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«Negin Djavaherian School of Architecture McGill University, Montreal, Canada August 2012 A thesis submitted to McGill University in partial ...»

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Negin Djavaherian

School of Architecture

McGill University, Montreal, Canada

August 2012

A thesis submitted to McGill University

in partial fulfilment of the requirements of degree of Doctor of Philosophy

© Negin Djavaherian, 2012

To my parents, Parvaneh and Hassan,


to Alois


The thesis explores architectural potential and experience in the theatre of Peter Brook (1925-). The importance of his thought, writings and theatrical creation in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries reaches far beyond the question of theatre.

It prepares a ground for exploring the ethical and poetic dimensions of architecture. Refusing to reduce the role of theatre to making ‘pictures,’ Brook’s theatre strives to offer us ephemeral experience in space and to engage us with the power of individual and communal imagination. What is explored and can be learned from Brook’s theatre cannot be considered as a ‘practical prescription’ or methodology, but rather as a call to an incessant quest. It offers an entry to rethinking the role of architecture not as a finished design, but as a phenomenon that emerges through an ‘event’ and engages its inhabitants and their being in the world.

The dissertation, seen through the lens of an architect, embarks on a journey into Brook’s theatre in which it unravels crucial concepts from his discourse and theatrical experiments offering insights of great value to architects and architectural creation alike. The idea of “empty space,” the relationship between visible and invisible, and the notion of ‘Immediate Theatre’ resonate throughout the investigation. Along the way, I study three theatrical plays: Orghast at the tombs of the Persian kings at Persepolis and Naqsh-e-Rustam (Iran, 1971); The Mahabharata at the Callet Quarry in Boulbon (France, 1985); and Eleven and Twelve at the theatre of Bouffes du Nord (Paris, 2009). The investigation reveals the unusual approach toward places of performance, the exploratory process of creation, and the audience’s involvement in space/time. In the view of this thesis, Brook’s theatrical creation invokes an architecture that temporalizes space and recognizes the ‘present moment,’ immersing its participants in a wholeness of narrative, play and place.

RÉSUMÉ Cette thèse explore le potentiel offert à l'architecture par le théâtre de Peter Brook (1925-). L'importance de sa pensée, ses écrits et sa création théâtrale dans les vingtième et vingt-et-unième siècles atteint bien au-delà de la question du théâtre.

Son travail nous donne un terrain fertile pour explorer les dimensions éthique et poétique de l'architecture. Refusant de réduire le rôle du théâtre à faire des images, le théâtre de Brook s'efforce de nous offrir une expérience éphémère dans l'espace et nous engage par le pouvoir de l'imagination individuelle et collective. Ce qui est exploré et qui peut être compris du théâtre de Brook ne peut pas être considéré comme une « recette » ou méthodologie, mais doit plutôt être perçu comme un appel à une quête incessante. Cette approche permet de repenser le rôle de l'architecture non pas comme une maquette, mais comme un phénomène qui émerge à travers un « événement » et engage ses habitants et leurs questions existentielles les plus fondamentales.

Vu à travers de la lentille d'un architecte, la thèse examine les concepts cruciaux dans le théâtre de Brook, particulièrement les notions d'« espace vide », la relation entre le visible et l'invisible, et la notion de « théâtre immédiat ». Pour ce faire, j'étudie trois pièces de théâtre : Orghast, sur les tombes des rois de Perse de Persépolis et de Naqsh-e Rustam (Iran, 1971); Le Mahabharata, à la carrière Callet à Boulbon (France, 1985), et Onze et Douze, au théâtre de Bouffes du Nord (Paris, 2009). La recherche révèle l'approche inhabituelle vers les lieux de performance, le processus d'exploration de la création et la participation du public dans l'espace/temps. La création théâtrale de Brook apparaît comme une architecture qui induit le temps à l'espace et reconnaît le « moment présent », plongeant ses participants dans une plénitude du récit, du jeu et du lieu.


