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Philosophy for Architects

Philosophy for Architects

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Philosophy for Architects

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288 página
5 horas
Lançado em:
Mar 20, 2012
ISBN:
9781616890728
Formato:
Livro

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Philosophy for Architects is an engaging and easy-to-grasp introduction to philosophical questions of interest to students of architectural theory. Topics include Aristotle's theories of "visual imagination" and their relevance to digital design, the problem of optical correction as explored by Plato, Hegel's theory of zeitgeist, and Kant's examinations of space and aesthetics, among others. Focusing primarily on nineteenth- and twentieth-century philosophy, it provides students with a wider perspective concerning philosophical problems that come up in contemporary architectural debates.
Lançado em:
Mar 20, 2012
ISBN:
9781616890728
Formato:
Livro

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Philosophy for Architects - Branko Mitrovi

Philosophy for Architects

Philosophy for

Architects

Branko

Mitrović

Published by

Princeton Architectural Press

37 East Seventh Street

New York, New York 10003

For a free catalog of books, call 1-800-722-6657.

Visit our website at www.papress.com.

© 2011 Princeton Architectural Press

All rights reserved

Printed and bound in China

14 13 12 11 4 3 2 1 First edition

No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner without written permission from the publisher, except in the context of reviews.

Every reasonable attempt has been made to identify owners of copyright. Errors or omissions will be corrected in subsequent editions.

Editor: Laurie Manfra

Designer print edition: Jan Haux

Special thanks to: Bree Anne Apperley, Sara Bader, Nicola Bednarek Brower, Janet Behning, Megan Carey, Carina Cha, Tom Cho, Penny (Yuen Pik) Chu, Russell Fernandez, Linda Lee, John Myers, Katharine Myers, Margaret Rogalski, Dan Simon, Andrew Stepanian, Jennifer Thompson, Paul Wagner, Joseph Weston, and Deb Wood of Princeton Architectural Press —Kevin C. Lippert, publisher

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Mitrović, Branko.

Philosophy for architects / Branko Mitrović.

p. cm. — (Architecture briefs series)

Includes bibliographical references and index.

ISBN 978-1-56898-994-5 (alk. paper)

ISBN 978-1-61689-072-8 (digital)

1. Architecture and philosophy. I. Title.

NA2500.M59 2011

102’.472—dc22

201005207

The Architecture Briefs series takes on a variety of single topics of interest to architecture students and young professionals. Field-specific information and digital techniques are presented in a user-friendly manner along with basic principles of design and construction. The series familiarizes readers with the concepts and technical terms necessary to successfully translate ideas into built form.

Also in the Architecture Briefs series: Architects Draw

Sue Ferguson Gussow

ISBN 978-1-56898-740-8

Architectural Lighting: Designing with Light and Space

Herve Descottes, Cecilia E. Ramos

ISBN 978-1-56898-938-9

Architectural Photography, the Digital Way

Gerry Kopelow

ISBN 978-1-56898-697-5

Building Envelopes: An Integrated Approach

Jenny Lovell

ISBN 978-1-56898-818-4

Digital Fabrications: Architectural and Material Techniques

Lisa Iwamoto

ISBN 978-1-56898-790-3

Ethics for Architects: 50 Dilemmas of Professional Practice

Thomas Fisher

ISBN 978-1-56898-946-4

Model Making

Megan Werner

ISBN 978-1-56898-870-2

Illustrations

fig. 1 Mental rotation exercise. Drawing by the author, technical preparation of the drawing by Cameron Moore.

fig. 2 The Ionic order, from Andrea Palladio’s The Four Books on Architecture, Dover Publications, Inc.

fig. 3 Doubling a square, from Plato’s dialogue Meno. Drawing by the author, technical preparation of the drawing by Cameron Moore.

fig. 4 Villa Rotonda, from Andrea Palladio’s The Four Books on Architecture, Dover Publications, Inc.

fig. 5 Details of the Ionic order, from Andrea Palladio’s The Four Books on Architecture, Dover Publications, Inc.

fig. 6 Fraser spiral (Wikimedia free domain: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fraser_spiral.svg).

fig. 7 Duck-rabbit. Drawing by the author.

