Academic journal article Utopian Studies

The Life and Work of Douglas Darden: A Brief Encomium

Academic journal article Utopian Studies

The Life and Work of Douglas Darden: A Brief Encomium

Article excerpt

This is intended as a brief encomium, a praise of sorts. It is an encomium to Douglas Darden, an architect, teacher, and extraordinary human being. The ways in which he offered himself and his work to his students, his friends, his admirers, in fact, everyone -- with honor, dignity, benevolence -- were remarkable, especially given his own personal and monumental struggle. His works demonstrate his generosity and his struggle and, thus, his work was able to engage architecture, as he put it, from its underbelly: "I am inclined while watching the turtle to turn it over and study its underbelly. From this unnatural position I see how this platonically solid creature makes its way through the world" (Darden, Condemned Building, 7). As allegory, the turtle is architecture and the "turning over" was not intended to displace the canons of architecture but to "cultivate their fullest growth" by gaining another, almost Archimedean perspective on it (Darden, Condemned Building, 9).

Darden's architecture is best illustrated in his 1993 book, Condemned Building: An Architect's Pre-Text, which includes ten allegorical projects that look at architecture "for what it is: never its own sufficient subject, nor its own sufficient end" (9). Architecture is fundamentally connected to all other human endeavors, all other forms of cultural production. Thus, all human undertakings can be explored as a part of it and architecture, in turn, can be examined to shed light on these as well: in all forms of making, we reveal some of the most important and at times intransigent questions that humans continue to deliberate. More importantly, we reveal the constant struggle with what is not there and, thus, our constant utopian desire or yearning. The ten condemned buildings take up some of these questions by turning architectural canons over to examine them from a different perspective, from underneath and even "at right angles."

Darden's description of these projects gives us an idea of the specific canons that he thought architecture embodied and what they excluded. In the Museum of Imposters, for example, Darden explores the question of authenticity in recent critical postmodern discourse by framing the Museum in terms of the authentic and the simulation:

"Architecture posits the authentie.

Architecture posits the fake." (Darden, Condemned Building, 9)

Thus, architecture is implicated in both its insistence on authenticity and its complicity in the production of the fake. In the Temple Forgetful, the binary condition is constructed out of a fundamental observation that monuments are not only for remembering but also for forgetting. Other projects examine the assumption that architecture domesticates our fears by positing how it also locates our fears; that light is the revealer of form by demonstrating that darkness also reveals; that architecture represents an irreconciliation and a reconciliation with nature; that it displaces as well as takes possession of a place; that it confronts and accommodates; that it objectifies and fulfills desire; that "man is off-center of divine creation"; and, in the Oxygen House, the last project, that a house is for living as well as for dying.

Darden argues that "[i]f architecture provides anything at all, it is a platform for inquiry" (Darden, "Melvilla: An Architect's Reading of Moby-Dick," 5). He adds his specifically architectural understanding of inquiry as a "space in which intellectual inquiry is conceived as a sectional operation, a delving down into the unfathomable, towards bottomless foundations..." (Darden, "Melvilla: An Architect's Reading of Moby-Dick," 8). Thus, to follow his journey into architecture is "to experience through the bodily senses the sublime anxiety of inquiry itself' (Darden, "Melvilla: An Architect's Reading of Moby-Dick," 8).

The sublime is evident in each of his projects. Melvilla, for example, a project designed in honor of Herman Melville's Moby Dick, is one of his most epic works (Figs. …

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