When I look back at these years of my life, I feel profoundly happy and privileged that I had the opportunity to meet Professor Alberto Peréz-Goméz and be one of his students. I am eternally grateful for his discerning suggestions and critical comments that made this dissertation steadily evolve. Without his help and advice I would not have been able to find my way. He patiently and kindly allowed me to find my own connection with this thesis. I am forever indebted to him for his teachings and writings which are immeasurably crucial to us here and now. I would like to greatly thank Professor Louise Pelletier, who, with her intimate knowledge of theatre, guided me safely across all the stages until the very end. Through her thoughts and writings, I learned the expressive relation between architecture and theatre which immensely helped me to lead and direct my own thoughts. Her careful reading and suggestions throughout the length of my work were essential in shaping the content and the structure of the dissertation. Over the years, her boundless kindness, support and caring were always present; for this I cannot thank her enough. I would like to dearly thank Professor Ricardo L. Castro for deepening my interest in Peter Brook’s theatre. Our conversations always inspired me and provided me with many important bibliographic references. He was always willing and open to listen when I needed advice.

Through the course of my explorations, I have come to appreciate enormously the theatre of Peter Brook and what it means for architects. I am deeply thankful for the magical chance of meeting with and talking to him. I feel honoured to have had the opportunity to learn from a man whose footsteps have left imprints in the history of the 20th century and the new millennium. All these explorations have had a profound influence on my life.

Appreciation and gratitude will stay with me forever. Words cannot begin to express my gratitude to Nina Soufy. All her kindness and her presence brought many blessings to my exploration. Meeting her for the first time, I had feeling that I had known her for a thousand years. The time spent with Nina will stay with me as one of the most cherished memories I carry in my heart. Through listening to and learning from Arby Ovanessian, I have started to feel why Peter Brook mentioned: “Arby is exceptional.” I will be forever grateful for the long hours Arby patiently spent leading me through the mysteries of Orghast and sharing his experience and otherwise untold stories with me. Jean-Claude Carrière provided me with the key that opened the gate to my deepest understanding of the very core of Peter Brook’s theatre. Meeting him was invaluable for developing my investigation, for which I am filled with gratitude. His eloquence and passion for theatre painted the most vivid images in my mind.

I am very grateful to Professor Kamran Safamanesh for the years of his support and guidance. The memory of his atelier, an old house in the north of Tehran, is very close and clear to me. In retrospect, I now recognize it as the place where I first explored the possibilities of moving between poetry and architecture. I would like to thank Professor Mohammad-Reza Shafiei Kadkani, one of the most influential Persian poets and literary critics, for his poignant ideas and words in the first year of my project that penetrated my later explorations. One of the most prominent Iranian philosophers, Professor Dariush Shayegan, gave me an insight into the world of imaginative creation and shared with me his experience of Peter Brook’s theatre, for which I am greatly thankful. Meeting with Babak Ahmadi, whose contemporary thoughts on Persian mystical poetry, particularly Attar’s poems are invaluable, were very important for me in the early stages of my research.

I am especially grateful to Professor David Williams for discussing the project with me several times over the past few years and giving me wonderful ideas that were essential to my research. His comments and suggestions were instrumental in weaving the network of propositions about Brook’s theatre. Jean-Guy Lecat generously shared his knowledge and experience of the essential qualities of ‘found spaces’ he explored for so many years with Peter Brook. I am greatly thankful for the conversations we had in Paris. Andrew Todd, an architect constantly involved with theatre, taught me a great deal about Brook’s theatrical creation. I greatly benefited from his ideas crafted from the architectural point of view. Parviz Pour Hosseini, one of the most acclaimed actors who took part in Orghast, enabled me to relive parts of the play by reciting passages and helped me to feel the expressive power of sound. His excitement about the performance felt as intense as it was forty years ago. The time I spent listening to Keyvan Mahjoor’s stories and recollections of Orghast provided me with the first-hand experience of a spectator during the performance and for this I am particularly grateful. I appreciate the exiting, vivid stories that Malek Jahan Khazai revealed to me about the time of her collaboration with Peter Brook.

