Chapter III “Contrasting Effects of Solids and Cavities”

With this post I’m going to continue the text I’ve written relatively long time ago – “Experiencing architecture” Chapter II.

As the previous post covered the topic of seeing both cavities and masses, today’s daanico is going to elaborate on the visual effect we can obtain by using these two qualities. Otherwise, how to make space look gorgeous.

Renaissance order

The example which is being described by Rasmussen at the very beginning is Porta di Santo Spirito by Antonio da Sangallo. Only a short glance is required to realize what this gate wants to tell us. Ancient beauty, harmony, rigid order are visible in every column and every cavity. What’s interesting about it, is that formally the gate was never finished; and it does no difference to the buildings’ beauty at all. Rasmussen indicates that the idea that stays behind the gate is as clear as the ancient ruins were comprehensible for Renaissance architects. This successful effect was able to obtain by substantial use of space. The stunning rhythm of convex and concave forms adds drama to the structure and the effect is even enhanced when warm, Mediterranean light falls on its stones. In that moment the gate displays its essence most clearly and only then the darkness inside its passage contrasts so distinguishably with the bright skin of the façade.

Effect fini is what academic artists used to call their pieces when they saturated and polished them to the extent that human eye couldn’t notice brush strokes. If we took one of such artists and show him our gates, he would definitely start to add details to the structure. However this method neither adds more beauty nor meaning to this piece. This popular technique of XIX-century artists stands in great contrast to nowadays sustainable thinking. Especially phrase coined by famous modern architect Adolf Loos, “Ornament is Crime” add a lot to today’s attitude towards old, academic thinking. His writings are full of comparisons of adding ornaments and gorgeous details to sexual activities, which in context of Freud psychology played pivotal role in art.

Manneristic experiments

Let’s consider now the second example from the book, Michelangelo’s Porto Pia. It displays how use of materials took advantage on the architecture. Congestion of copious details in all its possible forms and variations is so dense and so imposing that it creates nothing more than a meaningful noise. Although this artist is so well-known for his dramatic buildings, this time drama underwent creator’s ambition.

Although this disappointing attempt, Michelangelo’s experiment succeeded at the end in what we can today admire as St. Paul’s Cathedral. Experiments, are what distinguished this artist from the crowd and it’s just a matter of discussion whether Mannerists experiments can be called a sexual stimulation of adding more and more strange details, or perhaps a real architecture. Palazzo Massimo alle Colonne designed by Baldossare Peruzzi is one of these experiments outcome. Professor indicates that its today’s outlook is quite different because the street where the building curves its manneristic façade, has been widened after its erecting. Called by Rasmussen beautiful in its own fashion, the palace has many interesting elements. Located on crossing of two streets, its main entrance deeply hollowed out looks like continuation of the street. This displays how space can be used to receive interesting effects.

Baroque vibrancy

Dynamicity, surprising, exaggeration are all terms completely fine to connect them with Baroque period, and its imaginative experiments, resembling these of Michelangelo. Baroque originated many geniuses, like Borromini, sculptor, painter, and architect, whose oblong colonnade on the St. Paul’s Cathedral’s square adds drama to Michelangelo’s masterpiece. Also Borromini’s contributions can’t neglected while his magnificent San Carlo alle Quatro Fontane amaze us by its curved, responding to the narrowness of the street facade. These two, and many other less known artists and their copious imagination added life to this period.

The example studied in Rasmussen’s masterpiece, Santa Maria della Pace, particularly vividly displays Baroque values. Its extraordinary use of cavities and convexities is just poetical. Its dramatic façade resembles something alike explosion, crumbling, sweeping and can be only described as a theatre of architecture. However, the tragedy of this architecture lies in its quantitivness; while Renaissance architecture operated ideas which are timeless, Baroque’s beauty lasted only until a stronger opponents strode on stage. Compared to contemporary projects like these of Frank O’Gehry, Baroque buildings seem massive, stiff and firmly bound by gravitational forces.

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What can we end up with?

