Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Meaning Through Architecture in a Post-Modern Age

An Enquiry of Meaning Through Architecture in a Post-Modern Age

The basic assumption of post-modernism that meaning is socially constructed contributed to notions of nihilism and a dismissal of aesthetics and metaphysics within architecture. The prospect of a metaphysic that no longer relies on a causal mechanism presents the opportunity to reintroduce aesthetics in architecture, simultaneously with the notion that man is not alone in determining meaning. This new metaphysic is based on the works of Teilhard de Chardin and Meister Eckhart, and has implications for civilization and architecture. The most significant is the systematic articulation of architecture as intellectual structure, and through this formulation ecology, technology, and aesthetics are rendered in tripartite form.

Table of Contents

3. Introduction
Methodology of Understanding
5. Aesthetics
History, Beauty, metaphysics, causality, permanent meaning, St. Thomas Aquinas, form, material
14. Ecology
Complexity, Teilhard de Chardin, evolution, organic involution, sustainability
16. Aesthetic Reassessment
Architecture, intellectual organization, intellectual structure, Meister Eckhart, idealization of separate elements
24. Technology
Ecology, industry, science, civilization, economic efficiency
27. Conclusion
30. Bibliography


An enquiry into how we come to meaning and understanding foremost operates under the assumption that meaning and understanding are inseparable. To understand is to be meaningful. In this enquiry, the understanding of how we understand owes its formulation to the work of Hans-Georg Gadamer as explained in Truth and Method. The act of understanding is an act of appropriation, and this is taken as a methodology with which to look at architectural history and as a methodology with which to look at aesthetics.

Re-introducing aesthetics in an architectural discourse takes some explaining due to the domination of contemporary discussion by a post-modernism whose essential characteristic asserts the social construction of meaning. The enquiry into meaning with Gadamer as our starting point acknowledges the role of the subject and man in his relation to meaning, but does not succumb to the notion that all meaning is created by man, and hence, in a way, meaningless. Indeed, some post-modern theorists even reject the notion of meaning.

The successful introduction of aesthetics is accomplished by recognizing the co-extensive nature of aesthetics and metaphysics, and therefore re-evaluating our metaphysic in order to improve, despite the post-modern tendency to discard metaphysics entirely.

Aesthetics is recognized as necessary due to the nature of its end, beauty, and because of the place aesthetics has held historically within architectural discourse. Beauty and its relation to meaning is incontestable, and as such it is used as a starting point whereby we begin to unravel the structure of meaning.

Aesthetics as it relates to meaning has metaphysical importance, and insofar as it has metaphysical importance does it yield implications for our understanding of ecology and technology. Ecology and technology, as areas of rapid progress and rapid change, are two areas that have needed exploration outside of the post-modern project.

Aesthetics, ecology, and technology are all understood under a definition of Architecture as intellectual structure, where the term intellect is understood in an Eckhartian metaphysic, whereby the intellect is held to be primary. Of equal importance is the formulation of ecology as organic involution by Teilhard de Chardin whereby the goal of ecology is ever increasing consciousness. Through the metaphysics of Chardin, the relation of increasing complexity through specialization to consciousness is incontestable, and through the metaphysics of Meister Eckhart the universe is reciprocally posited, we have the basis whereby aesthetics, ecology, and technology are explored systematically.

Methodology of Understanding

Method as acknowledging the inescapable appropriation that occurs in the act of understanding through the word simultaneously describing the objective world and our subjective experience of it.

To suggest a methodology for the study of religious experience and an architecture that is to be based on understanding and knowledge that arises from religious experience is problematic in the sense that by suggesting a methodology we imply a certain amount of control over an experience of the sublime, humility, and/or God.

While such implications are not inconsequential, they are not reason to discard methodology as a starting point for orienting the discussion. The basic assumption of a methodology of religious experience as a psychological state, should be a resolving or coming to terms with religious experience as a psychological state. It would be tempting to try and define a methodology in terms of experience, or how one should relate experientially by describing the experience, such as feelings of peace, joy, oneness, etc. However, the method suggested in this dissertation is that one is searching for understanding, not an experience. That understanding, however subtle or mild it may or may not be, is the goal of the methodology proposed in the study of mysticism and religious experience.

The methodology then, is simply an acknowledgment of the inescapable appropriation that is required in the act of understanding. [1] Through the limitations of expression and word comes the need for ceaseless striving to understand and present to oneself. When speaking of our built environment, for instance, the word simultaneously describes a construct that exists objectively and our subjective experience of it. In Eckhartian terms, and as will be explored, the subject and object reciprocally posit themselves. [2] Only by making the word our own through unreflective “experience” do we understand. While understanding could be described as an experience, or even a religious experience, it is far more appropriate to define our method in terms of understanding rather than experience while being aware of the particular nuance that the word understanding now brings with it.


Historically, architecture has been an aesthetic endeavour but with postmodernism came the rejection of meaning, and hence the rejection of metaphysics and the aesthetic conclusion, beauty. The aesthetic of modernism relied on a metaphysic of causality, which at once gave modernism its strength and later became a point of post-modern criticism. The search for permanent meaning finds it necessary to call upon aesthetic inquiry.

