Time

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said “Architecture is frozen music”. He used this as a way to explain the common theme of expression in all design not just architecture or music for that matter.

An intriguing concept, that man has a compelling desire to express something regardless of the final medium. Be it painting or a simple homemade video, even cooking. In the passage Goethe describes beautifully how an architect “paints” with construction techniques and a scientist “composes” formulas using “modes” (or the language) of math and physics. A great mix of phrases to explain a concept often overlooked.

In my view the message expressed in his statement is completely agreeable but it is the notion of architecture being frozen that is inaccurate. What is it that gave Goethe the idea that architecture was frozen in time? Maybe it’s to do with our desire to be everlasting, to leave a mark on the world, to achieve godliness. To create something that can out last time.

Weathering, erosion and deterioration are issues that are very present in architecture.  This conditions cannot be prevented.  Change in people’s perception, the advancement of technology and obsolescence, these change the atmosphere of the work faster than any natural occurrence.

In the West we aim to achieve the seemingly impossible: absolute perfection and timeless ness. Even our ideals of beauty are built on the pillars of unattainable goals such as symmetry and everlasting youthfulness, very much God-like and rather detached from the humble flaws in our nature.

Weathering, erosion and deterioration are issues that are very present in architecture.  This conditions cannot be prevented.  Change in people’s perception, the advancement of technology and obsolescence, these change the atmosphere of the work faster than any natural occurrence.

At the same time, somewhere far east, there is a total different perception. In the Japanese culture, this idea could not be further from their perception of beauty. Using the aesthetic of “Sabi” for example. Defined in the simplest of terms as “rustic, plain or well aged”. Words we would not expect to find in a treatise on beauty. Japanese novelist Jun’ichirō Tanizaki, in his writing of life during the rapid changes of the 20th century on the culture of Japan, explains the contrast of taste with that of Western discourse through the topic of tea preparation.

“As a general matter we find it hard to be really at home with things that shine and glitter. The Westerner uses silver and steel and nickel tableware, and polishes it to a fine brilliance, but we object to the practice…”

Another very important aesthetic ,“Wabi”, which austere beauty – commonly combined to create Wabi-sabi – that challenges the notion that beauty necessitates affluence or glory.

“While we do sometimes indeed use silver for teakettles, decanters or sake cups, we prefer not to polish it. On the contrary, we begin to enjoy it only when the lustre has worn off, when it has begun to take on a dark, smoky patina.” (Tanizaki, J. 1977).

It shows that something has lived, it has character and faults, it has experienced time.

We cannot predict in full accuracy what will take place in the future but can we still design a plan for the life-time of our works? Rather than a peak moment in time in which we anticipate for and experience it briefly and then discard it. Our works can sometimes have more than one life therefore more than one birth and even multiple deaths. In that case temporary structures are an interesting take on the topic and have been around for centuries – without the level of acknowledgement they deserve. In the Mie Prefecture of Japan the Ise Jingu shrine goes through cycles of death and re-birth every 20 years since the 4th Century BC. The demolished building is commemorated by laying out white stones in the footprint of where it stood.

I see time as something that should be embraced by architects and designers alike. It means embracing change and acknowledging imperfections. It is not a selection of individual moments but a continuous flow of change very much like music.

With time all things change, that is inevitable, so why shouldn’t our designs?

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