Cosmograms + Pompeions

15/06/2014 Comments Off on Cosmograms + Pompeions

The catalogue edition of the Architecture of the Processional City atelier is now available to view online. Co-edited by Olivia Paine, Raphaé Memon and James Taylor-Foster, this publication gives a concise overview of the research and design work undertaken by the atelier of 2013/2014.

Click to read in full screen.



06/03/2014 Comments Off on Aura

Abstract form process (s)

Processional activity is a method for making the ethereal feel real, and the distant appear closer through congregational activity embedded with both individualistic and corporeal sensory experiences. It is the experience and evaluation of time for all participants which is opened for own interpretation with some point of personal identity and recognition with the event. Individually, through historical consciousness, we project procession onto the urban fabric as ‘prejudices and fore-meanings in the mind of the interpreter’ (Gadamer, 2004). However, identification is primarily a social concept, concerned with defining the processes that organize the human cognitive condition. Identity is simultaneously collective and individual, because we can never solely identify ourselves as either part of a group or as an individual, both always exist. The act of processing is the practice of recognising oneself as being part of a community on a meso social scale. It invites us to re-orientate ourselves with in the city, beyond the immediate confines of the building. Rather than serving to break down social barriers and join the group into an undifferentiated unity, the procession fluctuate between the foreground, middleground and background of different realities in ordering to establish a ‘meaningful whole’, just like an aura or a field of congregation.

Such observations can also be applied to understanding of the baroque as an intense sensory assault and how it corresponds to the analysis of both urban and architectural settings. Rather than using the term ‘baroque to simply’ describe the cultural movement, Patrick Lynch’s notions of the baroque city infers that it is more valuable as ‘a way of thinking about the world and of re-representing this worldview in spatial settings’. He goes as far as to suggest that considering ‘art has largely become spectacle today, and public life a series of spectacles’, ‘the baroque period marks the birth of modernity’. The duality of “man and the world” has often be understood as the dialogue of “man and the environment”, which the environment appears as the articulation and embodiment of our life that endures our experience in the world. Vividness of the memory of a building in our mind suggests that the environment is reciprocity of the actual and the possible.

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Inspired by Peter G. Rowe’s notions of Civic Realism, the investigation opens up the idea of power sharing interests between authorities and various elements of civic society by introducing interpretation of community. Rowe pulls the various themes of Civic Realism together and summarises the thesis that the civic realm lies between the public and private aspects of our lives although it tends to be produced by both. Derived from mainly informal networks of associations of society, favorable social and political conditions are required for good civic space to come about. Also the term civic represents a point of view about public
conduct. Something civic is educational and worthy of being seen and heard in public, and furthermore something to be passed on to further generations with pride. It is not a style or specific aesthetic ideology. It is at first a transcending state of being in the world, and secondly an orientation or principles to be taken and implemented when making urban architecture into something that is civic, and is distinct from simply being public or personal experience. Co-extensive space contain a pluralism of attitudes with a sense of common accord: they are adaptive, and support everyday life, and allow for group or individual expression.

My first program intention is using gold as the metaphoric representation of ‘aura’, which ties to the mentioned agenda in twofold.
First, Gold means Halo means Aura. The chemical element gold with the symbol Au, from the Latin word aurum, meaning ‘shinning dawn’. The continuous use of gold leaf for haloes in majority of panel painting was considered a shiny, lively and reflective medium and was a metaphor since the late Middle Ages. Noticing that gold is the material that enhances the radiation of holiness, it has the same property as aura. It is always a ‘foreground material’ that oscillates between the planes of reality, the earthly and heavenly spheres, and forms the best effect of an iconological auratic presentation. Gold in its sacred shrine and symbol of authority could be understood as the mediator between observer and the significance of the parading institution.

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“the gold ground is a metaphor of the supernatural light and symbolizes other-worldliness.[…], it ‘embodies both material and immaterial values.’ 

