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2011 Conference

April 8-9, 2011
Boston University, Department of Philosophy
Boston, MA

Thinking about architecture has long been an enterprise of philosophers and architects alike, but in recent years there has been a growing divergence between them over terminological and methodological issues.  Philosophers charge architects with mishandling texts and architects charge philosophers with mishandling buildings.

But there are also other divisions among contemporary architectural theorists themselves.  Some theorists concern themselves with the human experience, with ethical and poetical questions, and with sensory and aesthetic explorations of architecture and its environment.  Other theorists are bent on treating architecture as a form of knowledge that takes shape as a formal and socio-political practice through tools such as language, algorithms, and diagrams. Still other theorists see their task as navigating among these sometimes quite distinct approaches.

Architecture+Philosophy 2011 sought to clarify thought on the intersection of architecture and philosophy.



*all sessions held in room 1270, BU School of Law, 765 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, MA

Conference Flyer.pdf

Conference Schedule.pdf

FRIDAY, April 8th

9:00-9:30         coffee & breakfast

9:30-9:45        welcoming remarks :: Bryan Norwood, Boston University

9:45-10:45      HEROIC: Boston Concrete 1957-1976 :: Mark Pasnik, Chris Grimley, Michael Kubo, pinkcomma gallery (Commentator: Stephen Scully, Boston University)

10:45-10:50     (break)

10:50-12:00     Sergio Musmeci: Building on Contradictions :: Etien Santiago, Harvard University (Commentator: Saul Fisher, Mercy College)

12:00-1:30       lunch

1:30-2:40        Philosophical Hermeneutics and the Ethical Function of Architecture :: Paul Kidder, Seattle University (Commentator: Evan Parks, Ma-DP)

2:40-2:50         (break)

2:50-4:00         Experiencing Built Space: Architecture and Phenomenology :: Eva Perez de Vega, The New School (Commentator: Petra Ceferin, University of Ljubljana)

4:00-4:10         (break)

4:10-5:20         An Architecture on the Cusp of Humanity :: Evan Parks and Eliana Dotan, Ma-DP (Commentator: Kyle Dugdale, Yale University)

5:20-5:30         (break)

5:30-7:00         Keynote: “Ut Architectura Philosophia? Questioning the Relationship of Architecture and Philosophy?” :: Karsten Harries, Yale University (Commentator: K. Michael Hays, Harvard University)

7:00-8:00         Reception, BU School of Theology, rm. 325

SATURDAY, April 9th

9:30-10:00         coffee & breakfast

10:00-11:10       Style in Architecture:  A Defense of Formalism :: Saul Fisher, Mercy College (Commentator: Etien Santiago, Harvard University)

11:10-11:20     (break)

11:20-12:30     The Thing of Architecture :: Petra Ceferin, University of Ljubljana (Commentator: Eva Perez de Vega, New School)

12:30-2:00       lunch

2:00-3:10         Tragedy of the Moderns :: Kyle Dugdale, Yale University (Commentator: Paul Kidder, Seattle University)

3:10-3:30        (break)

3:30-5:00        Keynote: “On Relevant Beauty in Architecture” :: Alberto Pérez-Gómez, McGill University (Commentator: Daniel Dahlstrom, Boston University)

5:00-5:10         (break)

5:10-6:40         Panel Discussion on Built Upon Love and The Ethical Function of Architecture :: PhilArch Reading Group (Kevin Berry, Boston College; Jeremy Butman, Boston University; Elizabeth Robinson, Boston University; Ben Roth, Boston University), Karsten Harries, Alberto Pérez-Gómez



[Keynote] Ut Architectura Philosophia? Questioning the Relationship of Architecture and Philosophy?

