Lonely in (Architectural) Space

When a dear friend gives you the gift of a book and says this is one of my favourites, you go directly to your desk and read it, which I did. The book, Differences: Topographies of Contemporary Architecture by Spanish architect and theorist Ignasi de Solà-Morales (MIT Press, 1997) is a map exploring the terrain contemporary architecture traverses. Architectural writing is, for me, a parallel cartography for living in the world, and living in a world where art is essential.

The book is a series of essays written and published over the course of six years, yet consistent perceptions and thematic currents run through it. A particularly prevalent line is de Solà-Morales’s idea of event. He applies it to the understanding and utility of a building so that the apprehension and the building are motile; he uses it in the temporal sense of the moment–like a performance; as excitement and surprise; as a flashpoint. In short, as the provisional way in which we can function now, neither grounded nor unified by a single guiding principle or myth. As I see it, event is one of de Solà-Morales’s key tenets in coming to a contemporary definition of architecture. He says making architecture clear is not “some arborescent endeavor”; architecture isn’t a tree whose branches grow from a single trunk. Rather, it is “an event, resulting from the intersections of forces capable of situating an object that is partially signifying, contingent.” There is also, he tells us, a culture of the event that can turn the moment of flux and splinter into a source of energy out of which a new sense of reality can be produced. The event is also “a point of encounter, a conjunction whereby the lines of a limitless itinerary cross with others to create modal points of outstanding intensity.” It is here where art that startles us to emotion is produced. He makes event individual as well by identifying it as “the action of a subject who, within the chaotic flux … arrests those moments that most attract or impel, in order to hold on to them.” All of this acknowledges there is no single point on which we stand, no natural order to which we all subscribe, or by which we’re directed in this contemporary, heterogeneous world…

Buy Issue 108 to read the entire essay!

Volume 27, Number 4: Photography

This article originally appeared in Border Crossings #108, published December 2008.

Border Crossings looks at contemporary art with interest, passion and thoroughness. Subscribe to Border Crossings today for as little as $24/year.