castles of the imagination: architecture of the mind

Some great buildings are never built. It’s imaginary architecture. Painters over the centuries have conjured up fantastic towers, and refined and elegant mansions of the imagination. This is often a dream architecture that is occasionally gaudy, often improbable and almost always psychologically revealing. The tradition is long and varied since Roman times, and assumed greater significance among Renaissance artists on both sides of the alps who delighted in architectural imagery which peaked during the Baroque, the golden age of fantastic architecture.

Carpaccio. Healing of a Madman.1494. "Those who have made architectural beauty their life's work know only too well how futile their efforts can prove. After an exhaustive study of the buildings of Venice, in a moment of depressive lucidity, John Ruskin acknowledged that few Venetians in fact seemed elevated by their city, perhaps the most beautiful urban tapestry in the world. Alongside St Mark's Church (described by Ruskin in The Stones of Venice as 'a Book of Common Prayer, a vast illuminated missal, bound with alabaster instead of parchment, studded with porphyry pillars instead of jewels, and written within and without in letters of enamel and gold'), they sat in cafés, read the papers, sunbathed, bickered and stole from one another as, high on the church's roof, unobserved, 'the images of Christ and His angels looked down upon them.' ---read more: image:

In the modern era, we have come to appreciate how much the artist paints of himself when he creates imaginary architecture. Clothes express the individual within, at least to some degree, but so also does building. Thomas Carlyle a hundred and eighty years ago:For neither in tailoring nor in legislating does man proceed by mere Accident, but the hand is ever guided on by mysterious operations of the mind….

In all his Modes, and habilatory endeavors, an Architectural Idea will be found lurking; his Body and the Cloth are the site and materials whereon and whereby his beautified edifice, of a Person, is to be built. Whether he flow gracefully out in folded mantles, based on light sandals; tower up in high headgear, from amid peaks, spangles and bell-girdles; swell out in starched ruffs, buckram stuffings, and monstrous tuberosities; or girth himself into separate sections, and front the world an Agglomeration of four limbs,–will depend on the nature of such Architectural Idea: whether Grecian, Gothic, Later Gothic, or altogether Modern, and Parisian or Anglo-Dandiacal…. Read More: a

"Van Bassen developed a specialty in lavishly decorated palace interiors with elegant figures. Characteristically, the room here is box-shaped with a tile-floor and coffered ceiling lit by rows of windows along the left wall. The general atmosphere is one of sumptuousness and luxury. Ornamental embellishments and decorative objects abound; hardly any space is left uncovered. There are elaborately carved pieces of furniture and doors, a floral frieze along ..." read more:

In the draft of “Architecture of Hysteria,” Freud tries to sort through the relation of fantasies to accurate memories of traumatic events. It is not surprising that the idea of private fantasies, or fears, should be expressed in a phrase like “building castles in the air” or in the words of Michael Balfe from a Victorian opera from 1841:

I dreamt that I dwelt in marble halls,
With vassals and serfs at my side,
And of all who assembled within those walls,
That I was the hope and the pride.
I had riches too great to count
Could boast of a high ancestral name;
But I also dreamt, which pleased me most,
That you lov’d me still the same
That you lov’d me, you lov’d me still the same,
That you lov’d me, you lov’d me still the same.

M.C. Escher. Relativity. "I say this firstly because Inception explores the idea of a man (Leonardo DiCaprio’s character, Cobb) who makes a living by stealing information from peoples’ minds through their dreams. And secondly, because this particular exercise of dream theft apparently entails the creation of complex dream architecture, i.e., the only way to infiltrate a person’s deep subconscious is to create a dream within a dream with a dream, ad nauseam..really." read more:

It is psychologically coherent, for Freud’s primer of psychoanalysis is filled with the architectural elements he found in dreams: houses, houses of worship, courts, stairs, rooms, gates, doors, windows, balconies, alcoves, attics, and so on. All of this is a way of expressing that architecture has deep roots in the imagination.

“Studying how architectural memes spread in a society, and how competing memes are selected requires a knowledge of the factors affecting meme propagation. Francis Heylighen has identified a list of these. We will discuss seven of his factors: SIMPLICITY, NOVELTY, UTILITY, FORMALITY, AUTHORITY, PUBLICITY, and CONFORMITY in the context of architecture . With the exception of UTILITY, none of these factors serves actual human needs. We will argue, therefore, that the spread of a design style occurs in a society more because of mass media than for practical reasons. Even UTILITY will be shown to obey memetic transmission, as often the mere promise of UTILITY is responsible for the success of an architectural style that creates buildings impractical in actual use.

