indoor landscapes : Columns and Mazes


Thoughts about Labyrinths and Mazes

I consider a labyrinth as a building, a case of architecture making extreme use of its space. Within its exterior boundary walls, the given area is divided into different paths and walkways. Quiet intentionally, it is made to appear that they all are created to be used, but in actuality only a few lead further with all others leading to a dead end or a "trap". A maze is a system of misleading paths with multiple choices for the viewer or participent, most of which lead into "nothing".
The maze appears to have had different and sometimes contradictory meanings.To mention just one pardox: the labyrinths of ancient crete for example signified a gloomy, tortuous Underworld; yet the maze decribed by Virgil served as a metaphor for Troy, the perfect fortress-city. This multivalent quality of the labyrinth accounts, in part, for its power and durability as a symbol through the ages. What is perhaps unique about the maze as both object and archetype is the antithetical nature of so many of it´s meanings. These can be seperated into positive and negative values.
Above all, the maze was a complex work of art, having been designed by Daedalus, an inventor and architect who personified human ingenuity. It was also an arena for trial and ordeal, for confrontation and conquest, for initiatory rites in which the hero undergoes a process of self-dicovery. Engaging the maze constituted an exercise of faith and perseverance.
Finally the maze served as a precinct within which evil was contained and into which, paradoxically, no evil spirit would dare to penetrate. The perimeter of the maze separeted the world of the quick from that of the dead; it differentiated outer from inner space, good from evil.
In Roman antiquity the labyrinth suggested the archetype of the ideal city. Christianity used floor-labyrinths as a metaphor for one´s finding his spiritual centre by walking the cricles. In the medival world, the maze stood for the war between good and evil that brought salvation for all humanity; a metaphor for the sinful world in which the errant soul must wander. So, too, medival architects made the maze a symbol of both divine perfection and hellish confusion.
Later, in the Renaissance and Baroque, a different type of labyrinth came into fashion - (the Reformation brought with it new, more personal forms of devotion, and these altered the meaning of the symbol of the labyrinth): The "Labyrinth of Love"- the maze becomes a symbol for the snares of love; the ambiguities, difficulties and reversals asociated with love and erotic relationships generally. (Love is a labyrinth that closes fatally around the unsuspecting....) The maze becomes a garden of joy and amourous pleasures, an "amazing" place.
Renaissance and Baroque mazes were mostly made of hedges - planted, farmed and „dressed" nature, turned into freestanding walls. Between garden design and edifice proper, it was a kind of „nature-as-achitecture." These hedges cover up the view of the adjacent path, but not completely. Although their height was usually slightly higher than „human-size", the sky is always visible, providing orientation and relieving claustrophobia. And sound still passes through the hedges from path to path.
In one sense, the visitor enters the labyrinth for the joy of getting confused.... do we like to get lost? Like tromp l'oeil or prestidigitation, there is a thrill to this kind of loss of contol, even over our own senses. The design of the paths turn the trip through a maze into a seemingly endless enterprise - even though the actual size is limited. Our pleasure is to find ourselves walking in a mysterious and confusing landscape. What insight does this have for architecture? A kind of compressed infinity within a given space.
The kind of confusion offered by the labyrinth has often been a metaphor for a much darker sort of search. Thoughout literature and mythology, [from the Minotaur's hidden caverns to an adolescent's coming of age] the labyrinth is a stand-in for a heroic quest, which is itself a stand-in for the psychological exploration of the inner self.
The trip through a maze is as „amazing" as the final arrival at the destination - „paradise". The labyrinth itself is built to offer us the pleasure of losing control, the joy of getting lost or losing orientation while trying to reach the „paradise" .
Reminiscent of the utopian ideals embodied today by urban parks, they are a tiny version of paradise. I like to look at mazes as if they were outdoor architecture. Like a metaphorical proposal for a city. Play, diversion, and what the Situationists called „detournement" replacing rationalism and functionalism as the determining features of architecture.
Susa Templin, New York 2002