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Writing Architecture through Fiction by Ayad Rahmani

Posted Tue, 10/22/2019 - 8:46am by  |  Category: , , , ,

The objective of this workshop is to practice architectural criticism through the lens of insight.

Where most architectural criticism is evaluatory, leveling judgment on a given project, this form of feedback is not. 

It assumes that the world is complex and hard to reduce to right or wrong. What makes it valuable and worthwhile, instead, depends on the visionary angle we bring to it. 

The method demands we get out of our own way and adopt a view different from the one we currently and normally have. Literary characters can help. By following their itinerary and seeing the world through their lens, we inevitably develop in ourselves a new world vision and an alternative view of reality. 

Kafka’s characters are particularly adept in getting us there, not least because they descend upon us already transformed into an entity other than human. (In the case of Gregor Samsa in “The Metamorphosis,” a cockroach.) At the outset of The Trial, another Kafka story, Joseph K, the main character, starts the day to a rude awakening. He is arrested for reasons he does not know, forced to tackle his reality from an angle other than the normative. 

In this workshop we will follow their existential and thematic trajectory, and see the world, our world, through their upside-down lens. 

As an insect of sorts, Samsa is able to hang from the ceiling in a way that we’ll never be able to do, inverting judgment in favor of insight. For at least a moment we are asked to suspend gravity and look at space and livability from a different perspective.  

We may augment our adaptation of Kafka’s characters by doing something of our own, perhaps using recent technologies to do so. The idea is to look at our world from a different angle. Kafka did it through literary techniques, which we can do as well—but can we obtain the same effect through say the use of drones, or even pictures we’ve taken from an airplane? Might we be able to climb one of our buildings in downtown Seattle and see the water, urban life and the like from that height? 

In preparation for this workshop, blend Kafka’s angles with your own, documented and played out through whichever ways you deem interesting and creative. 

  • Go up on top of a roof and take pictures. 
  • Write down or sketch mental differences between the reality as you knew it on the ground and that which you have just realized anew from this elevated perspective. 
  • Do the same in reverse, going down below the ground and looking up, say, through a tour of “the underground” world at Pioneer Square. 

Is there a renewed tint added to your view of the world, say, in the way you understand the scale of buildings, human discrepancy, notion of equality and justice? If so, jot those down and use them later as fodder for insight into the way we may occupy space. 

Our own narratives may or may not start with reference to Kafka and the idea of inverted reality, but they should aim for a view that goes beyond the human on the ground. A view captured from a drone could tell us that the life of a building is not singular but multiple, usually formed of forces that act on a building in simultaneity, defying our understanding of architecture as front and back.  

To widen your worldview and learn more about architectural criticism, join me in Writing Architecture through Fiction, beginning Saturday, November 9, 2019.


Ayad Rahmani is a professor of architecture at Washington State University where he teaches courses on design and theory. He is the author of two books, the last on Kafka and architecture titled Kafka’s Architectures, published in 2015. He writes widely on subjects related to art, architecture and literature, currently as the architecture critic for the Moscow Pullman Daily News. He is currently working on a new book on Frank Lloyd Wright and Ralph Waldo Emerson, examining the American project through the lens of architecture and literature.