Architecture is a process and result of planning, designing, and constructing buildings or built environments. A big part of designing indulges in figuring out what a good building is. The moment we ask what a good building should be, it becomes a philosophical question, as a building is a vessel for human activities and a symbol of our civilization. In that case, we need to ask how we should live our lives and how our society should function. These questions have been investigated and solved by philosophers as long as our recorded history. Everything perceived by architects is observed through a filter of their world outlook, relating to that person’s philosophy of life. Many things are influenced by who they are as a person, their cultural and intellectual influences, and the impact of the current and historical effect on the built environment they experience. Though this viewpoint changes over time, there tends to be a trajectory to that viewpoint influenced by their design philosophy’s expressions.

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5 points of modern architecture by Le Corbusier ©speculativecities.wordpress.com

Not only “formal” philosophy influences cultural beliefs, beliefs about how the environment should be, the architect’s inherent aesthetic preferences and experience are all philosophies in essence. Formalized philosophy influences an architect to expose intellectually and culturally in different positions in each epoch. In philosophy, we could say that these positions are grounded by thinking, and in architecture, they are made visible and inhabitable for the public. There are correspondences between both because neither philosophy nor architecture is private games unknown to the public. Philosophy makes up the basis of what we think and do, and in the same sense, of what we design, look at, conceive, use, and inhabit. Every fundamental new thinking appearing in philosophy reflects in the architecture, as far as it’s possible to build it.

Philosophical ideas nurture architectural theory, the concerns, and questions that move people at a particular time. The visions and worldviews are mirrored in the buildings, as architecture provides useful and practical answers to philosophical questions. But sometimes, to account for philosophy’s role in architecture is difficult because architects often read philosophers but sometimes find it challenging to reflect as architecture is embedded in broader perspectives like culture and is shaped by cliches as much as by ideas current at any time.

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Vitruvian Man as found in De Architectura ©en.wikipedia.org

As a field of knowledge and practice, architecture has its general theoretical disciplinary references, including a diversity of discourses set along the centuries. Philosophical speculation about architecture has a long history.  Philosophical propositions might be seen as a component or parcel of architecture practice from its established beginnings in Vitruvius’s well-known ‘Ten Books on Architecture- De Architectura.’ The latter decades of the twentieth century mainly took philosophy into the limelight. In those periods, academics and architects embraced ideas emerging from philosophy. Such speculations, as we shall see, remain indispensable.

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Wainwright Building by Louis Sullivan ©University of Missouri

Philosophy lies at the heart of the relationship between architecture and theory because philosophy is a diligent and unique form of conversation. It is an aggregation of words in a particular direction, providing a descriptive picture of certain concepts. A person captivated by philosophy always starts with illusions or speculations and questions the environment around, leading to theories. On the other hand, the architect participates in intellectual production by coming up with ideas and concepts through the design process. Philosophy is a part of the design, and architecture can evolve into space for the philosopher to develop thinking. The intellectual initiatives, which a thinker brings to architects clarify the concepts by locating the architect in the broader architectural thought framework. This is why architects and philosophers have contributed immensely to world literature, which has now virtually amalgamated into one other.

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Robie by Frank Lloyd Wright ©flwright.org

When discussing the association of architecture and philosophy, one can refer to several different thoughts, movements, concepts, individuals, and events because thought reserves a creative aspect. Many architects have notably worked on the design philosophies that became essential milestones in architecture. Like ‘Form Follows Function’ by Louis Sullivan, some philosophies became like unwritten laws or rules. Le Corbusier formed his “5 Points of Modern Architecture” philosophy that gave out masterpieces like Villa Savoye and Capitol Complex, which reflected the modernism era. Another such example is a pioneer of Organic Architecture, F.L Wright, who developed the philosophy of Prairie Style that reflected the landscape of that style by low roofs. Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe was another modernist who used “Less is more” by designing multifunctionality and establishing a connection by using glass and steel that showed the factory modernism of the 20th century. Zaha Hadid had a pragmatic philosophy that denied conventional building types exploring all 360 degrees. Likewise, Frank Gehry quoting “Architecture should speak of its time and space, but yearn for timelessness,” developed experimental architecture, giving the most timeless structure like the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao.

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Guggenheim Museum Bilbao by Frank Gehry ©www.guggenheim-bilbao.eus 
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Heydar Aliyev Centre by Zaha Hadid ©Andrea Pistolesi/Getty Images

Philosophy and architecture are connected and related, as they seek to understand some of the most fundamental concerns of human existence. Shelter, as the first architectural gesture, arises the ethical question concerning philosophy, how do we aspire to live, or what is the livability aspect in the built environment? Philosophy also examines our means of questioning through the dialogue of inquiry by studying knowledge and logic. The four core branches of philosophy – metaphysics, ethics, logic, and epistemology – have generated countless further specializations emerging in architectural thinking. For seeking an outlet to express their designs, architects can often look for an approach by gaining hold of certain concepts based on thinkers’ philosophical and theoretical works. This is the exact point where design corresponds with philosophy. Enabling thought and the capability of thought, philosophy is an area of knowledge, which generates new questions and problems as long as discussions persist. Philosophy is ever-present, wherever an idea exists. The practice of architecture as an activity independent of thought is not possible.

Swara Ganatra
Author

Swara is an architect and a keen traveler with a significant interest in writing and blogging. She likes to work on exploratory yet grounded approaches and understands architecture from the perspective of human values and sensitivity. She believes that if drawings speak more, words articulate the most.

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