Play Quickness And Festina Lente

Play is far from being only a child's game. James Hans believes that play is central to living, and he writes of inorganic, organic, and human play. Inorganic and organic objects have a part to play in the world, even if it is a small part. Even a rock plays, although it may wait centuries to become actively involved. It has a part in the order of the universe, which makes it playful within its environment (Hans, 1981). Play constitutes a mode of manipulation and learning; its implementation might provide an approach to truth and interpretation. The framework of play provides boundaries to stretch against and becomes a method of representation. Play itself is an activity in which all humans engage, even when 'working' (Hans, 1981). This discussion of play will begin with the etymology of several words derived from the Latin verb ' to play.' This sets the stage for an examination of the many aspects of human play.

Allusion, illusion, delusion, prelude, and interlude are all variations on the Latin ' ludere , meaning 'to play ' . The prefix of each word changes its meaning somewhat, although each maintains its reference to play. An allusion conveys an indirect mention — an indirect but meaningful reference. It is not an obvious reference; in fact, it may not be comprehended at all. Allusion resembles a private joke or an inside story. It is playful in its dependence on the knowledge of the reader or listener. Allusion has an etymological origin from to ' play with' ; on the contrary, illusion is ' against play', and is a deception, trickery, sometimes a false or often erroneous image. It suggests negative connotations of ' a mistaken perception of reality, a mistaken belief or concept ' (Oxford English Dictionary). An illusionist image may not allow play or finding the truth through play.

On the other hand, allusion is play; the subtle references and analogies allow the ability to see more clearly, even if that image is less plausible or immediately incomprehensible. Sketches that contain allusions are subtle in their reference; they provoke new thoughts because they contain a fraction, or a connotation, which sparks an atmosphere or memory. The reductive medium characterizes sketches; they can be 'realistic,' but this does not necessarily mean they are documentary. These playful sketches refer to an abstract notion; they are not necessarily restricted to the false phantom of illusion. Thus, the play of the sketch fluctuates somewhere between the illusion of definitive 'reality', and the allusion of abstraction and limited identity.

A few examples clarify how allusion and illusion can be apparent in architectural sketches. Expressionist architectural sketches of the early part of the twentieth century provided an emotional outlet for the architect 's energy. Wolfgang Pehnt explains the significance of the sketch for Expressionist architects: ' [w]here the creative urge was so highly valued, the architectural sketch became doubly significant. Sketches promised insight into the creative process, and with their aid artists could tap sources that would otherwise remain buried' (Pehnt, 1985: 6).

FIGURE 2.1 Michel de Klerk; Apartment Block 2, Spaarndammer-plantsoen,

Amsterdam, 1914—16.

FIGURE 2.1 Michel de Klerk; Apartment Block 2, Spaarndammer-plantsoen,

Amsterdam, 1914—16.


Michel de Klerk, part of the Expressionist movement, lived and worked in Amsterdam (1884— 1923) and provides an example of controlled illusionary sketches. Having worked with Eduard Cuypers, de Klerk built numerous housing projects in Amsterdam, primarily of brick. His projects suggest the English Arts and Crafts movement, but he also used Dutch models.

This page of sketches (Figure 2.1) depicts some qualities of illusion. The sketches of exterior ornament are illusionary images, in that they seem quite three-dimensional, as shadows show depth, and each sketch is carefully drawn to express texture and materials. De Klerk carefully renders detail as he was intimately conscious of how materials would be joined. The many variations overlap in his eagerness to find a solution. He was testing the form against his imagination and judgment. Interestingly, de Klerk finishes each sketch to a degree where it can be evaluated, almost giving each one the opportunity to impress him. Other architects may reject solutions early in the process, when they do not show promise. These sketches are playful in the repetition of forms to locate alternative inventions. More explicitly, the drawing conveys illusionary qualities as the sketch provides a more complete or 'realistic' impression.1 As there can be time and place for both illusion and allusion, it is not a negative feature, in this case, to be completely descriptive.

