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Pallasmaa Reading - 282 JUHANIPALLASMAA its patina These...

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Unformatted text preview: 282 JUHANIPALLASMAA its patina... These are all materials and surfaces that speak pleasurably of time.” To “speak pleasurably of time” is to accentuate and savor time’s complex dimenm sions, rather than seeking refuge in simplistic, lifeless perfection. \ In addition to his work as a practicing architect, Pallasmaa has served as Director of the Museum of Finnish Architecture (1978—1983), Professor of Architecture at Helsinki University of Technology (1991—97) and also Dean of the Faculty of Architecture (1993—96). He has also taught at various universities in Europe, North and South America, and Africa, and has received a number of important honors, including the Finnish National Architecture Award (1992) and the International Union of Architects’ Award for Architectural Criticism (1999). His books are widely admired across a range of disciplines. Excerpts from The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses “The hands want to see, the eyes want to caress.” 1 jOHANN WOLFGANG VON GOETHE “The dancer has his ear in his toes.” FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE2 “If the body had been easier to understand, nobody would have thought that we had a mind.” RICHARD RORTY3 “The taste of the apple lies in the contact of the fruit with the palate, not in the fruit itself; in a similar way poetry lies in the meeting of poem and reader, not in the lines of symbols printed on the pages of a book. What is essential is the aesthetic act, the thrill, the almost physical emotion that comes with each reading.” JORGE LUIS BORGEs4 “How would the painter or poet express anything other than his encounter with the world?” MAURICE MERLEAU—PONTYS VISION AND KNOWLEDGE 283 ‘Yx Vision and Knowledge In Western culture, sight has historically been regarded as the noblest of the senses, and thinking itself thought of in terms of seeing. Already in classical Greek thought, certainty was based on vision and visibility. “The eyes are more exact witnesses than the ears,” wrote Heraclitus in one of his fragments.6 Plato regarded vision as humanity’s greatest gift,7 and he insisted that ethical universals must be accessible to “the mind’s eye.”8 Aristotle, likewise, considered sight as the most noble of the senses “because it approximates the intellect most closely by virtue of the relative immateriality of its knowing.”9 Since the Greeks, philosophical writings of all times have abounded with ocular metaphors to the point that knowledge has become analogous With clear vision and light is regarded as the metaphor for truth. Aquinas even applies the notion of sight to other sensory realms as well as to intellectual cognition: The impact of the sense of vision on philosophy is well summed up by Peter Sloterdijk: “The eyes are the organic prototype of philosophy. Their enigma is that they not only can see but are also able to see themselves seeing. This gives them a prominence among the body’s cognitive organs. A good part of philosophical thinking is actually only eye refleX, eye dialectic, iseeingeoneselilsee.”10 During the Renaissance, the five senses were understood to form a hierarchical system from the highest sense of vision down to touch. The Renaissance system of the senses was related with the image of the cosmic body; vision was correlated to fire and light, hearing to air, smell to vapor, taste to water, and touch to earth.11 The invention of perspectival representation made the eye the center point of the perceptual world as well as of the concept of the self. Perspectival repre— sentation itself turned into a symbolic form, one which not only describes but also conditions perception. There is no doubt that our technological culture has ordered and separated the senses even more distinctly. Vision and hearing are now the privileged socia— ble senses, whereas the other three are considered as archaic sensory remnants with a merely private function, and they are usually suppressed by the code of culture. Only sensations such as the olfactory enjoyment of a meal, fragrance of owers, and responses to temperature are allowed to draw collective awareness in our ocularcentric and obsessively hygienic code of culture. The dominance of vision over the other senses—and the consequent bias in cognition—has been observed by many philosophers. A collection of philosoph— ical essays entitled Modernity and the Hegemony of Vision12 argues that “beginning with the ancient Greeks, Western culture has been dominated by an ocular— centric paradigm, a vision—generated, vision—centred interpretation of knowledge, truth, and reality.”13 This thought—provoking book analyzes “hist01ical i : l r l l i l A 284 JUHANIPALLASMAA connections between vision and knowledge, vision and ontology, vision and power, Vision and ethics.”14 As the ocularcentric paradigm of our relation to the world and of our concept of knowledge—the