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Extracts from:  Peter Nesteruk, A Rhetoric of Time in the Arts: Eternity, Entropy and Utopia in Visual Culture (2011).




From:  Chapter Four: Architecture in Pieces: the Rhetoric of Cohesion.



Contents:  The Pantheon (Rome) oculus and coffers, Framed spaces (aedicules), Arch as Sign (I), introduction to the ‘Solar’, the Gothic, Solar differentiation ( Spoleto, Italy), House of God and House of Man ( Alberti, Palladio), the Baroque, ‘two-part’ buildings, the Palazzo tradition and ‘the three parts’, the piano nobile, the evolution of ‘top’, bottom’ and middle’ layers, the Solar evolved, the Middle, the Entry-fronting, ‘whole buildings’?, from verticals to horizontals, metonymy and synecdoche (parts and wholes), from individual buildings to the strata of the built environment.





The previous chapter began with an analysis of a photograph which was also an analysis of the temporal rhetoric of a building and its context. The rhetorical implications of the Washington Dome and the range of political readings these in turn implied, were worked out according to a photograph taken from a particular vantage point. Much the same could be said about the building in the background of the Turner painting, which was examined in chapter two. The analyses of painting and photography in previous chapters have already begun to deal with the symbolic messages of architecture and the temporal implications of its parts - albeit as part of a larger context and as seen from a particular place. In fact actually experienced buildings are always seen from a particular place or limited range of places, a given vantage point therefore will determine what is to be read as significant context or detail. Photographs of a given building will reveal that building's significant context as perceived from a particular place - a vantage point which the photograph itself can not show, but which it must imply. So two further implications here are those of a person in place and time and of a consciousness which is literally filled by a particular vision. The word ‘vision’ is here used deliberately in both senses of the word: of the ability to see; of the ability to be entranced, to be transported by something. In one sense it is the implication of any given view of a given place in time and space that is the topic of the next two chapters; in another sense it will be the subjectivity of its viewers, their felt sense of self, of identity and belonging, of implied community or social segregation, and of an implied place in the world, in the order of things and in what may lie beyond things (their place in a given belief system), that will be the central topic. In vision subject and object are united. In line with previous readings, I will try to show that the implied (perceiving) subjectivity of a given building or urban scene may only be (re)constructed through an examination of the temporalities that are latent in any situation where space and subjectivity meet.




The Pantheon , Rome.


An observer entering the Pantheon in Rome (118-128 AD) is immediately captivated by the magnificent dome, whose rising curves lead to a central oculus (a circular opening at the very apex of the dome).[1] The interior facing of the dome appears to be made of large tiles, called 'coffers', which are actually part of a continuous molding, made of concrete and set in layers. These coffers taper in as they ascend, further accentuating the elevation of the dome and the eye-leading effect it has upon the viewer.[2] All this is taken in at a glance; less obvious is the role played by the pattern inside each coffer, which take the form of a sequence of diminishing squares effectively hollowing out the coffer-form from within. However, these squares, which repeat the basic form of the coffer itself, and so its general effects (tapering upwards) are not placed in total symmetry within each coffer. On closer examination the upper parts of the internal squares are thinner than the lower parts. This pattern, repeated through all of the coffers in the Pantheon dome, will be seen to have two main effects - or to carry out its effect upon an audience in two kinds of way. The first way suggests a position for the implied viewer; the second way implies a certain kind of illusionist space. It will be logical to deal with the illusionistic effects first, and then to proceed to their impact upon the implied viewer. 

       The illusion produced by each of the coffers is that the narrowing of the upper parts of the decorative squares is a result of a view into a tunnel, chamber, or passage, which appears to lead into the space behind the tile and then upwards and into a space beyond. The eye is lead first into the space and then up. Moreover the movement up continues into regions unseen, thus giving the illusion an external or sublime deixis (it points to the unseen as elsewhere or un-showable). By these means an illusionistic space and a passage through that space are created, and a beyond, 'up', 'above', somewhere is suggested. This illusion is then repeated across the dome, generalising the effect.[3]

       This perspectival illusion also has its implications for the viewer.  There is a position for the viewer which is implied by the design of the coffers (the illusionism is itself, of course, an implication of an original viewing position). The narrowing of the lines of the squares in the upper portion of each coffer acts as a foreshortening which, as we have seen, has implications for the imaginary space 'behind' the concrete of the coffer; it also suggests that the implied viewer (the viewer as implied by formal features of the text or object viewed) is in a position which results in this foreshortening. It is as if the viewer is placed in such a way that he or she is viewing the squares of each coffer from a position above the centre of each tile; the foreshortening implies that the viewer is looking slightly down upon the passage or illusionist space implied by the apparent foreshortening.  The net result is that the implied viewer is lifted into a position above that of which he or she actually occupies. I argue that this effect takes place more on the side of the viewer than on that of the text or object -in contradistinction to the previous effect discussed- because the effect is felt to be in the viewer's position and movement and not one taking place illusionistically 'within' the implied space of the coffers. The effect of the coffer patterns is to lift the viewer towards the light emerging at the top of the dome.[4] The uplifting proper to a temple space is therefore accomplished as much by its formal design as by its more overt symbolisms (perhaps such effects are all the more effective for being covert).

       The square patterns are read as if constituting a figure which then connotes certain effects. Imaginary lines drawn from the centre of the squares out to the spectator, and into the space of the coffers; both curve upwards, whether as a result of eye-leading, or of an implied position for the viewer . As we have seen these effects are double and their joint result is to lift the spectator physically with the intention that this illusion will aid a spiritual uplifting. The fact that the concrete coffers making-up the interior of the dome were covered by gold and included a classical rosette at their centre (ancestor of the ubiquitous renaissance rosette) only reinforces the factors that combine to produce an environment suitable for spiritual elevation (the presence of the rosette does not interfere with the eye-leading effects or implied illusionism of the sequences of squares in each coffer nor do their combined presence change the impact of the entire dome). A simple test of this hypothesis can be carried out by reversing the pattern on the coffers, with the result that the foreshortening effect now occurs in the bottom half of each tile. Immediately the space of the dome feels utterly different with the resultant 'curving down' effect apparently pushing the dome down upon the spectators, making it seem heavy; rather than conveying the light upward-leading effect of the current arrangement.[5]

       If this double effect of lifting and eye-leading seems, so far, to be wholly spatial in character, then this is because we have not yet completed the figural and affective journey that the coffered roof, taken together with its context, the temple, suggests for us. The completion of this, initially spatial, logic, illusion, or figure, lies in the temporal realm, or, more precisely (even of only in rhetorical terms) beyond it. The gods represented within the temple taken together with the upward effects of the formal construction of the dome as the top or significant upper part of the interior, connote a time and place which is evoked, but which is itself just beyond reach. This place is a somewhere 'above' as signalled by a sublime deixis: the time referred to is therefore also outside or elsewhere. It is an outside of time, beyond human duration and so existing in eternity in the temporal realm of the gods. The temporal effects of a sacred site usually point to the 'other' time populated by a given society's immortals. The very function of a temple as sacred site is to suggest the proximity or imagination of such an unimaginable state.

        Furthermore there is a link between experienced time and the rhetorical outside of time as described above. As we shall see in the analysis that follows, the pastness, or age, of the gods that ring the walls of the Pantheon as a reminder to would-be worshippers or prop to collective memory, is also a reference to the future viability of the gods as of the social formation which they underwrite. This temporalising experience taken with the upwardness of the dome, therefore also suggests a movement up to the 'next' place (and time) as the future. These references backwards and forward are contrasted to our presentness in the temple in the same way as our historical time-bound presentness takes place before the statues of those immortals who abide in an eternal realm indicated by the elevating effect of the dome, which leads from our present to the other time, or outside of time, occupied by the gods.

       If temporality is always in some way implicated in the sacred, it also has a special role to play in the cohesion of identity (collective and individual). Architecture has a special role to play in this process. Interiors and exteriors contribute to this reinforcement of collective bonds - and not only in an obviously sacred context. Any operation of collective meaning conferral is always (perhaps definitively) in some measure a sacred one (this insight will become more important when we come to examine the architecture of what appear to be more secular forms of social organisation). It appears as if the fluxes and contradictions of identity can only be fixed by an eternal guarantee. In the absence of such a guarantee being present in all transparence, earthly co-efficents, aided by the rhetoric of eternity, must come into play.

