By Timothy Shotts
On Saturday after Halloween, the Varsity Center for the Arts hosted an art exhibition of paintings, sculpture, and photographs of buildings and the objects inside of them. The artists “explore the odd, unknown, and mysterious aspects of old homes in a uniquely personal way” (https://www.facebook.com/events/426998690743844/). The theme of the show, so near to Halloween, seems appropriate, but it was interesting to see how people relate to the buildings in their town and the houses they grew up in. We learn in architecture classes about the phenomenology of architecture – the experience of a place. Like art, everyone’s experience of a place is dependent on every fiber of your being – personal history, morals, background knowledge of the artist / architect, emotional state, etc. The feeling of place is what makes a house a home. It is what makes a place memorable and unique. It is the spirit of the place and what it means.
Just prior to the That House show, The Carbondale Times ran a story of an abandoned building owned by SIU being razed. Building 207, Jackson County Poor Farm, old insane asylum, or Sunset Haven has [probably] been abandoned since 1957 when the university purchased the land for agriculture use (http://www.carbondaletimes.com/110813haven). Since then, the building has been vandalized and become unsafe (Ritter). Prior to SIU owning the building, it has been used as a home for the poor, mentally ill, and in need of nursing care (Ritter). There are also at least 87 graves dating back as far as the Civil War (Ritter) which probably lead to the legend that the place is haunted. I would have loved to experience this old building before it was torn down. At the very least documented it. There’s a lot of history that was just leveled. What was the feeling of the place, and how was it experienced by its previous residents? Someone knows, but I’m not sure who.
Stephen Holl, the architect of the Bloch Building addition to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Mo is a modern example of an architect concerned with phenomenology. The inside – experienced during the day – allows you periodic views to the outside through “lenses”. The outside – experienced best during the night – glows due to the structural channel glass with lights embedded between the outside and inside walls. The glass walls not only change the whole way we think about buildings and their materiality, but also the typology of museums – who have traditionally restricted the amount of natural light for concerns about damage from UV wavelengths, and also about how we should view art.
Watch how people use buildings and space. Watch how you use the space. Experience it during the day and during the night. Try to look at architecture not as a place for an single activity, or a machine, but as a creator of history, a creator of activity, and a creator of feelings.
Image by Scott Doody
Image by Sarah Fiola