Within a definition of play, de Klerk 's drawing is not as playful as others that are less descriptive. It lacks the looseness that encourages free associations and may be too definite to support imaginative insight. By contrast, a drawing by the contemporary architect Eric Kahn (Figure 2.2) alludes to many shapes and images. Eric Kahn, with Ron Golan and Russell Thomsen, created the Central Office of Architecture in 1987. They have won awards such as the Young Architects Award and Emerging Voices from the Architectural League of New York. Profoundly interested in architecture as a tool, on their website they write that they view it as ' ...a means to making other means and ends [living, dwelling], apparatus for the promotion of humanism.'

With clients such as the Getty Conservation Institute and the Southern California Institute of Architecture, their wide range of built work includes the Brix Restaurant in Venice, California and La Opinion in Los Angeles. This page of loose scribbles, an early design sketch entitled Urban Fabric: Mexico City, epitomizes allusion. The forms appear to be quick proportioned shapes to spark the imagination in an effort to force associations that could be used later. This sketch, then, becomes a way to continue an allusive dialogue. When asked to describe his relationship with his sketches, Kahn references the thinking evident in a playful dialogue:

Sketching is improvising; it is an action that unfolds through time. These sketches are instances of improvisational thinking; they start with a theme based in direct unmediated observation and become improvisations as they drift iteratively.2 Drawing as thinking emphasizes and leverages its ability as a means (verb) rather than precious ends (nouns). In this sense drawing is a necessary act for the thinking architect, not a romantic indulgence. They exhibit an absolute aesthetic absenteeism; a dialogic mode characterized by the engaged philologist not the interested artist. En masse they are modest recordings they are highly contingent on the impressions left by human circumstance. As research instruments, they coax out of the domain of concealment the charged will of our life — world in a mode proper to it. (Kahn, personal communication)

On the page can be viewed slow deliberate lines contrasted by faster undulating marks. The speed of the marks shows in how they are wavy, almost becoming like an artist 's contour lines. As if produced with a loose hand, they become straighter when grouped together. These lines suggest dimension and become volumes for the articulation of spatial elements seemingly bursting from the interstitial space. The approximately five sketches crowded on the page seem to evoke a movement through space as parallel lines mark distances and length of shadows. Placed as to be analytical, the bundles of sketches evoke compression and release. Alluding to three-dimensional forms, they demand interpretation.

1 'Realistic' in detail and line proportion, not necessarily dimension or texture. See Umberto Eco (1979) A Theory of Semiotics. Interestingly Pehnt writes about the illusionary qualities of de Klerk 's work: ' ..a matter of dimensioning and structural reconsideration as in many of Michel de Klerk 's sketches, or where the client had to be provided with a lucid view of his future real estate, the spontaneous gesture was out of place.' (Pehnt, 1985, 8)

2 Kahn writes: ' The Anatomy of "Observation", focuses on the etymology of the word "observation" itself, as Jonathan Crary illuminated in Techniques of the Observer, unlike spectare, the Latin root for "spectator", the root for "observe" does not literally connote "to look at".. .observare, means "to conform one's action, to comply with", as in observing rules, codes, regulations, and practices. Though obviously one who sees, an observer is more importantly one who sees within a prescribed set of possibilities, one who is embedded in a system of conventions and limitations. And by "conventions" I mean to suggest far more than representational practices.'

FIGURE 2.2 Eric A. Kahn; Urban Fabric: Mexico City (D.F.) 2003. The morphology of a fabric city, with its clear distinction of block and street structure drifts towards 'scoring' intervals of street paving, façade rhythms, and light and shadow projections, unraveling the striated space of the city.

When asked to comment on the sketches, Kahn explains the thoughts that provoked them. 'The morphology of a fabric city, with its clear distinction of block and street structure drifts towards scoring intervals of street paving, façade rhythms, light and shadow projections unraveling the striated space of the city. ' These sketches allude to shadow and structure while conjuring the imagination. Although a combination of loose and controlled lines, the sketch remains within the urban theme and, thus, the subject matter defines the limits of the play.

