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RETREAT. HIDE. LOOKOUT. At the Window: Claiming a Space for Solitude January -June 2011, Sara Madigan

Texts and Images

“Getting lost means that between us and space there is not only a relationship of dominion, of control on the part of the subject, but also the possibility that space can dominate us. There are moments in life in which we learn how to learn from the space around us ... if someone never gets lost he never grows up. And this is done in the desert, the forest, places that are sort of a machine through which to attain other states of consciousness.� (Ref: Franco La Cecla, Perdusi, Latuza, 1988, Walking as an aesthetic practice, Francesco)


Week One: Claiming a Territory 21st January 2011 The territory I have chosen is on the island of Lindoya in the Oslo Fjord. It is a small site situated high up overlooking the sea to the south of the island. Lindoya is a residential island with clusters of small timber constructed cabins that are used as summer houses. They are all similar in proprtion and style with a variation of three colours: red, yellow and green. These houses, that pop up on the landscape in clusters, all similar but varying slightly, seem to me to have become a part of this landscape. In my opinion, they enhance the rugged nature of the islands, especially when seen from the sea. The overwhelming feeling when investigating these islands is that they seem to come alive in summer and sleep empty throught the winter months. The territory I wish to claim is that of the peace and tranquility found on these islands, that are so close to the city, all year round. Taking a boat out to the islands one forgets that they are near Oslo as you move past the first island of Hovedoya. The forests and walks to the interior of the islands are a world away from the noise of the city, or even that of the busy fjord waterways. My construction would be small, located high up, separated from the sea and enjoying the quiet of the forest. The clusters of summer houses, arranged to get the best of views and sun on the hills leads to the idea of varying modular components that connect to make a whole. The success of the houses, in my opinion, is how they jut boldly up from the landscape in bunches and the whole seems more the construction tha the individual. The construction of a series of volumes would try to capture the extraordinary calm of the place and take advantage of the unigue light of the sea. The idea is that a person can escape or get lost from the city for work, rest or recreation. “Getting lost means that between us and space there is not only a relationship of dominion, of control on the part of the subject, but also the possibility that space can dominate us. There are moments in life in which we learn how to learn from the space around us ... if someone never gets lost he never grows up. And this is done in the desert, the forest, places that are sort of a machine through which to attain other states of consciousness.� (Ref: Franco La Cecla, Perdusi, Latuza, 1988, Walking as an aesthetic practice, Francesco )


Week Four: At the Window, Claiming a space for Solitude 9th February 2011 “The man of initiative, of action, of thought, the leader, demands shelter for his meditations in a quiet and sure spot; a problem which is indispensable to the health of specialized people.” Le Corbusier, Toward a New Architecture

The territory I wish to claim is that of the solitude and tranquility afforded to man through his relationship with nature. The mood of Lindoya through the winter months, when it is left deserted and quiet, is something of value to the city dweller. Moments of solitude and reflection are an important part of our existence and it is these which I wish to capture. I came to the place with no preconceptions of a form or structure. It was the sense that the mood at this place was perishable that struck me. The mood of isolation afforded in the winter on Lindoya is not permanent or reliable. It is my desire to find a way of capturing or claiming this mood with my construction. Something I did bring with me to the place was a desire from previous semesters’ work. It is about the individual, their moments of solitude and how these moments can be constructed or housed. These spaces of the individual, such as the desk, the bookshelf, the garden chair, and mainly the window have always interested and challenged me. These ideas sprang from a talk entitled, “Open Up The Window,” given by a school professor, in which he spoke about the evolution of the window as an event from the eighteenth century to present. In it he uses an observation by J. A. Schmoll: “Since the late eighteenth century homesickness, Wanderlust, longing, secret and indeterminate love, roaming thoughts, the attunement to Nature comes to expression par excellence at the window. It is where the bourgeois and the city dweller is to be found who, from his window, takes up the relationship to nature and the desired intimacy. And it is where the solitary is to be found.” (Ref: Open Up the Window (and let some air into this room), Concordia University, Dr. Hugh Campbell, 2000) This concept of the window as an event in which the individual can be completely alone in their thoughts, although physically connected to others, forms the basis for my desire. One does not have to be physically isolated to find the peace associated with self reflection or solitude. The opening part of the talk describes Charlotte Bronte’s character Jane Eyre sitting in a window seat to escape everyday life. “She has with-


