Centering a Town: 14th. Effort/Time

We all were sea-swallow’d, though some cast again,
And by that destiny to perform an act
Whereof what’s past is prologue, what to come
In yours and my discharge.


The theme for this design is time because, obviously, the building has a clock, or several clocks.

The site, in fact, has a clock standing at the corner of the plaza. Last I checked, it didn’t work. The Central Hotel has since been demolished, over a year ago. A mixed-use project is planned, but it has been put on hold and the plot remains vacant, waiting.

Clocks on corner buildings were once common in urban settings, such as the Clock Tower building in Newmarket, Ontario, where the clock faces command the space and give meaning to intersection. Then, of course, there’s this:

Really, there’s no need for a clock on a building now. Most of us carry electronic devices that tell time with a precise, wireless feed. Likely we wouldn’t trust it, even if it had the same. But a clock face is a kind of face, one that looks out, and at us, and beyond, that has a universally known mien, a formal guise that maintains decorum. An elevated clock lends significance, raising, figuring the joining of time and space and suggesting the possibilities of regularity and order, and is a reminder that time is public, a common medium we all share. We are made aware of time past, time present, and time future, which should bear some relationship with themselves and within us, among us all. A clock sets the schedules that regulate our day, but it also can bring feelings of regimentation and anxiety. And we reminded we are alive in the moment, but as well that our time on earth is passing. Such associations are enhanced by site in this project, which lies before a plaza at the center of downtown St. Johns. The three clocks facing in different directions, visible from major streets, also provide a conceptual framework for the activities inside.

Time as a mechanical concept is simple, but time perceived is complex and has been the subject of much philosophical thought, unresolved. Husserl, for example:

The past would be nothing for the consciousness belonging to the now if it were not represented in the now; and the now would not be now. . . if it did not stand before me in that consciousness as the limit of a past being. The past must be represented in this now as past, and this is accomplished through the continuity of adumbrations that in one direction terminates in the sensation-point and in the other direction becomes blurred and indeterminate.

On the Phenomenology of the Consciousness of Internal Time

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy explains:

The three components are: primal impressions, retentions (or ‘primary memories’) and protentions. Primal impressions are the live, actual experiences that occupy the momentary now. No sooner does a primal impression—e.g., a momentary tone-phase—occur than it slips seamlessly into the past. But it does not vanish from consciousness altogether: it survives in the form of a retention, which presents it as past. For Husserl, retentions are a quite distinctive form of consciousness, and differ significantly from ordinary memories. (They are also the ‘adumbrations’ mentioned in the quotation.) As new primal impressions dawn—as they gush forth from the ‘primal source-point’ of the now—the initial tone-phase continues to be retained, but as increasingly more past, until it fades from consciousness altogether. From then on, it can only be accessed through ordinary memory. As for protentions, these are the future-oriented counterparts of retentions. In some cases—e.g., when we are perceiving or remembering a familiar sequence of events—they can be quite detailed, but often they consist of nothing more than an openness to the future, an expectation that something will come.

The Encyclopedia provides the above diagram and explains:

The horizontal axis now represents a continuous flow of primal impressions, the vertical axes represent a selection of retentions (and in the case of F) protentions which accompany the primal impressions D, E and F.

Imagine a bell pealing in a church tower, each new strike adumbrated by echoes of the previous and our expectation of the next. The general sense here is that our perception of time is linked to experience and reflection, to memory, consciousness, and anticipation. Living in the present, we also remember and look ahead—not without uncertainty.

Science absolutely depends on precision of measurement of time. Our emotional perception of time, however, is not precise or regular at all. A moment can feel like it lasts an eternity, time flies without our noticing. Over the centuries time has brought a host of cultural associations, metaphors and personifications, that cut to the heart of our existence, of existence itself.

In other and even more numerous cases, however, the figure of Father Time is invested with a deeper and more precise meaning; he may act, generally speaking, either as a Destroyer, or as a Revealer, or as a universal and inexorable power which through a cycle of procreation and destruction causes what may be called a cosmic continuity: ‘thou nursest all and murder’st all that are,’ to speak in Shakespeare’s words.