Successful arrangement of our three dimensions is also visible in the plaza where Fontanna di Trevi was built. Baroque was the time when many interesting urban experiments have been conducted, therefore it shouldn’t be surprising that places such as mentioned before church Santa Maria della Pace or Fontanna di Trevi, had their own prepared surroundings, In form of refined houses and streets nearby. The spatial composition around Fontanna di Trevi is amazing due to its oblong walls and vivid accentuation of the fountain as dominant of the place. Also the effect of contrast has been prepared there. The rugged rocks of the fountain strikingly oppose polished columns and walls of the church behind.

On the other hand, architecture may be as well used to obtain harmony, like in one of the greatest examples of XX-century architecture, Falling Water by Frank Lloyd Wright. As the attempts of using vast amounts of ornaments in Porto Pia disappointingly failed, Wright’s ornaments worked out. That’s because Wright’s ornament is nature. Bernini’s rugged rocks in Fontanna di Trevi work in the same way as Frank’s limestone, white concrete, smooth glass and cold steel.

I hope that after this reading you’ll understand more the possibilities of space, which we take so straightforwardly in everyday life. What joins all the examples are that its creators were not afraid to loose themselves in experimenting. These were the experiments, which took Mannerists away from Renaissance artists giving birth to Baroque, which further inspired monsters, which we call architecture today. In spite of that, we cannot forget about the importance of responding to the surrounding. Regardless we will be artificially sculpting it like Baroque urbanists, or just take it as it is like Frank Lloyd Wright, our building are not  just separated from reality ejaculations of our imagination (or ambition), but real edifices, which should be intended to serve real people.

Chapter IX, “Colour in architecture”

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XXI century equipped us with a load of quick and effective tools, that help us search for information quickly and effectively. With this in mind I come up with the idea how to improve Internet searching even more.

Imagine a search tool, which would do statistics on the amount of colours in architecture pictures. What inspired me to this was typing in Google simple phrase “architecture”. I scanned the graphics in terms of the colours of their buildings and the pattern became clear.

The first building was mostly white with some brown accents, the second totally brown with blue details, the third, completely white, the fourth white, the fifth white and the rest only white, white, and white.

There are many reasons for this penchant for white in architecture. It’s elegant, neutral and clean. White interior appears clear, while white exterior efficiently reflects sunlight providing thermal comfort, and also reflects the natural tints of the surrounding, giving a nice visual effects.

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Especially, during sunset.

The power of colours

It’s amazing to what extent colour can change the character of a place. If we took two photos of the same place, from which one is black and white and another is colourful, and asked somebody what is his impression over the first, and further the second one, we might receive two completely different answers.

After all, colour had, and still has a very strong meaning for us. Cultures around the world were associating colours with the elements of the world. Moreover, symbolism of colours has been often used in pop-culture, by associating hues with peoples’ traits, and especially successful example of this can be seen in the well-known TV series – Power Rangers.

Polychromy

Most commonly, it was the surrounding that determined the colour. For example, if in a region we can come across big amounts of red stone, we can be sure that houses nearby will be coloured in a similar hue.

On the other hand, there have been also cultures which opposed this manner, and started to employ hues and shades strikingly different than the local ones. This refers also to the issue, eagerly taken up by architecture professor, willing to astonish their students. The curiosity refers to the ancient Greek temples, which have etched in our minds as brightly white, which in fact were densely polychromed with Greek ornaments and motifs. What a surprise!

Colour follows function

Because, of the physical settings of light architects in the design process must inevitably come across the strength of colours, in implementing character of the place. Architectural qualities, described by Rasmussen in Chapter I “Basic Observations”, are also dependant on colours. Heaviness, softness, roughness and tautness can be all either emphasized or obscured, simply  by using colour.

 Zaha Hadid’s Library and Learning Center is a good example of employing black and white colours in architecture. Zaha is famous for her play with architectural form, and in this building the solids underneath contrast, due to their light, white colour, to the bulky, black wedge aloft. Such composition makes us anxious on the very deep level of our perceiving architecture.

Although, this project uses tints rather to disturb the viewer, more commonly architects employ colour in order to accentuate their architecture. The building of the well-known phenomenologist, Peter Zumthor, Therme Vals has materials of distinctive black hue, which makes the terms appear heavy and hard, firmly standing on the ground.