epistemological privileging of vision—has been revealed by philosophers, it is also important to survey critically the role of vision in relation to the other senses in our understanding and practice of the art of architecture. Architecture, as With all art, is fundamentally confronted with questions of human existence in space and time, it expresses and relates man’s being in the world. Architecture is deeply engaged in the metaphysical questions of the self and the world, interiority and exteriority, time and duration, life and death. “Aes— thetic and cultural practices are peculiarly susceptible to the changing experience of space and time precisely because they entail the construction of spatial representa— tions and artefacts out of the flow of human experience,” writes David Harvey.15Architecture is our primary instrument in relating us with space and time, and giving those dimensions a human measure. It domesticates limitless Space and endless<tinre to be tolerated, inhabited}, and understood by humankind. As a consequence of this interdependence of space and time, the dialectics of external and internal space, physical and spiritual, material and mental, unconscious and conscious priorities concerning the senses as well as their relative roles and interactions, have an essential impact on the nature of the arts andflarchitecture. David Michael Levin motivates the philosophical critiquerof the dominance of the eye with the following words: “I think it is appropriate to challenge the hegemony of vision—the ocularcentrism ofrourrculture. And I think we need to examine very critically the Character of vision that predominates today in our world. We urgently need a diagnosis of the psychosocial pathology of everyday seeing—and a critical understanding of ourselves, as visionary beings.“ Levin points out the autonomy—drive and aggressiveness of vision, and “the specters of patriarchal rule” that haunt our ocularcentric culture: The will to power is very strong in vision. There is a very strong ten— dency in vision to grasp and fixate, to reify and totalize: a tendency to dominate, secure, and control, which eventually, because it was so extensively promoted, assumed a certain uncontested hegemony over our culture and its philosophical discourse, establishing, in keeping with the instrumental rationality of our culture and the technological char- acter of our society, an ocularcentric metaphysics of presence.17 I believe that many aspects of the pathology of everyday architecture today can likewise be understood through an analysis of the epistemology of the senses, and a critique of the ocular bias of our culture at large, and of architecture in particular: The inhumanity of contemporary architecture and cities can be understood as the consequence of the negligence of the body and the senses, and an imbalance in our sensory system. The growing experiences of alienation, detachment, and solitude in the technological world today, for instance, may be related with a certain pathology of the senses. It is thought—provoking that this sense of estrangement and detachment is often evoked by the technologically most advanced settings, such as hospitals and airports. The dominance of the. l i VISION AND KNOWLEDGE 285 OCULARCENTRISM AND THE VIOLATION OF THE EYE Architecture has been regarded as an art form of the eye. Eye Reflecting the Interior of the Theatre of Besangon, engraving after Claude—Nicholas Ledoux. The theatre was built from 1775 to 1784. Detail. Ledoux, Claude Nicolas (1736—1806)/ Bibliotheque des Arts Decoratifs, Paris, France/ Archives Charmet/The Bridgeman Art Library. Vision is regarded as the most noble of the senses, and the loss of eyesight as the ulti— mate physical loss. Luis Bufiuel and Salvador Dali, Un Chien Andalou (Andalusian Dog), 1929. The shocking scene in which the heroine's eye is sliced with a razor blade, Aito Makinin/Finnish Film Archive. BUNUEL-DALI /THE KOBAL COLLECTION / Picture Desk, 286 JUHANlPALLASMAA eye and the suppression of the other senses tend to push us into detachment, isolation, and exteriority. The art of the eye has certainly produced imposing and thought—provoking structures, but it has not facilitated human rootedness in the world. The fact that the modernist idiom has not generally been able to pene— trate the surface of popular taste and values seems to be due to its one—sided intellectual and Visual emphasis; modernist design at large has housed the intellect and the eye, but it has left the body and the other senses, as well as our memo— ries, imagination, and dreams, homeless. The Significance of the Shadow The eye is~the organ of distance and separation, whereas touch is the sense of neamess, intimacy, and affection. The eye surveys, controls, and investigates, whereas touch approaches and caresses. During overpowering emotional experi— ences, we tend to close off the distancing sense of vision; we close the eyes when dreaming, listening to music, or caressing our beloved ones. Deep shadows and darkness are essential, because they