Symposium introduction, by Carolyn Fahey

The premise for this symposium was brought about by mutual interest in a sustained and rigorous philosophy of architecture. This interest usually comes to architects as a result of the popular reference of philosophers’ work in architects’ own thinking and theorising about architecture. Some are interested in participating in this kind of activity and others are interested in understanding the basis for this kind of activity. For philosophers, I cannot speak, but it seems that their interest is first out of curiosity of the general subject of architecture. Once acquainted with contemporary discourse philosophers’ interest seems to focus on the curious use of other philosopher’s work which often leads to a pseudo-philosophy. In my own case, coming more from an architectural background than of a philosophic one, I seek to understand better the contemporary discourse and took the opportunity during my doctoral work to investigate the use of philosophical concepts in contemporary architecture discourse.

The intent of this symposium, provocatively entitled ‘straining pulp-theory from architecture discourse’ is not to dissuade architects from reading philosophy or otherwise allow the ideas of philosophers to permeate their work, but to dissuade architects from the irresponsible activity of theorising. I do not mean the kind of theory which is effectively thinking about, contemplating or speculating about architecture. I mean the kind of theory or theoretical construct whose epistemic basis is metaphysical, more simply, I mean metaphysical theory. I would argue, given the time and platform, that the philosophical form of metaphysically-based claims on architecture are unsound and can cause confusion. Basically, these concepts do not function as they are meant or intended to. This, I think we would all agree, is an irresponsible use of theory.

Taking this position as the case and noting that contemporary architecture discourse is saturated with metaphysically-based claims, what do we do? What is the way forward? Furthermore, how do we suggest a way forward without contradicting ourselves by putting forward yet another theory? I think there lies an answer to this question in Wittgenstein’s writing.

Wittgenstein was in his day and today an odd philosopher. Amongst the many oddities is the paradox of his writing: he wrote his work fundamentally in criticism of his work. Looking to Stanley Cavell, it is clearest why this is the case and why this is meaningful. For Cavell, that Wittgenstein wrote in criticism of his own writing was not some masochistic act whose psychology ought to be explained, but as a way of drawing people’s attention to the very paradox of philosophy itself. Cavell’s Wittgenstein reminds us that speaking about the world, does not replace the world nor does it stand in place of the world, consequentially requiring active investigation of the adequacy of our descriptions. With regards to architecture, this requires introspective investigation of the language used to describe architecture and building. Does, for instance, a description of the building as a ‘machine’, adequately describe the cultural understanding of the building in question? Not always, not never, but sometimes. As such, we must take seriously language’s use and vigilantly maintain it.

Taking this as the case, a mild-Wittgensteinian as myself, would not consider all theory problematic, but would require thorough analysis and understanding of its practical use and effects on architecture discourse and building practices – clearly a position that evokes the pragmatic veins of Wittgenstein. It would require thorough understanding of a theory’s use and limitations. For instance, understanding the limitations of conceiving a building as a machine and so on, reveals the limitations of this claim on architecture. Some might respond to the limitations of a Corbusian-esque theory of architecture by proposing the construction of another theory on utopic bases. Instead of teething through the problems of a theory in order to develop its discursive and practical value, or appealing to a range of useful theories to solve the problems of architecture, some might want to start anew preferring the latest utopic vision. Yet, Cavell’s reading would contest theory for theory’s sake, asking what problem is the theory in question meant to solve; what is its use?

Approaching any kind of resolution to this problem regarding the use of theory in architecture discourse and building practice demands both the advanced analytic skill-set of the trained philosopher as well as the building expertise of the architectural practitioner and educator (though it should be noted that this does not preclude architects from philosophical investigation). It demands, according to a Wittgensteinian reading, a grammatical investigation of the language-games comprising the architectural institution. It demands of us all, sustained and rigorous investigation of the adequacy of our language-use in describing architecture and the built environment. The investigation of language’s adequacy requires both an understanding of the phenomenon its use is meant to account for and an analysis of its use.

Harvard Citation Guide: Fahey, C. (2010) Symposium Introduction, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 16 June 2010, Available at: https://isparchitecture.wordpress.com. [Accessed: 01 June 2012].

Perspective and Alberti, by Richard Talbot

Linear Perspective’s position as a ‘tool’ for mapping spatial relationships on to a two-dimensional surface is very well established. Alberti’s codification of perspective sets it out clearly as a system of projection that defines the relationship between the eye, the picture plane and the external world. And despite more recent commentary regarding its broader cultural significance and veracity, what perspective is – its role and purpose for the artist – appears irrefutable.

Yet the very 15C paintings that are held by art historians to embody the new-found ‘rational’ knowledge of perspective also exhibit unique spatial/compositional qualities that cannot be readily accounted for. Yes – most of the elements within these paintings appear to be in correct ‘measurable’ relation to each other throughout the depth of the paintings – so much so that we can reconstruct the ‘real’ space depicted in, for instance, Piero’s Flagellation.

