Ekphrasis

Architectural design can be considered to be an act of ‘notional ekphrasis’: the description, through art forms, of an imagined or dreamed condition, something immaterial and incomplete.  It is real but not manifest, architecture but not building, an act of make-believe.[Such design-fiction is a powerful way of exploring ideas, proposals, what could be and what might be.  It can wrench open discussions, be radical or acquiescent, seductive or repulsive.  It is as free to respond to existing conditions as to build on abstract premises, concepts and theories – and to claim that doing so is in some way right.]

(Hagia Sophia, July 2009)

Ekphrasis itself is the representation of a work of art through another medium.  Meaning ‘to speak out’, it is a painting of a sculpture, a poem about a painting –  or, indeed, about a work of architecture: from Paul the Silentiary’s verses on the Hagia Sophia to Alberto Rios’s response to the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial, architecture is constantly reframed through written responses, redrawn, reformed.

[Architecture is not experienced as it is designed but is instead perceived through layers of sense, memory, knowledge, context, association, occasion.  These perceptual filters obscure the design; the building is not simply an object or set of physical conditions but something far richer, less determinate.]

The adoption of a built environment into a lived culture can be seen as an act of ekphrasis – of creative reinterpretation.  The way a place is captured on a map, framed in a photograph, explored through film; the shifting connections between a fictive city and its real counterpart; the half-known, half-knowable influences of past events and ideas; each serves to illuminate some aspects of the relationship between architecture, place and people, and to cast others into darkness.  These responses become part of the place, the way it is understood and remembered and seen.

There are therefore two points of transformation, or translation: that of the architect’s notional ekphrasis into real physical environment, and that of the physical environment into a cultural condition.