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Mini-Review of Paolo Portoghesi’s Nature and Architecture

Take shelter from the rain under a leaf. Look toward the light pouring from a dome’s oculus. Here ears become tunnels, eyes portals, and mouths doors. Huts echo bower birds’ nests. Phallic spires court vaginal apertures. Towers mirror the mullein’s vertical inflorescence. In his 528-page tome, Nature and Architecture, famed architect and theorist Paolo Portoghesi, examines

what it is that turns archetypes into interpretations of nature and life or even projected images of the nature of man’s impulses, desires and needs and therefore the founding principles of a discipline, architecture…In the field of architecture, archetypes express the collective dimension and the richest possible stratification of experiences accumulated over the years, generation after generation.

Wallace Stevens, in his poem “Architecture,” asked: “What manner of building shall we build?….In this house, what manner of utterance shall there be?” Portoghesi’s erudite and impassioned essays—where Barthes, Bohm, and Borges, Eliade, Rilke, and Ruskin, among countless others, appear—buttressed with diagrams, drawings, models, and photos of arches and altars, castles and caves, doors and floors, bridges and niches, cells and shells, and roofs and rooms, answer these questions again and again. Read this alongside Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space and you may see the world anew.

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John Madera is the author of Nervosities (Anti-Oedipus Press, 2024). His other fiction is published in Conjunctions, Salt Hill, The &Now Awards 2: The Best Innovative Writing, and many other journals. His nonfiction is published in American Book Review, Bookforum, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Rain Taxi: Review of Books, The Believer, The Brooklyn Rail, and many other venues. Recipient of an M.F.A. in Literary Arts from Brown University, New York State Council on the Arts awardee John Madera lives in New York City, Rhizomatic and manages and edits Big Other.

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