Architecture of Analogy

A Contextual Design and The Double?

Posted in Discourse, PhD by Cameron McEwan on July 7, 2011

Pencil sketch plans, Street elevation and photograph of scale model”]The film maker Sergei Eisenstein proposed that with the method of montage “any two sequences, when juxtaposed, inevitably combine into another concept which arises from that juxtaposition as something qualitatively new” (Eisenstein, 1938). Montage is a visual technique that superimposes images (and/or text) or places images (and/or text) adjacently in order to produce an impression, illustrate an association of ideas, or analyse by comparison.

At a recent presentation on “Urban Aesthetics” in Dresden, Germany I was asked, in relation to my “contextual” design for a city centre site in Dundee, Scotland: “What do you think about “cut and paste?” Before proceeding with the reply, it is worth outlining the project. The brief proposes a building or buildings that interface with the city, the programme of which is defined by the current Local Development Plan and supplemented by the addition of an Education and Research facility. The design proposes two urban blocks to either side of an existing building. One block investigates a regular courtyard plan; the other is informed by the irregular plan of the adjacent context: the footprint of a neighbouring block is rotated, pasted to the site, re-aligned with the street and cut to fit. The elevational treatment proceeds in a similar way. The existing street elevation is drawn and the relationship of solid to void is noted. The proposition is wrapped by a series of these drawings, cut and altered as the programme necessitates. It is the “double” of the neighbouring block.

My reply to the initial question: “‘Cut and paste’ is similar to the way in which film from the 1920’s uses montage. New ideas emerge through the juxtaposition of images. In urban design, a ‘modification’ takes place in-between the ‘cut’ and the ‘paste.’ The modification is something new. It is placed in a context, which is readjusted by it, to read as something new.” In the short stories of Jorge Luis Borges, The Double is our opposite. A shadow. “Analogy” is a process of reasoning that uses existing material as reference in order to construct something new. The design project shares an analogical relationship with both the context and its shadow.

This article was first published in the “Cut Paste” issue of Mat.zine, edited by Stephen Mackie.

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