merging mobility and civility
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Extemporaneous Postulation

Dance of the Peasant, 1989

To Order a Composition

The dance of the peasant is one of naive innocence and supreme delight. He does not care why he flings about his partner or on which sabbath takes place the ritual, only that it takes place. In his ignorance he twirls and makes merry. He beautifully choreographs his dance in a most structural fashion. Within those limits he expresses his world. That world is a phenomenon of his own genius.

Like the peasant, the architect is forced to deal with his own genius. He must take a phenomenologically created idea, a composition, and order it to create a new composition. The idea has all the trappings of the peasant's desire to dance. And with the same naivete, the architect must express the idea through composition and order.

How to accomplish this is the ordering of a composition. First we must equalize order and composition. The original idea must be composed, then ordered to reach architecture. Rather than one force subservient to the other as in previous examples, order and composition must be equal. They are partners, even though one predated the other. For as the order attempts to clarify the composition, the composition creates the order. And when the composition is ordered, it is transformed. Accepting this equilibrium, we turn to the process. First, an inexplicable intuition passes through the fissure connecting the subconscious to the conscious. This idea, for lack of better word, is wholeheartedly personal, perhaps irrational, yet potentially plausible.  It is the result of your own maturity -- a reflection of all your worldly experiences, thoughts, words and deeds. Above all, it is the realization of the phenomenon of creation. 

Once illuminated, the idea must be cultivated compositionally.  It may be a line on a piece of paper.  It may be a half-size model.  It may be a poem.  It may happen in one millisecond.  It is highly self-indulgent and meaningless to others, but whatever it is, you have to do it.

This is the easy part. Next, one must take the composed idea and order it. To impose order on a completely intuitive idea is to work rationally on that which is not necessarily rational.  The process can also be defined in terms of exercising the existence of the idea. When one exercises one's own body, the muscle fibers tear under the force. They then repair to challenge more exercise, at which point the exercise must increase to challenge the muscles. In the same fashion order and composition challenge each other. They both work for the life of the idea and enhance each other along the way. It is through this activity that one realizes the full potential of the idea.

The realization of one's own genius through the phenomenon of creation is a frightening thought. The work is hard and there are no shortcuts. One must dive metaphysically into the nature of existence. But in the end, you are in control. That destiny called architecture allows us to create beautiful structures in much the same way that the peasant created beautiful dances.

This is an edited version of an article originally published in Imprécis, a magazine of the GSAPP of Columbia University, 1989. 

Michael King