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Metaphysics in Architecture

Illustration 1, „Icons and Iconic Architecture”; ©Sylwia Kowalik

Introduction: How we perceive architecture.

People say that they like the building or that is beautiful. We know that because knowledge, emotions, and experience impact our perception system. Similarly, history implies on how we perceive therefore, surveying architecture we refer to known shapes and compositions. Undoubtedly the civilization's growth highlights amazing changes in education and architectural development. Progress and current achievements i.e. IT technologies, sustainability, robots… produce new words or give new meanings to old-fashioned words, i.e. icons, emoticons, mobility, electro-mobility… Correspondingly medical knowledge on the human brain and behavior grows reflecting neuroscience, as an explanation for unknown processes. These changes impact architecture awakening new trends i.e. extended, parametric or sustainable architecture. Metaphysic, a philosophical doctrine from an Ancient time [5] proceeds relevant changes and similarly diffuses with the newer concepts.

Strength, functionality..., „METAPHYSICS”?

Vitruvian Triad defined the fundamental concept of Architecture by three coherent elements: strength (firmitas), functionality (utilitas), and beauty (venustas). This simple and accurate appellation, among centuries, takes the liking of all Architecture lovers. The essence of the thing could be a beautiful or metaphysical matter. In that way, we can end up finding another understanding of beauty complete with more ontological and supernatural meaning.

Aristotle's philosophy – variation in Forms and Composition

“Metaphysics” is first of all the greatest philosophical output of Aristotle. Within the book, the author highlights the subject of knowledge, art, metaphysic, and perception. The title comes from the Greek words “meta” and “physics” ( “ta meta ta physika”), which literally define the work after “Physics” another Aristotle book[1]. The fundamentals are organized among the importance of humans' visual sensations, where the art is the entire knowledge of individual cases. Assuming at the same time experience, as the cognition of a cases1. Therefore Architects, as the masters know the matters of the arts and present the knowledge of composition rules. In practical way existence and nonentity could refer to solid and void. These organizes around the Pythagorean concept of number, as the primary order in every single art. Aristotle compares order to a number, where in every art the inequality is defined by the style, proportions, and location.

Well-known composers defined variations of sets and randomly composed through the collection of pieces to build a work.

Expression of Metaphysical Architecture:

Currently, through metaphysics, we define a philosophical or mystical knowledge of unknown or abstractness around the essence of a thing, things difficult to explain with rational thinking.

Accordingly, architecture is defined as the placement of a human body in an exact time and space. Therefore we differentiate place and space with the presence of a human[3]. We say architecture follows function[4] or touches Vitruvian Triad: “strength, functionality, beauty”[7]. Architecture is the art of building and is defined through style.

The multiplicity of theories – Language changes.

In Aristotle's theory, there are many variations in implicit statements i.e. movement, reference to infinitum, and variability.1

The metaphysics of a thing could vary through epochs, however, the common features i.e. the sublime or the abstract will remain. The things variables will be form and composition and will depend on the style. Accordingly, language could refer to the past, contemporary or future styles.

The metaphysical sphere touches an emotion, perception, religion, or tradition reminding it very sensitive and sublime. Nevertheless, contemporary changes evoked by market growth or IT branch give honor to symbols, sometimes presented in a witty form to represent global issues or politics. However, modern language gives existing historical words new meanings, as an expression of the new era.

On the other hand, the abstract part of metaphysical understanding is being also investigated by neuroscience. We do try to summarise in figures the whole process around the emotions and transmission of knowledge. Moreover, trying to cut the edge from the world of unknown to processes and data collection. Furthermore, still understand the supreme role of the mind on top of the scientific brain or physical world.

The simplicity of an attitude – A step toward IT World.

