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Inhabiting the Mental Garden of Delights: Reflections in Contemporary Architecture

Part 2 Dissertation 2005
Theodora Tatsidou
University of Greenwich | UK
Hieronymus Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights presents a timeless world beset by worrying spaces. Bodies in it, robbed of their shadows, wander in a labyrinth of layers, dislocate themselves wishing to feel, to get excited. Random games and collisions materialize in a tantalizing landscape as wandering tormented creatures urge in search of their catharsis.
Through a reading of Bosch's painting, this essay attempts to draw relationships between the body and space in contemporary architecture.
The painting acts as a device for orientation within the landscape of contemporary architecture, and as a guide that introduces the reader to the multiple layers of the text. Bosch's painting is draped, pleated, prolonged and blended, and the text constructs another landscape that hovers on the in-between of that which is current and that which is approaching. Reading through it becomes a fluid continuum of theory and practice, engaging actions and feelings that are distilled through memory. Layers, materially expressed by various architectural projects, form a series of overlapping journeys which correspond to the themes of the utopic, the dystopic and the /next/topic. The narration begins with the weaving of an urban carpet that blankets over the painting to produce a selective reading. Each of the projects/proposals involves a complex reality and inhabits an "episode" in the equally complex Garden. Like Superstudio's Supersurface Bosch's canvas is full of cavities and perforations. Like Buckminster Fuller's Dome over Manhattan it boasts translucency, like Diller+Scofidio's Blur it tackles airiness and opacity. Like Xefirotarch's Lexington Plaza Bosch's landscape moves and corrugates, like NOX's La Tana di Alice and Van Berkel's La Defense Offices it returns the viewer's gaze.
Architecture today is built through relationships of things -events, people, situations. However, it remains on the verge of its limits - just like the bodies in the painting linger on the edge of the cavities, looking towards the intriguing worlds that unfold beyond, but still without crossing into them. Recent architectural experimentations encourage evocative alternatives that soften those borders and transmute architectural boundaries into elastic ones, that allow us to tread beyond them and into the /next/ Garden. Reflecting on Bosch’s Garden, this text utilizes the triptych to generate a narration that deals with the diversity and richness of current architectural research, and attemp

Theodora Tatsidou

Irreverent of disciplinary boundaries, this work employs philosophy,
art theory and architecture theory to discuss some crucial issues in
contemporary architecture - time and change, matter and its
transformations, the making of form and the questioning of boundaries.
Layer after layer, the text peels, enters and inhabits the spaces of
Hieronymus Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights, repeatedly
transgressing the frames of the triptych, its iconography and
episodes, to employ it as a narrative device and a project site.
Exploded through a non-orthodox non-linear reading of its operations
and affects, the painting offers the spatial and material conditions
for an interwoven examination of the works of some of today's most
experimental architectural practices.

This dissertation stands out for the complexity of ideas it works through, as well as for the layered techniques that it employs in its narrative structure. Told as a recursive analysis around (rather than of) Bosch's painting, the text does not describe or study it, but attempts to re-produce its complexity in the construction of an argument. The Garden is thus not scholarly analyzed (this is not a dissertation in art history), but decomposed and re-produced by a text that focuses on its actions, recurrences, thresholds and porosity. Interested more in what is hidden or implied than in what is painted in Bosch's Garden, the dissertation then applies the same method of analysis to a series of critical projects in contemporary architecture. The /next/ that the text aims to suggest seems to be already embedded in and fostered by these projects, while its potentialities remain yet to be unfolded.

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