An Architecture of Arrival and Departure: the Harbours of Desire

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


If one starts with the premise that all architecture starts from an origin based in human desire, then it is not a great step to accept that some architecture must also be built with the express purpose of adapting to the shifting vagaries of human desire. What V. S. Naipaul called The Enigma of Arrival might be equally well suited to ‘an architecture of arrival and departure’. Humble piers, harbours, marinas, wharves, waterfronts, quays and ports, all sites of coming and going, are designed and facilitated by their of transit and their shelter from the storm. Some of these sites have been the foundations for great cities to have been built-- and destroyed--but others are exactly the opposite: refuges from the rest of the world. Amsterdam, Athens, and other cities at various historic points stand as examples. Whether havens from the world’s woes or centres of mercantile exchange and social intercourse, these ports harbour great human longing, metaphorically figuring the sites of demarcation in the meeting of land and water, and giving shape to partings and welcomes. The ways in which the physical environment bears out this multifold paradox must be complexly overlaid, even before the architect begins a practice of shaping functional spaces. And of course, there are buildings without architects, as Bernard Rudofsky (1964) reminds us, which in many ways bear out the witness to desires. Water, as aligned to the psychology/poetics of liminality, is contrasted with the solidity and shifting grounds of the land itself, beguiling and repelling the human desire for certainty. In this illustrated presentation, various sites of meeting points between ship and shore, land and water, are considered with their attendant architectures of desire, through a perspective of metaphors of the collective and multiplicity
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2019
EventArchitecture & Collective Life: The Annual Architectural Humanities Research Association [AHRA] International Conference - University of Dundee, Dundee, United Kingdom
Duration: 21 Nov 201923 Nov 2019


ConferenceArchitecture & Collective Life
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


  • harbours
  • desire
  • poetics
  • metaphor
  • waterfront architecture
  • liminality


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