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'Bodies of Desire' is an architectural exploration that contemplates the ethics of desire through a programme of ocean swimming pools at Achilles Point, Auckland. The programme, through its connection to water and ocean, interacts with theories of desire; specifically bodies, fluidity, and entanglements, and situates the architectural apparatus to a physical site.

Beginning with an examination of desire’s linguistic origins in Ancient Greek lyric poetry, the project tracks desire’s slippery discourse via theories of lack, bodies, matter, and performance. Through studies of what might comprise an architectural language of desire, to how such a language interacts with material and exceptional forces, the project proceeds via a reparative reading of texts and a conjunctive approach of utilising different mediums: photography, video, model-making and writing, as a means of locating desire between modes of making.

In exploring desire through relationalities, this thesis proposes a connection to, and empathy for, bodies (animate and inanimate, human and non-human, and so forth). It gestures towards our ethical relations to one another through architecture and beyond.

Body cartography

 
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In lieu of a traditional site analysis, a body cartography was performed at Achilles Point with a participant performer, as a way to activate the site and perceive elements specific to it. The participant interacts with the site’s palpable and intangible elements: the water, rocks, sand, breeze, view and so forth. The performance is utilised as a way to reread the construct of traditional mapping. By mapping the site with the body, a new type of map is created, one that is performative and removed from the traditional metrics of cartography.

 

Typologies of lack

 
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Typologies of lack, plaster and ink

Anne Carson writes: “The experience of Eros as lack alerts a person to the boundaries of himself, of other people, of things in general.”1 This notion of eros and boundaries, spurred an initial exploration into how a language of lack might be translated to architectural typology.

In seeking a boundary, we might think of a wall, a vertical structure that realises boundary and edge. A wall can divide, enclose, hide, and in its absence reveal. It can act as an obstacle, diverting movement around or over it, creating a temporal hindrance or resistance.

An opening can be a beginning, a milestone, an end. An opening can be a threshold, a marker of moving towards something. An opening denotes boundary and separation, yet momentarily, or infinitely, an opening connects the separation.

“A space must be maintained or desire ends”,2 writes Carson. Sappho's poem. written for a wedding, embodies in content and form the act of reaching – that is, reaching for something that cannot be grasped:

As a sweet apple turns red on a high branch,
high on the highest branch and the applepickers forgot—
well, no they didn't forget — were unable to reach

— Sappho, Fragment 105a


We see in the form of the bridge a suspension between two points; the first point that has been departed from, and the second point that is intended to be reached. When the bridge has been crossed, however, the second point is grasped, which means that the infinite nature of forever reaching is undone. To embody infinite reach, the bridge must include a feature where the second point is deliberately and unavoidably obstructed. The journey to point two, forever impeded. Here, an obstruction would function also to activate the structural component of of eros as lack, as one of three elements: lover, beloved, and that which comes between them. Says Carson, “They are three points of transformation on a circuit of possible relationship, electrified by desire so that they touch not touching. Conjoined they are held apart. The third component plays a paradoxical role for it both connects and separates, marking that two are not one, irradiating the absence whose presence is demanded by one.”3

Similarly, with stairs we see this sense of temporal suspension between two points of different elevation. But how to make this last infinitely? The stairs on their own embody suspension. Ramps too share a similarly suspending quality, but where in stairs there are pronounced steps that metrically step out rise and tread, the ramp is a sloping surface that does not prescribe step length, but pitch.

  1. Anne Carson, Eros the Bittersweet (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1986), 30.
  2. Ibid., 26.
  3. Ibid., 16.

Performing desire

 
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Documenting performance

Performance in this project operates as a node of connection between desire, bodies and architectural space. Performance occurs in both 'performing desire', as partaken by participant performers, as well as the documentation of performance through photography and video.

Gesture and movements relating to notions of desire and entanglement were explored during performances that took place in a green-screen studio.

 

Ocean pools

 
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Parapet obstruction

A bridge connects the vertical rectangular form with the top of the site. The bridge is a functional promenade, allowing bodies to span length and view the ocean from different points of the platform. At the end of the bridge is an obstruction in the form of a parapet, which is cantilevered three metres beyond the vertical form.

Flights of stairs are tucked in behind the vertical form. This placement of stairs largely obstructs views to the sea, allowing small reveals of viewing pleasure at each western landing, and partial views on the eastern landings, setting up a tension between body and view, and heightening the sense of slippery temporal suspension embodied by stairs. The stairs are also a visual metaphor, stimulating awareness for the phantom movement of bodies and forces of material energy (plant life, strata, water and so forth) in and around the site.

 
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Navigating the edge

Arriving on a promenade set five metres above ground, the floor surface, which is unadorned and has no particular programmatic designation, functions as both path and surface, and perhaps proscenium. Traces of the body remain on surfaces throughout — though not necessarily in an additive or reductive sense (e.g. a mark or a scratch) but rather, an atmosphere or sense that bodies were there, are there.

 
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Thoroughfare

A second set of stairs transports bodies from platform to beach, the final run situated directly towards the sea. When the tide is in, water pools around the third or fourth step; bodies move from apparatus to water. In front of these stairs, two walls join and form a partial enclosure that limits strong tidal activity on this portion of beach. The most southern wall is in line with the wall of the thoroughfare. They reach, but they do not touch.

 
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Opening

Water on the surface of the pool reflects the sky plane, gesturing to the body of space between water and sky. As the tides wax and wane, the water level of the pool rises and falls in contrast to the seeming concrete fixity of the pool’s borders. At times, the pool is empty. Such state of emptiness invites contemplation of the boundaries and purpose of the pool’s form. When the tide is in, the concrete walls, engulfed by water, denote loose boundaries of where 'pools' might be.

Here and throughout, concrete is deceptive. It purports categorical materiality, denoting a division between elements, but its very origins are of the earth: stone, gravel, sand, water; active particles of cosmic time, specks in the universe. Concrete is an aggregate, grouping together imperceptible particles so as to sensorially 'manifest'. Over time, the concrete of this complex will crack, fade and deteriorate; in its dissolution, returning to dust: becoming. David Leatherbarrow refers to the material suffering and deterioration of buildings as an unscripted architectural performance. Each moment of its changing configuration seems to exist in the present. "Architecture’s performative labour has no end, for it is a task that continually presents itself anew.”4

4. David Leatherbarrow, "Unscripted Performances", Architecture Oriented Otherwise (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2009), 62—63.

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The diving board

Moments of Desire

 
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1:100 site model, sand and resin topography with steel base