Archive for February, 2012

Nuffield Transplantation Surgery Unit, Western General Hospital, by Peter Womersley


Peter Womersley’s Nuffield Transplantation Unit at the Western General in Edinburgh (1963), and strangely zoomorphic, it could be straight out of one of John Hejduk’s architectural masques, perhaps known as a Unit for the Transplantation of Human Organs:




Rooms may owe their existence to an idea but, in the end, they consist of physical matter, of material that often obeys no idea at all and only wants to exercise its own rights.

Peter Zumthor Therme Vals



Man dwells when he can orientate himself within and identify with an environment, or, in short, when he experiences the environment as meaningful. Dwelling therefore implies something more than “shelter”. It implies that the spaces where life occurs as places, in the true sense of the word. A place is a space which has a distinct character. Since ancient times the genius loci, or “spirit of place,” has been recognised as the concrete reality man has to face and come to terms with in his daily life. Architecture means to visualise the genius loci, and the task of the architect is to create meaningful places, whereby he helps man to dwell.

Christian Norberg-Schultz Genius Loci

the new art gallery walsall, by caruso st john


Caruso St John’s magnificent New Art Gallery, Walsall




Pilgrimage is premised on the idea that the sacred is not entirely immaterial, but there is a geography of spiritual power. Pilgrimage walks a delicate line between the spiritual and the material in its emphasis on the story and its setting; though the search is for spirituality, it is pursued in terms of the most material details – of where Buddha was born or where Christ died, where the relics are or the holy water flows. Or perhaps it reconciles the spiritual and the material, for to go on pilgrimage is to make the body and its actions express the desires and beliefs of the soul. Pilgrimage unites belief with action, thinking with doing, and it makes sense that this harmony is achieved when the sacred has material presence and location.

Rebecca Solnit Wanderlust; A History of Walking



The Prince had provided all the appliances of pleasure. There were buffoons, there were improvisatori, there were ballet dancers, there were musicians, there was Beauty, there was wine.

and not to forget,

There were delirious fancies such as the madman fashions. There were much of the beautiful, much of the wanton, much of the bizarre, something of the terrible, and not a little of that which might have excited disgust.

excerpts from Edgar Allen Poe’s Masque of the Red Death

céramique quarter, maastricht


This is a relatively new quarter on the riverside in Maastricht, and on the site of the old ceramic potteries and factories. It is now something of an architects’ playground: Jo Coenen’s Centre Céramique (library & exhibition); Alvaro Siza’s mixed-use housing & office complex; Mario Botta’s La Fortezza (replete with obligatory rotunda – typical Botta if you like that sort of thing); Aldo Rossi’s Bonnefanten Museum (Rossi’s take on the memory of a Dutch windmill); the Piazza Céramique by Jo Janssen in collaboration with Wim van den Bergh (possibly the most interesting of these buildings); Wiel Aret’s early Céramique office building; and other buildings by Cruz y Ortiz, Luigi Snozzi, Herman Hertzberger, etc.





Rossi’s Bonnefanten (with dodgy ceramic)




Jo Janssen Architecten with Wim van den Bergh Piazza Céramique


Of their project Jo Janssen and Wim van den Bergh write:

To an architect, looking back at the genesis of a particular building, such as the Piazza Céramique in Maastricht for example, means recollecting a number of key moments. In the early stages, the predominant impression is the intriguing challenge that lies concealed within the assignment formulated by the principal, a challenge that rouses something akin to belligerent feelings. In addition – if you look back as a designer – the recollection cover the often-unrecognized creative and intellectual energy that you manage to strike during the design process. This is often done in conjunction with others, by deliberately picking up the challenge and entering a discussion with the principal. In this particular case, it was with Vesteda [developer] in the persons of Huub Smeets and Huib van Wijk.