       At first sight the contents and design of the Pantheon gives it a classical flavour (making the identity of the implied viewer a pagan). In actuality, new contents of a Christian nature occupy all the key symbolic sites (the apse contains a Christian altar, and all framed figures, whether painted or carved, whether contained by an aedicule or picture frame, are Christian). Yet it seems possible that current viewers may simply be moved by the uplift in an abstract sense; or else connect the affective force of the interior of the Pantheon to their own individual or particular cultural experiences of spirituality. The latter is perhaps (for the purposes of this chapter) definable as an intense interiority combined with general propositions or answers to key questions of life, acting as a kind of sacralised sequence of default positions on the nature of existence, either not thinkable beyond, or existing importantly in the realm of affect - even if the thinking consciousness might question or hold provisional some of these beliefs or feelings. In architecture, perhaps more than in painting, it is the link between sacrality, collective cultural identity, and the rhetoric of time that will be found to be of re-occurring importance.

       The lower part, or wall, of the interior of the Pantheon is, as already observed, punctuated by statues and painted representations of Christian sacred figures. All exist with frames that enlarge the space that they occupy, implying that their importance is greater than the size and space of their simple representation. This framing effect puts onto operation a differentiating mechanism that separates the the contents of the frame from its surroundings. Intensification (of a particular kind determined by the contents of the frame) is the general effect; in an already intense (sacred) context the sacralisation is further intensified. The framing of a representation -whether in addition to, or, as the very existence of the representation itself- suggests a further addition of semantic significance. The interior of the frame (or the representation referring to itself as such) is, by definition, a reframing of reality (of an entity assumed to be real), and therefore connotes a special space; sacred in a sacred context. This form, the aedicule, a framing device made up of pillars or pilasters topped with an entablature and pediment, was in fact the classical method for the marking out of a shrine. In temporal terms we may be being offered, as in the case of the dome, a link to 'another time', to a temporal elsewhere that connotes the content's eternal value (as assumed by the belief system that they underpin) - or it may be that the temporalisation of the framed figures takes the form of a relationship of past, present, and future. For the human experience of time the unity and interrelation of these three aspects of time is perhaps of greater (certainly more intimate) importance than the negative or sublime notion of eternity.

       The framed statues and paintings of the interior of the Pantheon, as a product of the frame and of framedness as a reminder of their status as representation, carry two major effects. On one level the suggestion of a different form of presence connotes pastness (formalistically it may also connote futuricity, but this option is foreclosed by the context of the frame, the building in which it is found). Not only does the differing manner of presence of the framed indicate the possible pastness of the content, but the entities shown are supposed to have existed at some stage in the past and been regarded as worthy of preservation. Tradition and memory is cited or performed in order to reinforce belief in the present and so provide social solidarity and cohesion (social, collective, and individual identity). However the continuity of these is nowhere more important than in the face of the great unknown, the future (we do, after all, already appear safely to know about the past and the present). In this light, we find the second level, follow the other figural temporal path, where the frame is read as suggesting a special presence, or as indicating eternity. Yet this element, ‘present’, to be sure, most especially in the context of a sacred temple, can not itself replace the temporal function which plays on our awareness of, and anxiety for, the future. The future, after all, is within our experience of time as a constituent part of any experienced temporality: eternity remains its impossible outside or other. Rather, the effect of the extra-temporal reinforces, legitimates, or cements -as noted in previous chapters- the different aspects of time and society into a coherent and prescriptive totality. This is, as we have seen, the typical rhetorical role or value of eternity.

        However, the framing of an image or a statue does not exhaust the range of applications possible in the use of the frame and amenable to temporal analysis. The work of Anna Mendieta in chapter three showed a  movement away from the framing of something towards the framing of an absence, employing the work of the frame without any obvious content. The idea was one of framing a place or space as contentless, whilst still retaining its temporal correlates. From this point of view the framing of emptiness or light is the framing of time: or the meeting place of times: or the meeting place of time and its other. These considerations naturally lead to the considerations of other kinds of architectural and temporal framing, other than just as surrounds to images and objects. In question is the symbolic-temporal role of windows and doors, of portals and openings, of balconies (as the decoration of a piano nobile and as the framing of the owner) and of the architectural appropriation of natural sites, of caves and of cleft rocks.

       Mendieta's work, as we saw, moved the reference point from the framed to the frame itself, in an exposé that begins with the framing of things, but proceeds to reveal the role of framing as such as the key symbolic player or motivator of second meaning. If, in Mendieta, framing can indicate futural possibility and utopian alternatives together with the glaze of sacrality, then this temporal reading may also be found to apply to similar forms found in architecture. This abstract possibility, or reading-potential, whilst depending upon other contextual features to differentiate it from a simple past deixis, nevertheless shares certain features with the Pantheon frames: sacrality and futuricity (leaning upon a ‘historical’ past to be sure) operate together in a politics of identity. If the frames of the Pantheon bind, ensuring collective cohesion, Mendieta opens and unbinds, making time for a individual identity which is also intimately bound up with the politics of gender. In examining the temporal implications of architectural forms that frame, it will be important not to lose sight of the fact that individual appropriations or readings of such apparently simple experiential features such as entrances and windows will perhaps give a different reading to that of the same forms when they are read for their social symbolism.[6]

       As applied to architecture therefore, the approach developed in this study leads to a temporally inflected poetics of space.[7] This reconsideration will include, not only windows and doors, but also passages and stairs as temporal thresholds; where what is shown is a particular nexus of past, present and future - or even the edge of time itself. The frame or en-framing form carries with it the effect of so intensifying the meaning relations of a given space that the designated space immediately becomes the bearer of a significance relying upon temporality (together with its other) for its force. An extra dimension of meaning, one intimately tied to feeling or affectivity, and so to identity, is activated when temporal depth is added to a space, when the latter is found to be separated from its surroundings in such a way that its presence is highlighted, differentiated, or otherwise placed in a relation of contrast (including relations of absence or negation).

       The experiential or lived forms of temporality (the inter-relation of past, present, and future) were, as we have seen, dramatised in Hopper's Stairway.[8] This painting places the implied viewer, or viewer/character, at the centre of a temporal crossroads. However Hopper's particular form of temporal anxiety need not be the only result of temporalised frames. Similar temporal considerations can be found, for example, in the photography of the Italian artist, Jacopo Benci, who offers the viewer a photography of niches, doors, apertures, steps, and their transformation into site-specific works of art. However, in Benci's photography, temporal anxiety is tempered by an inquiring, often joyful, mood. If the transcendence indicated in Hopper invokes doubt and anxiety; the fear of a state of stasis or hiatus: then in Benci's work the the form of the transcendent is suggested as being worthy of curiosity and not to be feared, even if a little enigmatic; Benci's transcendent reaches towards the outside of time, even as Hopper's deixis remains trapped within an untenable time. This effect, in Benci's photography is a result, at least in part, of the ambiguous co-existence of the rhetoric of eternity together with the forms of experiential time. The future does indeed lie ahead somewhere along the stairs, and paths indicated; but the luminosity, the idyll, and the rising motif of the stairs all suggest that this future may also lead to the realm of the extra-temporal. Eternity evokes sacrality as enigmatic apertures lead to 'other' landscapes, or even just up and into the light.[9] 

       The carved stairways and sunken paths taken as a further example of the temporality of openings also suggests a customisation or simple appropriation of a natural feature which may then become the source of a special temporal status. Such natural features, open to the light, and suggesting sacred portals, may also be found in the many rock clefts or fissures that have served humankind for sacred sites and where this world and others were felt to meet.  These chosen places are therefore also passages or paths leading to imaginary places and other times.

       Whether in the Hittite religious shrine in Boazcagli, Turkey, or the oracle sites in Greece, or exemplified by the rock formation in Austria's, historical museum at Carnutum (the site of a Roman army town or, castra), it is to the temporality of clefts, fissures, and other forms of natural openings to the sky (including even the ordinary forest glade) that we must now turn. Examples could be multiplied across cultures. Such places appear to have in common a conjunction of sky and rock or of sky and place such that the sky is framed above by the surrounding rocks or trees and the eyes led upwards even as they busy themselves with rituals below. Precisely like the oculus in the Pantheon, the opening above enacts an unmistakable sacred symbolism whose figurative meaning leads beyond the time of the everyday, beyond time itself.

