LA Modulor – A personal and physical craft investigation paving the way for yielding peculiar spaces
LA Modulor – A personal and physical craft investigation paving the way for yielding peculiar spaces, encouraging artistic development and introspection within architectural practice.
When I was lucky enough to meet Agneta Eriksson Hildén in the autumn of 2017, I was at a true low point in my emerging career and personal life. As a newly appointed architect, I graduated just when the business cycle turned. The construction industry had been overheated for many years, bursting the egos of young student architects, but in late 2017, the recession hit Stockholm for sure. Few offices were employing. Many were warning.
Upon the first meeting with Agneta Eriksson Hildén, founder and head of CINEARCHITECTURE the fascination was total. Before me in her studio at Solsidan sat a completely self-made woman, an intellectual, an artist, an architect and a genious at sales. She was the first architect that I had met who had the complete strata of talent, that I understood as required in building.
Not only was I mesmerized by her abilities but also by her style and appearance. She radiated with the joy and innocence of a child but also the determination of a seer. As improbable as she seemed, this designer was real. Hildén had a background. And an interesting one.
Agneta E. Hildén had been a practicing architect for 25 years and had been driven projects in many different countries and won several awards for her work.
She was also an artist educated at Konstfack in Stockholm and throughout her life as an artist she’d had two main recurring studies – LA Modulor and Odd Realism, of which the first one this essay will revolve around. She was also a publisher of books such as Villa Spies and Bengt Edman “complete works”, whom she worked close with during many years.
What I am honoured and about to reveal about LA Modulor and the methods and cognition of Hildén, is super intimate and important knowledge which should not be misunderstood or abused by anyone ignorant to the super weird awareness of certain aspects in architecture. Therefore, I will try to express myself gently but sometimes cryptic on the matter. All for the sake of safeguarding Hildén’s and by all means all fellow architects integrity. After all, I believe some aspects of architecture can and should remain sacred.
About the Study
Leonardo da Vinci's illustrations of polyhedra in De divina proportione (On the Divine Proportion) and his views that some bodily proportions exhibit the golden ratio have led some scholars to speculate that he incorporated the golden ratio in his paintings. But the suggestion that his Mona Lisa, for example, employs golden ratio proportions, is not supported by anything in Leonardo's own writings. Similarly, although the Vitruvian Man is often shown in connection with the golden ratio, the proportions of the figure do not actually match it, and the text only mentions whole number ratios. Within aesthetics, in art as well in architecture, there is a strong tradition of using the golden section to create harmonious proportions, that according to Hildén, rely heavily on the study of the male body. As Hildén puts it in her own words:
“LA MODULOR is about female proprotions etc in the grammar in architecture, Of course in history, mens body and mind has been the issue. For example who I studied in Paris was Le Corbusier, Vitruvius etc The old grammar in Architecture I call my study LA MODULOR. The study is based on observations of my own body and mind and space and time. To me art and architecture connect more and more on an deeper plane inside the human as archetypes.”
Hildén’s study in female appearance is built on a vast number of paintings but also diagrams and models. Looking at the images, not only do you notice a wide variation in contour systems. you also sense the tendency of movement. Depicting and translating movement in bodies, also seems like a vital part in the study of LA Modulor.
The body could be seen the generator for architecture and at the same time the perception system with which we experience it. A wider understanding of the body and biodiversity, is therefore necessary for broadening the vocabulary of architecture.
Could it be that societies fetish with female appearance and the sexualizing of femininity is because of the lack of representation of true femininity within aesthetics?
“La Modulor is a figure. It’s about how women can express themselves from their body and soul. Express themselves as a subject in architecture, not as an object or defined as an object in architecture, but themselves. It’s very important and absolutely necessary because otherwise in the future we will create empty rooms in society. Females have to express their own rooms.”
As it seems, the female body, the female body in movement and the female experience are all central parts in LA Modulor. Connected to these three aspects is Hildén’s own experience with gymnastics. As a girl, and as a young woman Hildén was a part of a gymnastics troop called “The Sofia-girls”. This troop of girls in motion has gained a symbolic value in Hildén’s art practice. These women, are recurring in her imagery.
Maja Carlqvist, the founder of The Sofia girls, back in 1936, is also one of her archetypes.
Experiencing acts of movement from within it and also through the surrounding environment, framing the event of the movement, is according to Hildén, how you get to know your body. The transformation of the body seems secondary to the act of the actual exercise. She perseveres the importance of using her own body as a tool:
“I use my own body for this you know. I absolutely use my own body. That’s the only method I have. You use your senses you use your body you use your arms, legs and also your soul. I was trained to do that when I was a young gymnast in the Sophia-girls so for me it was natural to do the same in architecture. To develop a kind of language in feministic architecture. I think that’s wats in it. You have to use yourself for it because you can’t go to the books with this subject. I can’t really go to the history. I have to just trial and error and find out things in my own experience. “
Having a huge impact on architecture, the French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty emphasized the body as the primary site of knowing the world, a corrective to the long philosophical tradition of placing consciousness as the source of knowledge, and maintained that the body and that which it perceived could not be disentangled from each other. The articulation of the primacy of embodiment led him away from phenomenology, a philosophical study heavily connected to de development of post-modern architecture, towards what he was to call “indirect ontology” or the ontology of “the flesh of the world” (la chair du monde), seen in his final and incomplete work, The Visible and Invisible, and his last published essay, “Eye and Mind”.
Perhaps “the flesh of the world” is the philosophical work, or title, that discloses the essence of LA Modulor. Yet, Merleau-Ponty’s proposed solutions in this specific piece of work, remain widely ignored.
So, what fruits are then to be harvested by development work, in terms of outcome in architectural practice? In the case of LA Modulor, besides the obvious stir of arrangement and structure visible in Hildén’s architecture, I would suggest it is the joy of discovering, that is generating energy and value to the remaining aspects of performance.
Development work could and should probably be regarded as a sort of game. It’s within the act of playing with materials the relation between elements, that we discover new rules.
It’s sort of counterintuitive when you think about it: Play is how you learn praxis.
In fact, play seems so deeply wired by evolution into the brains of highly social animals that it might not be a stretch to say that play is crucial to how we and other species learn much of what we know that isn't instinct.
Furthermore, on behalf of Agneta E. Hildén and her associates, I would like to invite everyone to start playing with ideas and mediums, and to “unclean” architecture, to reveal what is truly lying underneath our perceptions of beauty and harmony, so that we find new outlooks at what seems right and what seems human. Study your own body. What does it tell you about nature? What does it tell you about advancement and civility? Where is it taking you and how can you refine your ideas about who you are?
And most important of all; Do not fear architecture, for it is not a task or a burden that is given or have been appropriated by you, but an opportunity to catch and come upon anything.