novel architecturale


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1999.05.24 18:01
Re: interview 1
My architectural background:
I read Banister Fletcher's The History of Architecture on the Comparative Method everyday during my freshman and sophomore high school study hall. I read Robert Venturi's Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture for the first time my senior year in high school. I read Geoffrey Scott's The Architecture of Humanism - A Study in the History of Taste the summer before I began architecture school at Temple University in 1975.
My interest in architecture:
I started drawing building plans between the ages of five and six. I found out about architecture as a profession at the age of nine; I am an architect since that time.
My feelings about architecture:
I have always been extremely passionate about architecture. It makes me happy. I love it.
My understanding of architecture:
I was fortunate to be born with an innate understanding of architecture, and my understanding continually grows higher and deeper. Upon learning cad in 1983, I spontaneously became an artist as well as an architect.


Scott's 'Humanist Values'

Geoffrey Scott, The Architecture of Humanism - A Study in the History of Taste (Garden City: Doubleday & Company, 1954).

Chapter Eight: "Humanist Values"

Stephen Lauf, "A Chronosomatic Interpolation of Scott's 'Humanist Values'", 1 August 1997.

Although Scott refers to human functions, he does not relate architecture to human physiology. The functions he describes are the basis physical actions and reactions that a normal body can and does perform on a regular basis. The main difference between this approach and that chronosomatics, is the latter's view of human physiology as the metaphors that best describe the operations of the human imagination, and, by extension, human physiology is also seen as describing the subliminal (although also innate) operations underlying the design of architecture.

The chronosomatic theory of architecture investigates below the surface, that is, beyond the superficial appearance and movements of the human body, and, in so doing, likewise searches for the possible deeper meanings of architecture. Moreover, chronosomatics institutes a new categorization of architectural history which offers numerous theories as to the meaning behind specific architectural "styles" and "period", as well as strongly suggest why specific "styles" happened when they did and even predicting what architecture may be like in the future.

Architecture, simply and immediately perceived, is a combination, revealed through light and shade, of spaces, of masses, and of lines. These few elements make the core of architectural experience: an experience which the literary fancy, the historical imagination, the casuistry of conscience and the calculations of science, cannot constitute or determine, though they may encircle and enrich. How great a chaos must ensue when our judgments of architecture are based upon these secondary and encircling interests the previous chapters have suggested, and the present state of architecture might confirm. It remains to be seen how far these central elements--these spaces, masses and lines--can provide a ground for our criticism that is adequate or secure.

The spaces, masses and lines of architecture, as perceived, are appearances. We may infer from them further facts about a building which are not perceived; facts about construction, facts about history or society. But the art of architecture is concerned with their immediate aspect; it is concerned with them as appearances.

And these appearances are related to human functions. Through these spaces we can conceive ourselves to move; these masses are capable, like ourselves, of pressure and resistance; these lines, should we follow or describe them, might be our path and our gesture.

Conceive for a moment a 'top-heavy' building or an 'ill-proportioned' space. No doubt the degree to which these qualities will be found offensive will vary with the spectator's sensibility to architecture; but sooner or later, if the top-heaviness or the disproportion is sufficiently pronounced, every spectator will judge that the building or space is ugly, and experience a certain discomfort their presence. So much will be conceded.

The very notions of "transcribing ourselves into terms of architecture" and "transcribing architecture into terms of ourselves" together almost perfectly describe the relationship of chronosomatics to architecture. Scott designates these reciprocal operations as the "humanism of architecture" and proclaims them the foundation of "critical appreciation" (if not also judgment), yet this brand of "humanism" does not venture far beyond poetic personification except when it begins to closely match animism.

The "humanism" of chronosomatics, on the other hand, seeks to relate corporal physiology to both periods of time and to the imaginative modes of the mind. This interrelationship of the body, time, and the mind, in turn, provides new information regarding the role played by the body and the human imagination within the process of architectural design and its ultimate manifestation into meaningful form.

animism 1: a doctrine according to which the immaterial soul is the vital principle responsible for every organic development 2 : attribution of conscious life and a discrete indwelling spirit to every material form of reality (as to such objects as plants and stones and to such natural phenomena as thunderstorms and earthquakes) often including belief in continual existence of individual disembodied spirits capable of exercising a binignant or malignant influence.

