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stratification : an analysis of the operating principle achieving phenomenal transparency

Site and Motion

MA Architecture (Digital Media) 2021/22 (Distinction)

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Stratification is etymologically derived from the words ‘stratum’ (layer / cover) and ‘ficere’ (make), therefore it essentially means the creation of layers : an action through which a certain level of organisation of layers, or elements, is achieved. The term features in a wide range of disciplines (sociology, archeology, geology, materiality, narrative..), and therefore offers itself to multiple interpretations according to the field of study. In Rowe and Slutzky’s text on Transparency, stratification is referred to as an operational principle through which phenomenal transparency is achieved. The kind of stratification they address is spatial stratification, which can be defined as a sequential layering, or succession, of spaces. In spatial stratification, the space in between assigned layers is the most vital element, rather than the actual elements in organisation. This space may not necessarily refer to the contained area in between the elements, but also as the potential to formulate relations between the stratified elements. Stratification can therefore be said to be composed of two principles: the creation of some form of structure, i.e. a specific, rigid way of combining elements into a whole, and as a process of narration in order to achieve specific, perhaps time-dependent, effects on the user or observer (which is therefore more related to perception or cognition). This leads to relationships being established between structure and experience - between the physical experience of architectural spaces and the field of abstract relations within.

Through the two different architectural projects defined by stratification, Villa Stein de-Monze in Garches and the League of Nations paper project (both by Le Corbusier), Rowe and Slutzky, perhaps unintentionally, indicate two different experiential outcomes of stratification : one through which spaces can be experienced simultaneously (therefore having a combined effect of elements in organisation resulting in an abstracted whole - perceptive) and the other through which a succession of spaces is experienced as one progresses through a space (noumenal). However, in both cases, the structure of the composing elements is clearly defined, yet a certain level of ambiguity offers itself in between the elements, allowing for multiple readings/ modes of navigation.

Upon analysis of two further case studies, van Eyk’s Sonsbeek Pavilion (an architectural piece) and Terry Riley’s In C (a musical piece), it was further established that stratification can result in various degrees of phenomenality, further reinforcing the idea that the ‘phenomenal’ transparency that Rowe and Slutzky refer to needs further development in definition. Stratification can lead to varying levels of transparency which are not related to any physical or optical qualities (what they define as literal), and therefore what they refer to as phenomenal transparency could be redefined as non-literal, which can be either perceptive transparency or noumenal. Nevertheless, it can be said that phenomenal transparency is achieved through rigidity and clarity in the structure, and the fluidity in interpretation / navigation within, which is essentially what the operational principle of stratification is about.

The website submitted as part of this project seeks to emulate the hidden logic behind the principle - the structure is very regimental, but can be navigated and interpreted freely by the user.