       The notion of the framed space as used in the temporal analysis of architecture may now include the temporal implications of the space that lies within or between the rocks (or other natural forms that produce what is actually a double framing, that of the sky above and that of the empty pocket of space that sits below it). When their temporal connotations have been fully understood, such framed spaces can be seen to take on the function of an approach, of a threshold, of a portal to another symbolic space-time, to the other 'temporality', to the extra-temporal realm of the eternal, as peopled by the immortals, gods, and heroes of myth and religion. This operation may be read as providing access to the 'other place': or it may be that the cleft itself becomes the 'other' place - either way it functions as a holy site. Such a framed space also acts as a theatrical frame for performance, in the full sense of the term as a set of symbolic events which are also felt to be the events themselves, which 'call up' the events, personages, and places they enact, even as these later are evoked. The temporal ambiguity of such sites is comparable to the ambiguity of the ritual acts often performed at such sites, where one temporal action is read as enacting an extra-temporal or originary act (in the sense of originary with respect to the history of the culture in question, as myth). Here a present act is equivalent to an absent event, and one time is equivalent to or contains another, or the outside of time may be miraculously found within time itself. The connection of ritual with such sites suggests that symbolic temporality functions as an important element in the way performative ritual calls up the sacred.[10]

       The temporal aspect to such places or apertures, then, is that of eternity as opposed to the sub-lunary temporality of the everyday. This world and its other, which exist through the givens of experienced time, are opposed to one another as a this-side, or inside, and an outside of time, a zone of eternal elsewhere (where the normal rules of time and space do not apply, as for example, in the zone featured in Tarkovsky's film, Stalker, and in the turning points of his other films, where sacrality and belief are at issue). A similar opposition obtains in folk tales where the positing of a fairy realm, such as in the story of Rip van Winkle, appears to bring another temporality into view. The time of Myth is always another time – the ‘before’ time (as acted out or evoked at the heart of many rituals). The opening, then stands for the threshold between normal and other-worldly forms of time, as the point of transition between them (between 'in' and 'out', so to speak), between experienced time and other time, from which strange messages come, and to which sacrifices and offerings are sent, in search of enlightenment and to confirm the (religious) collective identity of those partaking in the ritual.

       Before returning to the Pantheon for a final example of a type of temporal symbolism, I will try to bring together the effects of frames and apertures, of spaces that are simultaneously both closed and open. From a general framing to small openings, from statues positioned between pillars, or, in the clearance of space around them, read as self-framing, to images framed by pillasters, cornice, and dado, from objects or their absence within the tight frames of niches to the enclosed spaces of ritual sites open to the sky; all may, not only be approached temporally in the search to explain their affective force, but may also be found to have applications beyond their immediate sphere of reference. As applied to other forms of architecture, and to the built environment as a whole, such forms still carry important cultural resonances. In the small measure, eternity, utopia, the sacred, or better, the micro-sacreds of private or individual appropriation, are always potentially present in the form of the personal utopia that lies behind the door, or the desire that seeks its true end outside of (or behind) a particular window. In the collective forms of experience, however, (whether as the possibility or generalisation of the former) the usual function is to cement a hegemonic ideology or belief-system, or fractions thereof, into a collective life with the possibility of various ends and fulfillments (that is, with a future).

       If, in the Poussin painting we looked at in chapter two, the old pagan architecture was found to connote the past, then this sense of pastness was  supported by a number of levels. The sense of the past was suggested by the building in question being less present (as background) then the other elements of the picture, by the style and condition of the ruins, and by the symbolic-historical values of the architecture (a lost civilisation).[11] The two latter aspects appropriate a past form for a present use that retains the pastness as a rhetorical value to be employed (Christianity has succeeded paganism despite all of the latter's vain glories). In the Pantheon the framing of Christian icons and statues within a pagan surround turns this enfolding context (or frame) itself into an appropriation of the past - here what is framed, the statues and paintings, re-frames the frame, or significant context. The statues, as it where, cite the pagan surround, and arrogate its scared functions, so displaying the simultaneous use of a previous tradition (the power of the past) together with the dominance of the new (the pastness of the past). It is as if the spaces framed within the Pantheon are privileged in relation to the other spaces of the building; that what appears within these frames over-rules or brings together that which appears elsewhere.

The possession of these sites indicates hegemony, dominance, and ownership. If the past is co-opted to support a present effect, its existence into the future is, nevertheless, underwritten by the eternal value of the sacred figures; the future of a belief-system in time is guarantied by a reference to the outside of time. Eternity promises to overrule the threat of contingency and provide temporal continuity. The value of the past (and so of the citation of structures that symbolise the past) is that it provides the link backwards to an origin, or to a prior state of falleness, that extends a retrospective continuity to a past fulfilled or redeemed; a past which can then be read as evidence for the trans-historical truth of the eternal. Symbolic-historical references in architecture call up this sense of rootedness in time, even as sacred symbolisms call upon the eternal as a complementary source of stability.




Introduction to the concept of ‘Solar.’


Clearly the 'top', the sense of the upper portions of buildings and parts of buildings, is important. With its yoking of past myth, gods, and heroes (saints), for futural subjunctive prescriptivity and its underwriting rhetoric of eternal guarantee, this is the part of a building that appears to carry the strongest symbolic potential, the part of a building most exploited by the dominant belief system, and the part of a building which most epitomizes the collective life and aspirations of a culture. I would like to coin a term, a neologism, for this experientially distinct unit of urban life. This and other neologisms will be based upon the belief that a terminology based upon zones of human, predominantly visual, experience will help to differentiate between, on the one hand, the 'actually experienced' and symbolic aspects of architecture (and so of the historical reconstruction of this experience), and, on the other hand, those other terms designed for abstract, technical, or 'timeless' forms of intellectual utility.

       The lexicon of architecture itself suggests the word, 'Solar': a medieval term for a room in the sun, in the upper-most storey. The key sense of the level beneath the sun is important to this term, as is the idea of the floor, part, or zone of a building that leads the eye upwards into the light and borrows its symbolic force both from this proximity (a metonymy) and this passage or directionality (a deixis).  Solar statues, image-filled pediments or gables, and otherwise decorated cornices or entire upper stories, all partake of, and contribute to, a solar effect in general, passing on to succeeding generations not only a heritage of temporally symbolic material, which they must identity with, label as anachronistic, or transform, but also the very place on a building where it would be expected to appear. The symbolic solar is, therefore, trans-functional: the decorated upper portions of arches or of capitals may join the decorated tops of a given building (frieze, pediment, cornice, or statues) in creating the 'solar' effect. This zone would be the bearer of intense symbolic and affective importance through conjoining, or drawing upon the semantic potential of actual symbols and the forms that contains them, and the site itself through its capacity to stimulate eye-raising and its metonymic proximity to the luminous.

       However, if we broaden our viewpoint to include the context of a given building (in practice something difficult to avoid) then we begin to sense a special continuity between the 'tops' of buildings as such. A common strata is unveiled where the cornices, top stories, their roofing and their decorations become a separate layer of the urban experience, a distinct zone of the built environment. The logical end of this process is the skyline, or rooftop view: the collective solar. As the collective form of experiential temporality, with its supports disappearing into the outside of time with its sacral connotations, the implication of such a zone of human experience is that of an interlocking of a key symbolic zone with its role in public space – its key symbolic function. The promise of a future, founded on the eternal verities, provides for collective cohesion. Whether ultimately comforting, or coercive, the temporal rhetoric of the collective solar will be found to carry strong -if largely unnoticed because viewed from within- affective and normative implications for collective identity (the usual function of the sacred, whether in itself or in the form of some secular symbolism). Any general view across the centre of Rome, the Eternal City, will, for example, offer a distinctly Christian form of collective Solar. Those visiting a culture significantly different from their own will find that the same skyline they deem so exhilaratingly 'different', or 'exotic', will also contribute to their deep sense of cultural alienation, or 'culture shock'.

