Down the Rabbit Hole

MICHAEL GLASSMAN (M.ARCH, ’20)

The ribbon cutting went just as planned. “One more,” the photographer called out, motioning for us to hold our pose, but we had all taken one step toward the hole and peered down, transfixed by the red satin ribbon that fell and fell and fell. Fourteen heads and twenty-eight eyes against the early morning sky, looking into the strangeness that was to come. Leaning over the edge my pen slipped out of my shirt pocket and followed suit. I liked that pen.

Back in the office we tried to keep construction on schedule. It was easier said than done given the nature of the project. There are no building codes for semi-real spaces. Finding a contractor was nearly impossible. One of our surveyors was lost for weeks down there. He was fine in the end; the drawings he sent us were just a mess of circles and arrows though. In truth, we had done very few drawings ourselves. Mostly the project manifested itself through writing. And then, almost suddenly, a giant hole in the ground.

Rabbit holes had only been found in nature up to that point, so there really was no blueprint for building one. They called the project biomimicry, but that really wasn’t true. Build a rabbit hole emulating nature and you end up with a dirt-filled dead end. They could have called it metaphorical architecture, but even that belies its true nature. In the rabbit hole, the physical world reabsorbs our architectural metaphors. The built environment realigns with the imaginary.

I sat down in front of my monitor and zoomed into the blackness. Then some more, until paper space gave way to infinite space. I didn’t tell anyone that I had drawn a few extra entrances into the project. I didn’t put them into the schedule either. I did put one under my couch though. I knew that no one would find it; some days I couldn’t even find it myself. In the vast black waters somehow held in that single layer of light given off by the screen, one is robbed of nearly all sensory information, leaving only the contact between finger and mouse. I looked around to ensure that my corner of the office was empty and flew through the black. The hole was still there. I logged off and went home to lie down.

Through the window of the freshly constructed library all you could see were shelves running in to infinity: books and books and books. The building a book, read and re-read. Each book a building, structural and volumetric. Each and every page a rabbit hole. The confluence was almost too much to bear.

My coworker had asked me why the project needed a library, so I asked her why the world needed another hole in the ground. She laughed and we didn’t talk about it again.

In reality the library was the crux of the project, the place where word and deed collided. Rabbit holes could only be written, so we did our best to write a building. I was convinced from the start that in order to succeed we would have to be as rigorous in our metaphors as the engineers in their calculations. It turned out, however, that the misalignments were the project’s saving grace. It was through one such crack, a small gap in the millwork, that I slipped in from the tunnel that originated in my living room. I wandered through the stacks back toward the lobby until I found a door, the sign read “BATHROOM.” I knew that doors rarely lead where they seemed to in the project, but there was little gain in deceiving people about where to find a toilet. The mirrors, however, held no such attachment to veracity. Mirrors in the rabbit hole were not boundaries, throwing the world back at itself, they were permeable. More than that, they pulled the world in. I began to lose myself in the glass, so I yanked back. I evaded the grip of the mirror, but in the push and pull I lost my balance and down the faucet I went.

When I came out the other side of the rough plumbing, my ears drums started to itch. My ears always start to itch when I’ve strayed too far from home. I looked down at my feet; the hole went on and on. I look up toward the top; the hole went on and on. I halted my downward climb and had a seat against the side of the shaft. I reached into my bag to pull out the sandwich I’d packed when something sanguine and satin draped itself around my shoulders. I had no idea how it got there, but I knew exactly where it lead. I gave it a tug and began to follow it back to the surface.

Outside the light was dim. The buildings on the other side of the park appeared stoic and well-proportioned through the fog. I looked back into the hole and thought of my pen; I never did find it. I let the ribbon slip from my hands and watched it drift back into the strangeness that we had built.