‘It feels different to be here’.
‘This space makes me feel claustrophobic’
‘It is refreshing to just be here’
The rationale of experiencing a space/ building/ structure is directly related to feeling our existence and being. Feeling claustrophobic is not tied with a typically dark and four-walled space, rather, a design meant for human occupation, compels it to be felt claustrophobic. Orchestrated by the designer; for feeling the pain through a space in a Jewish Museum, to feeling the calm in the basement  in a hot climate-zone, Ar. Daniel Libeskind and Ar. Balkrishna V Doshi have succeeded in playing with a human’s capability of ‘experiencing’. If we pose an enquiry on what led to the success of their orchestration, a variety of answers could be sought. All the answers have an invisible link, of what we can define as the Metaphysical aspects in Architecture.
‘Abstract’, the multi-faceted word is defined very commonly in architecture as a part of design realization process. Why is a non-existing phenomenon a vital part of the process to realize a physically existent object? The bridge between mind and matter, thinking and acting, is what forms the core of the challenging processes of designs. Interestingly, if this core has to shatter, we shall be left with mundane visuals, dull touches, single-toned sounds and monotonous smells. Architecture would not be an ‘experience’ anymore and buildings would merely become an object that exists. So, a cascade of thoughts leading to the final goal, forms the most essential aspect of design progression. We could see this cascade initially as a basket full of random pieces of Lego blocks, which when arranged in a meaningful order could make a child laugh and an adult feel. These Lego blocks can correspond to a human’s five senses, biochemical responses, state of mind or merely existing in the present. Aforementioned basket essentially forms the ingredients of the Metaphysical link.
It is not uncommon to visit a unique space leaving an experiential impact, may it be by a renowned designer or a fresh talent. How can we, as designers, introduce this uniqueness in all of our designs?
Making designs reach the Metaphysical aspects of Architecture can involve a mind-map of step-by-step note of how a person experiences a space. For example, imagining the sound of footsteps approaching from that cobbled pathway leading to a magnificent entrance. It gives the person a sense of appreciation of approach to the space and brings their mind to feeling the existence even before stepping inside. This sounds familiar to how we experience an old European church. Taking the next step fills us with the child-like play of lights piercing through the stained-glass windows, again giving us a moment to experience the metaphysical examination between our alert mind and present body. It immediately pulls our brains to feel a sense of being in a place of worship. This feeling is not a coincidence, but a conscious design. A conjunction of visuals, sounds, smells and touches put themselves in order and coincide in forming the quality of uniqueness.
‘Intuition’, another very fascinating apparatus in design, can give Architects a gateway to merging memories of the past to knowhows of the present. This examination of co-relation between past and present shapes a beyond physical feature, which can be termed as considering the question of connection between ‘substance and attribute’ in Metaphysical philosophy.
As architecture is not merely restricted to built-forms, an intuitive journey through development of city planning, landscape design, infrastructure, interior design etcetera, can reflect a sense of belonging to an old citizen, a passer-by, a driver and a family respectively. This coherent apparatus can perform as one of the strongest gears a designer could hold, for it is entirely based on how we perceive our surroundings, how we observe them and absorb them. An appropriate application or example of such a design is also a well-thought space for differently abled. Intuitiveness in this case, is not directly relevant to a common man’s experiences, but rather to how as a designer, we have ‘observed and absorbed’ the daily life of a differently abled human being.
In architecture schools, students are asked to learn the theory of design along with its practical application. They are taught the limitations of abstraction but also the enormous possibilities of the same. The intersection lying between theory and practicality is a wide-spread pool of precise thinking and the fact that without thinking, architecture is foundation less. Architecture has the power to drive our lives daily, that is why the feeling of being in an unthoughtfully built office makes us feel unproductive as soon as we enter it. No amount of air conditioning, interior designing or artificial plantation can reduce that feeling and drive our energy. On the other hand, a celebrated office space consisting of break areas, refreshment zones, recreational activities or even background music draw people to work and help them socialize.
Even though from the aforementioned aspects, an obvious inference of thought-backed designs can be made, the appropriate application of these thoughts should be practiced. If we scrutinize all these aspects together, it can form either a masterpiece or a meaningless application; for example, using colours in a blind school or uneven gradients for wheelchair access. On the contrary, using materials to touch, fragrances to smell and a horizontally even structure can contribute to making this experience as meaningful as possible. As much as Metaphysics counts as a philosophy, its application in architecture also lies in that pool of ‘precise thinking’ mentioned above. This ever-multiplying branch of philosophy also contains infinite combinations of questions and interrelations between the existent and non-existent, real and un-real, feeling and being. Although these possibilities are limitless, concentrating on the absolutely relevant criteria with architecture make the application of metaphysics a very thought-provoking subject.
The chain of, but not limited to, ‘Abstract thinking’, ‘Uniqueness’, ‘Intuition’ can collectively branch in to the experience of people other than only esoteric designers. Pathway to accomplishing more than the ordinary, preliminarily meaningful and sensical designs lie in this unification.
Sakshi is a passionate Architect, Computational Designer and an independent researcher from India. She constantly juggles between learning something new and experimenting with the intersection of visual programming & design. For her, writing encapsulates everything that gets her thinking. Currently working as the Mumbai head for a German company, she has worked with several architectural firms in Mumbai, conducted workshops at Master's level and provided 3d printing consultancy in Spain and has also published research papers for journals in the field of Architecture. Her current job includes working with visual programming in Grasshopper and Rhinoceros modelling for facade design of buildings and getting them ready to fabricate digitally. Her educational background is with Architectural graduation from Mumbai, Master's in Parametric Design from Spain and a certification of Biomaterials in Art from Russia. She's deeply passionate about any forms of art, history and most importantly merging sustainability, technology and science together.
“What is Metaphysics? (Definition)”, Carneades.org, https://youtu.be/BxV0zGVDXKo
“Introduction to Metaphysics”, Academy of Ideas, https://youtu.be/qKq0Afmsj-U
Fenton, Clive B., “Metaphysical Architecture”, https://blogs.ed.ac.uk/ear-journal/wp-content/uploads/sites/3710/2011/11/EAR_27_34.pdf
Mokranjac, Aleksandra, “Requestioning the modernist boundaries of Architecture”, Architecture and Metaphysics, December 2019, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/339055067_Architecture_and_Metaphysics
Van Inwagen, Peter and Meghan Sullivan, "Metaphysics", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 31 October 2014, https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/metaphysics/
Grayling, A.C., “Metaphysics”, Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/topic/metaphysics