       So far this chapter has only dealt with public, social, or collective modes of experience. These forms, generally normative by implication, are usually complemented by, or sometimes contrasted to, a more private form of viewing, where a view of a roof with religious symbolism, types of roof, private spaces (gardens, balconies, windows) may incite a utopian impulse on the part of the viewer (indicating freedom, an elevated mood, the link to a personal dream or wish). More directly the private appropriation or customizing of an owned, rented, or even squatted part of a rooftop can be seen in the distribution of flowers and vines, in the creation of a personal roof-top garden in many cities around the world.

       If roof-top space and its decoration is often a mark of private ownership then roof space is also appropriated by the poor and dispossessed to create roof-top shanty towns (perhaps most famously in cities like Delhi and Cairo). This latter point indicates the potential role of the solar as a marginal space, left aside for, or colonised by, marginalised groups. Two kinds of utopia join the symbolic space of the solar (always already symbolic of the utopian in some sense): the heavenly gardens, close to heaven, as (metonymically) beneath it, of the better-off (or simply those who live on the upper stories, not always necessarily the wealthiest people of a given town); and the place of escape or dwelling of the poor and homeless, reminding us that for some even the desire for a simple home and decent life may acquire a 'utopian' character.

       The concept of a solar, then, collects together the upper reaches of a building as such, with its connotations inspired by the horizon, proximity to our source of light and eye-raising, together with other similar levels on other buildings and the decorations often found on such levels, with the public and private aspirations and desires of those who regard them.




Two to three part symbolizing structures  (Alberti, Palladio).


The line of evolution stretches from the renaissance use of the classical pediment and portico frontage through to the Baroque church front (either bypassing the Gothic as a predominantly ‘North-European’ style or reacting against it's symbolic meanings in the spirit of Renaissance humanism). Both experientially, and in terms of their symbol-bearing distribution, these styles present the onlooker with an entrance floor plus a solar (echoing the classical pediment and portico). For example, the huge entry arch of Leon Battista Alberti's, facade of St. Andrea, Mantua (begun 1472), towers three stories high, transforming the entry floor into a giant entry portal. All this is topped by a pediment - which is itself topped by a, set back, canopy in order to admit light into the nave. A further example of a structure utilising, in experiential terms, a two part structure, can be found in Alberti's facade (over a Gothic building, whose arches remain in the lowest level) for Sta. Maria Novella, Florence (1456-1470).

       This logic of two key experiential parts (each with their own bottom to top sub-divisions to be sure) is even clearer in the work of Palladio.[12] The symbolic significance of the 'solar' and its dependence upon a contrasting, if supporting, lower part, a combination entry-fronting, is demonstrated in the symbolic role of the double pediment in the design of the temple or church front - in effect each 'part' was to have its own pediment - the eye being led from the lower to the higher. This key stylistic technique was used by Palladio in the Renaissance as part of a general rediscovery and revalourisation of classical models. The lower pediment was to refer to the 'house of man' (from which Palladio believed the form was originally derived), and the upper pediment to the 'house of God', referring to the function of the building itself and the traditional symbolic use of the pediment in Classical civilisation. The upper part immediately assumes responsibility for the most sacred connotations available. In effect, the social meanings of the building are re-organised according to a priority set up by this, one might say, axiom of the symbolic function of the solar position (for example, see the facades of S. Francesco della Vigna, Venice, 1562-1570, and S. Giorgio Maggiore, Venice, 1564-1580, both by Palladio).[13]

       This logic of the double top leads directly to the two part structures of the Baroque 'temple' front. Baroque churches (and some palaces) may be conceived as having, in effect, only two actually-experienced symbolic parts (the entry-fronting and the symbolic solar). Furthermore, in such two part (public) buildings, there is often a increase in symbolic density towards the top of each part or section and its subdivisions (as well as being particularly concentrated within the solar section itself), a development which follows the logic of two houses, the House of God and House of Man division as developed by Palladio. Each 'House', in effect, displays is own solar in a varying combination of capitals, entablature, and pediment given over to symbolic-decorative material.

       If Palladio's contribution to the Baroque front was the cumulative intensity of the double top, then it was Vignola who suggested the basic form that would support the Baroque front and encourage the development of the front as a (highly ornamented and pilastered) wall and not as an antique portico. This development can be found in the nave and aisle structure of Vignola's, Il Gesu (begun 1568), Rome, whose Baroque front was added later by delle Ponti (1575-1584).[14] 

       My contention here is that any classification of a part as lying between the top and the bottom, between the solar and the entry-fronting, as a kind of middle, effectively misplaces the degree of independence of that part or its capacity for any separate symbolic, and so temporal, signification. In other words, as found in the Baroque front, any apparent middle (the section below the uppermost pediment) does not in fact function as a true experiential middle (this will be a feature found in the secular palazzo). This apparent 'middle' is not something perceived as a separate signifying entity by the viewer, but as a weaker repeat of the top. This combination is perceived as being contained with the overall form of the solar - as can be seen in the addition of the Baroque scrolls or 'wings' that bring together the upper levels into one experiential unit (although it is interesting to note that Alberti had already offered this solution to the problem of the unification of the upper half which also yielded a gain in monumentality a hundred years before in the facade of Sta. Maria Novella (1456-1470), Florence). In this way the Baroque front or facade can be seen to be a two-part structure made up of an entry-fronting, designed for functional passage and protection - but, of course with some decor and with some gravity in its material and form - and the 'to look at' solar with its eye-leading, its sacred symbolism, and its ability to awe - an effect exploited with increasing deliberation in the Counter-reformation Baroque.

The implications of this distinction between sacred and secular architecture will become apparent if we take as an example an important square in Florence. The two part structure of the church of Santa Croce (on the square of the same name) appears in immediate contrast to the town houses that occupy the other three sides of the square. The differentiation of secular and sacred as two versus three parts is clear, with the upper part of the sacred building carrying a range of symbolic and temporal meanings in contrast to the vestigial (by comparison) solar (or plain top storey) of the secular town houses which generally save any decorative-symbolic additions for the piano nobile floor or the building's 'middle'. Towers attached to sacred buildings can however usually be treated as consisting of three parts, with the upper-most part carrying the greatest symbolic weight (as in Giotto's Campanile, Florence Cathedral). The two part form appears to be a skiamorph which recurs in the later history of the (Christian) sacred building. To a large extent the basic two part experiential structure, with its temporal implications, can be found in later cathedral fronts, as in the Art Nouveau, Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, by Gaudi with its sky-rocket spires arising from vast entry portals, or even in the modernist, Notre-Dame-du-Haut, Ronchamp, France, by Le Corbusier with its beton brut solar curving upwards, or in the modern cathedrals of Coventry or Liverpool in the United Kingdom.




The ‘Three Parts’ explained…


The town houses on the square of Santa Croce, in Florence, however seem to send out a very different set of signals: and perhaps we should not be surprised, as they have an entirely different function in the social life of the society, the community, or the city. Town houses exist as a dwelling place for people, not for the gods; any symbolism found in a secular context therefore normally is concerned to trumpet a place in the social hierarchy (or to advertise a trade or state function) and not to represent the (un-representability of the) deity nor the power of the eternal realm.

       This secularity does not mean, however that the urban town house or palazzo possessed no 'solar', and so eschewed any form of decoration of its upper parts. First, the presence of the skyline, of the source of light, above the tops of houses always suggests, from the point of view of the on-looker in the street, a sense of upwardness, or eye-raising, which reverses the direction of the (falling) light as if seeking its source. In this sense all buildings participate in a collective solar skyline with its general symbolic overtones. Second, individual houses did begin to decorate their upper edge, but only after first decorating the piano nobile and then looking (often under the pressure of legal limitations on exterior decor) to the solar as a natural site for symbolic development. In effect the solar (as ornamented cornice) entered into a kind of contest of symbolisms with the piano nobile in the town houses, palazzos, and squares of the Renaissance and Baroque.

