Tools for students
I find architecture to be the most humane of professions. One piece of evidence for this is the fact that the architect always fails to accomplish their task. And how could they if that task amounts to figuring out the human condition in all of its subtleties? There are, of course, numerous people who attempt much less than that and whose edifices manage the feat of fulfilling their original intentions. For me those are not architects, but builders. Architecture, at least as it has grown to be understood in recent times, is a complex approach to reckoning with a complex set of problems. It is equal parts inquiry and practice and, most significantly, an endeavor that simultaneously accommodates incremental success and persistent failure.
Architecture is as content with projecting the absurdity of our language, thought and lives out to a three-dimensional frame as it is with folding it back into a shy blueprint. All that we find even remotely inscrutable—our minds, our ethics, our universe—figures into the architect’s dance between the conceptual drawing table and the concrete obstructions of space-time. In this and its tacit acceptance of failure architecture very often resembles philosophy. The ultimate building will thus be no different from first philosophy—it will be a reflection of all human concerns, a grand reckoning that befits the human condition without having to mimic it. This building cannot be built but pieces of it are found in all good architecture.
The mutual interest between architecture and philosophy informs some of my research and teaching. I have written and published two articles of architectural concern and have presented similar work in public forums. My article “Fragments in Libeskind and Wittgenstein” explores the crossroads between the two disciplines by locating a methodological similarity between the works of a prominent contemporary architect and a major 20th Century philosopher. The result is a comparative study, all the more potent and possibly controversial for reaching across different fields of inquiry. A more recent study of mine deals with the role architecture has played in the emergence of our concept of privacy. The study is equally concerned with the ethics of architecture and the aesthetics of social privilege. Many of these topics ground class discussions in my course in the Philosophy of Architecture, which I have been teaching since 2013.