Buildings by nature seek to dominate space. At the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, the experience is wholly different – in this isolated picturesque setting: space dominates building. At first sight, the architecture appears anonymous, sculptural and silent. Lost along the Californian coast, it is situated a stone’s throw away from San Diego in La Jolla. We can imagine it as an untouched gem in a post war scenario: a living ruin, capable of projecting worlds of its own.
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La Tourette. In Search Of The Ineffable
20 January 2018
words: Natalie Donat-Cattin
photos: Jian Yong Khoo
“La Tourette is in-situ cast concrete, and it reads as a singular structure in spite of its volumetric and formal complexities and apparently tectonic language. The monastery is suspended between earth and sky; it echoes the dark depths and gravity of the earth while reaching towards the sky, hovering weightlessly on its dense system of piloti. This building merges the opposing human dreams of flying and being buried in the earth. Le Corbusier’s floating man-made cliff feeds light into its very bowels, evoking an animistic sense of breathing. As Constantin Brancusi, the master sculptor, exclaims: art must give suddenly, all at once, the shock of life, the sensation of breathing” – Juhani Pallasmaa
The reading of the building originates from this antithesis: man’s primitive will of flying versus his fear and, at same instant, urge of contact with the earth. It is a journey towards the mystic, tied to the personal growth of Le Corbusier as an architect and even more as an artist. He is an acrobat poised on the wire of his time, in search of what he defines the “ineffable space” – an architectural fourth dimension, synonymous to relativity according to Einstein’s space-time theory. This historical fact, together with the discovery of speed – a consequence of the invention of the automobile – morphs man’s perception of the world: no longer two-dimensional, but total in its asymmetry.
La Tourette must be experienced within this dynamic vision. It is a voyage towards the underworld, imagined as a concrete prison set in the bowels of the earth. Light assists us down the whole way, to whose end a mystical darkness awaits us. It is not only a promenade architectural but also an ambivalent, introspective journey. We reflect on ourselves and on the religious choice: the suffering path of life’s learning goes hand in hand with the renunciation’s vow of the monks.
The end of the descent culminates with the church: a heavy, single, parallelepiped block resting on the ground. Here, the only window is hidden. The light is intangible, distant, unreachable, experienced only in its projection on the wall. In this ineffable space we feel bare, brute like the walls of the church.
“I wish to conserve […] the extremely rough aspect of the church’s walls. There is here a success in the spiritual domaine, […] that must not be destroyed for any reason. […] Keep intact what is worthy by the circumstance, meaning the absence of pomp and the presence of something primordial”, says Le Corbusier, with regards to the concrete treatment in this space.
In this modern “gothic” cathedral, we are like ants begging to the superhuman; thighs of our faults and exposed in all of our humanity. Ready to be sacrificed on the altar.
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A cultural oddity, the sense of mysticism surrounding Japan has captivated us for generations; and in it we seek to decipher this elusive quality, of which is believed to somehow offer profound ‘answers’ to life’s toughest questions. This fascination is curiously unusual: with the ever-expanding wealth of knowledge available in the virtual environment, a culture so distant is instantaneously made accessible. The relentless flow of images and anecdotal accounts on mainstream media allows one to transport one’s self into a culture thousands of miles away. A fleeting immersion, which no doubt sows the seeds for preconceived notions and judgments.
In the far east of London, stands majestic and solitary the London Aquatics Centre. In an almost inexistent context, it emerges from the flatness of the surroundings, like a solitary wave in the middle of the ocean. At first sight, its dynamic form amazes but then the question arises: would it be as beautiful within a context? Or is it this emptiness that enhances the building? “Space is meaningless without scale, containment, boundaries and direction”, writes Huxtable – so is the aquatic centre just a meaningless wonder?
When the Milanese gallerist Massimo De Carlo gets taped on the wall and morphs into the artwork… are we human or are we art?
Tokyo – Close your eyes. If you do so you will hear the noise at the Shibuya Crossing and the smell of the sakura flowers in bloom in Shinjuku on an April’s day, while walking around Gyoen National Garden. Close your eyes tighter. Do you feel the spatial tension? From the small labyrinth-streets of Nakano to the huge Roppongi’s skyscrapers, Tokyo paints the 21st century Japanese society on one single canvas.