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The Sense of Indeterminacy and Ambiguity in ‘The Castle’ and its Archi-tectonic Implications (Part II)

To address the second aspect of this investigation, that is, of how the ‘sense’ of indeterminacy and ambiguity can be translated into architecture, three buildings will be examined. The analysis will explore how various tectonic strategies corresponding to the literary tactics identified in Frank Kafka’s, ‘The Castle’ are deployed to induce sense. The three buildings studied are Ronchamp chapel by Le Corbusier, the Casal Balaguer Cultural Centre by Flores & Prats and Igualada Cemetery designed by Enric Miralles.

The obscuration of identity resulting in ambiguity achieved by Kafka can similarly be achieved in architectural form. In Igualada Cemetery for instance the interaction of the cavernous architectural spaces, engraved into the earth, with sunlight, streaming down from the aperture like voids above, produces deep shadows.  A highly contrasted scene is produced in which the architectural forms are obscured by the shadows, receding in perceptibility at the edges. Contrasting this veil of darkness are the sporadic like moments of sunlight, momentarily illuminating, like an intense spotlight, fragments of geometric form. Ambiguity is achieved as the inhabitant of the space is forced to infer the totality of the architecture from the visible fragments, while its true geometric complexity remains indeterminant.

Like in the liar paradox where any logical inference is obscured and made indeterminant, an equivalence can be accomplished visually through archi-tectonic gestures as evident in Ronchamp chapel by Le Corbusier. A visual paradox is apparent when one perceives Le Corbusier architecture. The planes which form the geometry of the architecture appear both immediate and at a distance. A specific and prominent instance of this visual paradox is with the curved concrete roof form, converging at the corner edge. The converging curves of the geometry give the impression of a form receding into a single vanishing point, as in perspectival drawings. In actuality, however, the forementioned edge protrudes outwards from the main form of the building.

The use of anachronisms in ‘The Castle’, as explained, introduces chronological inconsistency. In architecture, it can be identified that this effect can be achieved using two means. The first is by the regulation of light through form. This is evident in all three projects. Sunlight is related to a person’s experience of time, visually demarking its passing and cyclical nature through its intensity, directionality, and shadow. For instance, the morning is characterised by soft illuminance, midday, by limited but sharply contrasting shadows, while the vivid colours produced by atmospheric refraction and long shadows, due to the setting sun, demarcate the late afternoon. As illustrated in the example, a sense of time can be clearly determined through the qualities of sunlight. This typical chronological experience a person encounters, however, can be rendered indeterminant and by association ambiguous if the qualities of light are manipulated. Elongation or compression of temporal experience can be induced.  In Igualada Cemetery the irregular geometric forms of the voids produce equally complex shapes of illuminance and shadow. The directionality of the sunlight is made indeterminant, due to ever changing immaterial forms; therefore, negating the use of the sun as a spatial-temporal reference point. In both the Ronchamp chapel and Casal Balaguer Cultural Centre sunlight is amplified by the small aperture like windows, with the architectural spaces performing like a camera obscura. Although, contrast is amplified, the intensity of illumination is a paradoxically and simultaneously softened. Moreover, the directionality of light is altered through the design of deeply recessed windows, in turn made possible by thick walls. Sunlight is refracted off the deep irregularly angled window recesses producing a soft warm glow surrounding each opening.

The second means in which an anachronistic sense, felt in kafka’s novel, can be achieved, archi-tectonically, is through materiality. Anachronism is defined as the chronological inconsistency produced when things existing in different temporal domains are placed in juxtaposed relation to one another. To extend and apply this concept specifically to architecture a new term called ‘material anachronism’ must be coined. Material anachronism can be defined as the temporal inconsistency produced when the visual attribute of a certain material is transposed or positioned with another materiality. The wood grain pattern trace on the off- form concrete construction in the Ronchamp chapel is such an example. Cognitively one associates the visual attributes of wooden construction with a vernacular past, however when viewed in relation with the modern construction material of concrete a chronological inconsistency is apparent. Instances of material anachronism can also be found in the pavement design of Igualada Cemetery where Enric Miralles embeds the organic material of timber into the concrete. The result is a juxtaposition between the relatively ephemeral material attribute of timber in comparison to the permanence of concrete.  Furthermore, in the Casal Balaguer Cultural Centre, the whitewashed interior walls infer a clean modernist aesthetic, however this regime is contrasted by the richly textured and mediaevalesque structural timber columns, leading to an ambiguous temporal aesthetic scheme.