drawn to the edge of the room and concealed herself from view - so is she now in the room or not? And though she is now at a remove from human society this is where - paradoxically - she gets the clearest sense of her own identity and her relationship to others. At the window, she finds herself.” (Ref: Open Up the Window (and let some air into this room),Concordia University, Dr. Hugh Campbell, 2000) This is the mood or experience that I have a desire to capture. For years it has been accepted that nature and the human mind are inextricably linked. The symbiotic relationship between the two means that neither is possible without the other. I want to study the window as a moment for the individual in nature. It is at the window that the individual is in a space all of their own. Half inside, half out, the mind is free to travel where it chooses and both worlds are escaped in the space between. It is in these interstitial spaces, in the city, in art, architecture and daily routine that the richest moments can occur. In a description of Le Corbusier’s Le Cabanon of 1952 the author describes how, “Much like the house itself the windows are to give a sense of perspective and inward reflection... these artistic details address the psychological needs of the individual, which collectively create a unique architectural atmosphere and an interesting statement about the fundamental necessities of humanity.” (Ref: Windows to the soul, http://arch193-stgall-cabanon.blogspot.com/2010/01/windows-tosoul_17.html accessed on 3rd February at 16;27) These elements of the design of Le Cabanon form the philosophy on which I would like to base a construction. My starting interest in the clusters of houses has led to the idea of picturesque theories and the effects of repetition, variation and scale on a landscape. Caroline Van Eck states that, “Picturesque theories are based on the conviction that in order to have meaning, buildings and landscape gardens must refer to something outside themselves and their own medium. Yet at the same time, they are among the first writings on architecture to show interest in the handling of space, and the role of what one would now call abstract qualities in painting, such as the play of light and darkness, and the grouping of masses.” (Ref: page 245,The Splendid Effects of Architecture and its Power to Affect the Mind: The Workings of Picturesque Association, Caroline van Eck, Landscapes of Memory and Experience,Spon Press, ) The concept of a module combining and varying to create a successful whole is in line with the formation of the landscape of timber cabins existing on the island. Each unit is only successful when considered


in terms of its context as part of a whole. Through the design of a module for the individual, in this case the window, I want to create the generating unit for a space, or series of spaces in which this mood of solitude can be claimed or constructed


Week Seven: Structural Performance/ Territorial Complexity 3rd March 2011 At this point my work involved trying to be as specific as possible with regard to my site and the views I wanted to claim for the individual. I narrowed my claim down to five very particular views and tried to identify what exactly it was about these views that I wanted to capture. I did this by describing them as I experienced them and sketching them to try to understand their components. For this review my text is the description I wrote for each view. I used these views, along with the sequence and nature in which I wish them to be experenced to claim a specific and measured territory on my site. The claim is always to be experienced in sequence by the individual moving through the views or spaces. This ideal has come from the text below from, “Walkscapes”, which was my interest from the first week. “Getting lost means that between us and space there is not only a relationship of dominion, of control on the part of the subject, but also the possibility that space can dominate us. There are moments in life in which we learn how to learn from the space around us ... if someone never gets lost he never grows up. And this is done in the desert, the forest, places that are sort of a machine through which to attain other states of consciousness.” (Ref: Franco La Cecla, Perdusi, Latuza, 1988, Walking as an aesthetic practice, Francesco Careiri, Walkscapes)


When moving off the path, up the small hill to the site the first view is revealed to the individual. If the person pauses on their way up the hill they see the sun coming through the trees at the summit. Nature itself in the form of the trees acts as the frame for this scene so my construction would not be to create a framing structure. It would only be to push the individual to pause and look up. This construction would involve the making of a window moment in the form of a ledge, step, wall or seat. Anyof these elements that could be successful in creating a pause or respite would claim the mood of my desire. The aim of the construction here is simply to create a reaction and change the step of the walker.