       This contest of sites of decoration was also a contest in architectural style as marker of social status and learning. The renaissance flourish of conspicuous consumption accompanied and motivated the introduction of the decorated cornice in particular, and of the classical style as a decorative option in general, to the Italian renaissance city. Decoration symbolised wealth and power, but also piety and learning. For example, the Palazzo Medici (1446), by Michelozzo di Bartolomeo, in Florence, boasts an unusually rich cornice in an example which was to be imitated on many palazzos across Italy, but especially in Rome, in the course of the next century (see esp. Palazzo Farnese, Rome, by Sangallo and Michelangelo, 1541 and 1546). Such richness marks such a cornice out as a solar, as a symbolic, 'to look at', entity, a symbolic showing-of of wealth and power. However, such cornices are also a temporal reference back to classical art and architecture, a historical-symbolic temporality which not only draws upon the learning and aura of the past as a Golden Age, but may also be read as showing the intention of the present owners to abrogate the role of the cultural and intellectual leadership of the future. The ideals or ends of a city, community, or society point ineluctably into the future; to be believed to be a special custodian of such ideals is to have won a important battle in the war of ideological dominance.

       As a general effect, the cornice considered as a solar, carries the notion of aspiration, of ideals, of social dreams; abstract or repeated patterns indicate abstract ideas or general ideals (time has been spent indicating value; particular time is transformed into abstract value or local sacrality): whilst the piano nobile advertises more directly the concrete economic and secular power of its owner. The conspicuous ornamentation of the piano nobile may also be augmented by religious references as in the case of inset, or framed, religious statues, emblems, or motifs - at least until restrained by law from further ostentatious ornamentation. Temporally speaking, solar and piano nobile stand in a relationship of future to present: the past can be found in the style (classicising) and in the solidity and materiality of stone (especially when the latter is un-worked or rusticated). It is as if the building had always been there, and (moving into less certain, subjunctive, ground) always will be - we might hear in this yet another suggestion of the rhetoric of eternity. If all this form, style and detail, amounts to a symbolic claim to history and to the control of its direction, then this claim may well be true in objective, as well as in ideological terms, as merchant and patronage activities played an important role in the transformation of the Renaissance city and society.

       We have seen how apertures of buildings may also function as symbolic openings (doors, windows); as portals of symbolic as well as physical transition. Some of these apertures have practical functions (exit, entry, light), and are therefore real openings: some are purely symbolic, existing as imaginary, openings, or as ornament. These latter function as a visual rhetoric; to be seen, or looked at, and not especially to be passed through, or looked out of. Of course many openings combine practical with symbolic functions, as in the case of figures of realist origin where a feature (or group of features) in a scene of apparently neutral description take of a second significance (like a cloud in the sky in the context of the arrival of bad news). This is exactly the case with the first floor or piano nobile balcony, which elevates and exhibits features (the balcony as sign of wealth and power, and site of exhibition of the people who possess them) - as well as permitting an overview of the square or street below. The piano nobile balcony leans upon the potential offered by the aura of openings, by the rhetorical force of the frame, to impart special significance to those framed by the balcony.  Conversely the addition of such a feature adds a similar social significance to the building that displays it.

       In opposition to the solar, with its symbolism gathered around 'uppness', ideality, and the significance of a border shared with the sky, and an entry-fronting that announces entrances and exits, but also signals impassibility and protection, the piano nobile is usually the symbol-carrying portion of the third experientially significant part of the building. A 'middle' may be found to appear between the other two basic units. In streets that are often narrow and crowded together, the top of a building occupies an inconvenient line of sight and is hard to see from a distance. Moreover this limitation of convenient vision or optimum visibility is true for any building from close up - people are only really expected to stare upwards at the solar of a sacred building. It is the first floor (or second in a wider street or square) that offers itself readily to view providing the ideal place for a symbol advertising the occupant's status or religiousity. In the latter case a religious emblem or niche (containing a saint or a framed emblem) is clearly visible and makes up part of the social-symbolic fabric of the street or urban setting, participating in the collective belief structure of the inhabitants (see symbolic niches or aedicules on ‘secular’ houses, such as a cardinal's residence, for example, the Cancelaria, Rome, not a religious building as such, rather a secular palace for a wealthy cleric, which also carries a state function and as such is religious in terms of the aura of power it is designed to carry).

       However, this 'middle' level, particularly where the evolution of the piano nobile is concerned, takes on special symbolic significance as a mark of wealth and status, when decoration, either in the form of balconies or of ornament surrounding windows (or balconies) is employed, often ostentatiously, to single out the owner as one who can afford such luxuries. This ever-expanding significance, and so ornamentation, of the middle stories encountered competition with the later comer, the cornice, only when excessive decor was banned from the building's lower and middle portions. The protruding cornice was often the only visible solar of an urban town house set in narrow streets and small squares; when passers-by looked up the scrolled or egg-and-dart decor of the cornice would immediately catch the eye. This secular development is in marked contrast to the, always-already, featured solar of sacred or palatial buildings, which will have employed the solar as the main carrier of the symbolic message as a matter of course.

       If, in the previous section we saw how openings might 'mean' in quite a different way when taken in conjunction with the solar of a building (in the relationship of the bell-tower and spire of the cathedral to each other and to the look-out tower in Spoleto, Italy), then with the piano nobile and its evolution we can see how secular town houses utilised decorative symbolism with its attendant social and temporal implications. This 'middle' part was to continue its evolution as a symbolically important architectural feature, with decorated balconies and windows proliferating until, by the nineteenth century, all (even attic windows) were to be reframed in a given historicist style. In this way we can see the evolution of the palazzo-style town house into a model for future architectural appropriation.

       From the point of view of its consumption as a building (or a collection of buildings), it is the participation of the palazzo-style in collective symbolic meaning that is important - even as the style evolved to express individual (aristocratic or merchant families') claims to power and status (public profile). In contrast to the socially unifying meanings of the two-part structures of sacred buildings, these secular structures express difference and hierarchy and are socially divisive. This architectural display of wealth and power led to the passing of laws to limit such displays, in the hope of limiting divisive social competition among its elites and lessen the provocation felt by the other social classes. It was this injunction, as we have seen, that lead to the development of the cornice as a decorative feature and so the rise of a secular symbolic solar that was to exercise such a profound influence upon later architecture.

       The Renaissance model of the road-facing aspect of buildings in a town square or street was a great influence upon many recent styles of urban building; whether in the form of housing, flats, or of offices, the three-part palazzo design is a familiar face well into the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Even the neo-classical styles which followed the Baroque and which advocated a return to 'pure' classicism (whose architecture favours two experiential parts, as we saw in the pediment and portico model), in fact incorporate the basic (experiential) units based upon three parts. However if we go back to the Villa Medici, 1485, by Giuliano da Sangallo, at Poggio a Caiano, outside Florence, we see a free-standing palace which takes classicising elements and, in contrast to Palladio and the trajectory that was to result in the Baroque temple front, makes them conform to a three part structure.[15] The effect is clean, almost modern.




We have seen how the upper 'parts' of a building can be differentiated according to their symbolism and function.  In the cathedral (and in the defensive tower) in Spoleto, the contrast of the symbolic solar of the cathedral to the functional solar of the cathedral bell-tower ('to hear/see from, be heard from') is augmented by the bell-towers' own symbolic solar, or spire ('to be looked at'). By contrast the Renaissance and Baroque fronts of (often older) sacred buildings often consist of a square or oblong entry-fronting; apparently functional with huge openings for entry and exit - although, like its Gothic predecessor, heavily ornamented (particularly along its upper portion). This level is then topped by a triangular solar, where a 'middle' layer is incorporated into the solar by the addition of the wings that complete the triangular pointing by leading it up to the pediment (often this section is entirely symbolic; it has no other architectural function and in fact behaves rather like a free-standing column, or ornamented steeple). The overall structure of the sacred front works to utilise 'upness', soaring (hypsosis), or symbolic eye-leading to the place where heaven is deemed, whether figuratively or literally, to be, and where Christian emblems may further be used to concretise the message (crosses, saints, Episcopal hats, the keys of St. Peter).

       By contrast, in the case of secular town houses, from the relatively modest terrace of the city street to the free-standing palazzo or villa proper, we have a solar which is only rarely 'to look from', more often 'to let light in'. When the cornice or the upper floors are decorated, it is also 'to look at'. Often, window-like openings onto the solar floor may function to let air in, but not light; as in the case where a top storey is used for storage, or in the case of the attenuated rooms often reserved for servants - as in the case of an attic floor proper.