But it appears that along with Masaccio, Domenico Veneziano, Leonardo, Piero was also controlling how those elements that are in the depth of the painting relate to each other on the surface of the painting.  Why should this be, and the awkward question for art historians is, how could this be?  It is not something that could be easily or readily achieved using the geometric methods described by Alberti.  It would seem to indicate a method, a visual concern or approach amongst these artists that transcends the assumed intended purpose of linear perspective – the convincing illusion of three dimensions on the picture plane.

The key to unravelling this problem may lay in the fact that we habitually think of the trappings of linear perspective, particularly its geometry, solely as means to an end.  We overlook the fact that flat geometric diagrams, including patterns and those diagrams used in perspective constructions, can themselves be suggestive of depth, can suggest imagery, can be inherently ambiguous, and can therefore, be visually and conceptually exciting for the artist. I would suggest, therefore, that in these depictions of architectural spaces we are, in fact, seeing the traces of a creative interplay between depth and flatness.

Harvard Citation Guide: Talbot, R. (2010) Perspective and Alberti, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 08 June 2010, Available at: https://isparchitecture.wordpress.com. [Accessed: 01 June 2012].

Concretism, by Kati Blom

This paper will suggest a paradigm shift in architecture, which is given the title Concretism. To support this argument the paper applies the phenomenological realism of Roman Ingarden. His ontology of art presented in his 1989 text entitled Ontology of the Work of Art, offers a solid system to identify the points of changing ideals in architecture. When applied to architecture, Ingarden’s phenomenological realism assumes a real, physical object as a partly independent object (an architectural work of art), and a cultural, intentional object (an aesthetic object). In his account concretization means an individual aspect or attitude in relation to the concrete, material object.

Paradoxically, Ingarden’s system of architecture uses the concept ‘concrete’ only in the connection with the individual perceptions of the physical object, rather than using the word ‘concrete’ referring to the concrete, physical object (as a concrete realisation of an architectural idea). His view of the system of architecture, as a system of intentionality, is more complex, and instead of using only the concept ‘concretization’, he uses idealisation, actualisation, realisation and concretization(s).

One must note that not all buildings in Ingarden’s system reach a point of highly ordered intentionality of an aesthetic object (concretization). This level requires persuasion, clarification, semiotic interpretations and conscious rhetoric. This paper will discuss the differences of socio—ethical concretists and immaterial concretists in the light of Ingarden’s system of architecture as a work of art. The difference with the previous paradigm is implied in the presence of a new hyper-value based on global interconnectedness.

Harvard Citation Guide: Blom, K. (2010) Concretism, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 25 May 2010, Available at: https://isparchitecture.wordpress.com. [Accessed: 01 June 2012].

Architectural Knowledge: writing, drawing, building?, by Lara Schrijver

Though architecture was historically considered the ‘mother of the Arts’, it is now often treated as the stepchild of the sciences. As a broad field of research related to the humanities, the arts and the sciences, it is caught between craft and discipline, science and design, history and culture. Although it offers a unique blend of many approaches – ‘nursed by the knowledge of many arts and sciences’ according to Vitruvius – this also makes its research diffuse, raising the question: what constitutes the body of knowledge specific to architecture?

In itself this is not a new question, but the past 30 years of ‘pulp theory’ have made the vocabulary of the architecture discourse sufficiently fragile that a direct discussion of architectural principles has become increasingly difficult. If we are to treat it as a discipline proper, then we need to be clear about its parameters and its instruments. This involves studying the relationship between explicit and implicit ideas (as manifest in texts, drawings, buildings), as well as exploring how these ideas become a ‘body of knowledge’ (are communicated and disseminated).

Some of the most influential ideas in the architecture discourse were disseminated through more than one medium of communication – ranging from a primarily linguistic theoretical vocabulary, visual and spatial explorations in drawings and models, to the realized buildings that not only posit ideas, but add new, unforeseen realities to their surroundings.

Studying the architecture discourse through these precedents can offer insights into the knowledge-base of architecture: not as a rigid framework of abstract rules to be followed, but rather as a continually transforming culture of interaction between ideas, texts, drawings and buildings.

Harvard Citation Guide: Schrijver, L. (2010) Architectural Knowledge: writing, drawing, building?, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 23 May 2010, Available at: https://isparchitecture.wordpress.com. [Accessed: 01 June 2012].

Parallax as Critique in Architecture, by Mark Price

The neuroscientist David Marr proposed a distinction between Object-Centered and Viewer-Centered representations, in a progression from ‘primal sketch’, via ‘2.5D sketch’, to ‘3D model’. I would like to investigate this movement using the idea of transcritique as developed by Kojin Karatani in his readings of Kant and Marx, with reference to the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright. I will suggest that Wright’s spatio-structural invention, which expresses a certain ideal of shelter-in-the-landscape, must be understood in the movement between expressionism and functionalism, but not as one or the other.

My starting point is this statement by Slavoj Zizek: ‘What this means is that, ultimately, the status of the Real [thing-in-itself] is purely parallactic and, as such, non-substantial: it has no substantial density in itself, it is just a gap between two points of perspective, perceptible only in the shift from the one to the other’ (The Tickling Object). It is for this reason that in Wright’s architecture the difference between the experience of looking at photographs of the buildings, and the experience of the buildings themselves, is especially marked. The ‘pronounced parallax’ is between two types of representation: the viewer-centered (photo) and the object-centered (experience of the building on site).