The final image looks back on the way you have just come. Returning in a loop the individual looks out to the small path in the site by which they arrived. This is the last frame but not the end of the route or sequence acts as a glimpse of the way back and so a moment of reflection. In this process of pausing and considering the way you have just come one is given a moment to consider themselves within the context. This view or moment does not have to be constructed as a big event so much as a fleeting moment in a moving series. At the moment of this view the individual could be moving back from an indoor to outdoor space.


When you have reached the summit level of the site you look out onto the layers of the ground below you and the sea and the horizon in front of you, or you just look at the treetops and the sun streaming through them. Although you can see the nearby houses and can measure your nearness or remove from them you still feel complete solitude as the treetops and the sky are your own. Does one then frame the tree tops or do you allow the individual to see the nearby houses and feel solitude while understading their proximity to others? Does the mood move from solitude to loneliness or isolation if you remove the image of the house? How do you differentiate between these? Another question is that of time and nature. Is this a view that is only captured at certain times of the day or year while the sun is in this position in the sky? The view is in the direction you are moving. It is still within a mood of discovery or exploration. The inclusision of the foreground in the frame is important to me in capturing the mood.


Turning back to see layers of images. This image of the trees creating a screen to the far off view of the islands on the horizon and a layer for the sun to filter through. This image of the sun in the high up tree tops create a mood of .... This image can be seen or experienced without context or understanding. The curtain of trees silhouetted in the light of the sun is the image I am looking for. An example of this kind of strip of an image or view without its context is seen in Le Cabanon by Le Corbusier where he has a low placed window that opens up to reveal just a strip of mineral landscalpe outside. The view of the small path down to the water is a solitary image that has conotations of individual activities and routine. This is another possible view as it creates ideas in the viewers mind of solitary but comfortable events.


On reaching the end of the highest point on the site one can see back to a large cluster of houses framed among the trees with a flagpole in the centre giving it a kind of scale or shape. Again the foreground and the trees neat you give you a sense of your remove from the collective. This is what creates the mood of solitude... more specifically solitude as opposed to loneliness or isolation. The islands on the horizon and sky taking up most of the view also give the feeling that you are on a plateau above all of this however it is in reach or accessable if so desired. This band is an important part of the image. The sense of calmness and escape is found at this part of the image but it is made more powerful in the series or frame of other conditions that is the foreground beneath your feet, the clusters of houses, the framing quality of the trees. These elements make you feel you are encased in the image. This view is at the furthest point of the site or territory I wish to claim, therefore I think that the space should ba an event, or at least the frame. Here the individual turns back in the direction they have come, although their route is not complete.


Week Eleven: The Architecture of the Territory/ Concretisation 30th March 2011 At this point in the project I have tried to step back to look at my development and see how my initial claim, or at least desire to claim, is still intact. My methodology in this endeavour was to take another look at my territory, try to remember what it was, exactly and precisely, that instilled in me my initial desire. I also wanted to look at the very specific conditions I had written about in my earlier texts and try to realise them at a large scale to fully investigate their properties and how successfully they capture or claim the mood of solitude. By the time I reached my last review I had pushed my construction to a point where I no longer understood the experience of it, how exactly it revealed itself and the territory to the individual. I really wanted to work on this experiential aspect of my project as it is this, the person walking through the landscape, what they see and what they don’t, what they feel, hear or sense, that form the creators of my mood. The reason, I feel, I had become confused was that I understood the components that create my mood of solitude but I had not investigated them sufficiently in sequence or as a whole experience. The atmosphere the person feels when walking through the territory is created by many components. These include its sights, both in terms of views and the changing nature of light, it’s sound, or lack thereof as you move away from the houses and surround yourself with the trees and the sky, the concealment and revealing as you move through a space and the combination or arrangement of these components. All of these factors, when manipulated in just the right way can take a person and move them to feel a mood of solitude. I understood all of these elements except for the final issue of arrangement or sequence. The procession of the views, their approach, context and location in the claim and the landscape are of as much importance as the specific ideas I had set out for each one. These aspects of the walker’s moments or experiences were not expressed enough in the scenic materials laid out over my previous week’s work. They were, however understood by me as someone who has vistied the site, moved through these spaces and experienced these components or phenomena in just the correct way that they instilled in me a mood of solitude. So how do I translate these often very subtle and ever changing