Old, Great masters of European culture, especially in the period of Baroque had penchant for deceiving our eyes, by painting fake architecture details on walls, or creating spatial illusions with perspective on ceilings. Trompe l’oil, how it was called, was praised at that time as the highest mastery in painting.

Deceiving the eye stuns at first glance, what works perfectly in temples, but defeats its purpose in houses and places we live daily. Employing colours on materials different than natural annoys on a long-term in the same way, if we painted our dinner blue. Regardless how interesting it would appear, we lose all our appetite at once.

How to put colours

That’s why the walls of old big temples are most commonly painted white. By this easy and cheap method the hall seems more spatial. On the other hand, in smaller, more intimate rooms we expect more lively colours, which will keep us in the premise that walls are close to us and are visibly confining our space.

At the end of the chapter, Professor Rasmussen recalls an interesting example, in which he juxtaposes two, XVII-century, Dutch painters, Johanees Vermeer, whom art I covered in my recent post, and Pieter de Hooch. The specific atmospheres of their art are tightly connected with the light studies the artists conducted in their houses, however these were uneven. Due to the difference in the building orientation, two painters’ used different daylights, and therefore also obtained different atmospheres. Vermeer, whose windows were facing North used more pale palette that Pieter de Hooch, who worked at afternoons, when the Sun cast saturated, red light, making his paintings more nostalgic and colourful.

Chapter VIII, “Daylight in Architecture”

Johannes_Vermeer_-_The_Geographer_-_Google_Art_ProjectJohannes Vermeer, The Geographer

In Chapter VIII Professor Rasmussen elaborates on the methods of using light in architecture.

At the very beginning the author indicates that the problem doesn’t concern as much the quantity of light let inside, but rather how it’s being distributed.

Throughout the book we come across many examples of both good and bad ways of using light in building.

Light distribution

Pantheon, the magnificent legacy of ancient architecture shows the vast knowledge of his creators in terms of brightening big spaces. Through using oculus, the hole located at the top of the dome, the hall procures concentrated rays of sunlight, which further reflect from the yellowish pavement onto the ceiling and then become effectively diffused. This method prevents coming across any deep shadows inside. The space is clear and pleasant to the eye, and we intuitively feel acoustics and airiness of the place.

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Rasmussen explains some rules on brightening in architecture. He refers to photographing and using flesh light in it. Although it may prevent taking blurred pictures, it inevitably flattens photograph.

Good light is connected with creating good plastic effects, in the rooms. Hence, a good photographer in order to attain satisfying outcome, experiments with positioning his light sources until the greatest scope of plastic effects will be obtained.

Framing the sunlight

Rasmussen leads us through three types of designing light sources.

  • bright open halls (see Pantheon)
  • buildings with skylight
  • rooms with side lightening

He recalls the Copenhagen’s City Hall as an example of a building with skylight, and it shows uneven quality derived from the fact it consist two courts, from which one has a ceiling completely opened, hence too much light goes to that space making it overexposed and lifeless, and the second court, vaulted, so between the plane of the ceiling and the walls’ planes, there are rows of windows, controlling the amount of sunlight entering the space and although it makes this court a little darker, it makes it interesting.

When referring to side-light Rasmussen points out, that he values side lightening over skylight. He claims that it attains more interesting texture effects and allows architects to arrange more interesting compositions.

To prove this statement professor refers to the legacy of the Golden Dutch Age, about which you can read in my post on Vermeer and Whistler. While reading we can get impression of the deep sentiment professor feels towards his native region. In this, he shows similarities to contemporary phenomenologists, like Peter Zumthor, who often nostalgically recalls his native Switzerland.

Insights of the Dutch in terms of interior spaces

As an example of side lightening Rasmussen recalls the gabled houses in Denmark. The origins of their construction the author sees in the fact that most of them were built on the reclaimed land. Due to this hardship, people paid lots of attention to building economy and concluded that building upwards is the most profitable. We can see the analogy in their insight, and the New Yorkers’, the authors of skyscrapers, or the high, stone towers of San Gimgnano’s people. These buildings were very narrow and often shared their thick sidewalls with neighbours, what enabled them to lay all the weight of the building on them, so the other walls, except their own weight, didn’t have to support anything. It enabled their constructors to cover large areas of these “almost curtain walls” with big, planes of glass.

