Of Argonauts and Architecture*

Introductory Thoughts to the work of Pierre Thibault

Baie-St-Paul Museum, First Prize, Order of Architects of Quebec, 1992
(Photo:Thibault, Not to be reproduced for profit.)

Copyright (c) 1995 by Ricardo L. Castro, all rights reserved. This text may be freely shared among individuals, but it may not be republished in any medium without express written consent from the author.

The Argo, the extraordinary mythic Greek ship endowed with a great hull, fifty oars and a premonitory bow, in which Jason and the Argonauts traveled in search of the Golden Fleece, exists only in our imagination. Its hull evokes the roof. The roof evokes the wall. Hull, wall, and roof are abode. They allow dwelling and are memorable. The Argo is architecture and is, as well, a metaphor for architecture.

The architecture of Pierre Thibault sails through time as the Argo.

Abenakis Museum, Odanak.
(Photo:P. Thibault, Not to be reproduced for profit.)

The Sailors of the Argo are gifted builders. The Argo departs and returns as one, yet in the voyage, its components have been replaced. The Argo is the original concept. Upon return, after the cycle, however, the physical Argo contains none of its original elements. The Argo speaks of a continuously changing architecture. It also speaks of a dynamic enterprise which mutates according to circumstances, while at the same time retaining its original character. The Argo is architecture and is an appropriate metaphor to reflect upon architectures such as those here re-presented.

Architecture is the result of a process of differentiation which takes place at many levels.

Architecture deals with the raw physicality which we encounter in a first reality, that is, the here and there, the up and down, and our experience contained within these terms. It also deals with a second reality composed of conceptual layers which inhabits only our own imagination and exists only in our dreams.

Fig. 1. Abenakis Museum, Odanak.
(Photo:P. Thibault, Not to be reproduced for profit.)

Whether in the first or in the second reality the main definer of architecture is the wall, that is the partition understood in its widest sense: vertical, horizontal, diagonal and curved. And walls may be built of various materials: mud, stone, brick, and why not steel, plastic and glass. Floors and ceilings, forgetting their names, are walls too.

The wall is an active agent. It connects, filters, interrupts, switches, controls, contains, directs, and re-directs, the passage of people, things, fire, water, air, light and ultimately our dreams. The connecting points, true thresholds--a door, a window, an arcade, a balcony, a gallery, a stair, a porch, a ramp--are the critical areas of architecture. They can be thought of as its erogenous zones.

Walls delimit. They border the space of inhabitation. They make dwelling possible. They are the most active agents in the generation of the bounded domain, the dwelling place par excellence. Walls define the verticality of active existence and the horizontality of rest, genesis, and death. They emphasize above and below, front and back, here and there. Architecture humanizes the pure geometrical space delimited by walls, thus transforming it into place.

Walls are always in the middle. Walls always have two sides. Both sides always count. There lies their internal power, hence their mediating and differentiating character.

Walls have a genesis. They possess specific temporal and spatial location. A true wall can only exist with its entourage, within a specific geography and epoch. Conversely, places cannot be conceived without walls. Think of the medieval castles of Spain, the French and Italian Baroque gardens, and the ritualistic space of pre-Columbian architecture. Each is, respectively, a prime example of tectonic, vegetal, and atmospheric conditions which define the sense of wallness.

Baie-St-Paul Museum, First Prize, Order of Architects of Quebec, 1992
(Photo:P. Thibault, Not to be reproduced for profit.)

Through his architecture, Pierre Thibault deals skillfully with the wall, whether opaque or transparent, made of brick, glass, stone or wood. He pays tribute to the wall by respecting its genesis, its poetry, and its duality. In doing so, he creates a sense of place. Through his work, which has comprised a series of conceptual and real journeys, he reminds us that an architecture which speaks the language of place is significant and memorable.

Ricardo L. Castro

Montreal, January 1995.

*A significant source in the writing of this text was the unpublished manuscript "A Theory of Walls" by Robert S. Harris (Eugene: School of Architecture and Allied Arts,1974)