features into a construction? What features of this nature or landscape have made this? How do they translate to architectural space, or can they at all? What is the form of my claim, specific to this territory? To clarify these issues in my mind I wanted to go back to one of the first pieces of material I looked at in relation to this and to reread my very first text. I have picked out some of this as it is as relevant now in guiding my construction as it was at the start. “The clusters of summer houses, arranged to get the best views and sun on the hills lead to the idea of varying modular components that connect to make a whole... The construction of a series of volumes would try to capture the extraordinary calm of the place and take advantage of the unique light of the sea. The idea is that a person can escape or get lost from the city for work, rest or recreation. “ This initial objective is still very much my desire and the idea of varying modules is still something that I feel would be the ideal tool for my development. For this reason I have tried to address some of the earlier experiential or atmospheric issues by setting out some conditions for the views. The sequence or procession of views is arranged as a stretched out cluster of similar proportioned but varying elements. The views are, “housed,” in a manner with each space being of similar proportions but varying hugely in the way they attempt to capture the mood of solitude in the territory. It is hoped that this methodology could construct the ideas laid out before. “Each unit is only successful when considered in terms of its context as part of a whole. Through the design of a module for the individual, in this case the window, I want to create the generating unit for a space, or series of spaces in which this mood of solitude can be claimed or constructed.”


Week Twelve: Desert Stories 28th April 2011 Teetering on the edge of what we know, we look out into the vastness that stretches beyond us, without heirarchy or direction. We feel our size and our insignificance when faced with nature’s scale and infinity. Like the night sky or the ocean we will never fully grasp the desert, understand its scale in comparison to our own, or make an impact enough on it for it to be ours. We can never claim the desert. Some of us may wander into this unknown, find something we feel there and choose to inhabit or claim it for ourselves. We bring things and arrange them into our own oasis of lights and people and noise. We travel miles and miles into the wilderness and set up a familiar urban world of our own. But now we are inhabiting our own, just what we know. Our edge now is the edge we have made. It is the garden fence, the outer ring road, the last street light. To place oneself physically in the desert with a construction is not to claim the desert, for by constructing we have stamped out this piece of emptiness or vastness. It can be our backdrop and our context but we are never inhabiting it for what it is. Whatever we once found when we came out here we have built over. We cannot construct what we are gazing into. It is for the person on the pier, the mountainside, the balcony or the cliff edge. So we stand and look out. We are connected with something in the vast, unmeasurable abstract laid out before us spiritually if not physically. Is it the endlessness or infinity in scale, detail and variation that cannot be created or imitated by man or just the light that grabs us? Perhaps we are only in wonder of what we don’t understand.