       If the symbolically-charged term 'solar' may still be used for something as prosaic as the upper 'edge' of a town house, it is partly because of its role as the distant upper story that stimulates curiosity and questions, and dreams as the answer to these questions, and partly because of its proximity to the skyline, which raises the issue of eye-raising with all of its symbolic connotations. However, the term 'solar' comes into its own when considered as the total effect of the collective solar of an entire street or sky line - a key part of the collective experience of the urban environment.

       The cornice may be decorated or minimal. In either case the solar as a visual part of a building may be read (intuition will confirm this) as a combination of upper story and cornice. Indeed in most town houses a typically thin cornice is often touched by the vestigial, functional openings of the upper-most storey, a functional form imitated in buildings where the windows taper in as they rise, a received part of the 'palazzo' style in the periods that follow. For a recent example of a solar combining the palazzo three-part structure with bell-tower windows (to replace the typically vestigial ventilation openings of the town-house solar) - we need look no further than International Modernism, as in the case of the Pirelli Tower (by Gio Ponti, of A&U Milan, 1955-8) in Milan, Mies van der Rohe, the Seegram Building, in New York (1954-1958), and, in Post-modern guise, Phillip Johnson & John Burgee, the AT&T Building, also New York (1978), all of which feature a sequence of long windows in their solar.[16] When compared to buildings that lack a solar, whether Modernist tower-blocks that just end with the last line of windows or their architrave, or in the case of storage towers, beloved of science-fiction, without any distinguishing features around their highest point; when compared to such, buildings that have a solar feature appear 'finished'. Those without deliver an unfinished effect (an effect used deliberately by some architects, in these cases the deliberation confirms the intuition, as a reaction confirms the force of the original). The expending of time to symbolise a building's relationship to time, to its experience and its rhetorical appropriation (symptomatic of a society's relation to what it holds sacred), ornamentation or distinctiveness (of a part, of the solar) as the indicator of the social value of a building, or even of an entire segment of the built environment, these are the messages communicated to the perceiver by the relative presence or absence of a solar. It would appear that, psychologically as well as phenomenologically, buildings have to have a top; but not necessarily a middle.

       In secular architecture, as the form that has been widely imitated throughout the architecture of the West, it is generally the first proper floor (the floor above the ‘ground’ floor), or sometimes the second floor (depending upon the height of the building, or the openness of the street), which functions as the ornamented, 'to look at', piano nobile. This feature of the 'middle' of buildings, and so of the collective 'middle' of the built environment in general, usually comes complete with a prominent balcony - or with hierarchies of balconies, where several floors have taken on this function ('to be seen from', 'to be looked at'). The windows of this middle section (and their decoration) usually taper off as they approach the solar. If the fusion or ambiguity of the solar with respect to any middle section (bay, window, niche, often topped with a decorative mini-pediment) is the norm in the sacred architecture discussed above, then the ability to distinguish the solar from the middle (initially often just the piano nobile) is an important part of the development of secular architecture. 

       The first mezzanine is never a candidate for the role of piano nobile or experiential 'middle' of a given building as, in functional, or structural, terms and in terms of its symbolic, or experiential, force, it is normally a part of the bottom-most segment, or entry-fronting, of a building. The entry-fronting in the palazzo-style town house is usually rusticated or left rough (effects in stone were later imitated by the use of rusticated plaster) - or even semi-fortified. This design is true of collective structures also, whether of a main street with a more or less continuous entry-fronting level, which has been achieved by a combination of accident and contextualising normativity, or for the planned Renaissance square, the Piazza del Popolo, Rome (1538, remodeled 1814)). I have chosen to call this lowest significant experiential level of urban architecture, the 'entry-fronting', bringing together the practical functions of entry and exit, with the experiential functions of eye-level daily life usually associated with shop fronts, window displays, and the decorated entry portals of urban life).

       The entry-fronting will reach its apotheosis in nineteenth century Historicism, but similar, albeit ruder, effects can be found in many Renaissance Florentine or Roman Palazzos. The practical function of protection afforded by a rough-hewn or rusticated lower storey, with few or heavily protected windows and entrances to defend and no finely wrought surfaces to be spoilt by collision or assault, is also imposing in a symbolic sense. Although the texture of rough-hewn stone imparts no greater strength than that which has been smooth-cut, the former appears stronger, perhaps due to its ability to suggest, or mimic, raw stone, the cliffs from which it was hewn, or the natural rock upon which the building may have been built. The rough-cut is as much an illusion, figure, or symbol as the acculturation of the fine-cut stone of the piano nobile; its apparent naturalism is designed to deter violence - when it does not actually represent the threat of violence itself. The texture functions as a symbolic threat, an act of intimidation, and gives the appearance of a preparation for violence. The architectural rhetoric of this feature appears to symbolise an absent, figurative, or potential power. Such an effect may be described as drawing upon the notion of a 'low' secular sublime (the veiled threat of violence from earthly powers): as opposed to the 'high' sacred sublime residing in the inconceivable other realm of eternity (and the threat of eternal damnation by the gods) drawn upon by religious buildings. The traces of this architectural heritage can still be found in the sculptural rhetoric of many forms of entry-fronting today.

       The evolution of the entry-fronting, the experiential lower part of the building, over the centuries that followed, included a vastly expanded symbolic importance. For the next significant stage in the development of this key feature of the built environment, we must turn to the advent of Historicism. Most of the decorative architectural styles of previous European history were recycled in the nineteenth century art-currents variously known as Beaux Arts or Historicism. Original materials and weight-bearing solutions were not repeated; rather the decorative element only was repeated in plaster modeling, usually laid over brick. Historicism, however, presided over a general reconstruction of the European city centre in the course of the nineteenth century, of which the classic example is the Vienna Ringstrasse (and the most famous, the Parisian boulevards of Haussmann).

       However this repetition of the 'classic' architectural styles of the past (Classical, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, and the evolution of the Palazzo template, including a fully-fledged, if somewhat Mannerist, Palazzo Style in mid-nineteenth century America) took place in a completely different historical and cultural context, and therefore played a fundamentally different role to that of the original time of the styles in question (although, of course, the continuation of Neo-classicism especially was itself already a reference back with all the attendant historical connotations of such a move). An important part of the understanding of the temporal aspects of this style is the partnership of this temporal symbolism (the element of historical citation) with the temporal experience of these buildings in actual life. This reference back to a previous cultural epoch, replete with the metaleptic figure of the Golden Age, and the current experience (whether of the time of construction or of the literal present) of the borrowed style is also the source of the ironic relationship found in the distance between the intended (or implied) effect and the actual effect of such appropriations. The symbolism, or rhetoric, of citation is both realised in, and put into question by the (varying) experience of the 'consumers' of such architecture.

        However, the presence of an augmented but still immediate ground level, as key urban experiential category and integral symbol-carrying part of the built environment, can clearly be seen to function in the massive intimidating, and grandifying entry-fronting of nineteenth century Historicism (and before, as noted in the Renaissance square, the Piazza del Popolo, in Rome and in the early Palazzo). If we begin with the transformation of pillars, their parts and their proportions, in the context of the development of a symbolically significant lower part, then we notice that the pillars in the Kunsthistoriches Museum in Vienna have a long decorated base leading to the column (often appearing to the viewer as if it were the lower half of the column that were decorated) and are topped with the usual capital. This singularly (dis)proportionate treatment of the traditional top, middle, and bottom of the classical column (a model for so much in classical and neo-classical architecture), is itself but a precise echo of the extension given to the lowest section of most buildings in Viennese Historicism (itself featuring precisely the extended entry-fronting found in the Piazza del Popolo, Rome). Indeed buildings within the Historicist 'Ring' zone of Vienna that have followed Historicism, have also followed its proportions for the solar, facade and entry-fronting so as to remain in context with its neighbours (even iconoclast Adolf Loos obeys this rule, in Vienna, see the Loos-Haus (1911), a Bank, next to the Hoffburg on Michealerplatz).

