Two Dancers on a Stage (1874, Edgar Degas)
This is another in my series of posts inspired by 1000 Awesome Things, the Webby Award winning blog written by Neil Pasricha. The series is my meditation on the awesome reasons why I was and continue to be attracted to the art of architecture.
As architects, we not only design buildings, we also design how people use them. We deliberately manipulate the three dimensions of space and the fourth dimension (time) through our built places. If we’re particularly skilled, we’re adept at choreographing movements through space in ways that greatly expand our perception and comprehension of it. Our best designs plot motions with intention, engage all of our senses, and invite participation. Experienced architects understand architecture is a stage for the dance of a richly experienced life.
Architects and choreographers have much in common. Both design sequences of movements through space. They both work creatively to heighten one’s appreciation for the body’s relationship to and its movement through a setting. They both define and use space as a medium for creative expression. They both employ movement and the kinesthetic senses to create works of aesthetic and symbolic value.
Renowned landscape architect Lawrence Halprin and his choreographer wife, Anna, used the design of movement as a basic generating force in the planning of spaces and environments. They understood the power of ritual and the careful orchestration of the body through the environment. Influenced by Anna, Lawrence Halprin borrowed liberally from dance theory, translating the art of movement into physical narratives integral to the structure of his designs. In so doing, he created evocative, dynamic, memorable places meant to be explored and moved through.
In their 1977 book, Body, Memory, and Architecture, Kent Bloomer and Charles Moore spoke about how our bodies and our movements are in constant dialogue with our buildings. They discussed “the spatiality of movement,” the function of architecture as a stimulus for movement, and the place of our bodies within and around buildings. They explained how the psychophysical coordinates of the body—up/down, front/back, right/left—help to map our environments while also assuming meanings established by our early body experiences. Not unexpectedly, they pointed out how similar the critical relationship between dancers and the space they animate is to architecture’s dialogue with the body.
A place designed as a stage for people in motion: the Spanish Steps in Rome (photo by Arnaud 25 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)
We cannot truly appreciate architecture unless we use, feel, and move through it. This is why judging a building or place by merely looking at static photographs alone is such folly. A consequence of today’s image-driven culture is its overemphasis upon sanitized, Photoshopped, verisimilar, yet fundamentally unreliable representations of three-dimensional reality. The essence of the best architecture in the world is obdurately resistant to being defined by anything less than direct and immersive experience.
The way we experience our world from the moment we are born is through our bodies. Architects shouldn’t forget how important senses other than sight—touch, hearing, and equilibrium among them—are to fully engaging our environment. Dancers viscerally understand how movements through space and time bring the choreographer’s vision to life. They recognize their potential to convey meaning through the juxtaposition of bodies in motion within a visual frame. Architects should likewise anticipate how people move through their designs. Thinking like choreographers enhances the likelihood users will exploit architecture to expressive, meaningful, memorable, and AWESOME effect.
Next Architecture is Awesome: #11: Sense of Place