Windows Without Buildings, Editing Draft 01, 05

Leach and I regroup in the front of the gallery near PK’s landscapes. More than the field drawings these are resolutely two-dimensional behind the glass. They shed some mysterious frontier trapped on the wall. More than the technical drawings which played with the infinite flatness of orthographic projection, these pushed my stationpoint beyond the room, to the convergence of rays. Perry had, at points during the school year, gingerly lay these wafting leaves across the concrete floor of the long gallery at SCIArc’s Marina Del Rey outpost. The student body was always energized by the impromptu divulgence. Because like the field drawings, regardless of their heroically inclusive and far-reaching aspirations, these were intensely personal works, born, I pictured, in ascetic mornings at a table. Being personal, and not ‘telling’ or ‘showing’ they were easily personal to us, or at least to the us who liked working with a lamp on, or the us that saw architecture, however foolishly, as not incubated in meetings or boardrooms, or through amortization tables and market studies, by the me who was in the gallery, but not who I had been a couple of hours previously.

That recollection of these works on the floor, lucky as I was to possess it, helped me sense what was different here in their display and how they differed in their actualization from the field drawings. The success of these works was their investment in flatness and their capability of distancing the viewer. Without glass and on the floor they were able to do two things: in their liberation become visually tactile, including the withering ripples of aging or affected trace; by dint of the floor’s extent become expansive beyond their borders. Five and some odd feet below my eyes on the floor of the long gallery perfected their quality of extreme distance in that they themselves became perspectival where they were objects that were part of a scopic context. They weren’t vistas like the field drawings but Jeffersonian plats, blanks. Still, these discursive hauntings are merely chance of light and state of mind. So little is controlled by intention.

Leach and I leave the gallery. Dusk still hums. Spring dusks are Arctic. Instead of the sun racing as it gets closer and closer to the horizon, as it does over the ocean or the desert, it seems to slow asymptotically and sometimes almost move backwards. The air is brighter now than when I had first strolled onto campus. Brightness fills the air like a mold casting the detailed grain of the scabby crust about us. This kind of inescapable light draws up all of our surroundings as though captured beneath a rainless thunderstorm.

The front door of Medici is open and the place was empty. I was disappointed, after hearing from Leach that they served French press coffee, to receive my drink in a paper cup with an insulating paper jacket. Without the sophistication of the French press experience we decided to go back to the CoA to sit in the courtyard. As quickly as we were in Medici the sky had turned white and the air sinking with the afternoon’s dying blue when we emerged. There was a roofed terrace on one side where a small reception was wrapping up with a few stragglers standing around a folding table to the east, studios stacked four stories on the north and south, and the arcade hallway with the gallery and PK beyond on the west now glowing like a farmhouse in the louring blue.

We sat talking on one side of as square banquette bench that I recall being quite weathered, not the constant attack of salt on driftwood but the splintering compendium of abuse visited upon a railroad tie. I can remember less detail about the conversation than I can about the courtyard, the sunlight seeping out of it, and two Strix Varias roosted on either side of the courtyard calling out to each other, “who cooks for you?” I could hardly pay attention to Leach for watching the sky in hopes of an owl’s silent slur of flight through the courtyard. Conversation washes color over the in between, the down times, like the room we leave behind in the procession that tapers into the spaces beyond it or the vista forgotten on the first part of the hike that appears in reverse on the return leg. Conversations are more of a way of marking time. They are necessarily fleeting. They don’t create space. With PK’s interest in farming the reaches where architecture diffuses into the void, or into chance, into time, into nature, I couldn’t help fixating on the sound of the owl calls. A young woman walked down the glassed-in arcade that separated us from the gallery still waxy with its moribund glow. Seeing the girl closing down the gallery from the courtyard, to risk a Homeric simile, is like staying past the graveside service to watch the backhoe bury the corpse.

The owls call. I recall reading about a coyote wandering into a Quizno’s in Chicago and nosing its way to a cooler full of drinks. Was wilderness encroaching back into civilization, had man pushed too far, what else might force its way into our realm? With PK’s interest in surrealism, the oddity of placing an architectural drawing, a complex tool, on the wall for casual consumption and reflection would certainly not be lost on him. This practice would certainly have emerged out of client presentations of the far past and been co-opted by the academy. Yet both of those contexts provide the drawings with a function. The drawings are to surrogate the building that either hasn’t or will never emerge from them. They do this by means of their communicative abilities. But in their borrowing from the gallery or salon tradition these drawings gather a similar power that works of art gain through their exhibition. By recontextualizing the work outside of the studio by a third party it legitimizes it as something to be publicized and canonized, at least at some scale. As with art displayed, although with different repercussions, the display ‘stops’ the work. It no longer exists as a vehicle or a function of time. It is complete; it has reached its destination. The display of technical drawings of unbuilt architectural projects cultivates the perception of putting a cork in their instrumentality. This perception of architectural drawings as ‘ends,’ or being able to end, or culminating in a test of their ability to wail some final aria from the wall is clearly rooted in the traditions and structures of the design academy. If the architect truly wanted to communicate the intention of the drawing to be used beyond the fetishization of its technique or the style of its content she would lay it flat on a table where it could be used, leaned on, or have measures taken from it. I’m not saying however that PK’s drawings end. I am clarifying the context that they find themselves in and the peerage they align themselves with. In fact, I think it is because of this inclination that the drawings are able to become dislodged from their instrumental capacity.

When the only remaining light in the sky seems to be thrown back over the horizon like the strangely peaceful hair of a drowned woman the light in the windows of the studios stacked in the north wall of the courtyard arises. I’ve had an affinity for the archetype of the glowing window at dusk since I worked a construction project on a farm in central Georgia in my early twenties. Their warmth and their ability to telegraph a completely identifiable spatial tone I felt was strong enough to humor the guts like a pull of brandy from a real St. Bernard as I died across the snow from a Swiss chalet and its twinkling purr. Of course that transcendent interior space of milkglass lamps, wood and upholstery settees, and beapron’d grandmothers pulling hot olive boules from the oven to nibble with some Glühwein is a statistically improbable confluence. It is the obstruction of the sheer curtain that makes this illusory phenomenon possible. It both allows the light to escape and protects the reality of the situation. The process of uniformly distributing light across the fabric surface turns the window solid, an object that distinguishes itself from the night air and from the building being consumed by shade. It is alone and it speaks. The windows of the architecture studios weren’t doing quite that. They lacked the sheer curtains and a worm’s eye view of the rooms could be seen through them, mostly ceiling. They still transmitted a uniform glow from bouncing throughout the large white rooms that seemed to hit the glass and stop there, halted by the not-yet-complete darkness of the courtyard.

Critical Response:

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