Spatial History Investigations

As part of Simon Pendal's Complex Design Unit, I have been investigating my 'History in Space'.

Basically the idea, which has been developed by Leon van Schaik from RMIT, is that everyone has a history in space - their life has included the experience of many different buildings, landscapes and spatial ideas that inform their ideas about space. What they like, what the don't like, associations and inclinations. An architect can harness their own spatial history, and that of their clients in order to create richer and more meaningful spaces.

Thus we come to the trawling of our spatial histories, subsequent analysis recording, and communication. Simon's brief prescribed a process of trawling my memories, recording these, editing them down, modeling them (physically or digitally), and using these models to recreate the vivid images found in our own memory - the memories of formative spatial experience.

I begun be dumping everything I could think of onto an A1 sheet of paper with a pencil, sketching and writing all over it. I then examined this gestalt, picking it apart into categories ready for examination. I proceeded to experiment with investigation of examples from these categories, drawing in charcoal, and making scaled plans and sections.

For my presentation I planned to do a detailed examination of an example from each one of the categories. What actually happened was I did one category ('Monuments in the landscape'), and built an experimental model of a space which I have been virtually obsessed with since being introduced to it by Stephen Neille in Architecture and Culture 101; Boullee's Centotaph for Newton. Since the categories all bleed in to each other, I used the material which I had prepared for 'ruins and relics' to discuss the other categories.

My presentation was not a success; Simon was (rightly) unhappy with a lack of precision in my drawings and failure to reproduce the images present in my memory. However, despite lack of sophisticated product material, I found the process a success in that I have identified themes in my design with roots in my experiences.

Spatial History

Imagination Badger's House
Ruins and Relics railway formations
Monuments (in the landscape) Portchester Castle,
Groundedness (or Earthiness) 'trench' cubby, House Without Rooms
Enclosure (esp. centric spaces) Newton Cenotaph
Modernism Sunny Meed, Architecture Building, Unite de Habitation

Text from presentation:

Monuments in the Landscape - Portchester Castle.

This is a castle I visited as a child whilst living in England. I visited many castles, but this is the one I remember best, so must have had some significance.

The south coast of England in this area is low and marshy, with tidal mud-flats, stony beaches, and low swampy hinterlands. This castle, the walls of which are 6m high, and the Keep rising to 30m, is a significant high point in this low lying landscape. It has a strong sense of history - various parts were built by the Romans, Saxons and Normans, as well as additions being made as late as the 18th and 19th centuries. The site has been continually occupied for a long time, probably in excess of 2000 years.

Essential qualities:

Contextual scale: The Castle stands out, acting as a landmark and symbol of power (a power now faded).

Sense of history, timelessness and immortality: The castle is tangibly a lasting object. The history can be sensed directly; seen, touched. Small marks were stones have been worked were made by the Romans. English longbowmen stood at these very windows to defend England against French invasions. There is a direct connection between me, standing here, and them, standing here.

Materiality: The castle is very much of the earth. It is made of flint stones, and sits, firmly rooted into the earth, and immovable object as constant as the sun and stars. It has weathered over time, it is stronger than time, but also a product of it. It was made by hand from the very stuff of the earth itself.

Sense of Object: The castle is an object; it is honeycombed with mysterious passages, spiral stairs, dungeons, towers, battlements, windows, gates, strange chambers. This can be perceived and imagined as I climb through it.

My Own Projects
Frequent use thick, heavy masonry elements, a monumental presence in the landscape, a sense of strong attachment to the earth, ideas of defensive sanctuary against the outside world.

Canons of Good Architecture.
While it has Poetic and Tectonic aspects, the Castle is most strongly a Narrative artifact - it is the stories both half imagined and actual which are the most powerful effects of its presence.

portchester castle - plan

portchester castle - section

newton cenotaph - 1:2000 sectional model


HG said...

I think I have an attachment to Middle Eastern forts, though for different reasons. They are grounded in a way that the surrounding landscape is not. I am also fascinated by the way they filter light into the building (remember images from the Hassan Fathy book?)

It is quite likely that I will be going to the UK at some point in the next year, and I would love to visit some castles or enclosed towns. I am quite keen on seeing White Tower (Tower of London) and Edinburgh Castle, though I suspect I will want to see everything that I can!

FJE said...

I have also visited Conway Castle, in north Wales. It is very well preserved. Guildford Castle is nice, but I'm sure there are many like it all over. My memories of Edinburgh Castle are a little hazy - it was full of preparations for the Tattoo.

I think about Fathy quite often - the very primal nature of the crafts involved. Those images certainly stick in the mind.

In my reading of the Utzon book, I have been hearing a lot about Islamic architecture, as the author considers it the greatest influence upon Utzon (esp. where the Sydney Opera House and Fredensborg Housing are concerned).

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