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Volume 20 Article 13


The Space of Time

Juhani Pallasmaa

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Pallasmaa, Juhani (1998) "The Space of Time," Oz: Vol. 20.

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The Space of Time

Juhani Pallasmaa

We do not live in an objective material world. We live in mental worlds in

which the experienced, remembered and dreamed, as well as the present,
past and future, constantly fuse into one another. We transform time and
space through imagination and dreaming, into the specific human mode of
existence-the world of possibilities. The self and the world mutually define
one another in a perpetually intertwining process.

Contemporary architectural settings are usually experienced as having their origin

in singular moments of time. They evoke an experience of flattened or rejected
temporality. Yet, the existential task of architecture is to relate us to time as
much as to space. ''Architecture is not only about domesticating space," writes
Karsten Harries, "it is also a deep defense against the terror of time. The language
of beauty is essentially the language of timeless reality." 1 We are equally frightened
of being left outside the progression of time as being lost in the anonymity and
meaninglessness of space. The mental roles of these two fundamental existential
dimensions are curiously reversed. In terms of space, we yearn for specificity,
whereas in our temporal experience we desire a sense of continuity. Consequently,
architecture has to create a specificity of space and place, and at the same time,
evoke the experience of a temporal continuum.

Time is the dimension of experience that is ·most frightening to us in its

seemingly absolute power over us. We feel helpless in relation to time, and we
find ourselves at its mercy. As human's understanding of time lost its
primordial cyclical nature, time became linear with an irrevocable beginning
and end. We can shape matter and order space, but we cannot throw time off
its predestined course. Human's greatest desire, therefore, is to halt, suspend
and reverse the flow of time.

Architecture's fundamental task, to provide us with our domicile in space, is

recognized by most architects. However, the second task of architecture, to
mediate human's relation with the fleeting element of time, is usually disregarded.

The materials and surfaces used by the main stream of the Modern Movement
have an effect of flatness and immaterial abstractness. The inevitable proceses of
aging and wear were not considered to be positive elements of design. Through
the evocation of a constant present tense, modernist architects aspired to evoke
an air of ageless youthfulness.The forces of time have attacked modernist buildings Distantly biomorphic imagery ofthe rooftrusses ofthe Council
destructively; instead of offering the positive qualities of vintage and an authority Chamber, Town Hall, Saynatsalo. Photo Courtesy ofthe Mu-
54 of age, the forces of time attack modernist buildings destructively. seum ofFinnish Architecture.
The sauna and swimming pool evoke an
idyllic and archetypal Finnish image, Villa
Mairea, Noormarkku. Photo by author.

