Experiencing Architecture

By Steen Eiler Rasmussen | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IV
Architecture Experienced as Color Planes

We do not perceive everything as either mass or void. Very distant objects often seem completely flat. Many cloud formations are seen only as two-dimensional figures against the background of the sky. A distant stretch of coast coming into view across water appears merely as a silhouette. You see the outlines but have no impression of depth. Even Manhattan, with its depth of thirteen miles, looks like the painted back-drop of a theater when seen across the water from the deck of an in-going ship.

There is one place in the world where such phenomena--so often observed near the water--are very striking, and that is Venice.

Coming from the Adriatic, which forms a dramatic seascape of wave crests with shadows of an amazingly intense ultramarine, to the flat waters of the lagoons behind the string of islands, you feel that you have been transported to an unreal world where the usual concepts of shape and form have lost their meaning. Sky and water merge into a brilliant blue sphere in the middle of which dark fishing boats glide and the low islands appear simply as floating horizontal stripes.

Venice itself looms like a mirage, a dream city in the ether. And this impression of unreality persists even to the very threshold. The colored phantoms of the buildings, floating on a watery surface, seem to be lighter than all other houses one has ever seen. In bygone days Venice must have looked even more exotic. At that time, when every self-respecting town was surrounded by the most menacing and impenetrable fortifications, the first impression of this metropolis must have been of a sort of earthly paradise where fear was unknown, with houses with delicate and graceful arcades swarming with carefree people. Large, lively market places opened out towards the sea. Where other cities

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