This text does not contain a list of instructions for living the “ideal” architectural college experience. After graduating, I am pretty sure I haven’t figured it out. I was the person in college who never slept and had no social life outside architecture.
However, I am proud to say my diet was consistent by including the main food groups⎯carbs, protein and vegetables, otherwise called “pizza”. And I still struggle with the same things, so I’m in no position to give advice. However, besides a lifestyle change, I can say college taught me – in a single phrase – to “think architecturally.”
Before I got to this notion, I insisted on rationalizing what I learned from college, for a moment, I thought I forgot everything about architecture. I suppose I have a terrible memory, though this involves deficient levels of knowledge retention. However, after overcoming the initial distress, I understood that it wasn’t about failing to remember, for instance, the equations from Newton’s universal gravitation law. Somehow, the experience of architecture became a deep-rooted part of my mind. In other words, it became an instinct supplied by lectures and readings, observation and practice, thus in permanent development.
The One with the Prologue
Thinking Architecture by Peter Zumthor is about the act of remembering and observing to understand in depth the source of human thought and emotion concerning the architectural experience. Like his work, this book comprises numerous layers that interweave to express his understanding of things themselves and how they come into being. Given the abstract condition of architectural thinking, Zumthor’s narrative should help me structure the reminiscence of my understanding of things through the new lens.
“When I concentrate on a specific site or place for which I am going to design a building when I try to plumb its depths, its form, its history, and its sensuous qualities, images of other places start to invade this process of precise observation: images of places that I know and that one’s impressed me, images of ordinary or special places that I carry with me as inner visions of specific moods and qualities; images of architectural situations, which emanate from the world of art, of films, theatre or literature.” 1
In an architectural project’s mode, this text discloses a combination of layers interlaced like a woven fabric by the narrative of “Thinking Architecture”. The book reveals the essential substance of architecture in the light of a new language used by Zumthor, thus demanding a reflection through my deranged ways.
The emerging concept overlaps with the idea of a book taken from the collective imaginary, a visual representative image, and a personal experience. All in the style of architectural thinking, ordering the parts as a whole.
The One with the Remembrance of Things Past
“The design process is based on a constant interplay of feeling and reason. The feelings, preferences, longings, and desires that emerge and demand to be given a form must be controlled by critical powers of reasoning, but it is our feelings that tell us whether abstract considerations really ring true.” 2
Hence, there is always an aspect of architecture understanding that can’t be learned but demands inward inspection. It goes down to the fact that architecture results from our perception of the world. In memories, we find awareness of spaces and objects containing feelings, moods, images, and representations.
Like Freud’s dreams, embodied in Dali’s delirious scenarios, they emerge from the mind’s unconscious to express desires into reality. Similarly, the creative act requires the work of remembering and initiates from an immersed state of mind and the revelation of an inner image “…the whole of the imagined reality.” 3
The One with The God of Small Things
“These formal details determine the sensitive transitions within the larger portions of the building. The details establish the formal rhythm, the building’s finely fractionated scale.” 4
I see the world as a unification of scales. In simple terms, the “smooth transition” from an ant to a human, to a building, to a city, to a continent, to planet earth in the universe, “to infinity…and beyond!” It is the entirety of the world seen through multiple scales.
Someway, this explains architecture thinking through systems of orders: the connection between small things on a particular scale and big things on a broad scale. Hence, the understanding of detail implies a sense of architecture itself.
The One with Invisible Cities
“Every new work of architecture intervenes in a specific historical situation. It is essential to the quality of the intervention that the new building should embrace qualities that can enter into a meaningful dialogue with the existing situation” 5
Before college, I thought cities’ architecture resulted from sporadic development or a planned enterprise from an unknown power source. Once established, it remained unchanged through time, becoming static scenarios at the mercy of repetitive human experience. However, the city itself encompasses successive temporal actualities and the memories of a society deposited in the urban narrative.
Thus, architecture is conditioned by the reading of reality. Now, it’s time to recognize the city’s layers: history, geography, morphology and typology for which all factors relate reciprocally to one another. That reveals the truth about its memory and atmospheres. Then again, for Rossi “the city is the locus of collective memory.” 6
The One with The Modulor
“Architecture is the art of space and it is the art of time as well⎯between order and freedom, between following a path and discovering a path of our own, wandering, strolling, being seduced. I give thought to careful and conscious staging of tension between inside and outside, public and intimate, and to thresholds, transition, and borders.” 7
Before college, I understood architecture as static entities, like the still life paintings of Morandi, simple objects carefully arranged to manifest their quiet nature. Even though architecture can be silent, I now find it quite loud, the sounds translated as movement and space, resembling John Cage’s compositions.
I realize how the body captures flashes of images in the architectural experience, like a cinematic experience. They merge to conform to a single piece leading to the work’s meaning as an event with sensuous and temporal qualities. In the case of Le Corbusier, it is in the “promenade architecturale.”
