Material, movement and memory: Some thoughts on architecture and experience in the age of mechanization

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

Abstract

This chapter is constructed around the relationship between movement and architecture during the second half of the nineteenth century. It focuses in particular on two characteristic qualities of this idea of movement as a peculiarly modern phenomenon – its increased frequency and extension. These are considered fundamental to the ‘experience’ of nineteenth-century architecture. The chapter is broadly composed in two parts, each dealing with one of these qualities, with a view to their points of intersection and overlap.

The first part, dealing with the increased frequency of movement, operates from the premise that much architecture produced during the second half of the nineteenth century was a new kind of experience in and of itself. In suggesting this, the argument presented takes one step back from personal encounters with buildings to consider the economy and processes of production involved in actually putting a building together, including the procurement of materials. Central to this understanding of ‘building’ as experience is the systems ecology underpinning the network of people, places, processes, and products involved in making architecture. It has been argued by economists that this network increased both suddenly and dramatically from about the 1830s onwards, changing the ontological nature of architecture (material embodiment) fundamentally and forever. One of the most basic parameters of the changed nature of architecture during this period was the vastly increased input of energy surrounding procurement and transportation of materials – what can otherwise be described as the embodied energy of building production. This made Victorian architecture both objectively and conceptually a profoundly different type of architecture from anything that had come before, represented in the full, beneficial transfer in Britain from an essentially organic to a mineral-based economy. Behind this economy was the phenomenon of mechanised movement, which changed not only the materiality of architecture (appreciably so) but also the experience behind assembling buildings. These changes essentially amounted to an entirely ‘new world’ of urban existence and experience as the full effects of the ‘paleolothic’ began to take hold.

The second part of the chapter considers further the consequences of the increased extension of movement. Here issues of displacement and disorientation come to the fore, as speed and distance of movement are considered as producing their own side effects with respect to how one can experience architecture vis-à-vis space and identity. This part of the chapter in particular relates not merely to Britain but the wider British world, as many hundreds of thousands of Britons migrated to parts of Britain’s burgeoning empire, including places as far afield as Australia and New Zealand. Citing several representative examples, it is argued that the disorientating effects of this extended movement created its own psychological ‘lag’ with respect to creating architectural environments abroad in harsh and unfamiliar landscapes. This refers to how we understand our experience of the world through architecture, especially the connection between architecture, buildings, and ‘home’ and our sense of subjectivity. Again, and following the insights of phenomenology, this concerns not so much our encounter with buildings as the idea of how architecture can and often did stand in for experience of both place and ourselves in the world.

In effect, these different ‘qualities’ of movement – increased frequency and extension – are considered two sides of the same coin, and understood as constituting the peculiar characteristics and experiences of modernity, leading to a particular type of architectural experience.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationExperiencing Architecture in the Nineteenth Century
PublisherBloomsbury
Chapter12
ISBN (Print)9781350045941
Publication statusPublished - 18 Oct 2018

Keywords

  • architecture
  • experience
  • movemnt
  • energy
  • empire
  • memory
  • Victorian

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