These original innovations turn out to be very practical and although showed high level of refinement, they weren’t translated on many other countries, at time. The answer for this phenomenon may be sought in differences between lifestyles. Within mediterranean culture, due to friendly climate conditions, people didn’t use to spend so much time in home and therefore their interior solarity was of a low value.

It’s hard not to mention that the society of the Golden Dutch Age consisted of people who had penchant for pretty things. But, you can’t enjoy your goods, unless you attain appropriate lightning, and the Dutch loved to build at their ground levels four-meter-high rooms, with big, double glazed windows and shutters from both sides to control the sunlight, all in order to receive light which made them feel good.

Especially artists were keen on experiments with shutters and curtains. Jan Vermeer, the Dutch artist, to whom Rasmussen refers, made so profound studies in this subject, that today, only by looking at his paintings, we are able to calculate the combinations he used.

Light is space

The author depicted a situation, when light created an enclosed space, without support from any walls or other objects. He pictured a group of people, sitting around a campfire, late at night, so it was the only source of light. Then people within the light’s scope could experience how it circumscribed the space around them, bordering them from darkness.

This bred in them a feeling, similar to being inside a common room, and regardless the fact they were using campfire to heat themselves. That’s a separate thing. Even on the stage, actors while declaiming monologues are being brightened by spot light, which creates a mysterious space around them.

Mathematical clarity and artistic expression

At the end of the chapter Steen Eiler Rasmussen referred to the work of Le Corbusier and his horizontal windows going all the length of the rooms. This method enabled the residents to enjoy big amounts of side light, beautifully showing the textures and creating the crystal clarity of Le Corbusier’s space.

Per contra, the author also mentioned Le Corbusier’s Church in Ronchamps, in which lightening was designed quite differently. The project outraged his contemporaries, but simultaneously showed the architect’s profound understanding of the possibilities architecture gives. His use of light in the church is ingenious. At first glance, it seems random and neglectful, but just as Picasso was drafting thousands of sketches, before he came up with the final outcome, Le Corbusier had also very explicit vision, of what he wanted to achieve.

He strived for creating a dimmed space, where our spatial sense will be taken over by light, leading us through walls of colourful windows, and, at the end, directing us straight to the altar – our final destination. Then such an original experience makes us starting to think about the richness of plastical effects, the architect put there, and about the light as the source of all creation.

References:
Steen Eiler Rasmussen, “Experiencing architecture”, First MIT Press paperback edition, 1964

Chapter V “Scale and proportion”

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The awareness of being part of the continent, which originated so many ideas, throughout so many years makes me happy.

Especially in history of architecture. Golden ratiomusical harmony, “form follows function” and many more, are all small compounds of the noble contribution of geniuses, in our contemporary understanding of architecture.

Some of theme came from pure imagination, some of them, more prosaically, from deep observation of human nature. History dictated circumstances which led architects to certain reflections, and through the twenty-three pages of the fifth chapter, Professor Rasmussen will present us these ingenious ideas, and will provoke us to reflections on their legacy.

“When I see architecture which truly moves me, I hear music in my inner ear.”

The chapter begins with the alleged legend of Pythagoras’s experiment with tautly stretched strings. The famous Greek mathematician sow that when the lengths were related to each other in the ratios of small number the strings produced harmonious sounds. This discovery was fantastic for the ancient philosophers, because it proved, according to them, hidden order of the world. The idea that through mathematics people can produce utter beauty. It’s worth noticing that their idea of melding science with art will be continued by Renaissance architects.

The second concept undertook in the chapter is golden ratio and world-famous modernist’s, Le Corbusier’s faith in its natural, and also ideal, beauty. Steen Rasmussen indicates that although both ideas, musical harmony and golden section, regard similar, they do not show any other relation, that is the numbers and proportions of golden ratio don’t refer in any way to the numbers of musical harmony.

