The use and abuse of architecture: history, elements, and conditions

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


Architecture is a way of making that enables man to present his world. This making allows him to find his relationship to architecture and himself. The history of architecture is a part of the history of man and demands our attention if we are to make a contribution to the life of man. Nietzsche states that history is necessary above all to the man of action...who needs examples, teachers, and comforters he cannot find among his contemporaries.¹ “We would serve history only so far as it serves life.”² He also feels that the imitation of the past will only lead to a stagnant and degenerate life. There is a contradiction between these statements concerning imitation. In philosophy imitation has been defined as having two forms positive and negative. Negative imitation would be making an image of an original that reveals all that is immanent in the original. The act is redundant and therefore unnecessary. Positive imitation involves an understanding of things or ideas inherent in the original and lets us present our understanding which may expand beyond the original or lead to a new shift in the original paradigm. We must observe the history of man’s making and gather things that inform us about the world of architecture. History becomes a tool to facilitate architecture. We gather that which for us carries some essential meaning.³ This meaning may be manifested in our understanding of types, elements, or conditions of a particular culture as well as a personal desire to understand them in relationship to ourselves. For example, the elements and conditions that compose the house in some African tribes are considered as metaphors to parts of the human body i.e. door as mouth, window as eye, etcetera. When a family member loses a body part the corresponding element is removed or altered. Throughout history typologies have contained the models and archetypes of man’s ideas and ways of thinking, which are revealed through making. These remain with us and contain elements and conditions that change depending upon our focus. In the scale of the city there exists other types such as houses, churches, and libraries that become elemental when discussing the city as a whole. The conditions occur when analyzing the relationship of the elements with each other and the results that their organization produce. If we translate the scale to building types the wall, column, and stair become the elements and conditions become the mediation between these elements. Desire urges memory and imagination in our making of a re-presentation of that desire and a transformation of our observation. Imagination transforms our observation of what we find essential in history. We understand our relationship to things when we make them and through the revealing of things we come to understand ourselves. Memory recalls things or events that carry some meaning to us, but it also contains the more complete knowledge of things that we may come to know through making. Art is the imaginative appropriation of the essential strivings of historical man.⁴ The actuation of the idea is through the made object. We do this by painting, drawing, sculpture, and poetry. The object is two fold. It contains within it the idea of the reality of the thing and the drawing itself as a thing. An idea of a thing contains some elements common to all the other realities of the thing which makes them thinkable.⁵ When we speak of these things we bring to them some of its history that is known to us. Making allows us to re-present a thing which best actuates our idea and understanding of the thing, and enables us to redefine our world.

1 Nietzche, Friedrich Use and Abuse of History, The p. 12 2 Ibid., p. 3 3 Desmond, William Art and the Absolute: A Study of Hegel’s Aesthetics p. 61 4 Ibid., p. 61 5 Aristotle On the Soul. bk. 1, ch. 4