Learning from Kubrick

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In studio this week I brought up the idea of an “architecture narrative”—a way to mentally walk through the development of a project. Where does the architecture narrative come from? Do I give my students a reliable one so that they are immediately productive? Do I encourage them to develop their own and risk having them fumble for a while? The answer is yes to all of it, of course—I present a provocation, they start working, I jump in, they take it further, and so on.

This development of a project narrative is analogous, I think, to the vicissitudes of the perspective/immersive representations of space and the cuts (plans and sections) that make measuring possible. Even the measured 3D space of contemporary computer-assisted work has these two separate modes of views and cuts because the locations of points in space via coordinates are still embodying the “cuts” of the x, y, z axes. No matter what, there’s the immersive representation and there’s the measured representation. Both are awkward stand-ins for “Architecture,” but their alternate deployment in the service of design is good enough to get some good work done.

In other words, in the same way that architecture gets made by going back and forth between cuts and views, a student’s narrative for the development of their architecture project (how do I proceed) develops by alternating between a view mode (how do I engage this architectural massing in front of me) and cut mode (why bother with architecture at all).

The problem (and the opportunity) lately has been that the formation of the architecture narrative lingers too long in the immersive representation side of things—is Photoshop the opium of the massing? Views immerse us and make us temporarily dumb (unable to articulate), and there’s no better way to illustrate this effect (or affect) than the textbook example of Kubrick’s The Shining (1980 and still fair game after all these years). Throughout the movie we visit and linger in the family’s rooms, and through accumulated views of them we learn that the bedroom windows and the famous escape window in the bathroom are at a right angle to each other. Knowing this right angle relationship between the windows is plan/cut mode kind of knowledge but the emotion of the film is such that we don’t ever fully step out of immersive/view mode. This is why when we go outside to see the boy come out of that bathroom window we are not bothered at all by the lack of a corner on the facade.

Of course the filmed inside and the filmed outside of the fictional hotel were literally different places thousands of miles apart, but this production trivia is less significant than the realization that in an immersive experience like that of The Shining we don’t step out into cut mode and as a result geometric incongruities are not noticed at all.

What am I saying then, that architecture right now is a scary movie? Well, there’s definitely a blind spot that can only be addressed by increased attention to cut modes of thinking.

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