The Crumple and the Scrape


Synaesthesia is at work in any act of interpretation, and tactile metaphors do more than mark the sensory limits of textuality. Such terms signify an ineffable striving to overcome the limits of text as a visual medium. Interpretations of architecture and texts — including the textural metaphors analyzed below — have physical ramifications. When texture is invoked through verbal description, we can feel it, not as the mere representation of “actual” (in this case, architectural) texture, but, as haptic stimulus in its own right.

I admit my leap of faith: I believe that changing words — say, crafting new architectural similes and metaphors for trans and queer embodiments — can alter our perceptions. It is vital to consider the language in which we discuss the design of built space, because whether or not they realize it, architecture critics generally build a body into their writings — a body whose experiences, feelings, and values are presumed to be widely, if not universally, shared by readers. We must allow ourselves, and others, to write bodies other than cis, straight, white, able ones into the affect of our analyses. Imagining different bodies means staging different encounters. And this in turn implies a textural shift.

Changing words — say, crafting new architectural metaphors for trans and queer embodiments — can alter perceptions.

Since not all share this faith in the power of words to shape experience, let me emphasize that we already employ sexual and gendered metaphors in architectural criticism. We just expect them to be understood via heteronormative frameworks. Consider a few ways in which critics have described the work of Zaha Hadid Architects. Oliver Wainwright of The Guardian has written that the Heydar Aliyev Centre (2013) in Baku looks “like sinuous whirls of whipped cream.” 18 When that same structure won the London Design Museum’s Design of Year prize in 2014, jury-member Piers Gough described it as “swooning fluid,” “intoxicatingly beautiful,” “a sweet love letter,” and “as pure and sexy as Marilyn’s blown skirt.” 19 Most famously, multiple commentators — including Cosmopolitan, The Daily Show, The Guardian, and various online outlets — have compared Hadid’s Al Wakrah Stadium in Qatar, completed in 2019, to a vagina. 20 The firm itself describes its 2016 ferry terminal in Salerno, Italy, as looking “like an oyster.”