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Antigone: the architecture

Part 1 Project 2002
Lucy Marie Gauntlett
Paolo Scianna
University of Auckland Auckland New Zealand
Reflecting on the Greek tragedy Antigone, written by Sophocles in the 4th century BC, my architecture seeks to explore themes of fate and choice through the material imagery of tracks in the earth. Throughout the play the characters often chose the path they knew would lead to inevitable doom: “You chose to live, I chose to die . . .” (Antigone, line 626). In most cases the path of their difficult fate is transferred to other characters in a rapid, moving ‘ripple effect’. The path or ‘track’, representing the individual character’s line of fate, is repeated, echoing familial entrapment in history. The constant motion of fate is most apparent at four burial points, where characters cross paths and meet. Near the end of the play Antigone kills herself and due to this Haemon kills himself, then his mother kills herself due to her grief . . .

The sectioned architectural design enacts the characters’ individual tracks (imprints) in the ground shadowing their tragic lines of fate in the play. At various points in the sections, the tracks overlap, as the characters interact and cross paths (in particular at the four necropolis points indicated in the section). These specific burial sites are also recalled in the section where the verticals of the main steel frame are exposed and formally echo the characters’ tracing of destiny. The sections represent a material apparition of the transient, linear imprints in the ground.

Referring to the constant and inevitable movement of fate throughout the play, the architecture became functionally connected to movement through rail travel. Lines of movement that only briefly pause. The train tracks interact with the architecture moving and pushing through the side of the building. The platform is sunk six metres into the ground in a prosaic repetition of Antigone’s burial cave where people wait for the inevitable tracks of fate. Within the architecture are large ‘market places’ where people meander leaving their own traces and tracks within the criss-crossing network of the building.

The plans are influenced by a series of initial ‘drawings’ which materially constructed the paths of the characters from the play. The linearity and formal matter of these ‘drawings’ informed the architecture restricting the waveforms in a disciplinary move of propriety. The material nature of the ‘drawings’ was followed as it rose from and excavated surface resulting in an architecture which is partially sunk into the ground as Polynices was lightly buried in the desert. The atmosphere of the subterranean parts of the design is drawn from the necropolis sites allowing the transient passengers a feeling of ‘ascension’ after a ‘burial’.

Structurally, the repeated steel frame produces a skeleton, (the stripped body revealed), and double leaf walls are formed from a combination of mesh layers, glass and ‘steel honeycomb’ in a valedictory and partial cloaking. Structure and surface amalgamate to produce a shifting moiré effect which illustrates the main themes of movement as well as performing functions of weatherproofing. The material details, constructional patterns and structural arrangements are intended to support the spatial enactment and ‘vraisemblance’ that is the architecture of Antigone.

Lucy Marie Gauntlett
Paolo Scianna


The story of Antigone, daughter of Oedipus, who defied King Creon and buried her dead brother, is recalled as a myth, a tragedy, and an account of family and societal relationships. A cautionary tale for women, it is told and retold with each generation finding it necessary to construct a new version of the myth. Lucy's design is an architectural account of the ground conditions of Sophocles’ version; the play, Antigone.

Set in Thebes, city of seven gates, the drama is concerned with a forbidden burial for the dead and an interment of the living within rock. From the war torn foundations of a city to an everlasting interiority the architecture navigates between the ground of living and the flight of vultures that hovered over the dead.

George Steiner wrote of the effects of Antigone on the audience: “We do not leave purged. We leave the play desperately off-balance. Yet in that disequilibrium, as we try to gain purchase on unanswerable fundamental issues, the very condition of disequilibrium has a kind of tensed dignity, a kind of bracing compulsion. We know that we must ask again.”

Lucy’s architecture of Antigone addresses disequilibrium through patterns of ground movement within the play. Following Paul Carter she imagines an architecture that is inflected by a responsive ground; one that indents to receive Polynices’s body, that echoes the folds in the chiton of Ismene and the singular logic of Antigone. Rather than a ground that bears the weight of anticipated constructions this design suggests an entangled and active relationship between architecture and earth.

Attending to the materiality of the earth condition a series of interwoven tracks are plotted and twisted together. The dust of burial, the mud of tear and blood soaked ground are allowed to carry out momentary formal containment. The linearity with which Lucy’s structures the design cannot be reduced to ideal form in this very material project.

Antigone is also an anticipation of the complications of gender that are enacted within and by architecture and this project is a delineation and refusal of a traditionally gendered couple; structure and ornament. The act of lavishing care on the enlarged sections ostensibly to attend to disciplinary requirements of structural and constructional competence also turns out to be a highly ornamental procedure. Judith Butler has suggested that the figure of Antigone might compel a reading that challenges structure in her refusal to conform to the symbolic law. Structural work in this project, becomes an ornamental undertaking and the knot in Antigone’s sash is unravelled to reveal its already interconnected nature.

Lucy’s design was, in its execution, both a working over and a delving into. The three metres long sectional drawings were initially out-lines, which became progressively elaborated as the materiality and space of the ground conditions were enacted in structure and cladding. As palimpsests the drawings carry traces of the first steps as well as the last movements of the entwining fabric; as in Antigone past practices have a way of surfacing current conditions.

2002
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