Writers' Workshop for ARCH 531 / McGill University / School of Architecture / Fall 2012

Week Thirteen: Paper Abstract

Due to the upcoming studio and class deadlines, there will be no blog commentary required this week.  Instead I ask that you post a 250 word abstract of your paper along with the current title.  Keep in mind that the abstract is not an excerpt from your writing, but a statement summarizing the essential points of your text.

10 responses

  1. == Architecture Without a Plan ==

    The history of the drawing of our world starts over thirty thousand years ago with cave artists, which although having a rudimentary practice, shared the interest of depicting the environment with centuries of painters to come. From the earliest times, important events were recorded through representation. However good an artist is, never will its rendering exactly match the genuine experience, yet the aim is to reproduce and explain something that occurred. In this enterprise, many have excelled with varying fidelity, but only very recently have some attempted to draw things that were yet to come.

    Predictive drawings are scarce before the advent of plans in architecture. While plans seems to always have been linked with the practice of architecture, not earlier than the end of the eighteenth century have scaled drawings as we know them been used for describing how construction should happen. A very early example of plan would be the one of the Milan Cathedral by Cesare Cesarino who produces an analytical elevation of the facade, which embraced both the square of the local masons and the equilateral triangle of the Gothic style. In a similar way, Brunelleschi’s model for the dome of the Florence Cathedral demonstrates how the dome could hold. From these early examples emerges the stems from which prescriptive drawings will expand to finally become representations of the ideas in the architect’s mind.

    I’m interested in describing how this notion of drawing before building occurred, and especially how people could actually build without having a finished vision of the whole construction beforehand. I believe these distinct processes have different impacts and yield different results, especially in terms of relevance of the work to its context. I had the opportunity to follow a one-week workshop directed by Juhani Pallasmaa in which we were asked to produce a 1:10 model of a space without being allowed to draw it. This experience of mine might be relevant to the subject of this paper.

    (this is my paper outline)

    December 4, 2012 at 8:08 pm

  2. reckon

    The Origin of the Elements: From Plato to Vitruvius

    Early in his treatise, Vitruvius makes a direct link between the origins of architecture and man’s discovery of one of the primordial elements: fire. De architectura recounts a story of the savage “men of old” wherein in fire, at the outset the epicenter of chaos and cause of fear, becomes a source of comfort and reason for gathering as man is able to impose order on it. “The discovery of fire […] originally gave rise to the coming together of men, to the deliberative assembly, and to social intercourse.”

    The fundamental concept of elements can be traced back to the 5th century BC, when the pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Empedocles first established the four classical building blocks of the world: fire, water, earth and air. The term “element” would only be introduced nearly a century later by Plato in his dialogue Timaeus, wherein he describes the elements as those which give order to the universe. These theories persisted as the standard belief until the early 17th century, shaping the thinking of those such as Aristotle, through to Vitruvius, straight through to Michelangelo and the Renaissance. This paper examines the origin of the classical elements through Plato’s Timaeus and Vitruvius’ De architectura, as well as further investigating how these influence conceptions of “space”.

    Timaeus introduces two states of Being and Becoming, establishing that the universe, being visible and tangible must belong to the category of Becoming. It follows that this visible and tangible universe is composed of elements. In tracing these elements back to their first beginnings, Plato determines that there is a third state in which the Becoming comes to be. This state he qualifies exceptionally abstractly as “space” (chora). This intriguing notion of chora has since been explored by many thinkers, philosophers and academics as the space of human consciousness, experience and participation, and thus the “abstract space” in which language and culture initiate.

    December 4, 2012 at 10:54 pm

  3. VDSY

    Architectural ideas have been transmitted through different means through history. I am looking in my paper at the relations of Vision in the architectural experience of space in the Renaissance and the ways in which these representations were achieved. Comparing Alberti’s representation of the Historia in painting and in architecture through a focal vision, i.e. the perspective, with the narrative way used in the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili by Francesco Colonna, qualified here as a more peripheral vision. I am interested in analyzing how the narrative description of the history can create and enhance the comprehension and experience of the space through its sensuous components and materiality. How can we, in the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, feel the qualities of these spaces, specifically the play of light and shadows through the reading of the narrative, building up the representation in time, with the addition of consecutive layers of informations, composing a general sense of the space.

