The Prefigure, The Figure, The Animal

In 1995, Lebbeus woods produced a series of drawings called The San Francisco Bay Project. One of the drawings, titled “The City and the Faults it Sits on”, depicts a figure in the distance. The architecture seems to be in metamorphosis, reconstructing itself with no clear signs of entrances. At a glance, one could even be unsure if the figure is made of several different figures, conformed to the site it inhabits. Trust is automatically broken in terms of apparent inhabitability. Its deformations and posture transition from high density facades to more planar moves. The architecture conceals what we understand as a building, and its façade camouflages with the high-density city that is San Francisco. It reminds me of the writings of American artist, Abbot H. Thayer.

Abbot Thayer’s descriptions of concealment and camouflage question the relationship of perceiving an object versus the presence it has. These two categories on a normal day co-exist together in a relationship that allows us to understand the world. Abbot has proven that this relationship can be disrupted, primarily by camouflage. Abbot Thayer always had a interest in animals. If one were to think of architecture as animals, hunting, inhabiting their sites, and reconstructing, then this sparks the theory that there is a metamorphosis after this animal reaches ground. I imagine camouflaged architecture being hungry, introverted, and even abrasive. If the animal’s presence isn’t perceived by humans at the ground, the relationship of presence and perception is broken. The exterior cannot be trusted, and humans can only go forth and inhabit the animal to understand its space. It seems, then, that camouflaged architecture is an external agent that breaks the trust that we have in a building’s presence. It appreciates its introverted attempts to conceal itself, and its intentions. These intentions translate to how one reads a building's program, apertures, and posture. The prefigure is its tool of manipulation.

I write this thinking that the prefigure, the silhouette, and any other word that simulates one's presence is not concerned about its perspective from the ground. It's truly an animal that lives in the urban fabric, sitting, glaring at the sky above, and deciding when it should be known. I've driven past Emerson College recently after writing this, and I see its presence as just that.