Bricks • Mortar • Imagination • Words

Introduction to Architexts

Modern Architecture doesn't speak, or so one might believe, but of course buildings are communicating all the time and so this year's set of writers - 6 very different people with very different backgrounds and modes of production - found themselves involved in 'conversations' that demanded their imaginative engagement in ways that have been quite surprising, not least for the writers and those managing the sites and the writers themselves.

What can a writer's response to a specific location bring to a wider public understanding of place, architectural language and social language? For Mark Hewitt, who, along with David Kendall, has served as the writers' managers on the Architexts team, it has something to do "with the experience of the building, either as a direct experiential response or in terms of imagining things happening within the space, or both. That's certainly what I'm drawn towards. Sadly, most writers seem to prefer to do work about the social context of the building. Don't ask me why". For David, interestingly, the opposite is true: "a writer's response gives an entry point to understanding the socio-historical landscape around us. More than that, it can unlock the imagination to show how things we see as being fixed and immutable are fluid. It can show why a particular structure was created in a particular place for a particular purpose. It offers us a glimpse behind the scenes". 

But then don't buildings impose their own meanings and so isn't futile to expect a writer's response to be independently constructed?   "I think a building necessarily conditions the experience of it, just by what it is", says Mark. "But it would be difficult to nail that down as a meaning. I have discussions with certain friends about sacred geometry and all that malarkey, and about buildings specifically designed to insinuate an experience or feeling or meaning into the person that visits the space. But personally I tend to think with most building it's fairly loose and can cause widely different perceptions about what the building means, if indeed, it means anything objectively definable". David agrees it's hard to pin this down, but "a building will try to do this but its chance of success depends on many factors not least of which are the skill of the architect" he says. "When you're writing a poem or a novel you have some idea of the range of emotions/thoughts you want to invoke from the reader. That response will generate meanings. You can't impose any single meaning but by choice of words/style/content you can push towards a particular area of response".

But why is an appreciation of architecture and its languages important? "It gives us a better understanding and appreciation of the world around us and the languages we use to communicate that understanding enriches life", says David. "This leads to a greater sense of connection, which lessens feelings of isolation and insignificance. A sense of place is very different from 'knowing your place'". For Mark, "it's about being alive and responsive to the world around you rather than just accepting it as a blur. I suppose in that sense it's about a level of democracy and participation in the shared environment. I think most of us want to hurry back to our little holes and hide".

For myself, I feel that it's crucially important we don't lose the ability or the desire to question the built environment, to articulate our hopes and fears about it and to delve deeper into its hidden histories and seemingly impenetrable mysteries. Architecture and its languages are there for us to read if only we could do so. And when we do take the time to do so, we find more of ourselves in architecture than we might have expected. These six writers have gone ahead and carved out a path for us. Let's see what they found.

Mark Irving, Editor

Arts Council England
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