Website

26Jul10

My personal website is finally complete – and available for perusing at

http://www.michaelhara.com


Here is a brief synopsis of my final presentation. I’ve still got a lot left that is floating around in my head or hiding on my hard drive to put out, but for now, this is the project. (note: feel free to skip over the textual parts as they can, at times, get quite lengthy and involved. There should be some pretty pictures scattered throughout).

Through the Looking Glass: Sir John Soane’s Museum and Padre Giovanni

13 Lincoln Inn Fields, the site of Sir John Soane’s museum, can be read as many different things: a home, an architectural office, a place for students to learn and draw, a haunted house, an eccentric collection of objects, a spatially complex architecture, a romantic and idealized landscape, a light reflection mechanism, a cabinet of curiosities, the bizarre remains of an obsession with death, or an armature for the display of artifacts and valuables. However, the complex at 13 Lincoln Inn should perhaps not be described as the physicality that exists now, but rather should be explained as the process of perpetual construal that took place during Soane’s lifetime. The museum was and is a reflection of Soane’s mind, a construct utterly packed with the physical signs, symbols and phenomena of his personal universe. From the day of its purchase in 1792, Soane treated 13 Lincoln Inn Fields not as a static building, but as a living, evolving, dynamic construct – a container for perpetual collection and juxtaposition. Through the purchase of two adjoining buildings and the acquisition of countless artifacts, Soane created an architecture that is both a home and a museum, an existence where the two are so explicitly and unabashedly intertwined that their boundaries become forever blurred.

Perhaps one of the most striking features of the Soane Museum is the utter multitude of mirrors, many convex, that populate the corners, niches, and walls. These mirrors have a multiplicity of pragmatic, phenomenal, and allegorical readings. They first and foremost act as reflectors and refractors of light, bringing illumination to otherwise dark corners of the museum. Many, particularly the convex mirrors, serve to aggregate an overwhelmingly large numbers of fragmented objects within a single picture frame, engendering both a simplified composition and a new understanding through intensified juxtaposition. And they act as devices of reflection, where they both reflect the actual spatiality of a room to create distorted and illusory space, and acts as metaphoric devices of reflective thought.

This is perhaps the most important, though not most obvious, aspect of the mirrors. They hint at the true nature of the house – that the home and museum were far more than the aggregate of spaces or things that populated its construct; they were a reflection of John Soane as a person. This reflection went well beyond the obvious artistic and architectural ideals Soane held about Neoclassical architecture and Romanticism; it reflected his hopes, his desires, his sadness, and his loneliness.  As his life evolved, so did his home – the two became intertwined, so much so that the events of his life can be mapped through the evolution of its spaces. The house was a reflection of Soane, and he was a reflection of the house.

This reflection is most obviously manifest after the death of Soane’s wife in 1815. This event, along with the earlier death of one son and the disownment of the other, left Soane in a deep state of melancholy, a brooding character that defined his existence for the rest of his life. After these events Soane constructed a cell, parlor and yard in the basement of Lincoln Inn Fields for a Christian monk named Padre Giovanni. This seemingly innocent (though slightly strange) construct becomes much stranger after one discovers the true nature of this monk.

Padre Giovanni wasn’t real – he was a fictional projection of Soane.

And yet this fiction became a reality every bit as tangible as the physical fragments and artifacts that populate the rest of the house. The monk, a universal sign for seclusion and contemplation, characterized the remaining years of Soane’s life. He became isolated within his own mind, withdrawn to the confines of his home.

Soane became Padre Giovanni – alone, contemplative, secluded and trapped by the seductive microcosm that he called his “mansion of woe.” For the rest of his years he  lived a relatively solitary existence, living primarily within the confines of his house. Within its walls he continued to perpetually changing and rearranging its character until his death in 1837.

The museum, as it now exists, sits as a frozen snapshot of what was an environment of ceaseless change. This change was not the result of mere expansion, but was rather a continual reframing of Soane’s worldview, a constant search to construe his beliefs, desires, hopes and memories upon the physicality of his home. The strange and seemingly labyrinthine organization of its objects is mimetic of Soane’s mind – not neatly organized and carefully catalogued, but endlessly complex and intentionally surrational. Its various juxtapositions breed a world of endless discovery, and its hundreds of mirrors reflect the possibilities of other worlds hidden within its walls.