In terms of golden section professor also refers to buildings of Andrea Palladio, especially his Villa Foscari. The comparison of Palladian and Le Corbusier’s architecture is, in my opinion, a fantastic thought, due to the fact that both architects are regarded the most influential individuals in history of architecture. And now we see that they also have followed similar ideas.

Idea lying behind things

Another building, connected with the idea of building through geometrical rules, is the project for a philharmonic building in Copenhagen by Ivan Bentsen. In his building Ivan designed windows of the next stories so they gradually expand in one dimension towards the ground level. His modern building interprets the rule of golden section, what was vividly highlighted by Rasmussen, that is the expansion of only one dimension is rather rare in nature. Jorn Utzon claimed that designers must look into the true nature of things, and a good example of this are snail shells, which the next parts grow on the basis of golden section and although have the same shape, the size is different.

Nature of things

One might ask, whether there was any goal, hidden behind all this geometry and numbers, or was it just “art for art sake”. Yes – there was. Palladio’s quotation may lead us to the answer: “From architectural world of pure harmonies one should be able to experience Nature in all its phases.”

Andrea Palladio at the beginning of his career went on the tour to Rome, where he spent time on analyzing Roman ruins. What must have fascinated him at that time, were ideal proportions of architectural elements and although, even then, their bad condition, they must have still awoken imagination on their previous shape. Though being only ruins, they sustain their specific atmosphere, after all.

He inevitably was also familiarized with the common Renaissance premise, that harmony comes from nature, nature understood in the most general sense, with the special indication on mathematics. Therefore, he must have believed that if he will build referring to this ideas, his architecture will be as beautiful as nature itself.

The similar values are also evident in Mies van der Rohe buildings, especially Farnsworth House (after all, architecture of this successful modernist were often compared to the ancient buildings). His ingenious sense of proportions compiled with glass walls, which open the resident’s view on nature, create an atmosphere, which we might guess, Palladio was looking for.

Utility of things

However beautiful, Palladio’s villas were often uninhabitable. After all, the well-regarded architect strove for immortality and pure aesthetic experience, who dared to bother him with such prosaic concerns as functionality.

Only modernists started to pay attention to many absurdities of previous generations’ style of dwelling and invented ways of proportioning and scaling, according to a phrase “form follows function”.

Good example of this thinking is given at the end of the chapter. The project of Kaare Klint’s proportion study of the rooms in Frederik’s Hospital in Copenhagen shows how dimensions of the room are made in regard to the most important component, that is a bed. Width between the particular beds are counted, so people could easily go move among them, and also all beds are organized on the sides on the axis, which goes straight through all rooms and enables nurses easy access to their patients.

It must be mentioned that the difference between Rasmussen’s examples, comes inevitably from the clients of the architects. Palladio was designing his villas for the rich of that world, which could afford lack of conveniance (maybe even common sense, but history of architecture is full of examples of building vividly against society e.g., Versailles). What they wanted was nobility and in fact, when one visits villa Foscari, even not knowing about all its perfect calculations, one intuitively feels the lavishness of the place.

Moreover, the further architects’ emphasis on function, obviously comes from the societal changes, which degraded the enormously rich higher class for more just distribution of wealth. Thus, architects, following engineers of this time, started to produce buildings, which say, “First things first – we must serve people properly, not be slaves of unhealthy ambitions of few.”

References:
Steen Eiler Rasmussen, “Experiencing architecture”, First MIT Press paperback edition, 1964
Le Corbusier, "Towards a New Architecture", 1985

The Preface

I am happy to see how the number of people visiting my site is constantly increasing. It’s good to know that there is a place in Internet not only for Nyan Cat videos and Ray William Johnson’s shows, but also for real architecture lovers.

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In this post I want to summarize for you the main ideas of the preface of “Experiencing Architecture”.

Common language

Assuming that you have already experienced difficulties in reading perplexing writings of books on architecture and art, the first thing that will strike you will be the language of Professor Rasmussen. Only after reading the first few sentences you get the feeling that reading is going to be pleasant.  “(…) if it can be understood by a fourteen-year-old then certainly it will be understood by those who are older.” There is simplicity of logical reasoning, reinforced by a handful of distinguishable examples and successful photos, and these are the reasons why this book is recommended for freshers on architecture courses.