Using the “methodology of understanding” when engaging the past reveals a certain narrative in the history of architecture. Despite the many issues vying for attention in current architectural discussion, there remains a continuous thread of discourse throughout history. [3] This unbroken, though sometimes obscure thread presents itself as a certain understanding whereby the contemporary discussion can be oriented. The issue of architecture and its theoretical reflection rising to the task of rejoining a historical continuum, (a continuum whose constancy was challenged by a modernism of causation), is met via a thorough, unbiased appraisal of the situation that has its roots in the methodology of understanding. Through the insistence that the methodology presents primal lived existence which has a certain claim to validity due to the absolution of the subject as observer and object as observed relationship, we can approach such an unbiased appraisal of architectural history. Answering the call of understanding and defining what architecture is in an age where, aesthetics, technological faith, and ecology have been shaken to their foundations is the task set forth. [4]

Contemporary views of technology develop from the metaphysics of causality. This metaphysic allowed the modernists (~1900-1960) in conjunction with technological advances of the early twentieth century to achieve new forms and understand their world better. The subsequent rejection of technological progress as salvation, coupled with a disconcerting view of man and his relationship to reality ushered in a new era of post-modernism, whose trademark is to place meaning as socially constructed. Architectural discourse has yet to come to terms with the need to maintain a relationship with technology and the need to resist discarding metaphysics completely.

The issue for architecture in the post-modern period in dealing with aesthetics, ecology and technology stems from reflection on past thought separate from a search for permanent meaning. [5] Indeed, the notion of permanent meaning is discarded in a post-modernity that lacks the acknowledgment that any interpretation of the past aims at understanding in the present. This is an unfortunate circumstance due to a modernity who sought an unrealistic break with history. What we are set to accomplish before us is the reinstatement of the importance of history along with the search for permanent meaning. Culture is the active component of reality giving birth to the passive component. As postulated by Vitruvius, man gradually advanced from the construction of buildings to the other arts and sciences, and as such architecture is thus asserted as the origin and antecedent of culture. In this manner, architectural theory, if it is to be validated in terms of its applicability, is accomplished insofar as the potentials of matter are realized to the extent that they are a meaningful ascent towards a collective threshold of consciousness, and if consciousness is to have any meaning, meaning must be something other than socially constructed.

The culmination of Architectural thought during the modern period (1910 to 1945) is the result of onto-theological and aesthetic thinking on form and matter. Aesthetics is the study of the temporal conditions of experiencing beauty and the sublime. While the case could easily be made for studying beauty and the sublime in the context of mysticism and religious experience, what is of most consequence are the underlying metaphysical structures. The temporal conditions of understanding beauty and the sublime can be ordered in three categories. The first is the practice, activity, or object of the aesthetic inquiry. The second is the property, feature, or aspect, while the third is the ontological description and often is reduced to subject versus object determinations. [6] Umberto Eco, in his treatise, The Aesthetics of St. Thomas Aquinas, explores the Thomist system of form, and will be summarized as follows. [7]

Beauty is grounded in form, and if beauty is to be experienced as beautiful, it must be considered in light of its formal cause. The formal cause is a rational structure that “informs” the material. Aesthetic value is connected with formal causality. A thing has being insofar as it actualizes a rational structure.

Form is a structure or pattern which is materially at one with the object – something in virtue of which an object lives and is what it is, but which itself possesses reality and character only in virtue of being materialized in the object. However, form is only the initial, motor constituent in a process of essential and existential perfection.

It should be noted that being and beauty are coextensive, and that Aquinas introduced the problem of the psychological and subjective with beauty. The question of man’s position and task in the act of understanding in Aquinas’s system is subtle and is often misunderstood as positing objectivism.

For example, St. Augustine puts the question this way: “If I were to ask first whether things are beautiful because they give pleasure, or give pleasure because they are beautiful, I have no doubt that I will be given the answer that they give pleasure because they are beautiful.” St. Augustine’s position is massaged to a certain extent by St. Aquinas by saying “beauty is a state of equilibrium between a perfect object and the intellect”.

The difference of how man understands reality between Augustine and Aquinas is analogous to the culmination of architectural thought during the modern period, and its consequent critique by a post-modernism whose position finds its strength in the acknowledgment and celebration of the subject. The lack of a unified direction as to the purpose of architecture in contemporary discussion is evidence of a postmodernism that has acknowledged a different position for man in his understanding of reality and metaphysic, but has yet to replace the old notion adequately.

Le Corbusier (1887-1965), arguably the most influential architect of the twentieth century, defines architecture thus: “Architecture is not building. Architecture is that cast of synthetical thought in response to which the multiple elements of architecture are led synchronically to express a purpose. And as this synthetical purpose is absolutely disinterested, having for object neither to make durable, nor to build rapidly, nor to keep warm, nor to promote sanitation, nor to standardize the domestic usefulness of the house, I would say, since it is above any utilitarian objective, it is an elevated purpose. Its object is to bring us benefits of a different nature from those of material usefulness; its aim is to transport us to an inspired state and thus to bring us enjoyment.” [8]

This definition undeniably positions modernism in line with Thomist thinking. The acknowledgement of a state or an experience to be had while interacting with an object implies a subject-object relationship, which was articulated as the culmination of medieval thought by St. Thomas. Furthermore, Le Corbusier saw “architecture as the expression of the materials and methods of our times”. The expression of the materials is nothing other than the formal cause of the aesthetic described in St. Thomas’s aesthetic.

