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Supplemental Blog - Architecture as Space by Bruno Zevi

Of the many readings we have done for Architecture 1701 and architecture 1281, only on has been included in both courses, Bruno Zevi’s Architecture as Space. Coincidentally, this was also one of my favorite readings in these classes. I especially like Zevi’s definition of architecture as a type of art where man is an interactive participant.

Zevi starts his paper by stating that in his opinion, a satisfactory and comprehensive history of architecture has not yet been written. This is because we as humans have not yet found a very good way to represent space other than experiencing it. When most people think of architecture they think of floor plans and elevations. These are merely representations of a space that we make for someone else to reproduce into an actual 3d form. When a person looks at a plan, they may get a sense for a certain space, but that is not the same as experiencing a space while inside it.

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For example, the plan for St. Peter’s Basilica may seem grandiose on paper, but how can you actually get a sense for the volume, the play of the light on the walls, the form of the dome, unless you actually are inside of the space? I don’t think that you can. Zevi also states that it is impossible to represent a space in a photograph, even though this may seem like a good medium for representation. A photograph shows only part of the space at a moment in time. I think that to experience and pass judgment about any space, a person needs to experience it first hand and move about inside it; get a sense for it.

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All of this leads to Zevi’s primary statements in this paper, which is that architecture, although encompassing many different aspects such as the technical, social, cultural, artistic and spatial conceptions, is mainly the encapsulation and thus creation of space. When most people think of architecture, they think of floor plans and facades. However, a façade, I think, can be considered little more than a sculpture. Of course a façade is important to a building, both in its presentation to the world and to allow things such as light, goods, and people. But a person cannot interact with a façade other than to pass through it into the space which it encloses. If a building has a beautiful façade, but dimly lit, low ceilinged and uninviting rooms, I think it is an architectural failure. Even if a structure has a tremendous, eye catching and aesthetically pleasing façade, the interior space, if not given the proper attention, can make the whole building a failure.

Zevi believes that the reason a comprehensive architectural history has not been achieved is because there is yet no way to document interior space. And if you think about it, that’s pretty true. In architectural textbooks there are drawings of floor plans, section views, and photographs of buildings. But how are these supposed to give us any sense for space, for those aspects that are ephemeral and transcendent of the second hand, and easily biased perception of photography. Until another method for documenting space without experiencing it first hand is developed, it will be very hard to form any impartial and complete archive of space, and thus architecture.

I also found Zevi’s view on dimensions quite fascinating. Some great steps forward in representing architecture, and more importantly space, are the discovery of perspective, photography and, although Zevi doesn’t mention it I think another important advance was made with video. By discovering perspective, artists and draftsmen were able to represent architecture with much more accuracy and proportion, and thus give the space a better sense of reality. With the advent of photography, artists were replaced with photographers to represent buildings. However, a photograph allows a person to experience a space from one view at one specific moment in time. However it did prove to be the most accurate three dimensional representation of space. Then in the 20th century, two artistic movements, Cubism and Fauvism became popular and brought new thought to the concept of space. These two artistic movements were abstract in their representation of time and movement as the new fourth dimension. This idea was transferred into architecture and Zevi realizes in this chapter that to experience space, one must move through a space and experience it through time, which photography does not allow. One step closer to this representation is video. Although Zevi doesn’t mention it in this chapter, video does better to represent space through time. However it is still only a 3d space represented in a 2d medium. It lacks the use of all the senses and the effect that the ephemeral has on us.

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All in all I share Zevi’s view on space and its representation. It has also prompted me to think about ways that space could be accurately represented to form any kind of architectural history. An as of yet, I still have no more of an idea than Zevi did.