Padre Giovanni did not mark a break from reality; rather, it indicated a full acceptance of architecture’s power to reflect and project our desires and memories. Soane projected his sadness through this character; this house then reflected his lachrymose existence through its physicality. The spatiality of the rooms – their existence as fragments of experience and space – now serve as permanent markers of this fleeting moment of human existence. The house has become a theater of memory, its fragments of space and objects read like the biography of its creator. The home and Soane are one and the same.

Theater of Memory: A House for a Victorian Watchmaker and Alchemist, an Engraver, and a Post-Modern Librarian

This project utilizes narrative and fiction as generators for an architectural proposition – one that is theoretical, philosophical, and physical; that is, it is an actual built proposition, not merely an idea. Within this framework the project specifically addresses issues of hypertextuality, memory, and identity in architecture. Hypertextuality is a post-modern belief in interconnectedness between literary works and, on a broader scale, the interconnectedness of all phenomena (be they physical or ethereal), whereby the universe exists not as a distinct and isolated set of phenomena but rather is a network of interconnections and associations. It also refers to the value of juxtaposition and aggregation – that new forms of knowledge might be born through their associations with dissimilar items.

Memory here refers to not only the psychological functions of storage and retrieval but the larger societal values of remembrance and history. In an age when the computers are increasingly making memory unnecessary or obsolete (indeed it is much easier now, than ever, to instantaneously retrieve information from the internet), this project explores how we can utilize architecture and its objects as a way to project our memory into the physical realm of our world.

Identity is that ambiguous and slippery term which has, perhaps, its own individual meaning to each individual, and thus proves difficult to nail down as a singular ideal. Within the framework of this project, identity is utilized as the schema through which architecture and its contents – including furniture, objects, and people – can come to reflect the identity and personality of a single person.

Mr. F, the Watchmaker and Alchemist

(from Mr. F):

“…So how, you might wonder, does one map the progress of time without the aid of a clock? Indeed there are obvious answers – the shift from night to day to night again; the transformation from spring to summer to fall to winter; the metamorphosis from baby to boy to adult to old man to death. The examples are omnipresent and infinite – and all represent one fundamental and universal constant: change.

What is time, then, but a mechanism of change? A sea of perpetual motion – one in which nothing lies stagnant and nothing is as it was but a moment ago.

Of course, you might perceive that I say these things with some degree of confidence. I must apologize for my apparent confidence: indeed it is a mere mask of my own uncertainties. I say these things like I know much; in truth, I know infinitely little.

That is my contention with the second and the minute. They are units of certainty. In this world, the second is a fact every bit as fixed and permanent as the ground on which we stand. In fact both of these things are relative at best and ambiguous in their true essence, the results of indefinably complex relationships and connections.

And this is what is so endlessly beautiful and complex about existence – its physicality changes not only in position or magnitude (as with the shift in time), but in composition and essence. The universe is pregnant with the potential of everything and nothing. It is fine tuned to be endlessly ambiguous – a clock with infinite gears and infinite possibilities…”

Mr. P, the Engraver

(from Mr. P):

“…And if we must distill this most awesome phenomena down to a metaphor, I would describe it like this. It is not that light represents presence and darkness absence; it is that light is presence and darkness its depth. The two are not opposite; they coexist symbiotically.

I am an artist and primarily an engraver. When I see the world, I do not see objects; I see values, pockets of depth and moments of light, juxtaposed to create a temporal phenomena, a snapshot of a moment in time.

These moments are constantly shifting. The change from morning to afternoon to eve produces different phenomena and with them, different ways of seeing our immediate surrounding.

It is this belief that drives my artistry. I do not draw something once; I draw it dozens of times, attempting to glean from it new meaning under each new light condition.

I draw in light, I draw in shadow, I draw in the masks of clouds and the reflections of water. All this I do in an effort to discover – to uncover secrets that lie within my thoughts or the physical reality that surrounds me.

This is my contribution to the theater – the world of light and dark, of value, of the visual, that medium through which we come to discover and understand the world. It strikes me as no coincidence that illumination has a dual meaning; that light is both a visual phenomenon and a metaphorical description of knowledge and truth. My life is occupied with this concern – illumination.”

Mr. B (The Post-Modern Librarian)

(From Mr. B):

“To me, the richest truth exists not within any single source, but amidst the perpetually shifting realm between them, within the world of relationships. It is here that it is possible to discover the interconnectedness that lies between all things – a set of correlations connecting the disparate parts of our universe.

It is foolish to deny that man has two (seemingly competing) sides. Humans are both biological creatures and emotional beings, capable of both mathematical reasoning and poetic expression. And yet this characteristic cannot be confined to the inherent probelms of philosophical dualism; we exist not as two separate beings, but as a single entity.

