Philosophers, scientists, artists, architects. These and many others are the prominent figures of the 18th century in France and Europe. Leading figures, whom with their thinking and charisma, are still remembered for their contribution to an epoch of political changes, renewed ideals and revolutionary discoveries, in a period of time stretching from the Age of Enlightenment to the French Revolution. During this epoch, the physical universe, no more alien and mysterious, finally begins to take shape and configuration, thanks to the excellence of Newton. This vibrant and evolving context creates the preconditions for the affirmation of man as an individual and as a thinker, aware of his abilities and means in a world of immense dimensions.
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Saint Peter's Basilica. Scale, Power, Wealth
5 September 2014
words: Natalie Donat-Cattin
photos: Jian Yong Khoo
Progressing through the maze of columns, towards the centre of Bernini’s eclipse, we find ourselves in front of an imposing white wall, the Dover’s cliff of Rome: Saint Peter’s Basilica. Decorated to the last detail, it can only be compared to the English steep rock face for its whiteness and grandeur. In all other aspects, we can say that the craft of man equalled if not surpassed the force of nature.
Behind this marble screen lies a rainbow of colours: all we need is to traverse across the square, the narthex and the bronze entrance doors to finally appreciate it. The tonal contrast between the façade and the inside is solved using a style where everything is allowed: the Baroque. The result is an unexpected harmony and a general revelation.
Inside, lit only by dim lights, hides the true richness of the church. Paintings, sculptures, ornaments. At first sight, we are left wondering why so much ostentation exists in a place where other ideologies are professed, but then we inevitably forget our concerns, too astonished to put one thought after the other.
Dwarfed by the many pillars, the smallness of humankind falls upon us. We are merely ants in the middle of secular trees: lost and amazed. With no power but ourselves, smiths of these great heights. In the naves of the basilica, we feel at the mercy of the space, crushed by the eternal fear and search for the infinite.
Perplexed between the precious stones, the marbles and the gold, we do not know where to focus our eyes. A surreal light descends from the dome flooding the nave, a white light that renders the colours more vivid. Dazzling, it leaves us even more lost, even more surprised and speechless.
We always end up looking at the ceiling and the dome: so distant and unreachable like all the things we crave.
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If the essence of architecture – its intrinsic and determining constituent – is empty space, every man has experienced an archetypal feeling when visiting the Pantheon. Confined in an immense space, we can never embrace its entirety. Ignorant but curious, we marvel at how such a great dome can stand. Questions whose answers lie in subtle ploys: secrets buried within the structure and the material.
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.
Architecture is the embodiment of the arts and sciences, a complex combination which results in an ambiguous whole. What once was just a means of shelter, has evolved into a means of which to communicate and express the ever evolving necessities of contemporary society. The demands of the people coupled with the zeitgeist of the period, more often than not, precipitate a prevailing architectural style, one with which the architects of the period rally to. Two centuries apart, Étienne-Louis Boullée and Louis Kahn, through their tireless re-examination of the discipline, have established profound ideologies on the nature of architecture, which remarkably allude to common principles.
The Rolex Learning Centre sprawls itself across a vast expanse of the EPFL campus, its striking undulations reminiscent of the nearby alps. The interior is a visual delight where artificial hills and valleys replace traditional partitions – prompting different kinds of occupation and spatial interactions.