Preface

Few things are more important in writing than clarity. If a book fails to convey its ideas to the public it is intended for, it may as well not have been written at all. Delivering clarity is not easy, and it becomes even harder when attempting to explain a set of specialist concepts and ideas from one field to the students and professionals of another. Specialist texts are often written in field-specific technical terminology; explaining their content in terms that are easily grasped by nonspecialists is unlikely to be easy. At the same time, there are few fields with a greater reputation for the complexities of their texts than philosophy. This reputation is, I believe, unjustified—certainly, texts in molecular biology or astrophysics are likely to be more technical and less accessible to the general public than the writings of philosophers. Besides, many philosophers have emphasized clarity of writing as an important criterion in judging a work. What can be said at all can be said clearly is the famous axiom of Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889–1951), while John Searle (1932–) observes, If you can’t say it clearly, you don’t understand it yourself.¹

What can be said at all can be said clearly... —Ludwig Wittgenstein

Not many people are going to be worried if they don’t understand a text on astrophysics, but many care about the questions discussed by philosophers. Popular explanations of philosophers’ works are often sought after, and there exists a substantial publishing industry that caters to this interest. A book with the title Molecular Biology for Architects is unlikely to be written, whereas Philosophy for Architects is, arguably, a likely choice of reading for many practitioners and students of architecture, who often manifest a lively interest in philosophical ideas. The theoretical inclinations of many architects lead directly to genuine philosophical questions. Yet the reading habits of people working in the two fields, architecture and philosophy, are immensely different. Architectural education, with its studio culture and crits, poorly prepares students to embark on the systematic reading of complex texts. Rather, it could be said to encourage superficiality by requiring students to absorb as many different ideas from as many different sources in the shortest time possible in order to concoct a crit presentation. Branko, you don’t mean we have to read the whole book? is the question I often get asked by students in the architectural theory courses I teach. Nothing could be more different from the reading habits inculcated in philosophy students, who are required to re-analyze the texts they study by re-reading the books from which these texts originate, in order to grasp the contexts and implications of various arguments. In the bibliography at the end of this book, I have included some advice about how to approach philosophical texts that, I believe, can be helpful and will reduce the difficulties that readers with an architectural background are likely to encounter when embarking on further reading.

In the late 1980s and through the 1990s, architects’ attraction to philosophy, combined with their frustration over the perceived impenetrability of philosophical texts, led to a remarkable phenomenon. In order to promote their careers, many practicing architects and especially academics felt compelled to write in a jargon that sounded philosophical. In philosophy, however, it does not matter what jargon you use but how you argue and how logically consistent your views are; jargon is relevant only insofar as it facilitates the precision of arguments. One may smile today over the verbiage that characterizes architectural writings from the 1980s and the 1990s, but one should not forget that these were genuine attempts to address theoretical questions by authors who lacked the necessary philosophical skills. Many fundamental problems of architectural theory are manifestations of wider philosophical problems. The problems that an architect must resolve in design practice—questions of proportion, spatial composition, relation to the environment, representation, meaning, appropriateness to time, and so on—have, more often than not, their wider philosophical articulation. What appeared as empty intellectual pretence in the 1990s sometimes led more sober practitioners to the belief that one should simply avoid the theoretical quagmire altogether by staying safely in the realm of practice. In fact, the hope that this can be done is naive. It typically leads to reliance on unconscious philosophical assumptions inculcated during one’s architectural education. Practicing architecture means facing philosophical questions daily, although one may not always be aware of it.

In philosophy, it does not matter what jargon you use but how you argue.

The problems that an architect must resolve in design practice have, more often than not, their wider philosophical articulation.

The intention of this book is to make its readers—architects, practitioners, and students—aware of the wider philosophical problems encountered in their design work. It seeks to provide the elementary information necessary to place various problems and debates within a philosophical context and to enable readers to understand typical philosophical ways of phrasing discussions about such problems. The fact that the book places architectural problems in their wider philosophical context has dictated its form. If the reader is to understand certain ideas in their philosophical context, then the philosophical ideas that preceded and generated that context have to be addressed as well. Since philosophers typically formulate their ideas in reaction to those of their predecessors, the book’s chapters follow the historical order of the philosophers. It would be wrong to mistake the book for yet another on the history of philosophy; topics such as scholastics or Immanuel Kant’s ethical theories are left unmentioned simply because they have little relevance to contemporary problems of architectural theory. Philosophical positions have been selected for this book because they have something important to say about the architectural and theoretical problems that are relevant to the contemporary situation. Therefore, chapters typically discuss various philosophical positions with respect to the way they affect (or are implicitly present in) contemporary architectural debates—more precisely, philosophical positions that a contemporary practitioner or student of architecture is likely to encounter today, such as those found in a professional discussion, architectural theory course, studio, or crit. One of my intentions was to produce a book that would help students in graduate-level architectural theory courses grasp the wider philosophical background of the problems discussed in such courses. This is not a scholarly book; technical terminology is introduced in order to explain it and prepare readers for future philosophical readings, while endnotes are there to provide further clarification, not to cite sources. The imperative to write clearly was further strengthened by the book’s limited length, which forced me to explain, in as few words as possible, the philosophical positions that I am writing about, while not making my explanations cryptically short or incomprehensible.

