Architecture : Game of Thrones

World of Imagination
Television series Game of Thrones has created a set of imagined spaces and realised them in a conscripted form of Architectural history.
It is not stationary but adds its own vision to it, forming the world it inhabits.
Outside of reality imagined sets of Cities, Interior worlds, Ampitheatre and Theatrical overtures are clamouring to focus the viewers attention on storyline and plot. Narrative drives everything from the Throne itself and many sublet versions of it make the story follow the money or the gore.
The alterations in ownership of the top of the pyramidical structure is wrought for all it’s worth. Space and control of it are primary edicts.

The world of nature and environment are the primary winners and humans have their own constructions on it.

The seminar set up by QUB Architectural Society I attended had as it’s title On the theme ‘Journeys in Architecture’ – the Physcology of Space with reference to the Production of Game of Thrones given by Deborah Riley it’s Art Director. (Note the psychology spelling mistake of the poster – it rarely entered the psychology in any case)
Never far away are actual pyramids and the ancients. From the film I recently viewed, Sunset Song, symbols are also referenced though these are in the form of megaliths and standing stones. Ancient reference. Here instead Game of Thrones acts out the Alexander, Roman and Moorish examples of architectural artifice.

Conceit is always thrust forth as the mental, psychological, imagination in flight. Birds, three eyed or binary are roll called to stir the emotional wizardry and supposed shared worlds of control and magnitude of spread of territory. Likewise the roots of nature are entwined into preternatural creatures, here in rhododendron bush branches laboriously honed sanded to configure and clasp as the rooted body of a key character are extensively relied on to convey this otherworldly vision. Outside of visual digital conception this is arranged as a epoch making manifestation of series style.
Nature endures. Nature endures. Foremost is this primary truth yet the series is a purvey acne of artifice and untruth with the counter narrative of we see the world outside the reality or imagination driven to the viewer.

Is it a cast back to the theatrical illusions and distortions often seen in three dimensions in an auditorium or outdoors at night at an Ampitheatre?

I think this two dimensional treatment forgets it’s delivery is into living rooms or large screen darkness in a audio visual suite. Potentially the architecture is diminished and tokenistic. Any elaboration is taken as artifice for what it is alongside the digital visual lift shed upon the screen.

Detail is so important as a statement and substantiation of the theme or direction of concept. Through my short viewing of the series I often note the absence of drapery or tapestry and the gilt pictorial representation present in all cultures. Neither sculpture or art works are there any indications of higher art. Each of those is only present in a slightly formalized way, with dogs, wolves, no wall hangings and elsewhere in tiling and geometrical mosaic like depiction.

A lot of referencing to the Albert Speers, Frank Lloyd Wright, both psychological practitioners, were raised by the designers working on Art direction and underwhelmed being so familiar as erecessitive style icons. Also hinged into the work is religious beginnings with little or no spiritual delivery or significance. A kind of consumerism enters.

It’s possibly unfair to cite a TV series as anything of bearing on the practice of architecture. Civilizations real have sought and corrupted the art just as a corruption of talent and ideas for as long as it has existed.
It has existed alongside the sublime to the ridiculous.
For a series though it has the element of embracing thought and the imagined potential which otherwise remains unaccomplished. It’s service is not aspirational or inspirational but as a means of observing what world thoughts have a presence on our psyche. It is not a noble examination but merely a snapshot illuminating the human condition flawed or otherwise.
Of the 20th Century some buildings went so far as to redefine in timeless and awesome beauty and incredible execution of higher things and none so brilliant than Coventry Cathedral by Basil Spence.

Into this building and I rate it more significant and better than anything produced by Jean Genet, Jorn Utzon or anyone else regarded at the height of architectural expression, their is a collaborative element like no other.
Sir Basil Spence like so many architects in previous centuries called upon artists and craftsmen to deliver into this building the real composition of a whole. The participants where Graham Sutherland and John Hutton.
There is the cluster of triads on the ‘Bishop’s throne from the inspiration of Sir Basil Spence who alighted on a complex thorn geometric frame in Graham Sutherlands house as unifying his idea to simplify and create choir canopies, the throne backdrop and horizontal pull from the chancel onwards the high nave windows.
The vertical depiction of thorns as a canopy to the throne becomes transformative. It’s as though the thorns become birds. There is also the sculptors Elizabeth Frink, whose lectern is an astonishing eagle of perfect scale and presence. Even the grid to rest the Bible upon is an open grid frame. It is perfection. Ever present is the work of Sir Jacob Epsteins whose imagery is at once the gravitas and supreme heraldry of The Cathedral in its portrayal of St Michael and the devil.
Looking back on these things now is like looking at the origins of the work of Michelangelo. Sir Jacob Epstein was working at a time after conflict and great loss of human life, was re-evaluating on behalf of a Church which was soon to attempt its own transformation alongside its fellow traveller the Catholic Church whose Vatican 2 was in the potential making.
He therefore uniquely placed to envision on the cliff face of this impediment, this mere cliff face of a building reaching towards the sky as a unifying, one spire like edifice to awaken lost souls. I say impediment because it is a space we are drawn to and we cross an imagined boundary into it. That is we take in its thrall. Entering a tomb for the living to reflect and return to themselves having sought the power instilled in them by God.
The vision created by the unity of vision which Sir Basil Spence brought is still overlooked in its entirety. To have said in the trenches off Normandy in 1944 when asked what his ambition was, under the consciousness of the bereavement of war and of obvious reflection on the waste of mankind he said, and it is true not folklore, “to build a Cathedral”.
The Church of England was the the musician of the orchestration of the Phoenix it was once the host of. From the Coventry of Lady Godiva to now return to creating a new church was its necessary task. Such were the enthusiasm of the Bishops and Holy Family empowered with conceiving of this instrument to play before God they were richly rewarded with inspiration not least to fasten upon the developing skills of the Architect Sir Basil Spence. Even from the beginning what we now think of as the Graham Sutherland tapestry owes its presence to the initial sketches including the figure of Christ in tapestry at the focal alter place of the imagined Church.
It was an outstanding vision no doubt borne out of deep reflection and concern of the cost of war, this new expression of love and hope with a reticence and design of omission of artifact and iconography hitherto present and faintly if not entirely plagiaristic.

