The Potentiality in Difference: an investigation into the notion of the subject-object problem in architecture, by Mollie Claypool

This paper will attempt to dissolve the autonomy of autotelic subjects and objects of architecture. This will be done through arguing for the constitution of a potentiality embedded in the dichotomy of the subject-object problem in philosophy, not by way of expanding on or attempting a reconciliation of this dichotomy, but through a tracing of various possibilities of engagement through difference in the narrative between the process of making architectural objects and the singular subjects embodied in them.

The subject-object problem of Humanism has been defined either by the subject as the controlling and originating agent of meaning, propelled towards the receiving, formerly stagnant object, or vice versa. Meaning is inserted into the architectural project. One relies on the other for an inherited meaning. Historically, architectural discourse has focused on lending sympathy towards the dissipating of this distinction between these two bodies [subject, object]. Rather than engaging in this discourse of dissolving the boundary between things, this paper wishes to uncover the potentiality in difference.

In a sense, this investigation will be an inversion of historical architectural discourse on the subject. The inversion will not be explicit, as we will embark upon an attempt to answer a series of questions, beginning with: How has the dichotomy of the autonomous subject and object of Humanism been rectified in Modernist architectural discourse? In the search for an answer, we will construct a counter-question which draws upon the implicit fallibility inscribed in the first, intuitive question, enabling us to then invert the subject-object architectural discourse in order to show the potentiality in difference, asking: Is it possible to break away from the constraints embedded within the imposition of the Descartian “I think, therefore I am” structure in the making of architectural objects?

Harvard Citation Guide: Claypool, M. (2010) The Potentiality in Difference: an investigation into the notion of the subject-object problem in architecture, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 23 May 2010, Available at: [Accessed: 01 June 2012].

Architects at Work: Hannah Arendt, the act of design, and the ability to judge, by Hans Teerds

The philosopher Hannah Arendt is quite famous because of the distinctions she made. For instance her threefold distinction of the human activities: ‘labour’, ‘work’, and ‘action’ as she defined in her most famous book The Human Condition [1]. In her latter work, she also emphasized a threefold distinction of the activities of the mind: ‘thinking’, ‘willing’ and ‘judging’ [2]. Those distinctions are used to make certain aspects clear, but most human activities hardly fit into one of these categories – most of the activities show aspects of the different categories. As is the case with the field of architecture: building and designing are definitely part of ‘labour’, ‘work’, and ‘action’ as is the act of design as well ‘thinking’, ‘willing’, and ‘judging’. In order to clarify the act of design and its relationship with the scientific fields of the humanities, as is in case of the symposium Straining Pulp-Theory from Architecture Discourse it is worth to rethink the last category: judging.

Arendt couldn’t develop her ideas on judgement extensively because of her sudden death in 1975 – what we know about it can be extracted from some essays [3] and from her colleges on Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Judgement [4]. Although Kant’s work deals with judgement of beauty, Arendt stresses that aesthetical and political judgement are making use of the same human capacity.

According to her, judgement is a political activity, rather than theoretical [5]: it is not based on scientific truth or religious dogmatism, it also doesn’t take the sceptical position (‘there is no truth’ [6]), but it admits that human beings as being human cannot possess. For that reason there is a need to not only think for myself, but also to think in the place of everybody else – what Kant called an ‘enlarged mentality’ –, not in order to be empathic, but in order to set up a political agreement [7]. Judgment, thus, means to be able to think from the possible other perspectives and in that sense it deliberates us from our own very personal and narrow perspective on the world, from our loneliness, and places us among others. Kant has emphasized that the criterion for judgment than is the possibility to communicate with one another. Hence in order to fulfil this criteria of communicability, there is a need of common sense [8]. Instead of the notion of common sense, Kant used the Latin term sensus communis. Arendt underlines that this change of the term emphasizes that this sense is not only to be seen as an extra mental capacity that fits in our human body and in personal and almost not-communicable experiences as taste and smell, but that it foremost is rooted in the human community. To understand this community, the (academic) field of the humanities is of most importance.

