Melvilla: An(other) Underline Reading

“Melvilla: An(other) Underline Reading.” Reading Architecture. Eds. Angeliki Sioli and Yoonchun Jung (New York: Routledge, 2018).

Douglas Darden was not necessarily a scholar, but he was a reader of big books. Melville’s Moby-Dick, Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Hugo’s Notre Dame and the poetry of Dante all play important roles in specific projects and appear often in his publication Condemned Building (Princeton Architectural Press, 1993). His work, however, did not simply reference great literature. Rather, he used the texts as sites, latent with potential meaning, from which to build architectural worlds. One such example is “Melvilla,” a library, archive and reading room sited in New York City. Darden believed Moby-Dick to be the greatest American novel ever written in that it was the clearest representation of how one struggles between practical production and moral responsibility. The building, first conceived as a factory and a church was intended to architectural-ize that struggle. Sited at the address in New York City in which Melville finished writing the novel, Darden refigures characters, plot lines, and intentions into architectural form. More than simply setting, one may, in fact, experience the novel as one descends into the building. Darden presented the work in a series of essays, each subtitled as “An Underline Reading,” which referenced the act of underlining important passages in book while making a close reading. This essay will present a similarly close reading of Darden’s building to demonstrate how the literature, and specifically the novel Moby-Dick, may be understood as a guide for making.