Matteo Pericoli is the founder of the Laboratory of Literary Architecture, an interdisciplinary project that looks at fiction through the lens of architecture, designing and building stories as architectural projects. This is the final installment of a series dedicated to his designs and what they reveal about the stories they’re modeled on.
We’re used to seeing skyscrapers towering over cities. We’re used to imagining the fabric of a city as the footprint of solids over voids.
The protagonist of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s White Nights is, as he himself tells us, a dreamer. A lonely man, with no friends or acquaintances, who only knows the look and soul of the physical places around his city, Saint Petersburg. Hiding from the sunlight, he wanders the city at nighttime, animating each street corner with character—filling its voids.
The novel is an adventure that lasts four nights. On the first night, the dreamer meets a woman in tears, bravely approaches her as he’s never approached anyone before, and consoles her.
Although her heart beats for someone else, she lets him in and the two spend four nights getting to know each other. The closer he gets to her, the farther he distances himself from his lonely life. He has finally found the one chance he’ll ever have to rise above the city from which he feels estranged.
The improbable union between the two protagonists approaches in an unbearable crescendo until the final moment, when the story ends as abruptly as it had begun, and the dreamer suddenly sees even the physical city as a lifeless and meaningless place.
“My nights ended with the morning.” The glow of his dreamy nights has been turned off. Everything is clearer now—even the view from his window has changed and the house across the way suddenly seems “old and dingy.” The disappearance of an unexpected sunbeam reinforces the dreamer’s loneliness and distance and, with them, the prospect of a life spent recalling a “moment of blissful happiness.”
The skyscraper laboriously rises over the city. With an inclination well below forty-five degrees, its weight looms even more imposingly over the city below. Along its ascent, each of the skyscraper’s four elements becomes lighter and airier.
Seen from above, with its volumes coinciding with the streets, squares, intersections and boulevards, the skyscraper doesn’t even seem to exist, blending in with the city’s fabric.
At the top of the succession of the four volumes there is a small, additional element: a balcony or belvedere of sorts. A viewpoint over a distant and faint city from where, in solitude, we can catch the last sunbeam before twilight.
In collaboration with Giuseppe Franco.
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