Ethics Versus Aesthetics: Stanley Tigerman, by Emmanuel Petit

One of the intellectual stimuli of architectural postmodernism was the interest in the notion of the “other”; the attentiveness to, and inclusiveness of “externalities” to the modernist, aesthetic credo generated a new culture of dialogue and ethics in architecture. I will discuss how postmodern Chicago architect Stanley Tigerman sought to reintroduce the factor of human interaction into architecture.

Tigerman constructed himself as the “architect of ethics” in opposition to the “aestheticist” Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. As such, Tigerman liked to think of his own position in architecture as analogous to the place Kierkegaard occupied in philosophy: What Kierkegaard was to Hegel, Tigerman thought he could represent in relation to Mies. In a sense, Hegel and Mies both attempted to “systematize” existence through their respective sterile metaphysics, which was in the service of a universal welt- or zeitgeist. Kierkegaard and Tigerman, by contrast, insisted on the importance of an ethical perspective as well as the subjective freedom associated with it.

While Tigerman has the classical credentials to master the subject of architecture–having studied under Louis Kahn and Paul Rudolph–his “subject” never ceased to be the human being, while architecture was, for him, a sort of stage or dramatic space within which to choreograph the dialogues and encounters between men. His long-lasting friendship with the late dean of The Cooper Union School of Architecture, John Hejduk, was largely based on this common interest. Tigerman’s focus on the exchange between “subjects” is the reason he keeps being drawn to ethical philosophy and the theories of dialogism, from Aristotle to Kierkegaard, and from Emmanuel Lévinas to Martin Buber. Buber was particularly relevant to Tigerman, as he maintained that the genuine meeting between I and Thou could not be premeditated (or “composed”), but that it was utterly serendipitous and, hence, revelatory. In a sense, the sublime spontaneity and transience of the principle of “dialogue” as described by Buber, has been at odds with the tradition of architectural production, where thorough planning, notation, and representation preceded the actualization of the project. Tigerman translated Buber’s observation into a critique of aestheticism of modern architecture.

Two of Tigerman’s architectural projects are particularly relevant in this context, and will be used to show the translation of his ethical approach into built architecture: the Daisy House in Porter, Indiana, from 1976-78, and a project for apartment buildings in Belgrade in former Yugoslavia.

Emmanuel Petit, Yale University, USA

Harvard Citation Guide: Petit, E. (2012) Ethics Versus Aesthetics: Stanley Tigerman, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 06 May 2012, Available at: [Accessed: 01 June 2012].

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