The fourth driver of ambiguity and one most directly related to spatial experience is the use of the limited third person narration perspective in ‘The Castle’. The narration style restricts perception to what is immediately beyond ensuring the totality remains incomprehensible. The experiential journey and the visual scenes framed by the Igualada Cemetery’s architecture evokes an identical perceptual experience to that of the novel. The consequence of embedding the architecture into the earth is an imperceptibility of the structure upon approach. The architecture only gradually reveals itself as one ventures along its pathways.  The integration of Miralles’s intervention with the topography of the site, deterritorializes the ground plane, conventionally seen as a static and referential element in architecture. The undulating ground plane of the visitor’s path obscures the horizon plane, contributing to a sense of perceptual ambiguity. The walls enclosing the pathways conjure a comparison to giant ramparts or retaining structures, resisting the tectonic forces of the earth as it attempts to heal the scar, Miralles’s intervention has imposed upon it. As an inhabitant within the space, a phenomenological sense of entrapment and restriction is invoked, as K. would have no doubt felt within the confines of the village. The inhabitant in Miralles’s space, is situated in a position of subordination, always on a lower level in reference to the surrounding natural ground line. This position of subordination is identical to what is experienced by K., on both physical and metaphysical registers. The Castle is situated on top of a hill on a higher plane relative to the village, while K. is an outcast in a society structured according to a strict social hierarchy.

In both the Igualada Cemetery and Casal Balaguer Cultural Centre, the meandering and incomprehensible circulation paths, unsettle any sense of initial orientation, bears semblance to the labyrinthine street network of the village in ‘The Castle’. Furthermore, the many openings in the form of doorways and skylights in Casal Balaguer Cultural Centre or discontinuities in Miralles’s topographical structure invites occupants to imagine possibilities beyond what is framed.

The translation of literary conjunctions into an archi-tectonic realm, presents perhaps the most fascinating implications for the discipline of architecture and its thinking. Translated on a literal, surface level, conjunctions in a tectonic sense, could simply imply series of connected spaces, separated by the prominent threshold of a thick load bearing wall. A spatial configuration like that of classical architecture. In reference to the analysis conducted in part I, operationally however, conjunctions function on a more sophisticated level than simply allowing for the addition of new information. Contractions, negations, and intensification of expression results from conjunctions- in this sense they are enablers of possibilities in meaning, a generator of ambiguity. If conju­­nctions are thought of as an operative function in reference to architecture, it would reside in the process of design as a generative tactic akin to the technique of palimpsest. Unlike the palimpsest, however, where the preceding layer is washed off, and only a trace remains, the tactic of conjunction simply layers new information above preceding material. Although the interactions between each layer are uncensored and not remastered, intentional and reflective thought must reside in the composition, selection and placement of each preceding layer. This is an analogous to the composition of propositions in language. If a proposition is poorly composed and conjoined to a preceding statement, the resulting statement may be weakened. The architectural drawing practice of Enric Miralles can be seen to follow such a strategy of conjunctive over layering. Each new thought is layered upon the preceding one using tracing paper until an ambiguous and richly textured outcome emerges. This is apparent in many of Enric Miralles works and the plan of Igualada Cemetery, with its contrasting strokes, intensities of expression and organisation is no exception. Three dimensionally, the geometrical product of such as process is most evident in the roofscape of the Casal Balaguer Cultural Centre. The geometric intensification appears to be formed by the conjunction of several extrusions in combination with planar collisions on varying elevations.

The suspension of disbelief produced though cognitive dissonance when confronted with a diametrically opposed situation is experienced in Ronchamp chapel by Le Corbusier. As one enters the sanctuary space of the chapel, on a sunny day, a gap, traversing the edge of where the wall plane and ceiling plane should intersect, is accentuated by the contrasting brightness of the exterior and dimness of the interiority. The initial moment one perceives this architectonic gesture, logical inference regrading the structural plausibility of the architecture is momentarily suspended, as one bears witness to the seemingly impossible defiance of gravity. The monolithic concrete ceiling structure does indeed appear to float implausibly above the walls. The structural framework with renders this scenario possible is hidden by the architect and the occupants are left with a sense of indeterminacy as to the plausibility of this scene. This tectonic expression of the absurd is not unlike the bureaucratic absurdity maintained by the concealed yet omnipresent authoritarian structure of the castle. A second instance of cognitive dissonance in Ronchamp chapel occurs when a monumental concrete wall which forms the sanctuary space is perceptually dematerialised. It is dematerialised by sunlight illuminating and reflecting off the edges of the recessed windows. The perception of light and its brightness is amplified when contrasted with the dark interior space.

It is evident that the overwhelming sense of indeterminacy and ambiguity present in ‘The Castle’ can be explained by at least six literary tactics. Moreover, it has been demonstrated with specific examples that the identified literary tactics can be translated successful into architectonic strategies to inform a­­­ Kafkaesque architecture. ­