Wittgenstein and the investigation of space through architecture and photography, by Stéphane Massonet

Over recent years, the Stondborough-Wittgenstein house which the philosopher built for his sister between 1926 and 1928 has given rise to a growing scholarly interest. The influence of the architect Alfred Loos on Wittgenstein’s though as well as his friendship and collaboration with Paul Engelmann have been studied in detail, leading to the assumption that there must be a deep structural influence between architecture and philosophy in Wittgenstein’s work. Some would even argue that Wittgenstein architectural minimalism is directly related to the Tractatus ‘s implicit of exclusion esthetics beyond meaning and what can be said. In this presentation, we would argue otherwise and show that the architecture of the Stondborough-Wittgenstein house provided a way to resolve issues related to visual space in Wittgenstein’s earlier work.

With the Tractatus, meaning was provided from a theory of representation that is based on a logical and mathematical model of space, while most examples related to visual space found in Wittgenstein’s Notebooks dating from 1914-1916 where simply eluded from the Tractatus. In this sense, what Wittgenstein achieved as an architect enabled a phenomenological description of visual space and how we move or operate in it, leading to the concept of a visual or esthetical grammar of space. The Wittgenstein house was not built as an implicit answer to the final proposition of the Tractatus, just as architecture was not a means of going beyond language in order to express what cannot be said, because for Wittgenstein, architecture is a formal language that radically changes the relation of visualizing space such as it was defined in the Tractatus. Architecture led Wittgenstein towards phenomenology as well as considering usability of grammar in the description of visual space. After developing a critic of the implicit esthetical argument of the first writings of Wittgenstein, we will also show how architecture in tightly linked to Wittgenstein’s experiments with photography that provided an alternative means to experience space, from which he develop the concept of the “family portrait”. Architecture and photography were approached as pragmatic and complementary practices that led Wittgenstein to rethink space (just like the §21 and 22 of his Lectures on Aesthetics tie them together).

We shall conclude by showing that architecture was not another way to think about philosophy, but more a though practice that solved inherent issues around mathematical space and theory of representation that enabled Wittgenstein to initiate a shift towards use and usability inside the projection of visual space.

Stéphane Massonet

Harvard Citation Guide: Massonet, S. (2015) Wittgenstein and the investigation of space through architecture and photography, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 21 June 2015, Available at: http://isparchitecture.com. [Accessed: 21 June 2015].

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