Karsten Harries, Yale University

The title of this lecture makes reference to the Horatian Ut pictura poesis, The Horatian dictum was famously called into question by Lessing in his Laocoon, which insisted on the gulf that separates eye and ear, percept and concept, arts of space and arts of time.  And should the kind of considerations advanced by Lessing not call into question even more decisively any attempt to obscure what so obviously would seem to separate the architect who deals with matter from the philosopher who works with concepts? To be sure, philosophers have liked to invoke architectural metaphors, have liked to speak of laying foundations, of raising conceptual edifices, of the architectonics of some philosophical system.  But are such metaphors not at bottom dispensable?

But the persistence of architectural and more generally of spatial metaphors in philosophical discourse demands more thoughtful consideration. What is the bond that ties philosophy and architecture together and allows such metaphors to be illuminating?  Is there something that philosophy has to learn from architecture?  And is there something that architecture can learn from philosophy?  My lecture addresses these questions.

[Keynote] On Relevant Beauty in Architecture
Pérez-Gómez, McGill University

This lecture discusses connections between beauty and justice, ethics and poetics in architecture. Teasing the hypothesis that the poetic image, encompassing the Gadamerian qualities of “symbol, play and festival,” is the most promising starting point for an ethical practice of architecture, I will try to show how the assumed opposition between a quest for beauty and that for the common good is a false presumption in our historical understanding of the discipline. I will offer suggestions as to how this opposition can be avoided in our present condition by considering the connections between erotic space and poetic language in architectural intentionality.  This manner of reflection is urgent in view of our complex political environment and the prevailing obsession with digital tools and formal novelty for its own sake, often at the expense of a serious consideration of the cultural and historical roots of architecture, which are a necessary precondition for its significance.

The Heroic Project: Boston Concrete, 1957-1976
Mark Pasnik, Chris Grimley, Michael Kubo, pinkcomma gallery

Held in Boston University’s 1964 Boston University School of Law designed by Sert, Jackson, and Gourley, and with a view to the George Sherman Union completed by the same architects in 1963, the Architecture+Philosophy Conference provides a unique forum to consider the role of concrete in architecture.

“Heroic” presents the concrete structures that highlighted the era from the founding of the Boston Redevelopment Authority in 1957 to the re-opening of Quincy Market in 1976. These events bracket a remarkable period in which concrete was used as a building material in the transformation of Boston—creating what was eventually referred to as the “New Boston.” Concrete provided an important set of architectural opportunities and challenges for the design community, which fully explored the material’s structural and sculptural qualities.

Sergio Musmeci: Building on Contradictions
Etien Santiago, Harvard University

The work of Sergio Musmeci, a mid-20th century Italian architect-engineer, provides an illuminating view into the relationship between architecture and philosophy. Musmeci was obsessed with the laws of geometry and their use in architectural and structural design. But as his 1978 “Spatial Structures” attest, he questioned the role of geometry in architecture and engineering from a philosophical point of view. Rather than using geometrical rules as a stable foundation upon which to base his work, Musmeci plunged into the slippery inconsistencies that were part and parcel of these rules and paradoxically vital to their validity. These insights propelled him to create surprising and unorthodox designs. Musmeci’s spatial structures reveal the deep entanglement between architectural and philosophical problems; moreover, his project emphasizes the importance of impossible, contradictory, and irrational elements in allowing both buildings and ideas to stand up.

Philosophical Hermeneutics and the Ethical Function of Architecture
Paul Kidder, Seattle University

Karsten Harries’ book, The Ethical Function of Architecture, raises the question as to how architecture can be interpretive of and for our time.  Part of Harries’ pursuit of this question is done in dialogue with the philosophy of Martin Heidegger, whose evocatively expressed ontology of building and dwelling recovers, in philosophical and poetic terms, the power of buildings to symbolize and interpret the most fundamental truths of being and human existence.  The present essay identifies contributions to this hermeneutic and ontological approach to architecture that can be drawn from the philosophy of Hans-Georg Gadamer, emphasizing Gadamer’s notions of play (Spiel), symbol, and the relation of the present to the past.  While Gadamer expands upon Heidegger’s hermeneutic, he also diverges from Heidegger in ways that mitigate some of the difficulties that Harries and others have found with Heidegger’s archaism, rural romanticism, and singularity of philosophical focus.

