A House for Blaise Pascal
Zabie Mustafa & Neda Kakhsaz
‘We naturally believe we are more capable of reaching the center of things than of embracing their circumference, and the visible extent of the world is visibly greater than we. But since we in our turn are greater than small things, we think we are more capable of mastering them, and yet it takes no less capacity to reach nothingness than the whole. In either case it takes an infinite capacity, and it seems to me that anyone who had understood the ultimate principles of things might also These extremes touch and join by going in opposite directions…’
Blaise Pascal is possibly best remembered for being the most brilliant mathematician of his time. He is credited for inventing a completely new major area of mathematical research at the age of 16, then another one by the age of 19. He overturned certainties established by the best thinkers before him and changed the entire field for generations to come. Additionally, Pascal was a leading scientist contributing to the study of fluids, pressure, vacuums, and scientific methodology.
Although Pascal was established in many fields and was way ahead of his time, his genius can be narrowly understated. His treatise on projected geometry is a foundational document in the field of mathematics and his work on probability theory has transformed economics and social sciences alike. At the age of 19 he built the very first form of a modern calculator. Following that, he made significant inventions such as the syringe, the barometer, and the hydraulic press, not to mention that he completely disproved Aristotle’s widely accepted hypothesis that a vacuum was impossible.
He achieved all of this before the age of 30, until his life took a path towards theology and philosophy. Pascal experienced illness for many years and dealt with physical pain for most of his life. His ailments carried him close to death several times, experiences that would provide him with a profound sensitivity to the ephemeral brevity of human life. After a near death experience, where he had fallen off the reigns of his carriage, Pascal had a vision that transformed him forever turning him away from mathematics and science and towards a life of theology and philosophy, which would lead him to his book called Pensees, or ‘thoughts.’
The Pensees gave moving insights into the nature of mortality, death, illness, and the limits of human reason. Numerous scraps and piles of paper made up his thoughts, with words moving in every direction on the page, Pascal’s asceticism led to a highly influential body of work. Prior to his death in 1662, Pascal began to compile his ideas and jottings by cutting and pasting his notes into a comprehensive document, but left the world with his task incomplete. His work dealt with the immense vastness and infinite nature of our world and that of the universe, and ultimately the unknown. He went on to say that the very nature of the unknown is beyond the capacity of reason alone.
Pascal’s home becomes a homage to his life works and the wonderful insight to human thought. The home becomes a vast vessel, half sunken into the ground sited in the prairies, nestled amongst the century old hills of Clermont-Ferrand, France, the city of his birthplace. The house is comprised of several chambers dedicated to the life and ethic of Blaise Pascal, separated into three cohesive levels amongst a vast sphere, unimaginable and intangible to the human eye. As you approach the house on each respective side there is a staircase settling down into the ground. As you choose to descend in the ground to the lowest level you will find Monsieur Pascal’s archive chamber, where his many achievements and plentiful inventions are stored and displayed. As you ascend upwards to the next level you will find his humble living chamber where general bathing and sleeping is done and where you receive glimpses of light washing down the whole captive sphere on all four sides.
As you continue to ascend upwards you will find a staircase unusual and unique to that of any other home, a stair wrapping around one-quarter of the house inhabiting the void between the slab and the sphere, between living and working, rising between ground and sky. Here, you will find yourself in his working chamber where the vastness of the universe is displayed and captured in the wholeness of all of its forms. The chamber is vast in space so Blaise himself can use the space how he pleases. Using it for physical and thought provoking experiments, where the presence of the unknown is above and out onto the horizon is the beautiful landscape. This is where he studies, reflects, contemplates and wonders at the vast vessel of his home and the world beyond.
The sphere itself is bisected by a three-dimensional cross, cutting and orienting the patron, dividing the world towards the four cardinal points. Allowing time to pass the space heightens one’s awareness of the movement of time, as the sun rises and sets. The duality of the vertical and horizontal brings together the house to a whole, as a union between divinity and the world, respectively. Though the sphere presents a sense and atmosphere of the intangible wonders of the world, and provides a space in which one may feel centered, it is important to note that one can never truly be physically centered in the sphere, an element taken from Pascal’s very own words, “nature is an infinite sphere of which the center is everywhere and the circumference nowhere.” A monument in form and in scale, Pascal’s home humbles him and presents a sense of wonderment and bewilders him, much like the bewilderment he feels from the universe.
At the end of his life, at the occurrence of his death, his home will be transformed into a tomb, a house for death. His tomb will remain sunken below the ground at the center of the archive chamber. The home is established in a hierarchical order, where the levels of consciousness are constantly displayed. On the level of the working chamber, he is on the horizon, Pascal is thinking, contemplating, conscious of the world. As he descends down to his living chamber, sunken in ground he experiences a state of sub-consciousness, sleeping and resting, where glimpses to the floor above and below are shared. On the archive chamber he experiences complete un-consciousness, a passing of time, death, sunken completely in ground.
A life of a man is driven between extremes, Monsieur Pascal was very aware of such extremes.
Man is held between:
Life & Death
Sky & Ground
Light & Dark
Mortal & Immortal
Weight & Weightlessness
Knowledge & Faith
Symmetry & Non-Symmetry
Known & Unknown
Infinite & Finite
The house is an ironic realization of these extremes, a symbolic monument that accounts for a confrontation and realization of the very extremes Pascal himself had undergone throughout his life. This becomes the beauty of the house as a whole.
‘[I feel] engulfed in the infinite immensity of spaces whereof I know nothing, and which know nothing of me, I am terrified The eternal silence of these infinite spaces alarms me.’
Who influences you graphically?
We are both very influenced by representational work by DOGMA, Aldo Rossi, Etienne Louis Boullee, Lebbeus Woods, and Rem Koolhaas. All of these architects play with collage, light, and shadow as a means of expressing everyday sensory experiences and emotions.
How did the staging of views and placing of objects help convey the thematic of a ‘center as being everywhere and the circumference nowhere’?
The way we set up each scene was by keeping the processional qualities of each space in mind. Each space conveys a different emotion as the building digs into the landscape. We also wanted the idea of centeredness to be conveyed through the sectional perspective and especially through the plans, as this was the core of our concept and the idea that drew us toward our muse for the project, Blaise Pascal.
You talk about the project as a home, a monument and a tomb. How did you go about trying to graphically represent the merging all of these aspects into one structure?
The choice of colours and textures definitely bring about a feeling of monument. At the same time the texture of each drawing is warm and nostalgic, revealing feelings of wonderment, proportionality, and power
What role do the passengers play in the perspective views? (Whilst the lady on the exterior seems static the men on the interior are moving –does this reflect the monumental staggering effect it has from the exterior compared to the more experiential atmosphere on the interior)
The subjects in each drawing are chosen very specifically. In the interior views you observe a man dwelling in the space. He is living, moving, experimenting. While his work is to the outside world amazingly advanced, he remains humble and just the same as any other human being. The girl gazing out onto the monument shows the general wonderment the world feels toward this humble person who dwells within the walls of the structure.
Why the choice of a rectangular format and not that of a square which would have been in direct proportion to the plans?
We chose formats based on what we wanted to show in each scene, not necessarily to follow a perfectly proportional format. The work speaks for itself and contains the sense of proportion in the architecture.
Zabie Mustafa is a project designer & Neda Kakhsaz is a student and designer at Pratt Institute