For An Architecture Of Reality

I finished reading Michael Benedikt's For An Architecture Of Reality today. It's a short, yet sweet interpretation of our postmodern path in architecture (as of 1984 when it was written) and what Benedikt believes to be the essence of an architecture rooted in reality. Upon experiencing a building one must feel its realness consciously and subconsciously, move with its movements and be drawn to areas of seeming emptiness without explanation. A "real" building is much easier to find than to create. They have been modestly constructed for centuries to serve a specific purpose in the most efficient manner possible while maintaining a certain dialogue with its antecedents. I am reminded of grain silos.

The "direct esthetic experience of the real" is how Benedikt defines the moments when a person sees this importance and beauty in any building or arbitrary aspect of nature, such as a single cow in a enormous pasture under a lonely tree (as illustrates a picture in the book), or in my example, the shimmering of dew drops on a spider's web at dawn. I think this moment of truth is what IS; it is not a metaphor or symbolic of some greater idea. Benedikt says, "Ideas and colors do not point to other realms, signs say what they have to a fall silent."

"Realness" is divided into four components: presence, significance, materiality and emptiness. Here is how I would define the four as described by Benedikt:

Presence: When a building has presence it presents itself much in same way that an actor can be said to have stage presence, simply being present on the stage does not mean a person embodies this sense of presence. The building is unashamedly aware of itself and assertively claims its territory.

Significance: A building gains significance by affecting the everyday lives of its user rather than representing some abstract idea or being symbolic of an idea. A renaissance bell tower informed citizens hourly of the time thus giving the tower significance. This is far from the intended significance of a Renaissance facade at the local library. A buildings significance is timely in the same way that the industrial revolution provided the necessary foundation for Modernist architecture and has since faded.

Materiality: This is most easily definable component which I can nearly sum up by saying: Honesty of materials. Clients have always desired more precious materials than they could afford which has led to the use of stone veneers far beyond the time when they were used as structural support. The authenticity of a material is also essential. One should be able to read a materials composition from afar and up close so they do not feel decieved by the building.

Emptiness: The best way to explain this concept is using Benedikt's example of the Japanese word Ma. "Ma is in the gaps between stepping stones, in the silence between the notes of music, in what is made when a door slides open." This emptiness is the inhabitable void in between well placed structural elements. It is an absence of short-term entertainment and distractions which too often clutter a space.

I see Benedikt's components in these photos:


Presence: (Roman Aqueduct)

Significance: (St. James Cathedral)

Significance: (Galleria Vittorio Emanuele)


Emptiness (Antoine Predock - Mesa Public Library)

Emptiness: (Louis Kahn - Dacca)


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