Certainly the act of (architectural) design consists for a great deal of decision-making, which only can be done and moreover only is meaningful for a society and a reasonable act beyond personal taste if the architect is able to judge. Which shortly means to be able to think from different perspectives, to be able to communicate, to understand the sensus communis. In that sense, the work of architects still bears the possibility of societal engagement: not only to think for themselves and their clients, but also from a cultural perspective: to take care, to bring order and to develop the new.


[1] Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition, Chicago 1998 (second edition, orig. 1958), University of Chicago Press

[2] Hannah Arendt, The Life of the Mind, New York 1977 (orig. 1971), Harcourt Inc.

[3] For instance in: Hannah Arendt, ‘Crisis in Culture’, in: Hannah Arendt, Between Past and Future, New York 2006, (orig. 1961), Penguin Books

[4] Hannah Arendt, Lectures on Kant’s Political Philosophy, (Edited and with an Interpretive Essay by Ronald Beiner), Chicago 1992, The University of Chicago Press

[5] Hannah Arendt, ‘The Crisis of Culture’, in: Hannah Arendt, Between Past and Future, p.216 the truth.

[6] Hannah Arendt, Lectures on Kant’s Political Philosophy, p.34

[7] Hannah Arendt, ‘The Crisis of Culture’, in: Hannah Arendt, Between Past and Future, p.217

[8] Hannah Arendt, Lectures on Kant’s Political Philosophy, p.69


Harvard Citation Guide: Teerds, H. (2010) Architects at Work: Hannah Arendt, the act of design, and the ability to judge International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 23 May 2010, Available at: [Accessed: 01 June 2012].

The Peculiar Adventure of Utopia: discourses of modern architecture in the 20th century and today, by Nathaniel Coleman

Although presented within the context of a meditation on architectural value, John Haldane’s observation that conflict over terms usually assumes ”that disagreement over values within a community is proof of the subjective character of the rival attitudes” broadly describes most instances of divergence within discourse, even if  “rarely noticed is that a necessary condition of there being such disputes is that all parties to them share a common presupposed belief in the objectivity of value (Haldane 1990: 204-5).” Presentation of this underexplored tension establishes a provocative paradox that I will explore with regard to the peculiar adventure of Utopia within discourses of modern architecture.

Although within architecture, Utopia generally denotes failure, inasmuch as Utopia always already presumes its apparent opposite, Dystopia, or the impracticality of realization; to say nothing of the impossibility of fulfillment. On the other hand, Utopian Studies takes a distinctly different view: Utopia is multiple, rather than singular, or in Ricoeur’s terms, it has both a pathological and a constitutive dimension. When constitutive, it correlates with Bloch’s concrete Utopia rather than the totalizing habits of abstract ones. Closer to architecture, or at least the production of space, is Lefebvre’s–in places–positive use of Utopia as opening up possibilities, revealing the possible impossible as an equally constitutive and concrete concept. In this regard, it is worth noting that More’s coinage of Utopia in 1516 already suggests its dual nature: Utopia contains both Eutopia (good place) and Outopia (no place).

Negative characterization of Utopia enters architecture from two apparently diametrically opposed directions: on the one hand Frederick Engels’, Socialism: Utopian and Scientific (1880) and on the other Karl Popper’s, The Poverty of Historicism (first published in 1944 and 1945). The influence of both ends of this spectrum of criticism against Utopia has been so complete that from Jane Jacobs, to Rowe, Tafuri and Frampton, amongst many others, Utopia has either been rejected outright or used as shorthand for the failures of modern architecture, including its social purpose. So pervasive is Utopia-anxiety that K Michael Hays recent book, Architecture’s Desire: Reading the Late Avant-Garde (2009), can barely speak its name, despite Utopia having been defined as the education of desire. The title of Hays’ book even recalls Jameson’s, Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions (2007), not surprising considering the influence Jameson wields within both Utopian Studies and architecture theory. Perhaps when architecture reconciles desire and utopia it can reclaim its social purpose through transactions with the possible-impossible.

