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Global Architecture Platform

Beautiful Things
at our Hand

by Krunoslav Ivanišin

Instead of the ever alternating socialist and neoliberal utopias, we were recently offered a scientific dystopia to rely upon, an ideal makeshift society where superlative professionals of every kind would rule instead of ideology–ridden and corrupted politicians, issuing decrees based on their objective and disinterested scientific expertise. We were told where to be, how to behave, how to dress and whom to meet. Scientification (and sanitization) of everything were globally invoked as the ultimate solutions for all our current and future problems. The invisible presence of something evil and ugly made us obey the inconsistent set of rules and believe the abstract schemes and numbers, the news from faraway Nowheres literally gone viral… unending event, a schizophrenic situation, an open type nuthouse as it were. Forced into digital classrooms and offices, we were given a glance into the grim future somewhere between the perpetual pandemia, the global dictatorship, the economic collapse and total disorder. Choose yourself which of the four frightens you less. We were also persuaded that virtual platforms can really replace the real space… Little was built in the name and for the greater glory of God or for the salvation of humanity in recent years. Waste management, greenery and thermal insulation will save our souls while flow of money, capital markets, bureaucracy and spectacle rule… We have lost our vertical connection long time ago, but this final surrender to technology would be the true disgrace for architecture – community of humans and sense of place destroyed, spatial experience reduced to providing the barrier and keeping the distance.

In the city where I live, the introduction of the anti–pandemic measures coincided with the demonstration of a very expressive telluric force with most obvious architectural consequence in the real space: the earthquake strong enough to crash the Zagreb Cathedral spires. The virtual dystopia was just about to commence and exactly that morning we were woken up into the most physical reality: 6.24 AM CET, March 22nd, 2020. Only few hours before the lockdown was imposed, my family and I managed to escape to the nearby countryside. The compulsory isolation turned into a mere unplanned vacation. The aftershocks following the earthquake continued for a couple of days as the mountain was releasing energy until the tectonic plates (hopefully) settled in place. The synergy of the local earthquake and the global paranoia was strangely two–sided. As the ultimate natural danger, the earthquake increased our anxiety, reminding us of the ultimate fragility of human condition and (architectural) works in this world. Yet more importantly, as the most immediate physical and spatial experience it woke up our awareness of things at our hand and our (architectural) spatial sense. The global paranoia prompted us to re–discover some undisputable advantages of normal life: low before high density, landscape before city, periphery before centre, rural before urban place, domestic before public sphere, isolation and distance before interaction and exchange, places we know well before faraway destinations, hortus conclusus before the extroverted global village, the double enclosure (our inner self) before the exaggerated collective…

As the most immediate physical experience, the earthquake that took place in my city in the midst of the anti–pandemic measures, woke up our awareness of things at our hand and our (architectural) spatial sense

With our senses sharpened, we were prepared to move our (architectural) sensibility into unexpected directions. And then, the progress of spring made the evil and the ugly recede. Those of us found outside cities were blessed by a sudden encounter with architecture’s great teacher (1): minerals, plants, animals, natural forces (our fellow humans still keeping distance). Instead of the emergent massive online courses, we were offered private classes in real nature. Long time ago forgotten primary school subjects suddenly regained significance, providing us a mental refuge and a firm (architectural) reference against the collapsing world. Variety of yellow flowers with only slightly different petals, robust skeleton of a turtle broken into pieces, beautiful stone shaped by river flow found kilometres away from the river, the heaven’s blue on mornings, royal red on evenings (2) … silence… we only need to grasp for natural things at our hand and they will trigger our (architectural) imagination in the most direct way. Architecture is eminently artificial human enterprise. It is not mimesis of nature, but it is subject to natural laws and principles residing somewhere between the mineral world and vegetation: the principles of growth and distribution of loads against its own weight, the principles of formation of the earth’s crust, mineralization of organic material and erosion, the principles of resistance to forces of nature – lessons we (as architects) must never forget.

Now, two months and something later, the emergency measures are decreasing. As we are back in city, school, office, construction site, the menace remains. The unending event might continue in the fall, they say: digital classrooms and offices, virtual platforms, sanitization, social distance… but architecture is ultimately spatial experience. It requires close contacts, it must be touched and felt without any intermediate filters. As such, it cannot be produced in void or taught from distance. Architecture is eminently thingly. Even our drawings and projects alone have their own distinct thingness and, more importantly, they have the real buildings in real places as their final cause. Firmly anchored in the world of things, a thing itself made of things, every work of architecture is in opposition to the emergent world of events. As the world is being pushed towards the ever more virtual event space, architecture must return to the source, be it the community of humans around the camp fire and protection from the three natural elements aggressive to that fire, or the mythical discovery of space beneath a shower of gold (3)down in the world of things as the divine arrangement.

Architecture is eminently thingly. Firmly anchored in the world of things, every work of architecture is in opposition to the emergent world of events

Architecture is also eminently archaic, as the dominant epistemologies, pragmatic conditions and techniques may change, but fundamental notions, ideas and principles remain where they have been ever since the construction of the first shelter. Cyclops on the antediluvian construction–field who built the Danae’s underground chamber are still there. The return to the origin does not mean the rejection of air traffic, central heating, digital fabrication or internet. In architectural terms, the return to the origin means the return to the moment of conception of Perseus when the air enclosed within the cyclopean walls was infused with light from above. The pre–archaic world was surrounded by the circular river Ocean, the brim towards the darkness inhabited by horrifying creatures. In the climax of his myth, Perseus had to fly westwards beyond the stream of Ocean in the frontier land towards Night (4) and decapitate the chthonic monster who used to be a beautiful woman – the triumph of faith, hand and mind over schizophrenia, vanity and darkness. We contribute to his cause with every beautiful thing we grasp and every beautiful building we build by projecting space, volume and shape into light, structure and material presence – the thingness of architecture. The return to the origin is not only possible. It is the ultimate necessity, or the future will really be grim – no space, no architects, no architecture.


Gottfried Semper, Die vier Elemente der Baukunst : ein Beitrag zur vergleichenden Baukunde (Friedrich Vieweg und Sohn, 1851); The Four Elements of Architecture (Cambridge University Press, 1989)


Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (in collaboration with Friedrich Schiller), Zahme Xenien VI, 1795–96


Ovid, The Metamorphoses, Book IV


Hesiod, The Theogony, ll 270 – 280

18.Jun.2020 1699 views
Krunoslav Ivanišin

Krunoslav Ivanišin (Dubrovnik, 1970) holds the diploma in architecture from the University of Zagreb and the doctorate from the University of Ljubljana. He is a practicing architect with international teaching and publishing experience, founding partner in IVANIŠIN. KABASHI. ARHITEKTI since 2003, and professor of architectural design at the University of Zagreb – Faculty of Architecture since 2015. He won competitions and constructed buildings for public and private purposes, lectured and exhibited internationally, including the Venice Biennale in 2010. He is the co-author of Dobrović in Dubrovnik: A Venture in Modern Architecture (Berlin: Jovis, 2015) and Middle East: Landscape, City, Architecture (Zürich: Park Books, 2013).

The stopped present could be a good place from which to look at the near past and, most of all, the future.

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