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The Language of Architecture by Val Warke, Andrea Simitch

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101100
Wallace Stevens’s poem, The Snow Man, concludes
with what might be a good definition of the distinction
between a void and what might be considered
architectural space: the “… Nothing that is not there
and the nothing that is.” If a void is the nothingness
that is absent, space might be understood as the
nothingness that is present.
Space may be the principal defining characteristic of architecture and what distinguishes
it from the other arts.
11
space
THE LANGUAGE OF ARCHITECTURE
Architectural space provides the range
across which our gazes pass before resting
on objects, surfaces, and other people. Space
encompasses the stage for human activity,
the cadence of our movements, the duration
of our experiences. Space contains that
which is within our physical grasp and that
which may be “graspable” only through
perception, comprehension, and memory.
It was probably August Schmarzow who, in
1898, first argued that the manipulation of
space is the principal defining characteristic
of architecture and what distinguishes it from
the other arts, such as sculpture. This is not to
say that architectural space did not exist
before 1898—certainly the Pantheon exists as
an emphatic spatial volume—only that its
identity had not been adequately described.
There is also that conception of space as a
“site of perceiving.” In this sense, space is the
range within which a person, located at a
point, apprehends his or her environment,
actually constructing this environment based
upon prior knowledge, experiences, and
techniques of observing.
elegantly demonstrates the
way that public exterior
spaces—such as piazzas and
courtyards—and public and
semipublic interior spaces—
such as the Pantheon and
various churches—become
equal participants in
establishing a pedestrian’s
perception of a city.
Propylaea at the entry to the
complex. This conception of
space might be described as a
“site of perceiving,” in that
the objects arrayed about the
Acropolis are perceived in
their relative positions—hori-
zontally and vertically—as
distributed across the site.
Giambattista Nolli’s 1748
map of Rome is remarkable
not only for its accuracy, but
it endures as an example of
the spatial equilibrium that
occurs during the experience
of a city. The contrast
between the darkened fabric
of the city and the white,
figural spatial elements
As Constantinos Doxiadis has
famously diagrammed in his
Architectural Space in
Ancient Greece, one can
understand the organization
of the structures of the
Acropolis as being based on a
series of uninterrupted visual
scans, radiating from a
position at the portico of the
(continued on page 104)

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