Whatever I may be these days, whatever my deficiencies, I am not without perspective.
One of the underlying ideas of “The Agincourt Project” has been the notion that we look at a building—any thing, really—in a multi-layered, many-faceted way. I haven’t written about this before and I’m hesitant to bring it up today. But I do now largely because it provides some insight to the way my mind works; I can’t speak for yours. I call this “Object, Window, Mirror, Lens”. This nifty graphic was part of my presentation in Bozeman last week.
Here’s how it works.
Let’s consider, as an example, a building many of you will recognize: The Sagrada Familia in Barcelona by Antoni Gaudí. Conjure up an image from your storage banks; Gaudí’s is such a powerful conception that I don’t need to put a picture here. Whether you’ve chosen an exterior or interior, overall view or detail, the Sagrada Familia is an architectural object. It has three dimensions (which my photo here certainly would not!) and your experience of it in real time would add the fourth dimension. It has a sense of structure; it has proportion; it has surface ornamentation and detail. It can be described as an entity in the history of art and architecture with sophisticated, PhD-approved terminology. This is actually much the same sort of physical description used in the preparation of a nomination to the National Register of Historic Places.
The Sagrada Familia is an OBJECT and it can be described objectively.
Now take a step back from Gaudí’s masterpiece, the focus of his intuitive powers from 1885 until death in 1926 (the fault of a tram or taxi driver, as I recall). The building exists in a physical, socio-economic and cultural context. Therefore we can use the Sagrada as a WINDOW, a blinkered, framed, partial view into Catalunya at the turn of the 20th century. Gaudí was part of that context, influenced by and influencing it in myriad ways. His friend and client Eusebio Güell was there. As was his colleague/collaborator Josep Puig i Cadafalch. As was the Eixample neighborhood that surrounds it. So we use the Sagrada as a tool to understand the close working relationship of designers, clients and craftspeople in the collaborative creative process in 1900 Barcelona.
Whatever you think of Gaudí and the Sagrada Familia—though this part works better if you happen to like it—the church is a MIRROR reflecting each of us who observes it; that is, I see reflected in it some of the things that have interested me over the decades. In Bozeman I spoke of its structural system of branching columns (which were, significantly, not in place when I was in Barcelona more than twenty years ago). Lift your hand and hold an imaginary waiter’s tray and immediately understand how intuition and analogy can work to our advantage as designers. I also happen to be fascinated by fractals, and while I see the physics principle of fractals operative in Gaudí, I do not for a moment believe that Gaudí himself even knew of fractals—or for that matter whether the domain of physics had even conceived them at that time. I doubt it, which suggests that the fractals principle I perceive in the Sagrada is a reflection of my own personal agenda, my defaults. You will see/ be attracted by/ project onto it other ideas that interest you.
Ultimately, Gaudí and his Sagrada Familia are a LENS which enables us to sense the fiber, the entire continental phenomenon that we call Art Nouveau, Jugendstil, Stile Floreale/Liberte, Secession, or whatever other nationalistic variant you might prefer. Gaudí becomes a figure comparable with Louis Sullivan (born in the same year, by the way) and is in the same bailiwick as Louis Comfort Tiffany, Koloman Moser, Reginald Knox, Eliel Saarinen and a bunch of other folks whose work characterizes an entire era and nearly a quarter of the Earth’s surface.
This was the point I tried to make to an audience of architects in Montana. This is the point I’m trying to make in Agincourt, Iowa.
Please tell me if it makes any sense.
I’m just trying to help.