The immaterial surfaces of modernism of fashionable image. "Modern com- not categorized and which reappears as myself confronted with the timeless
remain mute, as shape and volume are modities threaten the stability of the an undifferenti a ted experience of experience of being human. My own
given priority. The modernist arch- world," as Charles Taylor writes in his existence. Art momentarily recreates the existential experience is intensified by
itectural surface is an abstracted book The Ethics of Authenticity. 2 We condition of the Paradise. "Literature is the ancient image; art brings me to the
boundary of the volume; surfaces have increasingly live in landscapes of made of the borderline between the self threshold of my own being.
a conceptual rather than sensory anxiety and fear. and the world," writes Salman Rushdie,
essence. The aspiration for pure "and during the creative act, this Architectural constructions are also a
geometry and reductive aesthetic Weakening of the experience of time boundary softens, becomes penetrable defense against the anxiety of death,
weakens the presence of matter and in contemporary life has devastating and allows the world to flow into the disappearance, insignificance and non-
surface, in the same way that a strong mental effects. As time loses its depth artist and the artist flow into the world." 4 existence. The imposing constructions
figure and contour diminish interaction and its echo in the primordial past, of past cultures are instruments that
of color in the art of painting. humans lost their sense of self as We expand our temporal boundaries overcome the anxiety of rime and death.
historical beings, and are threatened by through art. Art seeks to prolong life As a consequence of their consciousness,
Modernist architectural theory fre- the revenge of time. In the words of through metaphors of timeless existence. humans have become conscious of their
quently refers to the notion of a 'space- the American therapist Gotthard The persistence of artistic images is one own death, and began to aspire for
time continuum,' but the concept seems Booth, "The natural satisfaction of life of the great mysteries of culture. Why eternal life. The human domicile turned
to be grounded in theories of physics lies in a vital participation in forms of are stone-age images able to touch our from a protection against threats of the
rather than human existential reality. In life that extend beyond the boundaries emotions so forcefully? How does art natural surroundings into a defense
Modernist writings, the notion of rime of individual existence."3 communicate through the abyss of against metaphysical fears projected by
refers most often to the experience of centuries , although we have no the mind itsel£
virtual movement within the per- Humans have devised an instrument possibility of reconstructing the artist's
ceptual field rather than to the human for deceiving time and leading it astray; feelings, intentions and meanings? Architecture domesticates space,
existential fear of death and the this magical invention is art. We can structures the lived world, and provides
unconscious yearning for immortality. traverse time through imagination and This miracle of annihilating the a horizon of behavior and under-
dreams, and art also fixes these fleeting distancing and separating element of standing. It provides stability and a sense
The incredible acceleration of speed in images to be grasped for future time is possible because objects of art of continuity for existence, as well as the
our age collapses time onto a flat screen generations. The dimension of time is confront us with our own existential ground for symbolization and meaning.
of the present, upon which the essential in all artistic manifestations; not experience; works of art are mirrors held More than any other art form,
simultaneity of the world is projected. as actual duration but as a psychic against our own self-image. Works of art architecture is also an instrument of
Buildings, as well as objects, lose their dimension. An encounter with an object enable me to confront my own existence. slowing and halting time. Architecture
temporal essence and turn into of art leads us back to the world of the I am not experiencing something distant builds dams to hold back the flow of
instantaneous commodities and objects child and the savage, a world which is in space and time; I am listening to time. Buildings of history form ponds 55
of stilled time that enable us to return reality, Aalto's buildings express gravity
back to the past. Architecture is and permanence, and they radiate a
fundamentally the art of permanence. rare sense of authority.
"A house constitutes a body of images
that give humankind proofs or illusions The surfaces of Aalto's buildings wrap
of stability ... it is an instrument by around their volumes like a skin,
which we confront cosmos," 5 argues enhancing an organic cohesion and an
Gaston Bachelard. Buildings and cities animistic feeling. Aalto's buildings are a
are museums of time. They emancipate sort of architectural organism, not
us from the hurried time of the present, abstract compositions. Surfaces are richly
and help us to experience the slow, textured and they exhibit a variety of
healing time of the past. Architectural tactile experiences. Instead of an
structures enable us to see and abstracted gestalt, Aalto creates
understand slow processes of history, and conglomerate images that evoke
to participate in time cycles that surpass associations and recollections. The Villa
the scope of an individual life. The Mairea, for instance , is suspended
temple of Karnak takes us back to the between imageries of contemporary
time of the pharaohs, whereas the modernity and ageless peasant traditions,
Medieval cathedral presents us the full between refinement and primitivism, the
color of life in the Middle Ages. In the future and the past. The powerfully
same way, great works of modernity emotive image of the Saynatsalo Town
preserve the Utopian time of optimism Hall is a condensed image of a hill town,
and hope; even after decades of trying reminiscent of familiar childlike images
faith they radiate an air of spring and in Medieval paintings. This minute civic
promise. The Paimio Sanatorium by building, conceived as the image of a
Alvar Aalto is heartbreaking in its radiant miniaturized town, possesses an ex-
belief in a humane future and in the traordinary suggestiveness, richness and
societal mission of architecture. Le sense of mystery; the image of a town
Corbusier's Villa Savoye makes us projects a greater wealth of narratives and
believe in the union of reason and emotions than that of a single building.
beauty, ethics and aesthetic . These
works do not symbolize optimism and An explicit device of Aalto's for capturing
faith; they actually awaken the sprout a sense of time is the image of a ruin. He
of hope within us. utilizes explicit or subliminal images of
ruins to evoke a melancholic experience
Contrary to the mainstream of the of the past, and of the inevitability of
Modern Movement, Alvar Aalto erosion, decay, and death. Aa!to
identified the mental task of arch- juxtaposes images of permanence (stone,
itecture in relation to the human terror brick) with images of transitoriness and
of time, already early on in his career. loss (erosion, climbing plants and the
"Form is nothing else but a patina of mold). Even the changing of
concentrated wish for everlasting life light concretizes the passing of time.
on earth." 6 After his passionate but Opposed to the mechanical imagery of
short-lived phase of modernist a machine process, the materials that
orthodoxy, the mature works of Aalto Aalto uses express a humanizing touch
engage the entire human sensory and of a skilled hand. Aalto's attitude reverses
emotional realm, and they aspire for a the modernist ideal, which sought to give
foothold in the flow of time. Aa!to a machine appearance even to
developed his emotionally charged components produced by hand.
architecture of natural materials-red
brick, copper, stone and wood-which In his phenomenological investigation
evokes a wealth of imageries, of artistic language, Gaston Bachelard
associations and recollections. While makes a distinction between "formal
56 seeking to touch human experiential imagination" and "material imag- Time and nature take over. Photo by author.
Aalto's use ofcollage technique in the Villa
Mairea: the unmediated collision of the
Modernist steel and concrete structure of
the Villa proper and the primordial wood
structure ofthe Sauna. Photo by author.

