Designing: Both Directions at Once
Particular everyday things frequently help us reflect on the nature of architectural design. One example could be the music on a CD.
A jazz studio session was recently released under the title “Both Directions at Once”. Recorded on 6 March 1963, it features John Coltrane’s classic quartet with Elvin Jones on drums, McCoy Tyner on piano and Jimmy Garrison on bass. Writer Antonio Muñoz Molina explained the title in one of his articles1, recalling the advice Coltrane gave to Wayne Shorter on how to play a piece of music: “…start in the middle and then go both directions at once”.
Doesn’t the task of designing architecture involve precisely that – moving in two directions at the same time?
Moving in both directions at once means envisaging a kind of discontinuous space, governed by criteria that are upheld in its location, as a basis from which to design a whole architectural structure, moving backwards, with memories and things learned in the past serving as inevitable, fundamental guidelines, and forwards, proposing new paths and intentions in which both directions are interwoven. Design really does mean creating “both directions at once”.
We may soon forget the days when we used to listen to music with a CD in our hands, absorbed in the lyrics, eyeing the credits, or just carried away by the cover image which perfectly summarised the album’s meaning.
That’s what happens with Gilberto Gil’s album Parabolicamará (1992). The cover image, designed by graphic and stage designer Gringo Cardia, who also did the stage design for German director Werner Herzog’s Floresta Amazonica (A Midsummer Night’s Dream), shows a satellite dish made of wicker being carried on a woman’s head. The image illustrates the music of Gilberto Gil, a transcultural interweaving of music, design, cinema, politics and society in which to our eyes, or in this case to our ears, the theme is simply architecture.
It’s an eloquent metaphor of architectural design: something made with the hands, like the paradoxical wickerwork of the satellite dish, and carried along with sprightly efficiency; something which poetically connects what is nearest and most immediate – local materials, techniques and culture – with the information that places us in a world. As Gilberto Gil says in one of his songs,
“The world was once small,
because the Earth was big.
Now the world is very big,
because the Earth is small.”