This is where I search, within the world of ambiguity and discovery – the between space. Between (it is quite unfortunate) implies a sort of no-where space; a void between two existences. But let me assure you this is not the case – this between space is not empty; it is not a void or an endless chasm. Within it exists an infinite network of connections; tendrils of relationships between mythology and science; emotion and reason.

It is here – the space of ambiguity and chance, of relationships and connections – that I find our existence to be most potent and most true. This is my occupation and my contribution – an attempt to connect, to draw relationships, to project into the physical reality of the memory theater my understanding of the world through poetry, through words, and through books.”

The Myth: Giulio Camillo’s Memory Theater

Giulio Camillo spent his life attempting the impossible. Believing that knowledge could be captured and conveyed as a physical construct, Camillo dedicated his existence to the manifestation of his memory theater – a tiny architecture containing within its smallness a microcosm of the universe. The theater was one of perpetual addition and revision, a constantly changing existence that only ceased upon the his death. Giulio believed that this theater could act as a magical mechanism for the conveyance of worldly and heavenly knowledge, and that the physical construct of the theater would engender infinite wisdom for those who entered its realm.

This construct was a single room containing images, mechanisms, texts, drawings, and wooden machines all collaged together. The importance of these elements did not lie in their isolated existence, but rather in their juxtaposition – their relationship with one another. Deriving imagery from Roman, Greek, Christian, Kabbalic, and alchemic traditions, as well as knowledge of memory, astronomy, philosophy, religion, mechanics and linguistics, Camillo attempted to create “a mind and soul” through the aggregation of these elements. The memory theater framed the entirety of the cosmos, representing both the mystical and the scientific, and all of the connections that existed between. Its magical ability was to confer this knowledge upon any individual that entered and saw its physicality for themselves.

Sadly, Giulio’s life work remained unfinished upon his death in 1544. The ambition of Camillo’s memory theater – an attempt to capture the entirety of the cosmos in a single room – was too ambitious for the lifetime of a single man.

Though the ultimate fate of Giulio’s theater is uncertain (indeed the theater itself has long since disappeared), fragments of its conceptual framework and physical construct exist in sketches, textual writings, and excised artifacts of the theater.

Near the end of his life, Giulio Camillo penned his only written work, “L’idea del teatro,” over a period of seven days and seven nights. He dictated these thoughts to his assistant, Girolamo Muzio, who carefully documented everything Giulio said. Though the dictation remained largely philosophical for the first six nights, on the seventh Giulio wandered from philosophical speculation to personal reflection. These pages, discovered first by P hidden in the back of an ancient codex, are the only documentation of these thoughts. It appears these words were meant to be destroyed; indeed the frayed edges indicate they were (at one time) lit on fire. However, it is believed that Girolamo Muzio salvaged them.

The entry reads as follows:
“My life has been occupied with the creation of the theater of the world – a world occupied by images and an attempt to formulate an eternal truth. And yet this eternal truth could itself not be encompassed within the realm of imagery and sight alone. Truth is too rich, too complex, to beautifully and insatiably enormous to be encompassed within the pictorial. Text – that medium of written word which I have too oft ignored in my quest for knowledge – has lay pregnant with the child of truth. And yet truth does not proclaim its existence amidst the immediacy of knowledge found in any single text. She hides among them, between them, amidst them and yet not within a single one. She playfully dances beneath and below and between words, flowing through books like a drop of water amongst the infinite river of knowledge. [She whispered to me from the walls of my theater, and yet her voice projected only inaudible breaths from that universe of images. Her words were too faint, caught in the wind of ambiguity and restlessness.]

Oh Truth, my maiden, you are out there. You drift among the words and knowledge and minds and stories and fables and pictures and images and myths of men. If only I had the years left in my life to search you once again, this time amidst other worlds, of words, of mathematics, of books and of poetry. If only I could caress your sweet existence, taste of your fruit, feel your breath upon my cheek, wrap myself in the warmth and finality of your existence.

Alas, my bones are too brittle, my mind too weary, my body too exhausted to begin anew. My youthful exuberance is gone, replaced with this failing body and this diminishing mind, and the fragmented remains of a theater whose intentions were virtuous but whose medium was wrong.

As my breath ceases and my mind quiets and my skin and flesh and blood returns to the dust from whence it was born, I pray that I may meet my maiden in her entirety; that I might drink of her elixir and lay my head in her lap and sleep enveloped in warmth of her body and the sweet song of her voice.”

