I’ve been going through old magazines to find articles that I hope to read, re-read, or even incorporate into the final edits of the BLDGBLOG Book – and so tonight I came across the January 2007 issue of Metropolis.
There, we read about the ten greatest engineering feats of architectural history – including this short blurb about Hagia Sophia, in Istanbul:
The building was constructed of masonry, which shifted constantly during construction and thereafter. Today we use “switch-on gravity analysis,” where we imagine a structure built on the Moon and then digitally move it over to the Earth in a fraction of a second, and suddenly it’s loaded. But a structure like this changed its characteristics during construction, almost minute by minute. I can’t image [sic] how people could have had the courage to construct it.
It’s fascinating to think that the very thing under construction is in the process of altering itself. The structure has taken on agency, in other words: moving, shifting, becoming something other than what you intended it to be. That which you add to, shifts; that which supports you, changes.
At the end, then, perhaps we’ll all look down at our own foundations, at the walls and arches below us, as if to reassure ourselves, to remember who we were, how we got here, and who we once thought we could be – but our foundations will be defaced or gone.
The past has “changed its characteristics during construction, almost minute by minute” – and so we’re stranded, over a void, our feet firmly planted on nothing.
The only answer, then, will be to keep building up, to go out, to resist the nostalgic pull of foundations, seeking overwhelming extremes of both altitude and complication.
Perhaps we’ll then forget, in a state of self-induced vertigo, that we once needed a past at all – and that the building in which we now stand had a plan, a plan the building itself had always been exceeding.
8 thoughts on “Control Shift”
During some research om geodesic domes, I came across a description of how, when building Buckminster-Fullers domes, the structure at a given point will reach a critical mass/ structural integrity, and begin to carry itself rather than the scaffolding holding it. What normally happens at this point is that the dome will set, and lift the scaffolding, that had previously been holding it up, lifting it of the ground! I am afraid I do not have the reference, but if it is indeed common there should be other descriptions of the phenomena.
“It’s fascinating to think that the very thing under construction is in the process of altering itself.”
I am thinking of Wikipedia here…
This post reminds me of watching a video of Andy Goldsworthy building one of his stone sculptures on a beach as the tide is rising. He tries again and again to make the cairn stand, but the sands beneath keep shifting, and the monument tumbles about four times before finally holding fast.
It’s agonizing to watch – a bit like seeing an ant trying in vain to get out of a conical sand pit – but what amazes me is Andy’s attitude that it’s all about the process, and learning about the rocks he is working with. His aim is not to build permanent works, but to engage with his materials in their context. Methinks many architects could learn from this Scottsman.
Working as I do in the Monadnock Building, I am reminded every time I enter or leave my office of how much structures can move around during construction.
Oh my, how very philosophical! Can’t expect any less from the great Geoff. 😉 Especially the final part moved me;
“Perhaps we’ll then forget, in a state of self-induced vertigo, that we once needed a past at all – and that the building in which we now stand had a plan, a plan the building itself had always been exceeding.”
That’s the deep stuff right there.
I love your postings! Moar plz! ;D
This post reminds me, in an odd way, of a story I just read that I must recommend to you… Or have you read China Miéville’s short story, “Foundation”? (It’s in his collection, Looking for Jake.)
This is like painting with watercolors, the best and most difficult parts are “built” by pushing the drops of paint across the paper, but at some point the work rights itself -or crashes-…
i read once, years ago, that the dome of the Hagia Sofia (which had failed and had to be rebuilt, more than once), was built without scaffolding. What they had to do was to fill the interior with soil, and build up the platform… and then when it was completed, they dug it out again. Anyone verify that? I’ve always been intrigued to think of the sense of awe they would have had as they dug out the interior that had presumably been buried for many years while they built the dome…