dim the sharpness of vision, make depth and distance ambiguous, and invite unconscious peripheral vision and tactile fantasy. How much more mysterious and inviting is the street of an old town with its alternating realms of darkness and light than are the brightly and evenly lit streets of today! The imagination and daydreaming are stimulated by dim light and shadow. In order to think clearly, the sharpness of Vision has to be suppressed, for thoughts travel with an absent—minded and unfocused gaze. Homogenous bn'ght light paralyses the imagination in the same way that homogenization of space weakens the expenence of being, and wipes away the sense of place. The human eye is most perfectly tuned for twilight rather than bright daylight. Mist and twilight awaken the imagination by making visual images unclear and ambiguous; a Chinese painting of a foggy mountain landscape or the raked sand garden of Ryoan—ji Zen Garden give rise to an unfocused way of looking, evoking a trancelike, meditative state. The absent—minded gaze penetrates the surface of the physical image and focuses in infinity. In his book In Praise of Shadows, Junichiro Tanizaki points out that even Japanese cooking depends upon shadows, and that it is inseparable from darkness: “And when 771cm is served in a lacquer dish, it is as if the darkness of the room were melting on your tongue.”18 The writer reminds us that, in olden times, the blackened teeth of the geisha and her green—black lips as well as her white painted face were all intended to emphasise the darkness and shadows of the room. ACOUSTICINTIMACY 287 Likewise, the extraordinarily powelful sense of focus and presence in the paint— ings of Caravaggio and Rembrandt arises from the depth of shadow in which the protagonist is embedded like a precious object on a dark velvet background that absorbs all light. The shadow gives shape and life to the object in light. It also pro— vides the realm from which fantasies and dreams arise. The art of chiaroscuro is a skill of the master architect, too. In great architectural spaces, there is a constant, deep breathing of shadow and light; shadow inhales and illumination exhales light. In our time, light has turned into a mere quantitative matter and the window has lost its significance as a mediator between two worlds, between enclosed and open, interiority and exteriority, private and public, shadow and light. Having lost its ontological meaning, the window has turned into a mere absence of the wall. “Take the use of enormous plate windows [T]hey deprive our buildings of intimacy, the eEect of shadow and atmosphere. Architects all over the world have been mistaken in the proportions which they have assigned to large plate windows or spaces opening to the outside... We have lost our sense of intimate life, and have become forcedto live public lives, essentially away from home,” writes Luis Barragan, the true magician of intimate secrecy, mysteiy, and shadow in contem- porary architecture.19 Likewise, most contemporary public spaces would become more enjoyable through a lower light intensity and its uneven distribution. The dark womb of the council chamber of Alvar Aalto’s Saynatsalo Town Hall recre— ates a mystical and mythological sense of community; darkness creates a sense of solidarity and strengthens the power of the spoken word. In emotional states, sense stimuli seem to shift from the more refined senses towards the more archaic, from vision down toihearing, touch and smell, and from light to shadow. A culture that seeks to control itsrcitizens is likely to pro— mote the opposite direction of interaction, away from intimate individuality and identification towards a public and distant detachment. A society of surveillance is necessarily a society of the voyeuristic and sadistic eye. An efficient method of mental torture is the use of a constantly high level of illumination that leaves no space for mental withdrawal or privacy; even the dark interiority of self is exposed and violated. Acoustic Intimacy Sight isolates, whereas sound incorporates; vision is directional, whereas sound is omni—directional. The sense of sight implies eXteiiority, but sound creates an experience of interiority. I regard an object, but sound approaches me; the eye .288 JUHANIPALLASMAA u ARCHITECTURES OF HEARING AND SMELL In historical towns and spaces, acoustic experiences reinforce and enrich visual experiences. The early Cistercian Abbey of Le Thoronet, first established at Florielle in 1136, trans« ferred to its present site in 1176. niceartphoto / Alamy. In rich and invigorating experiences of places, all sensory realms interact and fuse into the memorable image of the place. A space of smell: the spice market in Harrar, Ethiopia. dbimages / Alamy. ACOUSTICINTIMACY 289 reaches, but the ear receives. Buildings do not react to our gaze, but they do return our sounds back to our ears. “The centering action of sound affects man’s sense of cosmos,” writes Walter Ong. “For oral cultures, the cosmos is an ongo— ing event with man at its