Promenade Architecturale: A Documentation Part I : The Background
The notion of promenade architecturale within the history and language of architecture's Modern Movement emanates from Le Corbusier who employed the phrase specifically when describing the experience of walking through two of his 1920s houses, the Maisons La Roche-Jeanneret (1923) and the Villa Savoye (1929-31). Both references occur in the Oeuvre Compléte:
Apart from the physical design of the two houses described, these textual citings together with the captioned photograph of the Villa Savoye ramp offer the best, albeit quasi, definition of the promenade architecturale. In plain terms, the promenade commences upon entering the building, is recognized straight away as an "itinerary" to follow, and travel along the path exposes the building's seemingly infinite architectural variety. In not so plain terms, the promenade architecturale is the synergistic manifestation of a dynamic spatial experience, whose total effect is greater than the sum of the effects of the discrete parts of the building--the "rigorous scheme of pillars and beams" and the ramp--taken independently. Le Corbusier clearly suggests with the captioned photograph, however, that the ramp itself is nonetheless the promenade architecturale's crucial element, the component that makes the promenade "real."
James Stirling's competition entries for museums in Düsseldorf and Cologne, writes Graham Shane, both demonstrate a developing concern with circulation. What is outstanding in these two projects is the collagist juxtaposition of a vocabulary of neo-classical and contemporary architectural elements, which become a coherent text only when viewed in sequence from Stirling's 'preferred route'--the pleasure of the text depending almost entirely on this promenade architecturale.
Banham augments the definition of the promenade architecturale with two cogent ideas--one is practically self-evident and the other is cleverly subtle. First, Banham's citing of the analogy between the promenade idea and Le Corbusier's "philosophy" on axes generates a powerful merger whereby the combination of path and destination takes a paramount position. Second, Banham's phrase "preferred route" carries a slightly critical tone--although the promenade architecturale is the travel plan of choice, it, nonetheless, cannot exclude the tangential or marginal course.
In addressing the symbolism of the ramp within the Corbusian oeuvre, von Moos simultaneously increases the holdings of the promenade architecturale's definition. Although referring specifically to the ramp within the Villa Savoye, the notions of "ceremonial ascent," "machine-age overtones recalling motorized traffic," and " a construction in space-time" likewise identify auxiliary characteristics of the architectural promenade concept. As if it was the instrument of a twentieth-century ritual, the ramp as promenade architecturale seems capable of somehow manifesting a transcendence, whereby the active participant glides into the realm of the thoroughly modern. Additionally, von Moos suggests the Late Italian and French Renaissance tradition of articulating "arrival-zones in terms of solemnly exposed ascents" as the promenade architecturale's most likely historical precedent.
Joedicke presents a fairly convincing case when suggesting the entrance ramp of the Monastery of Ema as the leading precedent for the promenade architecturale, especially with regard to the inside/outside nature of the ramp and the overall ability of the path to reflect upon itself. These qualities are well evident at the Villa Savoye, where Joedicke further notes the stacked correspondence between the beginning and end of the route through the building. This relationship between the path and its point of termination immediately recalls Le Corbusier's own thoughts concerning the "axis" and the architect's requirement in providing the axis with a "destination." Consequently, with the convergence of beginning and end, the definition of the Corbusian promenade architecturale comes to full circle.
"Although the movement route has been thoroughly assimilated in twentieth-century architecture as a strategic device, the term promenade architecturale cannot be used in describing the work of other than a handful of architects. The inevitable Corbusian associations raise the level of expectation beyond that usually associated with a movement route, suggesting an integration of circulation and form resulting in an experiential dimension of unusual richness and subtlety. . . . From the beginning, circulation was an important generator in [James] Stirling's designs . . . In [the Cambridge History Faculty Building], the promenade architecturale becomes the conduit for a dynamic visual experience . . . As in the [V]illa [Savoye], the ramps [of the Olivetti Training School at Haslemere] act as a contemplative device, their gentle ascent under a glazed 'vault' giving access to space, sunlight and greenery, symbolizing that liberation of the spirit epitomised by Le Corbusier's work of the 1920s. As in the villa, the promenade architecturale gradually unfolds to reveal a visual sequence containing enclosure and exposure, with spaces and volumes compacted into a geometrical composite . . . In all three [German Museums: Nordrhine Westphalia; Wallraf-Richartz; Staatsgalerie], the promenade architecturale emanates from an analysis of the complex texture of the city, resonances of which are evoked by metaphor and allusion and by a juxtaposition of forms that combine visual surprises with vitality and grandeur. . . . In [the Staatsgalerie], James Stirling's promenade architecturale reaches its joyous and most profound fulfillment, transcending his earlier logic in an affirmation of the role of architecture as being to provide man with an experiential foothold in the world."
"[P]ushed by having to produce a huge library [in Paris] with minimum financing, [Rem Koolhaas] suddenly thought of exploiting the fold, a method of design I have already mentioned. [The architect] folded and cut up sheets of paper and this led him to a new movement system where the library is both a continuous linear route and a set of near-horizontal planes. The trick is that much of the library floor has a tilt: not so much that books on a trolley roll away, but just enough to move from floor to floor. In effect, the building is an enormous ramp with various surprising events superposed along the route. The idea has some precedents--the 'architectural promenade' of the seventeenth-century French hôtel, the programmed walk through an English landscape garden, Frank Lloyd Wright's Guggenheim Museum, which also has an organizational ramp as a route of exploration--but Koolhaas' invention is different. He makes the whole floor a ramp and weaves through it a grid of columns and randomized incidents. This, once again, is the method of superposition. Different layers of meaning are strained through each other without any narrative, or priority. This is different from the controlled promenade architecturale -- for instance Le Corbusier's Mundaneum project--because it refuses to privilege one interpretation over another."
Baker's descriptions of the "movement routes" throughout Stirling's buildings and projects are unquestionably a positive affirmation of the promenade architecturale as defined thus far, whereas Jencks' description of Koolhaas' Bibliothègues Jessieu presents a negation of the Corbusian promenade ideal. Both historians clearly hold a thorough and accurate understanding of the promenade architecturale, yet neither of their analyses are completely satisfactory nor conclusive. In his general study, Baker correctly notes the long standing importance of circulation within Stirling's designs, and furthermore recognizes Stirling's steady development of the circulation route in conjunction with specific built forms that carry both functional and symbolic significance. What Baker does not note, however, is whether Stirling ever intentionally directed his circulation routes towards specific "destinations." Jencks, on the other hand, stresses Koolhaas' total elimination of the "narrative and priority" of the promenade architecturale within his library design, and thus the idea of path and destination is altogether antithetical to the library's overriding design concept. Could it be that the combined notions of "axis" and "destination" which Le Corbusier held in such high regard at the beginning of the twentieth-century are precisely the concepts now lost to architects at the end of the same century? Did the promenade architecturale indeed "lead us once more to another place?"
Quondam © 2011.04.28