2015 marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice in Wonderland. This occasion presents an opportunity to revisit the text and to reflect on what it means to approach the world with an attitude of curiosity. Curiosity inspires us to imagine new possibilities to entrenched problems in a world where the tyranny of rationalized self-interest has led to unprecedented economic, social and environmental challenges. I intend to translate Alice’s curious experience of Wonderland into a real world context through the design of a Victorian Pleasure Garden on the site surrounding the Walker Theatre in Winnipeg. Alice’s journey through Wonderland is a quest to find existential orientation. She is initially lost in a world of confusing and disorienting encounters, wherein the etiquette and conventions that she has been taught fail to guide her. Eventually, getting lost in Wonderland gives Alice a new perspective on the world. Her journey is one of sense-making and place-making, and these are matters which are central to architecture.
One of the first things Alice sees on her journey is ‘the most beautiful garden you ever saw,’ and throughout the text she continues to seek this garden. What are the qualities of a space which evoke a feeling of this quest, a feeling of “lostness” that shakes our foundations and allows us to reconsider the priorities we set?
How does one create an architecture which reveals new dimensions gradually and slowly over time? Can we imagine an innovative practice which reinterprets conventional design elements rather than resorting to standard details? Using John Soane’s House as an example, why cannot a wall also be a door, a wall be a window, a floor be a window? The use of supposed nonsense helps us question the things we take to be prima facie true and leads us into imaginative new territory. Why not use scale to induce feelings of wonder and awe or of comfort and security? How can these conditions make possible serendipitous encounters by engaging curiosity, imagination, mindfulness and even pleasure?
1. Experimenting with Scale: The Future Histories House of Nathaniel “Mad Hatter” Hawthorne
2. Mapping Alice in Wonderland onto the City of Winnipeg
3. Synthesizing Alexander Brodsky’s Doll House, The House of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Winnipeg’s Walker Theatre
4. Modeling Sculptural Forms Which Obscure and Disorient
5. Creating a Structural Canopy of Trees
6. Proposing a Pleasure Garden Rotunda (Second Floor Plan)
1 This project explores an experiential quality which some have called ‘lostness’. A recent radio documentary focused on the vanishing pleasures of getting lost in a world filled with smart technologies. People are drawn to experiences like hedge mazes as a transformative experience. De-centering and disorientation can actually serve as the impetus for re-centering and re-orienting. “The Loss of Lostness,” narrated by Stephen Smith, Seriously, BBC Radio 4, October 10, 2015, http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06gtfql.