Three Classic Fairy Tales Examined Through the Lens of Architecture

What Rapunzel's braid-to-tree connection has to do with the circumference of Baba Yaga's house

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As a lover of classic fairy tales and longtime fan of Kate Bernheimer's modernist ones, I was delighted to come across Design Observer's three-part series, in which Kate and Andrew Bernheimer reimagine the magical homes from three beloved fairy tales—Baba Yaga, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Rapunzel—through the lens of architecture. In each installment, a different architecture firm selects a favorite fairy tale and examines its pivotal structure through a new kind of imaginative architectural storytelling.

Houses in fairy tales are never just houses; they always contain secrets and dreams. This project presents a new path of inquiry, a new line of flight into architecture as a fantastic, literary realm of becoming. We welcome you to these fairy-tale places." ~ Kate Bernheimer & Andrew Bernheimer

As a child of Eastern European folklore, I'm partial to the first installment, in which Berheimer Architecture examine Baba Yaga through its most important structure—the chicken legs, of course—and consider "how one might make a structure or an architecture 'chicken-like,' both externally and internally."

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In part two, Leven Betts Studio take a curious paradox of Jack and the Beanstalk—that the vehicle for the story's magic, adventure and triumph is the beanstalk, yet it's rarely described—and use it as the focal point of their architectural explorations.

"Fairy tales are exemplified by spare and abstract detail, leaving enormous space—big as the sky—for the reader to wonder."

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In the Guy Nordenson and Associates bring their masterful structural engineering to Rapunzel's tower, blending the original vision of the Brothers Grimm with their own pre-existing design for The Seven Stems Broadcast and Telecommunications Tower.

"Rapunzel's tower has come to symbolize both an enchanted, magical home and a dreadful prison from which to escape. Inside, one's heart is full of desire and longing; and one must always also get out. The complicated emotional valence of this space is part of its longstanding appeal."

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For more modernist fairy tale magic, don't miss Kate Bernheimer's My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me: Forty New Fairy Tales—a wonderful anthology of stories by some of today's greatest fiction writers, including Neil Gaiman, Michael Cunningham, Aimee Bender and Lydia Millet. And for a classical take, look no further than the best illustrations from 130 years of the Brothers Grimm.

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This post appears courtesy of Brain Pickings, an Atlantic partner site.

Image credits: It's OK To Be Smart/Wikimedia

Presented by

Maria Popova is the editor of Brain Pickings. She writes for Wired UK and GOOD, and is an MIT Futures of Entertainment Fellow.

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