Escher. Tower of babel. 1928. "It is also possible to condemn an architectural style by deliberately encapsulating it within a shell of negative associations. By using ENCAPSULATION as a weapon to discredit competing styles, a useful idea can be tainted (whether there is any basis for that association or not). A society's collective unconscious from that point on automatically rejects such an idea or style without question,

though it may offer excellent solutions to urgent problems. In contemporary architecture, destructive encapsulation is used to discredit new buildings in the Classical and Nineteenth-century styles. This has happened despite the fact that earlier buildings in those styles are among the most comfortable and best adapted to human needs" read more:


In his essay ‘On Transience’ (1916) Sigmund Freud recalled a walk he took in the Dolomite Mountains with the poet Rainer Maria Rilke. It was an exquisite summer’s day; the flowers were in bloom and brightly colored butterflies danced above the meadows. The psychoanalyst was glad to be outdoors (it had been raining all week), but his companion walked with his head bowed, his eyes fixed on the ground, and remained taciturn throughout the excursion. It wasn’t that Rilke was oblivious to the beauty around him; he simply could not overlook how impermanent everything was. In Freud’s words, he was unable to forget ‘that all this beauty was fated to extinction, that it would vanish when winter came, like all human beauty and all the beauty that men have created or may create’. Read More:

Freud was unsympathetic; for him, the capacity to love anything attractive, however fragile it might be, was a hallmark of psychological health. But Rilke’s stance, though inconvenient, helpfully emphasizes how it can be those most in thrall to beauty who will be especially aware of, and saddened by, its ephemeral character. Such melancholic enthusiasts will see the moth hole beneath the curtain swatch and the ruin beneath the plan. They may at the last moment cancel an appointment with an estate agent, having realized that the house under offer, as well as the city and even civilization itself, will soon enough be reduced to fragments of shattered brick over which cockroaches will triumphantly crawl. They may prefer to rent a room or live in a barrel out of a reluctance to contemplate the slow disintegration of the objects of their love. Read More: a

Ambroglio Lorenzetti. "This painting is part of a group of frescos that can be found in The Room of the Nine in the Palazzo Pubblico in Siena, Italy. The Nine was an assembly of guild and monetary interests that helped oversee the Republic and for the walls of the council room, Lorenzetti produced one of the masterworks of political artwork. There are four paintings all together in the series; two of them are dedicated to good government in the city (pictured above) and in the country; the other two are dedicated to the effects of bad government in the city and in the country. All four are considered priceless historical documents of how people lived and worked in the early 1300s. In a wonderful piece of natural justice, the two paintings dedicated to the effects of good government have survived in much better condition than the two dedicated to the effects of bad government. " read more:

At its apex, a passion for architecture may turn us into aesthetes, eccentric figures who must watch over their houses with the vigilance of museum guards, patrolling their rooms in search of stains, a damp cloth or sponge in hand. Aesthetes will have no choice but to forgo the company of small children and, during dinner with friends, will have to ignore the conversation in order to focus on whether someone might lean back and inadvertently leave a head-shaped imprint on the wall.

Saint Stephen preaching in Jerusalem. Carpaccio. read more:

It would be pleasant to refuse in a muscular spirit to lend stray blemishes genuine significance. However, aesthetes force us to consider whether happiness may not sometimes turn on the presence or absence of a fingerprint, whether in certain situations beauty and ugliness may not lie only a few millimeters apart, whether a single mark might not wreck a wall or an errant brush stroke undo a landscape painting. We should thank these sensitive spirits for pointing us with theatrical honesty towards the possibility of a genuine antithesis between competing values: for example, an attachment to beautiful architecture and the pursuit of an exuberant and affectionate family life. Read More:

How wise were the ancient philosophers in suggesting that we exclude from our vision of contentment anything that might one day be covered by lava or blow down in a hurricane, succumb to a chocolate smear or absorb a wine stain.

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0 Responses to castles of the imagination: architecture of the mind

  1. diane folkins says:

    like the referral to leo di Cap’s movie Inception……I did like that movie….also like this post, thank,David

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