Dwelling Among the Waves: Modernist Architecture, Walter Benjamin, and the Mythology of Modernity.
Thesis DisciplineReligious Studies
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
For Walter Benjamin, architecture is the clearest expression of the ‘latent mythology’ that underlies any historical epoch; by engaging with works of modernist architecture in continental Europe during the first half of the twentieth century, my project hopes to reveal the underlying tensions, mythologies, and contradictions that reveal modernity to be a construction both more open and unstable than might first be imagined. Using Benjamin’s work as a background also allows for Surrealist practice to become the dialectical foil to an architecture that is still widely understood as clinical, functionalist and utopic, but whose own paradoxes and uncanny intrusions ultimately reject a teleological and hyper-rationalist modernity. The tension between the profane and the messianic, time and timelessness, is here played out through modernist architecture as the search for the form and nature of dwelling within secular space.
This culminates in a study of two of Benjamin’s allegorical characters, the collector and the brooder, who between them embody different modes of response to the conditions of modernity: on the one hand, a redemptive practice centred around creative bricolage and the unmasking of modernity’s ambiguity, on the other, the reactive and melancholic attitude of the brooder, whose private dreams of entering and rescuing the past negate the critical potential of romanticism – of the modernist architects and their project to build a meaningful world.