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Philosophy of architecture

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Title: Philosophy of architecture  
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Philosophy of architecture

Philosophy of Architecture is a branch of philosophy of art, dealing with aesthetic value of architecture, its semantics and relations with development of culture.

History of the Philosophy of Architecture

Early History

Philosophy of Art, which began to be expressed in books on architecture and history of architecture during the latter half of the twentieth century.[1] Prior to that, largely because of its reliance on technology and engineering, architecture was seen as incompatible, or beneath, the proper subject areas of classical aesthetics as delimited by, notably, Kant and Baumgarten, with their ideal of "pure art."[1]

Modern period

Panopticon. Drawing by Jeremy Bentham in 1791.

As it was noted by Michel Foucault, the architecture is able to set the life of society, and therefore it is particularly important for understanding of the person's values and culture. In "Discipline and Punish" Foucault analized contemporary culture through architecture project of principally new prison Panopticon. The point of this project by Jeremy Bentham was to create a special transparent environment for prisoners, where everyone would be under constant surveillance. Although the project was not realized, Bentham`s thought deeply influenced ideology of prisons, changing social practices of punishment. Simultaneously with its main conclusions Foucault reached other goal - his instrumental use of architecture in cultural studies showed the potential of this philosophical theme.

However, Philosophy of Architecture as a full-fledged part of the Philosophy of Art, would not have been possible without the Avant-garde`s shift of the aesthetic paradigm. Art, set in the conditions of mechanical reproduction of the image, was forced to look for new ways. Around the same time architectural styles of Constructivism and Functionalism find way to justify new, totally engineering aesthetics. Side of the architecture, which previously was considered a shame (as a sign of its connection with the pragmatic needs of man and society), became a major advantage, central part of new system of aesthetic values. Cubism and Futurism set aesthetic, full of mechanized, slaughtered, brutal forms, what was very close to the same engineering ideal. All this created more than favorable environment to change status of architecture in our system of art, as well as our understanding of art by itself.


Photography "Stuyvesant Town - Peter Cooper Village," according to Martin R.[2] it is an architectural work, which may serve as one of the first manifestations of postmodernism

Architecture assumed much more significant role after estublishing of the phenomenon of Postmodernism. According to R. Martin "it remains surprising how many influential accounts of cultural postmodernism make reference to architecture."[2] Some scholars go so far as to claim that the entire post-modernism comes from the practice of architecture, and the rejection of "style of Modern" as an architectural style, and by so architects terminologically formulated postmodernism. Thus, F. Jamesonwrites that "it is in the realm of architecture, however, that modifications in aesthetic production are most dramatically visible, and that their theoretical problems have been most centrally raised and articulated (...) it was indeed from architectural debates that my own conception of post-modernism (...) initially began to emerge."[3] As it was noted by researchers, "Barthes and Eco, taking their cue from Russian Formalism, see norm breaking as the mark of the aesthetic (sc., the aesthetic code). Art is characteristically inventive in its capacity to have signs do duty as signifier of further meanings in a potentially endless play upon convention as well as within it or on its margin."[4] So important to postmodern writers like R. Bart and U. Eco, saw architecture as a source of revolutionary innovations in art.[4]

Photo of casino "Luxor", an example of architecture of "Las Vegas", which formed the basis for post-modernist manifesto of Robert Venturi and has played a key role in the development of post-modernism according to F. Jameson
F. Jameson believes that there is a special relationship between postmodernism and American architecture, in which the birth of a national architecture coincided, in his opinion, with the emergence of the terminology or even the reality of postmodernism.[5] However, not all researchers agree with his post-modern "architectural origins," so Andreas Huyssen, suggests that the conceptual frame of postmodernism has been defined within certain movements of literature. However, this researcher also notes the special role of architecture in the development of post-modernism. Martin describes, that "Huyssen credits architecture with helping to disseminate the term postmodernism, originally from literature, into the expanded aesthetic sphere during the 1970s."[2] Lyotard contends that postmodern architects have nothing in common with true Postmodernism [2] and, as Lyotard states it in his article, Answering the Question: What Is Postmodernism?: "under the name of postmodernism, architects are getting rid of the Bauhaus project, throwing out the baby of experimentation with the bathwater of functionalism."[6]

A special figure for the philosophy of architecture can be considered the architect Robert Venturi, whose books may have played a no lesser role in the development of postmodernism, than his stylistic experiments in architecture. R. Venturi first lead attention of architects to pop-art. In his rejection of architectural modernism Venturi gave rise to the new cultural setting. By this Venturi showed a deep connection between civilization and architectural forms.[7]

Wittgenstein and Philosophy of Architecture

A photo of Wittgenstein House

Wittgenstein House can be considered as one of the most important examples of interactions between philosophy and architecture. It was built by renowned Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. A lot of research was made about relations between stylistic features of Wittgenstein House, Wittgenstein's personality and his philosophy.[8]


