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A Sudden Salience: Narrative, Poetry and Architecture

Part 2 Dissertation 2010
Kate Coghlan
Edinburgh College of Art Edinburgh UK
The essay is an exploration of narrative as a common denominator between poetry and architecture. How can one form of structuring experience contribute to another?
We inhabit networks of connections that bind us in place and time. As we move through life the weave becomes denser, more complex and more colourful. Some parts tangle, threads break and are repaired. Sometimes the network is so tightly interlaced that it goes unnoticed. We can occupy a day, a routine day, unaware of the mechanisms upon which we rely for a sense of belonging, of comfort, of connection with our territory – territory in all sorts of senses: geographic, civic, temporal, social, emotional. Both poetry and architecture by their respective, inherent, natures have the capacity to afford us, ‘a sudden salience’ and allow us to orientate ourselves in space and time; to discern the threads of locality and identity and thus feel part of something bigger than ourselves, to experience resonance.
The work is not specifically about narrative architecture or narrative poetry, nor is it exclusively about the architecture of poetry or poetic architecture. To explain simply, it is about the capacity a poem has, or architecture has, to enable us to be aware of and relate to the reality of our environment in a particular way, to ‘perceive and understand the dialectics of permanence and change…to place ourselves in the continuum of culture and time’. Both poetry and architecture contain, and are contained in, narratives of varying types. Both require a type of authorial entity. Both offer progressive awareness of space and create a ‘place’ anchored within a larger context. Both rely upon crafted sequence and arrangement of components and both, in their respective states of completion, transcend the ‘arrangement’ of discrete units of meaning and become something experiential, something far beyond ink on a page or juxtaposition of building components. Words can utterly transcend their rigid and exoskeletal presence on a page, ‘poets offer us the shadings’ of existence. Can architecture do the same, and in doing so perhaps open our eyes to a new type of vision?

Kate Coghlan

I found this an exciting and refreshing read. The student is aware of critical theory but makes no spurious attempt to display her erudition. She also avoids solipsism which is the obvious danger when writing about something so personal as one's response to favourite poems.
Instead she has succeeded in showing how her experiences can be shared. The use of a survey to gauge other readers' response to poems is convincing in persuading me that the methodology could have a wide application and could inform other architects' approach to analysing existing places and creating new meaningful ones.

Ian Campbell
Dr Faozi Ujam
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