Boundaries are important aspects of a theory of play. The abstract concept of play is reminiscent of the freedom of childhood, but play of any sort has restrictions. Jacques Derrida explains the role of free play by introducing its boundaries; he writes that play is bound in two crucial senses:

[F]irst, the beginning of play is always necessarily connected to a foreproject, to a series of prejudgments that are at issue in the activity of play itself, that give an orientation to the play; and second, the result of play is a structure, a framework or order that has been confirmed by the play itself. (Hans, 1981: 10—11)

As in the context of games, there always exists some adversary, some limit of freedom, to overcome and to act against. It may be an opponent, a rule, a chance (luck), predictability, or a boundary of space, time or physical being (Weinsheimer, 1985). Hans-Georg Gadamer expresses this aspect of play as a kind of determinism when he writes about the action of play: ' no play is perfectly free play is to sacrifice freedom and accept limits.. .being limited, being played, is a condition of playing at all' (Weinsheimer, 1985: 104).

Hans finds a similar connotation of boundaries or limits in the intention of play. It might be desire that intensifies the search for an architectural solution, for example. 'Desire as I wish to consider it occurs as an aspect of the activity of play. If play is the activity, and production is the result of activity, desire is what provides the orientation and motivation for play' (Hans, 1981: 51). A soccer game would not be very interesting if the goal posts were removed. The rules for an architect — of budget, site, or program — confine the play, and these limits structure the architect 's creativity; similarly, a sketch has boundaries in its media and time limits. The sketch is also confined by the architect 's skills, mindset, the program of the project, or artificial limits evoked by the designer.

A game, too restricting, has no movement or flexibility; consequently, the play loses interest, and it could be said it has no play. The architectural theorist Marco Frascari expresses this seizing up of play by the example of play versus tolerance in a joint.3 The joint must contain play in order to move and work. Tolerance is either something required or a mistake, and is not built into or designed to allow for free movement and play. To leave some play means to leave some vagueness. In a similar way, the play adjusts to the game as it is played. A team of soccer players identifies the strongest player on the opposing team, and they modify their play to compensate. They are, in fact, testing the tolerance, and the play generates new structures, not only with and within former frames (Hans, 1981). Through play, the players adapt to a changing world and this change enriches the play. Psychologists refer to this as 'feedback', and many architects use sketches in a similar manner, adjusting the sketches to reflect constant reactions to the images they perceive.

Hans feels that play requires both novelty and repetition and that the course of the play incorporates the relationship between these two: 'play shares one thing with games: a familiar structure that allows one to play with the unfamiliar' (Hans, 1981: 28). The difference adds to the knowledge and interest of the game, for if the soccer game was played exactly the same way each time, the winner would be obvious and all involved would quickly lose interest. Hans further states that the repetition provides structure, but that change depends upon orientation: ' [t]his structure of the familiar then permits the introduction of the different; play in one sense is no more than the infection of the familiar by difference' (Hans, 1981: 28 ).

All play involves this departure of difference, since play is never static and the intensity changes with each activity. Hans provides an example from art: '[a]esthetic activity can sometimes generate an intensity which would seem to approach the intensity of an orgasm or a religious experience, but at other times aesthetic experience might generate effects which could only be characterized as mildly pleasing' (Hans, 1981: 40). The play depends upon continuity since the imitation often breaks loose to a diversity which may or may not be vivid (Hans, 1981: 44).

3 From a seminar conducted by Dr. Marco Frascari at Georgia Tech (Spring 1988).

Diversity often relies upon the give and take of play. Again, in a soccer game each play requires a reaction and the play continues on subsequent actions. It is difficult to play ball totally alone, unless there is some challenge to react against. Kick, toss, and volley are analogies from games that elucidate this mental activity. Architects employ a similar technique when playing back and forth with a sketch since the repetition of the sketch, along with its variation, continues the play of designing.

