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If you’ve spent any time studying phenomenology or its well-read cousin, hermeneutics, you may have encountered synaesthetes in the pages of Vesely, Bachelard, or Frascari. For those who haven’t, Wikipedia is here to the rescue:
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“Synaesthesia is a neurological condition in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway.”

Synaesthesia is real, and probably the closest we’ll ever get to having superpowers. The synaesthete is an enlightened being, high on the architectural pedestal, and capable of such descriptive eloquence in the perception of their world. I give you a passage from synaesthete Lilly Etea:

“I study architecture because it is brown and orange and feels like old plush carpet against the pads of your bare foot. So does October. Architecture is best in October.

I have sex sometimes and it’s silver and feels like the number 6, but I also get colds sometimes and watch Netflix in my pajamas. I go to parks to see senses and poetry mixing together, and I go running because it’s a white creamy puddle with bright red flakes floating on top. I also run when I feel fat or when I think it’s going to rain, because rain feels like Willie Nelson and the world through blue-gray sunglasses that smell like velvet and sore hamstrings. I like running best in December and January, because those months are blue-gray too, and it’s nice when things match. Running should match the months, so December and January it is.”

In contrast to this romanticized description, synaesthetes often understand the world in bizarrely logical ways.

There’s something seducing about this cognitive precision. Or maybe it’s just the fact she could teach you architecture engineering out of a coloring book.

You might imagine your synaesthete lying on your drafting table smelling the ochre in your watercolor, commenting on the sallow bitterness of your reflected ceiling plan, or silently calculating your moment forces indicating that the load on each joist is turquoise and three Mike n’ Ikes. The reason why synaesthetes are so attractive is because the architect’s eternal struggle to make seen what is only remembered or felt is a breathing reality in the synaesthete.

Frascari in recounting Scarpa:

“If I want to see things, I do not trust anything else. I put them in front of me, here on paper, to be able to see them. I want to see, and for this I draw. I can see an image only if I draw it. This joining of the information received by one sense to a perception in another sense is the essence of the architectural thinking that ought to take place during the drafting preceding the constructing a building.”

This trust that the architect feels compelled to draw lives within the synaesthete, a faith in human sensation. And although the synaesthete may disagree with the representation of our conceptual drawings and models, they can sympathize with our struggle to make our voices heard because we all have those red Mondays where our coffee smells burgundy and our bagel tastes lilac with a hint of sparkles; and sometimes sex is a black rodent punching you in the lower back. I don’t know why, but sometimes…

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