Arch. Myriam B. Mahiques Curriculum Vitae

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Quotes on Architecture, City and the senses

I have selected some quotes about architecture-city and the senses. Though I tried a classification, it is clearly shown that all senses are inseparable from urban perception.

Avenida Corrientes, Buenos Aires downtown.
“Sreets provide the principal visual scenes in cities.
However, too many streets present our eyes with a profound and confusing contradiction. In the foreground they show us all kinds of detail and activity. They make a visual announcement (very useful to us for understanding the order of cities) that this is an intense life and that into its composition go many different things. They make this announcement to us not only because we may see considerable activity itself, but because we see, in different type of buildings, signs, store fronts or other enterprises or institutions, and so on, the inanimate evidences of activity and diversity”. (Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. 1961)
“Gramercy Park in New York overcomes an awkward situation by pleasing the eye. This park happens to be a fenced private yard in a public place; the property goes with the residential building across the surrounding streets. It must be entered with a key. Since it is blessed with splendid trees, excellent maintenance and an air of glamour, it successfully provides for the passing public a place to please the eye, and so far as the public is concerned this is justification”. (Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. 1961)

Slum drainage.

“Similarly, Mwangi writes of Nairobi in 1974: “Most of the paths criss-crossing the dewy grassland were scattered with human excrement….The cold wet wind that blew across it carried, in the same medium with the smell of shit and urine, the occasional murmur, the rare expression of misery, uncertainty, and resignation”.
The subject, of course is indelicate, but it is a fundamental problem of city life from which there is surprisingly little escape”. (Mike Davis, Planet of Slums.2006)
“Americans traveling abroad are apt to comment on the smell of strong colognes used by men living in Mediterranean countries. Because of their heritage of northern European culture, these Americans will find it difficult to be objective about such matters. Entering a taxicab, they are overwhelmed by the inescapable presence of the driver, wholse olfactory aurea fills the cab”. (Edward T. Hall. The Hidden Dimension, 1990)
“We cannot help perceiving abundance of filth in every kennel, and, were it not for the over-powering fumes of idolatrous incense, I have no doubt we should find a most tolerable stench. Did you ever behold streets so insufferably narrow, or houses so miraculously tall? What a gloom their shadows cast upon the ground! It is well the swinging lamps in those endless colonnades are kept burning throughout the day; we should otherwise have the darkness of Egypt in the time of her desolation”. (Edgar Allan Poe. Four Beasts in One- The Homo-Cameleopard).
“Whoever has a nose, knows also that it is without a rival in the richness and the variety of its stenches, both those which are manufactured within its borders and those which are wafted to it from the surrounding country. From the suburbs of European cities comes the smell of meadows and of flowers, or, if this be lacking at least that negative sweetness which is the accompaniment of freshness and purity; but from the outskirts and draggled borders of New York come the odors of the dumping-ground, of the fat-trying establishment, of the bone-boiler’s vats, of the petroleum-yard, and others, nameless but not less noisome.” (Published in New York Times, June 6, 1879)

Silent, deserted street.

“For, characteristically, the sound that rose toward the terraces tail bathed in the last glow of daylight, now that the noises of vehicles and motors –the sole voice of cities in ordinary times- had ceased, was but one vast rumor of low voices and incessant foot falls, the drumming of innumerable soles timed to the eerie whistling of the plague in t he sultry air above, the sound of a huge concourse of people marking time,…”. (Albert Camus. The Plague.1975)
The chief reason of the greater noise of New-York streets compared with those of the other great commercial metropolis of the world, London, is the paving of the road-way in our streets. All the principal London streets, even in the city proper, are “macadamized”. The difference as to noise thus produced is very great indeed. It is all that could be imagined from the difference between the passage of vehicles over a smooth, soft surface and over a rough hard one; the diminution of noise in the former case being due not only to the diminution of jar at the point of contact, but to the comparatively undisturbed condition of the vehicles themselves. Carts and carriages in London do not clatter and rattle as they do in New-York: and, besides this, there is the very appreciable difference in noise produced by the tread of the horses, whose iron-shod feet ring out at every step in our streets, but in London are comparatively silent. This difference can hardly be imagined by those who have not made the comparison. (Published in New York Times, June 6, 1879)

Paul Gauguin painting.


“During the 1960’s, I lived in Western Samoa as a Peace Corps volunteer on what seemed to be an idyllic South Pacific Island –exactly like those painted by Paul Gauguin. Breadfruit and coconut groves grew all around my village, and I resided in a thatched-roof house with no walls beneath a giant mango tree. If ever there was a Garden of Eden, this was it.” (Steven LeBlanc. Prehistory of Warfare. 2003)

“Perhaps El Hoyo, its inhabitants, and its essence can best be explained by telling you a little bit about a dish called capirotada. Its origin is uncertain. But it is made of old, new, stale, and hard bread. It is sprinklered with water, and then it is cooked with raisins, olives, onions, tomatoes, peanuts, cheese and general leftovers of that which is good and bad. It is seasoned with salt, sugar, pepper and sometimes chili or tomato sauce. It is fired with Tequila or sherry wine. It is served hot, cold or just “on the weather”, as they say in El Hoyo. The Garcias like it one way, the Quevedos another, ….”.(Mario Suarez. El Hoyo).

The Pit and the Pendulum.
“Very suddenly there came back to my soul motion and sound –the tumultuous motion of the heart, and, in my ears, the sound of its beating. Then a pause in which all is blank. Then again sound, and motion, and touch –a tingling sensation pervading my frame.” (Edgar Allan Poe. The Pit and the Pendulum)
“It is pleasurable to press a door handle shining from the thousands of hands that have entered the door before us; the clean shimmer of ageless wear has turned into an image of welcome and hospitality. The door handle is the handshake of the building. The tactile sense connects us with time and tradition: through impression of touch we shake the hands of countless generations”. (Juhani Pallasmaa.The Eyes of the Skin. 2005)

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