Harvard Citation Guide: Coleman, N. (2010) The Peculiar Adventure of Utopia: discourses of modern architecture in the 20th century and today International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 23 May 2010, Available at: [Accessed: 01 June 2012].

Simulation and Architecture, by Jenefer Robinson

I agree with the premise of this conference that recent architecture has suffered as a result of putting its faith in various – often ill-digested – philosophical theories, but the latest philosophical fad in architectural theory promises to be different. In his influential essay “The Eyes of the Skin” Juhani Pallasmaa embraces the phenomenology of Merleau-Ponty: he attacks “ocularcentrism,” and argues that architecture appeals not just to the eye but to all the senses, and he praises the work of Wright and Aalto because it is “based on a full recognition of the embodied human condition and of the multitude of instinctual reactions hidden in the human unconscious.” What’s exciting about Pallasmaa’s thesis is that many of his claims are borne out by recent research in cognitive science.

The appreciation of architecture relies on moving through spaces, touching surfaces, listening to sounds reverberating (or not), smelling materials and the captive air, and feeling with one’s body the ambiances of the places created. But the appreciator cannot be everywhere at once in a building. The recent discovery of mirror neurons that activate when one performs a certain action (grasping, raising one’s leg etc.) as well as when one watches another person performing that very same action suggests that when we remember a building we have visited, we simulate the movements we took maneuvering through it, as well as the visual, tactile, and auditory sensations we experienced. Philosophers have suggested that simulation theory can explain how we understand and empathize with other minds, including the minds of fictional characters in novels and movies, but it applies much more straightforwardly to architecture, where what is simulated are our own past actions and movements.

Once we understand architecture in this way, we can also see how it can arouse emotions or emotional feelings. It is generally agreed that emotions appraise the environment in terms of its significance to me or mine: as the psychologist Nico Frijda puts the point: emotional experience is the “perception of horrible objects, insupportable people, oppressive events.” But emotions do not just appraise the world; they also ready the person for dealing with the situation as appraised, to attack (in anger), to flee (in fear) to hide (in shame) etc. Architecture presents us with Gibsonian affordances that evoke appropriate actions, movements, postures etc. which in turn induce emotional feelings: this portal is for entering grandly and invites feelings of self-confidence, whereas this dark narrow corridor is for scurrying through surreptitiously and makes me feel uneasy.

Harvard Citation Guide: Robinson, J. (2010) Simulation and Architecture, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 23 May 2010, Available at: [Accessed: 01 June 2012]. 

The aesthetic consequences of preserving, restoring, and reconstructing, by Remei Capdevila Werning

Architectural conservation aims to preserve, restore, and reconstruct damaged, decayed and no longer extant buildings. While doing this, a complex set of reflections upon the function and the meaning of a building are brought into light in order to determine what interventions to carry out. These interventions may affect the aesthetic functioning of architectural works. By discussing several examples, this paper seeks to provide an initial examination of how architectural conservation may disrupt the typical aesthetic triad composed by author – artwork – audience, and thus influence the work’s meaning, our aesthetic experience, and the way we interpret a building.

From a philosophical perspective, conservation of buildings poses a series of questions related to authenticity and identity of an architectural work, especially when a building is completely reconstructed or has undergone so many interventions that there is no trace of the original materials. Architectural conservation also raises questions related to the work’s meaning and interpretation, for it has to be determined what meaning is to be preserved (the original one, or all the acquired through time) and to what extent the preserving intervention may alter this initial meaning. Furthermore, one has to decide to what extent the traces of conservation need to be perceivable and whether these acquire meaning in the altered building insofar as they reflect the conservation criteria and procedures of a given time. This paper focuses mainly on the latter questions and tries to provide an initial answer to them by discussing several types of interventions: first, the less invasive ones, i.e., cleaning and maintenance (for example, New York’s Grand Central Station); second, restoration, stabilization, and repair at a major degree (the Monastery of Sant Pere de Rodes, and the Villa Savoye); third, integral and inventive restorations (Colonial Williamsburg and Viollet-le-Duc’s projects); and finally, total reconstructions (the Barcelona Pavilion).