“One enters: the architectural spectacle at once offers itself to the eye. One follows an itinerary, and the perspectives develop with a great variety, one plays with the influx of light on the walls or creates shadows. The bays open up perspectives on the exterior where one finds architectural unity” 8
The One In Praise of Shadows
“Personal landscapes. Images and landscapes of longing, mourning, tranquility, joy, loneliness, sanctuary, ugliness, the pretension of pride, seduction. In my memory they all have a light of their own.” 9
High school years, I always found myself using artificial light in the day, either as an act of laziness to raise the curtains or from a state of indifference towards the moment of the day. For me, the relationship between constructed space and the natural environment was nonexistent.
Indeed, the architecture of Louis Kahn, Tadao Ando and Luis Barragan changed my perception. Then came a realization about that time, the insistence of infinite, boundless light from the exterior trying to break through the narrow and compact perforation into the interior of my room.
As a result, architecture can become a dynamic space of environments and intimacy. It is in the manipulation of light in contact with the surfaces, shapes, materials, textures and colours that results in an intensified experience of the senses of space and time.
The One with The Poetics of Space
Architecture has its own realm. It has a special physical relationship with life. I do not think of it primarily as either a message or a symbol, but as an envelope and background for life which goes on in and around it, a sensitive container for the rhythm of footsteps on the floor, for the concentration of work, for the silence of sleep.” 10
When I was a child, I didn’t reflect much about architecture; I thought spaces looked a specific way because they had to. Especially the house, they all looked the same to me, but somehow, I still preferred my own. I understand now, how it moulded itself to my personal experience of reality.
As Bachelard said: “I must show that the house is one of the greatest powers of integration for the thoughts, memories and dreams of mankind.” 11 Accordingly, architectures must remain as open systems yet to be transformed by the people that inhabit them. The spaces that veil possibilities persist through time while those “overdone” by their creator become inhabitable and eventually disappear.
The One with The Relevance of the Beautiful
“If a work of architecture consists of forms and contents which combine to create a strong fundamental mood that is powerful enough to affect us, it may possess the qualities of a work of art. This art has, however, nothing to do with interesting configurations or originality. It is concerned with insights and understanding, and above all truth.” 12
Similarly, for Gadamer “The experience of art is an experience of meaning, and as such this experience is something that is brought about by understanding.” 13 However, the artwork can’t be reduced to a single concept because it remains open to re-interpretation.
The truth is in the complexity of its meaning, only present in the artwork itself. It transcends the individual consciousness, making the aesthetic experience go beyond subjectivity. Like Helmut Federle’s work, the encounter with the painting is the process itself which demands interpretation. The promise of what is yet to be revealed “alludes to beauty and the potentially whole and holy order of things.” 14
Before college, I found it extremely difficult to grasp the foundation of “beauty” in architecture. As stubborn as I was, I wanted to have a straightforward definition of such an abstract concept to apply it as a framework when encountered with buildings. As expected, I failed on the ambitious undertaking, so I decided to covertly adopt others’ opinions, being unable to understand the nature of architectural aesthetics.
Within the meaning of the work of art, I realized beauty’s expression goes beyond the personal and the subjective. I’d say, it is ultimately an expression of desire that goes beyond the understanding, only recognized in the unconscious. The beauty of architecture is in its own truth. “…richness and multiplicity emanate from the things themselves if we observe them attentively and give them their due.” 15
The One with The Epilogue
Here are seven unfinished thoughts from deep-rooted concepts transformed by the college experience. In ordinary everyday things, architecture thinking finds a way to give them a new meaning as a new language, “bringing new qualities to the reality we live in.” They will need constant re-interpretation in the face of the ever-transforming truths.
In this precise moment “When we look at the finished building [in this case, the text], our eyes, guided by our analytical mind, tend to stray and look for details to hold on to. But the synthesis of the whole does not become comprehensible through isolated details. Everything refers to everything.” 16
- Zumthor, Peter. Thinking Architecture. Third Edition. Basel: Birkhäuser, 2006. 41.
- Ibid., 20.
- Ibid., 67.
- Ibid., 15.
- Ibid., 17-18.
- Zumthor, Peter. Thinking Architecture. Third Edition. Basel: Birkhäuser, 2006. 86-67.
- Le Corbusier. Oeuvre complète de 1910-1929. Zürich: Les Editions de L’architecture, 1929.
- Zumthor, Peter. Thinking Architecture. Third Edition. Basel: Birkhäuser, 2006. 92.
- Ibid., 12.
- Bachelard, Gaston. The Poetics of Space. London: Penguin Classics, 2014.
- Zumthor, Peter. Thinking Architecture. Third Edition. Basel: Birkhäuser, 2006. 19.
- Davey, Nicholas, “Gadamer’s Aesthetics”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2016 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2016/entries/gadamer-aesthetics/>.
- Zumthor, Peter. Thinking Architecture. Third Edition. Basel: Birkhäuser, 2006. 31.
- Ibid., 27.