Three individuals – a Victorian watchmaker and astronomer, a Renaissance engraver, and a Post-Modern librarian and poet – are moved by Giulio Camillo’s words and ambitions and thusly convene to recreate his mystical theater of memory. Giulio’s theater utilized three elements for the conveyance of worldly knowledge: machines, images, and texts. Each character projects their world-view through a similar medium: the watchmaker maps the quantitative world through an exploration of change and its physicality; the engraver understands the cosmos through light and its emotive qualities as they relate to perception; and the librarian understands the world as a set of relationships – an interconnected web of ties that lie in both the emotional and factual realm.

Though each has a fundamentally different way of understanding the world, the three believe that, together, they can share a set of experiences and perceptions to create a microcosm representative of the universe and of the human mind.

What they are search for is truth – a maddening search for some sort of absolute truth in a world seemingly governed by relativity and ambiguity. They hope that, just like Giulio’s theater, the aggregation and juxtaposition of the physical construal of their thoughts (images, texts, and machines) will engender the production of new and absolute knowledge.

Their search begins with the construction of a home and studio, where the three live and work to create, think, discuss, and contemplate.

The house is located on the North side of Nicollet Island, a forgotten void within the bustling Metropolis. Nestled between downtown Minneapolis and a hugely popular St. Anthony Main area, it exists in isolation – both visually and socially – and remains a fragmented artifact of the past. The site (and indeed the entire island) has evolved very little since the late 1800’s. Most of the architecture remains a mishmash of Victorian and Neo-Romanesque construction.

The site sits adjacent to the Mississippi river, itself an important memory in the evolution of the city and an earthly element reminiscent of memory and time. A grossly oversized pedestrian bridge adjacent to the site exists as a fragment of the site’s industrial past, as it was once a rail bridge.

The site remains a memory, largely forgotten by its city and its surroundings.

The three begin to create and produce, construing their ethereal knowledge into the physicality of the world through different mediums. N creates both machines for quantitative analysis and surrealist mechanisms of ambiguous function. F writes fiction poetry, utilizing surrealist and Oulipo techniques to tap into his subconscious and unearth the interconnectedness between texts. P draws objects in every light, utilizing different modes of illumination and reflection to explore the essence of objects.

Though the three start to produce their respective physical constructs, they cannot collectively agree upon what the nature of the memory theater should be. F argues that it should be an archive. N believes it should take the form of an industrial factory. And P disagrees that I need take form all together – that it can exist as a temporal event. Each is fervent and stubborn in their beliefs – none will compromise.

Yet despite the fact that they cannot agree upon where or how to create the armature for their objects, the three continue the act of constructing their knowledge through physical things.

Each evening, the three go to a room with a single round table, three chairs, a light and a window. Here, the three discuss not only their productions, but also the ideas that spurned their creation. These conversations often last long into the night, each talking and interpreting their own work and the work of others.

Each night, at the conclusion of their conversation, the three leave the artifacts of discussion in the room. Soon these artifacts begin to populate the room in such a density that the three are forced to build another, providing another adjacent space in which to contemplate, discuss, and place their objects.  So they build another room. And then another. And another.

Soon their single room has turned into a labyrinth of uncountable rooms and objects; an ever expanding mass of past memories and ideas. This construct – the physical construal of their collective ideas – soon transforms into the theater they sought to create elsewhere.

The Machines: Architectural Augmentations

The semester began with the design of several machines meant to augment the experiences of the three characters.

Simultaneous Reading Machine

The first machine was an attempt to tap into the hypertextuality of books by utilizing a mechanism which vacillates between books simultaneously. This is based on the belief that books have relationships, and that the order and separation of time in which books are read have a direct impact on their meaning. This machine flips between two books simultaneously on a screen. The person reading would read out loud the story and would type the story they are reading, thus orating perpetually new books and creating constantly new generations of relationships.

Initial Sketch

Developmental drawingFinal model and render

Light Modulation Machine

This mechanism was cultivated to create an environment where light and shadow were not merely givens, but rather could be carefully sculpted and formed using a simple mechanism of mirrors and gears. Utilizing the natural sun, this machine uses curved mirrors to create dynamically changing light and shadow.

Physical prototype, using a discarded and broken globe

Iterations all taken with the same aperture and shutter speed on a Canon G9 camera.

Render of mirror mechanism

Section of shadow studio

Rotary Book Stacks

These book stacks challenge the current paradigm of a library, one which acts as a physical register of predetermined order and, thus, predetermined relationships. This mechanism is driven by the belief that a library can exist not as a place of Anglo Saxon order (per the dewey decimal system), but rather can be a place of discovery and chance, a place where juxtaposition and relationships are as important as order.

