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Synecdoche 2.0


There are far more figures of speech than the metaphor and the simile, two we learned in eighth-grade English class from Miss Rose Spellman. Until Philip Seymour Hoffman’s recent film “Synecdoche, New York,” I didn’t know the word synecdoche. But it’s definition–the whole for the part, the part for the whole; the general for the specific, and vice versa–reminded me that I’ve heard these figures of speech most of my adult life; that I’ve even used them now and then, possibly in error.

In architecture, synecdoche seems closely related to the idea of deductive thought, moving from the general to the specific. Design begins with general information and observation, then moves through preliminary and intermediate schemes, toward a specific solution; from large questions to increasingly small, detailed and specific answers. I am intrigued by the prospect of a studio design exercise reversing that process. Perhaps Spring semester….

Though I’m repulsed by this example, recall with me the Kohler TV commercial where an affluent couple is shown the work of a prestigious architect in his exemplary office (the office itself being synecdochic: it is a specific design that presumably stands for the total oeuvre of its designer). Seated in his conference room, the architect asks “Now what can I do for you?” Then, from her purse the woman brings forth a faucet. “Design a house around this.” Her challenge to the architect–design a whole from and for this part–is the heart of the Agincourt Project.


Photograph courtesy of Mr Peter Atwood

Two months ago I found a stained glass window from the Arts & Crafts era. The glass and leading are in surprisingly good condition, though the wood frame betrays a house whose inner-city neighborhood likely brought about its own demise. Yes, I would gladly return my acquisition for the restoration of a modest single-family home in Toledo, Ohio; it belongs there, to delight children’s searching eyes and reassure harried parents that little moments matter. So now I accept the challenge set by the pretentious woman with the faucet fetish: what notion of “home” might grow from this urban artifact?


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