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A Projective Site: Inhabiting the Metaphorical Interval between the Instrumental and Symbolic Meanings of Architecture

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posted on 10.11.2021, 21:28 by Roberts, Nicholas John

Historically, there have been two ways of perceiving space that have been considered opposed to one another and that have significant implications for the way in which architecture is understood. The first is real space, which relates to the direct, sensory and embodied perceptions of architecture as built. This space generates the symbolic meanings of architecture and is understood as our primary way of understanding space. The Second is the analytical, measured space of representation - the drawings and models architects make, which have historically been called the instrumental as they are instruments in the description of architecture. This work challenges that these are independent and oppositional ways of understanding space. I argue that this perceived separation perpetuates the notion of the instrumental and symbolic meanings of architecture to be held in a dichotomous relationship. The aim of this research is to reorient the instrumental and symbolic meanings of architecture toward a reciprocal relationship by examining their presence within both real and representational space. The research first explores the distinct characteristics of real and representational space that have perpetuated the notion they are distinct entities. Once these characteristics are identified, two central case studies explore ways in which they are translated through real and representational space in order to engender a more meaningful reciprocity. Referencing Michael Webb’s Temple Island (1966 - ongoing) and Guarino Guarini’s Santissima Sindone in Turin (1667-1694) as revealing examples, this thesis argues that the qualities of real and representational space are constantly permeating the assumed boundaries of each other, and that consequently, an architectural space exists between them. Indeed, this thesis aims to examine the existence of a metaphorical interval between a physical building, and its representation in drawings and modeling. This research proposes that pure instrumentality is an illusion, maintaining its legitimacy through a self-imposed autonomy. The research concludes in a design project that suggests a more complex form of inhabiting architecture may challenge the gap between real and representational space, and by extension the separation of the instrumental and symbolic meanings of architecture. It sets out to achieve this through an allegorical investigation exploring a more complex way to occupy architecture - where both real space and the space of representation can be occupied simultaneously. The design research seeks to dissolve the distinctions between how architecture is designed and represented, and how it is understood experientially as built. The thesis concludes that by collapsing the sensory, embodied complexities of real space, with the abstract, analytical characteristics of representational space, the instrumental and symbolic meanings of architecture can be understood in a reciprocal relationship, where one gives structure and meaning to the other.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline


Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Architecture (Professional)

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Architecture


Wong, Linda