For Dummies?

The even more important reason why the book is recommended, is that despite time or place on our Globe the book covers the same, the most essential and the most basic values of architecture.  It doesn’t matter if you are living in Greece, America or India, you can be sure that after reading your understanding of your fatherland architecture will go up.

We built this city

In spite of your age or origin you can truly experience architecture. But the author takes up one more idea. He recalls the image of an old-time village, in which all dwellings and all utensils were build by people living there, and this vision, of the integrated society which erects their own surrounding and afterwards feels responsible for it, is the particular goal which Rasmussen endeavors to achieve writing his book. That’s the most important idea, although being a little utopian, the most valuable trait of good architecture.

Architecture Now

Furthermore, while reading one can get impression of the sorrow, over the lack of healthy societies, of the author. Steen Rasmussen published the book in 1960s’, when modernists were still not aware of the consequences of their experiments , which in consequence, for example led to carinvasion, which took away cities from regular pedestrians.

For everybody interested in the contemporary vision of healthy and lively city, I recommend listening to the lecture of Danish Professor Jan Gehl, “Cities for People”.

Summing up

Cities like Copenhagen are today stunning the world with their congestion on bicycle lanes, pedestrian-friendly policy and the general number of people spending their spare time walking, and sitting, and buying apples, and doing all range of activities on the streets.

But the question is – how did they developed their cities to achieve such success? In my opinion that there was a number of factors, which contributed to it (and I hope that I will write another post about it, especially through the art of the Golden Dutch Age). However, we must concern the role of such individuals as Steen Rasmussen whose work, by increasing the awareness of many problems, enhancing the feeling of community in people and enriching peoples’ knowledge, and understanding of architecture, built Copenhagen as we know today.

References:
Steen Eiler Rasmussen, "Experiencing architecture", First MIT Press paperback edition, 1964

Chapter II “Solids and Cavities in Architecture”. Role of imagination in experiencing architecture.

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Have you ever looked at some building and thought “All right, that is very, very pretty and solids are in harmony and elements are proportional, but, gosh, how boring it is!”

Yes, it may be unpleasant to look at something, what actually stays the same; no motion, no process – how architects can possibly gaze at it, sometimes for hours?

Answer to this question may be found in Chapter 2 of “Experiencing Architecture” by Steen Eiler Rasmussen. If somebody is not familiar with this volume I recommend looking at my previous post.

We love being in motion

Novels are different. We have a plot, characters talk with each other and quickly we become amused as time proceeds. Just like movies; they are sculptures, which full message we can only read, when we spend on them certain amount of time. Movies are dynamical and we feel it, but can we somehow convey these experiences onto architecture?

According to Professor Rasmussen indeed, architecture can be read as well. However, just like books, it requires imagination. In Chapter 2 of “Experiencing Architecture” we can witness the mental process, which Professor Rasmussen describes over the Church of St. George in Nordlingen (page 42, First MIT Press paperback edition). This part of the book presents two methods, in which we can perceive the buildings, and still it doesn’t neglect even more options. These methods are named:

  • From a general form to details.
  • From details to major parts; then again to details and again to major parts and so on.

Release your imagination

Working out of the box I will start with the second way of perceiving motion in architecture, which is not unambiguously stated in the chapter, however we can notice how Rasmussen leads our imagination over the church’s tiles, towards the tower and just before the inevitable crush with the stone wall, he lifts us suddenly from the level of roof through the next layers of the standing construction, right to the verticular roof. Now we are standing on the highest point in the city and we can adore the marvelous view spreading before our eyes.

The first way more obvious. We see the building from distance and drawn by curiosity, we start to discover its form with more and more detail. This mental process was beautifully described by Prof. Rasmussen, therefore I eagerly encourage to read this part, because moreover it may be further helpful in experiencing other buildings. Perhaps we already know the form; maybe the building is in our neighbourhood and we see it everyday. Then there’s one more way of using the first method. We can firstly try to simplify the seen form into the most basic solids, like in the example of the Church of St. George, it would be a prism and a cylinder.

