Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Rothko on Speed-Dial: Explorations of the Metaphysical Spatiality, Aura, and Mechanical Reproduction of Architecture

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posted on 2021-11-10, 21:33 authored by Aui, Jansen

This research explores the relationship between architectural space and the abstract expressionist art of Mark Rothko. Rothko’s large format, post-1950’s paintings employing his signature ‘color-field’ style instigated much discourse relating the works to ideas of spatiality: particularly those of atmosphere, emotional intensity, and the abstract presentation of space. This thesis begins with the observation that there is a certain ‘authenticity’ lacking in reproductions of Rothko’s art, where the full effect of the ‘original’ is lost or betrayed in the process of its reproduction. From this premise within art, it finds an analogical relationship between architecture and its reproduction, particularly in photographed space and in the conventions of architectural representation. In both these cases, the full effect of the ‘space’ they describe (their ‘original’) is argued to be in some way lost. To explore this analogy, this thesis firstly develops a relationship between the artist and space: that ‘within’ the artwork, and that between this art and physical spaces (the artist’s studios and spaces of exhibition). Secondly, this thesis develops a shift of the artist’s spatial thinking toward architecture, with particular reference to Walter Benjamin’s concept of the ‘Aura’ of the original work of art. As read through his essay, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction [1936], the Aura is interpreted as the essential ‘authenticity’ of the Original work that is lost within the act of reproduction. The argument concerning Rothko and spatiality is therefore furthered through specifically focussed readings of how this Aura might manifest metaphysically (i.e. experientially, as opposed to physically), through a parallel discussion of Rothko’s art and several ‘thematically’ related architectural case studies. In doing so, it explores the way Auratic architectural experiences can be invoked within the perception of an embodied presence. In both the applied aspect of this research by design thesis, and in its conclusion, there is a relationship highlighted between architectural convention (as reproduction), abstraction, and the immediacy, authenticity or Aura of a spatial encounter. It is concluded that from this singular study of an abstract painter, architects can learn something of the direct exchange or translation between the users of architecture and the transcendental realm of the ideas of architecture or space.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Name

Master of Architecture (Professional)

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Architecture


Wood, Peter