Regarding the position of architecture: Questions of scale, material and construction set the tone for a multitude of other issues with one particular question that seems to pervade all others: what is architecture? Considering Zumthor, architecture lies in construction, while Eisenman contends that only design process itself is architecture, and still Gordon Matta-Clark questions whether architecture is art, and whether art can be architecture. Discovering Gehry’s Guggenheim presents us with notions of arbitrary versus random design, and it would seem that such a list of complex issues would not be complete if Tschumi’s ideas of the pyramid and the labyrinth were not mentioned, through which he accounts for the dichotomy between real, physical architecture and abstract, mental architecture.

Asking the question of what architecture is inevitably results in more questions than answers, but perhaps an aspect often overlooked is the intimate, personal relationship that one has with space, particularly with materials that define it. Perhaps only that which moves us and determines the spatial boundaries of our personal lives is where we can begin to understand a material’s purpose in architecture. In the 1950s artist Yves Klein began a series of projects using fire as a medium with which to work. Burn marks on paper eventually lead to radical proposals for fountains of fire and fire sculptures. Some of these proposals manifested into physical realities where jets of fire spewed out of discrete holes in the ground. Through a simple consideration of fire as a material with which to build Klein was able to create spaces, and arguably architecture, precisely defined by areas of tolerable and intolerable temperature.

I think it is our goal and desire as architects to find new and inventive ways of using materials to build our ideas with, and to find materials that move us, that inspire us to feel a personal connection with a space. So too should it be our goal to re-define what a material can be. I see fire as a material just as Klein did, and air, water, plastic, wood, metal, glass and dirt all play a part in helping to delineate space in the hopes that it will be received as somewhere people want to be, where they feel and experience something on both the immediate, physical level, and on the deeper, psychological level. Perhaps through architecture we can pass questions of materiality on to those who experience our work. Perhaps we can get them to see architecture in a new, and beautiful way.

Image courtesy of :  Cantz, Hatje. Yves Klein: Air Architecture.  Germany:  Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2004.

Note: All written material is protected under applicable copyright laws. Reproduction requires the permission of the author and proper citation.


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