Now what is the cause of this discomfort? It suggested that the top-heavy building and the cramped space are ugly because they suggest the idea of instability, the idea of collapse, the idea of restriction, and so forth. But these ideas are not in themselves disagreeable. We read the definition of such words in a dictionary with equanimity, yet the definition, if it is a true one, will have conveyed the idea of restriction or collapse. Poetry will convey the ideas with vividness. Yet we experience from it no shadow of discomfort. On the contrary, Hamlet's 'cabined, cribbed, confined' delights us, for the very reason that the idea is vividly conveyed. Nor does Samson painfully trouble our peace, when

'Those two massie Pillars
With horrible convulsion to and fro
He tugged, be shook, till down they came and drew
The whole roof after them with burst of thunder
Upon the heads of all who sate beneath.'

Clearly, then, our discomfort in the presence of such architecture cannot spring merely from the idea of restriction or instability.

But neither does it derive from an actual weakness or restriction in our immediate experience. It is disagreeable to have our movements thwarted, to lose strength or to collapse; but a room fifty feet square and seven feet high does not restrict our actual movements, and the sight of a granite building raised (apparently) on a glass shop-front does not cause us to collapse.

There is instability--or the appearance of it; but it is in the building. There is discomfort, but it is in ourselves. What then has occurred? The conclusion seems evident. The concrete spectacle has done what the mere idea could not: it has stirred our physical memory. It has awakened in us, not indeed an actual state of instability or of being overloaded, but that condition of spirit which in the past has belonged to our actual experiences of weakness, of thwarted effort or incipient collapse. We have looked at the building and identified ourselves with its apparent state. We have transcribed ourselves into terms of architecture.

But the 'states' in architecture with which we thus identify ourselves need not be actual. The actual pressures of a spire are downward; yet no one speaks of a 'sinking' spire. A spire, when well designed, appears--as common language testifies--to soar. We identify ourselves, not with its actual downward pressure, but its apparent upward impulse. So, too, by the same excellent--because unconscious--testimony of speech, arches 'spring,' vistas 'stretch,' domes 'swell,' Greek temples are 'calm,' and baroque facades 'restless.' The whole of architecture is, in fact, unconsciously invested by us with human movement and human moods. Here, then, is a principle complementary to the one just stated. We transcribe architecture into terms of ourselves.

This is the humanism of architecture. The tendency to project the image of our functions into concrete forms is the basis, for architecture, of creative design. The tendency to recognise, in concrete forms, the image of those functions is the true basis, in its turn, of critical appreciation.

According to the theory of chronosomatics, the "great architects of the past," and of the future as well, reasonably had or will for the most part operate imaginatively according to the physiological process that chronosomatically corresponds to their "time" within human history.

No doubt critics will also apply the notion of being "far-fetched" to chronosomatics and its correlation to architecture.

To this statement several objections may be expected. This 'rising' of towers and 'springing' of arches, it will be said--these different movements which animate architecture--are mere metaphors of speech. No valid inference can be drawn from them. Again, the enjoyment of fine building is a simple and immediate experience, while this dual 'transcription,' by which we interpret the beauty of architecture, is a complicated process. And not only--it will again be objected--is the theory too complicated; it is also too physical. The body, it will be said, plays no part--or a small and infrequent part--in our conscious enjoyment of architecture, which commonly yields us rather an intellectual and spiritual satisfaction than a conscious physical delight. And it will be further said that such a theory is too 'farfetched'; we cannot readily imagine that the great architects of the past were guided by so sophisticated a principle of design. And, if some such process has indeed a place in architecture, it may be doubted finally how far it can account for all the varied pleasures we obtain. It will be convenient to consider these objections at the outset.

The most reassuring aspect of the theory of chronosomatics and its notion of the body as the timepiece of humanity's development has been the immediate understanding of those learning the theory for the first time, and it is this quick recognition that, more than anything else, suggests the potential universality of the idea and the metaphors it employed.

The essence of the theory of chronosomatics lies in its systematic investigation of the "universal metaphor of the body," especially the exploration of the body metaphor's uncharted depths.

