Tietgen Dormitory / An Imaginary Journey Around A Real Building
By Jakob Harry Hybel
This highly ambitious, much debated book aims to explain the philosophy behind the Tietgen Dormitory in Copenhagen, using a wide range of images revolving loosely around the term circularity.
The cogwheel-shaped Tietgen Dormitory by Danish architects Lundgaard & Tranberg is, with its peculiar circular plan, worlds apart from the square context of its immediate surroundings.
Fittingly, the recent book about the building published by Edition Bløndal, intriguingly titled Tietgen Dormitory / An imaginary journey around a real building, is miles off from what is considered to be a conventional book on architecture.
Not that you would think so judging by its cover, or by casually flipping through it. On the contrary: you will find that the building is very well represented in the form of ‘classic’ architectural photographs and meticulously detailed drawings. But something important is missing, namely the accompanying text and captures. Apart from two centrally placed essays by renowned author and professor at Cardiff University, Richard Weston, this is a book of pictures.
Based on this fact alone, it would be easy to dismiss it as just another coffee table book. However, the book’s editor/publisher Torsten Bløndal is quite purposefully making a point here, presenting the readers with a game of connect-the-dots instead of readymade opinions and truisms.
So if you were looking for a thorough, intellectual architectural analysis that lays out all the points-of-views of the author as self-evident truths – like those one has grown accustomed to in pretty much any book on architecture – you will not find it here. But if you are up for a bit of unguided architectural exploration, this book will leave you enormously satisfied.
There are no answers given (at least not explicitly) about what links the images, the essays and the actual building together, only clues – and this is without a doubt the book’s greatest quality. As the title suggests, this is not so much a book about a building as a book around a building.
Weston writes on his website that he is ‘dedicated to exploring ways to re-engage with nature, as a source of inspiration for architecture’ and the same fascination with natural motives is apparent throughout the book in the choice of images. Circularity as seen in nature is the obvious leitmotif, but striking parallels are also drawn to various manifestations of circularity in human behavioral patterns and spectacular examples of vernacular architecture from around the world.
Allegedly, Architectural Review has declined to review the book due to its lack of ‘sufficient academic substance’. But the critique misses the mark completely since Bløndal’s overall aim is ‘show it, don’t tell it’.
He seems to be on a democratic mission to challenge our notion of what should be the basis of a constructive architectural debate. Should it be dominated by experts and theorists, or should it rather be left to people to make their own associations and draw their own conclusions?
The book raises a lot of questions – certainly more than it answers – but by doing so, it touches upon a new way of understanding how architecture can be perceived through associations rather than one-sided analysis. If that is too high-strung for you, it is also just a very unusual and beautiful book about an equally unusual and outstanding building.