It becomes necessary, at this point, to differentiate the sketch and a 'game'. The amount of inten-tionality might be at issue because compared to a game, the sketch may not have as clear an objective. The give and take of play resembles the delicate balance between fight and fun. This challenge in the play of children hones their skills and replicates other challenges (Lieberman, 1977). There is a fine line which separates these two; often, what starts as fun turns to fight and vice versa. A question arises here: what activity constitutes play?

Hans asks this question and agrees with Gadamer that it can be said ' [p]lay fulfills its purpose only if the player loses himself in play ' (Gadamer, 1989: 102). Play focuses on activity, not objects (Hans, 1981). Gadamer writes that the players become so engrossed in their action that what is seen is the 'primacy of play over the consciousness of the player' (Gadamer, 1989: 104). In fact the play only exists during the activity of being played:

The players are not the subjects of the play; instead play merely reaches presentation through the players.. .all playing is a being-played. (Gadamer, 1989: 103, 106)

It is as if the player forfeits power to the game and, subsequently, the player has the experience of ' being outside oneself' . The play is all-absorbing, and Hans sees the activity of play as unself-conscious (Hans, 1981). Other philosophers who write about play reinforce this concept in their own terms. Johann Huizinga writes about play as being ' captivating' and ' enchanting' (Huizinga, 1955). Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattori reiterate this thought: ' the unconscious only becomes another word for play ' (Hans, 1981: 61). If play enchants the player and that player is not consciously thinking of him or herself, then the activity of the play can combine recent experience and blend fields of play together.

The connection of experiences into play activity involves memory, imagination, and fantasy all within a framework:

[T]he activity of play is neither unconsciousness or self-reflexive, but it nevertheless depends on both in the following manner. All playful activity is given some kind of shape by what has preceded it. That shape is never easily definable, but we can say that in many cases active syntheses are a part of that shape. In playing with an idea, one might well begin by questioning the relation between the arts and sciences and by positing any number of features which might correspond to each. (Hans, 1981: 59)

Once again it is possible to use the analogy of a game of soccer, where the players combine experience and intelligence to play the game. This activity involves knowledge of the rules, body coordination, strategy, cognitive anticipation, and memory, to name just a few. The connections between thoughts and events could be seen as similar to association, where one thing leads to another in an often unusual and surprising combination. Likewise, architects use all of these activities. They are educated in the rules, approach the activity of sketching with intention, and utilize all their faculties of intelligence, imagination and memory.

The activity of play also entails ' representation-of' and ' representation-for' (Weinsheimer, 1985; Wollheim, 1971). The choice provided for the player can either take on a role or play the play for meaning. 'Representation-of' is self-representation, where a player is acting a part. The player could be a member of a team or an actor in a theatrical production. ' Representation-for' overlaps this but takes on symbolic connotations. Gregory Bateson describes play for cultural representation: 'the actions of "play" are related to, or denote, other actions of "not play". We, therefore, meet in play with an instance of signals standing for other events, and it appears, therefore, that the evolution of play may have been an important step in the evolution of communication' (Bateson, 1972: 181).

Gregory Bateson uses the playful activity of puppies to examine some of the representations of play. Puppies play at biting each other, but each knows that it is play, and if one of them nips too hard, they yelp and realize it is no longer play. The relationship is not one to one, as the nip does not replace the bite but represents it. ' [T]hese actions, in which we now engage, do not denote what would be denoted by those actions which these actions denote.The playful nip denotes the bite, but it does not denote what would be denoted by the bite ' (Bateson, 1972: 181). For an architect, the sketch does not directly replace the building, which is merely in its conceptual stages, but the architect plays with these sketches knowing that they are only a ' nip' of that building. Although the sketch cannot physically react it might seem to; consequently sketches are not always 'controllable'.

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