Unpredictable worlds composed from what seem evocative scraps of industrial rubbish underlie the mesmeric appeal of Morphosis’s buildings, from the Crawford House in Montecito, California, with its discursive entry and corridor sequence through a series of broken and evolving forms, to the Diamond Ranch High School in Pomona, whose outdoor pedestrian street weaves through mutating volumes embedded in earth on one side and cantilevered over a hillside on the other, and the San Francisco Federal Building (p. 196), with its stainless-steel scrim shading a public plaza before climbing and screening the neighbouring tower and rising into a fluttering tent over the roof. Each contains voids shaped by things that elude certainty, bending out of alignment or splitting into puzzling fissures, a fringe of enticements into the building and through its anatomy. We catch sight of one spatial pattern only to discover other patterns filtering through it, like a series of incomplete remains overlaid in an archaeological site, allowing a person to shuttle between several domains of space and time that permeate one another and provide many new points of departure. There is never an end but only edgings leading to trails of new beginnings.
Setting Morphosis apart from other exponents of ruptured form are fragments of reality whose fierce but irresistible things we faintly recognize. Magnetically drawing us on are strange totemic pylons that echo through space, emerging from the landscape as if caught at a moment of birth or death, implying there is buried space left to discover. Sheets of steel mesh waver in the air as veils shaped by invisible forces. Bizarre steel mechanisms exert an animistic presence, including vaguely anthropomorphic assemblies with the suggestion of bones or limbs. The vitalistic shapes turn vertical and hollow, even vascular, in the adventurous stairs of atriums at 41 Cooper Square in New York and the Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas. The magical intensity and pent-up energy radiated by these hollows, and the body heat found within them, are fascinating and disturbing. ‘To be a human being in this world of ours,’ Bruno Bettelheim reminds us, ‘means having to accept difficult challenges, but also encountering wondrous adventures.’111
Some of the firm’s greatest visions of undetermined space are large complexes, sadly unbuilt, which rise from a porous underworld. These include the superimposed slots and voids, flying bridges and platforms of the Artspark Performing Arts Pavilion for Los Angeles; the erosive edge along the Seine of the Paris Expo Home Design et Utopie competition; the half-buried egg and stratigraphy of a convention-centre competition in Nara and the Chiba Golf Club in Kanto, both in Japan. The terrain of the golf club is scraped and gouged into a deep, partly subterranean relief, whose routes extend out and down into the land they inhabit. Perplexing built forms are extruded from this excavation as long, layered walls and reiterated frames, concluding with a pavilion lifted into the air, so as to vertically elaborate the routes of discovery while weaving them into and out of the contours.
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We are reminded here of Wassily Kandinsky’s account of the scattered and twisted reality found in Picasso’s paintings, and the ‘constructive dispersal of these fragments over the canvas’.112 In a similar manner, the Chiba Golf Club and other Morphosis fragments trail out over the landscape, with numerous baffling yet tempting things to investigate. Along any chosen route, and long before reaching an actual door, a person is able to discover and rediscover the work many times. The mysteries invite us not merely to reach our destination, but to actively engage with the multiplicity of places we find along the way. In the end, its promise is that the challenge of life should not be escaped in decorating, but lived with magnificent intensity.
One of the greatest motivating forces in decorating is the glimpse of enthralling space ahead, a stimulus to action subtly perfected in the gateways of ancient Japanese temples. Darkly weathered and grey timber portals heighten the allure framed ahead: intensely colourful moss; dynamic and energetic trees against a rectilinear frame; perhaps the start of an exquisite bamboo fence or series of stepping stones; bits of roof peeking over a wall or hedge. Each riveting hint grips our attention and inspires us forward, offering the promise of something to find around the next bend. The entire journey stimulates a vigorous search through a sequence of cues we are able to detect and uncover, multiplying the feats of discovery along a progressing state of holiness.
A similar art of hypnotic sightings to stimulate curiosity appears in the Arizona houses of Rick Joy, which withhold all but a few glimpses of carefully framed desert. The Tubac House (p. 200) is buried in an edge of terrain, largely hidden apart from rooflines breaking the horizon and beckoning us forward. Next to appear is an entry court that opens below, luring us down to water and shade. After reaching this secluded void, the way to the door is signalled by a neighbouring window framing a patch of distant landscape, its startling image of mountain and desert enhanced by contrast with the foreground – but puzzling, as well, for it implies the wall is nothing but a thin desert boundary. Upon stepping inside, that impression is dispelled by a new magnetic force: a panoramic desert vista, enhanced by the white interior. This kind of mesmerizing attraction mixed with surprise reoccurs in different forms throughout the house, and especially compelling at the end of corridors aimed on their own desert finds. Clearly demonstrated here is an appreciation of suggestion, restoring the chance for people to find things out for themselves, echoing Marcel Proust’s observation that ‘the real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes’.