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In any architectural project there are ideas that need to be designed and conveyed, a supporting structure, sequences of spaces, expectations and suspensions, hierarchies of space and function, and so on. In literary writing, many of the challenges are often similar. Why not then create a piece of architecture that explicitly embodies the structure of your literary passion?

This past February, Professor Matteo Pericoli and his students set out to do just that. The course examined how certain principles of architectural design can be used to describe literary structures. What is a space and how is it made? From a narrative point of view, what do certain sequences of spaces convey or mean? Can pacing and tension be expressed in architectural terms? Is there (and should there be) a hierarchical system when distributing volumes? When creating spaces, could they also represent characters? And could the connections between these spaces represent the characters’ relationships?

Each student chose a book, novel, short story, or any piece of literature whose inner workings he or she knew intimately. Assisted by Bridget Potter and Selim Vural, Professor Pericoli worked with each student to analyze the text—focusing on its structure—to try to get at its very core elements. If the story were a tree, and the leaves its words, they would shake the leaves loose until only its structural or emotional skeleton remained. By breaking the text down into its most basic elements and analyzing the relationship of each part to the overall structure, they determined how the text could best be translated into architecture. When necessary, students made sketches to help them visualize the design. Then each student began to build the structure he or she had designed and progressed to turn it into a real architectural project. Halfway into the course, four teaching assistants from the Graduate School of Architecture came in to help the creative writing students build the final models.

The students used basic materials: paper, pencil, cardboard, scissors, tape, and box cutters. There was no expectation of previous experience in design or model making. The goal was for each student to dig deeply into his/her text in order to reveal its architectural and structural essence, as he/she perceived it. 

The resulting architectural projects were not literal representations, i.e. three-dimensional descriptions of the spaces described in the texts, but rather literary representations, which embodied the essential ideas of the narrative structure in a spatial form.  

In addition to his/her architectural model, each student wrote a short essay about both the original text—re-told from a structural point of view—and about his/her architectural project.
You can read more about each student's individual project by clicking on the "Related" fields to the right.
The Laboratory of Literary Architecture: A Workshop with Matteo Pericoli was made possible by the Visiting Artists and Thinkers program at Columbia University School of the Arts supported by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
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Columbia University School of the Arts offers MFA degrees in Film, Theatre, Visual Arts, and Writing, an MA degree in Film Studies, a joint JD/MFA degree in Theatre Management & Producing, a PhD degree in Theatre History, Literature, and Theory, and an interdisciplinary program in Sound Arts.