Friday, August 17, 2007


A Memento Mori

I: In which the Object is Lost


‘Architecture has become a field,’ it is reported.  The news is received gravely, the gravity of the situation is immediately apparent.  For, if architecture is a field, it is no longer an object.  The landscape, that enduring condition of field, is immediately plunged into grief, for the loss of the object. 

II: Mourning Sickness

Landscape’s mourning over the lost object is interminable.  Freud is consulted, and the prognosis is melancholia, in which the ego plunges itself into sustained grief for the lost object, be it person, idea, place.  As Freud puts it, in Mourning and Melancholia, “the shadow of the object fell upon the ego” and  the “loss of the object had been transformed into a loss of ego…”  In time the ego becomes cannibalistic and “eats” the lost object. 


III: The Landscape of Sadness

Landscape has no wish to regain happiness – the pressure and presumption for happiness throughout the Western world, pharmaceutically supported, has all but eliminated true poignancy within the experiential repertoire.  This, then, is to be not an architecture of happiness, but a landscape of sadness, a melancholy place of loneliness and loss.

IV: The Park of the Lost Object

The site is immaterial.  All that is apparent upon the surface is an enigmatic formation of small circular holes of unknown depth.  Their configuration appears significant, as is the nature of the open cavity below.  At night, light shines up from inside this curious cavern, emitting an unearthly glow from within the earth.  The constellation of points is even more apparent at this time, an inflected grid, whose very presence appears to announce an absence.

 V: Finding the Lost Object

The cavern below the pattern of oculi is revealed to be the negative form of a building.  The whole negative structure has been cast from an iconic architectural object, Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye, and this cast then inverted and placed into the ground.  The holes are the negative space of the pilotis, meeting the ground, from beneath rather than from above.  The lost object is suppressed as a subterranean subconscious, the landscape of sadness of the Park of the Lost Object. 

VI: The ‘Open Wound’

This perforated field of landscape, with the lost object of architecture embedded within it, is Freudian melancholia manifest.  Freud wrote that melancholia is like an “open wound,” that lesion which is kept raw, in order that the imaginative capacity of loss is maintained.   Loneliness and longing are part of joy that is paradoxically within melancholy, that absence is always already imminent in any presence.

VII: Landscape’s significant ‘Other’

Architecture as landscape’s other, object to its field, persists in the form of a spectral spectacle, a ghostly presence.  Like Boullée’s “buried architecture,” his “architecture of shadows,” there is a melancholy weightiness in the suppression of the object.

That night by the forest Boullée had an uncanny sense about himself, about the silent partner that every mortal carries within, and about the unending nothingness that each person will become. It appeared to him in the form of his shadow and then in the shadows of the entire forest.

 Richard A. Etlin (1994) Symbolic Space: French Enlightenment Architecture and its Legacy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, p. 197.  


[Entry for Auckland Architecture Association / Panasonic Urban Gaze competition.  This year's moot was that 'architecture has become a field']  [The Park of the Lost Object won first place].

Posted by JACKY BOWRING in 21:03:57


  1. Dylan says:

    Marvellous news – well done on coming first place! It is, indeed, a very fine piece. Dylan.

  2. JACKY BOWRING says:

    Many thanks Dylan. I was thrilled with the outcome. And compliments on your pair of posts on the re-presentation of death, extremely inspirational !

  3. eddie says:

    wonderful essay, Jacky. trying to think of the latin phrase that translates ‘the tears that are in nature’. Lacrymose something. places where grief is domiciled. or … (I am sure) … joy.

  4. JACKY BOWRING says:

    Many thanks Eddie. Your comment brings to mind the phrase “the tears of things” – which comes from Lucretius, and in Latin is lacrimae rerum. So maybe something like that … would be very interested to hear more if you recall the phrase.

  5. eddie says:


    … that’s the one. thanks for the source. I picked it up in a Robert Bly poem I think. btw I’m not really eddie, I’m martin … from Luca Antara, had to use an alias to sign in.

  6. JACKY BOWRING says:

    Ahhh, Martin aka eddie … very glad you managed to negotiate the mysterious e-hurdles! And I am even more grateful for the compliment now …

  7. JACKY BOWRING says:

    Martin, I followed your trail of clues … and haven’t found the poem itself yet, but found that Bly wrote a bit in an anthology, the Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart, which sounds a delicious piece on melancholy in nature, and perhaps how grief inheres in here. Hopefully I can now track the book down…

  8. eddie says:

    The line may be from Virgil not Lucretius: ‘sunt lacrimae rerum et mentem mortalia tangunt’.

    Aeneas is looking at a Carthaginian mural of events from the Trojan war … and weeping.

    The Bly might well have been from a lecture not a poem. It’s a long time ago … what I recall is him speaking about places on the earth that are suffused with melancholy that you feel when you go there. Like Conrad writes: ‘This too was one of the dark places of the earth.’ At the mouth of the Thames looking back at London. Psychogeography.

  9. JACKY BOWRING says:

    Yes, could be Virgil, in his glorious rants about things landscape. And! Conrad staring at the brooding Thames, fantastic! The psychogeographic echoes here with Keiller’s London send shivers down the spine. Do you know Keiller’s work? His ‘narrator’ talks about the ‘psychic landscaping’ of his friend/lover Robinson, which is a kind of hyperlink to Debord et al, deriving hither and yon, and he is, in fact, staring at the Thames itself while much of this is said, in emphatically melancholy fashion.
    I used to work on the banks of the Thames, ’twas truly a dark place …