    December 4, 2012 at 11:12 pm

  4. Esiolé


    The idea of sanctity, of a sacred space is probably one of the defining features of humanity, and it differentiates it from the other beings on this planet. “Man becomes aware of the sacred because it manifests itself, shows itself, as something wholly different from the profane.” [1] The notions of birth and death as important events foster this first awareness of sacred and symbolism in nature. Even though sacred and profane spaces tend to vary according to mythologies and religions, it becomes particularly thought provoking to analyze how foundation rituals and narratives appear to be similar in many ways. The fratricide as leading to the foundation of a city can be encountered in different sacred texts and myths, such as the Bible and the myth of the foundation of Rome.

    However, the destruction of the city, this annihilation of the physical anchor of man on earth appears to be closely linked with the destruction of man himself. It seems even more crucial; the obliteration of man is not enough. Ruins seem to symbolize failure, atonement more accurately than bodies. One of the most powerful examples of this probably lays in the biblical episode of Sodom and Gomorrha. The destruction of these two cities by God would seem fundamental, even more than the destruction of the people living in them. “As God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah and the neighbour cities thereof, saith the Lord; so shall no man abide there, neither shall any son of man dwell therein.” [2] Again, smoke appears to evoke the idea of devastation better than blood. But why does the physical destruction of cities becomes more sacred, more important than the annihilation of its population?

    The symbolic relation between foundation and destruction, as well as the Biblical episode of Sodom and Gomorrha and its influence throughout the Bible itself are key elements to the interpretation of the destruction of cities as a deconsecration of space. Other examples can also relate to this interpretation, in the Bible, such as the episode of the Levite and his concubine (Judges 19-21).

    [1] Eliade, Mircea. The sacred and the profane: the nature of religion, 1959, p.11.
    [2] King James version. The Holy Bible, containing the Old and New Testament, Jeremiah 50: 40.

    December 4, 2012 at 11:39 pm

  5. labyrinth

    Studies of the history of architecture often focus on the analysis of the built form and its meaning. However, it is interesting to note that throughout history, the catalyst for urban life has not so much been the built form, but rather, the void. The public square has always been the centre of social life for inhabitants of the city, and remains an important component of urbanity to this day.

    The aim of my paper is to explore the evolution of the public square from Antiquity to the Renaissance, attempting to define the limits of the public realm and their implications. The analysis of these squares will be approached from two different angles. The first will be from a physical standpoint: what constituted the physical limits of the square, what building types were often present, and what architectural language was used, and why? The second approach will be from a psychological standpoint: what was the intention behind the use and creation of the square, how was the square used, and what was its role in contemporary society? An analysis will be carried out using specific examples from four different time periods: the Greek agora, the Roman forum, the Medieval square, and the Renaissance piazza. Through this analysis, I hope to uncover the link between the underlying principles governing society and their physical manifestation within the public square of the city.

    December 4, 2012 at 11:41 pm

  6. Trebuh

    Nature in the architecture of Palladio (to be rethought)

    Vitruvius was the first to put into words the notion of what architecture is and what architecture should be. He not only described fields an architect should be interested in, but the attributes an architect should possess. His writings would become influential for later architects and, even today, we still look to Vitruvius as a tool to conceptualize and formalize architecture: “Every architect confesses allegiance to the antique; none would dispute the inspiration of Vitruvius.”[1] One such architect influenced by Vitruvius was Palladio, who speaks of Vitruvius, the antique and nature as inspirational to his work. Therefore, Palladio’s conception of nature through the Quattro Libri is explained throughout a variety of concepts such as the tree, the human body, and proportionality. In his treatise, he also explains his thoughts with drawings. In his treatise, Palladio’s vision of architecture seems to be devoted to expressing only his ideals, and relates only with the theorized conception of nature. The drawings of his villas in the Quattro Libri do not include any context and baseline, which emphasize the idea that the villa is an object in a landscape, an entity, which does not relate to its surroundings. Perhaps, he briefly expresses in his treatise the importance of the site (he uses that word), and also describes it in term of views and beauty. The lack of context does not mean that Palladio’s was not taking it into consideration, since he writes in the second book of Quattro Libri about the country as a retreat from urban life: “… and finally, where the mind, fatigued by the agitation of the city, will be greatly restor’d and comforted, and be able quietly to attend the studies of letters, and contemplation.” [2] As such, this disconnect between theory and practice will be accentuated throughout the final essay.

