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The intent of this thesis project is to question the methods of translation between narrative text and architectural space and to examine new questions and creative directions of infusing text and story into architectural practice. It must be critical of the conditions of use where this type of method have been and can be used. Is it merely appropriate in the circumstances of culturally significant or memorialized buildings, or is there a broader use by which it can affect architecture? It must also be critical of how much influence and integration this method can have on architectural practice and the techniques of today. I intend not to dismiss the methods of contemporary architecture, but to lend a way of creating a greater significance in our work.
I chose the novel Austerlitz early on because of its unique writing style and references to works of architecture. The Author W.G. Sebald is a widely renowned and highly awarded author, though seemingly more so following his death in 2001. The majority of his works deal with victims of loss, those who suffer the affliction from whatever unfortunate circumstances they have been dealt. This novel was no different, tracing the life of a curious man who was separated from his parents during the Second World War. With no information about his past, and hardly a faint memory of what his parents even looked like, Austerlitz suffers from his loss of identity. The story charts the encounters of an unnamed narrator and Austerlitz, over the course of many decades. Written in the style of a conversation or rambling narrative, the story is quite different from most literary works in this genre. There are no chapters or paragraphs, so the structure of the story is truly unique. I began with the intent to translate directly from the story to architectural form, but branched from the methods of precedent projects and used the literary work as a loose reference for studying the methods of writing style and how they could apply to a different story architecturally.
In analyzing the projects that have explored narrative in architecture, I needed an intellectual framework to understand the methods of abstraction that have been explored and to see the potential for other methods. I found that literary criticism often employs three angles in order to analyze a narrative. They are content, structure and style. In applying this lens to the projects of precedent I could easily identify two methods that had clearly been utilized, structure and content. The earliest project by Giuseppe Terragni was a lucid interpretation of the structure of The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri. Chapters and sentences became spatial and material compositions that led the visitor through the story as one would be led in reading the poem. This method was not as popular in later explorations on narrative; instead, Tschumi, Hillier and others turned to the abstraction of content. Thomas Hillier’s graduate thesis from the Bartlett School of Architecture in London in 2009, was a translation of The Emperor’s Castle, an ancient Japanese fable. Hillier used the descriptions of characters and places from the story as characteristics of architectural spaces. For example, the description of the emperor’s lungs became large architectural inflating structures, and the princess became a gentle knitted fabric that was controlled by the movement of the emperor’s lungs. In order to depart from the methods of structure and content, I focused on writing style as a method of infusing narrative into architectural space.
Writing style is often of primary concern in literary criticism and likewise marks to a greater degree the authenticity and originality of any author. In the book Understanding Sebald by Mark R. McCulloh, several writing styles of Austerlitz are revealed. These styles formed the abstract direction of my design for a Subterranean Museum of Self Archaeology. The design fused the cultural phenomenon of urban exploring with the existing context of an abandoned pre-metro tunnel system. This pairing of disparate programs and events creates a truly unique atmosphere and experience to any who visit the museum.