After an intensive study of the initial assignment, you gradually recognize, along with the principal, the problem which – as is generally the case – is actually more profound than the assignment and its formulation originally indicated. And this gives both parties the triumphant feeling of discovery and recognition.

The concrete articulation of the complexity of the specific circumstances – partly genuinely present, partly construed by the formulation of the assignment – within which the building ought to be realized, often stimulates your creative powers to the limit. It is primarily these construed circumstances that irritate and stimulate your intellectual powers as an architect, precisely because a number of inherent paradoxes lurk within these specific circumstances (desired or undesired), thus making an evident or unambiguous solution to the assignment impossible. This is something that, on the one hand, can drive you, as a logically and rationally thinking person, to the verge of insanity and, on the other, can give you, as a solver of brainteasers, ultimate satisfaction once you have finally hit upon the solution.



Wit, you know, is the unexpected copulation of ideas, the discovery of some occult relation between images in appearance remote from each other; and an effusion of wit, therefore, presupposes an accumulation of knowledge; a memory stored with notions, which the imagination may call out to compose new assemblages. Whatever may be the native vigour of the mind, she can never form many combinations from few ideas, as many changes can never be rung upon a few bells. Accident may indeed sometimes produce a lucky parallel or a striking contrast; but these gifts of chance are not frequent, and he that has nothing of his own, and yet condemns himself to needless expenses must live upon loans or theft.

Samuel Johnson



We understand so quickly that we forget to imagine.

Gaston Bachellard

construction & analysis


Having discredited the metaphor […] in “Constructions in Analysis,” for example, Freud insists on the importance of the term construction over the term interpretation. But what precisely is left of this word after it is disassociated from buildings? Or rather, what was gained by the association with buildings in the first place? The metaphor loses no rhetorical force despite its apparent implausibility. Freud’s attempt to restrain the metaphor and its endless return, even within that attempt, suggests that it does not simply “stand for” what it appears to represent, that at some level an ambivalence between decoration and structure is part of the collective associations that the canonic image of architecture invokes, even while being employed to resist precisely such an ambivalence.

After all, psychoanalytic theory’s relationship with architecture must, at a certain point, be subjected to psychoanalysis. Freud repeatedly identifies the traditional construction of theory with the way in which “secondary revision” in the dream work (like the delusions of the first theories of the child) “fills in the gaps” to construct a smooth dissimulating facade masking the traumatic observations of particular gaps in the world. Psychoanalysis claims to embrace all such gaps, flaws, errors, and slips in an unstable architecture that is itself congenitally flawed and in which the roles of structure and decorative surface often reverse. But this self-description is itself a facade.

Just as the facade of the dream and the joke can employ irrationality to disguise rationality, the explicit destabilisation of the canonic image of architecture found throughout Freud’s writing may disguise its claims to high theoretical status, claims that can only be made by preserving that very image. Just as the inherent but repressed instability of high theoretical structures has been identified by post-structuralist readings of the canonic texts, the traditional architectonic pretensions of high theory can be found within the apparently unstable architecture of psychoanalytic texts. In both cases the architectural metaphor is both indispensable and fickle, turning over and over and forever slipping sideways. The classical opposition between stable architecture and mobile ornament is, at the very least, doubly unstable.

This rhetorical slippage organizes, for example, Freud’s use of the term construction, which ostensibly refers to a formation with a particular history, something assembled in a certain way that could have been built differently, but also exploits its associations with the sense of trans-historical immutable order sustained by the image of a building conforming to certain precultural structural principles like gravity. The psyche may be a historical artefact but its different possibilities depend on, and are limited by, certain fundamental structural principles. This strategic ambivalence can be traced throughout contemporary critical discourse where the word construction has acquired an extraordinary role. […]

If fetishes only exist in theory, architecture is the theoretical fetish, the fetish of theory. As the traditional paradigm throughout the Western theoretical tradition of ideas embedded in material, it stands for theory.

Mark Wigley Theoretical Slippage: The Architecture of the Fetish