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Posts Tagged ‘architecture’

Literary Architecture

August 16, 2013 | by

One Friday evening in March, I took the train to Columbia University and walked into one of the strangest and most interesting classes I’d ever seen. It was the Laboratory of Literary Architecture, part of the Mellon Visiting Artists and Thinkers Program at Columbia University School of the Arts, and a multimedia workshop in which writing students, quite literally, create architectural models of literary texts. For the past four years, Matteo Pericoli has led the workshop at the Turin-based Scuola Holden creative writing school, and this year, he brought the concept to New York. While the idea seems intuitive enough—each student chooses a text he or she knows inside out, and then builds it—the challenges arise in interpretation. “A text you love is not, necessarily, the best for this project,” said Pericoli. He adds that it is crucial that students work from another author’s text, rather than their own, to facilitate the true objectivity necessary.

And then of course there is the question of getting away from the literal. “One student chose ‘A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again’ and thought she would just make a ship,” he explains, referring to David Foster Wallace’s cruise-ship odyssey. But then they learned the class’s mantra: “Literary, not literal.” The structure that ultimately resulted (because the writing students team up with architects to build models that must function as well as engage) was very different. Writes Elizabeth Greenwood of her final model,

I designed a rectangular structure with many floors. Bolstered by concrete brackets, the end pieces represent the hard, inescapable fact of heavy things in the essay: the Harper’s assignment, the ship itself. But the floors inside these brackets are made of glass to represent the clarity and truth Wallace sees during his time at sea. On the outer edges are two parentheses turned away from one another (which might one day be openings for stairs) representing the thoughts and connections between seemingly unrelated things. These cuts into the plexi allow light to filter through between the floors, illuminating their invisible links and also tracing seemingly disparate themes and digressions. As the floors ascend, these parentheses edge closer to the upper right corner, where an elevator shaft penetrates through the structure. This burst of continuity between floors represents the author’s presence, and the author himself, who cannot be contained even within the clearest of glass, and who stubbornly refuses to be subdued even in the most ostensibly light of occasions, like a vacation on the high seas.

As Pericoli explained to me, the process of examining structure, flow, interconnections, the author’s intentions, all managed to both mirror and illuminate the process of writing: rendering explicit that which had been intuitive, forcing students to deal in both interpretation and a little mental detective work. What is an author’s intention for how a piece is read, or experienced? What is a reader’s? As much as anything, the variety of interpretations—and, yes, over the years, Pericoli has seen multiple students take on the same work, with wildly differing results—is startling. J. M. Coetzee’s Disgrace becomes a rectangular structure with a meandering path that evokes the protagonist’s unwilling shifts in perspective. To the Lighthouse bears no resemblance to an English country house by the sea, but rather becomes a structure that centers around a vacancy: that of the mother. The exercise demands both serious imagination and intense discipline—qualities essential to the disciplines of both writing and architecture but presented as dauntingly unfamiliar challenges that both force participants out of their comfort zones, and ultimately create new ones: different, yes, from the initial familiar comfort of a beloved text, but functional and fascinating all the same.

Carver

“The way out can only be seen from a specific perspective—the staircase back up to ground level is hidden behind a false wall—and once seen it cannot be unseen. Eventually, the staircase becomes too much of a curiosity. The participants will climb the stairs and exit the structure, and find themselves completely removed from it. To leave, first they have to go completely into the structure.” —Joseph Ponce, writing on Raymond Carver, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”

Coetzee

“Ultimately, I wanted this model to be interpretable from two perspectives: one, the perspective of the walker going through the path who cannot know what to expect next, and two, the perspective from above that is able to see the model in its entirety: to see the knife cuts, the single-minded yet zig-zagging path, and the reflection in the water at the end of it.” —Joanna Yao, J. M. Coetzee, Disgrace

Keats

“My idea was to have an entrance that you stumble upon, peep in, and find yourself within, without actively seeking it. It’s welcoming because it does not have a door, but rather an entry. You cannot see what is inside it without going in, similar to not perceiving the nightingale’s song unless you let the other thoughts fade away and listen. The building could also have an actual door on the ground level for the part below the elevated path that could be used as a café or restaurant. The elevated path is above and apparent for those who choose to see it and are curious about it.” —Zeynep Lokmanoglu, John Keats’s “Ode to a Nightingale”

Sebald

“The structure is a tall and narrow space, reflecting both the vast scope of the book as well as the intimacy of the reading experience. An uneven path is suspended along metal supports, and gradually rises and falls across the entire length of the structure. The path’s shape is dictated by the fragmented and surprising nature of the narrative, in which the novel leaps from subject to subject through unconventional avenues, such as the documentary playing in the narrator’s hotel room. The path is covered in a translucent material so that these supports are visible, which alludes to the meta-fictional nature of the novel.” —Joss Lake, W. G. Sebald’s Rings of Saturn

SSP_Pond_1

“The two structures are alienated by a space, a gap, but connected by a passageway, which, situated on the far left, spills from one building into the next. To get from one structure to the other, one must endure the trip through this dark, windowless space. To embody the cyclical nature of Woolf’s writing style, there is also a circular gesture created by the space between the two buildings, rounded on each side by the ramp and the passageway, respectively. This reveals itself only in a bird’s eye view of the design.” —Catherine Pond, Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse

The Falls

“When you are inside this structure, traveling back and forth, up and down, there is an imperious desire to discover the space as you become overwhelmed by its magnitude. I wanted to mimic the strong sense of spatial awareness that you experience reading the piece, thus I looked for a similar feeling while you navigate the structure. The sense that you have an active role in reading the space and that when you are traveling through it, you are ultimately ‘writing’ the space with your body.” —Javier Fuentes, George Saunders’s “The Falls”

Read more about the Laboratory here. You can read more about Matteo Pericoli on his website and follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

 

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Lucky Thirteen

January 2, 2013 | by

My apartment building on Manhattan’s Upper West Side is of the standard prewar varietal, with the faint chicken-soup-in-the-stairwell smell familiar to any New Yorker and an elevator that goes up to fourteen. And by fourteen, I mean, of course, thirteen. In this respect it is standard too; the elevator, made by Otis (I paused to double-check as I was writing this), indulges our collective superstition and forces those on the top floor to live a peculiar quotidian fiction.

