Chez Etym. is an edited collection begun in 2017, which draws together new work from 14 academics, architects, artists, poets, photographers and recent architecture graduates from Europe and Australia. Through a soft lens and a reverence for the written word, Chez Etym.’s primary focus is ‘place,’ explored from the periphery. Place presents to us a crucial essence to being, of being in place, and thus can naturally act as entry-point into the countless topics to which foundations it contributes. As the relationship between place and being is an intensely human one, considerations of place can shift in perspective from society, to landscape, to the city, culture, history, the transcendental and the temporal. It’s little stretch to then argue that place’s multifaceted but potent nature is crucial to any argument on how we do, or should, live and live in our environment. A particular emphasis in Chez Etym.’s understanding of place is born from the temporal, and the notion that place exists as a series of layers, ontological or not, across space and time. Here, the relevance of place’s exploration coalesces, with the understanding of time and place naturally pertinent to planetary timescales of climate change, mnemonic timescales of cultural identity, and the ecological timescales of an (increasingly extinct) environment.
Veering away from an image-saturated approach, Chez Etym. turns toward the literary with a zeal for meaning layered through language. Each chapter has a focus on the written word (prose and verse of varied lengths), and where images are used they form visual essays that divulge a mood and extrapolate on a thesis, rather than represent a project in its entirety. This is a dual response: firstly, to a lack of substantial and stimulating critical discourse on architectural place occupying the space between academic literature and casual periodic print; and secondly, to the nature of much architectural print (and the profession itself) tending toward a simplistic, form-honouring interpretation of the discipline. The process of producing the publication revealed this notion of the ‘periphery,’ in turn revealing a thematic thread concerning the intersection of memory and time in expressions both deeply personal and those looser and more abstract. Thus, we shift from a strict focus: place as seen through a personal vignette, pointed or blurred. One chapter considers governmental education policy and its symbiosis with social concerns manifest in the urban realm of Glasgow; another uses two built works to explore the subtlety of relating architecture to landscape; a Norwegian studio recounts a landscape-charged studio workshop at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West; a series of mapping exercises in Svalbard, a true precipice of conceivable place; the editors explore ontological and philosophical musings on death, extinction and erased cultural identity; the centre always is the human, the psychophysical, cultural or built relationship with place.
The document itself is read as a series of tacit layers, with room for these layers to be read and re-read, teased apart. The outcome is a contemporary precis of understated potency, on how to design with place, taking root in the subconscious and gently affecting the reader’s future hand. Place and time present themselves as both an ocean, mercurial and non-Euclidean, and a fractal landscape of discrete moments. With memory we can transcend a key moment, or merely half-draw a veil in the haze.
From the essay to the memoir, Chez Etym. is a publication of sensitivity and breadth, with a tone which seeks to be approachable and inclusive. Equally at home on a domestic bookshelf as the catalogue of a university library, the content is less bound to convention than it is to honesty.