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    Galaxies

    savanna Sep 9 '04 1

    Last night I went to the Leitner Family Observatory for an astronomy open house. The observatory is just past science hill, between the student organic garden and the Divinity school. The telescopes were out and pointing at various phenomena. I started talking to an astronomy grad student about the shapes of galaxies. Are they all spirals? Are some just spheres? Why do they tend to flatten out? It turns out that there are many different ways to classify a galaxy, most of which have nothing to do with what is seen. Looking at the visible light spectrum, one might see a spiral galaxy; in UV the same galaxy could be a blob, and in ultra red, an undulating mess. I was struck by my own insistence on being able to visualize this “object.” I insisted that maybe if you overlapped all the images of a galaxy from all possible spectrums then you would see its true shape. But it's not that simple. There's gravity to contend with, and dark matter (which is invisible), and other such complexities beyond my understanding.

    I went to Emmanuel Petit's Architectural Research Theories class today. He talked a lot about architecture's conceptual grey areas: words change their meaning, ideas go in and out of fashion, and what gets accepted as the norm is ultimately controlled by the powers that be (according to Petit). This notion of flux contrasted with my desire from the night before to build a concrete physical model of a complex astronomical phenomenon. The impulse to categorize, to contain and control, is inherent in the making of architectural models and in the jargon of architecture. When faced with new ideas, we make up new words in order to understand and control those ideas. I suppose what I'm struggling with is the need to be out of control. I have to let go of my will to contain and categorize the universe. I don't like to be so drunk that I can't walk home, and I don't like to admit that the world is dominated by grey areas, instead of what is black and white.

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