Academic journal article Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge

Heidegger and Sartre: Phenomenological Conceptions of the "Self" and the Ontology of Architecture

Academic journal article Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge

Heidegger and Sartre: Phenomenological Conceptions of the "Self" and the Ontology of Architecture

Article excerpt


The nexus between issues of meaning in architecture, the analogies between functions of architecture, and the projection or formation of identity have long dominated the literature in philosophy of architecture. Anatol Rapaport's (1968) The Personal Element in Housing, John Turner's (1976) Housing by People, David Appleyard's (1979; Home, Yi-Fu Tuan's (1977) Space and Place, and Christian Norberg Schulz's (1980) Genius Loci are some of the works that have focused on the depiction of architecture as a way of identity expression or self realization. All these writings have dealt with either the ways that architecture has been a reflection of the cultural-physical environment into which we were born or the ways architecture has been an opportunity to express our own conception of the self, which might be shaped with reference to the multiplicity of sources that cannot be bounded by the cultural or historical context. This is the question this paper aims to answer: Which conception of the self should we be informed by, if we want to understand the true essence of the self as well as architecture? This discussion has been informed by different theoretical approaches to the concept of the self. Here I am going to elaborate on the usage of two distinct conceptions of the self in the process of defining the relationship between architecture and the self.

The first one comes from the phenomenological paradigm, which is here to be represented by Heidegger who argued in his Being and Time that we have no genuine essence other than that which comes with our existence. (1) We have no timeless part of us, no universal common with other individual beings that came into existence in different times and places. All we have is the submissive determinism that comes from the culmination of the history into which we are born, and the every day life in which we exist. Heidegger asserted that phenomenology must be mindful of the historicity and temporality of the limited set of human experiences (Dasein). How the communication with the context determines the nature of subject can only be comprehended with reference to its temporality and historicity. Moreover, for Heidegger, the cultural context in which communication with the world takes place is highly important because the individual's understanding of anything including the self varies depending on the cultural paradigm that informs the subject in his/ her interpretations. As Graeme Nicholson stated "Since Heidegger has linked our existence so tightly to projective, anticipatory character of Verstehen (Understanding), he must recognize that existence itself incorporates the 'as-structure' of interpretation. To exist means to exist as a woman or as a man, as a clown or as a sage, as an American or as an Italian." (2)

The second conception of the self comes from Sartre's existentialist paradigm arguing that the "existence precedes the essence." (3) Although this existentialist view was influenced by the first phenomenologist paradigm that focused on indispensable relation between the space and the subject, it attributes a more active role to the subject in shaping both the meaning of his/her acts and the space into which he or she was born. (4) According to this view

   What is essential to a human being--what
   makes her who she is--
   is not fixed by her type but by what
   she makes of herself, who she becomes.
   The fundamental contribution
   of existential thought lies in
   the idea that one's identity is constituted
   neither by nature nor by
   culture, since to "exist" is precisely
   to constitute such an identity. (5)

In other words the self is an entity which chooses, acts, decides and defines itself through the identification with options that cross the cultural boundaries and layers of the past. Self-identity is a knee-jerk development. In Anthony Giddens' words "We are not what we are, but what we make of ourselves. …

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