Walter Gropius (1883-1969), another influential architect speaks about beauty: “My ideas have often been interpreted as the peak of rationalization and mechanization. This gives quite a wrong picture of my endeavours. I have always emphasized that the other aspect, the satisfaction of the human soul, is just as important as the material, and that the intellectual achievement of a new spatial vision means more than structural economy and functional perfection. The slogan "fitness for purpose equals beauty" is only half true. When do we call a human face beautiful? Every face is fit for purpose in its parts, but only perfect proportions and colours in a well-balanced harmony deserve that title of honour: beautiful. Just the same is true in architecture. Only perfect harmony in its technical functions as well as in its proportions can result in beauty. That makes our task so manifold and complex.” [9]

The issue for architecture today is the lack of Le Corbusier’s “inspired state” or Gropius’s “satisfaction of the human soul”. The cause of this is due to a post-modern culture whose criticisms are valid, but whose conclusions are not. Acknowledging the subject does not impose a relativity upon reality, nor imply that we no longer have ground to stand upon. Instead, it is possible to continue gaining knowledge and understanding reality despite the realization that our previous metaphysic could be improved upon. Indeed, it is only through the “inspired state” that we may come to valid conclusions.

The search for a permanent meaning and valid conclusions finds its way via the relationship between reflecting on past thought in order for understanding to be alive today, and the methodology proposed whereby the act of appropriation is inescapable in understanding. Aesthetics presents itself as necessary through the relation between meaning and beauty. The study of the conditions whereby that which is not meaningful becomes meaningful as aesthetic should be a central focus of architecture. The study of the aesthetics of constructed objects and their characteristics serves two purposes, the first is to render an understanding of the architectural construct, and the second is to render an articulation of the act of understanding.

The need for a new understanding of aesthetics becomes necessary as the aesthetic relates to metaphysics in a manner that renders imprecise notions in metaphysics as imprecise notions in aesthetics. A definition of architecture as intellectual structure seeks meaning despite post-modern criticisms.

The need for a new metaphysic for architecture presents itself as it becomes increasingly difficult to accept the previous metaphysic. Fortunately the Thomist thinking that modern architecture rose and fell on was answered in 1302 by Meister Eckhart (1260-1327). The wider contemporary culture of today has yet to realize the implications of Eckhartian thought. Where Thomist thinking held being as knowing and understanding, Eckhart holds that knowing is presupposed before being. [10]

We now have Augustine who is considered an objectivist, Aquinas who introduced the subject, and Eckhart who holds the knowing subject as primary. Along a continuum of objectivist, namely things are in themselves, to subjectivist, namely things are as they are thought, we have Augustine at one end, Eckhart on the other, and Aquinas in the middle. Our task is to come to terms with how man relates to reality as we can no longer assume that man takes no part in it, nor can we assume that there is no reality or being. In Eckhartian thought, what is, is given through the intellect, and only through the intellect can we be presented with permanent, abiding being. Understanding then, is an intellectual act whereby abiding being is possible.

An Eckhartian aesthetics then is different from a Thomist aesthetic in that the former relies on a “univocal causality” whereby the cause causes itself. An Eckhartian aesthetic sees form not as a structure that possesses reality and character only in virtue of being materialized in the object, but instead as the form or pattern causing itself. The Thomist aesthetic is “equivocal” in the sense that material can have more than one form, but deciding which particular form is appropriate as a part of a process for essential and existential perfection is left open. Eckhartian aesthetic places the intellect above being as the absolute principle insofar as the intellect is creating itself. As will be discussed later, this is synonymous with Teilhard de Chardin’s notion of the focus of consciousness dominating the focus of arrangement. Where absolute being relies on a formal cause in Thomist aesthetics, the intellect, however has no such reliance, as it is its own cause. The requirement, then, is to see the univocal despite the equivocal senses that cloud understanding. Which form is appropriate as a part of a process for essential and existential perfection is not left open within Eckhartian thought. Only one form is appropriate, and when that one form is found its appropriateness is unquestionable due to the relationship between form and intellect; the form of course being inevitable.

Up to know I have been working towards a definition of Architecture that is appropriate within the study of mysticism and religious experience and takes into account an understanding of historical developments in metaphysics and aesthetics. Architecture is the intellectual structure or organization of parts into a whole. Architecture is pure, abiding being that is possible through the intellectual faculties. This draws our attention not so much to content, but to structural elements in aesthetic analysis with a wariness to not reduce our inquiry to cataloguing of contrivance, or a bag of tricks. Despite the modernist focus on aesthetics and its structural elements with the resultant foregrounding of the “device”, it does not follow that through such foregrounding there is no escape from contrivance as the post-modernists would have us believe. To reduce a central theme, such as the idealisation of function in modernism, to a contrivance is to misrepresent the intentions of modernist architects completely.