Straining pulp-theory from architecture discourse: symposium schedule

{ 1 4 t h  o f  J u n e  2 0 1 0 }

@ Architecture Building, School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK
9-9:30 – Reception & Registration
9:30-9:40 – Introduction
9:40-10:20 – Keynote I*
10:20-10:30 – Coffee Break
10:30-12 – Sessions 1a*  & 1b
12-1 – Session 2*
1-2 – Lunch Break
2-3 – Sessions 3a* and 3b
3-3:20- Coffee Break
3:20-4:20 – Sessions 4a* and 4b
4:20-5 – Keynote II*
5-5:30 – Reception
6 – Optional Dinner
[All sessions will have AV equipment available]
* These presentations will be videoed and posted here on the blog  ______________________________________________________

Welcome & Introduction

Carolyn Fahey, Newcastle University, UK

Keynote I:

Chair: Carolyn Fahey, Newcastle University, UK

The Visibility of Architecture

Dr. Ed Winters, University of Kent, UK

Session 1a: Perspective & Perception

Chair: Dr. Lara Schrijver, Delft University of Technology, NL

Disengaging design from bodily ways of knowing: implications for theory

Prof. Kathryn Moore, The Birmingham Institute of Art and Design, UK

Parallax as critique in architecture

Mark Price, University College Dublin, IE

Session 1b: Perspective & Perception

Chair: Philip Plowright, Lawrence Technological University, USA

Perspective and Alberti

Richard Talbot, Newcastle University, UK

The Potentiality in Difference

Mollie Claypool, Architectural Association, UK

Session 2: Functionalism and the Aesthetic

Chair: Prof. Jenefer Robinson, University of Cincinnati, USA

Design and Function

Dr. Andy Hamilton, Durham University, UK

The Aesthetic Consequences of Preserving, Restoring, and Reconstructing

Dr. Remei Capdevila Werning, Columbia University, USA

Session 3a: Transience, Building & Architecture

Chair: Peter Minosh, Columbia University, USA

Concrete-ness in Architecture

Kati Blom, Newcastle University, UK

Simulation and Architecture

Prof. Jenefer Robinson, University of Cincinnati, USA

Session 3a: Transience, Building & Architecture

Chair: [tba]

Building Construction and Deconstruction

Dr. Christian Mieves, Newcastle University, UK

Session 4a: Clarifying Utopia and Judgment in Architecture Discourse

Chair: Dr. Andy Hamilton, Durham University, UK

The peculiar adventure of Utopia: discourses of modern architecture in the 20th Century and today

Dr. Nathaniel Coleman, Newcastle University, UK

Architects at Work: Hannah Arendt, the Act of Design, and the Ability to Judge

Hans Teerds, Delft University of Technology, NL

Session 4b: Examining Architecture’s Discourse

Chair: Mollie Claypool, Architectural Association, UK

The Use of Philosophy

Philip Plowright, Lawrence Technological University, USA

Architectural Knowledge: writing, drawing, building?

Dr. Lara Schrijver, Delft University of Technology, NL

Keynote II

Chair: Kati Blom, Newcastle University, UK

[tba: habit]

Prof. Andrew Ballantyne, Newcastle University, UK

Straining Pulp-Theory from Architecture Discourse: a symposium


The 14th of June 2010, a symposium will be held at Newcastle University. The objective of the symposium is to engender as well as provide an informal platform for real philosophic engagement with the subject of architecture. Ed Winters and Andrew Ballantyne will be giving keynote presentations. The Aesthetics Research Group from Durham University’s Department of Philosophy and the Tectonic Cultures Research Group from Newcastle University’s School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape will also participate. The intention of bringing these scholars together on this platform is not merely to raise questions about architecture, but also in a Wittgensteinian sense, bring clarity to an otherwise metaphysically muddled discourse. John Haldane eloquently describes the situation:

the facts of disagreement should encourage one to investigate the grounds of aesthetic judgement and the Continue reading