Fairy Tale Architecture: Gripho

The brother-sister duo of writer Kate Bernheimer and architect Andrew Bernheimer curate a series in which diverse architects explore the intimate relationship between the domestic structure of fairy tales and the imaginative realm of architecture.

Gripho, sculpture by Smiljan Radic
Gripho. [All images by Smiljan Radić]

Fairy tales have transfixed readers for thousands of years, and for many reasons; one of the most compelling is the promise of a magical home. How many architects, young and old, have been inspired by a hero or heroine who must imagine new realms and new spaces — new ways of being in this strange world? 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.

— Kate Bernheimer & Andrew Bernheimer


I really don’t want to tell you that a gripho is a winged creature with the head of an eagle and the body of a lion. And I don’t want to tell you that in some traditions only female griphos have wings. I feel no need to share that griphos can be covered in scales, or that a Persian gripho may have the head of a dog. It’s strange, as I’m a fairy-tale scholar and author, but I just can’t bear to report that the gripho is a mythological creature.

What I want to say — recklessly — is that the whole point of the gripho is that someone imagines a gripho. Someone goes to that place where the gripho is. Readers have been doing that for thousands of years. They go to that place.

Let’s call it The Imaginary. It’s a pretty awesome place, and I use that word with reference to Michaelangelo’s notion of terribilita, not to my years playing Dungeons and Dragons at Weeks Junior High. The Imaginary can be empty — maybe only an outline — scaffolded — possibly boldly — or would it be dimly? — lit — let’s say it’s scary — no, I prefer inviting — and generally it looks like another place that you’ve been, or haven’t been, before — and I’m really unsure whether it’s ancient or futuristic — also, what is the use?

Maybe there’s none.

Illustration of a gripho

“Play is a thing by itself,” writes John Huizinga, in one of my favorite books on the matter, Homo Ludens. “The play concept as such is of a higher order than is seriousness. For seriousness seeks to exclude play, whereas play can very well include seriousness.”

A gripho is a winged creature with the head of an eagle and the body of a lion. Some griphos don’t have wings. Some are covered in scales. Some have the head of a dog. A gripho is a mythological creature.

Smiljan Radić claims that a gripho can be made of a colonial Wood mortar (with lion foot), two useless industrial light bulbs and pieces of a cheap Chinese violins hanging in the air. I believe him. A gripho has been, for thousands of years, many things: myth, symbol, story. In other words, place.

There is something radically playful in this gripho, and I take it seriously. Radić describes his object as a game waiting for something. Is it waiting for you? And do you play the gripho as you might a cheap violin? Do you play with it? Does it play you?

The gripho raises luminous and serious questions.

— Kate Bernheimer


Three Questions for Smiljan Radić from Kate Bernheimer

How would you describe this gripho? It — though for some reason I want to call her “she” — is transfixing to me.

This is my gripho, an homage to Cedric Price, one of the last pieces of my Bestiary: a lucky encounter between a colonial Wood mortar (with lion foot), two useless industrial light bulbs and pieces of a cheap Chinese violin hanging in the air.

Is there a story for the piece — apart from that “lucky encounter”?

Just a game waiting for something. No shape, no function, no drama.

Did you make a lot of sketches from the inspiration art before you created the model?

It is a physical collage. We don´t have any drawings; we always work with real pieces in fact. Some pieces are strong and figurative and others really lightness in the air. This is a model for a building that nobody knows what is going to be.

About the Series: Fairy Tale Architecture

Places’ ongoing series on fairy tale architecture is curated by writer Kate Bernheimer and architect Andrew Bernheimer.

Kate and Andrew Bernheimer, “Fairy Tale Architecture: Gripho,” Places Journal, December 2016. Accessed 09 Dec 2022. https://doi.org/10.22269/161221

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