Paraphrasing Scott, the theory under discussion in The Body, The Imagination, and Architecture claims that architectural art is the transcription of the body's physiology first into modes of the imagination and then into forms of building.

The springing of arches, the swelling of domes, and the soaring of spires are 'mere metaphors of speech.' Certainly they are metaphors. But a metaphor, when it is so obvious as to be universally employed and immediately understood, presupposes a true and reliable experience to which it can refer. Such metaphors are wholly different from literary conceits. A merely literary metaphor lays stress on its own ingenuity or felicity. When we read

'Awake, for Morning in the bowl of Night
Has flung the Stone which puts the stars to flight,'

we are first arrested by the obvious disparity between the thing and its description; we then perceive the point of likeness. But when we speak of a tower as 'standing' or 'leaning' or 'rising,' or say of a curve that it is 'cramped' or 'flowing,' the words are the simplest and most direct description we can give of our impression. We do not argue to the point of likeness, but, on the contrary, we are first conscious of the fitness of the phrase and only subsequently perceive the element of metaphor. But art addresses us through immediate impressions rather than through the process of reflection, and this universal metaphor of the body, a language profoundly felt and universally understood, is its largest opportunity. A metaphor is, by definition, the transcription of one thing into terms of another, and this in fact is what the theory under discussion claims. It claims that architectural art is the transcription of the body's states into forms of building.

This quotation from Scott is candidly the catalyst for Wilson's "The Natural Imagination." There are the notions of pleasure through unconscious processes and of the unconscious processes being the most "deep-seated and universal." Furthermore, there is the view of projecting the image of human function "upon the outside world," and, above all, there is the naming of these processes as natural. Wilson elaborates on each of these ideas in his effort to define, explain and demonstrate the workings of "the natural imagination" and its connection to architecture.

The Body, The Imagination, and Architecture interpolates both texts individually and in conjunction with each other, and, in many ways, the new text inspired by chronosomatics is a "natural" progression of the theories that both the former texts discuss.

The next point is more likely to cause difficulty. The process of our theory is complex; the process of our felt enjoyment is the simplest thing we know. Yet here, too, it should be obvious that a process simple in consciousness need not be simple in analysis. It is not suggested that we think of ourselves as columns, or of columns as ourselves. No doubt when keen aesthetic sensibility is combined with introspective habit, the processes of transcription will tend to enter the field of consciousness. But there is no reason why even the acutest sensibility to a resultant pleasure should be conscious of the processes that go to make it. Yet some cause and some process there must be. The processes of which we are least conscious are precisely the most deep-seated and universal and continuous, as, for example, the process of breathing. And this habit of projecting the image of our own functions upon the outside world, of reading the outside world in our own terms, is certainly ancient, common, and profound. It is, in fact, the natural way of perceiving and interpreting what we see. It is the way of the child in whom perpetual pretence and 'endless imitation' are a spontaneous method of envisaging the world. It is the way of the savage, who believes in 'animism,' and conceives every object to be invested with powers like, his own. It is the way of the primitive peoples, who in the elaborate business of the dance give a bodily rendering to their beliefs and desires long before thought has accurately expressed them. It is the way of a superbly gifted race like the Greeks, whose mythology is one vast monument to just this instinct. It is the way of the poetic mind at all times and places, which humanises the external world, not in a series of artificial conceits, but simply so perceiving it. To perceive and interpret the world scientifically, as it actually is, is a later, a less 'natural,' a more sophisticated process, and one from which we still relapse even when we say the sun is rising. The scientific perception of the world is forced upon us; the humanist perception of it is ours by right. The scientific method is intellectually and practically useful, but the naive, the anthropomorphic way which humanises the world and interprets it by analogy with our own bodies and our own wills, is still the aesthetic way; it is the basis of poetry, and it is the foundation of architecture.

The primarily objective of The Body, The Imagination, and Architecture is to first define, explain, and demonstrate the link between human physiology and the operative modes of the human imagination, and then to further disclose the connection between this new theory of the imagination and the ever evolving architectural design process.