Special thanks also go to guest critics in PhD reviews: I am very grateful to Professor David Leatherbarrow for his insightful suggestions. His perceptive questions led me to direct and concentrate my research. I would also like to thank Professor Marco Frascari, Roger Conover and Louis Brillant for guiding and helping me navigate through a labyrinth of ideas. I benefited a great deal from Juhani Pallasmaa’s compelling lectures and discussions. I would like to express my appreciation to Professor Michael Jemtrud for his support. I would also like to acknowledge Professor Robert Mellin for his help in the early stages of my project. Sincere thanks to Aydin Aghdashloo, Alireza Sami Azar, Mohammad Charmshir, Farhad Mohandespoor and Bavand Behpoor who contributed to my project.

I would express my deepest gratitude to Lawrence Bird for reading my dissertation and all his suggestions and comments from beginning to end. My thesis would not have been possible without his great help. My dear friend Angeliki Sioli, with her dynamic character and perpetual happiness, made me move constantly forward, and her unrelenting encouragement allowed me to pass through many difficulties. My close friend Maria Elisa Navarro Morales helped me constantly with her ideas and helpful suggestions. Her invigorating approach and kind personality provided me with enormous support during my PhD. All those cafés in Montreal and empty coffee cups recall my discussions with Ron Jelaco that led me to progress my dissertation in critical moments. I am truly indebted to him for his generous help and knowledge. His seminars with their engaging atmosphere provided me with many enjoyable moments. I am also very thankful to Courtney Jelaco for her warmth and kindness. I will always appreciate the many years of selfless help, generosity and kindness of Rafico Ruiz. I greatly value his input and ideas about my research. Many thanks to Jason Crow for stimulating conversations and provoking thoughts. My long-time friends Pari Riahi and Yahya Modarres-Sadeghi helped me during my first years in Canada with the warmth of their friendship. Pari’s kindness and thoughtfulness has always brought me peace and happiness. I appreciate the friendship of Gül Kale and Dana Margalith, on whom I could rely during the times of difficulties and with whom I shared many happy moments. Lisa Landrum, a kind friend, provided me with invaluable comments and inspiring discussions and for this I am grateful. Many thanks to Jonathan Powers, Jennifer Carter, Christina Contandriopoulos and Lian Chang for their support. I would like to sincerely thank Mohsen Azarm for years of his constant help. The valuable discussions and help of my friend Reza Asgari will not be forgotten. When I think of the years of my PhD, there are many friends who come to my mind in moments near and far: Mehran Khatibi, Paul Holmquist, Shahrad Khorazanizadeh, Hesam Nourani, Peter Olshavsky, Asghar Dashti, Majid Lashkari, Ehsan Daneshyar, Zubin Singh, Orlando Barone, Francoise Forel, Masoud Razavi, Monica Bubenik, Chakameh Dadpay, Hajar Anvar, Kazem Shahbazi, Ali Sanjabi, Samar Saremi, Annabele Beachamp, Sergio Clavijo, Reza Assasi, Renata Vyhnálková and Khosrow Hassani. I would like to thank all of them for their presence.

I am grateful to have had the opportunity to visit the Bouffes du Nord several times and I would like to show my gratitude to all the wonderful people I have met there. I would like to acknowledge my appreciation to all great people at the School of Architecture at McGill University whom I met throughout my studies. I would never have been able to get through the administrative work without the help and friendly attitude of Marcia King and Wambui Kinyanjui. As a recipient of a McGill-CCA grant, I would like to thank both McGill University and the Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA) for their financial support and the opportunity to work in the engaging environment of the Study Centre at the CCA. Special thanks to Alexis Sornin and all the people who helped me during my stay. I also benefited from the Graduate Research Enhancement and Travel Awards from McGill School of Architecture. I would also like to express appreciation to the staff of the Humanities & Social Sciences Library, Blackader-Lauterman Library and Islamic Library at McGill, CCA library, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, the National Library of Iran and the Archive Institute of Tehran. My thanks also go to all people of the Rare Books Stores in Tehran, who allowed me to access rare books, newspapers and other material.

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