-Warhold Gold Marilyn (1962)

Second, Gold is the kind of transcending value from civic to individuals. Paintings, stone artworks, textiles and metal were usually glided to look like real gold for decoration purposes. Gold has to fulfill the highest demands and in the past, in every era and every culture, it was reserved for the ruling houses and the senior clergy. The basic value of human passion on gold, always similar, and present in all cultures and eras since very beginning of civilization. From crafting objects of worship and beautification to coining elegant coins as means of exchange and stores of wealth, the varying religious and economic values attached to gold are a result of changing of point of view. Nevertheless the value of gold lies on all aspects of meaning. On one hand, for some of the authorities, gold collection in treasury is a showcase (an icon) of the significance of power ; on the other hand it is crafted as jewelry for individual’s creative appreciation. This is coherent with processional display of power thought the icon that transformed to an individual synaesthetic experience.

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CAD & Craft

13/01/2014 Comments Off on CAD & Craft

‘CAD (Computer Aided Design) poses particular dangers for thinking about buildings. Because of the machine’s capabilities for instant erasure and refiguring, the architect Elliot Felix observes, “each action is less consequential than it would be [on] paper … each will be less carefully considered.” Returning to physical drawing can overcome this danger harder to counter is an issue about the materials of which a building is made.’
‘What appears on screen is impossibly coherent, framed in a unified way that physical sight never is.’

Richard Sennett, The Craftsman

Ornament and Picture-Making

02/12/2013 Comments Off on Ornament and Picture-Making

One is tempted to judge overtly decorative works as somehow dishonest or false.’ Mark Pimlott

I spoke to my friend Ash yesterday about what he understood the word ‘ornament’ to mean when used in architectural or design related terms. A true minimalist, his first thought was that ‘ornament’ is equal to ’embellishment’, meaning the decorative or representational imagery added to a building/object’s surface to make it appear more beautiful and accessible; a tool that allows those with no design knowledge to find beauty in an otherwise purely functional piece of design. He believes ornament has had no relevance, or at least no real contribution to the development of modern design since the 1920s; it is decadent and romantic. Like many modernists and industrialists, he appreciates the raw qualities (‘perhaps it’s a kind of anti-ornament’) present within design that makes visible its construction and exploits its material use, believing that a strong meaning can be represented by building without any additives. But when is ornament additive and when is it inherent?

This discussion came about from me showing him an article I was reading; ‘Ornament and Picture Making’ by Mark Pimlott, an OASE journal on the subject that questions what ornament is. It is fascinating in pointing out that ‘surprisingly, ornament is currently most evident in the work of the so-called avant-garde‘.

What can and has been learnt from explicit ornament? How has ornament in architecture developed? Some questions and points Pimlott raises that I immediately focused on:

Ornament for its own sake, ornament as excess, has gone missing for some time, in part due to the orthodoxies of modernism. To Adolf Loos, the use of precious materials was appropriate in a society where self-awareness and decorum was valued. The correct use of beautiful materials was as important as speech that was suited to its context.’

Robert Venturi’s essay Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture (1966) initiated a re-appraisal of both historical and vernacular architecture that had become either ignored or misunderstood.

Should pattern and decoration not only be described as effects, but as necessary areas of attention and practice?’

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Through concentration on immanent construction, a representational and therefore decorative or naturally ornamental quality emerges.’


Pimlott inforces the notion that ‘ornament’ in architecture allows buildings to project a certain aura that relates to public circumstances, values or ideals; identifying with social conditions. The image of a building should relate to whatever else can be seen in the world. Perhaps this is why many today (those opposing Ash’s design principles), ‘fetishise‘ buildings that contain explicit ornament; those that hold romantic, decadent imagery that seems so far removed from their own reality. This can be spoken of both in terms of old and new.

Overtly sculptural pieces of architecture, or those with elements added without any constructive purpose, surely often hold very similar ideas to the overtly decorative vernacular; these are buildings that are read as sculptural objects often intended to be viewed rather than to be used. Pimlott states that works by architects since the 1980s, a prime example being Herzog and de Meuron, focus on this identifiable ornament and the creation of an image. In their built facades and forms ‘it is easy to identify with process, with the assembly or the making of sculpture, rather than construction and architecture‘.

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These building facades can be read as a series of simple shapes much like a modern painting; an ‘image of construction’ is often created rather than something involved in the real process. In many new works, complex engineering is hidden by smooth walls that we can read more easily, like a finished picture rather than a working drawing.  This seems to me to be similar to the ‘image of meaning’ held in decorative cathedrals that is representational of the image/aura the architect wishes the building to have.