The intention of this book is to make its readers—architects, practitioners, and students—aware of the wider philosophical problems encountered in their design work.

Philosophical positions have been selected for this book because they have something important to say about the architectural and theoretical problems that are relevant to the contemporary situation.

Early in the twentieth century the Oxford philosophy professor John Alexander Smith (1863–1939) used to begin his lecture series by discussing the fact that his students were eventually to follow very diverse career paths—they would become lawyers, bankers, or doctors. Hardly anything he had to say during his lectures would be of any use in their future careers, he would observe. But one thing I can promise you, he would add, if you continue with these lectures to the end, you will always be able to know when men are talking rot.² The study of philosophy often has a healthy and salubrious effect on many fields; it helps people see through faulty arguments, sloppy thinking, and emotionally colored or pretentious verbiage. The real gain from studying philosophy is not in learning about the views of great philosophers but in understanding their arguments and in acquiring confidence in one’s ability to think critically, by thinking through these arguments. The important result of such confidence is the ability to recognize the pressures, generated by one’s peers or authorities (including, for instance, studio critics or tutors), intended to make one adopt beliefs that one does not understand or finds contradictory with one’s other beliefs. For an architect or student of architecture, such an ability is not an irrelevant skill. Insofar as it sets readers on the road toward acquiring this skill, this book fulfills its purpose.

The real gain from studying philosophy is not in learning about the views of great philosophers but in understanding their arguments and in acquiring confidence in one’s ability to think critically.

1

Ludwig Wittgenstein, Logisch-philosophische Abhandlung: Tractatus logico-philosophicus (Frankfurt am Main: Surhkamp), 2. John Searle, Intentionality (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), X.

2

Ramin Jahanbegloo, Conversations with Isaiah Berlin (London: Halban Publishers, 2007), 29.

Introduction

Imagine that you have volunteered to participate in a research project in social psychology. You arrive at the venue on time. In the room you find the psychologist and five other people participating in the experiment, who arrived a short time before you. The psychologist explains that the participants will be asked to respond to a series of questions pertaining to the geometrical figures she will draw on the board. She asks the participants to respond in the order they arrived in the room. Then she draws seven straight lines of different lengths on the board and asks the participants to come individually to the board and point to the shortest line. Much to your surprise, one after another, the participants go to the board and point to the second longest line, declaring it to be the shortest. When your turn comes, you point to the line that is obviously the shortest. You immediately notice that some people in the group look at you with surprise. The psychologist then draws five squares and asks which one is the smallest. Again, one by one, all of the participants point to the second-largest one. When your turn comes, you point to the smallest. A number of participants in the experiment once again look at you with surprise. For the next question, the psychologist draws a series of circles and again asks for the smallest one. Similarly, the participants point to the second largest one. You point to the smallest—and this time you hear one of the participants giggling behind your back. The test proceeds. Every time, after all the other participants have given an answer that you thought was wrong, you give what you think is the right answer. Tension builds. Possibly, you start thinking that you may be doing something wrong or that you are misunderstanding the psychologist’s instructions. Maybe you really are wrong. Or, because the tension makes you feel uncomfortable, you start giving the same answers as everyone else even though you are aware that what you are saying is patently wrong. Finally, after some time, the psychologist announces that the test is finished. She then explains to you that the test was intended to measure the resistance of grown up individuals to peer pressure. You were the only person being tested, while the behavior of the other five participants was prearranged—they were acting. The purpose was to establish how many questions it would take the average test participant to yield to peer pressure and start answering like everyone else. In the event that you gave in to peer pressure, she may sense that you now feel embarrassed and console you by saying that many people do the same.