       The entry-fronting of most major buildings in any part of Vienna touched by nineteenth century Historicism, is extended up beyond the usual mezzanine to include an extra floor; the exterior is rusticated or decorated to make this extension clear. The pan-European nature of nineteenth century Historicism ensures that all of Europe's major cities, insofar as they were redeveloped in this period, use this feature; the extending of the 'bottom' up to and beyond a mezzanine level, the latter becoming, in the process, the upper portion or floor of the lowest segment of the building, a lesser floor situated between the ground floor and the first floor proper (of a piano nobile reconstituted as the bottom floor/s of an extended middle or facade). The ordinary housing of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries usually takes the form of the, typically plain, European vernacular, with the usual proportions of the parts, and the usual pattern of window size to match; larger for the piano nobile, becoming smaller as we proceed upwards. Historicism repeats this pattern: but augments it with a veneer of plaster moulding cast in a given Historicist style (usually Neo-classical or Baroque).

        The effect is intentionally grandiose, with the collective entry-fronting in better proportion to the wider boulevards of the Viennese 'Ring' - a kind of mega-boulevard affording broader views of the surrounding architecture (a useful comparison may be made with the Parisian nineteenth century boulevards designed by Haussmann). Such collective architectural effects were clearly felt to be apposite to the capital of an Empire (as they were for Paris and other European capitals aspiring to imperialist grandeur). What we have in this form of monumental urban Historicism is yet another example of the use of proportions for ideological effect. Sheer size and bulk suggest staying power, which, when allied with the incorporated traditions of previous cultures (borrowed detail and modeling), add finer dimensions to brute imposition by offering temporal reference to, and continuity with, the past. This claim to the traditions and aura of bygone civilisations acts as a kind of legitimation of the present; of the buildings, their functions, and of the society they represent- most especially, in a centralised monarchy, of its rulers. As with sacred forms of visual memory (whether as general form, sculpture, or ornament of the sort found on capitals), the citations of Historicism reach beyond the simple vainglory of the present. Not only are these buildings built in a style that indicates that they are meant to last, they are also meant to appear so; and their quoting of forms and decorative layer of citation suggests that what has survived so far, will survive further. In this way Historicism also contains a manifestation of the impossible guarantee that we saw pursued by religious architecture and its temporal symbolism; to predict the continuation and flourishing of belief, believer, and social structure into the realms of the unforeseeable time to come - otherwise put (albeit only as the mobilisation of an illusion), the one who controls the past controls the future.




Trans-building: we perceive space as horizons, layers or zones each with their dominant field of meaning…


Now that we have taken the step to identify the parts which make up buildings as they are actually experienced, we can examine two important implications of this re-conceptualisation. First, there is the step, already partly taken in some previous analyses, towards dealing with collections of buildings, of collective urban structures (or their perception as such), the trans-building, and its all-important sub-divisions (the collective form of the solar, facade, and entry-fronting). Second, there are considerations of a fundamental nature concerning the 'gendering' of received architectural terms and assumptions to be considered; there then follow the implications of these conceptual adjustments themselves upon interpretation.

      From the point of view of the lived experience of architecture, is there anything left of the idea of a 'whole' building? This concept can only really be employed if the building in question has some iconic status in a canon, if it is a 'must go see' building, or if it, in some way, stands alone. However even this caveat raises the question of how a building is framed. Expectation joins viewpoint, as represented by photography, painting, or film. It is a question of whether more attention is paid to the building from the point of view of treating it as an art object, or as a cultural signifier, or as an engineering project. Otherwise the only real 'wholes' are our three experiential categories: entry-fronting, facade, and solar. It could be argued that these have more actual integrity (that they alone manifest more significant differences), than most so-called 'entire' buildings (clear exceptions are palaces and churches that stand alone, however, more often these are found in the context of an urban environment with which they relate). The Woolworth Building (1913), for example, is often shown standing alone, a difficult viewpoint to obtain, more typically it is found in the context of its neighbours, some in similar styles, some in later contrasting designs (the ill-fated Twin Towers in New York); all, however, manifest the three levels which are recognisable despite stylistic differences.

       One implication of the division of buildings into parts which may carry more meaning than the building itself and of the resultant joining together of the different levels of the built environment into parallel segments, is the disturbing, or the uncovering, of a dependency upon the 'gendering' of concepts normally used by traditional criticism to describe buildings or to divide up the built environment into discrete, prominent, and in this way, significant, entities. One rhetorical element, present in any building said to be 'famous in itself', or which 'stands alone', is that of a masculinist (monist and individualistic) preference for a solid and separate entity with a discrete identity. If this way of conceptualising a building can be regarded as influenced by apparently phallic skiamorphs, then it also echoes or mirrors the Enlightenment notion of the Western Self, 'I', or subject-position, as free-standing, independent, and free from all (irrational, and so traditionally 'feminine') desire, de-contextualised and un-embedded; that is, as a traditionally conceived formulation of the masculine gender role (a normative role now questioned by many actual biological males in advanced capitalist societies). It appears as if the assertion of a whole, or undivided subject-hood, theoretically required for the positing an un-contradictory proposition, also requires of architectural critics and traditional aestheticians, the thesis of a whole undivided building in order for its indivisibility, the source of its claim to rationality, to be supported (as opposed to a consciousness of its debt to collective, even conflicting, forms of being, which may traverse it and include emotive bases or 'illogical' rationales based upon identity exchanges).

       The opposing rhetorical pole might well suggest the re-imbrocation of context or contrast, in such a way as to, not only include these factors in any discussion of a building's character or effect, but also to move toward a conceptualisation of the built environment in terms of proximities, which produce continuities and contradictions - perhaps in an architectural form of 'touching' (in the opposing and defining 'feminine' sense identified by the French feminist philosopher Luce Irigaray).[17] As well as opening up the discussion onto the trans-building structures that were posited as the actual units of architectural urban experience above, the 'touch' of one building with another allows discussion upon the role of edges of buildings, their joins, their vertical contiguity, and upon the difference in texture or description of the parts of buildings that lie around their contiguous edges, in their meetings and mismatches of style and line (as in the example of Louis Sullivan's pilasters). If this shift of terminology appears to be symbolic in its re-figuring of the terms of description (or comparison) employed, it is important to note that such a shift can result in an actual, even fundamental, change of preference when it comes to the choice of buildings (always in the plural) to be considered, analysed, or critically canonised (streets or views, rather than single buildings, may become elements in the canon). The inclusion of context involves a change in perspective that moves the emphasis onto co-existence. As with the discussion on wholes, their sub-divisions, and their dispersal, so this approach would also result in a number of buildings adjacent to one another (a street or block), together with their combinations or contrasts of textures, as the preferred unit of study. This coincidence of the experiential with an 'interested' or 'minority' viewpoint must immediately suggest options for a political or ethically concerned architectural criticism.

        Perhaps we are now in a position to answer the question - implicit in the rejection of the notion of the 'whole' as applied to architecture: what is a part? Usually, as we have seen, for the viewer, a part is a part of the same: like-parts group together to make up trans-individual clusters. Horizontal series combine with vanishing points. Here the new or naturally perceived whole of the city or built environment is either the street (the view down or along a street) or the solar, facade, entry-fronting distinction propagated across numerous buildings. These experiential 'wholes', can, for example, be seen from the 'same' level (entry-fronting, facade, or solar), or from street level, from the windows of the opposite facade, or from the vantage point or opening place that allows an extended solar to be collected together into a skyline. It is here that the three parts, in their trans-building potential, are at work at their maximum extension. The three parts (or two in the Classical and Baroque architectural symbolism if the Temple front) appear to act as collective units of perception and so play a part in the co-ordination of social, collective, and individual meaning by providing three basic (but not essential, nor trans-historical) terms and their collective experiential forms (collective entry-fronting, facade, solar). In the analyses that have preceded, it had already become necessary to locate differing temporal values in the discrete parts of a given building, indicating that any analysis of the temporal rhetoric of actually-experienced architecture must already begin by dealing with a vocabulary of parts, and so with slices through groups of buildings, rather than exclusively focusing upon the discrete whole of a building with a Proper Name. Apologies to Freud and the Enlightenment, but buildings are neither penises nor people. Although it is the latter that think them.





Copyright, Peter Nesteruk, 2011.

