On the Truthfulness of a Place (Or On Pre-Architecture and Post-Architecture)

written by Tomislav Pavelić

PDF Download: Click here.

We, architects of today, reach into the well of spiritual he­ritage and the entirety of accessible knowledge when we act; in other words when, in reply to the needs of our time, we create spatial units which we hope will become true places. Therefore, we find it self-explanatory to connect the mind with the truth, and yet, Albert Camus says: ‘There are places where the mind dies so that a truth which is its very denial may be born.’[1] This statement of Camus is disturbing, perhaps even defeating for us because, although he does not literally say that the death of the mind is a necessary condition for all places that are true, he still implies it. Should we, who start from the mind in order to create a spatial precondition for truthfulness, conclude that not only is truth unobtainable for us, but we in general do not know what truthfulness means?


Here, I leave order and moderation to others. The great free love of nature and the sea absorbs me completely. In this marriage of ruins and springtime, the ruins have become stones again, and losing the polish imposed on them by men, they have reverted to nature... Like the men whom much knowledge brings back to God, many years have brought these ruins back to their mother’s house.[2] The place in which I ‘leave order and moderation to others’ and which ‘absorbs me completely’ (therefore I persistently return there) is a remnant of a Roman quarry. In that place, which is a precondition for architecture, I temporarily liberate myself from the restrictions of the mental patterns from which I start when I contemplate the world or act in it. In that spatial fragment, which nested itself a long time ago and with the will of men within the continuity of the coast that plunges steeply into the blue of the open sea, I give myself up to the elements. There (for example, at the close of the day when I lie naked on the still warm rock and the landward breeze cools me, and while I look towards the setting sun and flickering silhouettes in the distance) I go back to ‘my mother’s house’, therefore I sense truth from somewhere deeply in my body.


In the middle of a hill’s slope planted with vineyards, I accidentally discovered this excavation for a building that was never realized. That unexpected (almost land-artistic) spatial fragment inspired agriculturists to adopt it – by bringing a table, bench, and chair they created there a place for their rest from hard physical work. They probably needed, as did I in the quarry, an echo of human activity in order to feel at home here. And they motivated me to stop for a moment, surrender my goal to temporary oblivion and rest for a while, like they do.


Wolfgang Laib spreads flower pollen over the floor of the gallery for a long time and with great care and thus creates a square[3]. On a bare meadow next to the sea, I found a similar square. It is not an artistic installation like Laib’s, but a playground which local people made of sand – now they play six-a-side soccer there; nevertheless, the sand square may serve for another purpose as well. Although in neither of the two contexts, in the gallery or on the suburban meadow, is there anything to initiate this, yet the spatial possibility is noticed and used. Although both surfaces are almost equally ephemeral with their materiality, they are evidence of man’s need to create a place within an available spatial frame.


A bare island piazzetta without any ambition other than to open space with little more sunshine and air within the dense town tissue. It is cobbled with the same local stone that the houses are built of and therefore its floor naturally merges in totally with the surrounding façades and creates an uncovered shared room for the neighbourhood. One could say that the piazzetta is a place of additional possibilities for townsmen who do not have their own courtyards. While the doors to the houses are closed, it is merely a traffic surface; when the doors are opened, the piazzetta becomes a part of the houses, their exterior living room. Boundaries are fragile, and their establishing or removal determines the nature of this place.


In the Mediterranean, spatial restrictions are so great that they initiate appearances of places with a dual nature. In the continuity of street walls, I came across a gap with a staircase. There are no clear signs or means of prohibition, and yet the question of the appropriateness of turning from the street imposed itself on me. Beyond, behind the staircase that partially creates a wall, one can see a rather small courtyard with wine vaults. Although it is within hand’s reach, less than one metre above and recessed from the public surface, this courtyard is obviously a forbidden zone. At first the staircase is parallel to the street and, half way up, it changes direction and turns inwards at a right angle. The landing created here seems like an observation post, but it is primarily the key place for understanding zones of accessibility. As if it says that from here on, any confusion is out of place – the staircase serves for going to flats or you do not use it at all. Residents and intruders are clearly divided.


What must be said first of all is that a heavy, unbroken silence reigned there – something like a perfectly balanced pair of scales... Now and then a sharp clap, a piercing cry marked the upward flight of a bird huddled among the rocks... In the great confusion of wind and sun that mixes light into the ruins, in the silence and solitude of this dead city, something is forged that gives man the measure of his identity.[4]


When driving by car on a winding road, I spotted an incre­dible scene on the slope of the hill on the opposite side – the geometrically precise zigzag line of a path that leads through fields upward from the town. I decided to go back as soon as possible and pass over that path. It is impossible to miss it from a distance; nevertheless, I barely found it because the field is untended, and the path overgrown. Instead of agriculturists, only idle tourists walk here now. Like Camus, I was also startled by a pheasant soaring up, bringing me back with this from being mesmerized in spirit to the truthfulness of the place. Was Camus right, is it really always necessary for the spirit to die in order for truth to appear, which is its negation? If one is to judge from this field path – it has to. Who knows, perhaps the path’s original users were close to the truth; perhaps they did not live within speculative spheres of spirit and did not experience their life and actions as a conceptually clear sequence of causes and consequences, like us. Perhaps they intuitively knew that the boundaries were slippery and that only the empire of elements had been there before them and would be there after them, with pheasants that soar up without warning and with columns of ants. Therefore maybe, if I manage to remember the silence of these places and directedness with which man is put into a context broader than his personal desires, spiritual reaches and pretentions, I will succeed in creating places with architecture that will nullify Camus’s statement.

[1]1 Albert Camus: ‘The Wind at Djemila’, Nuptials, Internet website Iraqi Bloggers Central

[2]2 Albert Camus: ‘Nuptials at Tipasa’, Nuptials, Internet website South-of-Julia blog

[3] Wolfgang Laib: ‘The Ephemeral is Eternal’, exhibition catalogue, Foundation Beyeler/Hatje Cantz Verlag, Riehen-Basel/Ostfildern-Ruit, 2005

[4] Albert Camus: ‘The Wind at Djemila’, Nuptials, Internet website Iraqi Bloggers Central