Kant on Dwelling, by David Wang

This essay derives an explication of “dwelling” from Kant’s Critical Philosophy, drawing from The Critique of Judgment (1790), but also calling on the critiques of Pure Reason (1781) and Practical Reason (1788).

Here is the reason why this effort is needful: Since the 1970s “dwelling” has emerged as an important topic in the architectural literature. Why this is so must be a subject for another essay. But that this is so call for an assessment of how dwelling is generally understood by the architectural audience, which is this: dwelling can be defined as a phenomenologically pleasurable sense of attachment to certain physical environments – what the architectural theorist Christian Norberg-Schulz characterizes as a sense of “having a small chosen world of our own.” Norberg-Schulz made the implicit contentment in such a condition an explicit goal of explication, largely indexing such contentment to empirical architectural typologies (e.g., house, institution, settlement). The problem with this approach is the underlying positivist assumption that certain physical patterns and forms just will result in experiences of dwelling. It doesn’t explain what some people dwell contentedly while others do not, given the same physical environment(s). And yet the Norberg-Schulzian approach to dwelling is widely accepted by architects.

I offer a more flexible explication via Kant’s system: I propose that the pleasurable subjective state called dwelling can be more robustly derived from Kant’s formulations for aesthetic and teleological judgment in combination. As Rudolf Makkreel has noted, within the complex interplay of these two kinds of reflective judgment is located not only (what Kant calls) a feeling of life, but also aesthetic creativity. I show that both are key to a Kantian derivation of dwelling.

David Wang, Washington State University, USA


Harvard Citation Guide: Wang, D. (2012) Kant on Dwelling, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 06 May 2012, Available at: https://isparchitecture.wordpress.com. [Accessed: 01 June 2012].

One thought on “Kant on Dwelling, by David Wang

  1. Very interesting to get another view. I myself have never encountered Kant’s take on dwelling, but it certianly sounds worthwhile investigating.

    I first encountered the idea of dwelling in architectural terms through Heidegger, as most architects/designers probably have. My own personal take on it differs somewhat from the one you postulate as being ‘generally understood by the architectural audience.’ My take being that dwelling is the human-being’s unique way of being in the world (literally the ‘being’ in human-baing). Our own way of ordering, understanding and utilising the world around us in order to accomplish the project of existence. Everything from designing a new city quarter to adjusting the glasses on the end of my nose is ‘dwelling.’ Perhaps this is what you refer to as ‘teleological judgement?’ I never construed an aesthetic choice into it before.

    I would be interested to hear your thoughts on this.

    Andrew – Belfast, Northern Ireland

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