An Architecture of the Earthly Grotesque (B)

S E L F - D I R E C T E D   M . A R C H   T H E S I S   /   A D V I S O R :   M A R T I N   B R E S S A N I

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2015

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Any culture in any socio-political situation has or has had its own definitions of what is right and good, and its own definitions of what “things” are – objects, places, buildings, whatever.  Yet while these things and constructs are often represented in idealized forms – in the “beautiful” or meaningful – behind this world of singularity and objecthood lies an ocean of pure multiplicity; the ground of our figure. French philosopher Michel Serres claims that “noise is the very background of being.” One could argue that we’re being projected unto this noise now more than ever.  As the systems that define our identities are challenged by increasing mobility, hyper-connectivity, and hyper-diversity, we anxiously, and at times violently, struggle to regain stability and clarity.  This circumstance, I believe, need not be so dire; on the contrary, it is ripe with potential, inviting us to relate on a much more primal level. To do so, however, we must open ourselves to living within the “jolly relativity” of things, and embrace a carnival spirit which liberates us from dominant assumptions through humour, play, and pleasure.

But is it possible for architecture to play a role in this?  If architecture’s task is to mediate individuals with his or her milieu – to provide some semblance of physical, emotional, or intellectual structure – how can it set the scene and provoke such a “jolly” state of being?  'Gargantua' and 'Pantagruel,' the two great masterpieces of French Renaissance writer François Rabelais, offer both spatial and aesthetic frameworks within which to explore this possibility, providing insight into how the space of the carnival and the mode of the grotesque can positively challenge and make bare a society’s value-driven constructs, and generate intimate gathering and metamorphosis.  As a necessary offspring of the ordered society, the carnival is founded on its own time and its own rules, emerging as completely apart from the everyday: if the norms, rules, and quantifiable time of the everyday draw lines which contain and separate, the carnival makes these lines fluid, conflating right and wrong, the self and the other, and the terrifying and the hilarious.  The aesthetic mode of the grotesque, which permeates Rabelais’ imagery, operates much in the same way, eliciting the same sense of ambivalence.  Rather than the individual bodies and objects we’re accustomed to, clearly identifiable and neatly withheld from each other and from the world, the grotesque form brims over its limits of singularity, joyously succumbing, deforming, and melding with the bedlam of the outside and the other.  At the carnival, the ordered and nameable becomes flaccid and bizarre, but gloriously, wondrously, comically so, beckoning us to think beyond the rational mechanisms which define and individualize, and be liberated, regenerated, by the messy realm of the earthly and bodily.

Working within this tradition, the thesis consists of parallel experiments of making: one carried out in the studio through physical modeling (Part B); and one carried out in the woods of northern Québec, through the erection of a pavilion and the hosting of a feast (Part A).  Collectively, these two narratives reject the digital project – a project enslaved to technique and precision, and the abstract and diagrammatic – in favour of a noisy, involved, and figurative one: an Architecture of the Earthly Grotesque.  This kind of architectural practice is not immaculate, belonging to the idealistic and isolated from earthly and human influence; instead, it partakes in a more raw and unruly methodology, smearing the boundaries between studio and site, and giving agency not only to the design potential latent in the construction process, but the communal potential as well.  Construction is thus thought as a ritualistic event analogous to Rabelais’ carnivals, merging a community through the act of physical creation and assembly.  Importantly, the resulting structure is not abstract or diagrammatic, privileging the intellect and speaking only to a select few; instead, it unresolvedly amplifies the figural and the bodily, skirting clear association to elicit a more animal and visceral response.  Like Rabelais’ grotesqueries, it produces forms – or births bodies – which seek to awaken curiosity, empathy, and an undefinable emotional state. 
 
In an Architecture of the Earthly Grotesque, both process and tectonics are radically re-considered as means of disassembling boundaries at a primordial level, and identifying sensuous affinities in a community.  It projects architecture back unto its background of noise, and projects us into the noise along with it.