Monday, December 27, 2010

Radical architecture

From Mark Dow, "Span: A Remembrance" (NYTimes, Opinionator, Dec 22/10):
Louis Sullivan (1856-1924) believed the pier, the lintel, and the arch to be the basic elements of architecture. He called these “the three physical facts, the three symbols, I might say the three letters, which constitute the alphabet of our art.” One might imagine pier and lintel to have come first, and the arch to have followed, but Sullivan felt that all three arrived together as the result of a single imperative: span.
Proposition: One has no right to move until one can say why, why what, or at least account for it all, from the chair one was sitting on to the floor underneath it, back in time to the beginning, and forward from his getting up, if I ever did, into all contingencies. Can each thing depend on the preceding and on the subsequent thing, and be independent of them, too? The same sound will sound different according to the notes that follow and precede. Goes something like this. Preceding one: one: one subsequent to. Till eventually, after pursuing philosophy a ways into its own willful removal from what supposedly mattered to it, or had, and where it did, in my mind, do me well, I realized I was always left wanting. Needed to try to articulate the underneath of the mattering, of which I felt more certain than of anything, though I didn’t have exact words for it, or did I. Now I think I must have been paralyzed first, and that the philosophy only came afterward to justify or bind or slip me down its rope-ladder toward exactitude and escape.
Late into the early morning, in the red brick of Connecticut Hall, a student sat scrutinizing each clause’s passage of Aristotle in English out of the preceding one into the next. Metaphysics doesn’t mean esoteric or philosophical. It means “after physics.” It was called that because it came after his chapter on physics and there was no other name for the stuff. The building, oldest in New Haven, its construction financed in part by the colonies’ sale of a captured French ship, floated on the illusion of a rectangle of lawn inset into a larger lawn. Sidewalks joined at right angles, passed under stone archways into which steel gates had been set. Unsupported assumptions and flawed links, tiny knots in the grain planed flush by repeated but abandoned curiosity, hiccuped in the passageways. The student had no way of seeing that teasing the tiny knots to the surface and scratching at them until they came undone would set nothing free, or did he. He picked at his fingernails to minimize himself and get the damn world aligned.


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