Literature and architecture are rarely used in the same sentence. Yet both these forms of art, not only becomes a part of one’s daily existence but also helps shape it. Despite the stark differences that one can draw between the two, both are similar in the fact that they strive to become the epitome of the magnificence of humanity.
What sets them apart?
The literature is more verbal. It is a depiction of one’s cognition by stringing together words into an artistic pattern. It is a concoction of one’s ideas, thoughts, emotions, and opinions. Words become a tool to convey this concoction between two people. It is not only a product of the changing paradigms of human civilization, but it can also become the architect of the same.
Architecture, on the other hand, is more visual. It strings together spaces into a visually pleasing pattern. It isn’t merely a visual form of art. Architecture prides itself on being a social art form. It acts as a strong influencer of humanity’s historical, socio-cultural, and politico-economic layers.
Ultimately both provide the user with a perception of spirituality and inspiration. What one attains through lexical and lingual amalgam, the other attains through visual, spatial, and spiritual amalgam.
Chicken or egg paradox
Literature and architecture are interdependent. Architectural styles such as renaissance, minimalism, deconstructivism, etc. have been the architectural manifestation of the era’s literature. Several designs have been based on a work of fiction. But does that make literature the predecessor and architecture the successor?
On the other hand, many famous literary works were the result of architectural intervention. Many classic authors have looked to architecture to create the aura to set their plotline in. Architecture has also been the inspiration for many classic works of fiction. It gave the foundation on which many genres of literature grew.
Artist Jan Toroop captures this interdependence beautifully in his work ‘The Arrival of the Muses of Art at Architecture’. The muses of art and architecture work together towards the liberation of man from drudgery in this work of art.
Literature and architecture share a lot of similarities. They strive to achieve similar goals but take different journeys. But the journey is punctuated by a few parallel stops.
In literature, imagination is the seed that is sown from which the whole work grows. It determines the direction the work takes and how much it can speak to the reader. Similarly, in architecture, no design takes form on paper until a speck of imagination takes shape in the architect’s head. Imagination thus acts as a stepping stone for both types of art.
Theme and Concept
Imagination might give a direction, but the work begins to take shape only when the theme is defined. The way the theme is framed can make or break the piece of literature. It acts as a thread that connects the author and the reader. Comparably, in architecture, the concept helps the architect get one step closer to the destination. It can be about a solution to some identified problem, or it can be the definition of a space that can appeal to the user. The concept is an intangible aspect of an architectural project that conveys the architect’s ideas to the user.
No matter which art form is used, the aim appears to be the creation of a kind of space. Space is the essence where the user, reader, or viewer thrives. It is the final product and the first aspect of the work that the user experiences. In literature, space is established in the form of an atmosphere into which the reader is invited into. It is built in the reader’s imagination through the author’s words. Whereas in architecture, space might be more concrete. It is an atmospheric quality that the project provides to the user. The quality of the space defines the project’s success in the long run.
Characters and structural elements
Characters are the building blocks of a literary work. A well-defined character and its development throughout the work are essential. Characters in literature act precisely the way structural elements work in architecture. They help build up the creation and add stability to it.
The pace or movement is an inevitable element of literature. The dynamism in a literary work determines the level of engagement it creates. Dynamism in architecture is a tool that an architect sought to use skillfully. The flow between the spaces, the perception of their interconnections, and their transformations are experienced by the user through dynamism.
Users and Readers
The final element of similarity is the one the art form caters to. Whether its literature or architecture, it aims to connect to, appeal to, and inspire the beholder. The result of any form of art is determined by the one it seeks to cater to. A perfect piece of literature will speak to the reader and open new avenues of intellectual thoughts and ideas in him. Likewise, a good design will provide the atmosphere for the growth and wellbeing of the user.
Literature and architecture are linked by their quest to enrich the intellect and ethos of humanity. Literature captivates one through the masterful use of words, while architecture does the same through the design of spaces. We see literature as the expression of our thoughts and emotions, while architecture becomes the physical manifestation of the same.
This relation between literature and architecture is beautifully captured in this excerpt from ‘The Seven Lamps of Architecture’ by John Ruskin, “…there are but two strong conquerors of the forgetfulness of men, Poetry, and Architecture; and the latter in some sort includes the former and is mightier in its reality; it is well to have, not only what men have thought and felt, but what their hands have handled, and their strength wrought, and their eyes beheld, all the days of their life.”