Juhani Pallasmaa on the Look of Silence

November 26, 2013
Juhani Pallasmaa and Tuomas Heikkilä
The Finnish Institute on the Janiculum
Juhani Pallasmaa and Tuomas Heikkilä
Guests at the Villa Aurelia
Peter Benson Miller and Tuomas Heikkilä
Juhani Pallasmaa and Kim Bowes
Guests at the reception
A reception at the Finnish Institute
Peter Benson Miller, Juhani Pallasmaa, Kim Bowes, and Tuomas Heikkilä
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Last Monday an audience of over 200 gathered at the Villa Aurelia to hear William A. Bernoudy Architect in Residence, Juhani Pallasmaa, speak about “Voices of Tranquility. Silence in Art and Architecture.” The event was organized in collaboration with the Finnish Institute, our long-time friends and neighbors on the Janiculum Hill. The event was followed by a reception at the Finnish Institute.

Mellon Professor of Classical Studies Kim Bowes, FAAR’06, briefly welcomed guests before Director of the Finnish Institute,Tuomas Heikkilä, introduced Professor Pallasmaa as part of the “dream team” of twentieth-century Finnish architects. Former Dean and Professor of Architecture at the Helsinki University of Technology, Pallasmaa is currently a Visiting Professor at Washington University in St. Louis and Plym Professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. Pallasmaa is the author of 47 books, which have been translated into 35 languages and his exhibitions of architecture, planning and visual art have been shown in more than 30 countries. As an architect, writer, teacher, designer, and administrator, Professor Pallasmaa is a truly international figure and “uomo universale.”

Drawing on an impressive array of cultural references, including Max Picard, Paul Virilio, Søren Kirkegaard, Rainer Maria Rilke, F.T. Marinetti and Constatin Brancusi, Professor Pallasmaa lamented the loss of silence that has accompanied the advance of modernity. He argued that our aesthetic experiences have been drowned in “cultural noise and clatter” that eradicate the “ontological silence of the universe,” in the presence of which “we hear our own heartbeat.” While we seem to be increasingly frightened by the sound of silence as a reminder of our “fundamental loneliness,” Pallasmaa sees its recuperation as the key to resolving our modern aesthetic crisis. “Great works of art and architecture,” he asserted, “evoke silence,” and while its significance for music, poetry, and other art forms may be evident, its implications for architecture are also profound. Great architecture, “mediates our being in the world” and “great buildings are silence turned into matter. They are petrified silence.”

Pallasmaa’s vision for architecture turned away from the commitment to artistic originality that has driven much of modernism’s obsession with uniqueness and insurrection. He asked us to embrace anonymity, spurn the ecstasy of communication and avert our gaze from the spectacle of the self.