Life in Space and the Architecture of the Dead

“The offing was barred by a black bank of clouds,” Joseph Conrad phrases, “and the tranquil waterway leading to the uttermost ends of the earth flowed somber under an overcast sky – seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness” (1902). This “heart of darness,” of course, also provides a perfectly fitting metaphor for the core of our Milky Way that softly rests beneath many layers of dusty blankets. At the same time, the dark heart (black hole) transforms our once inanimate home galaxy into a living, pulsating, self-generating “organism.” Fascinated by all these galactic theatrics, it is a natural endeavor of mine to make that very first connection (hook up) between them and ourselves – or other life forms around us. “Life.” How do we define it? How do we recognize it? How do we integrate it into all aspects of contemporary architecture, which appears as a confusing chaos of “dead matter” and/or “sterilized nothingness?” Life, I assume, can only exist in an ordered state. Essentially, the same basic rule applies to architecture as well, for it, too, is always perceived as part of an ordered whole (i.e., the world). But where in space – outer or not – can life be found? Cold void and a few atoms make up the vast majority of our cosmic habitat. It is quite certain, however, that life (as far as we can know) does not exist there. Obviously, life is in need of a cozier, more secluded spot with just a little more “furniture” inside. Thus, life itself is almost akin to a more complex skyscraper made up of individual modular building blocks.

Building Fantasy Islands and Imaginary Worlds

The concept of modularity, in its many guises, appears to be true at all levels: a set of replaceable parts can be assembled in infinite ways allowing them to form larger units, which is already well-observable in “fractals.” So, what are its tiniest building blocks? At present, the smallest yet known form of matter is composed of elementary ‘indivisible packets’ [in other words, they are quantized], which can behave like either waves or particles. Architecture, too, is easily divisible by two, resulting in construction (also described as “anabolism”) and destruction (or “catabolism”), putting a building together and taking it apart. Although “its nature [i.e., architecture’s] is to be not a part, nor yet a copy, of the real world […] but to be a world by itself, independent, complete, autonomous” (Bradley), which basically means the whole of architectural production is always greater than the sum of its parts. The key to understanding architectural “worldness” and its “world-building” components is just exactly this idea of an organized set (sum) of scattered parts, as found in all flexible and infinitely variable environments (s.a., Souriau’s “diēgēsis”). These ever-expanding architectural “worlds” are themselves forms of life, as well as a glue that ‘binds’ communities. It is here that things become especially interesting. By ceaselessly expanding the boundaries of an overarching narrative that surrounds one’s novel, comic, movie, game, TV series, or building, we also begin “furnishing” (Eco) its environment, so that “familiarization” can take place.

The same thing happens while reading a novel or watching a movie, wherein the gradual unfolding of scenic space in the fictional world becomes supercharged with a compelling experience of immersion, and semi-detachment. Responding to the imaginary realities of ‘literary and artistic works’ (s.a., “VVA” – Verbal-Visual Arts), the spatial components of fantastic “universes” are, in fact, able to include, much to the viewer’s delight, as many details as possible – and more, what is also emblematic of the method of “layering worlds” (s.a., “SYMCHA”; Symchą). Artworks, (optical) animations and aesthetic enclosure help transform previously familiar environments – as if before one’s eyes. Here, of course, we need to differentiate between a fully standardized process of architectural production (or world-building) that is designed for mass consumption and delivered as a pre-packaged, pre-assembled “ready-made,” and one based on artistic merit, which is quite a rarity in these post-modern times, even amongst the more well-known names of architects. Ever-evolving and moving imaginary worlds (here termed Káķūroom) are symbolic of the abstract character inherent in fantastic extrasensory world-building, regardless of how comparatively scarce some of it might still be in the total architectural landscape, past or present; this raises the question of what the primary (raw) construction material of architectural world-building is – in analogy to the basic materials of art (words for a poet/colors for a painter/stone for a sculptor).

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