Architecture of the margins : the topological space of ornamental monsters and prosthetic skins

  • Anke Aggio

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    ‘Monsters’ and ‘prostheses’ emerge graphically and metaphorically from the margins and gaps in discourse. This is significant, for ancient charts and texts harnessed graphic forms to make meaningful comment on related content. The placement of these borderline figures signalled difference but also, and more profoundly, marked out sites of transformation. Although monstrous and prosthetic figures have touched, intersected, and even become synonymous with one another over the course of history, for the most part they have remained split and embedded within contested disciplines. Nevertheless, the prosthetic trope, like the monstrous metaphor, stands for a problematic hybrid interface that has been heavily exploited within diverse disciplines, often reductively. Still, as with its monstrous counterpart, there remains a sense in which the prosthetic figure is also constitutive. This thesis draws on the ancient figure of the monster and its sensual inscription of the communicative space of architecture in order to re-frame the contemporary figure of the prosthesis. The aim is to open the space of architecture to the possibility of a shared reading that holds relevance for a plural and fragmented world. The process of re-reading and re-framing monsters and prostheses aligns with the way meaning and knowing is enacted by the figures themselves, as they disclose new understanding through shifts in perceptual orientation. The points of reference that constitute the three-part form of this dissertation derive from structures shared by both figurations, namely ornament, skin and prosthesis. Monsters and prostheses first coincide in rhetorical ornament where they were harnessed to ‘speak’ and persuade an audience through a dynamic process of revealing and concealing. These inventive mixtures challenged unified, natural orders, and so were not only invested with the power to arouse, but also the power to confuse. The characteristic ambivalence of the rhetorical monster was formally transferred to the space of architectural ornament with Vitruvius’ treatise De architectura (circa) 25 BCE. In architecture, the ambiguous spatium inscribed by this figure is revealed to be an enigmatic structure imbued with revelatory potential—qualities shared by the rhetorical prosthesis. Both monsters and prostheses instantiate a spatial topology and way of thinking and understanding that is inscribed by means of skin and touch. This space is not the abstract topological space of mathematics, but is a primal, embodied space that Maurice Merleau-Ponty associates with ‘brute’ or ‘wild’ Being.1 Here, meaning is realised through the dynamic interrelation of proximity and distance, a relation that is sustained obliquely through a slow encroachment. The sensual means by which monsters and prostheses give shape to the complex ground that exists between body and world is revealed through a series of pre-modern studies that constitute the second part, Skin. Connecting rhetorical language with the topological domain of ‘skin’, the third part, Prosthesis, explicates the way in which monsters and prostheses fold together to inscribe a space that can be harnessed for its transformative power, and thus make a place for the contemporary body to relate to the built form. This research demonstrates how, an architectural inquiry that braids the corporeal moments in which monsters and prosthesis touch, overlap, and fold one into the other, might scaffold meaningful, embodied architectural experience. This corporeal frame permits a form of shared reading, which is notable for, without meaningful, mediating structures individuals remain detached from others and ultimately their worlds.
    Date of Award2018
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorStephen Frith (Supervisor)

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