Caroline O’Donnell

Whitney Van Houten (M.Arch '16)
Snigdha Agarwal (M.Arch.11 ’15)
Stephanie Cheung (B.Arch. ’18)
Siobhan Lee (M.Arch. ’16)
Maur Dessauvage (B.Arch. ’16)
Katie Donahue (M.Arch.11 ’15)
Jennifer Kathleen Dumler (BA ’15)
Peta Feng (B.Arch. ’16)
Andreea Gulerez (M.Arch. ’16)
Jose Ibarra (B.Arch. ’16)
Tamara Z Jamil (B.Arch. ’16)
John Lai (B.Arch. ’17)
Whitney Liang (M.Arch. ’16)
Nikki Liao (B.Arch. ’15)
Apexa Patel (M.Arch. ’16)
Gosia Pawlowska (B.Arch. ’16)

Copy Editor
Laura Glenn

Editorial Assistant
Apexa Patel

Diana Agrest
Corinne Botz
Anton Dekom, Austin Beierle, & Sebastian Hernandez
Jenny French
Werner Goehner
Jeffrey Johnson
So a Krimizi
Jiminez Lai
Suzanne Lettieri
James Lowder
Andrew Lucia
Jennifer Ly
Caroline O’Donnell
Spyros Papapetros
Kyle Reynolds
Dexter Sinister
Iulia Statica
Jim Williamson
John Zissovici
Sasa Zivkovic

Despite our obsession with objects, dynamic and boundless non-things (pollution, climate change, radiation, data, algorithms) increasingly drive our worlds and shape our places within it. Timothy Morton, in The Ecological Thought, calls these hyperobjects: things that are viscous, molten, distributed, multidimensional, and relational; things that are at times beyond human comprehensibility. Morton considers these phenomena “the ultimate spiritual substances.” 1

Even in things as nameable as the city and as architecture, the spiritual and physical coalesce. Colin Rowe understood architectural form as spiritual when he wrote of “a continuous dialectic between fact and implication.”2 That is to say that, beyond the real building, there was a virtual building — literal and phenomenal, in Rowe’s own terms — a phantom, constructed by the reading subject. Fading in and out of legibility, the phantom is an excess, a byproduct of the things that we make. As in any good distilled spirit, besides the liquor, there is always the angels’ share. Without this flickering spirit, one might say, there is no architecture.3 Without the excess, we are doomed to pragmatism, to functionalism, and perhaps to superficiality.

This issue of The Cornell Journal of Architecture examines a range of spirits haunting architecture today, following a trajectory from augmented reality and data to memory and mood, from watermarks and ghost towns to inanimate objects and the uncanny, and from the dashed line and the X-ray to the appearance and disappearance of the e in whiskey. The common dimension of all these seemingly disparate realms is the presence of the invisible, the missing, the unnameable, and the difficult to represent: a feeling, perhaps, that, like the curved line of a door swing in a plan, no matter how we try to deny it, is always present (yet absent).

How, given the world’s contemporary spirits — environmental uncertainties, augmented reality experienced through the device, half-empty and migrating cities — must architecture acknowledge its own zeitgeist and genius loci today? How can we learn to talk differently about spirits as architecture vectorizes into the digital age? By acknowledging the worlds beyond the physical, this issue explores the countless angels, animations, atmospheres, data clouds, ghosts, indices, memories, moods, specters, and virtual realities that invisibly consume and produce our existence and our practice within it.

The Editors of The Cornell Journal of Architecture


1 Timothy Morton, The Ecological Thought (Cambridge: MA: Harvard University Press, 2010), 130 –132.

2 Colin Rowe and Robert Slutzky, in “Transparency: Literal and Phenomenal,” Perspecta, 8 (1963), 51.

3 There is building, but if architecture is building plus meaning, then without the excess of the spirit — what Colin Rowe calls the “implication” — architecture cannot exist.

Go back to 10: Spirits