Architecture (Mis)Represented: architectural image of self-referential architecture (against) architecture in a dialogue with phenomenal reality, by Andrea Jelic

It is widely acknowledged that architecture has a unique position in the continuum of culture by virtue of being an existential art – its reality coincides and moreover, supports the reality of primary, quotidian situations and their mode of embodiment. With this in mind, it can be easily observed the significance of a phenomenon which is often overlooked or altered in architectural practice and discourses – the phenomenal body as an irreplaceable architectural subject. In brief, architecturally relevant features of phenomenal body are corporeal scheme [1], defined as a scheme of possible actions, closely connected phenomenon of (communicative) movement, and finally body as a perceiving subject and referencing point for perceiving space.

Representation is the result of our experiences, visualizations and articulations of the natural world and accordingly, architectural representation can be described as an outcome of our encountering and experiencing architecture. By taking the phenomenal body as a perceiving subject and acknowledging the prevailing contribution of visual in perceptual experience, it can be asserted that the formation of architectural images based on architectural experience is a natural and inevitable occurrence.

But the problem lies in the historically constituted tension between the symbolic-communicative and the instrumental-noncommunicative (emancipated) representations of reality, where the latter is claiming primacy in contemporary architecture. In short, it was under the influence of modern (scientific and technological) thought, and together with the corresponding phenomenon of the fragment (and fragmented culture), that emancipated representation has brought forward the phenomenon of self-reference, which in turn resulted in introverted design and self-sufficient architecture. What rendered this possible, is the nature of instrumental representation: it imposes itself on reality by translating and reducing it into an image based primarily on human creativity and vision instead of the given conditions of reality itself; thus, on the account of the separation from the original communicative context, a representation’s own, but inaccessible to wider understanding, horizon of reference is established.

Each mode of representation requires an adequate perceiving subject: in instrumental representation it is a bodiless observer, a disengaged subject, while in the symbolic representation it is an ambulant observer, a moving body in its totality of phenomenal existence. An architectural image is developed accordingly: in terms of emancipated representation, architectural image is characterized by focused vision and designed perspectives which firmly determine the position of the perceiving subject allowing the beauty and visual unity of a setting to be comprehended as intended, and thus, it serves only as a tool of self-assertion and self-promotion. Conversely, symbolic representation assigns to an architectural image a communicative role and because based on movement, it is perceived as a synthesis of situational lateral or incidental views, accessible in sequence and that is – avoiding full disclosure and allowing the latent to occur.

Importantly, architectural image of self-sufficient architecture is a conceptual image and it anticipates experience, while the other is the result of experiencing architecture (with phenomenal body), and as such, is the one in accordance with the phenomenal reality and humanistic nature of architecture.

[1] Corporeal scheme is a spatial and temporal unity of sensory-motor experiences that shows itself as an ability to comprehend and acquire the spatial conditions of the situation as a whole. This is a reference to a definition of corporeal scheme as elaborated by Dalibor Vesely in his book Architecture in the Age of Divided Representation (Cambridge, MIT Press, 2004), and in Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s The Primacy of Perception (Evanston, Northwestern University Press, 1964).

Andrea Jelic, University of Rome, IT

Harvard Citation Guide: Jelic, A. (2012) Architecture (Mis)Represented: architectural image of self-referential architecture (against) architecture in a dialogue with phenomenal reality, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 06 May 2012, Available at: [Accessed: 01 June 2012].

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s