I especially like this type of displaying, because it reminds me about  the moment in my life, when after a whole month of drafting geometry I endeavored to depict real objects. What stunned me then was the beauty of physiognomy of piers, cornices, bricks, coffers, doors and windows and although they were irrelevant objects looking through the geometrical standpoint, but some subconscious power was present in them, after all. Therefore this profound energy may be released when we start to sculpt our prism and cylinder.

We feel how camera depicts workmen putting tiles on wooden beams and after this picture goes down along the flying buttress and falling we see how vertical decorations shoot out from the featureless solid, and then falls on the roof built over the aisle. Roof starts to get dirty. We see how signs, left by fallen through the ages rain, show themselves and now we look up and see, how the arc above us is becoming heavier, harder, because of the stone texture, which embeds on it. Then camera zooms out and we get the whole view of the roof, the wall and the roof over the aisle, all now decorated, sculpted, with its very own character. But something happens on the left side and camera suddenly zoom into this fragment to proceed the dance of emerging architecture.

To simplify the idea – do you remember when in the game Assassin’s Creed the world around us was materialising when we were moving back in time? Generally, that’s what I am talking about.

Understanding, imagining, designing

How this techniques may help us in better understanding architecture? First of all, inside buildings are hidden ideas. Everything what has been built must have also been previously designed. The process of design on the other hand means that we must agree for some simplifications, like instead of sculpting in the center of Gothic facade a giant rose, we can design a window to recall rose’s shape. If a viewer wants to experience this mental process better, the best to do is to stand before a Gothic cathedral, imagine an actual giant sculpture of rose sticking out of the facade and try to imagine how the sculpture transforms into a flat window, and how its shape gradually becomes more transparent until the holes turn into geometrical shapes, so dramatically letting sunlight into the building.

Needless to say, that the shapes which designer conceive are not utterly finish forms. A finished rose window may be rather considered as only a one frame from video, which is being played in the designer’s mind. In relation to this, I shall recall well-known comparison, that architecture (as well as other branches of art) is like a frozen music – it’s just an instant of the dynamic mental process occurring through the artist’s imagination.

References:
Steen Eiler Rasmussen, “Experiencing architecture”, First MIT Press paperback edition, 1964

What defines architecture? What differs architecture from Fine Arts?

Essai_sur_l'Architecture_-_FrontispieceWhen you are looking at a contemporary building, don’t they appear to you rather like a sculpture than a real building? It’s amazing how close to Fine Arts may architecture come today. Starting with the Charles Jeanneret’s Church in Ronchamp, through the densly sculpted facades of Gothic cathedrals, ending on Bilbao Museum, architecture often, although physically standing firmly on the ground, seems to be swinging in the clouds.

Egyptian method

During the yesterday’s lecture with Richard Weston I learned that understanding of what is architecture and what is not varied considerably throughout the time. People who gathered around Egyptian Temples were not allowed to enter the interiors. No wonder that for this common crowd architecture was only something alike a giant sculpture.

Roman method

Let’s now move forward to the next level of civilization; we’re now standing in front of the newly built massive Colosseum during a festival, let’s say the Bacchus day. What we are seeing is the mass of people striding towards the stadium crowding in the building. We realize that we’ve just witnessed social progress which opened interiors of bulidings on the public.

What stays the same?

Therefore we have now two ways of looking at architecture and we cannot really say if one is better or worse than the other. They are just different. However, there is something common in each of them and on the question “what exactly is it?” we can get the answer from “Experiencing architecture”. According to the book similarity lies in the utilitarian aspect of both ideas. We can think about architecture as a piece of art, but we can never forget that the functional aspect must be included. (page 8, Steen Eiler Rasmussen, “Experiencing Architecture”, Third Edition).

Archtiecture finds its start at the moment when human undarstands that he needs to organize his surrounding. He wants to possess a shelter, to have somewhere to sleep. Only after this, when his lower Maslov’s pyramid’s needs become fulfilled, he starts thinking about making his house more appealing. Only after this Fine Arts become conceived. Architecture will always depend on practical demands of the world.