Sunday, August 15, 2010


If the role of architecture is to create spaces of superior quality, that of motivation and refinement, then one is to ask why the most effectual conceptions in human culture were initiated in treacherous spaces.1 Many great thinkers flourished and died in deficient spaces. It is possible that uneasy conditions are essential to the path of human nobility. There is something about the 7½ floor and its improbable connection to the head of John Malkovich in the office building that extracted dramatic tension from its actors.2 Rem Koolhaas argues that human beings are species that easily form to their mold. “People can inhabit anything. And they can be miserable in anything and ecstatic in anything. More and more I think that architecture has nothing to do with it. Of course, that's both liberating and alarming.”3 My best work has been so often the result of tormented ulterior conditions. This conditioning might even be interior to the self. It is no secret that many great thinkers have died of terminal illnesses that followed them all along. Tormented conditions that were the result of their containing rather than their container. It was cancer that transfused Sohrab’s body –the late Iranian poet- onto paper in the form of poetry.4
Tormented spaces are often ambiguous. The magic of Koans and fortune cookies lie in their ambiguity. They are almost universal to any situation and everyone tailors them to their individual zeitgeist. Ambiguous spaces have the same effect, they are far from, yet optimally generic. They are specific by being vague and the feat lies in their complexity. You inhabit your ‘place’ not because of your situation (such as affordability and social status) but because you have ‘found’ them. “[Don Juan] pointed out that I was very tired sitting on the floor, and that the proper thing to do was to find a “spot” (sitto) on the floor where I could sit without fatigue…. [He] clearly emphasized that a spot meant a place where a man could feel naturally happy and strong. …[He] explained to me that not every place was good to sit or be on, and that within the confines of the porch there was one spot that was unique, a spot where I could be at my very best. 5

1. A continuum of such spaces are well presented in the ghostly crust of post-manufacturing buildings in the movie 8 Mile (2002, Universal Studios and Dreamworks LLC)
3. Katrina Heron, From Bauhaus to Koolhaas WIRED Issue 4.07 - Jul 1996 [When humans bearing the same physical anatomy dwell in such diverse forms of habitat, it is easy to nullify Corbusier’s universal definition of ‘man’.]

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