Academic journal article Journal of Art Historiography

Timely Meditations, Selected Essays on Architecture/Attunement, Architectural Meaning after the Crisis of Modern Science

Academic journal article Journal of Art Historiography

Timely Meditations, Selected Essays on Architecture/Attunement, Architectural Meaning after the Crisis of Modern Science

Article excerpt

Phenomenology, architecture and the writing of architectural history1 Review of Alberto Pér ez -Gómez, Timely Meditations, Selected Essays on Architecture, 2 vols, Montreal: Right Angle International, 2016, and Alberto Pér ez- Góm ez, Attunement, architectural meaning after the crisis of modern science, Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 2016.

You are still there! Oh, it's quite unhe ard of.

We are enlightened now, so take yourselves off!

Goethe, Faust2

In his Nobel Prize winning novel The Bridge on the Drina Iv o Andrie des crib ed the struggle of the urban population of the city of Višegrad in Bosnia-Herzegovina against the introduction of house numbers, after the country came under Austro-Hungarian administration in 1878.3 Previously, for centuries under Turkish rule, houses in streets were not numbered, and the local population reacted with profound mistrust to the decision of the new authorities to put numbers on private houses, and even number all the houses in each street. Perplexed by the new measure, prominent Muslim citizens met and discussed its meaning and whether it derived from the Christian faith of their new rulers, or whether it was a pragmatic policy that announced long-term plans concerning taxation and military conscription. For the rest of the population, the introduction of quantification into the environment in which they lived was simply unacceptable; an entire resistance movement developed that systematically destroyed, removed or painted over plates with house numbers.

It is similar unease about the quantification of space, its history and its implications in architecture, that, one is tempted to think, has also motivated Alberto Pérez-G ómez's scholarship for decades. The two most recent books that I review here present a comprehensive summary of his position. The two-volume Timely meditations is a collection of papers that have been published over years, while Attunement is a programmatic statement of his views on architectural theory and historiography. Among the contemporary authors who promote phenomenological approaches to architecture few have so extensively worked in architectural history and even fewer have theorised their perspectives on historiography. The very size of Pérez-G ómez's opus, as well as its influence, thus deserve a careful consideration.

Phenomenology and architectural history

Phenomenological approaches exercise arguably a much greater influence in contemporary architecture than in any other visual art. They were originally introduced into architectural theory and historiography by a generation of architectural theorists and historians born before World War Two, such as Christian Norberg-Schulz, Jahuni Pallasmaa and Dalibor Vesely. Alberto - belongs to the second generation of architectural phenomenologists, born in the years immediately after World War Two. Today, phenomenological approaches constitute an established, sixty-years old tradition in architectural theory that has had its own development. One should not expect that these authors are particularly interested in the views of philosophers-phenomenologists who wrote about architecture, such as Roman Ingarden. It is true that Martin Heidegger's essay 'B auen Wohnen Denken' has been often invoked by some authors such as Norberg-Schulz and that others, including - , occasionally make statements about s omething the y call 'Being'. Nevertheless, their work is motivated by their own, mainly architectural interests and they certainly do not strive to apply uncritically the views of philosophers in architecture, its theory or historiography. What is common for the entire school is the emphasis on non-visual qualities of architecture, such as the meanings and symbolism associated with architectural works or various types of synaesthetic experiences. The denigration of visuality (sometimes in the form of pr o tests against ' o culo centrism') goes hand in hand with the tendency to play down the relevance of spatial and geometrical properties of architectural works as well as the significance of geometry for human interactions with spatial objects in general. …

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