    [1] March, Lionel, Architecture of Humanism: Essays on number in architecture, Academy editions, London, 1998, p. 26

    [2] Palladio, Andrea, The Four Books on Architecture, MIT Press, Massachusetts, 1997, p.104

    December 4, 2012 at 11:45 pm

  7. Amalin

    Man Beyond the Medieval Cosmos

    In an era of prominent war that saw the fall of Constantinople – and with it the Eastern Roman Empire – Cardinal Nicolaus Cusanus investigated philosophy, theology, religion, and cosmology extensively which extended into many other areas of culture and architecture. As a Cardinal, his theological speculations are not in any way meant to break with the medieval church, but rather to strengthen and preserve it. In the Middle Ages, the relationship between Man and God evolved until He finally occupied a physical presence on Earth within Christ – Man became God. This fundamental shift in our perception of the bond between Humanity and God developed a new collective consciousness – and was the first step in the liberation from the crutches of religion.

    Nicolaus Cusanus is the forerunner of this ‘deep revolution’ and certainly had an influence on human self-understanding as “Kepler, Bruno and even Descartes all acknowledge Cusanus as a precursor.” [1] However, it is difficult to proclaimed Cusanus as the forefather of the modern cosmos in view of the fact that his work was not intended to be a scientific contribution, but rather a theological study. Nevertheless, “we cannot but admire the boldness and depth of Nicholas of Cusa’s cosmological speculations which culminate in the astonishing transference to the universe of the pseudo-Hermetic characterization of God: ‘a sphere of which the center is everywhere, and the circumference nowhere.’” [2]

    In this paper, I wish to further study Cusanus’ reflections which push him to believe that the cosmos has a ubiquitous center – suggesting that its circumference is also illusive. I believe a study of domed and centralized buildings, that would become characteristic of the Renaissance, can offer a new understanding of the changes occurring at this time.

    1 Harries, Karsten. Infinity and Perspective. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2001, 23.
    2 Koyré, Alexandre. From the Closed World to the Infinite Universe. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1957, 18.

    December 4, 2012 at 11:53 pm

  8. UVN

    The notion of ekphrasis raises questions of representation, and of the embedded intermediality between architecture and rhetoric. It always assumes the underlying motive to represent its subject with a certain bias and is therefore the vehicle of subjective representation; Paul the Silentiary’s Ekphrasis of Hagia Sophia clearly demonstrates the various means with which rhetoric alters the perspective of the actual building.

    The rhetoric of the sacred church elevated its subject, magnified its symbolic and divine significance, and strategically aligned the perception of Justinian’s reign in the emperor’s favor.

    In his panegyric, Paul tempers with three different realities, shifting the audience’s perception, feeding it the manufactured imageries which act as agents of persuasion. In his verses, he first skews the socio-political context, omitting details and descriptions of events which prove to be inconvenient to his praise of the Emperor Justinian. Further glorification of the Monarch is achieved through his repetitive juxtaposition of the State with the Church, as parallels are drawn between the Emperor, the Patriarch, and God. Finally, his elaborate and often ostentatious verbal depictions of the Hagia Sophia elevate it comparatively to the sublimity of the Heavens; more than mere factual descriptions, these passages inspire bewilderment upon the Holiness of the Church. This threefold manipulation of the mimetic image provides ample grounds for analysis of the influential potential of ekphrasis on the interpretation of historical events and on reality.

    December 4, 2012 at 11:59 pm

    • UVN

      Architectural Rhetoric: Paul the Silentiary’s Ekphrasis of Hagia Sophia

      December 4, 2012 at 11:59 pm

  9. petersburg


    Philibert de l’Orme is often referred as a first “modern architect” as a professional title. First to define the role of an architect, as a specialized expert, The evolving background during the French Renaissance influenced this architect. De l’Orme’s personal experience and background were the foundation to his radical approach, that of the modern architect as the one who exercises authority.
    Through his writings, it is possible to extract his vision of architecture, but also his honest attitude toward this field of study and of practice that are derived from his experience and from predecessor’s treatises.
    Philibert’s honest approach and attitude combined with modern vision and method of analysing architecture led him to realise the depth of this field further, after 35 years of experience. He found an answer for what an architect is and should be and what is involved with this professional practice.
    He is the first definer of the function of an architect as a professional.
    His discovery resides on the need of a good architect to understand the purpose of his art as representing the human habitat, or call it architecture, both in terms of the natural and social sciences.
    A qualified and diligent architect is not a genius that can handle everything, but more an educated and trained professional who gives dedication to building good architecture.

    December 5, 2012 at 12:01 am