Friday, September 03, 2010

My Response to the Ineffable

As a follow up to a prior post, I will take position within contemporary discussion about the ineffable in architecture.  

In agreement with Lebbeus Woods on the absence of dialogue about ineffable-ness or divinity within architecture, there is very little being said about the divine character of our constructed world.  Furthermore in agreement with Lebbeus Woods there is an agreement that divinity reveals a very different world to us, and sometimes this revelation occurs during extreme events.

However it follows that if contemporary thought has told us little about divinity, then how seriously are we to take contemporary conclusions about divinity?  Implied is the notion that past periods of time might be able to tell us something different about divinity, especially if those past periods of time were singularly focused and mesmerized by questions of divinity.

Roughly and generally speaking civilizations of the past have emphasised divinity and God's place in the cosmos up until the seventeenth century with the development of Enlightenment thought.  Prior to this crucial period God was explored in a myriad of different ways, and unique contributions to religion and world view were recorded by each civilization.  Four hundred years after the birth of Enlightenment thought religion no longer influences how we view the workings of the world, and our everyday life is not characterized by ritual, sacrifice, and prayer.  Instead our world is characterised by technology, mechanics, and progress, none of which rely upon a religious understanding of the world.

It is understandable that today Lebbeus Woods would relegate divinity to unspeakable status, but past historical trends of thought would not have.  Instead God would have been real, accessible, and necessary in understanding how the world worked and what was required in everyday activity.  For example medieval stone masons would have crafted rough stone into finished forms using geometrically derived wooden templates whose ultimate source was the Word of God.  Suffice it to say that the everyday work of crafting stone was a ritual in which God's presence was realized in the Gothic cathedral.  Other craft trades would have operated under the same cosmological views that assumed God was and is potentially present.  Furthermore this divine cosmological understanding allowed for the construction of the tallest structures built by man at the time, so a unification of technology and religion could be demonstrated through the architecture of the period.  

Ultimately it is the difficulty with which Lebbeus Woods imposes upon architecture to participate in sacred-ness, and the inability to see the possibility of sacred architecture that is most troubling.  Despite architecture having as its very definition a participation in divinity throughout history, the contemporary thought would have us accept a definition outside of traditional context.