City of the Mind and Architectonic Time

In City of the Mind, by Penelope Lively, we see London through the eyes of Matthew Halland. Halland’s perspective as an architect allows us to consider London’s past and its present through its wide variety of architecture which includes Greek temples, Victorian stucco, Gothic cathedrals, Georgian buildings, and more modern concrete structures. A term was mentioned briefly in class that I decided to do some research on. The term is Architectonic Time.

There is no definition to be found for Architectonic Time, however the word Architectonic on its own is defined as “Relating to the scientific systemization of knowledge; relating to architecture”. A quote by Mikhail Bakhtin, a Russian philosopher who often worked on literary theory, further elaborates on this term by saying “All the values of actual life and culture are arranged around the basic architectonic points of the actual world of the performed act or deed”. As you can see, this is very similar to what we’ve studied of spatial politics but is specifically in regards to architecture. With this basic understanding of architectonics, one need only add a further dimension of time and history to understand what is meant by Architectonic Time.

Penelope Lively’s novel goes into great detail showing us examples of architectonic time. In several instances throughout the book, Halland stops and stares at an architectural structure and goes into a lengthy imaginative vision, like a daydream, of something that might have happened there. Through these imaginings we see that Halland is perceiving the world through the lens of architectonic time.

As well as these imagined scenes, this novel it filled with statements that pertain to architectonic time. “He sees decades and centuries, poverty and wealth, grace and vulgarity…” In this quote Halland perceives the history of England through the architecture, but not just the timelines, he sees social classes in terms of economics and behavior.

Halland sees much more than just an isolated English history in its structures, he also sees the global spheres of influence, “If the city were to recount its experience, the ensuing babble would be the talk of everytime and everywhere…” We must consider foreign influences in determining Englishness, after all, the Romans were the ones who brought an advanced civilization to England and created London.

There are a few, more abstract concepts that Lively wrote in her novel that perhaps can be considered in terms of mental architectonic time. “This city, is entirely in the mind. It is a construct of the memory and of the intellect. Without you and me it hasn’t got a chance.” This statement brings into question the individual’s role in determining what something is. To elaborate, without individual perception, thought, emotion, mentality, the city is just a place. It’s the human aspect that turns the city into a space. Later Halland explains his earlier statement by saying, “What I mean is that significance is in the eye of the beholder.” I take this to mean that once significance is decided, preservation and expansion of that significant thing happens. Eventually, other things that lack that significance begins to fall away, to decay. Thus, change and progress happens. If there is no change or progress, that would mean the loss of the human element, which in turn would mean the death of the city.

This idea of architectonic time can be applied to so many things and I know that my own vision has expanded through exploring this text and this term. As Halland says, “For this is the city, in which everything is simultaneous. There is no yesterday, nor tomorrow, merely weather, and decay, and construction.”



1 thought on “City of the Mind and Architectonic Time

  1. The explanation of Architectonic time in your blog post on City of the Mind is quite interesting. I think it relates well to the novel. The idea that layers of architecture and history infuse a given space and that we are merely occupying, temporarily, a place that has a history and life of its own is intriguing. Great cities with long histories, like London, remind us of these ideas. I particularly liked your ideas on the main character Halland and how he relates to the city and the concept of architectonic time: “Halland stops and stares at an architectural structure and goes into a lengthy imaginative vision, like a daydream, of something that might have happened there. Through these imaginings we see that Hallandis perceiving the world through the lens of architectonic time.”

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