centre. Man is the umbilicus mmzdz’, the navel of the world.”20 It is thought—provoking that the mental loss of the sense of center in the contemporary world could be attributed, at least in part, to the disappear— ance of the integrity of the audible world. Hearing structures and articulates the experience and understanding-of space. We are not normally aware of the significance of hearing in spatial experience, although sound often provides the temporal continuum in which visual impres— sions are embedded. When the soundtrack is removed from a film, for instance, the scene loses its plasticity and sense of continuity and life. Silent film, indeed, had to compensate for the lack of sound by a demonstrative manner of overacting. Adrian Stokes, the English painter and essayist, makes perceptive observations about the interaction of space and sound, sound and stone. “Like mothers of men, the buildings are good listeners. Long sounds, distinct or seemingly in bundles, appease the orifices of palaces that lean back gradually fi‘om canal or pavement. A long sound with its echo brings consummation to the stone,” he writesm Anyone who has half—woken up to the sound of a train or an ambulance in a nocturnal city, and through his/ her sleep experienced the space of the city with its countless inhabitants scattered within its structures, knows the power of sound over the imagination; the nocturnal sound is a reminder of human solitude and mortality, and it makes one conscious of the entire slumbering city. Anyone who has become entranced by the sound of dripping water in the darkness of a ruin can attest to the extraordinary capacity of the ear to carve a volume into the void of darkness. The space traced by the ear in the darkness becomes a cavity sculpted directly in the interior of the mind. The last chapter of Steen Eiler Rasmussen’s seminal book Expefiencing Architea tm‘e is significantly entitled “Hearing Architecture.”22 The writer describes various dimensions of acoustical qualities, and recalls the acoustic percept of the under— ground tunnels in Vienna in Orson Welles’s film The Third Alan: “Your ear receives the impact of both the length and the cylindrical form of the tunnel.”23 One can also recall the acoustic harshness of an uninhabited and unfurnished house as compared to the affability of a lived home, in which sound is refracted and softened by the numerous surfaces of objects of personal life. Every building or space has its characteristic sound of intimacy or monumentality, invitation or rejection, hospitality or hostility. A space is understood and appreciated through its echo as much as through its visual shape, but the'acoustic percept usually remains as an unconscious background experience. Sight is the sense of the solitary observer, whereas hearing creates a sense of connection and solidarity; our look wanders lonesomely in the dark depths of a cathedral, but the sound of the organ makes us immediately experience our affinity with the space. We stare alone at the suspense of a circus, but the burst of applause after the relaxation of suspense unites us with the crowd. The sound of church bells echoing through the streets of a town makes us aware of our citizenship. The echo of steps on a ‘paved street has an emotional charge because the sound i g l g 290 JUHANIPALLASMAA reverberating from surrounding walls puts us in direct interaction with space; the sound measures space and makes its scale comprehensible. We stroke the bound— aries of the space with our ears. The cries of seagulls in the harbor awaken an awareness of the vastness of the ocean and the infiniteness of the horizon. Every city has its echo which depends on the pattern and scale of its streets and the prevailing architectural styles and materials. The echo of a Renaissance city diEers from that of a Baroque city. But our cities have lost their echo alto— gether. The wide, open spaces of contemporary streets do not return sound, and in the interiors of today’s buildings echoes are absorbed and censored. The pro— grammed recorded music of shopping malls and public spaces eliminates the pos— sibility of grasping the acoustic volume of space. Our ears have been blinded. Ln Silence, Time, and Solitude The most essential auditory experience created by architecture is tranquillity. Architecture presents the drama of construction silenced into matter, space, and , light. Ultimately, architecture is the art of petrified silence. When the clutter of 7 construction work ceases, and the shouting of workers dies away, a building ‘] becomes a museum of a waiting, patient silence. In Egyptian temples we ‘ encounter the silence that surrounded the pharaohs, in the silence of the Gothic cathedral we are reminded of the last dying note of a Gregorian chant, and the echo of Roman footsteps has just faded away from the walls of the Pantheon. Old houses take us back to the slow time and silence of the past. The silence of architecture is a responsive, remembering silence. A ...
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