Panofsky, Studies in Iconology

Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore,
So do our minutes hasten to their end;
Each changing place with that which goes before,
In sequent toil all forwards do contend.
Nativity, once in the main of light,
Crawls to maturity, wherewith being crown’d,
Crooked eclipses ‘gainst his glory fight,
And Time that gave doth now his gift confound.
Time doth transfix the flourish set on youth
And delves the parallels in beauty’s brow,
Feeds on the rarities of nature’s truth,
And nothing stands but for his scythe to mow:
And yet to times in hope my verse shall stand
Praising thy worth, despite his cruel hand.

Shakespeare, Sonnet LX

Chronos and his child, by Giovanni Francesco Romanelli.

We experience time by a succession of changes in the scene. In architecture we sense time through the passage implied by progression in patterns, with the moments spent exploring volumes and watching the play of shadows changing with the circuit of the sun.

Time itself, however much time we spend watching it, how much we live by it, is only a concept that refers to nothing. Cultures depend upon their ability to manage it and other such abstractions, handle their suggestive power, their complexities, their contradictions, their ambiguities, as well as come to terms with our inability to anchor them anywhere.

Program is same or similar as that of other efforts, classrooms for a satellite college above first floor exhibition and communal activities. Above, the floor plan for the upper floors, three medium-sized classrooms and a smaller in the corner for small classes and meetings. Stairs are in the center, defining a core, and open space—the gray area—could extend all four floors to a skylight.

Rear view, alongside Ivanhoe, what is seen by cars exiting the St. Johns Bridge. But for the steps of the brick mass on the left and the red posts before the doors, it presents a facade of order determined by a regular grid. The location of the clock lies on a diagonal that directs us to the rest of the building and the other clocks, as well as takes the eye up and out.

Except where stepped, all windows lie within the grid. The grid shifts, however, once it leaves the building proper. There are three layers of posts, gray, white, and red, in the open area that defines the front corner. This is better seen in the overhead picture, below.

Side view, along Philadelphia. Beams in each layer maintain horizontal regularity and continuity with the grid. The windows in the gray layer retain the grid as well. In the red and white layers, however, those without windows, the posts follow no set pattern at all. The only design rule I had was that no post aligns with any other post in its layer, or, as much as possible, with any other. The rare cases where posts align among layers are exceptions. Here, regularity is an accident. Contrast with the regularity of Husserl’s diagram of time, above. All this involvement faces the plaza, the center of town and locus of pedestrian activity, which has its own complexion of order and randomness.

Shadows from the beams will vary in complex ways, difficult to predict, as will the views from the three smaller rooms, depending on the angle of sight, the time of day. What ever happens in these rooms will be stirred, challenged.

A tower is suggested at the corner, but just as much that notion is dissolved. The open construction at top matches the essentially oblong shape of the building and points to the corner, at the plaza, the focal point.

Front view, along Lombard. If development continues in St. Johns as zoned, this building will be at the end of a line of four-story structures down the street, marking a terminus to growth, or a beginning.

The design might suggest an excavation to show the layers of past experience. Or like a watch whose case has been removed, the building has been opened to reveal its inner workings. Instead of various gears cut in precise ratios and connected in single purpose, we see the order of the clock dial, its progression of numbers, set against randomness and uncertainty among the grids. Implied is that our sense of time is complex, a challenge, as are the activities inside the building and out. Negotiating our experience and studying it depend upon our ability to find order but also handle uncertainty, to keep our hopes alive along with our doubts. Nothing is ever settled.

But this design needs revisiting. The partial sections of walls at the corners just don’t work and the overall design lacks coherence. Making mistakes is one way to learn, maybe the best.

The plaza clock again, still standing before the empty site.

Other Designs

Other designs for this project, along with background material and more photographs of site, can be found here and at these posts.

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