The curved line


Oscar Niemeyer Drawing

I would like to put into consideration two quotes, on the one hand Zaha Hadid’s introduction to the Gold Medal lecture when she stated the following about her work:  “The Russian avant-garde offered me a reservoir of yet-untested compositional innovations that were full of complexity and dynamism………. This  is much more in tune with our current interest in the mixing of functions and  the search for synergies. I added to this the ideas of distortion and gradient transformation, for the sake of site adaptation and versatility. Further, I  explored the use of free-form curvature to articulate the dynamism and fluidity  of contemporary life. I realized that curvature helps to maintain visual legibility  in the face of the increasingly complex program required by our clients and facilitates navigation through complex projects”.

And on the other hand a poem written by Oscar Niemeyer,


It is not the right angle that attracts me

Neither the straight line, hard, inflexible,

created by man.

What attracts me is the free and sensual curve,

a curve that I encounter in the mountains

of my country,

in the sinuous course of its rivers,

in the waves of the sea,

in the body of the preferred woman.

Those curves made the whole universe,

the curved universe of Einstein

According to my understanding two opposite  ways of seeing the curved line, which translated into architecture would be presented as a spatial form, a linear form. Linear forms can be curvilinear to respond to conditions of the dynamism and fluidity of contemporary life according to Hadid or to the context according to Niemeyer. In any case irregular forms which are generally asymmetrical and more dynamic  than regular forms.

Our visual field normally consist of heterogeneous elements, subject matter that differ in shape, size, color, etc.; to better comprehend the structure of a visual field, we tend to organized the elements within it into two opposing groups: positive elements that are perceived as figures (architecture), and negative elements that provide a background for the figures (site, physical context).

Our perception and understanding of a composition depends on how we interpret the visual interaction between the positive and negative elements within its field. Sometimes we seen figures against the background, and we are able to perceive their organization, because their profiles are distinct, their value contrast with that of their background and their placement isolate them from their context. But sometimes the relationship between figures and their background is so ambiguous that we can visually switch their identities back and forth almost simultaneously.

In any case, we should understand that figures, the positive elements that attract our attention, could not exist without a background. Figures and their background therefore, are more than opposing elements, together they form and inseparable reality, a unity of opposites, just as the elements of form and place together form the reality of architecture.

Thus any three-dimensional form will articulate the volume of space surrounding it and generate a field of influence or territory which it claims as its own, defining specific types of space. Well, all this way of thinking is how normally we produce architecture.

I visited Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Water five times and if I have the opportunity to do it again, I’ll do it. Here figure and background coexist, neither one nor the other can be imagined independently, the framing of the surrounding landscape acts as an enlargement of the house, it is also therapeutic, and it is constantly changing by the season of the year. The same goes with Niemeyer’s own house in Canoa, smaller than the first one, but also very much anchored to its context.

Talking about context, one of the most great experiences I had was with the work of Mies van der Rohe, living in New York I used to go to the Seagram Building of course to see the details of Mies, but mostly to sit for a couple of hours on the sunny square created by this vertical structure, or better when I go to Barcelona I am for hours somewhere inside of the Barcelona Pavilion where you are confronted with this sensation of not knowing if someone is inside or outside, because both blur with each other.

In my student days at The Berlage Institute, I was very fanatic of Hadid’s work, mainly for The Peak Project  in Kowloon, Hong Kong and the Vitra Fire Station, but later something happened: The Guggenheim Effect’ and I’m not talking about how this building transformed a decadent industrial city, but about how from this moment everything was made possible in architecture, the spectacle in architecture was born, speaking clear and concrete Fuck Context, one of the reasons why in this globalized world every day a spectacular building is built, no matter where it is, or what culture it represents, it only matters if it first brands the architect and then later the place.


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