Wright’s architecture can be described as neither the phenomenon nor the thing-in-itself, but as properly constituted in the (Kantian) antinomy between the two. This is achieved because his effects of cantilever are grounded in the exigencies of structure and organization (the cantilever ‘speaks’ of its trunk). This is contrasted with certain contemporary currents in expressionism. In these cases the effects are located in the things-in-themselves (or their photographic reproduction): for example, the effect of parallax may be seen as ‘designed-in’ to certain buildings.

Harvard Citation Guide: Price, M. (2012) “Parallax as Critique in Architecture, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 023 May 2010, Available at: https://isparchitecture.wordpress.com. [Accessed: 01 June 2012].

Disengaging Design from Bodily Ways of Knowing: implications for theory, by Kathryn Moore

Many of the problems found between philosophy and architecture can be traced back to current theories of perception. This paper offers an alternative view based on a radical new definition of perception that has startling consequences for conceptions of language, intelligence, meaning, the senses, emotions and subjectivity. The core argument (Moore 2010) has been developed by taking one of the main preoccupations of contemporary cultural discourse, the argument for and against the existence of universal truth, and carrying it into the perceptual realm by adopting a pragmatic line of inquiry which questions the very nature of foundational belief. Building on the work of Dewey, Rorty and Putnam it moves debate away from the arcane and unknowable metaphysical miasma into the real world informed by knowledge and ideas, making tangible connections between theory and practice, ideas and form, nature and culture.  Briefly setting out the main premise that questions the existence of a sensory interface, suggests that the concept of visual thinking is simply a philosophical construct and that not only language, but also perception is interpretative, this paper is concerned with developing a greater insight of the implications for theory of disengaging design discourse from primitive bodily or sensory ways of knowing, separating it from psychology and using a fresh, common sense approach to bring materiality back into the picture.

Challenging the foundations of critical inquiry affects the way we think about the nature, goal and value of theoretical discourse. Considering the consequences of moving theory into an inherently ambiguous realm that is neither transcendental nor empirical, it will set out the implications of developing theory without pre-linguistic starting points of thought, concepts of absolute truth or subconscious essences, but grounded in materiality, values and culture. Rather than being preoccupied with psychological processes, it argues there is an urgent need to refocus and develop theory that is insightful enough to inform design by explaining what ideas have been worked with, explaining the content of what is perceived rather than how it is perceived. The new agenda for theory from this perspective therefore is to delve into the particularities, appropriateness and expression of certain ideas in built form, given the place, time and context.

Set within landscape architecture this new approach impacts on other design disciplines and is relevant to those working at the intersection of psychology, epistemology, cognition and philosophy.

Harvard Citation Guide: Moore, K. (2010) Disengaging Design from Bodily Ways of Knowing: implications for theory, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 23 May 2010, Available at: https://isparchitecture.wordpress.com. [Accessed: 01 June 2012].

How does philosophy engage architecture on its own terms (with its own body of knowledge)?, by Philip Plowright

Let us start by saying that pulp-theory in architecture isn’t a problem caused by philosophers. The constant misuse and misinterpretation of philosophical positions adapted as architectural generative devices has to be fully owned by architects. The problem is, architects don’t seem to be able to address the issue. There is a persistent design culture at the core of architecture which seems consistently opposed to both predictive and repeatable effects (i.e. research applied in relevant ways) as well as accepting core responsibilities of the discipline (ethics, fiduciary social responsibility, occupational appropriateness, beauty). Rather, what is valued is originality, uniqueness, novelty, inspiration, and social status through representation (this could be ultimately linked back to Hegel, though). Asking about how philosophy engages architecture in today’s context is like asking what philosophy can do for the fashion industry. That is to say, the foundation of “high culture” in the architectural discipline is founded on unstable territory, linked to the fine arts through what can only be described as status envy which makes the process of the application of philosophy, and then theory, naturally irrelevant through this applicational bias.

When architects do look to philosophy, it is not to value the core knowledge which can be accessed between the two disciplines but to usurp philosophy’s language in order to raise its own cultural value and fend of critique by statements of knowledge-appearance. There are several needs that should be addressed within architecture. For starters, remove philosophy from its close association with theory. These two terms are often used interchangeability within architecture, and neither are understood by practitioners. Theory, freed from this association, can extend into disciplines which are presently ‘second-rate’ in design status – sociology, anthropology, environmental psychology, to name a few. Instead, philosophy needs to be accessed for what it does. Knowing which questions should be addressed to philosophers is the core of the issue. So rather than finding a new system to generate a style, epistemological or ethical questions should be explored as well as questions of value and questions of judgement. Of course, the issue will be when architects don’t get a clear-cut answer (Truth), they will need to learn, instead, to look for one which is relevant and significant in its context.

Harvard Citation Guide: Plowright, P. (2010) How Does Philosophy Engage Architecture on Its Own Terms (with its Own Body of Knowledge)?, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 23 May 2010, Available at: https://isparchitecture.wordpress.com. [Accessed: 01 June 2012].