Architectural Ethics and Aesthetics of Orghast: theatre of Peter Brook, by Negin Djavaherian

The paper intends to examine ethical and aesthetic qualities of architecture in a theatrical creation called Orghast directed by Peter Brook (born 1925), one of the influential directors of the modern theatre. Theatre, as a paradigmatic place of public involvement and emblematical revelations, has always served as a suggestive source of inspiration for architects. Orghast, staged in the ruins of ancient Persepolis in 1971, not only profoundly contributed to the avant-garde movement of the twentieth-century theatre, but also opened possibilities of rethinking architectural creation.

Orghast offered a ‘found space’ that annihilated the viewer’s preconceived knowledge of modern places of performance, challenging encoded, pre-set layouts and shapes of theatre buildings. An empathic endeavour was made to uncover hidden qualities and what one might term the persona
of this ‘found space’ that can address an architect’s confrontation with the site and his or her attempt to unearth potentials inherent to the place. Aiming to create theatrical experience that would be truly participatory as opposed to mere literary or optical encounters, Orghast, which was based on sound, reached beyond formal and visual discourse. The dramatic and resonating expression of sounds between the walls, cliffs and crags of the place, arriving from close and far, low and high, inside and outside offer auditory perception that engages emotional senses of the spectators and creates a deep level of human spatial experience. The audience is suspended between the past and the presence, engulfed by defunct and non-verbal, non-existing languages.

The paper explores the modes and conditions through which Orghast liberates its inhabitants (actors and spectators) from conventional patterns and routine habits and instils a state of emptiness in order to activate their imaginative faculty. Brook compares us with a ‘musical instrument’ with strings that are able to react to vibrations from an invisible spiritual world; a world which is usually disregarded by our senses, and yet is connected to us at every moment. Orghast would situate the audience momentarily in contact with the invisible world and create a state of being that is connected to the subconsciousness and is filled with a qualitative substance. Brook’s experiments in Orghast revealed that meanings are not created in one’s mind (opposite to Cartesian philosophy), but they are ‘out there’ and can be discovered not only visually but with all one’s external senses and internal feelings about the place and performance. The exploratory work of Orghast disclosed means of invigorating concepts existing in the world, reminding one of one’s capacities to engage with and respond to them. It represents a ‘good’ architecture that is not based on action of ‘subjective genius’, but it appreciates the place and environment and creates awareness and a reciprocal relationship with its embedded meanings.

Negin Djavaherian, McGill University, CA

Harvard Citation Guide: Djavaherian, N. (2012) Architectural Ethics and Aesthetics of Orghast: theatre of Peter Brook, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 06 May 2012, Available at: [Accessed: 01 June 2012].

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