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  • Framing
  • David Turnbull (bio)

This singular frame from 2001: A Space Odyssey (US/UK, 1968) demonstrates Stanley Kubrick's understanding that the traumatic relationship between the untethered astronaut and the technical object is a definitive architectural issue—man's existence as a challenge to the void.

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Figure 1.

Frame from 2001: A Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick. One of the obligatory modes of architectural thinking involves imagining the object of architecture to be weightless, such that it can be explored comprehensively, lifted, rotated, taken apart, reassembled, zoomed in on, zoomed out from, so that the object can be known.

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Here, an astronaut, Dr. Frank Poole, in attempting to replace a component that has apparently failed, is cut loose when his oxygen supply is severed by his EVA pod, which is controlled by the spaceship's computer, HAL.

A second astronaut, Dr. David Bowman, sets out to rescue Frank in another EVA pod, and in haste he forgets his helmet. So this is it—an astronaut, adrift without an oxygen supply; a crew in the spaceship, in suspended animation, with their life support systems cut off. This image captures the pursuit of an autonomous technical object, with a computer in charge of the operation. Imagine this position.

It was early evening, a little too early, probably. I was walking out of The Cooper Union Foundation Building with architect Diane Lewis, down the stairs from the third floor to the second floor, past the curving wall of the Art School office, with its long and narrow horizontal window, and down to the lobby. Having known each other for more than 20 years, we conversed easily, and the conversation was actually rather light.

We were discussing John Hejduk's posthumously completed Wall House 2 in Groningen.1 Diane was relaying her insight that Kubrick's slow, 360-degree pan around the battlefield in Barry Lyndon (US/UK, 1975) provided a way of thinking about the Wall House and the way that it worked in the Dutch landscape. To add anecdote to anecdote, Diane sensed that the fact that Hejduk and Kubrick grew up on the same block in the Bronx was pertinent; something about intensity. It could also have been about the hallucinatory effect of precision, something shared. As we looked in at the heads of the people working, through to the external windows of the Foundation Building, and out to Cooper Square and the Bowery, we talked about cameras, frames, and the fenêtre en longueur—the long, horizontal window, simultaneously architectonic weapon and disruptive technology.

The construction of Wall House 2 had prompted her to write about the situation, the horizon, and the hinterland—about the realization of the shifting relationship between the occupant of the house and the horizon—the film, Barry Lyndon, providing the alibi. Implicitly, biography, geography, tectonic assemblage, plan, section, and elevation were implicated in an instantaneous compression of personal reflection and geometry, as the horizon was brought into the house, as the thoughts of the occupant were projected out to the horizon.

In 1996 or 1997 (I cannot remember precisely), I stayed for a few nights in one of Mies van der Rohe's 860-880 Lakeshore Drive apartments in Chicago and had what I privately considered an out-of-body experience. I know what you are thinking, and you could be right, but the sensation was profound. I was simultaneously outside looking in, and inside looking out. Halfway up the twenty-six story tower, at around forty meters above the ground, this impossible correspondence seemed to be a symptom of a strangely safe form of vertigo. It was not a regression to a [End Page 106] childhood dream of falling. It was not frightening. It was more an adult projection, an embodiment of weightlessness. Floating. The sensation seemed to be induced by a combination of dimension and detail; the floor-to-ceiling height (which is quite low), the scale of the glazing bars, transoms, and mullions, the reflectivity of the glass, the darkness of the floor, and the light levels inside and out. I was on the far side of the looking glass but had not...


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