Metaphysics carries an abstract concept referring to the physical and emotional aspects of Architecture. Reduced notice iconization of modern art has shown, that simple can be fun and gentle. First of all, it has been evoked by IT sector and is not an equivalent of what was named under „iconic buildings”. Thus, the world of IT technology put the word "icon" in a new glow including the use of "emoticons" (emoji) that can also refer to ontological and secret aspects of life. A similar process of "progress" occurred for metaphysics raising new concepts dependent on parametric, robotic, or energetic aspects of building design. On the other hand, it is emotions, that matter to us and constitute an important aspect of understanding the art. Simplifying the intricate definition of metaphysics in the modern language of technology and marketing with so-called: “Architecture icons” it is easy to give just one name to every object.

Obviously, it would be a mistake to embed any building only in categories related to the 2-dimensional space (the example is to simplify the extensive definition of „metaphysic in Architecture”).

(Metaphysics) Implementation into an Art. The Philosopher’s Prescription.

Based on the concept of Aristotle and the methods of outstanding composers, the following instruction depends on the architect's workshop. For the primary concept phase, we can refer to the area’s development capacity, enriched with metaphysical concept ideology.

1. Creation of sets:

Collection “A” - restrictions (conditions) given by the location – area capacity;

Collection “B” - solids and voids – (composition, style, and language) – metaphysics

2. Propose sets of compositions, as an intersection between collections „A” and „B”.

3. Verify according to visual aspects and technical knowledge.

Illustration 2, „Randomized Composition”; ©Sylwia Kowalik

Scheme showing variations of composition-based sets (Collections of solids and Voids). Compositions were built randomly from elements in a set.

To estimate composition and visual verification criteria we can base on classification by Aristotle and Pythagoreans as a support1:

“(…) and that the whole heaven, as has been said, is numbers. Other members of this same school say there are ten principles, which they arrange in two columns of cognates-limit and unlimited, odd and even, one and plurality, right and left, male and female, resting and moving, straight and curved, light and darkness, good and bad, square and oblong.”

- Examples:

1. Metaphysics in Architecture is based on a history of ideologies and philosophies through centuries. The well-known concept of transition, a form of a bridge or a portal, between sacrum and profane is a leader to open the ontological assessments, i.e. Arches, towers, cathedrals, and temples.

2. Bridge and Cathedral present concepts of transitions between sacrum and profane (human or physical to ontological, secret). In religion meaning representing a cross or a portal.

Illustration 3, „Metaphysical aspects”; ©Sylwia Kowalik

3. Composition of buildings from IT and business sector Architecture with metaphysical aspects will present more contemporary forms and style.

Illustration 4, Photo; he Hague gate, Schenkkade street no. 50; ©Sylwia Kowalik

Metaphysics: Transition between heaven-Universe and street form of arch and bridge, a symbol of IT technology and a city entrance

Illustration 5, Photo; “Haagsche Zwaan”, office building, Schenkkade street no. 50 ©Sylwia Kowalik

Metaphysics: Tower in a form of a cantilevered „swan” of top of the city entrance street. Connecting between the sacred and the profane i.e. between heaven and earth form tower and arch, symbol IT technology, business...

Criticism, conclusions, and summary.

Metaphysics by touching very intimate and sensitive spheres confronts our knowledge, challenges skills and intelligence. Although the word intimidates us with the power of knowledge and we can either ignore it or feel discouraged. Nevertheless, it is really important in the process of understanding Architecture. Accordingly, the superficial use of the language provides us with tips for seeking the sublimity of objects and rational explanation for architecture. Therefore, analysis of buildings in the "4-D" world should be much more accurate, however, the architecture viewed on a daily basis often becomes common or tends to be omitted. Iconic buildings usually use a very accurate and sublime design language. Moreover, when considering metaphysics we should not forget its relationship with history and great importance due to the resource of knowledge hidden behind tradition and culture.




Sylwia is a professional architect living and working in Poland. In architecture, she looks for everything that breaks through, is inspiring and makes difference i.e. ideas, actions, paths. She studied in her home country and further extended knowledge during scholarships or work in the Netherlands, Spain, Germany or United Kingdom. Her authentic passions in life are travelling, design, ecology and languages.

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