Title page for ETD etd-10262010-133857


Type of Document Master's Thesis
Author Schellhammer, Christopher Paul
Author's Email Address chschell@vt.edu, chris.schellhammer@gmail.com
URN etd-10262010-133857
Title Positions
Degree Master of Architecture
Department Architecture
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Galloway, William U. Committee Chair
Gartner, Howard Scott Committee Member
Weiner, Frank H. Committee Member
Keywords
  • character
  • chapel
  • cemetery
  • center
  • contradiction
  • discovery
  • harmony
  • knot
  • layers
  • mausoleum
  • necropolis
  • object
  • part
  • will
  • whole
  • tower
  • roundness
  • scheme
  • square
  • subject
  • symmetries
  • tomb
Date of Defense 2010-08-31
Availability restricted
Abstract
This companion of short essays, images and drawings are parts to a whole: a series of independent studies in search of architectural understandings. While this “project” has been underway for several years, until recently the thread of relevance between studies has been untethered. Now at the end, I come to the beginning of this book to suggest the emerging relevance to these studies: architectural harmony.

And because the process of understanding is one of sorting things out, this compilation should be appreciated as such. Thus, it is by no means comprehensive or conclusive, despite its presence as a completed work. Indeed, the writing of this book is itself a sorting activity. It is not a report of absolute findings, supported by irrefutable references or statistical data points. Readers should therefore enter the book as a student, engaged in question making, discoursing with another also searching in these pages.

Herein lies emerging positions, built up from root questions. Because of this, these positions will likely change with time and may never find absolute resolution. If forced to side with one position at this time, it must be the acknowledgement that there are many. Indeed, many valid positions exist and perhaps, more importantly, coexist.

This is the nature of harmony as well. Harmony in architecture is less about notions of something specific, final or pleasing and is more about the poise of phenomenal states: where relationships of part to part and parts to whole form entireties whose identities are appreciable for more than their singularity or their totality.

Because harmony is a ex post facto backdrop for these studies, it is not persistent theme throughout the book. Part 1 is dedicated to positions best described as taking stock; for example, taking stock of subjects, such as knots or the square; taking stock of situations and roles, such as modes of inquiry and the responsibility of design; taking stock of one’s own dispositions, so to set out a consistent relationship between the players and the field of play.

Part 2 describes the thesis project with demonstrations and words. Words are inevitable in discussing the work. They help articulate observations and defend design decisions and sensibilities. Some of these observations are described as if the project exists. But because an architectural thesis often uses demonstrations to provide examples in lieu of final constructions, it is hard to gauge the extent to which these speculations are imagined or drawn out by demonstration.

The book concludes with Part 3. The thesis defense lecture is one distillation of harmony that closely examines a fragment of the project as an example of part and whole.

Alas, it is in the very nature of using words to understand architecture, especially if the author of text and line are one in the same, that an author’s a priori intentions and their a posteriori evaluations of the work are susceptible to mix. Further, such an author is faced with a paradox; on the one hand, he is the expert, on the other, he is in no position to claim ultimate authority. Compatibility between work and word exists partially in the mind and partially in the eyes. It is indeed difficult (perhaps impossible) to step outside the self enough to accurately compare and contrast word and work. With this point established, the work is not only subject to critique, but so is this evaluation of it.

To conclude these preparatory remarks, as the direct benefactor of these studies, my appreciation of harmony in architecture is reaching that elusive position where, with each layer of understanding made clear, additional layers of opacity are encountered. In other words, questions are answered with yet more questions. For example, should harmony be understood as cause or effect? Does harmony exist out of time or completely in it?

Thus, standard definitions are quite inadequate for architectural understandings of harmony. And while it might be helpful to break harmony down into digestible parts, this reductive inventory does not render a harmonic assembly. Furthermore, even the most lucid of explanations do not translate well into examples such to instruct. It seems the type of thing, perhaps like color, is best known through repetitive and thoughtful experience. This is just the start where even assumptions brought to the table must be checked.

Despite these quandaries, my challenge for this book is to reveal something fundamental, albeit modest, to readers, and in the end, for architecture.

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