Dancing About Architecture


Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.
Laurie Anderson

In 1994 we stayed for a couple of nights with our friend Klaus Maier, Director of Theater von Menschen für Menschen in Nürnberg.

Not a terribly gloomy place – I think Ella had ice cream – parks, gardens, leafy walks, lakes with ducks and, quite suddenly, Monumental Monolithic Masonry, The Zeppelin Field. Staggering!

The word zeppelin is very evocative, at least to me. It’s quite possible still to imagine a great airship nuzzling gigantically to the ground before us, there to disgorge the and his cronies. We actually stood up where the Leader would have basked in the adoration of the Volk, and I have to say there was a little rush – it felt that the architecture was speaking, not to me so much as through me, and I felt the vicarious tingling of that concentrated long-ago yet here-and-now hatred, fear, anger, Sturm und Drang.

This was up on the little viewing platform that caps the pile – the Reichsparteitagsgelaende Zeppelinfeld Tribuene. (Try saying that after a couple of schnappses.) Babelfish translates this as ‘Realm Party Congress Area Zeppelinfeld Grandstand’. We were hardly a realm party congress, but if architecture is frozen music then this was frozen power. The massive fossil bones of a utopian inflammation, Welthauptstadt (“World Capital”) Germania.

Thinking about Nazi architecture is different once you’ve felt that inflamed tingle – it actually becomes more like dancing about it, more embodied and from the gut. In more everyday terms, and in this space, the thought turns on designing interactions, teaching, facilitating, coaching. I like the idea of dancing with partners better than many of the other images I can imagine. I wonder if Martin Buber could cut a rug.

I showed these images, and some Rally ones, to the second lecture of a class I was teaching last semester at QUT. Two dozen of them, one of me. At the first lecture it was Me standing up behind this kind of broad, heavy lab bench with attached monitors and greyware and LEDs – not unlike, at least in tone if not in intent, the Realm Party Congress Area Zeppelinfeld Grandstand – and Them behind rows of white tables blazing in the fluorescent light. I showed the images to kick start a conversation on the curious tension of studying ‘creativity’ and ‘innovation’ in an architecture so redolent of frozen power, hierarchy, convention. And, for that matter, the curious tension between all this and the fact that the conversation is made possible, even encouraged, by the Enlightenment traditions of that same frozen power.


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