Indeed, it is sometimes prudent to yield to peer pressure when it comes to saying things. Even in modern democracies, expressing an unpopular view may lead to unpleasant situations. In totalitarian systems, contradicting the public or official opinion can be downright dangerous. You may think that, for instance, it is not good to invest in real estate at a certain moment, although all your friends are doing it. If this is what you believe, telling your friends who have taken huge mortgages (because, they say, everyone is doing it) that the property bubble is going to burst is not going to make you popular. But avoiding confrontation with your peers does not mean that you have to adopt their views and get a mortgage yourself. Basing your beliefs on rational arguments and reasons, in spite of the pressure to conform to a different view shared by other people (the majority of your peers or an authority figure), is called intellectual integrity. A persistent problem in human society is that many people are easily swayed by what is, or what they perceive to be, popular opinion. For this reason, in many countries, it is forbidden to publish election forecasts for a number of days before an election to prevent citizens from voting according to what they perceive to be the view of the majority.

Basing your beliefs on rational arguments and reasons, in spite of the pressure to conform to a different view shared by other people (your peers or an authority figure), is called intellectual integrity.

One way to look at philosophy is to say that it studies the rational arguments and reasons used to acquire beliefs independent of the views of other people. From this point of view, philosophy is not about specific intellectual problems. Rather, it can be seen as a way to approach various problems by insisting on the analysis of arguments and their logical consistence. Philosophy, one could say, fundamentally relies on intellectual integrity. Nevertheless, there is an alternative view that an individual is always predetermined by his or her social environment, the context and culture in which that individual lives or has grown up. This view is plausible in the sense that it was impossible, for instance, for an ancient Greek to have beliefs about nuclear physics because nuclear physics as a discipline was nonexistent at the time, and no individual could have acquired beliefs about it. It would be much less credible to say, however, that in modern Western society a person cannot decide, following his or her own reasoning, how to vote or whether to invest in shares or real estate. Although people are often swayed by a popular view or an authority figure and they sometimes lack the knowledge and competence to make the right decision, ultimately they do have to make their own decisions. At some moment an individual has to decide whether he or she is going to follow his or her own personal reasoning, emotions, the majority view, or an authority. It may be pointed out that the majority view is often right and that experts or authorities often know better; statistically, it is often safer to follow their views. This argument tends to be valid when it comes to the opinions of experts who are routinely dealing with a certain type of situation—for instance, medical doctors—but it is not at all clear that a large group of people, most or all of whom have little relevant information about a given problem, are likely to form the correct opinion.

Philosophy studies the rational arguments and reasons used to acquire beliefs independent of the views of other people.

Arguments: Truth and Falsity

An argument always provides the grounds to believe that something is true or false. In philosophy it is not enough to merely claim something. One needs to argue and state the reasons for believing something to be true. It is also important to think through the claim’s consequences and make sure it is compatible with other beliefs that one may have and the claims one wants to make. Otherwise, one may end up with contradictory beliefs. Formulating a philosophical position is, in many ways, like designing a house. If a philosopher inadvertently allows contradictions in his or her claims, this is like an architect failing to notice, that the plan and the section do not match. To nonphilosophers, the amount of energy that philosophers devote to ensuring that their views are not contradictory can be seen as hairsplitting—and vice versa, philosophers often recognize nonphilosophers by their limited ability to structure arguments without falling into contradiction. If a contradiction is allowed once, it is unclear why one should not allow it another time—and ultimately we finish with the situation that whenever a person claims something, he or she may also claim the opposite. When this is the case, it becomes pointless to construct arguments about anything; it’s more effective to shout.

Formulating a philosophical position is, in many ways, like designing a house. If a philosopher inadvertently allows contradictions in his or her claims, this is like an architect failing to notice, that the plan and the section do not match.

Philosophers have provided various definitions of truth and accounts of when a certain sentence, thought, or statement can be said to be true. It is reasonable to assume that a sentence or statement is true if it corresponds to reality and states facts or if it is coherent with other sentences or thoughts that we know to be true. But, what kind of entity do we say is true or false? A possible answer would be that we attribute truth or falsity to sentences. The problem with sentences, however, is that they can mean more than one thing and be true and false at the same time. For example, the sentence Visiting architects can be entertaining may mean that it can be entertaining to visit architects or that architects are entertaining when they come for a visit. The sentence can be true in one sense but false in another, depending on the thought it is intended to express. Also, sentences are always written in a specific language, such as English or German, whereas one

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