Summer Reading II: “Building Enchantment”

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In this second post for our summer reading series “Excerpts from: The Absurdity of Beauty – rebalancing the Modernist narrative”, we wanted to highlight the discourse around poetry and architecture that informed our approach in publishing this monograph with Architectural Review. Conversations around the notion of poetry were critical from the start and developed as we talked to architect and Royal Academician Ian Ritchie about what he would write for the publication. He also introduced us to his friend, architect and writer Richard England, who has dwelled on this topic over many years.

What emerged from our many pleasurable exchanges whilst putting the monograph together was a discourse on how the poetic qualities of architecture are what makes it an art form. They are what enables architecture to have universal appeal and to be emotionally meaningful. These exchanges led to Richard England also writing for the monograph and what followed was his thoughtful essay “Building Enchantment”. In it, England eloquently describes the expressive potential that architecture and poetry share. The devices are, of course, different but their ability to transcend the everyday is the same.

We hope you enjoy the following passages from Richard England’s essay “Building Enchantment” and its foray into the essence of things and perhaps the very things we seek to find when we fall in love with architecture.

“Building Enchantment” by Richard England – Extract:

In attempting to establish a relationship between architecture and poetry, it seems appropriate first of all to investigate the origins and meanings of the two respective disciplines: Architecture derives from the Greek word Arkhitekton, where Arkhi signifies ‘master’ and Tekton ‘building’. Poetry also comes from the Greek Poieses, meaning ‘to make’.  

“Making and building”

From the etymology of the words, it is clear that the two disciplines are involved in a process of making and building, ie, creating. However, the materials and methodologies employed are different; building materials for architecture and words for poetry. Yet both share the aim of enchanting and elevating the human spirit. Architecture and poetry also share the qualities of precision, metrics, structure and rhythm, as essential constituents in both their creative process and manifestation. Also common to both is the play of contrasting opposites: solid and void in architecture, sound and silence in poetry.

Poetry, not unlike architecture, is also about building, building with words and sculpting with sound. It is about the taste of words and the intermittent voids and silences of the pauses; a crossover between sound and silence. One reads not only what is written, but also that which is not written; the words between the lines and the invisible words too; the heard and the unheard, the said and the unsaid. It is how musical and meaningful the poet can make these passages that elevates his or her work from the realm of prose to that of poetry, in the same way that an architect can make a building lift the spirit and enchant its users. It was TS Eliot who said ‘poetry must communicate even before it is understood’. The true poet is the one who casts a web of magic that has the capacity to carry the reader away, just as the true architect caps into his building human emotions to lift the hearts of its users.

Read more at theabsurdityofbeauty.com

Summer Reading I: “Against Notopia”

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This summer we are posting a series of extracts from essays featured in “The Absurdity of Beauty – Rebalancing the Modernist narrative”, our advocacy monograph published with The Architectural Review.  To launch this series of extracts we have chosen an essay by the monograph’s Editor, Catherine Slessor, on the idea of place.

Called “Against Notopia”, Slessor’s essay touches on many of the ideas that recur in different contexts elsewhere in the monograph. Ideas about a growing ambivalence to the legacy of much of what the Modern Movement has achieved in terms of creating a successful, engaging and emotionally meaningful built environment. Ideas about how corporate forces have high-jacked the Modern Movement’s aesthetic whilst leaving behind its ethos. Ideas about how we might better reconnect with the very people whose communities we are designing. Slessor’s often provocative and always perceptive style offers a fresh perspective on these issues and adds a new dimension to the discourse on the notion of ‘nowhere place’ or ‘Notopia’ that has been examined on the pages of Architectural Review in recent years. 

“Against Notopia” by Catherine Slessor – Extract:

“In an age of increased cultural and social homogenisation, the elusive and often contested notion of place has assumed a renewed importance. The current era is dominated by rapacious globalisation, the systematic erosion of difference and the commodification of culture. While representing material advancement and social liberalisation, these forces also invariably involve the destruction of traditional cultures and a disengagement with the past. What is now prized most by the multinational corporations who stalk the globe are universal systems of value-free exchange and profit.

Left to the mercy of market forces, the commercialisation of land has spawned the selfish city, as described in the AR’s recent ‘Notopia’ manifesto as being ‘disfigured by the interests of bankers and stillborn in vision and unable to cope with mass urbanisation … one building next to another does not make a place and many buildings do not make a city’. Notopia is ‘a warning sign that the metropolis as place of exchange dialogue and delight between diverse groups of people is being exterminated. Buildings alone do not support life.’

Architecture’s ambivalent relationship with modern capitalism and its growing dependence on arcane treatises and self-justificatory theories has also resulted in the neglect of a diversity of physical environments that have the potential to deliver empirical inspiration for art and invention. To an extent, architecture has become a marginalised freemasonry, its creative potential reduced to eclectic wrapping paper adorning slabs of dehumanised corporate space planning. From Dallas to Dhaka to Dubai, the outcome of this banal hegemony of the built environment is only too apparent.”

Read more at theabsurdityofbeauty.com