design as precision poetics

Precision Poetics is a layered and nuanced approach to Architecture and design that responds to the complexities and interconnections of a networked world and builds upon the lineage of architectural history with the conviction that as an art form, Architecturemust address the needs of the culture it faces with its essential and unique properties of form, space, order and time in the built, inhabited environment lest it will become lost in the sea of media noise.  In a scientific age where neuroscience is at the forefront of the ever-developing conception of the human condition, Precision Poetics looks to cognitive spatial metaphors as conceptual prototypes for the creation of architectural spaces conceived for an embodied mind.  In a world facing challenges of climate and natural resource, Precision Poetics means to propose alternatives to the established metaphors that structure Western attitudes towards human interaction with the environment.

To These Ends:

I believe that the practice of Architecture must be approached first and foremost with knowledge of its history and its essential and unique potentials as a specific field of art.

1. The primary purpose of Architecture lies in its ability to establish places out of chaos (the separation of the sacred and the profane, the founding of an axis mundi, etc) that express ideas through form, space, order, and the passage of time, all at the scale of the activities of human life.

2.  To fully achieve this ideal, Architecture must also strive towards poetics, well-defined by Bachelard, who wrote, “The poetic image is a sudden salience on the surface of the psyche.” (1) A poetic architectural experience should elicit a complex personal reaction that blends reason, emotion, and creative thought to foster an individual understanding of and a relationship with the work of the designer.  While “the essential newness of the poetic image” (2) eludes definition in purely rational terms, the creation of the poetic image must nonetheless be executed with precision for the sake of clarity and the preservation of the mark of the artist’s hand upon the work.

3. Architectural poetics are given precision and clarity through a language of formal, spatial, and experiential dialectics.  A curve gains importance when placed against a rectangle.  Planes strengthen volumes. (3)  The presence of shadows elevates the experience of light.  The warmth of wood contrasts the chill of stone. (4)

I believe that an Architect must build upon the meaning and cultural history of the field to define his or her conceptual approach to the practice for the contemporary age.

1. I think that the forefront of understanding the human condition lies in knowledge of the function of the mind discovered through current empirical research in the field of neuroscience (cognitive science).  Modern science has discredited models of philosophy that assume the mind as an entity all its own and instead supports embodied mind theory, which states that cognition is inseparable from the body and that bodily experience shapes all thought.   Consequently, the mind expresses abstract concepts through a vast array of spatially and physically oriented metaphors. (5)  For Architecture, awareness of the cognitive metaphor provides a vast library of resources to draw upon in the creation of the poetic.

2.  And by the implications of embodied mind theory, “The environment is not an ‘other’ to us.  It is not a collection of things that we encounter.  Rather, it is part of our being.  It is the locus of our existence and identity.  We cannot and do not exist apart from it.” (6)  Thus in the face of environmental challenges, I want to create Architecture based upon new spatial metaphors that question commonly held notions about our interaction with the ecological systems around us and reframe our thinking about climate and resources by providing settings for new or altered perceptions.  I dream of buildings like Domenico’s House in Tarkovksy’s film Nostalghia, where it rains inside, through the roof, and it is beautiful.  I dream of buildings with patterns of inhabitation that change with the annual seasons.

I believe that an Architect must refine a set of working practices suited to his or her larger conceptual goals in the design of buildings.

1. I hold the art of drawing as the Architect’s primary method of communication.  I construct drawings that I refer to as mappings, which tell narratives of space using layers of information addressing multiple viewpoints and the passage of time.  In a complex, information-dense world, many things go unnoticed at first pass, but mapping has the ability to reveal initially unseen architectural possibilities within a situation through patient analysis and critique.  And it is through revealing these hidden possibilities that the Architect can transform reality. (7)

2. In the quest for Architecture that redefines our relationship with the surrounding environment, I practice a method of landscape that dissolves the common division between inside and outside.  Landscape must extend into Architecture and Architecture must extend into the landscape.

3. During the earliest steps of the design process, I approach every building site with critical review to determine which of its existing elements can be reused, which can be reconfigured, reframed or moved, and which must be removed entirely.  This does two things.  First, it creates buildings that exist in a scale of time greater than their own and creates architectural narratives tied to history.  Second, it reuses and recycles physical resources.  The form of reuse and reconfiguration may be radical.  This is not preservation.  This is Re-Construction.

-Alex Gryger, January 2011

Works Cited:
1. Bachelard, Gaston. The Poetics of Space. Beacon Press, Boston, Mass. 1964. p. XV
2. ibid. p. XXIV
3. Curtis, William J. R. Le Corbusier: Ideas and Forms. London: Phaidon, 2001. p. 8
4. Zumthor, Peter. Atmospheres: Architectural Environments, Surrounding Objects. Basel: Birkhäuser, 2006. Print.
5. Lakoff, George, and Mark Johnson. Philosophy in the Flesh: the Embodied Mind and Its Challenge to Western Thought. New York: Basic Books, 1999. Print.
6. ibid. p. 567
7. “Architects don’t invent anything, they transform reality.” Alvaro Siza