Unity in Variety
and Variety in Unity
Man understands himself as an imperfect being, as an organism that, despite being endowed with the reason and understanding that allow him to stand at the top of the trophic pyramid, has many shortcomings and features to improve. Precisely because of this, because of that assumed self-awareness of error as part of human nature, the men and women of the world aspire to progress, to polish those imperfections that, in a certain way, define and particularize us in order to reach an idealized model that society, as a whole, has ended up creating.
Faced with the evident impossibility of achieving a goal that seems complicated, we try, in our daily lives, to include situations, objects or experiences that touch the sublime, that approach the pure and essential, to that which has not been disturbed, disfigured or negatively modified so that, as by contagion or osmosis, we are imbued with a ’roundness’ only present in our dreams that will make the ‘breaks and angulations’ of the routines that have touched us to live disappear.
The city as a whole and, consequently, its frequently used architectures – the office, the school, the shopping centre, the gym or the park to which we go on Sundays to enjoy an afternoon with the family – are not alien to these demands; on the contrary, they tend to be the focus of relentless angry criticism when they move away from the line of design and concept that we consider adequate and receive congratulations and praise when they fit into the mental image that we have conceived of our yearning for reality.
Something similar happens with the materials with which this inhabited scenography is constructed. The technical advances enjoyed by society in the new millennium have led us to assume that perfection must be unequivocally linked to homogeneity and the absence of singularities.
To identity. To copying. To exact repetition, imitation and tracing.
Thus, we understand that a porcelain tile is all the better the closer it comes to the collectively assumed theoretical construct of ‘ideal tile’, so our interest will be that all the plates that make up a tile are as similar as possible, not accepting, therefore, spalling or any defect and hoping that all of them end up being cloned, indistinguishable from each other. In the same way, a fortuitous scratch will completely ruin a sheet of glass on a façade or the bodywork of our minivan.
We interpret, in short, the defect in our environment, in our house, in our parcels of everyday life, as a reflection of our own defects and deficiencies, those that accompany us all our lives and that are inherent to the human being; consequently, we struggle to eliminate it, to erase it, to make it disappear forever.
To eradicate it.
Rebellion: Countercurrent Projects
There are, however, architectures that accept imperfection as the driving force behind a project. Works that assume heterogeneity as another work variable and put it into practice as a creative tool. Designs that understand that, in the same way as a mole, a grimace or a broken nose can give an undeniable attraction to a harmonious human face, similar particularities can make a material piece a unique, special and ephemeral object and, therefore, charged with the beauty of that which is brief and unrepeatable.
A clear example of this alternative way of understanding architecture and life are, without a doubt, the eight temporary pavilions that Antonio Jiménez Torrecillas designed in 2004 to celebrate World Architecture Day. Located in emblematic areas of the different Andalusian provincial capitals, these are ‘viewing-objects’ of double perception: in the distance they are understood as geometric bodies of Cartesian nature, built in solid wood, defined by the perpendicularity and the narrowness of their contour and accompanied by occasional windows and openings that, it is guessed, have the purpose of framing and apprehending different urban panoramas of the most immediate area. A closer look, however, reveals a very different reality: each one of these ‘viewing-objects’ is constructed through the stacking and succession of countless agglomerate framed ribs only 10 centimetres in width and 19 millimetres in thickness. Arranged consecutively but barely 3.5 millimetres apart, they are, at the same time, structure and enclosure, interior and exterior.
The result of this accumulation of similar and distinct identities is a continuous and, at the same time, constantly interrupted body, in which the air and the exterior light are filtered through endless cracks that cover the whole space that the view reaches and that allow the visitor to feel like a silent spy who, hidden, makes a ‘Journey inside a wall’ while the surrounding city continues, indifferent, with its natural cycles.
Although each of the pavilions varies from the others, the global conception of all of them follows the same scheme. The access is done in a lateral way, which allows the walker, all at once and after making the forced turn, to face the whole path in all its dimension and thus assimilate the morphology of the whole, feeling tempted to go through it. The interior progress is slow and full of pauses, as it is difficult not to stop periodically to let oneself be carried away by the almost stroboscopic images -such as those of a recording in which too many frames have been suppressed- provoked by the movement of the urban mass in its wandering around the strange object.
Following the only possible path, peeking out from time to time through some of the cracks that sift the outside world and always stepping on the edges of the boards, we arrive at the final room, an open-air courtyard, a room without a roof but endowed with a window without a leaf or frame, which, furnished only with a discreet bench, invites us to rest, to stop our urgencies and simply to become aware of our own being. It is then that we reflect on some of the inscriptions that we have read on our journey.
“The total number of ribs coincides with that of Architects working in Andalusia, a total of 7216 spread across the eight provinces.“
And it is precisely at this moment, sitting with the southern light illuminating our faces as we breathe in the aroma of toasted wood that still detaches from the edges of the agglomerate, that we remember the words that Umberto Eco puts on the lips of Guillermo de Baskerville: ‘The beauty of the Cosmos comes not only from unity in variety, but also from variety in unity“.
So we sigh, breathe deeply and meditate. And we are relieved, for we have finally understood.
All we have left is the return journey. Incorporate and undo the way walked. A road that, once again, takes us to the noise and the daily rush. A road that, nevertheless, we already face transformed because, although the experience has been ephemeral -as ephemeral was the life of the pavilions- it is loaded with transcendent, almost revealing nuances that make us embrace a truth that will have to become epiphany: ‘The human being is imperfect, it is true, but it is precisely from his imperfection where its beauty is born“.
Images taken from the dossier made by the Junta de Andalucía for the ‘ World Day of Architecture ‘, celebrated on October 5, 2004.