ination. "7 According to Bachelard's view, poetically writes. 8 This hidden tactile referring to a way of philosophizing that Notes
images arising from matter project experience determines the sensuous does not aspire to totalize the multitude !.Karsten Harries, 'Building and the Terror
deeper and more profound experiences. quality of the object as it mediates of human discourses in a single system. 9 of Time', Perspecta, The Yale Architectural
journall9 , New Haven, 1982, pp. 59-69.
In his development away from the visual messages of invitation or rejection . . In the same manner, we can speak of a
2.Charles Taylor, Autenttisuuden etiikka (The
imagery of the Modern Movement, 'weak,' or 'fragile' architecture, or more
ethics of Authenticity), Gaudeamus,
toward the idiosyncratically sensuous Alvar Aalto suppresses the singular visual precisely, of an 'architecture of weak Helsinki, 1995 , p. 39. (Translation J.
articulation of his mature works, Aalto image in his episodic architecture. Aalto's image,' as opposed to an 'architecture Pallasmaa)
makes a distinct step towards 'images of configurations and surfaces often appear of strong image.' Whereas the 3 .Gotthard Booth, The Shadow of the
matter.' He also rejects the universalistic as collages; the elements seem to be architecture of strong image desires to Conquest ofNaiure, The Edwin Hellen Press,
ideal in favor of a regionalist aspiration. derived from different origins. As a impress through an outstanding singular New York and Toronto, 1974. Page number
Aalto's architecture also rejects the consequence of their histories in image, the architecture of weak image unidentified.
hegemony of the eye as it activates the unrelated realms, the ingredients is contextual and responsive. It is 4.Salmon Rushdie, 'Eiko mikaan ole pyhaa?'
(Isn't Anything Sacred?), Parnesso 1: 1996,
muscular and tactile realms. mediate different associations and concerned with real sensory interaction
Helsinki , 1996, p. 8 . (Translatio n J .
narratives. Altogether, Aalto exploits instead of idealized and conceptual
The culture of speed favors an differences instead of forcing the ideal manifestations . This is a humane 5.Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space,
architecture of the eye, aiming at an of unification. This is an architecture architecture of reconciliation , that Deacon Press, Boston, 1969, p. 17.
instantaneous image, whereas the haptic that is not dictated by a single aspires to enroot Man in the meta-· 6.Alvar Aalto, undated draft for a lecture, in
architecture of the touch is an conceptual idea expressed in every detail, physical elements of time and space. Go ran Schildt, Alvar Aalto: The Early years,
architecture of slowness. It is appreciated but it grows upwards through separate Rizzoli, New York, 1984, p. 192.
and comprehended as images of the architectural scenes, episodes, and detail ?.Gaston Bachelard, 'Introduction', Witter
body and the skin, gradually, detail by inventions. The whole is held together and Dreams: An Essay on the Imagination of
Matter, Dallas Institute, Dallas, 1983.
detail. Through enhancing plasticity, by the consistancy of an emotional
8.Quoted in David Michael Levin ,
tactility and intimacy of the architectural atmosphere, instead of a structuring
Modernity and the Hegemony of Vision,
experience, the haptic sensibility intellectual concept. University of California Press, Berkeley and
suppresses the dominance of the visual Los Angeles, 1993, p. 14.
image. An unconscious element of touch Western industrial culture is a culture 9 .Gianni Vattimo, The End ofModernity, The
is unavoidably concealed in the sense of of power and domination. Expressions John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore,
vision. As we regard, our eye touches the of art also tend to seek instant and 1991.
object unconsciously; before we can see, overpowering effects. In his book The
we have already touched the object. End of Modernity, Gianni Vattimo
"Through vision, we touch the stars and introduces the notion of "weak
the sun" as Maurice Merleau-Ponty ontology" and "fragile thought, " 57