Archivist, Archaeologist, Author and the Tactile Window

Lau, C. 2007. Archivist, Archaeologist, Author and the Tactile Window. Telling Places: Narrative and Identity in Art and Architecture. London 04 - 05 Dec 2007

TitleArchivist, Archaeologist, Author and the Tactile Window
AuthorsLau, C.
TypeConference paper
Abstract

The idea that the predominant way of engaging with architecture is through vision is not uncommon but also not always the most appropriate given that buildings are also experienced through tactile interventions. This consequence that emphasises visual aesthetics in order to appreciate and understand architecture probably has much to do with the assumed but rather vaguely defined role of the architect as designer in the practice of architectural design. A resulting misapprehension is that architects designing for visual appreciation think that they are actually designing physical space for embodied tactile engagement.

This prioritisation of vision in the way architects think about and approach design is questioned through the design project of the Tactile Window in which the position of the architect is redefined through inhabiting the roles of archivist, archaeologist and author during the design process.

A 16th century portrait of Queen Elizabeth I known as the Ditchley portrait, currently on display at the National Portrait Gallery is used as the source from which the design of the Tactile Window is derived from and refers back to. Questioning the validity of vision as the sole means of engaging with the work, information about the portrait and working methods gathered from the three carefully chosen positions mentioned above are drawn on and applied to the making of this Tactile Window that becomes an alternative Ditchley portrait. Through exploring the hidden historical and current narratives of and in the existing portrait, the presence of the portrait is alluded to on an alternative physical site. Key to this are the working methods of an invented archival system of design reasoning, the unearthing of archaeological texts and assuming of authorship within the individual frameworks of the roles of archivist, archaeologist and author.

The redefined role of the architect as archaeologist takes onboard the unearthing of associated drawings and writings as well as the methods of organising and applying the recovered information to the system set up by the archivist. This analysis of the graphic and text based information is used to formulate historical narratives that are woven into the design project. Whereas traditional archaeology stresses on the study of a site from a site with quantifiable limits to the physical context, the notion of archaeological sites in this instance refers to the places where the stored information is unearthed. Through the careful process of archiving and analysing this information, a new site that is located within both the physical and historical contexts of interest is discovered. The author then draws upon the elements in the archival system that includes the findings of the archaeologist to construct the alternative Ditchley portrait in this new site of the Echoing Cedar, the result of which bears no visual resemblance to the existing work.

The Tactile Window is a reading of the Ditchley portrait in which information about and in the painting is transformed into a design proposal for an inhabited structure. The intended method of interaction with this alternative portrait is not merely restricted to vision but relies on engagement with the other senses. This experience is enhanced by the interplay with certain site conditions such as wind and rain in order to allude to specific aspects of the Ditchley portrait that are not visually apparent in the existing work.

In the processes of excavating, finding and revealing the hidden information to create this alternative portrait, the effects of the visuals afforded by the existing portrait inadvertently begin to fade as the validity of a single means of visual expression is questioned.

KeywordsDesign, Archivist, Archaeologist, Author, Tactile
Year2007
ConferenceTelling Places: Narrative and Identity in Art and Architecture
Publication dates
Completed2007
Supplementary data or filesTelling Places_poster final.pdf
Web address (URL)http://tellingplaces.c-lab.co.uk/index.asp?p=2&currPage=2&parent=0

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