Beyond Buildings



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This holiday, I wish you space. That to me is the greatest gift Christmas period in particular gives us: the emptiness of deserted streets, unpopulated squares, and whole landscapes where everything is silent and still. The effect is even greater when there is snow on the ground, of course, and the whole world disappears into high modernist abstraction. Here our ground is barren, but I remember the few times of strolling down the middle of the street, all at peace and all disappearing into that spiritual ideal.


By contrast, the interior space of Christmas is intense and enclosed. Few interruptions, from telephone calls to email messages, cut through the enclosure in which we turn towards each other and ourselves (though the results are not always positive). Thus the contrast between the outside as an empty, human-made world that has no clear boundaries and is controlled by anonymous structures through which we find ourselves with icons and signs, and the interior, where our (social) body imprints itself on a cocoon of our own making through furniture, collections and furnishings, becomes clear. We can be truly at home, make a world for ourselves, and make ourselves at home in that world.


Then there are the special spaces of the holidays, whether they are sleighing hills or nativity scenes. They appropriate sites for either intense narrative or for alternative experiences. My favorite phenomena are the Christmas tree lots, where a sudden mini-forest arrives in the middle of the city, its grid of densely spaced green standing in contrast to the concrete, asphalt, stone and steel all around it and sometimes under its trunks. You can lose yourself in this little bit of nature, and then even take part of it home with you.


By next week, it will all be gone, and we will start to mess things up again for the new year, so enjoy. Happy holidays.




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About the Blogger

Aaron Betsky

thumbnail image Aaron Betsky is the director of the Cincinnati Art Museum, and in 2008 he was director of the 11th Venice International Architecture Biennale. Trained as an architect at Yale, he has published more than a dozen books on art, architecture, and design and teaches and lectures about design around the world. Aaron worked for Frank O. Gehry and Associates and Hodgetts & Fung Design Associates as a designer, taught for many years at the Southern California Institute of Architecture, and between 1995 and 2001 was curator of architecture and design at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. From 2001 to 2006 he was director of the Netherlands Architecture Institute in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.