  1. ^ a b Harries K. (Winter 1987). "Philosophy and the Task of Architecture". Journal of Architectural Education 40 (2): 29. 
  2. ^ a b c d Martin R. "Architecture's Image Problem. Have We Ever Been Postmodern." Grey Room, No. 22 (Winter, 2006), p. 7.
  3. ^ Jameson F. Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. 2003. p. 2.
  4. ^ a b Donougho M. The Language of Architecture // Journal of Aesthetic Education, Vol. 21, No. 3 (Autumn, 1987), p. 65.
  5. ^ Jameson F. Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. 2003. p. 97.
  6. ^ Lyotard J.-F. Answering the Question: What Is Postmodernism? // Lyotard J.-F. The Posmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. 1984. p. 71.
  7. ^ Martin R. Architecture's Image Problem. Have We Ever Been Postmodern // Grey Room, No. 22 (Winter, 2006), pp. 9-11.
  8. ^ Himmelfarb G. "Jeremy Bentham’s Haunted House." Victorian Minds. (Knopf, 1968)., Tilghman B.R. "Ludwig Wittgenstein, Architect." Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism. Vol. 53 (Fall)., Wijdeveld P. Ludwig Wittgenstein, Architect. (MIT Press, 1994)., Wilson S.J. "The Play of Use and the Use of Play: an Interpretation of Wittgenstein’s Comments on Architecture." Architectural Review. 180.1073 (July 1986).

Further reading

Philosophical analysis of Wittgenstein's architecture

  • Himmelfarb G. "Jeremy Bentham’s Haunted House." Victorian Minds. (Knopf, 1968).
  • Tilghman B.R. "Ludwig Wittgenstein, Architect." Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism. Vol. 53 (Fall).
  • Wijdeveld P. Ludwig Wittgenstein, Architect. (MIT Press, 1994).
  • Wilson S.J. "The Play of Use and the Use of Play: an Interpretation of Wittgenstein’s Comments on Architecture." Architectural Review. 180.1073 (July 1986).


  • Brodsky-Lacour C. Lines of Thought: Discourse, Architectonics, and the Origin of Modern Philosophy. (Durham: Duke University Press, 1996).
  • Capon D.S. Architectural Theory: The Vitruvian Fallacy. (New York: Wiley, 1999).
  • Donougho M. "The Language of Architecture." Journal of Aesthetic Education, Vol. 21, No. 3 (Autumn, 1987), pp. 53–67.
  • Fisher S. Course of lectures "Analytic Philosophy of Architecture". Other materials of the course is available on-line.
  • Goldblatt D. "The Frequency of Architectural Acts: Diversity and Quantity in Architecture." Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism. Vol. 46.
  • Graham G. "Art and Architecture." British Journal of Aesthetics. Vol. 29 (1989).
  • Guyer P. "Kant and the Philosophy of Architecture." The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism. Special Issue: the Aesthetics of Architecture. Vol. 69. pp. 7–19.
  • Haldane J.J. "Aesthetic Naturalism and the Decline of Architecture." International Journal of Moral and Social Studies. Vol. 2-3 (1987, 1988).
  • Harries K. Philosophy and the Task of Architecture // Journal of Architectural Education, Vol. 40, No. 2, (Winter,1987), pp. 29–30.
  • Hershberger R.G. Architecture and Meaning // Journal of Aesthetic Education, Vol. 4, No. 4, Special Issue: The Environment and the Aesthetic Quality of Life (Oct., 1970), pp. 37–55.
  • Kunze D. Architecture as Reading. Virtuality, Secrecy, Monstrosity // Journal of Architectural Education (1984), Vol. 41, No. 4 (Summer, 1988), pp. 28–37.
  • Martin R. Architecture's Image Problem. Have We Ever Been Postmodern // Grey Room, No. 22 (Winter, 2006), pp. 6–29.
  • Masiero R., Ugo V. Epistemological Remarks on Architecture // Epistemologia. Vol. 14 (1991).
  • O’Hear A. Historicism and Architectural Knowledge // Philosophy. Vol. 68 (1993).
  • Porphyrios D. Selected Aspects of Architecture and Philosophy in 18th Century Theory // International Architect 1 4 (1981).
  • Rykwert J. The First Modems: the Architects of the Eighteenth Century (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1980).
  • Smith Chr. Architecture in the Culture of Early Humanism: Ethics, Aesthetics, and Eloquence, 1400-1470 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992).
  • Suppes P. Rules of Proportion in Architecture // Midwest Studies in Philosophy. Vol. 16 (1991).
  • Weiss A.S. Mirrors of Infinity: The French Formal Garden and 17th Century Metaphysics (Princeton: Princeton Architectural Press, 1995).
  • Winters E. Technological Progress and Architectural Response // British Journal of Aesthetics. Vol. 31 (1991).
  • Whyte W. How Do Buildings Mean. Some Issues of Interpretation in the History of Architecture // History and Theory, Vol. 45, No. 2 (May 2006), pp. 153–177.
  • Wood R.E. Architecture: The Confluence of Art, Technology, Politics, and Nature // American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly. Vol. 70 (1996).
  • Leddy T. Kant’s Aesthetics: Tattoos, Architecture, and Gender-Bending.
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