»With what unexpected emotions did the sight surprise me when I actually saw it! An impression of grandeur and unity filled my soul, which, because it consisted of a thousand harmonizing details, I could taste and enjoy, but by no means understand and explain. They say it is thus with the rapture of heaven. How often I returned to enjoy this heavenly-earthly rapture, to embrace the stupendous genius of our older brothers in their works.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe dedicated these lines to Erwin von Steinbach, stonemason and architect of Strasbourg Cathedral, who died in 1318, in his piece »On German Architecture«. »How often I returned to view from every side, at every distance, in every light of the day, its dignity and splendor.«

What is it that fascinates us about buildings, just like Goethe? What is it that brings us back, time and time again, to special sites? What is it about certain places that almost magically attracts us? The stories and traces of our architectural surroundings inspire and excite us, they draw us in or push us away. In our homes and spaces, in villages and in cities, we can read the spirit of people and times gone by, and can find clues that take us from the here and now all the way back into ancient times — and which sometimes even let us glimpse far into the future.

History, as a temporary, accidental event, includes the visual and verbal representation of real happenings, an interpreted meaning of these as well as the true events themselves. And: History involves analysing actions, their norms and targets in the form of perception, interpretation and evaluation, and even goes as far as questioning or negating them. By examining what we see, we detect stories and themes, through which the architect in particular brings their work into society and makes a connection with it. The dialogue, which mainly uses images and words, generally takes the form of exciting contributions relevant to architecture and town planning worth reading about and discussing. The interplay of images and words in particular gives an impression of what lies behind an idea, or behind an inspiration. A sketch is an expression of our thoughts; like a snapshot, it communicates what is to be captured.

Benedict Esche

Architecture touches us — in images and words

JAM #28 — Image Language

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Architecture touches us — in images and words
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Poster
Illustration: Dicey Studios

It is far from just the use of construction materials from ecological, economic and humane perspectives, which should be universally obligatory on a global scale, and the understanding that truth is to refer to the sharing of all architectural planning and realisation in each and every respect in the interest of the public. Rather, it is about the societal value placed on architecture, about the connection between intellectual and emotional capabilities, and about a topic that serves as a foundation and carries us forward. As with the architecture of Strasbourg Cathedral at which Goethe marvelled, it is also about how you allow more long-term stances, attitudes and passions that go beyond superficial trends and manufactured zeitgeist, to be recognised as a personal signature, with character and profile, and ultimately as a human gesture.

People from all times and cultures did and do to a large extend rely on their ability to anticipate, meaning they are dependent on an awareness of the power of imagination and memories, of thoughts and feelings. And that is despite of the fact that it is primarily maintaining their mere physical metabolism in the context of their environment which determines their survival. Human capacity means being capable of engaging with metaphysics. Architecture is the metaphysics of construction. Human beings do not live by bread and a roof over their head alone, but from every thought, vision and feeling which they take as orientation.

Architecture, as the living environment we have created for ourselves, is not something we can escape. It is our third skin and it is in constant conversation with us. Architecture and language are two sides of the same coin.


Benedict Esche is an architect and co-founder of the architecture firm Kollektiv A. He joined Die Junge Akademie in 2019.