Pimlott goes on to speak about minimal, accessible art, industry and the manifestation of social attitudes into architecture and design. Much of my own research into the Marian Procession has focused on the meaning held within surface and imagery of both people and infrastructure, and this article will continue to be a fascinating insight into this wide topic whilst designing my own architecture of meaning (a flower market). 

A consideration of any monument of antiquity will show that the elements of construction are representations – they are ideas about what buildings do and say. Representation and ideas are part of architecture’s nature, and fantasy and the impulse to ornamentation are joined to its fundamental ideas.’


To be continued…


Stille Omgang

07/11/2013 Comments Off on Stille Omgang

Silent Procession in Amsterdam

Every year in the middle of March thousands of Christian take part in the Silent Walk, a nightly procession through the centre of Amsterdam, along the route that the priest of the Old Church took on 15 March 1345. The historical centre of Amsterdam offers the visitor various elements commemorating or directly involved with the veneration of the Miracle of the Netherlands and the Silent Procession. We were very lucky to be guide by one of the local priest from Beijinhof Chapel,  one of the hidden church built after the Protestant Reformation in 1578.

In 2001, a ‘GedachteNis’ (memorial niche) by Hans’t Mannetje, at the initiative of Confraternity of the Silent Procession, was unveiled where the holy corner had been in order to honour the tradition of celebrating the Miracle of the Netherlands

Origins of the procession

The Miracle of 1345 (when the host vomited up by a sick man in a house in Kalverstraat was thrown on the fire but, wonder of wonders, kept returning to the house), has been celebrated as the Procession with the Holy Sacrament started from the Heilige Stede in 1360. The origins of the procession was accompanied by city musicians playing music, silver banners and statues  of saints, and thus far from silent.


Procession with the Holy Sacrement (Philippeau)

Until 1578, Amsterdam was overwhelmingly Roman Catholic, however confiscation of the churches from the Catholics during the Alteration signaled the end of the procession. The major impetus for the renewed worship of the Miracle of Amsterdam was the private silent initiative of the original route of the procession in 1881 by C.A.J Elsenburg and his friends. The procession is performed in complete silence without public prayers or songs. Their idea was taken up enthusiastically and within a few years this activities had become a fast-growing movement. The procession begins with masses from separate churches and starts walking from the Beghijnhof Chapel. The route lasts an hour and takes place during midnight. Now about 10000 people from different parts of the country participated.

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Silent Procession through Royal Palace and main high street of Amsterdam 

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Commemorating the lost sacred venues

The Holy Site of the Middle Ages, the Gothic chapel for the pilgrims, was taken from the Catholics during the Reformation (1578) and was used as a storehouse and falling into disrepair until it was taken over for Protestant worship and renamed Nieuwezijds Chapel. From 1898 the Catholics wanted to buy it back but it was nevertheless demolished. A few elements have been preserved and was placed on another 16th century hidden church De Papegaai. A smaller Nieuwezijds Chapel was built in 1912 and now is used for repceptions at the Amsterdam Dungeon.

In March 1988 the ‘Pillar of the Miracle’ was erected, consisting of elements from the chapel, and . The small remaining part of the Site has now became the Amsterdam Dungeon for tourism, yet the route of the procession nowadays has gone pass the original site twice, showing a strong will of re-occupancy of the Holy Site.

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The  Holy Site of the Middle Ages, currently used for reception at the Amsterdam Dungeon

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Atmosphere of peace in the Red Light District

The celebration might be questioned increasingly by passing though the Red Light District, where full of bar, weed shop and sex shop during the night, however both participates and audiences continue to be inspired by the silence that prevails throughout the procession. It is a meditative and spiritual moment in each person’s religious life along the historic sites and the night life district.  The lantern marks the spot of the Miracle during the procession.

It was also a myth that only men in black were allowed to process. What is true is that women were requested to process by daylight, because at nighttime the streets were dangerous particularly in this area. Such discrimination ended in the late 1960s when interest was waning a little anyway; nowadays whole families with their children are conspicuous by their presence.

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