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Feature article



‘Architecture is a physical milieu (into) which the body is plunged’ Andre Wogenscky (Posiglione 2008:466)

Architecture and the body. A rich and potent topic, one ringing with the need to engage all of our senses. It is the existential essence of human construction and should be the core of meaning in all architecture.

Andre Wogenscky was a trusted lieutenant of Le Corbusier, whose treatise and scalar symbol, Le Modulor, remains the only modernist icon which privileges the human body over architecture. Visiting Le Corbusier’s buildings leaves no doubt about his fundamental humanist vision. His Unite d’Habitation in Marseilles is a superb and coherent assemblage of living practices – housing, offices, childcare, leisure, eating, drinking, swimming and shopping – quite opposite to the alienating developer and council flats which vainly mimic his model worldwide. But we should also reflect on the humanising influence of Charlotte Perriand – her essential contributions in colour, ablutions, kitchens and furniture added a layer of intimacy to all of Le Corbusier’s work, which is universal and elevates it to greatness.

Rem Koolhaus in his 2014 Venice exhibition chose to highlight the intensity of belief that existed about the good of the modernist project, particularly after the horror of World War II and the social need for reconstruction. The modern project was based on the sanitisation of space to provide new places to clean and house the human body. New typologies of hospitals, schools, cinemas and housing provided the fundamental requirements of light, ventilation, sanitation, security and control, but lost the traditional emotions of touch, hearth, threshold, custom and tradition.

The individual was treated as secondary to the modernist social project of sanitation and control.

In Australia, Paul Memmott, recently awarded the 2015 Neville Quarry Architectural Education Prize by the Institute, has documented the beautiful and sustainable patterns of Indigenous occupancy of Australia, settlements that responded to climate and place with ingenious simplicity. Contemporary architects, Glenn Murcutt, Peter Stutchbury, Brit Andresen and Sean Godsell have developed their patterns from this gentle, continual occupancy of the land, facilitating a connection between the body, the mind and the landscape.

CIAM-Alger Presentation Panel, 1953 from Le Corbusier (2007), The Art of Architecture, Vitra Design Museum.

Drawing by Peter Malatt, 2014.

The body can be a subject of architecture in itself, just as in literature, art and sculpture, with no other function than a testimony of adoration. Adolf Loos in his project for the Josephine Baker house makes a central theme of Baker’s body and its jazz rhythms and style. Gestures such as rhythmic black and white façade tiles like piano keys, and a swimming pool with underwater windows for the guests to view Baker’s legs moving. A design deeply influenced by her body, its curve and rhythm and its existence in space, forming an architectural love letter, both tectonic and erotic.

Ancient texts are littered with scalar and conceptual references to the body, from Greek and Roman temple scales and proportional orders, mediaeval measuring systems and sculpture, to Hindu conceptual mandalas and the central temple concept of the Cella housing the Lingam and Yoni. That’s as close to the truth about the body we can get.

Carlo Scarpa’s drawings commonly including nude figures for scale and dynamism, the human figure central in his concepts of sculptural space, water, stone and metal. In some ways, Australia’s swimming pools are a beautiful evocation of this meeting of structure, materials, water and people, and contain a deliciously simple meeting of the body, geology, climate and place. Denton Corker Marshall’s Adelphi pool crosses a public private boundary, displaying the body to the street and whoever chooses to look, either by knowing or by daydreaming. A touch of voyeurism and the potential for eroticism in the city.

Our city is descending into a constructed spreadsheet, driven by profit and overseas investment. The qualities of space, both urban and domestic, have become degraded, sad and remote, lacking a sense of place or authenticity.

Gaston Bachelard in La poetique de l’Espace, describes the universal nature of the house as the conceptual heart of all life. The house is the centre of the cosmos, the most essential place to all life and the most critical space to house our central values.

Food for thought as we consider the need for Victorian Apartment Design Standards. The need to advocate for simple dignity is paramount, for the human body and mind, and for all of our aspirations as citizens of the city.

With love to Aurelia