Experiencing Built Space: Architecture and Phenomenology
Eva Perez de Vega, The New School

This paper aims to look at the experience of built space beyond the subjective and signifying connotations phenomenology in architecture has been perceived to have. Instead of experiencing through subjective meanings, the attempt is to look at the affective dimension of space.

What does it entail to experience built space in terms of affect? If affect pertains to an affection that modifies both the mind and the body,1 it is at once a perception and a sensation, and tied to the idea of movement. So how does phenomenology rid itself of the ideas that have helped define it? It will be through Deleuze’s critique of phenomenology and the notion of affect as seen through his conception of the body without organs that will set the ground for a possible new way of experiencing architecture.

An Architecture on the Cusp of Humanity
Evan Parks and Eliana Dotan, Ma-DP

Tadao Ando’s buildings reveal that which may not be articulated with form: the fluidity of mind with environment and the precarious threshold of humans’ own being. His works qualify the Modernist commitment to order and prescriptive space with an attentiveness to individual needs and with the articulation of spaces devoid of purpose. This critical interplay echoes Hans-Georg Gadamer’s call for the mediation of technical and practical knowledges, techne and phronesis. The juxtaposition of prescriptive and purposeless space evinces Heidegger’s fixation with human and animal habitats, allowing inhabitants to confront their status as human beings simultaneously embedded in and suspended above a natural economy. The liminal spaces between Ando’s buildings and their sites problematize a human tendency to frame and exploit nature. Congruent with Heidegger’s imperatives in “The Question Concerning Technology,” these dynamic compositions encourage a process of listening that asserts humanity as participant in a natural order, rather than its commander.

Style in Architecture:  A Defense of Formalism
Saul Fisher, Mercy College

A traditional view says that style is the mark of particular individuals’ or groups’ expressive thinking, and such thinking must be so wedded to the corresponding human spirit that said style cannot be reduced to formal, easily replicable rudiments.  The formalist, by contrast, says we could account for style—for example, in architecture—by reference to forms that architects have deployed in their works, plus adequate usage rules.

Igor Douven argues that, for any creative work, we cannot model the causal relationships of its formal qualities (and the rules to manipulate them) with its stylistic characteristics, such as we would expect to hold between those qualities or characteristics, if form were the key to grasping style.  I propose that, relative to architectural works, Douven fails to make the case and that we can account for architectural style by appealing to the forms underlying stylistic elements and parameters.

The Thing of Architecture
Petra Ceferin, University of Ljubljana

Today interest in the social role of architecture is again gaining ground. The question how architecture can transform social reality in the direction of opening the same possibilities for all is again coming to the fore of architectural discussion. This paper is an attempt to answer this question. The concept of truth procedures developed by Alain Badiou is employed as a theoretical basis for the formulation of this answer. The paper’s thesis offers that architecture, in its ontological structure and its way of working corresponds to these procedures. It is about the affirmation of something, the existence of which is not recognized by the laws of the given reality; this something is called here the “thing of architecture”. And precisely because of this, because architecture is structured in this way, it works as a practice of intervening in the world and changing it.

Tragedy of the Moderns
Kyle Dugdale, Yale University

This paper represents an attempt to bring the text of Arthur Schopenhauer’s World as Will and Representation to bear on the motif of Babel, understood as an explanatory paradigm within the narratives of architecture. Babel is presented as a necessary foil to the archetypal figure of the primitive hut, appealing to similar authorities but offering a richer interpretation of human nature, a more adequate accommodation of human history in space and time, and a fuller acknowledgement of the demands of technology, of language, and of reason.

Appealing with Schopenhauer to the Aristotelian assessment of tragedy, and taking seriously Schopenhauer’s assertion that “the beginning presupposes the end almost as much as the end the beginning,” this study pays particular attention to Schopenhauer’s conclusion, the implied “moral of the fable,” comparing it to the implicit lesson of Babel and to the ambiguity of its many attempted reconstructions under the conditions of modernity.