Variation as Method, Ryan Neiheiser. Pidgin 2, 2007.

“Let me try and explain it by means of an analogy. The symphony is a musical epic. We might compare it to a journey leading through the boundless reaches of the external world, on and on, farther and farther. Variations also constitute a journey, but not through the external world. You recall Pascal’s pensée about how man lives between the abyss of the infinitely large and the infinitely small. The journey of the variation form leads to that second infinity, the infinity of internal variety concealed in all things. What Beethoven discovered in his variations was another space and another direction. In that sense they are a challenge to undertake the journey, another invitation au voyage.”

Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

So writes Milan Kundera in this own collection of anecdotal pensées, the Book of Laughter and Forgetting. His “other space” of inquiry is curiously internal yet infinite, constrained by the parameters of its own design, but unbounded in its expanse of possibility.

Variations have as their subject matter a theme, described with only a finite number of parts (no more than sixteen measures in Beethoven’s case). This theme is present in each variation, but is rendered in a slightly different way each time. The overall effect is one of reiteration and expansion, where the set of variations provides a more nuanced and richly represented theme than any of the single variation descriptions. A thesis is mined for its full import by retracing it over and over, viewing it from a variety of subtly shifting vantages.

Variations are not options. Options are independent of one another. Variations are integrally related and co-dependent. Options are fundamentally different ideas. Variations are the same idea over and over again.

The following pages contain variations explored in studio projects over three semesters at the Princeton University School of Architecture. Each set of drawings represents a process of focused interrogation of a single concept, whether that concept takes the form of a section, plan or diagram.


Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, Trans. Michael Henry Heim (New York:Penguin Books, 1981), p.164.