chronosomatics

1997.07.13

Further Deepening the 'Natural Imagination'

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The opposite condition--exposure--is experienced not only in the extreme form of agoraphobia (in which the lack of protective boundary can lead to panic) 18 but also in the drama of confrontation that can take place between the facade of a monumental building and the visitor who, approaching across open space, is compelled to stand off a respectful distance and, in that intuitive act of deference, is made to feel vulnerable. Buildings vary in the degree of assertion with which they confront the visitor: this is in proportion not only to sheer size but also to the degree of frontality.

Frontality of facade is a prime condition of monumentality and, whether it be from Colin Rowe's analysis of Michelangelo's Modello for St. Lorenzo or Le Corbusier's description in Precisions of the mechanisms of a frontal reading, we realize that frontality is also the prime consideration for the artifice of formal rhetoric. The Palazzo Farnese or the Villa at Garches alike assert what Le Corbusier called 'the primary plane of perfect form' whose tautness is stressed by the play of advanced or recessed forms parallel to the plane. Michelangelo's awareness of the formal significance of frontality is demonstrated by his carving procedure as described by Vasari: a wax sketch model was laid in a vessel of water progressively drained so that the elements of relief always emerged in relation to the level (frontal plane of the water; the form was developed at all times in relation to that plane.

This figural presentation of a building can take two main forms of 'Presence'. One is the form of assertion, of a confrontation whose challenge is instantaneous. It is addressed to you; and what it demands of you is a certain submission by threatening to overwhelm your self-possession. The theatricalities of Speer and of Piacentini are clear cases in point. Conversely there are building that do not include such theatre, do not demand such submission and, in Asplund's phrase, 'do not threaten but invite'; whose frontal plane is deflected away from the line approach, whose entrance is low scaled and welcoming: buildings whose engagement with the visitor is more subtle, extended in time from the invitation to cross the threshold and thence to await the moment of reception within, the state of envelopment.

It is when these two polar positions enter into opposition that a greater tension surfaces. Thus the most vivid of these archetypal counterforms is the aedicule, the miniature shelter or canopy that creates a personal domain within a major or dominant space--a space within a space. Here the simultaneity of opposite 'positions' comes into play most vividly in the resulting juxtaposition between the inside and outside over which an unresolved ambiguity reigns. For instance the aedicule will form an enclosure whose outside is still inside the major dominant space thereby giving rise to a play between an inside-outside and the real outside. The classical convention of employing on the inside a cornice and other external building elements (for instance in Alberti's St. Andrea) invokes a similar play between the real and fictive exposure; and in Lewerentz's Chapel of the Resurrection the free-standing portico is magically restated within the body of the Chapel itself by the free-standing baldacchino over the alter.

Next the threshold defined place betwixt and between, a moderating pause to acclimatise oneself to the difference between inside and outside. The staircase and the ramp bring to the condition of in-betweenness the dynamic of transition, expectation, disclosure. The outdoor room (courtyard, patio and impluvium) a portion of outdoor space that is captured (all but the sky) also has some of the in-between quality of the threshold, partaking equally of both outdoorness and enclosure. Other variants on the in-between are the conservatory, the pergola and the arbour. Finally the terrace of the hanging garden and the balcony, both indoor and outdoor, shares the tension of betweenness with the further specific quality of overlooking other territory below.

There's one more thing that has been growing in my mind ever since the Smithsons uttered the word doorstep at Aix. It hasn't left me ever since. I've been mulling over it, expanding the meaning as far as I could stretch it. I've even gone so far as to identify it with what architecture as such should accomplish. To establish the in-between is to reconcile conflicting polarities. Provide the place where they can interchange and you re-establish the original twinphenomena. I called this 'la plus grange réalité du seuil' in Dubrovnic.
Aldo van Eyck, (Alison Smithson, ed.)Team 10 Primer (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1974), p. 96.


'A loggia of fine proportion may enhance us, particularly when built aloft, when light strikes up from the floor to reveal over every inch the recesses of coffered ceiling or of vault. The quality of sanctum, of privacy, joins the thunderous day. A loggia eases the bitterness of birth: it secures the interior to the exterior; affirms that in adopting a wider existence. we activate the pristine peace . . .' 19

One could multiply sub-categories of these counterforms indefinitely but ultimately they are few, 'confined' (in Stokes' phrase) 'to the joining of a few ideographs of immense ramification'.19

Conclusion
In setting out to explore why I can be deeply moved in the presence of certain buildings I have been encouraged by Aalto's talk of 'psychological fields' to go beyond the story of my feelings to seek the common features of that experience.

All our awareness is grounded in forms of spatial experience and that spatial experience is not pure but charged with emotional stress from our initiation to 'first-born affinities'. There is a domain of experience, born before the use of words, yet structured like a language replete with its own expectations, memory and powers of communication: a domain that is indeed the primary source of the one language that is truly universal and to which we have given the name of 'body language'. The structure of this primordial language is ordered in terms of two complementary psychological 'positions' in which spatial, sensual and psychological components are linked in a code that is, in turn, reflected in mirror symmetry with our experience of the primary forms of architecture.

The 'body language' of the theory of chronosomatics enables the reading of the body as a timepiece where successive slices of the body, from bottom to top, represent chronological slices of human time from beginning to end. Within this chronosomatic lexicon of corporal plans there is a subtext where a reading of the body's physiological operations, also from bottom to top, imparts the progressive stages of human imagination. Taken seriously, such a theory of the imagination fundamentally dismantles the philosophical notion of body versus mind or mind versus matter.


