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“Imagine a simple small building! Imagine you would enter a room of that building and you would find a staircase. Human beings do not contemplate how this building is laid out; rather, they just know that there is something upstairs because there is a staircase.”

Valerio Olgiati in Markus Breitschmid, “Valerio Olgiati’s Ideational Inventory,” El Croquis 156 (2011), 16-39

Imagine a small building

© valerio olgiati, Villa Alé m, Alentejo 2014.

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Scale relates to a particularly humane dimension of architecture. At the same time, scale predetermines many decisions which are strictly architectural. Scale systems are imprinted in the process of imagining certain spaces, or their unraveling beyond one’s own specific standpoint. These processes entail a kind of feeling of scale, which is based on basic conceptual conventions that we have become familiar with. However, if we were to refer to Valerio Olgiati’s Atelier Bardill, the contradiction between the needed object and the scale of the given site cuts off the mechanisms of reflex imagination from the physical act of spatial perception. Despite the scale dictated by the precinct, we are speaking of what is in reality a very small house. But Atelier Bardill is not the familiar way to imagine a small house.

The basic act of imagining a specific kind of building must have been always at hand for people – perhaps by means of storytelling. Descriptions themselves contain a potential for scalability – such as ‘the prince’s palace’, ‘the watcher’s tower’, ‘the witches’ hut’ or ‘the poor man’s shelter’, all designating building typologies by employing a specific archetype. Spatial archetypes are cultivated by the culture of storytelling through various descriptions of places or events occurring in the respective spaces. Early in life we learn to imagine buildings we never actually visited, departing from archetypal description and depictions of such buildings. In other words, the basic process of spatialization that takes place in someone’s imagination is usually triggered by means of abstraction, such as words and representations.

To some extent, architectural representations are a more exact language to communicate coordinates for spatial imagination. However, when trying to imagine ‘a small building’, scale acts as a layer of reality which is more difficult to represent – it becomes a secondary support system for relating representation to reality. While the subject’s presence is essentially removed from the convention of drawing, the clear instruction to ‘imagine a small building’ places them at the core of the process: it becomes a matter of distance measured in relation to one’s own dimensions, which also indicates the approximate necessary duration to walk across the entire building to determine if it is indeed small.

The relativity of both systems of abstraction and the difficulty in communicating the human understanding of scale relates to the fact that ‘smallness’ is not a direct attribute of a building, but a kind of judgement on it. If that is so, by removing scale systems, any kind of perception of architecture becomes alien.

“La grandeur magistrale, l’ordre, l’ampleur magnifique: vous êtes chez un Romain. A quoi servaient ces pièces? C’est en dehors de la question. Après vingt siècles, sans allusions historiques, vous sentez l’architecture et tout cela est en réalité une très petite maison.”

Le Corbusier, Vers une Architecture, chapter „L’illusion des plans”, with reference to the Casa del Noce in Pompei. (Paris: G. Crè s et Cie, 1924), 149

Eduard Untaru graduated from UAUIM Bucharest receiving Best Diploma Award 2022 for ZCP 76 - Mihai Vodă. Since 2019 he works as an architect at STARH and a teaching assistant in Andrei Șerbescu’s studio at UAUIM. Eduard is the curator of cryptic-k, a raw, dense, and incomplete architecture archive, along with Roberta Frumușelu.

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