Wednesday, August 25, 2010

π the paragon

For William Feay Shellman, Jr
Professor of Architecture
Princeton, 1941-1986

This peristyle - an array of the lower limbs, spontaneously formed, framed, and disassembled in dressing rooms ever since the dawn of sport - is not known to have served as the model for the Greek letter, “π,” but it is familiar enough to deserve some such designation, and ancient enough to embrace this one. Moreover, because the structure of this letter does confirm the disposition of the columns vis-à-vis each other, not only in framing an enclosure but in being capped with an entablature at right angles, there can be no doubt of the germaneness of the architectural term in defining this architectonic arrangement of admittedly volatile elements.

∏, this edifice is, then, for the sake of further reference. The structure is widely credited with many virtues, but the elegance of its own interval of existence - unforgettable as it plainly is - is likely not to be among those most often cited. This paradox stamps π as an epitome of that famous gesture of the unintended consequence, form follows function, in which the architect likes to be able to boast that the elevation of the Guggenheim (for example) is only the most plausible and innocuously logical imprint of the delirious absorption of art. Coulda fooled Frank Gehry, but there you are: who’s to doubt, that architecture implies some capacity, 
if not some act?

In π, however, capacity is simply a cascade quite longer than the proverbial arm. No doubt, the peristyle’s familiarity in commerce or society, as in the Agora, or in devotion or shelter as in an Attic temple or a Shinto gate, are brought to mind in its flickering past one’s gaze at any given moment. But it’s in the contemplations of the dressing room where the design is most prosaically explained. Even there, all of sport is circumscribed in its compass, all of motion except in air anticipated in its means. The manifest splendour of this enormously fluent and versatile structure, however, is magnified almost infinitely in the deformations to which it modestly yields in the enactment of these capacities.

It is not for nothing, as we turn to our left sometimes in preparing for sport, or to our right, that we remark how the contingencies to which we might respond have probably only begun to be perceived.  

Who can think we’ve more than begun to see our buildings, either.

Erechtheion, Caryatid Porch, Athens

Akira Kurosawa, Director and 
So Matsuyama, Art Director, Rashomon, 1950 

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