While it would seem that our current exploration of aesthetics would come to a close as our definition of aesthetic has been tightly bound with a being that is subverted by intellect, the concept of aesthetic does not end here. The aesthetic of architecture refers to the problems and conditions of organizing and structuring our built environment; it is the inquiry into the intelligence of our material environment. Architecture as intellectual structure answers basic metaphysical questions such as: What is the world around me? While other fields attempt to answer such questions, Architecture has a claim that others do not. That claim is the ability to give true material answers. [11]
This definition of architecture as intellectual structure is in opposition to certain trends in architecture whereby pop culture and banality are celebrated in self-abasement by “elite” architects. For example, where theorists like Denise Scott Brown celebrate “the agony in our celebration of pop”, and see everyday life as a system of structured dispositions oriented towards practical functions in a quasi-bodily involvement through repositories of schemes and body automatisms, the definition of architecture and the formulation of man’s responsibility and relationship to the universe as proposed, are completely at odds to such post-modern celebrations. [12] Furthermore, while theorists often take to task the denial of the possibility of discursive conversation by mystical and religious experiential schools of thought, the definition of architecture as intellectual structure answers the call as it is the beginning of discursive conversation, not its end.
Architectural theory has often vacillated between meaning and measure in trying to come to an explanation, here what is being proposed is that there is meaning in everything, including measure. Indeed, to understand measure is to look for meaning in measure. History has shown that the folly lies in forgetting the inescapable appropriation in the act of understanding, for instance nineteenth century France and the Ecole des Beaux-Arts institution where the introduction of the abstract metric system contributed to the simultaneous abandonment of classical theories of proportion, all to the detriment of architecture.

Within the definition of architecture as intellectual structure lie important implications for the relationship between aesthetics and metaphysics. As metaphysics determines the nature of things as they are, and aesthetics determines the nature of things that are beautiful, and we hold that being and beauty are co-extensive, then the aesthetics of architecture is synonymous with the metaphysics of architecture and the two terms, metaphysics and aesthetics are interchangeable. Determinations about structural elements and artistic techniques necessarily have metaphysical and cosmological implications. One such implication that will be addressed later is the reassessment of the causally related universe implied by the aesthetics of St. Thomas Aquinas.

Architecture as an intellectual structure whose aesthetic seeks complexity through increasing diversification and specialization via a continuation of organic involution in order to understand more completely our place in the cosmos. The ethical obligations to future generations are met as we gain a largeness of contemplation whereby man is situated appropriately within the material environment.

Within contemporary architectural discourse, there lies the ecological or sustainable argument whereby it is acknowledged that the planet earth is composed of limited resources and as such architects are morally and ethically obligated to use those limited resources in such a manner that future generations will not be refused quality of life due to wasteful choices of our generation. This sustainable or green architecture has been plagued by a lack of aesthetic and despite the ethical arguments proposed, remains outside of mainstream practice except in those rare occasions where it is paid lip-service by architects who simply use new, efficient products and tout it as being green. The fundamental fallacy lies in a faith in science that mis-educates in the belief that energy is a scientific reality in a universe of causality. [13] The sustainable architect seeks to use energy in the most efficient way possible without producing pollution. There is no knowledge of what energy is, and without that knowledge, a systematic understanding of architecture is impossible.

The issues of sustainability cannot be solved by the same blind progress that created them. As all structural problems of building have a geometrical solution, so too do the sustainable problems have an aesthetic solution. [14] The possibility of aesthetics solving ecological issues lies within an adequate understanding; an understanding rooted in the methodology of understanding initially suggested. Teilhard de Chardin sets forth an understanding of ecology whereby the connection between architecture and natural environment can be made explicit through aesthetics; that understanding will be summarized as follows. [15]

The universe is in a process of organic involution upon itself, constantly increasing in a complexity whose relation to consciousness is incontestable. From its beginning to its end, the universe’s axis of complexity is demarcated by three thresholds. The first is the organization of the “stuff” of the universe into matter, the second is the threshold from inorganic to organic, and the third is the threshold of thought. Chardin recognized that technical mastery over environment and inward spiritual concentration as the same great force that brought us into being. The highest focus of consciousness breaks away from its temporo-spatial frame in order for the universe to become aware of itself as man is intricately bound to organic involution and the same great force that brought us into being.

As architecture is intellectual organization of parts into a whole, and aesthetics is the inquiry into the intelligence of our material environment, then issues of sustainability are solved when our understanding of the material environment requires recognition of the process that we are a part of as we alter our environment. As we build architecture, we continue the universal process of increasing consciousness, and the same idea could be applied to the whole of industry, which as a whole is now given the task of devoting itself to aesthetic questions.

It is important to acknowledge that modernist architects sought to forge aesthetic innovation with economic rationality. The progress of man was to be tied up with technological innovation. Function as formal cause in an aesthetic system whose ultimate aim was transcendent beauty is synonymous with efficiency and technological progress, although late modernism lost beauty and succumbed to economic wilfulness.

Our definition of Architecture aligns with Chardin’s thought on the origins of life and its organization as well, which shall be paraphrased. At the origins of life, it would seem to have been the focus of arrangement which, in each individual element, engenders and controls its related focus of consciousness. But higher up, the equilibrium is reversed. The focus of consciousness begins to take charge (by ‘invention’) of the progress of the focus of arrangement. It follows that Architecture as intellectual structure began as the focus of arrangement controlling the focus of consciousness, but the demand becomes for the focus of consciousness to dominate the focus of arrangement. Architecture as intellectual structure places Architecture in a larger context of universal evolution through the process of interiorization and complexification, where complexification is increasing diversity and specialization of elements. In this manner, technology, ecology, and aesthetics are closely related in Architectural discourse.

