contemplation of space
Postmodern architect, Bernard Tschumi is well-known for his iconoclastic approach to theorizing architecture. Most profoundly, Tschumi sets out to disrupt architecture by advancing notions about space, event, and movement. In the Manhattan Transcripts, Tschumi (1976) claimed that "only the striking relationship between three levels of event, space and movement makes for the architectural experience. Yet they never attempt to transcend the contradictions between object, man [sic] and event in order to bring them to a new synthesis: on the contrary, they aim to maintain these contradictions in a dynamic manner, in a new relation of indifference, reciprocity or conflict..." (p. 277). Pictured above is "BLUE," one of the first new construction projects in post-9/11 New York City. In this project Tschumi (n.d.) worked to accommodate the landscape, incorporating a design that "sloped [the] top of the building [to] integrate the zoning district's two sky exposure plane requirements," and to reclaim space by "recycl[ing] unused space on top of a neighboring commercial structure as an urban garden that provides communal space for residents and guests" (para 1-2).

BLUE isn't only interesting because of the ways it strives to instantiate certain theories--revealing its own contradictory impulses--but also this image of BLUE, taken by Rory Hyde, captures the building as both an object of contemplation (the image) and of reflection (Hyde himself as captured in the image through the reflection of the car windshield). Tschumi's BLUE and Hyde's image of it denote, for me, the interactions of theory, practice, action, movement, and reflection. These interactions are exactly the point of this piece.

To provide an overview of our experiences as members of English 696: Spatial and Visual Rhetorics at University of Arizona, I came to see Tschumi as not merely a luminary figure in architecture but also a luminous figuration to introduce the reflective pieces--which I called "movements"--of our class members. As Louis Martin’s 1990 essay “Transpositions: On the Intellectual Origins of Tschumi's Architectural Theory” suggests, Tschumi draws heavily from textual and critical theories as a means to create new generative, revolutionary treatises on architecture (p. 23). Such text-based theories are instantiated in Tschumi's projects. In other words, just as Tschumi tapped into the ways concepts in theory translate into practice, my goal is to bring his borrowed theoretical concepts back into our discussion. This return might best be articulated by this image:

recursive_nature_of_theory_and_practiceComing to terms with terms, however, is never easy. How do I describe, name, and label the heterogeneous experiences among members of the graduate seminar and the ways we have come to understand ourselves as spatial scholars, then and now? Reflection. A fitting term in our field at once seems a logical starting point and at another may not adequately describe the continuous process of coming to new ideas, abandoning others, or maintaining useful tensions or unresolved feelings and intensities, both intellectual and personal. Seeing Rory's image of BLUE reminds me that reflections are always already contingent, partial, and mutable. Tschumi's concept of movement provides a figuration that works toward contradiction, heterogeneity, complexity, and change. Rather than calling for merely reflective practice, Tschumi posited a more radical position for architecture, one that resists its definition as a stable or monolithic study or discipline and instead argues that "pure space doesn't exist; pure event doesn't exist. In other words, architecture is always dynamic in its reading, in its perception, in terms of what is does. Eventually, I ended up by saying that what is important in architecture in not what it looks like but what it does" (p. 26). Thus, while reflection may be a beginning concept for these works (and an important one no doubt), contributors to the class turn their attention here to what spatial theory “does” and not just how we might understand it as a theory, and in exploring what it does, they also identify contradictions, contestations, and of course complements in their praxes.



Our spatial and visual explorations in English 696e culminated in a semester project that included large-scale installation projects and mini-workshops. This semester project was an "event" that we hosted for our local community, particularly targeting an audience of first-year composition instructors who would be teaching visual and spatial analysis to undergraduate students as part of University of Arizona's first-year composition curriculum. The praxes that emerged are articulated as “movements" that come from somewhere (with a history) but also are going somewhere (trajectories of pedagogical and scholarly exploration). Each piece offers insights into the ways the class challenged all of us as scholars and teachers. Rather than representing homogenous experiences or theories on spatial praxes, however, these works, representing all of the members our class, can be explored relationally and as part of a trajectory toward understanding--without resolving--conflicts and contradictions within the individual works or the collective sum. Ideally, these works can be wandered through without an expectation that you will engage them all but rather with the goal of sharing a range of perspectives in the movement of theory to practice and back to theory again. This recursive force of reflection is integral to this project.

crump_versoza crump_versoza Visualizing Writing Spaces: A Reflection

adrienne crump & elise versoza

fodrey fodrey Thrown into Theory, or How I Learned to Love Spatial Rhetoric

crystal fodrey

furtner furtner Teaching Analysis with Mapping

anita furtner

haley_brown haley-brown Risky Writing in Unsafe Spaces

jennifer haley-brown

holmes holmes The Essence of the Path: A Traveler's Tale of Finding Place

ashley holmes

juarez juarez A Visual-Spatial Approach to Teaching Spontaneous Prose in FYC

marissa juarez

martin martin thirdspacing the university: performing spatial and visual literacies

londie martin

vinson vinson Power in Place, Strolling Through Space

jenna vinson

svr2_logo event link to event

Martin, Louis. (1990). Transpositions: On the intellectual orgins of Tschumi's architectural theory. Assemblage, 11, 22-35.

Tschumi, Bernard. (1976). Manhattan Transcripts. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Tschumi, Bernard. (n.d.) Blue. Retrieved April 2, 2011, from