Places at Distance:Infinity

“When at ten o’clock in the morning my shutters were thrown open, I saw ablaze in the sunlight, instead of the black marble into which the slates of Saint-Hilaire used to turn, the Golden Angel on the Campanile of San Marco. In its dazzling glitter, which made it almost impossible to fix in space, it promised me with outstretched arms, a joy more certain than any that it could ever in the past have been bidden.”
Marcel Proust

“…disengagement, obliqueness, abstraction, mediation, action at a distance…”
Robin Evans

By investigating the manner in which representations such as maps, catalogues, and photo essays depicting foreign destinations affect our eventual physical encounters with those places, it is possible to understand the effects of architectural modes of representation on the eventual constructed experience of the building.

There is no question that representations of places distant from us shape our understandings of those places in a particular way even before we engage them in the flesh, before we sit in their streets and breathe that dirt of freshness that swells forth from new experience. Characterizations put forth by the tourism industry and local cultural institutions are carefully crafted to expose, conceal, and highlight very focused views of the place. This is by virtue of not only the information contained in the productions, but also the properties and preferences of the types of representations that are used. These documents may seem benign in their aims at communicating the essential aspects of a culture or locale, but they shape the way we as visitors and interlopers perceive and navigate these places when we actually inhabit them.

In a quest analogous to the production of maps and profiles of global destinations, the architect seeks to represent a place that is infinitely distant, that is the unbuilt building. The representational tools of the architect are often used with the conventional understanding that they are depicting premeditated or existing configurations of space and material, yet do not take into account that they are stand-ins for nothing. They are not representations of a thing because that thing does not yet exist; they are calling that thing into being. It is fruitful then in developing the qualities that architectural modes of representation must assume to understand the existing relationship between touristic propaganda that representationally calls into being a place and the physical encounter with the place.

A sequence of research projects will be plumbed and presented to help explicate the scope of travels, translational capabilities, and internal relations that occur not only between modes of representation, but also from one locale to another. The projects move from an architectural text by Peter Eisenman in New York City describing his urban proposal for the Canneregio district of Venice, to a physical manifestation of this proposal produced in Los Angeles based solely on a visitation of the text. This hermetic work is contrasted with a series of postcards subsequently produced in the Canneregio district documenting and depicting the experiential and discarded notions of how one physically occupies Venice, not only as an orthogonal architectural construct, but also as a cultural and sensual milieu. The dialectic of the translation from remote representation to remote manifestation in the Eisenman exercise and the immediate translation of city to representation in the postcards helps us understand how much the physical manifestation can impact the modes of representation, and similarly, how much the modes of representation affect the scope of the physical manifestations they prefigure.

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