The intellect is seen as the faculty whereby the potentiality of the matter gives birth to ever new complexification through increasing diversification and specialization. The history of the intellect is the history of architecture, and while it would be tempting to assume upon seeing the structure of nature and architecture as it is now, that the cosmos is already finished, as St. Augustine did, it is important to recognize that the process of nature continues indefinitely. Teilhard de Chardin postulates an end point of the process and calls it the omega point, but such speculations are outside the topic of this dissertation. The process could possibly come to a close, but given the timeline concerned, it is more appropriate to assume that the process of organic involution is indefinite.

Aesthetic Reassessment
Architecture as intellectual organization is necessarily sustainable as it relies on a metaphysic which places intelligibility and being within the thing, instead of a metaphysic of causality which places the intelligibility of the thing in something other. This leads to an acknowledgement of the reciprocal positing necessity and as such only accepts the Thomist division of form into modus, species and ordo insofar as they can be put back together, paradoxically, by articulating their differences. The architectural concerns of matter posit certain conditions and dispositions of matter through form despite the impossibility of matter existing itself, or in other words, without the ground of our new metaphysic, the intellect. Our reworked aesthetic prioritizes ontology through intellectual and existential value having a connection with the potentiality of the matter insofar as the intellect actualizes potential.

The metaphysics of an Architecture that takes into account understanding our natural world as a process of organic involution dissolves the division between subject and object and places the subject in union with an object as the focus of a universal force seeking consciousness through complexity. Architecture as the intellectual organization of parts into a whole participates in the evolution of the universe. From this, it is impossible for architecture not to be sustainable, unless of course we admit that the final purpose of the universe is that of self destruction, but within Chardin’s thought no such admittance is possible.

In the Thomist system of thought, everything which is, without having in itself the whole reason of its intelligibility, is in this way intelligible through another thing, or as has been pointed out before, being is caused or contingent. Furthermore, it was held that it is impossible for a thing to be the efficient cause of itself in the metaphysic of causality.

The metaphysics that follows the Thomist system suggests that consciousness and the intellect have within itself the whole reason of its intelligibility and being. The universe as an axis of complexity over time exists as a continual place of creation whereby ever new levels of consciousness are achieved, and Architecture assists in this process through the involution of matter and thought.

Form within the Thomist system articulates three conditions, modus, species, and ordo. The system does not, however, determine which conditions are primal or consequential, nor does it determine what conditions are formally established. However, despite the lack of articulation as to how far form determines, or is consequent of, modus, species, and ordo, we can look at the system in order to further our own understanding of an Eckhartian form.

Modus, translated from Latin comes to mean measure, boundary, or limit. Modus is the quantity, size, or capacity. Modus operandi, for example, means the method or way of working. Species is a kind or sort, a group of similar appearance, taxonomy, semblance, or classification. Ordo is the order, arrangement, disposition, or sequence of things, or the condition in which each thing is properly disposed with reference to other things and to its purpose. Within the aesthetic based on Eckhartian thought, modus, species, and ordo all fall under form as an intellectual endeavour. The three conditions are both primal and consequential of intellectual act.

The call for increasing complexity and specialization suggests that articulating differences within form is at some point necessary, but we should only do so insofar as we can put them back together in a unified whole. It is also important to communicate the unity through diversity that occurs through hierarchical classification. The tripartite division of form in modus, species, and ordo coupled with the hierarchical division between modus, species, ordo and intellect, form, matter presents itself as divisions that need to be unified. Only by articulating their differences, however, are we to come to an understanding of their unity.

The form or intellect establishes certain conditions of matter whereby the potentials of matter are explored. Modus is the limits of a material, species as the unique disposition of the material, and order as the proper placement of the material. The limits, characteristics and order of the material cannot be separated from each other. The differences of the material are an intellectual realization of the potentiality that existed.

With the tripartite division of form, material, and rational structure in the Thomist system, it would seem that an Eckhartian system reduces the tripartite division to two, material and intellect due to the nature of the relationship between form and intellect, namely that form is intellect. The etymology of material and matter suggests it is a derivative of Latin “mater”, or mother. It follows that material gives birth, originates, or begets life. Again, we can invoke the central Eckhartian principle: “[Matter and intellect]…are opposed to one another relatively. Insofar as they are opposed, they are distinguished, but insofar as they are relative, they reciprocally posit themselves.”

The issue of determining which and how many of the three conditions of form, modus, species, and ordo, are primal or consequential has direct implications for our understanding of the relationship between form, intellect, and matter. Because of our place in history, we cannot accept the Augustinian position of matter holding an intellectual structure objectively, nor can we accept that the perfect object exists in equilibrium with our observation. It is necessary to understand the notion that matter and intellect reciprocally posit themselves, and as such architecture whose concern is matter, posits certain conditions and dispositions of matter through form.

