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What does space-time look like? An obscure comic published in 1989 has the answer

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Black Box: Architects have never been very good at conveying the passing of time in presentations of the buildings they design

Today’s typical moneyshot, say of an urban housing block, is usually centred around a dramatic perspective of the scheme, with an unfeasibly busy forecourt and gardens populated with CADvatars. You know the sort: happy couples walking away from the ‘camera’, a cyclist closer to the ‘frame’ and probably a bit motion-blurred, a businessman on the phone (hand-in-pocket) and maybe a Muslim family having a picnic. But these pictures are soulless. Each group seems blissfully unaware of the other. That scene will never happen. Because time doesn’t look like that.

It probably looks something more like Richard McGuire’s Here, the influential six-page comic first published in Art Spiegelman’s RAW anthology in 1989. In comics, each panel literally, pictorially, frames a moment and McGuire’s seminal work explores this to startling effect, breaking down the time-space continuum with mind-bending ease. And it’s very architectural.

The first panel of Hereshows an unadorned corner of a room in a house. The 35 panels that follow all show the location in space depicted in the first panel at different points in time: from 1929 to 1957 to 1986 and 1901 and sometimes into the near future, 2033, as well as the distant past, long before the house was built. The 1901 panel shows a moustached man with his hands a windows-width apart, saying, ‘… and this is where I’ll put the living room’. The 2033 panel shows a military ceremony taking part around a monument. (We see the house razed in a previous panel from the year 2030). But mostly the panels show daily life in the living room of an anonymous suburban house and somehow it is utterly compelling, a moving study on the passage of time, of lives lived in ordinary places.

An ageing man stands in front of the window and asks, ‘Where did you put today’s paper?’ in 1989. A small child screams ‘Whaaa!’ in 1963, the window behind framing a lightning strike. Segmented panels further increase narrative possibilities by linking similar moments across time. We see a woman dusting, scrubbing, mopping the same space in a panel subdivided into four, each segment separated by years.

As Tom Spurgeon writes in The Comics Journal’s list of the 100 best comics of the 20th century, ‘McGuire calls to our attention both the ephemeral nature of life as it is lived and its matter-of-fact beauty, showing us connections – however tenuous – between ourselves, others and the spaces we share.’ Show me the architect who wouldn’t want to achieve the same effect in drawings of the buildings they propose.

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A refreshed Greek theatre in Syracuse, Sicily was inaugurated on the 11 May with a performance of Prometheus Unbound on an OMA-designed stage set (left) featuring three temporary devices – Ring, Machine and Raft - that reinterprets the ancient setting.

The Ring is a suspended walkway that completes the semi-circle of the terraced seating, encompasses the stage and backstage, and gives an alternative stage entrance.

The Machine is an adaptable backdrop, a sloping circular platform, seven-metres high that can rotate and split down the middle, framing dramatic events such as Prometheus being swallowed in the bowels of the earth.

The Raft, a circular stage for the actors and dancers, reimagines the orchestra space as a modern thymele, the altar that in ancient times was dedicated to Dionysian rites.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Getting students to think about their designs in time is something that we've (adaptable futures) stressed with the design studios we've been involved in - which is also the goal of our student competition this year. Any format which asks the author to visualise their design as part of a narrative sequence is helpful. We've stressed the use of film as a communication medium with adobe after effects.


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