Labyrinth
in Log 31, Spring/Summer 2014

Labyrinth is an architectural fiction—a constructed myth, an exaggerated depiction, a fabrication. It is the first in a collection of new stories about old form based on anecdotal accounts of architectural history. The project, called Architectural Fictions, began under the auspices of the Rome Prize. Many have said that while living among and within architectures of the distant past, an architect's contemporary culture is displaced by the powerful contrast of the storied city and its embedded layered histories. Such an environment provides an experience—possibly temporal, perhaps permanent—that unsettles and destabilizes one's outlook on the contemporary status of the discipline of architecture.

The models and installations being conceptualized and built for the Architectural Fictions series are aimed at appropriating and testing ideas about anachronous forms that until recently have been collectively disregarded by contemporary contributors to the discipline. Passé and off-limits in schools of thought once considered to be avant-garde, now such forms are ripe for reconsideration. The making of these architectural fantasies focuses on the potential renewed relevance of old orders of cultural formality—devices such as mirroring, symmetries, axes, ratios, harmonic proportions, and principles informed by Palladianism—in the face of recent preoccupations with form making characterized by flexible, gradient, adaptive, parametrically conceived organizations. The former relishes architectures of thickness and variable poché that allow for uncanny spatial differences between exteriors and interiors. The architectures of the latter seem unfortunately bound to thinness and often produce interior spatial conditions that are the lackluster byproducts of the formal aestheticization of the exterior. The intention of the series of stories is to highlight several key instances of anachronous formalisms in order to redeploy them in a contemporary context to challenge, enrich, and diversify formal languages.

While Architectural Fictions recognizes the important analytical work of previous generations of architects who were likewise concerned with analysis and transformation of architectural precedents of the baroque and Renaissance, this series of stories is distinct, because its scope includes not only the canonical architectural precedents but also the commonplace and the vernacular. The attributes that are of renewed interest—hierarchy, figuration, permanence, and thickness—are found not only in the iconic buildings that have been ever part of the discipline, but also in architectures that have been overlooked for being commonplace. This reflects a growing awareness of the productive unraveling of a once tight and constricted discourse. Architectural precedents are no longer handed down from generation to generation, but rather are sought out individually and opportunistically.

The architectural fantasy of Labyrinth was prompted by a visit to the catacombs of Vigna Randanini, a relentlessly labyrinthine sequence of Jewish catacombs in Rome that date from approximately AD 400. The new work is a fictive reinterpretation of such actual events and spaces, and an alternative mode of architectural fabrication that could be called make-believe—that is, a loosely structured form of imagination. This series is “making-believe” several architectural fictions—new imaginations of old architectures that tell stories of unlikely contemporary architectural objects and environments. This mode of exploration is a safeguarded form of play that provides a context in which initially suspect, implausible architectures can be entertained, tested, and developed. This way of making architecture can expand and diversify the formal vocabulary of contemporary architectures through the fabrication of fantasy.