In taller buildings, of course, everyone above twelve is technically living a lie, albeit of the white sort. This is a bit of magical thinking that never fails to delight me on even the darkest day. Read More »

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112 Greene Street

July 25, 2012 | by

Exterior of 112 Greene Street. Photo by Cosmos Andrew Sarchiapone.

I met with Jessamyn Fiore in the air-conditioned back offices of David Zwirner’s Chelsea gallery in late June to discuss her new book, 112 Greene Street, a series of interviews with artists who helped found or were associated with the eponymous location, one of the first alternative art spaces in New York City. Opened in 1970 by artists Jeffrey Lew, Alan Saret, and Gordon Matta-Clark, 112 Greene Street served not as a commercial gallery but as a space in which artists could create and exhibit works collaboratively. Their participation in the burgeoning SoHo art scene also included cofounding FOOD, a pay-what-you-wish restaurant known for its delicious soups. Back then, the neighborhood more closely resembled a small village, rather than the glamorous, high-end shopping district it is now, and all of the artists associated with 112 Greene Street who were interviewed by Fiore remember that communal period fondly.

Fiore has a direct lineage to the groundbreaking gallery: her mother, Jane Crawford, was married to Gordon Matta-Clark, who died from pancreatic cancer in 1978 at age thirty-five. Known for his daring “building cuts”—literal dissections of buildings slated for demolition—Matta-Clark was, by all accounts, charismatic and widely admired and loved. Fiore herself ran a nonprofit art gallery in Dublin for several years before relocating to New York, where she curated an exhibition at Zwirner about 112 Greene Street last winter. She is warm, easygoing, and candid; it’s easy to see why the artists, whom she considers her friends, would trust her to preserve their memories in print.

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Bookitecture

May 1, 2012 | by

Kansas City Public Library

It was Thomas à Kempis who wrote, "I have sought rest everywhere, and have found it nowhere, save in a little corner, with a little book.” Would Flavorwire’s slideshow of book edifices have provided the ultimate in serenity, or the reverse? What if the corner were itself a book? Whatever else your reaction, we imagine awe will figure in somewhere. Below, a few of our favorites.

Argument #2, by Tom Bendtsen

Marta Minujin's collaborative Tower of Babel

Matej Kren’s Scanner

Book Igloo, by Miler Lagos

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Complexity and Contradiction; Reading Audiobooks

September 16, 2011 | by

I am an architecture student who is allergic to The Fountainhead. Can you recommend some books to counter with when well-meaning people, upon hearing that I’m studying architecture, ask whether I like it?

Tell them to read Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture, if only for the first sentence: “I like complexity and contradiction in architecture.” (I’ve always loved that beginning.) If you’re looking for a novel about passionate architecture students (and what becomes of them), try Peter Stamm’s Seven Years. It’s not as heroic or hot-blooded as The Fountainhead, but it won’t give you hives.

What are your thoughts on audiobooks? I just finished listening to The Fellowship of the Ring as read by Rob Inglis, and his narrative performance—its so much more than a reading—brought the book to life in a way I never thought possible. Its so nice to be read to, isnt it? And yet its so rare. (Theres no denying it: literary readings are often boring; a good writer does not a good reader make.) And the best thing is, you can listen to audiobooks while running, walking, driving, commuting. Why havent books on tape become more mainstream? And, as more of a metaphysical question, can I now consider The Fellowship to be something I’ve “read”?
—William

A friend raised the same question yesterday. She’d just “read” the audiobook of Middlesex—but I say to hell with the scare quotes. If anything, I would guess, you know the text better for having heard it, without the temptation to skim. (But this is only a guess.)

As you say, there is nothing like being read to. And my sense is that audiobooks are in fact very popular. I don’t read that way only because reading by sight is so much faster. But when “Selected Shorts” catches me at home, I can’t turn it off—even if (as sometimes happens) I don’t care much for the story ...

Soon we hope to bring you Paris Review stories as audio files—stay tuned! Read More »

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Well Preserved

June 8, 2011 | by

Photograph by Michael Falco.

Historical preservationism began innocently enough. The demolition in 1963 of the old Penn Station in Manhattan shocked the conscience of a certain class of urban do-gooder, and with the help of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis a campaign was launched to spare Grand Central Terminal the same fate. Its success emboldened governments around the country to strengthen controls over new development, and a movement was born.

But what was once the province of the civic-minded, the protection of our architectural patrimony has today become an empire, a sprawling demesne of stasis that occupies some twelve percent of the earth’s surface. The UNESCO World Heritage Committee, national and regional landmarks authorities, environmental activists, and other well-meaning persons have conspired to turn the world into a giant museum, choking off the creative-destructive flow that sustains architectural invention. If the trend continues apace, we could soon see buildings prospectively preserved—catalogued and canonized, stuffed and mounted, before they are even finished.

Such, at least, is the theme that Dutch-born architect Rem Koolhaas and cocurator Shohei Shigematsu explored in their New Museum show, “Cronocaos,” which ended this Sunday. Located in a new annex space next to the SANAA-designed main gallery on the Bowery, the exhibition was a marquee event of the Festival of Ideas for the New City, a street fair–cultural clambake that took over the surrounding sidewalks in early May.

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