Architecture and Timelessness

Tutoring in design today made me remember a conversation I had with SP regarding the role of architecture and the timelessness of a building. From memory (which is very shaky on the details so I hope I have the essence of his argument right) in his opinion it is to do with the ability of a space to capture a sense of greater being, or a person's core self. By doing so it neglected cultural background, ideological persuasion or fads as all occupants connect to space in through the use of our senses. He put forth a very convincing argument.

Now what made me think of this discussion is that the students are being asked to explore Leon van Schiak's three schools of thought: 'Civic Narrative', 'Technic' and 'Poetic' - for those of you have are not sure what these are, I have tried to give a synopsis of each school below. Be wary though: I have been very reductionist. When considering the timelessness of architecture ideas, I pose these questions to start some discussion:

Do you think that only buildings designed intentionally in a poetic manner will become timeless? 

And if buildings were to designed to other design intents ie. Civic Narrative or Technic, to become timeless do they need to have a poetic quality?

Some of us, as part of design, delved into the exploration of these three schools of thought (Civic Narrative, Technic and Poetic). Others of us I understand have come across this subject within our own work. For those of you have have not, in very generalized terms:

Civic Narrative - the architecture of the building tells a story about a place/history (Donaldson + Warn: Bali Memorial), can play with the vernacular or architectural form (ie ARM's Marion Cultural Centre or Venturi's house for his mother).

Technic - the architectural expression is directly connected to refinement, precision and the act of crafting (Renzo), a clear understanding of a materials properties and inherent qualities (Scarpa) and/or a rigor in approach (Miralles + Pinos - Archery Range).

Poetic - the crafting of space in which the senses are invigorated, capturing a mood, atmosphere, experience, being playful or exploring the temporal (Pendal + Neille, Zumthor, Eisenman - Holocaust Memorial).

[ed: fje]


rc said...

So, I suppose to further complicate things, how do you establish whether timelessness has occurred? How do we assess something from the outside of our “cultural background, ideological persuasion or fads”?

AJH said...

Another question, what is timelessness? Is it the ability to withstand multiple fads of aesthetics and/or function? Surely every building reveals the time it was built in (like the recurring 80's design elements in Blade Runner even though it is supposed to be futuristic).

I think all three ideas could lead to timeless buildings (if I knew what a timeless building is/was). Maybe Poetics more so as it is further abstracted to basic 'timeless' elements of emotions rather than civic narratives which are norm strongly based in a time, unless they like the ANZAC legend become timeless in themselves, and technic could be easily swayed by the construction and engineering methods of it's time although usually these buildings become important when they can defy these constrictions, like the pyramids, gaudi's SF (??) Does this make them timeless though?

FJE said...

Ciaran and I had a conversation about this recently, discussing, among other things, Kahn's architecture. He calls it 'cosmic', I call it 'universal', rather than timeless. We were not able to fully articulate our ideas - so I can really only speak for myself, but I think it is about a building which needs no context with which to understand, which has an abstract quality which appeals to our reptilian brain, to our selves as human beings rather than complex, cultural individuals.

I often have this feeling when presented with overwhelming natural phenomena like mountains, or large waves - but then I often find myself dwelling on the cultural and personal histories associated with these 'universal' experiences - i.e. rowing into heavy surf is terrifying at a reptilian level, but very quickly brings to mind visions of Turner and whaleboats in Moby Dick.

If mountains are waves will be read differently, depending on one's context - what hope does architecture have? Perhaps it just has to be made in such a way, and be lucky enough to still be there aeons later, to be re-read.

I think you have to be very careful when applying the '3 schools' - they bleed into each other easily.

I read about a similar discussion: when a nuclear waste dump was being established, in a tunnel deep in a Scandinavian mountain, to last as long as the material would be dangerous, the engineering was straightforward, and the geologists found an inactive area which would not crack the dump open as it lay there for millennia. But what symbol could be placed on the front door which would serve as a warning to civilisations or tribes of future humans who may not even remember us?

Someone suggested Edvard Munch's 'The Scream'.

HG said...

More thoughts to add that came up in a recent tutorial: if you want something 'timeless' should form have to not follow function so that it is constantly adaptable? How does 'loose fit' come into 'form follows function'?

In this case we were discussing the many 'functions' of the Colosseum over time, but it made me wonder about Gehry and 'awkward corners'...

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