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Life in space

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The Architecture of Image: Existential Space in Cinema By Juhani Pallasmaa. Finnish Building Centre, 2001. 183pp. £36 (Available from Triangle bookshop 020 7631 1381)

Juhani Pallasmaa has a style of writing, bordering on poetry, which inspires new ways of seeing things. In The Architecture of Image - Existential Space in Cinema he explores the relationship between cinema and architecture, and how such art-forms help us to place ourselves in the world - in particular through their use of poetic images.

Pallasmaa prompts a craving for fresh experience, in much the same way as an author like Jack Kerouac. With Pallasmaa's statement that the primary role of art is to activate the imagination, one recalls the imagery of On the Road: the evocation of crowded, sweaty San Francisco jazz clubs, the smell of steel, and the excitement of moving through the landscapes, cities and small towns of 1950s America.

Pallasmaa writes: 'These images of places, created by the reader, are not detached pictorial images, they are experiences of embodied and lived space.' His book's key notion of 'lived space' intertwines the actual experience of physical places with subjective feelings, memories and associations, often evoked by these spaces and their artistic representations, but just as often by unconnected life events. The existential space which we inhabit thus becomes a mixture of physical sensation and mental imagination.

To flesh out this idea, Pallasmaa examines the particular characteristics of cinematic imagery, and its place within the experience, creation and understanding of lived space, with reference to five films: Alfred Hitchcock's Rope and Rear Window; Andrei Tarkovsky's Nostalgia; Michelangelo Antonioni's The Passenger; and Stanley Kubrick's The Shining.

These five essays, along with the more wide-ranging introduction, form essential reading for anyone interested in cinema or architecture. Drawing on precedents within Renaissance and Surrealist painting, and texts by Gaston Bachelard, Rainer Maria Rilke and Italo Calvino (to name just a few), they inspire close study of the chosen films.

The essays are excellently illustrated throughout, with precisely the right frame or picture beside the relevant text. Evidently there was a problem in obtaining permission for the use of photographed frames from The Shining, but this is effectively overcome with the commission of vibrantly coloured paintings; indeed, for anyone who has seen the film, these are perhaps even more disturbing than the use of the actual frames, cleverly drawing on the reader's buried memories, internal imagery and imagination.

Pallasmaa expands the notion that the physical definition of space is related to our mental state through the study of phenomena such as claustrophobia, repression, psychosis, voyeurism and alienation. These subjective sensations are related to physical spatiality through the directors' poetic use of colour, texture, abstraction, depth of field, light, materiality - and, of course, the built form. The latter ranges from Hitchcock's and Kubrick's meticulously planned large-scale stage-sets to the more intuitive use of mainly existing spaces and locations by Antonioni and Tarkovsky.

Thankfully, Pallasmaa steers clear of advocating conceits like the literal projection of cinematic images onto the fabric of buildings. Instead, he shows cinema's ability to reawaken the architect's understanding of place-making, encouraging an exploration of extremes of sensation and perception. The book inspires consideration of how architectural space can be formed with dense layers of meaning and ideas, incorporating physical characteristics like smell, noise, touch, materiality, and extremes of light and dark or big and small. And, like Gaston Bachelard's Poetics of Space, it encourages an essential questioning of what it means to define space or create a dwelling.

'The artistic stages of architecture are always something other than the total of their material structures, ' says Pallasmaa.

'Even these are primarily mental spaces, architectural representations, and images of the perfect life. Architecture, too, leads our imagination to another reality.'

Bobby Open is an architect at Nicholas Ray Associates and teaches at Cambridge University

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