Philosophically speaking, matter is the formless, essential constituent of all possible things and reality. It is potentiality. Here the Thomist and the Eckhartian are in agreement; because the latter presupposes intellect as primary, the formulation that matter itself can never exist or have a reality apart from form and consequently of itself can never be thought, by Aquinas gears reasonably well. With this the duality between intellect and matter is dissolved and we are left with intellect. The notion that matter cannot of itself be thought would seem to be a contradiction if we postulate the intellect as primary. If something lies outside of what we determine to be primary, then our determination is possibly flawed. Matter should be thought of as our etymology suggests, as potential. Given this notion of matter, we can go on to say that form cannot be analyzed without matter. [16]

A Thomist aesthetic that inquires into the beauty of an object through understanding the rational aspect that causes the form of the object in an ontological equilibrium is replaced by an aesthetic whose concern with intellect prioritizes the ontological status as primary and as such is an improvement over the Thomist predecessor. The concern with the intellect has as its focus ontological demarcations due to the nature of the intellect. Because the thing thought about is indistinguishable from thinking, what a thing is, is encountered best through the intellect. With ontology given a position of transparent importance due to the foundational nature of intellect, we have the form and matter following in the aesthetic. We can say that form is the intellectual structure whose potentiality was given by a matter that does not exist without form. Where this differs from formal causality is in the consideration of form and matter as they are relative and reciprocally posit themselves, instead of a consideration of their opposition and subsequent causality. An important distinction such as this calls for the replacing of the word “cause”, with a word used by Eckhart himself, “bearing”, or bringing forth life. As suggested before, a new aesthetic sees matter as bringing to life form, but it is important to see that intellect, although it has a special relationship to form, is not contingent and intellect has in itself the whole reason of its intelligibility. Furthermore, if there is no intellect apart from some object or matter toward which it is directed, then this implies, paradoxically, that the object or matter does certainly exist.

Our new aesthetic can be formulated thus: Form is grounded in intellect, and if form is to be understood as intelligible, it must be considered relatively in so far as the two reciprocally posit themselves. The form as intellect is given life by a matter of potentiality who owes its existence to the form. Intellectual value is connected with the potentiality of the matter. A thing has intelligence in so far as it actualizes potential. Through seeing that a thing can be the cause of itself, we paradoxically acknowledge the role other things take in the existence of this thing.

In the latest aesthetic, a system is presented in which every link is important on its own account and the intellectual structure achieves its goal by means which appear inevitable. In this way, form is acknowledged as actualizing potential univocality. In opposition to the metaphysical notion that the universe is causally related, we have a metaphysic and its subsequent aesthetics whereby the universe is not to be taken as elements opposed to one another, but instead as elements that posit one another. Every feature of the system is to be seen as positing every other feature in a unified whole. It follows that an architectural aesthetic whereby matter, which is non-existent yet pregnant with possibility, relates to form in a manner that each is reciprocally posited. Within the form is the intellectual structure that could not have been realized without the matter. The difference lies in the possibility for understanding without invoking contingency. Each element is understood as it is in itself, and as it is in itself is relative to each other element. This subtle notion should not be confused with the causal view that each element is caused by another element. What is, owes its being to another element. What is being suggested here is that each element is related to every other element, but owes its being to the intellect, which understands each element as a part of a complex whole.
Through the isolation and emphasising of separate elements comes the possibility of aestheticisation due to the relationship between complexity and consciousness, whereby consciousness and the intellect are augmented by reciprocal positing of specialized elements. The well known expression, form follows function, places function in such a manner as to allow it the position of co-extensive with intellect. Insofar as the function, which has social, and hence, ethical consequences, reciprocally posits a moral/virtue, can we accept function as co-extensive with intellect. A characteristic of the instance when we can accept function as co-extensive with intellect is the increase of complexity through specialization of civilization. In this manner our aesthetic of intellect meets the ethical challenges identified by the sustainable movement.

The idealisation of function as a cardinal principle of Le Corbusier which owes its validity to form following function through the metaphysics of causality is rethought with our new aesthetic notion. The idealization of function is valid insofar as that function is understood as part of the evolutionary process of complexification through specialization on its way to higher levels of consciousness and intellectualization. Only when we can admit function as intellectual structure can we accept the idealisation of function and allow the function to be the form. Furthermore, in a metaphysic of reciprocal positing, form relates to function in a manner whereby they are non-differentiable in their existence.

The issue of determining if the function meets our intellectual criteria is the notion that function must in some way be seen as positing every other feature in a unified whole. What this means is that function, if we are to take into account social structure and the organization of humanity, must be an intellectual organization of society. In the manner of the function positing order of conduct, architectural aesthetics have social consequences.

The ethics that follows from the social impact of the aesthetic in question would seem to imply that what is good is only good insofar as it has a specific purpose, namely the organization of humanity. This is not completely accurate as the only goal the aesthetic of intellect should have is itself. For an aesthetic of intellect to be ethical or good or valid, is not for it to seek a set of duties or rules, nor for it to seek positive consequences. This is where the ethics of sustainable or green architecture falls short due to its metaphysical assumptions of causality. If the proposed aesthetic and metaphysic are to meet the ethical challenges that green or sustainable architecture identifies, it must be in the moral in question and the moral in question must be in it. As form and matter are reciprocally posited, so too must the moral and aesthetic be reciprocally posited.

