawn-text of Stendhal’s Life of Henry Brulard, Lending weighs in on the spatial and existential dimensions in Stendhal’s fictional landscape, both for the reader and for the author. Similarly, Hui Zou considers the relationship between architecture and its drawn image in the design and representation of the imperial Garden of Round Brightness in late eighteenth-century China. Zou argues that this adoption of a Western system of representation is employed not as a formalistic device but, rather, as a culturally valuable and embodied vision of nature and the mind.
Architecture as the site of embodied interaction with the phenomenal world is at the centre of two chapters that posit an understanding of the material world at different temporal moments. In “The Sacred Stones of Saint-Denis,” Jason Crow questions the established characterization of materiality in the Gothic cathedral, and in “Perceptual Unfolding in the Palace of Minos,” Rachel McCann explores perceptual movement in the experience of Minoan art and architecture. Crow argues for a revised understanding of the role of light in the Gothic through a precise study of the medieval theological concepts of the material and the immaterial, while McCann looks at embodied experience and how it is overlooked in conventional appraisals of meaning in Minoan architecture. In McCann’s analysis, movement becomes the experiential element that the participant encounters at the Palace of Minos, providing a communion of body and world through architecture.
The machine as a metaphorical device is the key preoccupation of several of the chapters. Although each chapter deals with vastly different historical frameworks, these studies illustrate the continuous interrelation of architecture and technology. Lawrence Bird turns to the fictional space of the cinematic city in his dissection of the phenomenological meanings of the shadows in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. Through a detailed formal analysis of Lang’s use of frame and surface in his construction of filmic space, Bird underscores the conflation of modern themes such as city, machine, and desire as a fictional response to the traumatic conditions of the modern urban subject. Jonathan Powers, in his examination of sixteenth-century definitions of utopia in Tommaso Campanella and John Amos Comenius, considers the orderly, cosmic machine as the eidetic concept of the city in the Renaissance. Meanwhile, Peter Olshavsky’s playful exploration centres on the literary machines of “pataphysicist” Alfred Jarry and provides a useful exegesis on the history of architectural machines from Vitruvius to the so-called Machine Age.
The tradition of architectural theory and education provides the framework for two historical studies. In her chapter on Juan Caramuel de Lobkowitz, Maria Elisa Navarro Morales addresses the polymath’s treatise on architecture, relating Caramuel’s discussion of the columnar orders to his philosophical views in the fields of mathematics and theology. Focusing on eighteenth-century Italian architect and politician Andrea Memmo, Marc Neveu writes on the Prato della Valle, an enigmatic public space in Padua. Neveu’s work provides a historic reassessment of Memmo’s project, evaluating the Lodolian influence on Memmo’s understanding of history and its emblematic role in the design process.
Provoking a dialogue with profound relevance for today’s definition of architecture, Donald Kunze looks at the ideological juggernaut of sustainability and its contemporary status as a force that cannot be opposed. Kunze argues that the only way to decipher (and perhaps eventually dismantle) its mythic power within our culture is to consider sustainability within the psychoanalytic terms of fantasy. Caught by an overzealous reliance on computer technologies and aesthetics, architecture today is at a crucial turning point. A challenging and effective architectural discourse is increasingly urgent – one that re-establishes the human values of architectural practice beyond narrow technical parameters and recognizes that architecture has the potential to participate in the realm of action.


monochrome drawing of chinese palace building and gardens
Frontal face the Formation of Yellow Flowers Garden built for Emperor Qianlong of the Qing dynasty, China. Drawn by Yi Lantai (1786).




1. Lumen opacatum: Flesh in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis by Lawrence Bird

2. On Fire and the Origins of Architecture by Lian Chang

3. The Sacred Stones of Saint-Denis by Jason Crow

4. (Why No One Can Be) Against Sustainability: Traversing the Fantasy of Sustenance and the Topology of Desire by Donald Kunze

5. Writing a Life from the Inside of a Drawing: Stendhal’s Vie de Henry Brulard
by Mari Lending

6. Perceptual Unfolding in the Palace of Minos by Rachel McCann

7. History as Storytelling in the Account of the Eleven Orders of Architecture According to Juan Caramuel de Lobkowitz by Maria Elisa Navarro Morales

8. Prato della Valle, Reconsidered by Marc J. Neveu

9. Situating Pataphysical Machines: A History of Architectural Machinations by Peter Olshavsky

10. The Tree, the Cross, and the Umbrella: Architecture and the Poetics of Sacrifice
by Santiago de Orduña

11. Utopian Knowledge: Eidetics, Education, and the Machine by Jonathan Powers

12. Second Life: Identification, Parody, and Persona in William Burges’s “Vellum Sketchbook” by Nicholas Roquet

13. Perspective Jing: The Depth of Architectural Representation in a European-Chinese Garden Encounter by Hui Zou

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