Week 16: Final Articulation of the Claim June 2011 My intention is to create a space of solitude and contemplation for the individual through the construction of a window module or modules in my territory. My claim as a series of events in a route had, by the time of my last review revealed itself to be, in a way, critiscising itself. The reason for this was that the construction had developed into a series of, “window rooms,” on a route instead of windows off a room. The notion of the window as a place to retreat to implies that there is a place to retreat from. The territory I have chosen is in itself a retreat from city life and my construction offers a chance to bring the individual closer to the calm and tranquility of nature. This is done through bringing them on a journey through specific views on the territory. The window moments, however clear and precise in themselves, were not in their own context correct. As discussed at my last review thay are successful as large artculated windows or moments but these must be off a space, or at least an activity. I had created windows to look out onto the world but from nothing. I have decided so to inhabit the space, give it a programme or human relationship. This presence of activity or, “life,” within the space allows the windows to act as outlets for reflection within a charged interior. In this way the contrived or forced elements of the previous claim have been reassessed and corrected in a way. This programme or human relationship also allows me to answer precisely many issues that I was unsure of at my last review. I now know who the construction is for, how it is used and how I want it to be experienced. With these issues in mind I was also able to clarify the territorial issues of my site, lay down what the person touches, sees, hears and what they do not. These boundaries have allowed my to clarify my project and it’s extents. The construction has developed into a house of two parts. One, “wing,” of the house accommodates the more informal communal spaces of the living and guest rooms, while along the route the other, “wing,” holds the more private, individual spaces of the bedroom, study and terrace. This arrangement of living and recreation spaces allows the moments in the inhabitants personal routine to be based around the spaces of articulated, large scale windows. The idea behind this is to create a series of spaces that are gen-


erated in their layout by a desire to achieve a certain mood or set of conditions for those inhabiting it. One can come to this space to retreat for self reflection and solitude, even when the place is occupied by others. These aticulated windows allow you small spaces of removal and contemplation even when inside the room with others. Another aspect of the territory that I was interested in claiming was the mood I found on the island in the winter. Having visited the island in both the summer and the winter it is clear that it runs a very seasonal life and holds very different atmospheres throughout the year. This therefore is not a summer cabin. It is purposely a space to be among the nature in the harsh climate of the winter as well as the more usually busy periods of the summer months. Most of the other inhabitants of the island use the space as a summer retreat where families take vacations from the city. The territory I wish to claim is the fragile mood of the place in the winter and construct a retreat that can house or hold this mood of solitude throughout the year. The elements of the claim run in the same way as before. Experienced as a wanderer in the forest would experience the teritory, the windows reveal themselves and the landscape as if you had stumbled on them alone on a walk. This intention is to claim the territory as a walker, experience your movement in the nature, and allow the site to reveal itself in a, “walkscape,” for the individual. This goes back to my original experience of the site and my first intentions for my claim in January. It is that a space can allow someone to escape, if even for a moment, from the pressures of daily life to take some respite and self reflection. “Getting lost means that between us and space there is not only a relationship of dominion, of control on the part of the subject, but also the possibility that space can dominate us. There are moments in life in which we learn how to learn from the space around us ... if someone never gets lost he never grows up. And this is done in the desert, the forest, places that are sort of a machine through which to attain other states of consciousness.” (Ref: Franco La Cecla, Perdusi, Latuza, 1988, Walking as an aesthetic practice, Francesco)


References •

Franco La Cecla, Perdusi, Latuza, 1988, Walking as an aesthetic practice, Francesco Careiri, Walkscapes

http://arch193-stgall-cabanon.blogspot.com/2010/01/modern-mo nasticism-with-utopian-roots.html. Accessed on 3rd February at 15:05.

• www.enterthelyonsden.tumblr.com/lecabanon/lecorbusier. accessed 3rd Feb at 13:42 • Image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/daniele_sartori/4821899116/si zes/o/in/photostream/ accessed 3rd Feb at 14:45 • Open Up the Window (and let some air into this room), talk delivered at Uncommon Senses Conference, Concordia University, Dr. Hugh Campbell, 2000 • The Splendid Effects of Architecture and its Power to Affect the Mind: The Workings of Picturesque Association, Caroline van Eck, Landscapes of Memory and Experience, Ed. Jan Birksted, Spon Press, 2000 • Windows to the soul, http://arch193-stgall-cabanon.blogspot. com/2010/01/windows-to-soul_17.html accessed on 3rd Februa ry at 16;27


RETREAT.HIDE.LOOKOUT