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Poetic Creation: The Magical Metaphor of Architectural Design - An Investigation into the Relationship of Exoteric & Esoteric Dimensions in the Practice of Architecture & Alchemy

Part 2 Dissertation 2012
Kirti Durelle
University of Sheffield Sheffield UK
The Philosopher’s Stone, which holds the power to transmute vulgar metals into gold, is viewed traditionally as the outcome of alchemical practice, conducted as much in the physical space of the laboratory as in the mystical realm of the alchemist’s mind. As suggested by the double locus of its production, the Stone is an ambivalent entity, a fragment of matter endowed with spiritual quality. In that respect, extracting the term ‘Philosopher’s Stone’ from the context of alchemical practice and considering it as a metaphor for architecture suddenly does not so seem so far-fetched.

Could ‘Philosopher’s Stone’ also be a trope for the outcome of architectural design, an exercise carried out equally in physical space and in intellectual paper-space which provides human meaning to the tangible objects produced by architects?

This dissertation is a theoretical and historical investigation into the deep yet overlooked analogy between architectural and alchemical practice, and aims to delineate the areas where the two disciplines can be considered to overlap.

By initially defining alchemy as a fundamentally dualistic practice that operates simultaneously in the physical and mythological planes, the analogy is made with architectural practice, split between ‘theory’ and ‘practice’ since the Renaissance.

Subsequently, the role of the drawing, along with the relationship of the alchemical laboratory and the architecture studio, have respectively been studied to articulate the manner in which these dualities are overcome and mediated into unified practices.

Finally, the epistemological analysis of drawing as a creative act led to an understanding of alchemical work and architectural design as forms of poetic mimesis, a magical activity linking macrocosmic and microcosmic scales of human existence through geometric manipulation.

Kirti Durelle

Prof. Peter Blundell Jones
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