Mark Anthony Signorelli: The poetry of architecture

The nave of Canterbury Cathedral. (tonesshots.com)

The nave of Canterbury Cathedral. (tonesshots.com)

Nikos Salingaros, the theorist of architecture’s debt to biology, has sent me an essay by his sometime collaborator Mark Anthony Signorelli. Nikos describes “The Soul in the Temple” as “very insightful and very poetic (well, Mark is a poet!).” I would second that emotion while ramping it up more than a few notches. A year or so ago, Mark and Nikos wrote a call to arms for artists (and architects), “The Tyranny of Artistic Modernism,” an essay that still sends shivers of joy up my timbers. This latest essay is more an attempt to suggest the connectedness between architecture and nature – it picks up on the thinking of Nikos and fellow theorist Christopher Alexander – as it might be described not in the terms of science but of poetry. Here is an example, tracing his reflections after he has entered a ancient cathedral and reacted to its vaulting beauty:

Screen shot of website of Mark Signorelli.

Screen shot of website of Mark Anthony Signorelli.

The men who invented this structure did not war with nature; they did not seek its conquest or abolition.  They simply adhered to the basic patterns by which space and matter assume form in the natural world.  Consider the archivolt above the cathedral doors, with its multiple bands of bas-reliefs surrounding the portal.  Each band is a center in and of itself, comprised of figures and compositions which are centers themselves.  The whole serves as a boundary between the doors and the façade, defining the forms of each; at once separating the door from the facade, while connecting both and making each of them a whole.  This phenomenon of a boundary permeates the structures of the natural world.  We discover its presence where different forms interact with one another, delineating and melding the two simultaneously. 

While I’ve trolled the Web to illustrate this essay, the cathedral Signorelli describes is no particular cathedral but the cathedral of the mind of the author, so to speak, who is a poet and essayist. If you find Mark’s thoughts and language as subtle and enchanting as I do, there is more to be read at his website.

 

About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to invest your prose with even more style and clarity, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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