A one-line poem that repeats for 17 stories by British artist Liam Gillick wraps around the south and east sides of the Fairmont Hotel in downtown Vancouver. The poem reads: “Lying on top of a building the clouds looked no nearer than if I were lying on the street.”
In my About section, I talk about being interested in “architexture” — a conflation of architecture + text. I primarily associate text with books because they are made up of written words, but thanks to postmodernism, “text” can refer to any surface capable of being read, like a painting, a body, a film, a photograph, a dance, a theatrical performance, you name it. I want to give more visual context to the inspiration behind “architexture,” which I wish I could say I invented (and thought I did) until I read an academic article by D.M.R. Bentley in which he also uses the word. Oh the world of academia, frustrating hopes of originality — much like the Internet.
The Fairmont Hotel above and the two buildings below are examples of architexture that triggered my use of the term in my Master’s essay. In other words, my inspiration to discuss the relationship between architecture and literature grew out of walking the city and noticing what was around me, which I’ll flesh out more in future posts.
The above two spaces were designed by architect Gregory Henriquez. I love the way he describes his practice: “Architecture is the poetic expression of social justice.” Many of his projects concern social housing such as Bruce Eriksen Place and the new Woodward’s site, which both display this poetic expression. Click on the photo of Bruce Eriksen Place for a better view of the literary balconies that pay homage to the building’s namesake and the community he loved and fought for – the Downtown Eastside. This is also the location of the Woodward’s redevelopment that features a mixed community of users and uses with social and market housing units, civic offices, retail space, an atrium and public plaza, a daycare, and even SFU’s School for the Contemporary Arts.
What strikes me every time I see architexture or literary buildings is their hybridity. We often live such compartmentalized lives — from our different social groups to our living, working, and socializing spaces — that it still surprises me when I see, or rather, read literature on a building. From studying English literature, I’m used to reading it in books. I appreciate when architects take literature out of this traditional context and put it onto a new, arguably more visual text – that of urban spaces we encounter on a daily basis.
Architects aren’t the only ones playing with literary texts. Check out this literary lampstand featured in the Château Laurier in Ottawa: