MArch Unit 12: Magical Objects and Other Unlimited Dream Machines. Rahesh Ram

Image: Max Ernst, The Angel of the home or the Triumph of Surrealism

Conjuring up the Unreal + Fictioning the Architecture + Creation of a Phantasmagoria

Living in a Fictional World in a World of Objects  

We live in a fictional world. There are fictional narratives everywhere; there are religious ones, political ones, social, historical ones, futuristic ones, city ones, personal ones, etc. They are all unreal and fabricated, and yet they form and create cultures, societies, communities and can manifest themselves in the physical world through artefacts such as literature, art, architecture and right the way through to whole cities.

Fictions are everywhere and they create REAL worlds. 

Last year, Unit 12, embarked on investigations into mythological fictions.

We looked at how mythologies and their ethereal qualities of fictional narratives manifest themselves in contemporary society. Myths are unreal but play a real role. Some are contemporary, but some reverberate through centuries, traveling through time and manifesting themselves in the 21st century in physical and nonphysical manifestations. This year we want to continue looking at other forms of fictions to create a mythopoeian architecture of our own through the annotation of objects.

Magic of Objects: Conjuring up the Unreal 

Imagination is the ability to conjure up ideas, simulate novel objects, people and places in the mind’s eye without any immediate input of the senses. It is a cognitive process used in mental functioning and involves thinking about possibilities.

Non-real, non-physical, and non-literal, non-scientific, sometimes irrational fictions can be drivers for the creation of fantastical objects and artifacts that can induce, in the viewer, a psychological phenomenological experience.

Objects have this magical quality, and depending on their fiction, provide transcendental, transportive qualities that can make a multitude of connections to enable the mind to take flight. Just as in art, novels and films, an object can evoke tangential thoughts, from sentiment to extravagant illusions. Objects are agents for imaginative fantasies.

In terms of the city object, psychogeographer such as William Blake, Guy Debord, Daniel Defoe, Iain Sinclair, and Will Self certainly understood that there is an intersection between psychology and geography (place) that would provide an alternative experience to everyday banality. It can be described as the THIRD space – the place of the imagination and subjective experience.

The outside world can play a vital role in stimulating the imagination and conjuring up of these unreal but real phantoms in the mind.

Sartre says this is where beauty lies:

“The real is never beautiful. Beauty is a value which applies only to the imaginary and which entails the negation of the world in its essential structure”.  Jean Paul Sartre, The Imagination

Architecture holds within it much more than its physical and literal manifestation; it houses many fictional phantoms that stealthily move through physical form, lingering in spaces and whispering messages – physical architecture is merely a conduit for the release of these phantoms.

The non-real, the non-physical and the non-literal aspects of architecture are a phenomenon that is sometimes obscure and not always at the forefront of initial perception. However, look closely, and a spectacle can be observed that can trigger the imagination. Architecture is a magical object; an unlimited dream machine. It is an object that can deliver a metaphysical experience.

Unit 12 wants to assert that the non-real, non-physical and nonliteral is as real as the brick in the architecture. They are objects in themselves, objects that are not real but tangible. 

However, there is an understanding that the two types of objects are not mutually exclusive; one cannot live without the other. The physical object being the trigger for a multiple of subjective projections and the producer of the third space (the 2nd object).

Imagine inhabiting an architecture of metaphysical projections with the physical and the removed.

Masters level is a pedagogic space where students should be able to take risks and speculate and experiment to cultivate their imagination. To quote Joseph Beuys:

“In places like universities, where everyone talks too rationally, it is necessary for a kind of enchanter (enchantment) to appear.”

Unit 12, does NOT JUST want to design a functioning piece of architecture, it wants to create a phantasmagoria, though the conduit of architecture.

Its time to break the shackles of the limited ideas of architecture, and to champion the quote of William Burroughs in the ‘City of Red Night’:

To all the scribes and practitioners of magic through whom these spirits have been manifested … NOTHING IS TRUE, EVERYTHING IS PERMITTED.

Fictioning the Architecture or Conjuring up the Unreal in Achitecture

Fictioning is the act of choreographing a number of ‘artefacts’ by imbuing them with meaning through narrative association, mythological links, metaphoric impositions, usage of sign and symbol as language, iconographic evocations, decoration and flamboyance to enable the creation of an architectural phantasmagoria for subjective readings.

As Robert Smithson says: “fictioning is an intervention in or an augmentation of existing reality”; whereas Plato saw it as an intervention into life that could destabilise the existing orders.

Architecture can be a destabilising intervention in the city.

The phantoms linger in architecture because they are placed there. They have authors or creators, whose knowledge of visual language (especially semiotics) can manipulate inanimate objects to project ideas, beliefs, ideologies, dogmas, narratives, and mythologies to enable the viewer to conjure up the past, the future, heavenly spaces, imaginary worlds, and fantastical places.

Unit 12 wants to investigate the projector (the physical object that is doing the projecting) and the projection (the phantasmagoria emanating from the object).

To do this it requires the author/creator/architect need to fiction their architecture.

Project: Cathedral of Phantasmagoria

You are to design an architectural phantasmagoria based on a contemporary theme that you will have to associate to a fiction or historical narratives, speculative future concept, science- fictions, mythologies, folk tales, children’s stories, etc. 

Phantasmagoria is a sequence of real or imaginary images (spaces) like that seen in a dream to create a Mythopoesis (mythical world).

Writing an Architectural Fiction: The context

What: Subject matter of the Fiction

Who: Protagonist of the Fiction

EPOCH/time: In the age of……….. (Myth-Science/ Myth-Technology/ Myth- Culture/Myth-Society)

Place: 4th Years, London but project-driven. 5th years, anywhere in the world, but project-driven.

A Guide to Fictioning the Architecture: 

Narrating the Architecture: Plans, section and elevations to be driven by fictions and narratives – i.e. Functional fictions.

Language: Use of architectural visual language: Signs, symbols, iconography, decoration and material meaning.

Metaphor: Nonliteral association: guilty by association – the imposition of the metaphor on the design.

Heterotopia: Being in two places at the same time as an imaginary strategy. 

Hybridity: Fictional/Real hybrid-hybridization (in general).

Complex Narrative: Where space and time collapse together (past, present, and future collapsed together).


Field Trip: Munich, Stuttgart and the areas of Bavaria, Germany.