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A Figure in the Landscape: Seeing Form and Needing Shelter

Part 1 Dissertation 2007
Peter Youthed
London Metropolitan University, UK
Taking an encounter with Giovanni Michelucci’s Chiesa dell’Autostrada, built to commemorate the deaths of those who died constructing the motorway over the mountains outside Florence, as its point of departure, this essay takes the notion of ‘a figure in the landscape’ as a means with which to structure an investigation of form- and place-making in architecture.

The difficulty of unravelling the complex relationship between figure and ground is used as an analogue for the negotiation an architect makes between context and form when constructing architecture. It also stands as a metaphor for the cultural situation in which architecture operates, a world in which the figure of the individual is becoming increasingly ghost-like and in which the foundations of a shared ‘cultural landscape’ are experienced as undermined, if not completely dissolved.

Driven by a fascination for the way a building can be seen as both emerging from its context and, simultaneously, as a separate form within it, this essay is a tentative step towards trying to understand the way architecture might provide a support for meaning in the modern world.

Peter Youthed

Peter Youthed approaches his topic obliquely, the question of how architecture can carry deep cultural meanings at the same time that it performs everyday tasks. The course of the argument is unexpected, as are the examples, which have totemic force. They occur in the sequence Church, Tower, House, but he avoids calling them archetypes, introducing them inconspicuously, to demonstrate their power before asserting it. The set of three could equally be described as a building in a motorway junction, a mechanical monster and a provincial dwelling, not hackneyed familiar monuments but the unorthodox means of setting forth an original view.

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