THE STORY OF THE TOWER ON THE REMS
Chap. I – Previous History … It has been a bit longer than two years since Jórunn Ragnarsdóttir phoned to tell me about the project 16 Stations for the Rems Valley Garden Show 2019. Quite spontaneously, and before being appraised of further details, I agreed to participate. An initial meeting took place in December of ‘16, and the 16 invited architects were assigned 16 different towns and municipalities. Felicity matched me up with Plüderhausen. And on the very same day, the mayor brought me to a meadow orchard above the town, pointed out a place that was situated in the midst of the trees, and identified it as the intended site. Hanging from the trees, I noticed scraps of paper bearing thickly-printed numbers, and in response to my query, he proceeded to elucidate a Plüderhausen tradition…
Chap. II – The Tradition Since the mid-1990s, every couple whose members say “I do” at Plüderhausen Town Hall plant a fruit tree on the so-called “Hochzeitswies” (nuptial meadow). The choices include apple, cherry, pear, and plum.
This revival by the community of an ‘old custom’ serves the preservation and cultivation of the cultural landscape, i.e. the fruit orchards of the Rems Valley. The custom was introduced after a drastic rupture in the everyday life of the region. After the Thirty Years’ War, certain ordinances and obligations promulgated by a series of local sovereigns – “in the framework of general efforts to improve the regional culture” – specified that couples planning to marry and applicants for citizenship would be obligated to plant fruit trees along streets or on commons, while municipalities and private landowners were encouraged to plant fruit trees on both sides of streets and roads; tree vandals, meanwhile, were threatened with draconian punishments.
Chap. III – The Design The purposeful arrangement and establishment of spaces at places is the task of architecture. Rising from the range of hills of the valley landscape of Rems above Plüderhausen is a tower, which stands in the midst of a fruit orchard known as the “Hochzeitswiese”. The so-called “Wedding Tower” marks out a place and founds the use of architectural space.
Chap. IV – Instruction Manual A meandering path leads across the meadow beneath the crowns of the fruit trees and toward the tower. Above, they approach a white engobed brick tower, which displays a pair of narrow, parallel openings on the side that faces the rising slope. Via steps, the couple crosses the thresholds and enters the building together, albeit separated from one another by the two openings.
Within, in the tower’s interior, the brick is divested of the white engobe and displays its red undersurface. For a moment, the two linger within the tower; spread out in front of them and framed by a large arched opening is a view toward the west; shimmering on the distant horizon is the large town, above which the sun sets; further down, in the valley, the little town with its warped black roofs, from which couple has come, and where they reside; for a moment, the two turn toward one another, assuring themselves of the promise they have given; a lucky coin falls through a dark slit in the red plastered floor; arm in arm, hand in hand, the couple walks on together, passing through the deep threshold of the large arch, keeping track of the steps as they descend; retrieving spades from the deep niches of the deep embrasures, they follow the meandering path that leads across the meadow beneath the crowns of the fruit trees and toward the intended location of their own tree.
Chap. V – Romanticizing “The world must be romanticized. Thus one finds the original sense again. Romanticizing is nothing more than a qualitative involution. (…) When I give the commonplace a higher meaning the customary a mysterious appearance, the known the dignity of the unknown, the finite the appearance of the infinite, I romanticize it.” (1)
Chap. VI – The Spatiality of the Wall As a rule, walls are spatially effective on two sides. They run between different rooms, between inside and outside, between rooms and passageways, between houses and streets, between interiors and exteriors, between city and country. Walls simultaneously enclose and exclude. Via openings, rooms on either side of a wall are linked. Windows engender connections between the rooms of the house and the street or garden, and doors establish connections between one room and the next.
Openings themselves are spaces, i.e. when they make it possible for inhabitant to abide within the wall itself: within doorways, windows, niches, and so forth. The opening reveals the thickness of the wall, which in turn stands in a proportional relationship not just – through the threshold, the embrasure, and the lintel – with the space of the opening itself, but in a similar fashion with adjacent rooms, whether outside or inside. It is here in particular that architecture is revealed as an art of space of boundaries and transitions. (2)
Chap. VII – Why the Arch? Being incapable of anything else (at least in the absence of ancillary forms of support), brick creates arches and vaults. The openings beneath arches give walls a heavy appearance. Loads are deflected in a flowing way via the arches into walls and pillars and dissipated into the mass of the earth. This ‘flow’ allows the walls to be rooted in the ground, so to speak, and to grow out of it.
In a very particular way, arches and vaults delineate the interior spatiality of the wall: spatially, the protective and sheltering character of the enclosing and at the same time opening gesture has and intensifying effect on places and routes. An arch focuses the center, through which the gaze and movement pass. Differently than the rectangular opening, which merely slices out and subtracts from the wall, the arch seems to expand the opening, bundling it into pillars, which is arguably why the solidity of the wall seems to remain perceptible in the space of the opening.
Chap. VIII – Symbolic Geometry To pierce the circle at the point of the support, to take up the point of support lying opposite, guiding the line to the center above; to then repeat this procedure from the other side…, to bring together the lateral elements, separately, to the center, to form a unity, this means here: symbolic geometry.
Chap. IX – The Monument “To the sublime in building” – claims one philosopher – “greatness of dimensions seems requisite; for on a few parts, and those small, the imagination cannot rise to any idea of infinity.”(3)
Not at all. The sublime – we would counter – raises not so much the question of the sheer size of a given space, and instead that of its intention in relation to its sense of spatial and formal intensity: 3 x 3 x 6 meters may prove perfectly adequate…
Chap. X – Craft But let us now allow the old theoretician of cladding to have his say: “Brick appears as brick...” (4) A Parmenidean fragment that speaks not of the being of things, not of the joint or of the stone, neither of the order nor of the material. The accents here lies on the word “appear,” which is to say on its reflection in the eye of the beholder, on presentation and perception, on the proportionality to which we refer as scale.
Chap. XI – The Building Required before a space as such is able to appear is its form, its material form as floor, wall, and roof. The form does not however precede the space; enjoying precedence, always, is the idea of the space. Architectural space is dependent upon architectural form, while nonetheless, the form is only an emblem, only a symbol of the space. The form is only the form of the space, just as the space is only the space of dwelling. The form (matrix) presents itself therefore as the imprint (patrix) of the space, on the inside as well as on the outside, and the space in contrast as the imprint of a purpose.
Chap. XII – Conclusion In closing, finally, an excerpt from my brief address on the occasion of the recent roofing ceremony on the “Hochzeitswies,” adapted here, of course, to today’s event, as is often the case: “There, it quickly became clear: a space for this custom; established as the sanctum; erected here as a tower;… of which we speak this hour…”
(1) Karl Ameriks et al (Ed.), The Cambridge Companion to German Idealism, Cambridge 2000, p.227.
(2) Author, “Die Wand. Grenze der Architektur – Architektur der Grenze,” in: der architekt 4/2016.
(3) Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Sublime and Beautiful, Oxford 2015, p. 62.
(4) Gottfried Semper, “Vorläufige Bemerkungen über bemalte Architektur und Plastik bei den Alten (Altona 1834),” in: Semper, Manfred/Semper, Hans (Ed.), Kleine Schriften, Berlin/Stuttgart 1884, p. 219.