Monday, August 10, 2009

Materiality at the Alhambra: "Architecture should speak of its time and place, but yearn for timelessness" - Frank Gehry

My impression after seeing the Alhambra and other sites in Europe is that geometry makes a building (and ornamentation) timeless. The straight line, the circle, the triangle and their abstractions were recognized by man centuries ago and will remain unchanged centuries from now.
However, it was when viewing representations of flowers, man, places, animals, the images showed the lens through which they were being viewed & valued. The same flower represented at different time will look different and date itself. Unless is abstracted to the point that it is only geometry.
The carvings of arabic script (verses from the Quran) and small intricate geometric patterning seem impossible to have ever been done by hand - if not for the skill needed, but also for the time necessary to accomplish it. The intricate interweaving, repetition of patterns and unending lines in the Alhambra represent the complex & infinite nature of God/Allah.

This wall is also carved, and then painted.

Everywhere within the Alhambra were river stones laid in different patterns.

Geometric tiles on the wall. Islamic tradition did not allow for the representation of figures, so many complex and varied geometric patterns are used instead. They are also a reminder of the Moors expertise in Math.

Many of the bright colors used are ones from the Quran:
red (blood), blue (heaven), green (oasis) and gold (wealth).

The Court of the Lions. I was looking forward to seeing this - the lions being the only figures in the Alhambra, but the lions were being restored/repaired and the fountain was under a glass box. The fountain was a gift from a Jewish leader recogizing the the good relations with the sultan, and therefore it is assumed the 12 lions represent the 12 tribes of Israel. Originally the fountain functioned as a clock, with a different lion spouting water at each hour. The conquering christians took it apart to figure out how it worked, and it has never worked since.....

Water is an integral part of the materiality of the Alhambra and Generalife. Not only is it a wonderful contrast to the heat and the stonework of the buildings, but it brings life to the space in the sound of the water and the volume of birds flying and chirping through out.

Many of the doors in the Alhambra were wood with inlaid patterns. I am not sure what the significance was of this metal door, but it appealed to me in its simplicity and the way the pattern overlapped when both doors were shut (seam between 2 visible). The studs on the design & the weathering of the material invites touch.

In this case, the paint had worn off the carving over the years and not been reapplied. (My modern aesthetics probably prefer the purity of this wall without the paint.)

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