A cardinal principle coined by Le Corbusier is the idealization of separate elements within a design, the consequence of course being their aestheticisation. When an element is isolated, and its function emphasised whereby the function “informs” the material, the possibility of seeing the beauty of society and technology is opened. The answer that Eckhartian thought gives is univocal. The idealizations of the structure/rationale for the individual elements in a design are not to be thought of as causing the form, but instead the intellectual organization is to be recognized as the form. Form and intellect, in this instance, are indistinguishable. Furthermore, we can go on to use a slightly altered central Eckhartian principle in order to illustrate : “[The form and intellectual structure]…are opposed to one another relatively. Insofar as they are opposed, they are distinguished, but insofar as they are relative, they reciprocally posit themselves.” [10] It follows that we should only divide insofar as we are able to put back together.

The conclusion that form and intellect are indistinguishable should come as no surprise as the methodology suggested at the beginning sought understanding and assumed that an inescapable appropriation was manifest in understanding and as such it necessarily follows that the text describes a subjective experience and an objective fact. Form as a structure is a consequence of understanding as set forth at the beginning. The issue brought forth by the writings of Robert Venturi suggest a complexity through differentiation is appropriate for architecture, but as has been shown, an Architecture based on an aesthetic that prioritizes ontology requires that our differentiation must result in unity. [16]

An ethic of the intellectual aesthetic is possible as the practical wisdom that arises from a largeness of contemplation whose focus is the unity through differentiation results in practical wisdom. [17] Practical wisdom is the acknowledgment of man’s position and role in the evolutionary history of the universe. From the aesthetic specification that individual elements are to be isolated and the function of each element which has social consequences is to be emphasised, comes the ethic whereby the practical wisdom results from the notion that separate elements reciprocally posit each other through differentiation. This practical wisdom meets the criteria of aesthetics and morals/virtue reciprocally positing each other, as the specifications of aesthetics is the specifications of morals/virtues. The specifications of ethics, of course, are for the virtue/moral to be in the construct, and for the construct to be in the virtue/moral. The lack of imperfection in the character of the building coupled with the practical wisdom supplied by the aesthetic of intellect meets the call of ethical building practices.


To reconcile technology as the product of a causally driven science with architecture as intellectual structure, we acknowledge that the increased complexity through specialization affords the opportunity for such an architecture to take place. While recognizing that economic efficiency is a metamorphosis of the struggle for life represented through civilization, and that the struggle for life is the call to see or to perish, then it follows that economic efficiency is the call for technology and architecture to reach ever new heights of intellectual concentration.

As the history of the intellect is the history of architecture, so to is the history of the intellect the history of technology with the emergence of material as evidence of the path taken. A relevant aspect of architectural theory is its relationship to science, which through technology have a particular relationship of the former producing whilst the latter consumes. Mechanization as part of an evolutionary process of complexification through specialization is tautological in that the force that is driving the process is becoming aware of itself. The scientific community at the very lest has no opinion about such matters as the conclusion is not scientifically verifiable due to the unique nature of knowledge that science seeks. Despite this, science and architecture, to some extent have in common undertones of transcendence that have moved from the divine to the secular through contemporary physics and modern design, respectively. While the particular sort of knowledge sought by science as a whole does not deal with such notions easily, the sort of knowledge sought by the scientific community does however deal with notions that are easily translated into technological progress. Despite contemporary science’s lack of acknowledgment of its contribution to evolution as we live it, its contribution has an effect nonetheless. Technology, while having some part in the evolution of consciousness, does not often take an advanced position on the axis of complexification, and it remains the task of architecture to bring to fruition the initial constituent developments of technology. Whereas the fruits of science are mostly technological in nature, the fruits of architecture are to a certain extent technological through the aestheticisation of the object, but also through the aestheticisation of the practices and activities of people.

Thus we arrive at the concern of architecture with ever advancing technology and social structures. The habit of explaining everything in terms of causation directly influenced the preoccupation of architectural theory with social factors as these were held to be the causes of architecture. The concern with social factors and the subsequent attempted break by modernists is due in part to a Thomist aesthetic that implied causal relations. The unquestioned notion of a causal universe at once gave the modernists their strength and later became their downfall. A moral high ground was claimed by the modernists as the attempt to break with the causal past was freedom to move forward with a new technological aesthetic that remained based on a causal universe. Indeed, Viollet-le-Duc who set down the basic tenets of modernism in the early nineteenth century saw architecture as the result of technical, formal, and greater than the first two, social factors.

An Eckhartian aesthetics that does not imply that the universe is causally related not only renders the relationship between architecture and technology in a new light, but also renders society in a different light. There is no need for a break with history in an architecture whose aesthetic is a part of and owes its potency to the history and future of the universe. An Eckhartian aesthetic takes its place in timelessness as best put by Hegel: “It needs must be that what can be thought and spoken of is; for it is possible for it to be, and it is not possible for what is nothing to be.” It follows that an aesthetic of intellect precludes change as when what has past is spoken of, consequently still is.

The answer that an aesthetic of intellect gives to the ecological problems of technology is that any technology that causes an ecological problem is not living up to its aesthetic requirements, as we have established that an aesthetic of intellect brings into line the function of man with evolution in that man takes an active role in evolution. This is contrasted with contemporary views of technology as the manipulation of nature for humankind’s ends. What is absent from discussion is the notion that there is no distinction between man and nature, that man and his consciousness and intellect are the result of the process of nature, and if man is to survive as a species he is called up to ever higher levels of understanding. The fundamental rule of survival is to see or to perish. Technology, through invention, finds itself united with architecture in the task of controlling the focus of consciousness.