We are lucky to also have in Ireland parallel works by the late renowned Architect religious practitioner Liam McCormick. His influences personal and of wider perspective have a fellowship unmistakably in harmony with Spences.

Sir John Pipers stain glass windows are a vector of light inspiring the interior and the effect is muted while gloriously effecting response to the kaleidoscopic abundance of elemental worldly existing things and evoke things of unimagined presence yet to be discovered.
So many combined to author this magnificent Building while understanding the importance fiction only aspires to intemperately and transgressively.
Forms are not two dimensional transitory things is one lesson Architecture teaches us. Transfiguring. Articulating. Expressing. Editing and observing are calculations due evidential conception. The art of deploying to a work by which ever chosen method is a bridge to the materialisation of the sum of those ideas given to the imagination.

The materiality is found shaped in the many combinations, juxtapositions, combinations and support of separate materials. In the following is an illustrative, evident, example.

Forming the glass screens and the stained glass windows where key and delicate decisions of choice and instilled the renaissance of religion into a city bombed into oblivion. An act of extraordinary resurrection was the weight and burden challenging the theologians who were to use the building and bring the common man to turn to God in desperation after the horrors of war and one within the sight of God.
So profound was this challenge it barely takes a word to dismiss Game of Thrones as a mere token of time driven pretence of no significance at all.
The lack of psychology in the talk despite its form was probably because of a distinct lack of understanding of the subject.
Surreal fictional ‘humans’ are the storytellers and authors of the inhabited spaces. They are in their world and we cannot ascribe our own psychology to theirs.
The Chapel of Unity is perhaps the most perplexing space in Coventry Cathedral. It is – and this is fundamentally a fault of denominational religion – a separate place of worship and reflection intended for the ‘Free Churches’ alongside the Anglican tradition who’s Church it forms a part of. You could begin a long discussion on difference when only one creator exists on that alone and the Architects, mere artisans when it comes to inspiration and vision on their part when confronted with such a brief are to be consumed by many external wishes and considerations.

So the Chapel of Unity has a psychology of space of preternaturalness deviating from all reality of things. Our existence inhabiting space.
Playing with concrete, glass, light, entrance, enchantment, accord is something the Architect is challenged immediately with.
The parameters are explanation enough from the Anglicans. They regarded ‘The Chapel of Unity’ as needing no more than 200 seats. It already thereby making a statement of itself as a sect.

To sum up a little on the premise set, the tract of land, the conveyance of thought and requirement of the idea of Church, the collaboration, the statement, of a building together with its grounds or other appurtenances we see Coventry Cathedral calling towards the goal of its brief – ‘Furthermore the building will embody the thought of the descent of the Spirit upon the waiting Church. Liturgically it will have its centre in Pentecost, and will be the Chapel of the Unity and of the Holy Spirit. That will give it a very specific function in perpetuity within the Cathedral and within its liturgical meaning.’

From with one instruction for ‘The Chapel of Unity’ can be gathered many things. In the Cathedral is a division. The words can apply to the whole but are specific to the Chapel. In its awe inspiring sanctity it creates difference. Mere play with materials such as concrete and glass, of height and containment are graduations of meaning humans in cloth have chosen and made progress on choices. It is unfathomable and incomprehensible to elicit the creator in a building on the confines of earthly things.
It is astonishing the comprehensibility is shaped so progressively as a true Journey in Architecture held here.
The Elizabeth Frink masterpiece

For architectural Students to find any depth or even direction in Game of Thrones is pretentious bile. It is a confection yes and of ‘financial’ value mainly to the company at its helm but compare the reality of the art of Architecture in actual buildings instead to find real value.
Understanding spaces is ultimately a correlation of human occupancy, use and enhancement of their spiritual and core worth. Expedience is not a resolution in itself. So where do you find it?
Coventry Cathedral is one primary source.

John Graham

8 December 2015


With love and Best Wishes to all this Christmas.