An Exegesis of Architecture: sin, redemption, responsibility, by Matt Litvack

When humankind judges history to be the result of human agency rather than divine or cosmological pre-destination, from the perspective of the West’s Judeo-Christian inheritance, an overwhelming sense of guilt or sin for the tragedies of human history is encountered. Psychologically, this might result in the denial of guilt, agency, and human-made history. Denial as repression results in the dislocation of guilt into a positive quest. When architects deliberately seek out the traditional mythological and biblical tropes of sin–identified by Paul Ricoeur as stain, deviation, and burden–in wild gardens, disorienting circulation, and crushing monumentality, we might say they are engaged in a denial of human agency and human-made history. Such an example is supported by postmodern architects who, through pastiched historicism, fully deny historical change and technology as human-made.

However, feeling guilty for the tragedies of history might also result in an incorporation of this guilt into a striving for redemption. When architects employ the traditional metaphors of redemption—removing of the stain, the straight path, lifting of the burden—seeking out purity and cleanliness, clarity, and weightlessness, we might say they are engaged in incorporating and thereby relieving their guilt by posing history as an extension of the contemporary will. Thus, the modernist architect proclaims all history as having led to her/his moment, and therefore not relevant to her/his future will which seeks only to glorify the most current, and even future, technologies. I sustain the above argument through an exegesis of key modern and postmodern architectural history and theory texts.

But, if we acknowledge that history exists and that history is not our extension into the past but rather that we are grounded in history–in other words, that history is the medium we exist within–then we need not either repress or relieve history, as if it were taken on all of a sudden, but rather should respond to history or take responsibility for history, cheerfully considering the cultural connections which make clear that we live within history. Through an interpretation of the work of the contemporary practice of Caruso St. John, based in London, I consider the ways in which an ethical responsibility toward history might be articulated.

Matt Litvack, McGill University, CA

Harvard Citation Guide: Litvack, M. (2012) An Exegesis of Architecture: sin, redemption, responsibility, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 13 May 2012, Available at: [Accessed: 01 June 2012].

One thought on “An Exegesis of Architecture: sin, redemption, responsibility, by Matt Litvack

  1. I would argue that history is not only the medium we live within but the foundation of our collective existence. A “removing of the stain, (creating of) the straight path, lifting of the burden,” in essence “cleaning up after history” can be dangerous: removing too much history is akin to completely destabilizing one’s history.
    Have you published any additional ideas along this line of thought?

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