A building is the concretization of an intention, which is always – although usually unconsciously – based on a particular world-view. In fact, everything that we do is done according to the way we understand our being-in-the-world. Therefore, all our experiences and actions take place “inside” an ontological framework.
Today, it seems incredibly difficult to identify a “common world-view” (at least in most Western countries). Thus, we tend to believe that human experiences are entirely personal, and therefore completely subjective and unpredictable. But is it still possible to find a common-ground among different architectural experiences?
In “The Transcendent Unity of Religions”, Frithjof Schuon states that all religions share a common “esoteric” essence, while differing “exoterically” in form. In this paper, we propose transferring this notion to the realm of spatial experience, searching for an architectural theory based on concrete human experiences, but at the same time acknowledging the ontological framework of human life.
Individual experiences are exoteric, and therefore specific, but they share a common esoteric essence. If we confront our experiences with those of others, we will be able to identify “coincidences” that point to the general structure of our being-in-the-world. This is the theoretical approach we wish to present in this paper.
The best testimonies of specific experiences can be found in art, especially in the discursive descriptions of literature and poetry, which describe numerous “hows”. On the esoteric level, we find the “whys”, the existential roots of all individual experiences, as identified by the major metaphysical traditions. These exoteric and esoteric “testimonies” must be confronted with our own experiences, in an ongoing philosophical investigation.
To study architecture is to study the spatial dimension of human existence. Architecture deals, literally, with our “place in the world”. “Place” cannot, however, be understood in mere physical terms; “place” is actually “existential space”, humanized space created by man, for man. Thus, it is impossible to address the meaning of architecture without addressing the meaning of being, since the former is part of the latter.
On “Being and Time”, first published in 1927, Martin Heidegger states that the question of the meaning of being “has today been forgotten”. His work was the main inspiration for Christian Norberg-Schulz’s “Architectural Phenomenology”, which opposed the mainly intellectual approach of modernism, turning, instead, to the reality of concrete experiences. Norberg-Schulz has “recovered” the notion that architecture is a prerequisite for human existence, but the question of the meaning of architecture remains unanswered, since the question of the meaning of being remains forgotten. Most architects maintain a purely “exoteric approach” to architecture and human existence as a whole, creating a superficial architecture which deals only with the “hows”, avoiding a deeper investigation towards the “whys”.
This paper aims at introducing the metaphysical aspects of human existence in the architectural debate, in order to search for a deeper understanding of our spatial experience. Therefore, we propose an architectural theory which is neither a “system” nor a “methodology”, but, instead, a constant search for the meaning of our being-in-the-world.
 Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, Blackwell Publishing, 1962. p. 21.
Felipe Loureiro, Indepdent Scholar, ES
Harvard Citation Guide: Loureiro, F. (2012) The Transcendence of Architecture: searching for common ground in architecture, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 06 May 2012, Available at: https://isparchitecture.wordpress.com. [Accessed: 01 June 2012].