Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Imageability and Form in the Grande Bibliotheque Du Quebec: The Baroque as a More-Than-Representational Technique toward the Paradoxical Particularity of Experience in Space

Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Imageability and Form in the Grande Bibliotheque Du Quebec: The Baroque as a More-Than-Representational Technique toward the Paradoxical Particularity of Experience in Space

Article excerpt

Abstract. Because of an inattention to architectural form in building events, architectural geography has yet to fully explore the subjective aspects of the spatial politics of affect. And because of an analytical focus on the programming of affect, it has undertheorized affective styles which may unsettle the performativity of space. Architectural theorists call such spaces ambiguous or contradictory. They variously insist that baroque space is crucial to redressing individualism and capitalism insofar as it encourages relationality, democracy, and resubjectification. I take a more circumscribed approach to the more-than-representational and show that formal spatial ambiguity produces delight and provokes a paradoxical sort of looking, feeling(s), and thinking (ie, the particularity of experience). My argument is based on observant participation and interviews on the affective consistencies (here, in-betweenness) of perception, speed, and ascension in the Grand Bibliotheque du Quebec. As for the political merits of the baroque, inasmuch as its tensions strike a contrast with the rhythm of the performativity of space, it must be considered a complement to more expressly representational attempts to wrest loose from the disciplinary doing of the world.

Keywords: affect, baroque, emotion architecture, Grande Bibliotheque du Quebec

Timothy: I would like to know the interior completely.

Me: Why?

Timothy: Does not everyone desire to know it as a whole?... Does not everyone think like that? Everyone wants a global position from which to understand. I do not understand the building here. I think that most of the people do not understand the building as a whole. There is no viewpoint of it as an ensemble.

1 Introduction

Architectural geography has recently made a subjective turn by calling for increased attention to the human experience of affect, emotion, and atmosphere in built spaces (Pile, 2010; Rose et al, 2010). (1) In the interests of better informing policy discussions, there has also been a call (yet again) for a rematerialization of the subdiscipline (Lees and Baxter, 2011). Of particular importance to the latter is the need for architectural geographers to pay closer attention to the details of building construction and their affects, in addition to the narratives applied to space by users and architects. I further take the rematerialization of architectural geography to mean that imageability and form be taken seriously. (2)

One would be hard pressed to find an approach to form which is more invested in matter and materiality than the baroque, with its emphasis on the differentiating qualities of "stuffing" (Deleuze, 1993, page 123) and excess. For Wolfflin, the baroque formally repudiates "the principle of articulation" (1964, page 42): building elements lose their contours, become ambiguous and "painterly", and appear to take flight. It is the ironical movement back and forth between the way things appear (unity) and the way they are subsequently perceived and felt (disunity). The baroque is an event (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987; Wolfflin, 1964, page 58). Rather than the facts of the site, program, technology, budget, and climactic conditions being smoothed over through an aesthetic of heroic transcendence (as in classical architecture) or false expressivity (as in the neobaroque), the baroque is composed of the tensions inherent in the facts. It therefore produces neither the positive nor the negative affective condition of concern to much of architectural geography. As opposed to directing the body in a linear way or soliciting a specific emotionality, baroque form opens the body up, but always in the form of an arabesque spiralling back to the whole.

Many scholars insist that prevailing self-referential and resolved aesthetics, of the type found in classical and developer architecture, transmit an affective force of peace and permanence which evens out tensions in space, denies social interaction, promotes radical individualism (Gablik, 1995; Sennett, 1990), and thereby furnishes docile bodies to the "experience economy" underpinning global capital [Pine and Gilmore (1999), cited in Foster (2011, page ix)]. …

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