Part 1: Anamorphosis
Architecture is strongly bound to the visual domain and the presence of vision inevitably implies a certain form of subject-object relations. Furthermore it is possible to suggest a reading of architectural history through the lence of theory of subjectivity unfolding historical development of architecture as result of interplay between subject i.e. human and the object i.e. architectural artefact. Effectively certain entanglement between the subject and the object has always been present in architectural discourse. During the renaissance this relationship existed in a form of establishing certain proportional correlation between human figure and architectural artefact. Well know examples of this correlation are dating back to renaissance and Marcus Vitruvius Pollio’s attempts to describe the human figure as being the principal source of proportion among the classical orders or Leon Battista Alberti’s attempts to extract mathematical pattern from the proportions of human body with the intention to construct ideally proportioned building. It was from the members of the body that they derived the fundamental ideas of the measures as finger, palm, foot and cubit. They divided those to form the "perfect number" which was fixed to be ten for it is from ten fingers of the hand that the palm is found, and the foot contains ten palms.
In the second half of ninth century Christian Norberg-Schulz introduced the concept of “existential space”. He suggested to think about space as a gestalt of directions, paths, and domains: concepts that he illustrated by examples derived from Gaston Bachelard, Claude Levi- Strauss and Kevin Lynch. The center, for instance, was illustrated by the image drawn from Eliade’s discussion on mythology, a mythical origin traversed by a diagram of the axis mundi, which represents a connection between the different cosmic realms. Similarly, the path was related to the idea of departure and return home. He expanded upon Heidegger’s ideas on dwelling and the etymological roots of ‘‘building’’, stressing the role of the house as the central place of human existence. The place where the child learns to understand his being in the world, and the place from which man departs and to which he returns.
Another example of this entanglement of subject and object in architecture can be seen in principle described by Peter Eisenman in his essay “Architecture after the Age of Printing”. His definition of a space that “looks back” at the subject - that is, the environment that have an order that we can perceive even though it does not seem to mean anything. This principle utilizes the psychological concept of the “Gaze” defined by Strate as the “other in being” and developed further by Jacques Lacan in his book “The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis.” The well-known example of the Gaze is Hans Holbein's painting “The Ambassadors.” The first look at the painting, gives you a sense that you are in control of your look; however, when you notice a blot at the bottom of the canvas, which you can only make out if you look at the painting from the side at an angle, you begin to see that the blot is, in fact, an anamorphic skull staring back at you. Lacan used this example of gaze to elucidate an “objet a:” an entity that has no substantial consistency and which acquires a definite shape only when looked upon from a standpoint distorted by the subject’s desires and fears.
Each of these examples reflects on the state of the philosophical discourse at the time. Vitruvius’s description of ideal human figure was based on Platonic school of thought, Schulz’s ideas were built upon Heidegger’s theory of phenomenology and the principle of space production proposed by Eisenman’s was based on Lacanian philosophy. While very different in nature what these examples illustrate is that how the advances in philosophy and psychology changed our understanding of the “subject” and by doing so they also transformed our understanding of what the object i.e. living environment can be. This change signifies the anamorphic nature of architecture where the change in the subjects perspective triggers a change in the object, revealing meaning previously inaccessible.
Effectively today the nature of the subject is considered to be in change once more. What changes occur in the subject today and how these changes will influence the way we are viewing our living environment?