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My ‘cave’

When I decided to write about an awning, my shelter, I recently custom fitted to my car I thought back to a reading I came across during my Architecture studies last year. This reading intrigued me. It actually became a huge focus for my 2nd semesters major design, although I won’t delve into that. In simple terms this reading explains the function of sign in everything around us, Particularly within Architecture. Take a spoon for example. If you see a picture of a spoon you think food. If you see a chair you think about sitting. This is because “as soon as there is a society, every usage is converted into a sign of itself. The object becomes a sign for its function. It becomes a signal… a signifier.

What I do like about this fact in this particular case, and what I do hope to gain from it, is that when people see my awning they will see it as a place of shelter. They will see it as my home. Instantly this simple device attached to my car communicates, to people I pass, I am traveling. I am on an adventure. My cave is on the move. When erected it says I am now your temporary neighbour. So… if you see me out there come say hi. Come share my shelter! Come and have a chat… I have some ‘sugar’ to spare.

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“A phenomenological consideration of our relationship with architectural objects tells us that we commonly do experience architecture as communication, even while recognising its functionality.

Let us imagine the point of view of the man who started the history of architecture. Still ‘all wonder and ferocity’, drivien by cold and rain and following the example of some animal or obeying an impulse in which instinct and reasoning are mixed in a confused way, this hypothetical Stone Age man takes shelter in a recess, in some hole on the side of a mountain, in a cave. Sheltered from the wind and rain, he examines the cave that shelters him, by daylight or by the light of a fire (we will assume he hasalready discovered fire). He notes the amplitude of the vault, and understands this as the limit of an outside space, which is cut off, and as the beginning of an inside space, which is likely to evoke in him some unclear nostalgia for the womb, imbue him with feelings of protection, and appear still imprecise, and ambiguous to him, seen under a play of shadow and light. Once the storm is over, he might leave the cave and reconsider it from the outside; there he would note the entryway as ‘hole that permitspassage to the inside’, and the entrance would recall to his mind the image of the inside: entrance hole, covering vault, walls (or continuous wall of rock) surrounding a space within. Thus an ‘idea of the cave’ takes shape, which is useful at least as a mnemonic device, enabling him to think of the cave later on as a possible objective in case of rain; but it also enables him to recognize in another cave the same possibility of shelter found in the first one. At the second cave he tries, the idea of that cave is soon replaced by the idea of cave tout court – a model, a type, something that does not exist concretely but on the basis of which he can recognize a certain context of phenomena as ‘cave’.

The model (or concept) functions so well that he can now recognize from a distance someone else’s cave or a cave he does not intend to make use of, independently of whether he wants to take shelter in it or not. The man has learned that the cave can assume various appearances. Now this would still be a matter of an individual’s realisation of an abstract model, but in a sense the model is already codified, not yet on a social level but on the level of this individual who proposes and communicates it to himself, within his own mind. And he would probably be able, at this point, tocommunicate the model of the cave to other men, by means of graphic signs. The architectural code would generate an iconic code, and the ‘cave principle’ would become an object of communicative intercourse.

What has happened, then, is what Roland Barthes is speaking about when he says that ‘as soon as there is a society, every usage is converted into a sign of itself’.”  – Umberto Eco – Function and Sign – from the book ‘Rethinking Architecture’.

Categories: Blog
Posted by Brett Wawn on April 9, 2012

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