[1] Out of the huge literature that exists on the Pantheon, I have collected here only those studies which have attempted to grapple with the building's impact and meaning or have something to say about the coffers (an exhaustive bibliography can be found in Sperling, 1999). I have listed them in reverse order of appearance (most recent first): Gert Sperling, Das Pantheon in Rom: Abbild und Mass des Cosmos (Neuried: Ars Una, 1999); Claudia Conforti (ed.), Lo specchio del cielo: forme, significate, tecniche e funzioni della cuppola dal Pantheon al Novecento (Milan, Electa, 1997); Wolf-Dieter Heilmeyer, 'Uber das Light im Pantheon', in Licht und Architektur, Tübingen (1990) pp. 107-110; Tod A. Marder, 'Bernini and Alexander VII: Criticism & Praise of the Pantheon in the Seventeenth Century', The Art Bulletin, Vol. 71, No.4 (Dec., 1989) pp. 628-645; Howard Saalman, 'The Pantheon coffers: pattern and number', in Architectura, 18 (1988) pp. 121-122; J. B. Ward-Perkins, Roman Imperial Architecture (Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin, 1981); William L. MacDonald, Pantheon: Design, Meaning, Progeny  (London; Allen Lane, 1976) and The Architecture of the Roman Empire, rev. ed. 1985 (New Haven & London,: Yale UP, 1965); Kijeld de Fine Licht, The Rotunda in Rome: A Study of Hadrian's Pantheon (Aarhus, Jutland: Archeological Study Publications, VIII, 1969).

[2] In the critical literature the coffers are usually mentioned only in connection to: (i) their role as a lead-up to the oculus; (ii) the patterns of light-fall and shadows that occur at differing times of the day; or (iii) combined with numerological-theological references which could have no conceivable impact on the consciousness of the viewer (see, for example, Sperling 1999, pp.10; 120).

[3] MacDonald (1976) alone comes close when he suggests, but does not follow up the implications of his own pregnant suggestion that: 'Their enboxed sides recede slanting inward, as if each frame-like element of each coffer was the base portion or frustrum of an oblique pyramid whose apex lay outside and above the dome' (p. 38).

[4] The final view of de Fine Licht (1969) and the authorities he rests his claims on regarding the role of the (step distortions on the) coffers is that they act as an 'optical correction' - to what exact end is not stated. Undistorted coffers are frequently used with only a loss of the uplifting effect as the net loss. 'Distorted coffers' have been 'known since Republican times' and are also to be found in Trajan's thermae (fn 32, p. 176). MacDonald (1976) Illustration 137  (pp. 122-124). See also Tod A. Marder (1989), where the invisibility of the internal proportions of the coffers extends even to many of the drawings made of the Pantheon interior across the centuries; with drawings, engravings etc., we see what the artist sees, comparison with photographic evidence reminds us of what is left out; see the illustrations on pp. 635; 636; 638.

[5] For the role of the coffers as 'traditional decoration', that is, with no structural rationale, see de Fine Licht (1969), p. 140. MacDonald (1976) notes, in one of the rare references to numbers untainted with hermeticism, of the fact that there are 'twenty-eight radial rows of coffers' whose function is 'seven and fourteen', whereas the lower regions have as their functions 'four and eight' that, 'the coffer system will not synchronise with the verticals of the zones below, except along the four cardinal axes, and this adds a certain restlessness to the design' (p. 72). This separation of the dome from the drum further adds to its appearance as 'floating'.

[6] De Fine Light argues that, 'there is no evidence for establishing who stood in the 8 aedicules', an assertion that makes an 'abstract', or experiential account of the effect of the absent statues and their enframing structures all the more cogent  (de Fine Light, 1969, p. 200).

[7] See esp. Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, (Boston, Mass: Beacon Press). Translated by Maria Jolas. First Published, in France, 1958. The dream evocations of a lyrical and intimate phenomenology of space. The author prefers to draw upon the imagination as linked to the unconscious and usually disclaims the implications of temporality as redundant to the appreciation of the poetic image (p. xxix).

[8] Much of the discussion around the theme of plane and space in Hopper in chapter one could be carried over, mutatis mutandis, to the temporal experience of architecture. The  temporal implications of 'Stairway', in particular, may be applied to similarly configured  spaces, and to conjunctions of such spaces such as multiple joins or levels, of landings and stairs - indeed any place where older and newer buildings join together, whether as  connections,  juxtapositions, or extensions.The temporal allusions of such places is as important to the effect/affect of such spaces as their purely spatial configuration (if such a thing can be said to exist from a human perspective).  The same can be said of  rooftop views, where the experience of the collected upper parts of buildings may be found to call up utopian and dysutopian, public and private, terms of temporal reference.  Finally, the discussion of 'New York Movie' has already suggested how the internal space of a building may yield multiple movements in time, which are also multipule moments in temporality - that is, subjectivity.

[9] Jacopo Benci, Faraway & Luminous (British School at Rome Publications, London, 2007).

[10] In this light the act or process of performativity can be read as the calling up of something absent, even radically absent (the extra-temporal) and making it, not only as if present, but as if participated in (in this sense images and space may perform, that is carry ritual force). A ritual evocation; a tropic exchange or figurative addition that functions exactly like the trope of prosopopoeia (the evocation of the absent, or the dead, a form of personification, or another trope of naming). Prosopopoeia as ritual form. If prosopopoeia resembles metaphor (itself the trope of resemblance), what of other key tropes as ritual/tropic relations, and what of their potential architectural/temporal significance? (The point being that in the act of meaning making all figurative means available may be in play.) The relation of ritual to temporality is important as ritual practices, particularly the more intense ones, often call up, or upon, an alternate, or outside to, everyday temporality. If we classify ritual through figure, ritual as a means to second meaning, this is what we get: metaphor; looks like = is (and antiphrasis; irony = a parodic relation): metonymy; next to or near = all tropes of touching or spatial hierarchy, margin/centre, left/right, the uses of upness, hypsosis,  openness (sky), or enclosure (earth/womb): synecdoche; part/whole relations = sympathetic magic/symbolism, redivision of a medium, or landscape into parts: metalepsis; distant cause, present effect over time or space (or contrary) = cause or effect from here to/from 'there', from present to past and future: and hyperbole; exaggeration = ritual intensification: meiosis; understatement = desacralisation: and litotes (and other tropes of negation) = emphasising absence in presence. Regarding ritual and time; the performative appears to merge or exchange times, with the Other-time, the before-time, or eternity. A general temporal formula for ritual: calling upon the eternal to safeguard the future (of the group).

[11] There are many approaches to the aethetics (or aesthetic reception and so rhetoricity) of ruins: a return to Nature as a fall due to indivdual or collective pride, with time as the great leveller (variations with religious overtones, fall of Babel, etc); pastness as an echo or leftover of the past, something on the edge or beyond understanding; futuricity as vision of the potential future of viewer's time and civilisation; or the temporal lack of presence of the former options read as an effect of ghostliness, where the presence as it is reminds us of the absence of the thing depicted (this would be the phenomenological and figurative basis of the other options) - a further sense of ghostliness would connote otherness, not temporal (eternal, mythic, folkloristic or otherwise a-temporal, an version of the dream vision - of 'unconscious' origin perhaps.

[12] See Robert Tavernor, Palladio and Palladianism, (London: Thames & Hudson, 1991), pp. 62-63.

[13] See Tavernor, Palladio and Palladianism, Pl. 47, p. 69; Pl. 38, p. 63.

[14] See Loren Partridge, The Renaissance in Rome (London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1996) and Linda Murry, The High Renaissance and Mannerism (London: Thames & Hiudson, 1977) for a range of representative images of the buildings mentioned.

[15] See Marvin Trachtenberg & Isabelle Hyman, Architecture: From Prehstory to Post-modernism (London: Academy Editions, 1986) p. 298.

[16] See Trachtenberg & Hyman, Architecture, for representative images

[17] See Luce Irigaray, ‘When Our Two Lips Speak Together’, in This Sex Which Is Not One (New York: Cornell University Press, 1985) pp. 205-218; ‘Volume without Contours’, in The Irigaray Reader, Edited By Margaret Whitford (Oxford: Blackwells, 1991) pp. 53-67; ‘Veiled Lips’, in Marine Lover of Friedrich Nietzsche (New York: Columbia University Press, 1991) pp. 77-119.