My photo
A lover of the liberal arts, especially antiquity in its diverse forms, I am nonetheless wholly devoted to, utterly transformed by divine revelation. I seek to know the thought of the past, articulate my deepest longings aroused by the wise, and understand the uneasy relationship between reason and revelation; all for the sake of proper action and contemplation, both now and in the future.


Hannibal and Modern Architecture

There is something about modern architecture that draws me, almost irresistibly. In a way, I love it, but I love it against my better judgment. It's the sharp contrasts, the clear lines, the juxtaposition of things that shouldn't be - harsh, unfinished concrete next to dark, highly polished hardwood, black steel I-beams naked and exposed. Hannibal uses such architecture to unsettle and disorient, and the result is strangely entrancing, almost hypnotic, superbly pairing with its rich, luxurious photography. I hesitate to call it beautiful, but I cannot not call it desirable. It pulls at me and often I think it shouldn't. My friend H loves it, and though I feel I should voice disagreement, it's hard for me to do otherwise than agree.

Hannibal's office is particularly stunning. It is a whirlwind of contraries: comfort, austerity, safety, danger, sameness, contrast. It is a place where people are comfortable revealing the deepest, darkest, most intimate details of their inner life, but the room itself screams submerged violence. Looking at it makes me simultaneously comfortable and unsettled. It is an open floor plan, everything out and exposed, but it hides what it truly is; a lair of evil. Hannibal's kitchen, on the other hand, is simply what you'd expect; perfect and immaculately clean. It reveals nothing, unlike his office, which is where his real work is done. 

Will Graham's lecture hall at Quantico is different. The atmosphere there is harsher, unforgiving, but oddly reassuring, the way a bunker promises to protect you from danger. Google tells me the style is called 'neo-brutalist' or something like that, and I have no idea if there is actually a lecture hall at Quantico like that or if NBC just made it up (though in a way, it's better if they did; an artistic distortion of reality that reveals its inner nature, the way Eastern icons do with people). There is a tension in the air, rooted in the style of the room, that just wildly pulls at me. 

I'm not sure if that style is suitable for religious architecture or not, or if it could ever the equal of such sublimity as the Palatine Chapel, or the quiet, subdued beauties at St. Birinius on the Thames. But if someone could make something of it, it would be the Carthusians or the Cistercians.

Perhaps my love of modernist architecture is a disordered expression of my desire for monastic architecture. The Carthusian monastery in Vermont is very similar, in many ways, to that FBI lecture hall, using unfinished blocks of stone the size of Stonehenge's next to highly polished wood. The natural next to the unnatural, the comfortable next to the uncomfortable. The cells, on the other hand, having interiors made of wood exclusively, felt absolutely comfortable. Something about finished wood is reassuring in a room. Similarly, Cistercian architecture, while apparently simple, is extremely subtle and complex in the ways it deals with light, particularly the light of the sun. Contrast that with finely polished wood and you've got everything I love in Hannibal's architecture and none of the unsettling aspects. Stark, austere, and attractive.

Should architecture be simultaneously entrancing, even intoxicating, and unsettling, disorienting, at the same time? I don't know. It's the sort of feeling I get with modern art and atonal music (especially Scriabin's piano sonatas) as well. There is a sort of pleasure in understanding what is before my eyes, but it's not a pleasure I'm sure should be indulged, much less cultivated. 

No comments: