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The Language of Architecture by Val Warke, Andrea Simitch

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Movement through a building or a city is a way of
organizing one’s experience of it, of orienting the
body in relationship to something outside of itself.
And while architectural and urban form and space are
typically static, it is one’s movement through them
that constructs a continuously changing environment.
Like a symphony, an extended sequence often has an identifiable theme that begins with a
whisper and concludes with a bang, exploring along the way variations on the central theme.
14
movement
THE LANGUAGE OF ARCHITECTURE
Curating Space
Choreographing the movement through
space constructs formal relationships and
reveals concepts. The order in which elements
are experienced and the way in which they
are framed become powerful lenses through
which a work is given meaning.
Filmic
Le Corbusier coined the term “promenade
architectural” where architectural elements
are not experienced from a single point of
view but from multiple vantage points as one
strolls through the architectural landscape. In
this case, architecture can be thought of and
experienced as a series of spatial stills or
filmic frames that together constitutes a
complete spatial experience.
Processional
The reliving of a memory or the reenactment
of an historical event can be embedded in the
architectural works that mark that route. Like
the Stations of the Cross that line cathedral
walls and religious walks and are used especially
during Passion ceremonies, architecture can
thus preserve the fleeting event as a
permanent memory. At a larger scale, there
are, for example, several pilgrimage routes
that traverse Spain and end in Santiago de
Compostela, where the apostle St. James is
entombed. El Camino de Santiago is marked
with Romansesque churches with enormous
portals designed to accommodate vast
numbers of pilgrims and that, during much of
the year, serve as a reminder of the now
largely touristic but once ecclesiastical ritual.
Le Corbusier, in his 1929 Villa
Savoye in Poissy, France,
constructs a series of archi-
tectural compositions that
subsequently choreographs
the movement through the
building and landscape. The
relationship of volumes and
surfaces in space and light
creates a series of still lifes
that the observer passes
through as he/she navigates
the building. A ramp carries
the gaze diagonally through
the building, from the entry
vestibule up toward the raised
courtyard and, finally, toward
the sky.
As relationships between forms and spaces
transform, and as one perceives these spaces
and forms from multiple points of view, an
otherwise monosyllabic and inert architecture
is transformed into an endlessly complex and
animate one. And it is the structuring of
these relationships through a variety of
movement systems that choreographs and
defines that experience. A stair can collapse
vertical relationships between spaces while
a ramp might construct a more elongated
unfolding of the architectural experience.
Regardless, it is the introduction of space
through time that produces a series of spatial
and formal relationships, a fourth dimension
to architecture.
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14
Movement
Wabash River, moves through
the building’s interior ramps
and stairs, ending with a
stepped ramp that gently
deposits the visitor at the
entry to the historic village.
The central ramp further
maps the formal and spatial
structure of the building
as it adjusts and resolves
its shifting geometries so
that it addresses the
elements contained within
its historical narrative.
Richard Meier’s 1975
Atheneum in New Harmony,
Indiana, is essentially a
viewing machine that uses its
circulation to constantly
reorient the visitor to its
historic site: first to the
modern town, then to its
location next to the river,
then to other nearby
structures, and, finally, to
the historic village of New
Harmony. The sequence
initiates from the edge of the
Narrative
Architecture can tell a story—real or
imagined—about an individual, a place, an
event. The circulation can operate as an
armature that collects and frames the visual
icons that render the narrative legible.
Theatrical
Architecture has the ability to frame the
relationship between its various occupants
and, in so doing, either establish or
reinforce various behaviors. Movement
through space continually reframes the
occupants’ visions, constructing roles that
shift from actor to audience.
In Lina Bo Bardi’s SESC
Pompéia São Paulo
Recreation Center in São
Paulo, Brazil (1977), a spatial
web is constructed by a
continuous circulatory scan
as athletes pass between the
changing-room tower and the
sports facilities—as if actors
on display for the audience
below and yet afforded a
privileged view of those who
are, in fact, watching them.

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