Architecture of the Sky (Milan Trade Fair Building by Massimiliano & Doriana Fuksas) versus Architecture of the Earth (Japanese playground photographed by Munemi Natsu)
This article will be somehow similar to the text Architectures of Joy I wrote in 2010 and to which I often referred this week; however, this time, I would like to oppose a Spinozist architecture to its antagonist. It is important to observe that attributing the status of ‘Spinozist’ to an architecture is a relatively artificial and subjective assignment as all architectures are, to some extents, celebrating the composition of material assemblages that will interact with the bodies they host. Nevertheless, just like I did for the cinema of Kurosawa yesterday, we can distinguish some architectures that express the essence of Spinoza’s philosophy with more intensity (another Spinozist term) than others. Moreover, some others seem to express an essence that can be interpreted as an opposition to such a philosophy. This antagonism is here gathered under the title Architecture of the Sky vs. Architecture of the Earth as a form of simplification of what opposes them. One could argue that the sky is fully part of Spinoza’s philosophy, at the same level than the ground itself; however, the sky has to be understood through two attributes here: a symbolic one that understands the sky in a theological way, and a “practical” one in the sense that what is called “architectures of the sky” here, would not challenge the body in a direct physical manner. We could therefore used two other antagonist notions to define this conflict: the transcendental. versus the immanent.
ARCHITECTURES OF THE SKY
Architectures of the sky involves the body in its vision and its ability to feel the negative space that is created by its proportions. It is built in such a way that the body is humbled, small as it is under the mightiness of the sky (materialized by the roof). For this reason, it is a theological architecture and its paradigmatic example is the Gothic Cathedral in the way it expresses the fear and respect of a transcendental God. Although it does not necessarily appear as such, the Milan Trade Fair Building designed by Massimiliano & Doriana Fuksas, is also a theological architecture. Of course, it is not dedicated to “God” but it celebrates a form of deity embodied by the architect. The image of the “vortex” viewed from above is engaged in a direct dialog with the famous photograph of Le Corbusier’s finger that became the symbol of the transcendental architect’s action on the world. It is as if the Architect (with a capital A) pressed the roof of the Trade Fair with his (the Architect is always involved in normative processes of masculinity) finger and thus transformed the space below it and magnified his intervention. The plan is the architect’s medium but it is also the symptom of his deity. He traces lines and laughs to see all these little bodies trapped in the spatial apparatuses he drew from above.
ARCHITECTURES OF THE EARTH
French Pavilion at the 1970 Venice Biennale by Claude Parent
Playground in Belleville (Paris) by BASE (2008)
I apologize for using the same examples when I invoke the question of an architecture that truly challenges the body but they are so paradigmatic that using other (and probably tamer) illustrations would not serve as well the argument here. Those examples are the Oblique Function elaborated by Paul Virilio and Claude Parent in the 1960’s (and embodied in various buildings), about the life work of Arakawa and Madeline Gins (see the category dedicated to their work on this blog) to create architecture for its users not to die or the various (good) playgrounds of the world including the fantastic one in Belleville designed by BASE. In those three cases the architecture is mostly generated from the surface on which the body has no choice but to interact with as we continuously touch it: the ground. The latter is treated as a terrain (we might say, the original status of all grounds) that the body needs to “conquest” (to re-use the Deleuzian terminology for Spinozist concepts) in order to appropriate it.
What is truly Spinozist about this architecture is the fact that one is obliged to develop the second degree of knowledge (the one that makes your body composes harmonious relations with your physical environment) that can ultimately flirt with the third one (a perfect reading of the material assemblages in their movement of speed and slowness). The outcome of such a conquest is an increase of power (potentia) hence the joy I was referring to in the original text. The joy is quite literal in the case of the playgrounds, but in the case of the work of Arakawa and Madeline Gins, this increase of potentia goes as far as aiming for a significant reduction of the aging process (manifested by their poetic We Have Decided Not To Die) by strengthen the body and its biology through architecture. In a society of idols and comfort that serve the exact opposite purpose, we absolutely need more architectures of Spinozist joy. That concludes our Spinoza week, thank you for following it.