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Out of Time and into Space   John Hejduk

Art has that peculiar irreverence towards accurate chronological sequence. It hops backwards and forwards upon the frame of time, playing hide and seek with the Historian's sense of propriety. The perennial stylistic arguments which cause the investigator concern will only bring forth mild amusement to the creator and critic of form. The event is important as a relationship to other events, particular not to time but of space. Therefore, Le Corbusier's Visual Arts Center at Harvard proves the staying power of a single idea; the idea of cubist space in Architecture.

The very profundity of this piece of visual metaphysics brings into question all that went before. The Carpenter Center can either be liked or disliked--this is irrelevant; the fact is the proposed ideas cannot be ignored; they can be viewed squarely and understood. The questions and arguments become inexhaustible; they are like the major thesis--the thesis of simultaneity. Simultaneity has always been a complex phenomenon with reference to the retina's capability of maintaining hold over kaleidoscopic relationships. The mind may be more prone to accept an ambiguous basis, yet when operating upon single stills, the eye is like a camera; the moment the same image is clicked twice and interposed on the same frame an interesting effect can be obtained although in the process the initial form becomes blurred and might be irrevocably lost.

The human body, its auxiliary senses, and the capability of cerebral workings cause architecture to be involved in the movement and dynamics of space. One cannot approach the Center without unleashing the ghosts and spectres of the visual revolution which occurred at the early part of our century. Old doors are forced open admitting Picasso, Braque, Leger, Gris, Mondrian--all the known protagonists and ancestral impregnators. To begin with, the disposition of building to site may seem erratic, uncalled for, in opposition to the hieratical laws of good taste, particularly when the work is tipped and askewed at an acute angle to the sensibility of right-angle relationships of the two streets and two buildings it is enclosed within. Surely, most of the buildings on this street had the good sense to present their best facade forward. Why does the Frenchman insist upon disturbing our puritanical attitudes? Is it effrontery or whimsy? It is neither; it is a reinforcing for all concerned. The sense is on two planes of operation, the external and the internal. The external ordinarily precedes the internal; here at the Center, they are co-joined to the same organic system.

There might never be a compatibility of Cubist vision with New England decorum. The problem was not how to relate them, but how to disengage them, permitting each its sovereignty. This is what Le Corbusier has accomp!ished; not only did he placate his neighbors, he also used them in the scheme of things. A system of co-existence was devised through the askewing of the Center. This was a secondary reason, the primary being involved with a Juan Gris-like disposition of 90-60-45-30 degree griddings and their spatial implications. A square, when tipped at an angle of 45 degrees, loses its previous static orientation. The four corners immediately become charged and filled with maximum tension. Piet Mondrian was aware of this phenomenon. Le Corbusier is cognizant of the tension ramification. When Le Corbusier moves the major central loft block upon an angled axis, the corners simply become taut and activated. The attention given to these points fixes the disorientation.

As a scholasticist, Le Corbusier realized it is too simple just to present thesis. The anti-thesis had to be propageted, thus the curvilinear shapes at the periphery, juxtaposed in shear, act as half wing-screws to the central configuration. From the exterior these bulbous locks compress the central block and re-establish an implied right-angle relationship to their associates. The split, sheared, turned about mandolin, is the external transition between two combatants and smoothes the way for the acceptability of the transient intruder. These are the social soothers of the retina. An observer's eye is constantly ricochetting off the outer surfaces of the Fogg Museum and the Harvard Faculty Club back again to the Center. The eye never attempts to relate the two-it never has the time-it must focus on one or the other, but never on both together.

At first the somewhat agitated contour of the building can come as a shock to the student of our long-ago rationalist. Upon closer look we see the old principle of contained field in operation. The parallelogram figure is completed by implication. The beginning points of the major entry ramp make this necessary completion. The generating nucleus of the cubist scheme is the inserted 'Z' bar which moves through the center providing for centrifugal acceleration. The ramp is in three-dimensional torque, it is the aorta of the heart upon which the breathing depends. Like a bicycle pedal, when pressure is brought down upon the terminal ends, the whole building starts to revolve and spin. The curved blocks are the governors and screws-tightening, loosening-the run-away spatial fantasy.

The site is finished off in a network of walks and warped grade planes. The axial views upon the ramp terminate--one to a Jacksonian portal; the other to a Bostonian misfit. The way for the central theme is now prepared.




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