Silent Narration: architecture in Paul Ricoeur’s view, by Ufuk Ersoy

Etymologically speaking, the meaning of the term architect is clear: chief craftsman (archi-tekton). Yet, the nature of architectural operation remains ambiguous although it has been under discussion since Leon Batista Alberti’s (1404-1472) treatise, On the Art of Building in Ten Books (De re aedificatoria, 1452). Less than two decades ago, the philosopher Paul Ricoeur (1913-2005) made a significant contribution to this ubiquitous polemic through a metaphor [1]. Ricoeur brought into line the “configurative” act of “narrating” with that of “building” and drew a parallel between inventions of authors and architects. According to Ricoeur, the author who writes a plot dreams a life elsewhere in time. Although the architect does not possess the same freedom of discretion the author has in writing, the architect who makes a project similarly dreams a place elsewhere in space. During their dreams distant from present reality, the author and architect activate the same human faculty—“anticipation” and occupy the same human dimension of time—“present of the future.” In this line of thought, for Ricoeur, building represents a kind of fiction as long as its imaginary potential persists and it is inhabited.

Juxtaposing narrating and building, Ricoeur offers architects a theoretical model not only to unfold the nature of architectural operation but also to re-describe their ethical responsibility. For Ricoeur, architects ought to know how to dwell in the world of their projects’ inhabitants, similar to the way authors dwell in their readers’ world in order to be understood. Ricoeur elucidates the task of the architect in an Aristotelian way: the architect should “creatively imitate” human actions at practical level—praxis, in order to give durable dimension to patterns of human life.

This paper argues that Ricoeur’s metaphor is still seminal to debates today, and can be taken as an open invitation for architects to retreat from their obsessed and isolated occupation with aesthetic and technical knowledge. In Ricoeur’s words, in preference to measuring architecture’s performance restrictively in aesthetic and technical autonomy, architects are in need of a more nuanced account of their projects, in a much broader philosophical spectrum ranging from the cradle to the cemetery, from the bedroom to the city.

[1] See Paul Ricoeur, “Architecture and Narrative,” in Pietro Derossi, Identita, Differenze, Triennale di Milano, XIX Esposizione internazionale (Milano: Electa, 1996), pp. 64-72; and “Architecture et narrativité,” Arquitectonics 4 (2002): 9–29.

Ufuk Ersoy, Izmir Institute of Technology, TR

Harvard Citation Guide: Ersoy, U. (2012) Silent Narration: architecture in Paul Ricoeur’s view, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 06 May 2012, Available at: [Accessed: 01 June 2012].

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