THE MAGIC LABYRINTH.
This is about the Pantheon, not the Parthenon. Some 2000 years ago, the Romans evolved systems of enclosing large spaces to contain public life. The traditional temples of the east, from ancient Greece to China, are on the whole objects in space, and though they do have interior volumes, those were usually reserved for privileged ceremonies. As Christian Norberg-Schulz put it, 'In Roman architecture, for the first time, there are grand interior spaces and complex groups of spaces ... The Romans treated space as a substance to be shaped and articulated, making it active and no longer an "in-between", secondary to the surrounding plastic bodies. It becomes a primary concern of architecture, and is defined by walls which are intended as continuous surfaces, rather than by masses'. 
Only the Pantheon from the second century AD remains to us of the great enclosed public spaces of Classical times. But this one fragment is enough to show how different religious ceremonies must have been under the dome than for instance at the temple of Jupiter Best and Greatest built in the Greek pattern on the Capitoline where the Consuls were sworn in. Here, rites must have mostly taken place in the open: attended by greater crowds perhaps, more energetic probably, but much less intimate and intense than those in the Pantheon. That building has been (more or less) preserved by a fluke: because it has continued in religious use throughout its history (and perhaps because once the marble and bronze plates had been torn off over the centuries, there was very little of value left to steal).
Yet the great temple/church (in which its reputed designer the Emperor Hadrian is supposed to have presided both as judge and god) gives some notion of what the other great public buildings of Rome and its provincial cities must have been like: the baths, the basilicas, the libraries, the markets. The whole range of extra-domestic human activities from worship and the creation of laws to pleasure, scholarship and commercial transactions could be conducted in a very wide variety of enclosed spaces. In the Athenian world, many of these activities were carried out in the open air in places that allowed the citizens to communicate directly with each other (and with nature). The differences in public life cannot be explained by climate alone, but by differences in society and human relationships. Norberg-Schulz suggested that in imperial Rome 'architectural thinking had been turned outside in'.  For better or worse, the (perhaps idealized) simplicity of life in Greek city states had been replaced by much more complex social structures, ancestors of the ones we have today. Architecture responded. Norberg-Schulz's active' space was articulated not only by formal and constructional issues but also by human concerns: a new spectrum of public volumes offered a huge range of experiences, intensified because they were indoors.
From the great Roman precedents were developed the basic types of public building that dominated architecture for the next one and a half millennia. For instance, the covered Roman market was the direct ancestor of the vaulted souk. The basilica, and the Parthenon itself, became the forefathers of the mosque and the church. In the latter case, Gothic evolved from Romanesque vaulting (modelled on Roman precedent) following brilliant experiments in the eleventh century. Gothic glazing brought daylight to the public interior as never before. Light manipulated for drama and mystery (as in the Baroque) or transparency and openness (in Lutheran churches for example) became an essential component of interior space.
Industrialization of glass and metal manufacture in the nineteenth century added new types to the Roman repertoire that had remained virtually unaltered for centuries. From Stockholm to Milan, arcades, winter gardens, train sheds and other innovative forms of public building added new dimensions to urbanity. Present day descendants of the arcade include shopping malls; those of the great Victorian railway termini are clearly airports. Lobbies of office blocks and hotels are often derived from winter gardens. Not all present-day examples of these types are crass and drear, though it has to be admitted that very many are, yet they are often the only public spaces in the deserts of suburbia.
A new emphasis on space emerged in the late nineteenth century. Anthony Vidler suggests that 'Space ... gradually became the key to the study of architecture ... As a concept, space was adumbrated as a product of, and experienced through, bodily movement and psychological and optical projection. Space was interior, enveloping, enclosing, ritually sanctioned and structured by the body's motion through it'.  Vidler's reference to ritual surely does not imply just religious rites but memories and continuation of habitual, ingrained usage of all kinds. Memory is an important component in our perception of enclosed public spaces which, because of their nature, are more specific and settled in use than their open-air counterparts.
Memory can be much deeper than musings on functionality. Think for instance of the Hagia Sophia. Though it has long ceased being a church, was a mosque for over 450 years, and is now a museum though it has lost its iconostasis and its mosaics are largely destroyed, it is still possible to feel something of the joy of Justinian when he saw his great work and cried 'Solomon, I have surpassed thee', or the awe of the congregation as they moved into the great luminous space from the inner narthex, or the triumphant pity of Mehmet II as he rode into the great building after the conquest in 1453. Or consider Scharoun's Philharmonie, where the foyers allow so many diverse choices for perambulation, idle observation, casual conversation and social strutting. In complete contrast to the Hagia Sophia, it is a celebration of a peaceful, civilized society of equal citizens, who are later gathered round the orchestra in an act of common aesthetic enjoyment. In many ways, the building carries memories of the ideals of de mocratic postwar Germany, and speaks to us of hope and the rebirth of the individual.
Such intensity of feeling and experience is only possible because it is conjured by enclosure, and enclosure implies restriction. Last month, Catherine Slessor was right to attack the way in which contemporary social and political systems encourage privatization of public open spaces.  But enclosed ones must always be part of a spectrum that ranges through all manner of wonderful spatial nuances between the wholly public exterior to the wholly private realm of the house. Creation of this magical labyrinth is one of the main tasks of architecture.
(1.) Norberg-Schulz, Christian, Meaning in Architecture, Studio vista, London, 1980, p42.
(2.) Ibid p50 footnote 16. One of Norberg-Schulz's only known jokes.
(3.) Vidler, Anthony, 'Full House', Werk, Bauen+Wahnen, 3,2001, p64.
(4.) Slessor, Catherine, 'Public Engagement', AR April 2001 p36.
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Publication:||The Architectural Review|
|Date:||May 1, 2001|
|Previous Article:||Letter from Tallinn.|
|Next Article:||CRANBROOK COMPLEXITIES.|