Between Bookworm and Bibliophil

At the beginning was the word. Even the Czech one! As every small child knows, a Czech only needs to change one, completely unimportant letter. How close the bookworm, the book eater, is to the book lover. But what about such an Englishman – between Bookworm and Bibliophil. Ugh! A leap? What endless gaps between the two words the British must bridge... only to learn that they are actually identical! Um...

But to the point: it is the lovers of "beautiful words" who are the focus of the new section of Alpha. One teacher and one student of the building arts are always sent an assignment or suggestion as to what sort of bug is lingering in their heads after recently reading a word, article or book. This time he returns to the book Everyday Life and Historical Thought by Alain Corbin, doc. Milena Hauserová and Marek Kratochvíl to the books Cosmos by Carl Sagan and The Order of Time by Carol Rovelli.

On silence
Milena Hauserová

I finished my lecture a few minutes ago. The content of the lecture still remains in my mind for some time. This time it was about spaces for deep concentration and listening to oneself. Past and present. I have images of their structural form in my mind. And also what the image doesn't capture: silence. Silence as the absence of noise, or on the contrary, subtly emphasized by a quiet, probably natural sound. Drops falling on a calm surface, a distant wave... I'm walking home, still thinking. From time to time, despite the rush, I am tempted to go to the bookstore in the subway underpass. Thinking of the piles of books at home, which I definitely won't fit into the overcrowded home libraries anymore, I excuse myself by paraphrasing Vyčítal's joke about readers and books: no, I won't buy them, I'll just sort of scratch their spines. So I walk into the bookstore, determined to peek a little and disappear again.

And then I came across the book. It peeked out at me from the black cover that Argo Publishing had assigned to an edition of the seminal works of world historiography, Everyday Life and Historical Thought. Alain Corbin – A History of Silence; From the Renaissance to Our Time. The French original was published six years ago. The Czech translation by M. Seidl was made possible thanks to the support of the French Institute in Prague. The introduction of this historical study opens with an offer to guide the reader through the transformations of the perception of silence and the different forms of relation to it. Only in further reading will it become clear that this will be done primarily on the basis of its reflection in French literature. Under the idea of silence, however, the author is not primarily looking for the absence of sounds, but for silence as a space of absorption, prayer, meditation, dreaming "and above all, the inner place from which speech springs".

Given the circumstances, I had no choice but to give in and take home the 114-page volume by a historian following the direction of the French Annales school of history. And start reading it on the metro.

The author walks through different places of experiencing silence, observing its different "textures". He stops at the statements of those who have perceived the different nature of silence in nature. He examines the evidence of the efforts to find silence and the ways of negotiating it. It records the metamorphosis of the "soundscape" at the threshold of the 20th century and its diverse and often contradictory manifestations: the joyously welcomed noise of the emerging age of technology and the multiplying demands for the preservation of silence where sounds invade the intimate space of the human being. It also touches on the biblically serious form of silence in humility and adoration. In the chapter "Speaking" the author of Silence takes us more broadly than in other parts of the volume into the world of visual art, stopping also at those who have "painted silence. Naturally, he touches on the Symbolists and does not miss Kupka's Voice of Silence from 1903, as well as the theme of silence in cinema. The conclusion of the study is devoted to silence in social relations. Engagingly, but incoherently. Fragments of ideas open up questions, forcing us to look for further context. The whole book gives the impression of a scribbled reminder of an interesting topic worthy of further thought, rather than a polished synthesis. Still, it is worth reading. I certainly hope that the inspiration from it will somehow be reflected in the next version of the lecture just given.

Silence, absence of noise, comfort, human distance and closeness – these and other themes were explored in the book. But it also touched on silence as a form of quiet. Silence out of one's own need and silence forced either from the outside or by one's own insecurity, fear, weakness or feeling of inadequacy. I think of the silence of the silent sometimes spread around fundamental questions. Maybe even in our field. It is only now, thanks to this book, if only indirectly, that I have noticed the phenomenon referred to as the "spiral of silence." A phenomenon worthy of a psychologist's and a sociologist's gaze. Another challenge for a new way of looking around.


The author is a teacher
of the Department of Architectural Conservation, FA CTU


On chance
Marek Kratochvíl

"I do not believe in control, I believe in an accident." I wrote down the words of my favourite Finnish architect Marco Casagrande on a small piece of paper. In a lecture at the Porto Design Biennale 2021, he talks about how to make room for chance in architecture and how to let wild nature into the process of shaping our environment. Leaving your design to allow events to happen at random. Marco Casagrande's approach is very close to my heart, but his words also raised a lot of questions in me. What is randomness? Does the control of space suppress the occurrence of random events? Why are our cities afraid to let wild nature in, and how do we even plan for unpredictability? I have rather a hard time over blank paper, I think most of us do. So I work primarily from context. So I have to do a lot of walking around and exploring everything around me.

These walks are an integral part of my work and coincidences play a huge part in it. I notice them along the way, sometimes even letting them guide me. For me, noticing unexpected stimuli is a form of connecting with my surroundings. Events respond to me and I in turn respond to them. A kind of our common story emerges. It's not just me anymore, it's us. Me and a world of coincidences that I trust. There's a form of spirituality to it that it doesn't work without. But what's so scary about coincidence? I would certainly venture to say that it is unpredictable and happens outside of our control. For one, most coincidences are more like accidents, spoiling one's plan. I, on the other hand, prick up my ears at the unexpected event, wondering what the world has in store for me, wondering if I'll jump with curiosity. This is my personal relationship to the phenomenon of randomness, a kind of belief in the interconnectedness of all things, which is what the renowned professor of astronomy Carl Sagan talks about in his book Cosmos in connection with the cosmic order. When I reflect on the words of Marc and his involvement of nature in the planning of cities and the loss of control, parallels come to mind.

I often encounter the fear of empty space in an architectural plan. But is a perfectly defined plan the right tool to shape the space? Perhaps a healthy and functional environment is based on understanding and relationships rather than a drawing that puts everything in its place, and let chance dare to disrupt this well-oiled machine. I think this is the "abandonment by design" and "loss of control" that Marco Casagrande is talking about. The suppression of our human ego. But then what happens? It is likely that this fear of the unknown and uncontrollable chaos is the cause of our current approach to nature, that is, the attempt to totally tame it in and near cities. Ornamental gardens and stunted cultivars of boardwalk trees are unlikely to cause wrinkles on our foreheads from their wild unpredictability. However, they bring almost nothing in addition to their decorative appearance; the complexity and multifunctionality of nature remains unfulfilled. The notion of unbridled nature as the basic infrastructure of the symbiotic city is still a dreaded image of a space in which chance and the conscious loss of control are more of a threat than a natural part of our plan.

Drawing relationships and coincidences can be difficult. But we can definitely influence where and how often they happen and how we react to them through architecture. Just like the universe itself, which is not governed by a "master plan" but by principles, relationships and random events for which the right conditions are set. As Carlo Rovelli writes in his famous book The Order of Time: "The world is not made up of things, but of events that combine with each other. "So in a certain sense I too am only an event, a happening, a process...a chance that no one designed but allowed to happen. But how do we know when we are leading the dog and when it is leading us? When to let him go and when to keep him on a tight leash? Do we know who our cute pet is?


The auhor is a finalist in the Dean's Award competition
FA CTU, 2022, diploma project category

For the content of this site is responsible: Ing. arch. Kateřina Rottová, Ph.D.