8 rotating stacks are connected to a water wheel which drives the whole mechanism. Each stack is driven by a slightly different gear ratio so that each stack rotates independently and at a slightly different rate of change. The stacks rotate at an almost imperceptive slow rate; however, they rotate such that each day the library and its organization is born anew.

Technical details of library stacks

Looking up the bookstacks from below

The House

The house is located on the north side of Nicollet island on the Mississippi river. Existing on the site is an old abandoned rail bridge, grossly oversize for its current use as a pedestrian walkway. The location, though within the heart of the city, has been largely forgotten. It sits between downtown and the old industrial grain mills in a neighborhood where the average house hails from the late 19th century.

The house is organized around a cascading series of rooms and a central stair which connects them all. The house is deep and it is old – deep in that it has many pockets open to the sky and the elements, both to bring light into the deep parts of the house and to allow vignettes to the sky for the engraver, who is obsessed with different types of light.

It is composed of three materials – untreated lumber, wood-formed concrete, and corten steel. These materials are intentionally used to map the progress of time on the house. As time marches on, the house shows the wear of the years through its materials, drawing connections between physically aging, time, and memory.

Plans

Sections:

Section AA

Section BB

Section CC

Model Photo at Presentation (still need to take proper photos)

Rooms of Memory

“Each night the three would take their creations – their objects, their mechanisms, their images, their texts, and their ideas – and they would march out to their rooms of memory, perched ever-so-carefully on the edge of the old rail bridge, hovering delicately above the constantly moving, shifting, changing river (their river of memory). They would bring these things here to talk, contemplate, discuss, but most of all, to learn.”

Rooms of memory – vessels for the perpetual collection of their production

Surrealist Chandelier, Designed by F (the watchmaker and alchemist)


“..And thus the three built a room in which to put their objects, to talk with one another about their ideas, and to contemplate the meaning of their creations. They hung them from the walls, placed them on the floors, and filled the empty vessel of the room with the constructs of their intellect. After very little time, the tiny room they had built became too full to inhabit – they simply could not exist in a space so densely packed with their creations. And so they built another room, leaving the first and its contents to become a mere path to the next. When that room became full, they built another. And another. And another…”


“Their single room has turned into a labyrinth of many; its aggregate the physical projection of their ideas and their discoveries. Their labyrinth exists as the perpetual search for Giulio’s mythical theater – a mystical place of ultimate and absolute truth. I’ve heard they are still creating, still building. I know not if they will ever find what they are looking for; I pray they someday will.”

Note: As mentioned before, this is but a fragment of my writing and my work. The original intention was to produce an actual codex (a book) containing the thoughts and ideas of this project. 15 weeks was simply too short to do so, and thus I will be doing that over the next couple of weeks.

If you would like to see the work at full scale it is currently being displayed in the HGA gallery at Rapson hall.

mh


Yesterday’s review was everything I’d ever hoped for in a review. The discussion was fantastic, the jury was full of a number of extremely gifted and intelligent people, and I finally saw the entirety of my hours of work come together this semester up on the wall for the public.

Several people (after the review) asked “where do you go from here?” I’m still figuring that out, but I’ve begun a project that could really continue for a while – and I likely will. I always finish each semester with a handful of drawings I’d wish I’d done – and now I can do them at my leisure.

I’m going to be putting the entirety of my project on the web here in the coming weeks. Til then, its time to enjoy life, take a deep breath and relax.

Congrats to all the graduates! The work was beyond spectacular and I was amazed at the quality and beauty of everyone’s projects.

mh


The end…

13May10

And thus the three built a room in which to put their objects, to talk with one another about their ideas, and to contemplate the meaning of their creations. They hung them from the walls, placed them on the floors, and filled the empty vessel of the room with the constructs of their intellect. After very little time, the tiny room they had built became too full to inhabit – they simply could not exist in a space so densely packed with their creations. And so they built another room, leaving the first and its contents to become a mere path to the next. When that room became full, they built another. And another. And another…”

“Their single room has turned into a labyrinth of many; its aggregate the physical projection of their ideas and their discoveries. Their labyrinth exists as the perpetual search for Giulio’s mythical theater – a mystical place of ultimate and absolute truth. I’ve heard they are still creating, still building. I know not if they will ever find what they are looking for; I pray they someday will.”



Memory Room

10May10

Filled with stuff:


T-Minus 48 hours … holy crap here we go.


Section AA

07May10