From diagrams to parameters. We try to describe architecture as something physical and understandable, something that could be depicted only from a purely scientific point of view. Yet it could be argued that there is more to that than numbers, dimensions, and lines. That there is an inapprehensible spirit which is the essence of true architecture. During the modern technological approach, we tend to forget about the metaphysical side of the design and lose intimate connection with architecture. We try to know it rather than feel it. But in an infinite space, our modest senses struggle to catch the greatness of architecture. The greatness that lies in the metaphysical sacred world.
The connection between the philosophical and architectural fields is indisputable. Creating and apprehending abstract ideas has been a crucial matter for both of these interests. Understanding architecture should be highly connected with searching and feeling the elusive spirit of our reality. When we look at space, we instantly understand it with our senses and instincts. The roughness of the wall, the ray of sunshine lighting it, the distinct smell. What would take an infinite number of words, drawings, and diagrams to explain, could be understood within a second through our hearts. This idea is comprehensible and raised many times in the philosophical world. The same thought can be seen in Albert Camus’s work which describes the perception of space.
“What need had I of so many efforts? The soft lines of these hills and the hand of evening on this troubled heart teach me much more. I have returned to my beginning. I realize that if through science I can seize phenomena and enumerate them, I cannot, for all that, apprehend the world.”
What applies to the world, can certainly be applied to architecture. Therefore, in the design process, the primary focus should be put on the feelings and impact of the space, rather than on its functionality and economy. The current optimization trend reduces architecture to science, rejecting the sacred part of our world.
However, focusing on parametric, clear, and economical architecture gives a great opportunity for energy-saving and understandable architecture. During times of climate changes and socioeconomic growth putting architectural development into the purely scientific realm would seem like an answer. And it definitely would be, if only not to forget about the true essence and need of our lives which would be the beauty. Although it is arguable, it can be believed that the call for beauty is the metaphysical part of our lives, deeply embodied in human nature. This argument is raised by sir Roger Scruton, which searches its basics in ancient and Christian philosophy.
“There is an appealing idea about beauty which goes back to Plato and Plotinus, and which became incorporated by various routes into Christian theological thinking. According to this idea beauty is an ultimate value—something that we pursue for its own sake, and for the pursuit of which no further reason need be given.”
This quote states that beauty should be an ultimate value in our reality, an absolute. The reality should not be considered only in a rational way, but even more importantly, should be viewed from a metaphysical standpoint. This idea might be and should be, implemented into the architecture. Although the optimal and logical solutions are crucial for the design, the primary goal in architecture should be the pursuit of beauty and all of the other processes should serve it. It is the essential need of people which cannot be ignored.
Having said that, a clear way of searching for beauty in architecture should be settled. It can be believed that to capture the essence of it, architects should trust their instincts. However, this might lead to a subjective and egoistic design which would result in excluding architecture recipients. True beauty should be universal for human nature, and therefore attractive for sensitive souls. It could be viewed as the sun in Friedrich Nietzsche’s work, which improves even the most insensitive humans.
“From the sun did I learn this, when it goes down, the exuberant one: gold does it then pour into the sea, out of inexhaustible riches, so that the poorest fisherman rows even with golden oars.”
Taking this into consideration, architecture should be perceived as a formed space influencing common human perception. Comprehension of the aim should therefore create the means of a design that would have a great impact on all of the users. Just like in reverse planning, knowing the overall purpose of the objects will result in the production of architectural elements, materials, and forms. Architects’ focus on certain elusive feelings and pictures should be the main force for space creation. This would develop pleasant forms emphasizing different feelings. Feelings produced by a beauty like nostalgia, peace, or curiosity.
To support this thought, we can imagine the architectural presentation. We read the diagrams, drawings, and pictures yet we feel it only in our imagination. This abstract thinking allows us to create beauty from flat representation. When we look at the building, we search for the values in it and this search should be crucial. Human nature does not rely on reading the information, but rather on abstract transforming it to something more significant. Perception of the building is not understanding its form, but rather feeling its beauty. Therefore, architects should not focus on function, economics, and parametrization. The main purpose of architecture is its very own spirit.
Coming back to the thought by Albert Camus, we can conclude that searching for beauty takes place in the metaphysical realm, yet it allows us to understand deep and universal truths about the world. Perceiving the space in only a formal and rational way results in the production of the empty design like creating models rather than true relations between the elements and humans. We develop our abilities to read, represent, and describe architecture when all the information about it is and always has been, within the reach. Therefore, we might conclude that capturing imperceptible beauty should serve as the crucial objective of modern architecture. Architecture, which makes our world a more beautiful and richer place.
Antoni Grześkowiak graduated Bachelor's studies in architecture from the Poznan University of Technology. He is currently getting experience as a full-time intern at Christ & Gantenbein office. Antoni perceives architecture as a humanistic field, where all the wide variety of passions come together to create something beautiful. Writing is one of them.
References: Albert Camus, 2000, The Myth of Sisyphus, Roger Scruton, 2009, Beauty, Friedrich Nietzsche, 1999, Thus Spake Zarathustra,