a b o u t

I S P A   / iz-pah /  noun   was founded in the spring of 2009, in response to two issues. The first issue pertains to the great geographic distances between the relatively few philosophers of architecture. Having struggled to find others interested in similar topics which can easily come together to discuss their ideas, we sought to take advantage of the ease of communication brought about by relatively recent developments of the World Wide Web. The introduction of free and sophisticated blogging sites has made it possible to efficiently and effectively bring together those interested in the philosophic study of architecture.

The second and more important issue pertains to the general inaccessibility of open rigorous philosophical dialogue dealing with the subject of architecture and building, and beyond that is detrimental trends amongst architecture theorists for the dilettante use of theories such as phenomenology, deconstructionism, semiotics and others. Aesthetician John Haldane describes the situation as follows: “architecture in [the twentieth] century has suffered from the pernicious influence of quasi-philosophical ideas” (Haldane 1990: 205). The objective of I S P A is to promote rigorous philosophical engagement with the subject of architecture by providing an informal platform for parties interested in furthering the cause.

The intention of doing so is not merely to raise potentially enlightening and interesting questions about architecture, but also to bring clarity, in a Wittgensteinian sense, to an otherwise metaphysically muddled discourse. Again John Haldane eloquently describes the situation:

the facts of disagreement should encourage one to investigate the grounds of aesthetic judgement and the possibilities of establishing by reason-giving the superiority of one building or scheme over another. Too often it is simply assumed that disagreement over values within a community is proof of the subjective character of the rival attitudes. What is more rarely noticed is that a necessary condition of there being such disputes is that all parties to them share a common presupposed belief in the objectivity of value (Haldane 1990: 204-5).

Convincing architects, landscape designers and city planners of such things as aesthetic and ethical judgments being best thought objective, so that their work and their very aims are then wholly susceptible to well-founded criticism, is no easy task. Karsten Harries, in his 1987 article “Philosophy and the Task of Architecture” is particularly illustrative of the problems of philosophically engaging with the topic of architecture, stating, “But what does philosophy have to do with architectural concerns?” (Harries 1987: 29). Harries writes of just how difficult philosophically engaging with the topic of architecture can be, in that philosophers and architects have both tended to overemphasize architecture’s aesthetic aspect at the expense of its more fundamental ethical aspect (Harries 1987: 29). His implicit message is that bringing, say, ethics to bear on the discussion of architecture is to risk losing both one’s architectural and one’s philosophical audiences. Another problem is that philosophers often are no more than dilettantes when it comes to the subject of architecture and building. On the other hand, architects often fail to understand the import of philosophy, both generally and with respect to its import for their discipline. Amongst those who purport to understand is a tendency, however, to ‘theory shop’ and therefore produce what Haldane describes above as ‘quasi-philosophical ideas’ about building. These theory shoppers, by taking snippets of various philosopher’s views to form a kind of philosophical collage, fail to understand that what they produce lacks the good-making features of consistency and comprehensiveness required of any acceptable theory. And to the extent that parts of single theories are borrowed and applied without their first being blended with others, in nearly all such cases potential philosophical drawbacks of the source have not been carefully considered in the light of competing theories, or in the light of whole competing philosophical outlooks. For instance, few if any architects or architectural theorists look to philosophy in the analytic tradition, which is the sort Haldane espouses, despite analytic aesthetics and applied ethics being fully developed subdisciplines whose relevant fruits are there for the taking. Any or all of this results in curiously ill-founded or philosophically parochial architectural movements. A revealing example of much of this is the use of Derrida’s deconstructionism by Tshumi in the case of the Parc de la Villette.

:: References ::

Haldane, J. (1990) ‘Architecture, Philosophy and the Public World’, British Journal of Aesthetics, 30, (3), pp. 203-17.

Harries, K. (1987) ‘Philosophy and the Task of Architecture’, Journal of Architectural Education, 40, (2), pp. 29-30.