From this all-important insight a number of conclusions readily flow. To the traditional understanding of the tie between day to day utility and architecture ('born', in Alberti's phrase 'of necessity and nurtured by use') we have to add the yet closer tie to a running narrative, charged with emotion, that has impressed upon all forms the character of danger and desire.

The great painters further confirm this emotive content of architecture; for they quite explicitly use architectural forms to provoke in us those strong and identifiable mental states of 'danger and desire'. Just as Freud found a suitable point of entry to arrive at his picture of the workings of the normal mind by an analysis of the hysteric so de Chirico's use of architectural forms to induce states of anxiety, disorientation, menace and oppression is a remarkably potent proof of the emotive powers of architecture. The facades of the buildings confront me with blind windows and arcades whose repetition and indifference to my presence undermine my self-possession. What elements there are of protection or envelopment have all the quality of being a trap. The tipping floor plane challenges my instinctive sense of posture and balance. I am in the classic 'position' of exposure but at this time in such a way that the exposure is aggressive and demeaning rather than a stimulant and reinforcement to my 'Ego-figure'.

Conversely Piero's images reinforce in us all that is benign, secure, harmonious by the use of architectural forms that represent attributes of measured calm, a marriage not only of contours, but of emblematic metaphors. Here there is a neighborliness between the forms of the figures and the architecture. The proportion in the column between capital and shaft echoes the proportion between head and body in the Madonna figure. There is a belongingness between form and form and yet each form has its own identity and self possession.

Both artists are concerned with the emotive empathy and sensual charge of architecture: and both put these powers to the task of creating a frame of attention or theatre for an event. They do not simply employ the imagery of architectural elements but use these elements to convey very directly the 'positions' that are archetypal in the language of the natural imagination.

What then is the relationship of the Artificial Imagination to the Natural Imagination? The Natural Imagination is the infrastructure of architectural experience. It acts as both initial provocation and sustaining scaffold upon which the intellectual constructs and cultural symbols of the Artificial Imagination are erected. Clearly the further the abstraction or conceit is pressed the less will be the role of such a scaffold; and in the case of purely conventional symbols there will be virtually none.

However, in the field of structure it offers that first instinctive reaction to the 'witness of energy' claimed in the theory of empathy: and while it touches little upon the field of functional or operational performance, much archetypal imagery (the dome, the column, the arch) derives its origin from the language of the body.

There is a stream of awareness just below the level of day-to-day self-consciousness that monitors the field of spatial relationships around us. What is surprising is that it is a realm of perception without common recognition--and this lack of acknowledgment is the more remarkable in view of the extent to which in actuality it pervades our day-to-day experience. It is a condition that we do not see but see through--a baffling and perhaps dangerous transparency.

For it is not only for an insight into our mysterious moments of elation that we look to it but also as the catalyst for those responses of alienation and exasperation provoked by the building that, as we vaguely say, 'do not work'. Architecture, it would seem, is the inescapable condition of our life: we had better know how deep are the roots of that condition.

I like Wilson's distinction of the Artificial Imagination from the Natural Imagination, and I especially like his notion that the Natural Imagination is just below the surface, 'a condition that we do not see but see through.' I see no 'dangerous transparency', however, and perhaps the virtual danger would not be there for Wilson as well, if only he had been aware that the architectural experiences which move him so 'deeply' were the product of the Artificial Imagination and the Natural Imagination operating as osmosis.



Notes
1. Le Corbusier-Saugnier, Vers une Architecture, 1923; Towards a New Architecture, Architectural Press, 1946, pp187 and 192.
2. Geoffrey Scott, The Architecture of Humanism, 1914, p213, London: Constable & Co., 2nd edition, rep 1947.
3. Michelangelo, The Letters of Michelangelo, No 358, Peter Owen, 1963.
4. Adrian Stokes, Three Essays. The Luxury and Necessity of Painting, p11, Tavistock Press, 1961.
5. Ibid, p14.
6. There is reinforcement for this thesis in D. W. Winnicott's identification of the infant's 'transitional object' (Teddy Bear or Linus' Blanket or whatever) that is both a physical object existing in outer reality (That can get lost--and every parent knows the irreparable disaster that is then acted out) and a magical object (that is the force of play and phantasy in the inner reality of the child). The 'object' belongs in that vulnerable 'in-between' realm that becomes the place of all cultural experience in later life.
7. Adrian Stokes, Greek Culture and the Ego, p27, Tavistock Press, 1958.
8. Ibid, p9.
9. Ibid, p52.
10. Adrian Stokes, 'The Image in Form' in British Journal of Aesthetics, Vol 6, No 3, p246.
11. Sigmund Freud, The Interpretations of Dreams, section VI.
12. Adrian Stokes, Michelangelo, p75.
13. C. Baudelaire, 'Correspondances' in Fleurs du Mal.
14. W. Wordsworth, The Prelude, 1805 version.
15. Adrian Stokes, 'The Impact of Architecture', in British Journal of Aesthetics, Vol 1, No 4.
16. Ibid.
17. Adrian Stokes, Smooth and Rough, p59, Faber & Faber, 1941.
18. One of the major factors in the collapse of morale among the German forces invading Russia in the Second World War was the unrelenting exposure in traversing the apparently limitless plains.
19. Adrian Stokes, Smooth and Rough, op cit, p55.

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