Travels with Charles
Posted on November 6, 2014
While on a recent trip to New York, I had an interesting conversation with a colleague that took me back to a formative time in my education. We were discussing the idea of memory, how it works and relates to objects and places. The conversation turned to the mnemonic of the “Memory Palace”, a tool used by Cicero to deliver speeches to the Roman Senate, without notes, by constructing a palace in his mind. The rooms and the objects in them helped to recall his ideas, and the path walked through the palace provided the structure for his discussion, where the location in space makes the ideas memorable.
This idea was introduced to me by my mentor in graduate school –Charles Moore. Memory was a relevant tool, it is how he taught, and there was no better way to create memory than though the experience of place.
Charles and me
We were taught the lessons of great spaces through travel, by going out and seeing them, living in them – whether the simple forms and structures of the American southwest in New Mexico and west Texas to the transitional European form blending with the architecture of the variety of indigenous cultures in colonial Mexico.
Nambe San Francisco, New Mexico, Original Mission
Royal Chapel in Cholula
We were able to draw and document these places, compare them to their sources, and see how they were translated into new places and architectural forms and vocabularies across time. This taught us a new process for our own invention.
Sketch by Mac White of Mission San Fancisco de Asi, Real de Catorce
This brings me back to the conversation in New York. I was there for the Sir John Soane Museum Gala, this house, now museum, is a place I hold in a special place in my own memories. The way that light is transmitted though the oculus of a delicate skylight and a thin dome, makes the simplest spaces seem grand. In his book Chambers for a Memory Palace – Moore traces his own memory of this place by comparing it across time with great spaces from the Parthenon to the sketches of Piranesi and others.
Breakfast Room at the Soane House Sketch by Charles Moore from Chambers for a Memory Palace
As a designer of places, and one who believes in the power of memory within the larger continuum of architecture, I would like to think that I am able to translate my own “memory palaces” from places that are held in the mind, to realities of the built environment, which will provide new memories of place to others.