A similar confusion between what is conscious in architectural pleasure, and what is merely implied, seems to underlie the objection that our theory lays too great a stress on physical states. Our pleasure in architecture, it is true, is primarily one of the mind and the spirit. Yet the link between physical states and states of the mind and the emotions needs no emphasis. Our theory does not say that physical states enter largely into the spectator's consciousness; it says that they, or the suggestion of them, are a necessary precondition of his pleasure. Their absence from consciousness is indeed a point of real importance. Large modifications in our physical condition, when they occur, alter our mental and emotional tone; but, also, they absorb our consciousness. A person, for example, who is taking part in an exciting game, will feel exhilaration and may enjoy it; but the overtones of gaiety, the full intellectual and emotional interest of the state, are drowned in the physical experience. The mind is not free to attend to them. It is precisely because the conscious physical element in architectural pleasure is so slight, our imitative self-adjustment to architectural form so subtle, that we are enabled to attend wholly to the intellectual and emotional value which belongs to the physical state. If we look at some spirited eighteenth-century design, all life and flicker and full of vigorous and dancing curves, the physical echo of movement which they awaken is enough to recall the appropriate mental and emotional penumbra; it is not sufficient to overwhelm it. No one has suggested that the experiences of art are as violent or exciting as the experiences of physical activity; but it is claimed for them that they are subtler, more profound, more lasting, and, as it were, possessed of greater resonance. And this difference the theory we are considering assists us to understand.

Any explanation of the workings of the aesthetic instinct, however accurate, must inevitably have a modem ring. It must seem incongruous when applied to the artists of the past, for the need and the language of such explanations are essentially of our own day. It would not therefore--to pass to the next objection--be a serious obstacle to our theory if the conception of architecture, as an art of design based on the human body and its states, had been wholly alien to the architects of the past. But this is not altogether the case. The Renaissance architects were, in fact, frequently curious to found their design upon the human body, or, rather, to understand how the human body entered into the current traditions of design. Among their sketches may be found some where the proportions of the male form are woven into those of an architectural drawing and made to correspond with its divisions. An elaborate, though uninspired, rendering of the Tuscan, Ionic, and Corinthian Orders into human forms was published by John Shute in the earliest printed work on architecture in England. And in this connection the ancient, though seldom felicitous, habit of actually substituting caryatides and giants for the column itself is not without significance. It was realised that the human body in some way entered into the question of design. But habits of thought were at that time too objective to allow men any clear understanding of a question which is, after all, one of pure psychology. What they instinctively apprehended they had no means intellectually to state; and that correspondence of architecture to the body, which was true in abstract principle, they sometimes vainly sought to prove in concrete detail. Thus they looked in architecture for an actual reproduction of the proportion and symmetries of the body, with results that were necessarily sometimes trivial and childish. Vasari was nearer the truth when he said in praise of a building that it seemed 'not built, but born'--non murato ma veramente nato. Architecture, to communicate the vital values of the spirit, must appear organic like the body. And a greater critic than Vasari, Michael Angelo himself, touched on a truth more profound, it may be, than he realised, when he wrote of architecture: 'He that hath not mastered, or doth not master the human figure, and in especial its anatomy, may never comprehend it.'

aesthetics? (etc.)
Between 1974 (my senior year in High School) and 1984 I've read Complexity and Contradiction five times, four times reading the chapter in consecutive order, and once reading the chapters in reverse order (and one of the readings was done while on an Italian study tour 1977, which is the best "context" to read that book in).

2007.08.19 10:42
Elvis 30th anniv. tribute thread
I was on the train alone going from Florence back to Rome and a young (though slightly older than me) American couple in the same compartment asked:
"Hey, did you hear that Elvis Presley died?"
"It happened a week ago."
I was very uncomfortably hungover from too much drinking the night before at The Red Garter, and then falling asleep on some curb with an even more drunk roommate of our group. I specifically left Florence as early as possible to avoid traveling back to Rome with the excessive chatter of the rest of our group.
And 30 years ago today I fell asleep on the steps of Il Redentore (waiting till it opened) after the unplanned coincidence of reading page 42 (page 36 of 2nd edition) of Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture.

There's now a little plaque on the steps that says This spot is a supernal resting place.



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