#1 The traces of the place

Michel Tournier makes a distinction between those authors who find their inspiration in geography and those who find it history. In France, Dumas would have been the historically inspired writer and Verne the geographical one. The fact is, once their imagined adventures were poured onto the page – a neutral and uniform medium – both the geographically and the historically inspired excelled in their role. Tournier’s observation can be particularly compelling where painting is concerned: landscape painters would undoubtedly be inspired by geography, whereas those who reflect memorable events from the past, whether public or private, would find history their inspiration. The same concept can be readily applied to cinema and photography. However, the distinction is less easy to make in the world of architecture. There are as many architects who favour Gregotti’s standpoint in Territory and Architecture, as those who use history as a tool, as Venturi proposes in his contemporary Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture. Yet, when designing their thoughts and ideas, they would all have to contend with a similar battleground: the place where they build all they have imagined or explored. Simply by considering place as intrinsic to their architecture, far from compromising their principles, they would end up finding it to be the principal reason behind their proposals.

Whatever the origin of architecture, whatever we adopt from history, the first decisions taken are often in response to a specific place. As far as architecture satisfies a need, it can only be thought about with reference to an actual space. Whichever architectural theory may be the intention; this will inevitably be influenced by the place where it is applied. Ideas and inventiveness may ebb and flow, but the place and its specific requirements are what first fix the programme in reality. Sometimes, it is urban locations with their inherent rules and regulations, otherwise more natural environments that will impose different conditions. There can even be mental places, defined by personal or collective preoccupations. And also representations of all of these, inevitable reflections of everyone’s individual interpretation. Every plan, no matter how radical it may be, must maintain some continuity with the pre- existing place, as Lynch argued in Site Planning.

Architecture on any scale can never be considered in a no-man's land. When referring to diagrams for a city layout, we expect them to have been applied according to reasonable principles. If we look again at the drawings of buildings that have become iconic, we cannot fail to see to what extent the images are influenced by the shape of the plot, its situation, the proximity of a river, prevailing winds… The barrières and "cloud-irons" (Wolkenbügel) are, above all, gates to a certain city. Construction decisions are made in response to the proximity of a stone quarry, or to building in a region with clay soil. We value in an architect’s single work the same chimney used as an outlet, orientated for a given geography, transformed into an inlet, contributing towards cross-ventilation to meet environmental demands. When we consider how the scaled repetition of the form of a private home must be affected in order to turn it into a music hall, the only reason behind it will be because of adherence to what the second place requires. If we try to reconstruct a temporary building in another city, assisted by its modular construction system, we discover that the new situation does not host it as comfortably as the first one. We also know that many artists’ studios end up being the best explanation for their work. We can, therefore, conclude that architecture has a duty to the place where it stands and becomes rooted, even if this is not always fulfilled in a world of fluctuating sensitivities. Whereas the Modernist Movement always regarded place as mere background to their cities, an unambiguous claim for architecture integrated in the landscape (rather than an isolated object within in) prevailed later. Similarly, the abstract language of historical reference that postmodernists favoured has evolved into critical regionalism, characterised by specific locality.

We defend that the place precedes the project; that its physical conditions are previous to any other history we can draft, and that it finds legitimacy due to its necessary existence. On the other hand, we also defend that the architectural project ends up producing the place that it seemed to be destined for, which is maybe no more than its own construction. Architectural projects are mechanisms for building the effect of place, an effect that presumably precedes them. If architecture talks through the place and about the place in which it emerges, its construction ends up becoming a place in history. The main aim of an architect is to plan and design places. Today more than ever, battered rather than buffeted by the waves of globalisation, the specifics of a particular place have recovered their unquestionable value.

More than ever before, it is necessary to consider the whole picture; the opinions and visions of town planners and architects, engineers and geographers, anthropologists and sociologists - to stand on the shoulders of giants. Ortega used the example of a wake - where the wife, children, priest, executor, and the doctor all attend the deceased in his last moments, to explain how each of us when confronted by the same event, will discover and value very different perspectives and with different expectations. Therefore, not only do we recognise different possible alternatives for the same place, but we also acknowledge that conditions of the disciplines named here can be interpreted and extracted by some and go unnoticed by others.

Inspired by our quest for diversity, this first issue of the journal is devoted to finding the traces of places, whether we understand them as drawings that facilitate construction or plans to realize a goal, the inventions, means or resources, the modes, appearance or figure of something, the footprints and remains, the intersections of lines with a given plan. Since we hope that our interdisciplinary approach “broadens the territory” and does not “shrink spaces”, different perspectives are welcome, such as, among others: the landscape as a laboratory for transformation; housing as a programme for the construction of the city and public space; or the capacity for the engineering of architecture to give meaning to places. To conclude, we believe it is place that is the main protagonist in architecture and in this first issue of our journal we bring together experts and researchers to consider its meaning from their own perspectives.

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Print edition ISSN: 2341-0531 / Digital edition ISSN: 2387-0346. Copyright © 2016 ZARCH. All Rights Reserved