Kim H. Veltman
Lise Bek, Towards Paradise on Earth: Modern Space Conception in Architecture, (Odense University Press, 1980),1 Annals of Science, London, Vol. 39, No. 3, (1982), pp. 320-322.
The author is concerned with changing conceptions of space in architecture and concentrates her analysis on three periods: the Italian trecento (Pt. I. 1-2), the quattrocento (Pt. II. 1-2) and Antiquity (Pt. III. 1) ending with a section concerning Renaissance views of Antiquity. In the architecture of Antiquity and of the trecento the author finds that (234) "spatial design is based on the visual effect of the elevation of the buildung and it is therefore the optical principle of axiality that constitutes the spatial structure". This is contrasted to the architecture of the quattrocento where the author finds a geometric axiality based on linear perspective which, she claims, was a result of humanistic ideology and of Leon Battista Alberti's ideas in particular.
To illustrate this shift from optical to geometrical axiality the author begins with examples from the city states (Florence, Piazza della Signoria; Siena, il Campo). Here she finds a shift from the circle to the trapeze as ideal form (54). Throughout her book she concentrates on the domestic architecture of the ruling classes on the assumption that these best reflect a combination of decision and power to change styles. Although architectural structures are the author's prime concern, she is also very much interested in the role of frescoes, paintings etc. within these structures, it being assumed that the positioning of such works also reflects this shift from optical to geometrical axiality.
Parallel with this shift she identifies a change in the host/guest relationship. In Antiquity (202) pictures are seen from the point of view of the host or guest of honour, "not of the advancing stranger". In the trecento she finds (55) an intimate form of representation whose distinctive trait is the guest's surprise on his sudden encounter with the space. In the quattrocento (73) the guest is ... "also the friend, his host's equaly having freedom to enter without ceremony".
A knowledge of Latin and Italian is assumed: long passages are cited in the original language without translation. The author's analyses throughout is erudite: she is careful not merely to make generalizations; she considers alternative possibilities and always bases her claims on the evidence of specific buildings and monuments. This makes her work a worthwhile contribution. Throughout her book she makes stimulating suggestions. For instance she argues convincingly (200) that the Roman written descriptions of domestic architecture between Sulla and Hadrían are not Utopian depictiona of an ideal but rather, realistic verbal interpretations of building of the period. She provides groundplans and encourages us to see various frescoes and other decorations in the context of their original spatial settings.
Read full article