Despite our progress thus far as a civilization, we have yet to reach a point where the focus of consciousness dominates the focus of arrangement as evidenced by the standardization of parts and the mass produced house. The focus of arrangement to a large extent dominates the focus of consciousness as the contemporary architect struggles with product choice to the point of his work being reduced to a composition of standardized and manufactured articles. It is economically prohibitive in all but the most endowed projects for an architect to use parts that are not produced by industry.

Whereas the struggle for life has manifested itself in such a way as to become the imperative to see or to perish, so too is a process which has as imperative economic feasibility been rendered in such a manner so as to allow for the intellectualization of material. Through the manufacturing process the product can bear a positive relation to the materials in which it was constructed. In this manner, economic viability is subsumed under a notion of efficiency whereby the form of the material is the most efficient and inevitable outcome, or the focus of consciousness dominates the focus of arrangement.

Manufacturing processes are becoming increasingly adept at producing variety, and producing varied specifications given by professionals such as architects. The industrial process could be harnessed in this manner to achieve the goal of an intellectual architecture. A new relationship of the architect to industry is put forth; no longer an enemy he utilizes its capabilities in order to bring it into line with inward spiritual concentration. This notion of economic and industrial intellectualization begs the question; is every construct that is designed for a purpose architecture? The answer is no. While maintaining an optimism for technological progress, it would be inaccurate to put faith in it.


1. Inescapable appropriation (union of subject and object)
2. The relation of increasing complexity through specialization, to consciousness is incontestable
3. Universe is reciprocally posited (not causally)

Architecture as intellectual structure holds three important characteristics. The first characteristic is the inescapable appropriation that occurs in intellectual engagement. The second characteristic is the relationship between complexity through specialization, and consciousness, or in other words, as we increase complexity, we increase its intellectual value. The third characteristic is that things engaged by the intellect are reciprocally posited.

The third characteristic, things engaged by the intellect are reciprocally posited, yields a certain relationship to the first characteristic, the inescapable appropriation that occurs in the act of understanding. In order for intellectual apprehension to occur, or for us to understand, our subjective “I” must posit the objective thing. Only insofar as I am in it, and it is in me, do I apprehend intellectually.

The third characteristic, things engaged by the intellect are reciprocally posited, yields a certain relationship to the second characteristic, the relation of increasing complexity through specialization, to consciousness is incontestable. That unique relationship between the third characteristic and the second characteristic indicates that only insofar as the specialization, or division, reciprocally posits each element of the division, can we accept it as intellectually valid.

Intellectual structure is thus defined as understanding the reciprocally posited nature of specialization. This intellectual structure is Architecture.

The first principle owes its origins to the work of Hans-Georg Gadamer, the second principle owes its origins to the work of Teilhard de Chardin, and the third principle owes its origins to the work of Meister Eckhart. Each has contributed to answering fundamental questions that our day and age find important and worthy of consideration.


Through the notion that through increasing complexity through specialization we increase intellectual value, we come to see that our method of aesthetic analysis tends to emphasise individual structural elements and artistic techniques. Because we hold the relation between things to be a reciprocal mechanism instead of a causal mechanism, our inquiry brings us into the same arena of questioning as metaphysics. It follows that aesthetic articulation of structural elements and artistic techniques have metaphysical importance.

The isolation of separate elements within a design leads to the separation of form and function, along with form and material. This is of course acceptable insofar as each posits the other. Form posits material through expression of material limits, unique disposition of the material, and proper placement of the material, but can only do this insofar as material has the potential to express the form. Form posits function through articulation of the limited role to be served, the unique quality of the role to be served, and proper placement of the role to be served. Function becomes the characteristic or intention for civilization through form, and consequently, aesthetics yields ethics.

The essential understanding presented to us by Teilhard de Chardin about evolution and ecology, is that the process of life increases complexity through specialization, and that the relation of complexity to consciousness is incontestable. We owe our very consciousness to this process of the involution of matter, and by taking part through increasing consciousness, we continue the development.

The call to a sustainable relationship is met par excellence through architecture as intellect, as an understanding of development is possible whereby mankind is not prohibited from environmental development, yet he is required to build in such a manner as to increase the process of organic involution.

Aesthetics and Ecology are synonymous.

The same great force that is driving the evolution of our ecological environment, namely the call to see or perish, is rendered by civilization as economic efficiency. This rendering is a point of criticism articulated by the sustainable green movement. The task for architecture is to utilize the products of industry and technological progress in order to meet the call to see or perish. Through the possibilities of specialization afforded by technological innovation can we progress further in our task of increasing consciousness.

The call to understand and define what architecture is in age where aesthetics, technological faith, and ecology have been shaken to their foundations is met through an articulation of architecture as intellectual structure whereby parts are integrated into a whole. Aesthetics, technology, and ecology have their answer in an architecture that, while these three considerations are held to be separate, sees all three are synonymous. An architecture of intellectual structure unifies all three through the relation of increasing complexity through specialization, the acceptance of a reciprocal mechanism, and an acknowledgment of the inescapable appropriation that must occur in the act of intellectual engagement.



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