Moving Stone (or, Oooh, pretty buildings!)

I found this photo when I was looking for pictures of how to do a Ginger Lean properly (which I didn’t end up finding, by the way):

The building is called Fred and Ginger. I don’t think I need to say anything more. I got the image from Jim Rossignol’s blog via google images. I have to say, I love his blog title/tag line: “Jim Rossignol…is a device for turning tea into literature.” Awesome.

Anyway, a couple haphazard searches on Google Images didn’t turn up any other dance-inspired buildings. Does anyone else know of any?

I’ve been thinking a lot about images lately (no kidding) and architecture never ceases to amaze me. There are so many things you can do with the visual, you can create such incredible shapes and still keep it functional. It’s incredible how architects can capture something so fluid and alive in materials that are so rigid and functional.

One of my favourite architects (ok, a confession: I know about as much about architecture as I do about photography. Which means that I’m fascinated by it, but know absolutely nothing about it. So when I say one of my favourite architects, I mean he’s the only architect whose buildings I’ve loved enough to actually remember the architect’s name) is Antoni Gaudi. I don’t actually like the Sagrada Familia so much; it’s too… scaly (?) for my liking. A building I do love is this one, based on the story of St. George defeating the dragon:

I love the way he mimics the dragon’s bones and scales, and the way he plays with glass, tile, and stone. And, again, the way he treats the buildings as a medium for expressing something entirely different.

I went to hear a talk given by a war correspondent today, and he spoke with regret and spite about the fact that we’re moving away from a literate society to an image-based one. He meant that people have stopped reading, that they expect to be fed information entertainment through the TV – probably a fair accusation to make. Still, I think we need to point out that images, when done right, can say as much as words, the way the first building speaks about movement and mutation and stepping beyond the physical (in more way than one), and the second about at once the strength and delicacy of the dragon.

That’s not at all what the correspondent meant, and I’m sure that Gaudi’s brand of intellectualism would more than suit his need for intelligentsia, but I think sometimes we underestimate the power of the image to communicate. An image can create a dialogue that is as nuanced and as multi-layered as a well-written essay or a poem (then again, poetry – at least modern poetry – really is just a cascade of images written with words, so that doesn’t quite count).

Getting back to architecture, I don’t think there’s anything quite as grand and understated, as weighty and airy, as dark and brilliant, as a gothic cathedral (yes, I know, my medievalist is showing). The first cathedrals I went to were in Spain, and I remember being a little disappointed by the over-embellished baroque decoration. Golden cherubs and painted ceilings just take away from the grandeur of the space. Gothic cathedrals are completely different. I remember going into Salisbury. It was our first stop, after Stonehenge, on our big, whirl-wind tour of the UK & Ireland (I know. I’m kind of ashamed). We wandered through the town, and oohed and aahed at a big, beautiful gothic church, across the street and a little ways down from the school that William Golding taught at. We kept walking down the street, and then in a cinematographically-perfect moment (I’m allowed some creative license, ok?!), a clearing opened up in front of us, and in it was the most incredible, beautiful, and overwhelming cathedral I could imagine. And it was huge. It was the kind of size that words and images can’t possibly relate; I took pictures of it – it wouldn’t actually fit into one frame, no matter how far away I stood – but now that I look at them they don’t really translate its size. It’s how an ant must feel next to a house. I’d attach a picture, but then you would never understand how big it really was.

We went in through the cloister

And then into a stunning sanctuary

(no, these are not my pictures. Remember the bit about me and photography?)

It’s hard to believe how light and airy gothic cathedrals are, even though they’re made of such heavy materials (and considering the associations that the word “gothic” evokes). Baroque cathedrals are so much heavier and darker, even though they rely on wood so much more.

The only thing that was even half as exciting that day was when we finally wandered out of the sanctuary, and into a room that displayed Chaucer’s translation of Boethius. I think there may have been a copy of the Magna Charta as well, but Chaucer was more exciting.

The first two buildings were built to be playful, to experiment, to push boundaries. The second was also an experiment and also pushed boundaries, but this time to make a lasting testament to a civilization and its faith. Either way, the buildings become so much more than spaces, and so much more than the people who build them or use them.

I’ll leave you with more moving stone, a carving of Pride falling off his horse from Chartres:


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