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].

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].

The Potentiality in Difference: an investigation into the notion of the subject-object problem in architecture, by Mollie Claypool

This paper will attempt to dissolve the autonomy of autotelic subjects and objects of architecture. This will be done through arguing for the constitution of a potentiality embedded in the dichotomy of the subject-object problem in philosophy, not by way of expanding on or attempting a reconciliation of this dichotomy, but through a tracing of various possibilities of engagement through difference in the narrative between the process of making architectural objects and the singular subjects embodied in them.

The subject-object problem of Humanism has been defined either by the subject as the controlling and originating agent of meaning, propelled towards the receiving, formerly stagnant object, or vice versa. Meaning is inserted into the architectural project. One relies on the other for an inherited meaning. Historically, architectural discourse has focused on lending sympathy towards the dissipating of this distinction between these two bodies [subject, object]. Rather than engaging in this discourse of dissolving the boundary between things, this paper wishes to uncover the potentiality in difference.

In a sense, this investigation will be an inversion of historical architectural discourse on the subject. The inversion will not be explicit, as we will embark upon an attempt to answer a series of questions, beginning with: How has the dichotomy of the autonomous subject and object of Humanism been rectified in Modernist architectural discourse? In the search for an answer, we will construct a counter-question which draws upon the implicit fallibility inscribed in the first, intuitive question, enabling us to then invert the subject-object architectural discourse in order to show the potentiality in difference, asking: Is it possible to break away from the constraints embedded within the imposition of the Descartian “I think, therefore I am” structure in the making of architectural objects?

Harvard Citation Guide: Claypool, M. (2010) The Potentiality in Difference: an investigation into the notion of the subject-object problem in architecture, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 23 May 2010, Available at: https://isparchitecture.wordpress.com. [Accessed: 01 June 2012].