The Concept Of Identity In Architecture Philosophy Essay

This is an anthological study of spatiality which aims towards a better understanding of the concept of identity in architecture by citing the different interpretations given to the meaning of space and dwelling. What is the meaning assigned to the sense of architectural place and dwelling to the perception of space, objects and identity? And how these views have been applied and developed? What different views exist on sensory architectural perception that goes beyond its visual appreciation? This issue will be the subject of this research which has more to do with exploring the relationship of philosophy and architecture, or rather the philosophy of architecture and a further comparison of applied architecture and theory.

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According to Husserl our consciousness is filled with images judgments, objects, sensations, emotions through which, the outside world is perceived and experienced. The contents of our consciousness may not be an accurate reflection of the outside world but a total and mere illusion. Objects as pure phenomena, which exist as they appear in one’s consciousness, regardless from present judgments and emotions, substitute a real pre-conceptual world that has not been depicted, analyzed or characterized by the consciousness. In Plato’s Republic and more specific in his passage “Allegory of the cave”, Plato elaborates on his “Theory of Forms” by picturing a group of people living in a cave chained to a wall for all their lives being able to see only what is in front of them; behind them lies a fire which illuminates moving objects casting their shadow on the walls of the cave. The prisoners start to ascribe meanings and forms to the shadows believing that they comprise reality. However, if some manage to free themselves and stare at the light of the sun, will see clearly and understand that what they were seeing in the cave was just an illusion a copy of the real. “At first, when any of them is liberated and compelled suddenly to stand up and turn his neck round and walk and look towards the light, he will suffer sharp pains; the glare will distress him, and he will be unable to see the realities of which in his former state he had seen the shadows”. Through this analogy Plato argues that phenomena are what we perceive through our senses separate us from the real world. The world inside the cave illustrates a limited view of reality with the shadows representing the false perception of things and objects through our sensations. Therefore, real perception of things and objects can be achieved only when the consciousness is detached from given situations and judgments. Through a subconscious interpretation of the world, a true perception of reality is possible. Furthermore, According to the intentional structure of consciousness, our consciousness is always directed towards an object. This directness, this intentionality determines what consciousness is conscious of. Phenomenology in this sense seems to be particularly associated with work of Plato, who investigated the way in which things are presented as he focused to their shape and form.

Christian Norberg-Schulz explains that phenomenology gives as the ability to study the essence of architecture through mythological symbols and concepts. Husserl though, states that human is the vital element of phenomenology and the source from which eternal truths derive.

In addition, according to Heidegger in order for “Man to dwell poetically”, to dwell in an environment which verifies his existence and all his expectations, he should understand the truth of beings. Man has to reveal the hidden elements and characteristics situated in his surroundings converting them into information or knowledge in accordance with modern analytical tools. Heidegger defines this truth as poetry. “The nature of art is poetry. The nature of poetry, in turn, is the founding of truth.” Poetry is the way that thing come to exist. Man does not just imprint images to his subconscious he realizes them through a metaphorical depiction. By depicting the “noemata”, meanings, through which one can understand the real nature of things. So the perception of space is fully understood only when poetry is understood.

Nature is not just a sum of forms in space and time but a sequence over which we have sensory control. Noesis and Aesthesis are equal and interdependent, while the noesis, the mind, is converting the objects to subjects of thought.

According to Heidegger, Space is an objective reality while the sense and feeling of space is merely a subjective factor.

The approach and understanding of the external environment, a necessary condition for architectural intervention, begins from us; as it is man who reveals the true identity of his surroundings. “In addition we cannot understand the value of a better environment without first understanding the effect it has on ourselves. But the creation of an architectural environment is something that starts from within and is determined by our wishes and choices. Either way, as a concept or as poetry, the environment is genuinely an esoteric process which belongs to the spiritual realm.”

Phenomenology renders the problem of architecture into words and thought, giving us the possibility to overcome the empirical reality and gaze inside the world of ideas. It is a search beyond the experience which is not enough. It is the reason why Aristotle, describing the difference between art, science and empiricism, brings architects as an example, in comparison to experiential understanding, as in each case wisdom depends on knowledge. As the people with empirical skill know only the effect of a phenomenon while people that have mastered an art, techne, know both the cause and the effect.

“But if there are several sciences of the causes, and a different science for each different principle, which of these sciences should be said to be that which we seek, or which of the people who possess them has the most scientific knowledge of the object in question?..But yet we think that knowledge and understanding belong to art rather than to experience, and we suppose artists to be wiser than men of experience (which implies that Wisdom depends in all cases rather on knowledge); and this because the former know the cause, but the latter do not. For men of experience know that the thing is so, but do not know why, while the others know the ‘why’ and the cause. Hence we think also that the master workers in each craft are more honourable and know in a truer sense and are wiser than the manual workers, because they know the causes of the things that are done..This is why we believe that architects deserve more attention and appreciation than the manual workers as they have better knowledge understanding and wisdom simply because they know the cause of the creations… It is obvious then that wisdom is based on knowledge of certain principles and causes”

In general, and through the passage of time, Architecture has always been an example of applied theory and was perceived by philosophers as a model of truth and rationality. But where are the hidden elements containing the secrets of Architecture and dwelling that will allow us to grasp this wisdom of Design?

Heidegger mentions that the meanings and messages of a space can be depicted through language as it language that shapes our world and our existence. C. Moore “(poetics of Gardens) and Chr. Norberg Schulz (Genius Loci) believe that the architect has to “unlock” the place and its spirit. But what is the meaning of place and which are its contents?

Aristotle, in Physics IV Defines place as the first immobile shell which includes objects than can be placed or moved. It is a rational shell for the reason that the elements included, are placed in an appropriate order. It is an aesthetic three dimensional space were each use coexist creating an imaginary limit between chaos and space. The perception of space as a threshold between chaos and order was a dominant idea in the ancient Greek world. It is the antithesis, the opposite of chaos, it is space that cannot be defined and understood.

According to Immanuel Kant, each aesthetical object is also a subject for thought. He shares Aristotle’s view, claiming that experience is just the starting point and everything that man receives through empirical knowledge is encoded through the mind creating multiple meanings. During this conceptual exploration, there are two clear forms of aesthesis produced that serve as principles of a priori knowledge: the space and time. Space is the distinction between object and subject. Without space, exteriority would not be possible and beings would be undistinguished. Space is the I± priori form of our external senses through which we perceive external data. “All outward phenomena are in space”

Time is the form of inner sense through which the mind monitors internal situations arranged in time. Time is referred to the duration of the subject (being) and space within the permanence of the object (world).

Space-time substantialist, Newton said that time and space exist independently from their physical contents (material body and material fields) and that the spatial and temporal relations are irrelevant with the material contents of space and time. For Newton, the absolute natural space with any reference to anything outside itself remains always similar and immovable. Relevant space is a moveable dimension or measure that our senses define in relation to its position with the bodies. It is usually regarded as immoveable space. On the contrary space-time rationalists, along with their main representative, Leibniz, believed that space and time are relative. Furthermore, Leibniz states that space is characterized by uniformity and is fully dependable on relations among bodies, so when is unfilled with material objects the perception of space from any point would be absolute indiscernible. Further, he argues that each movement is relative movement of bodies, as space and time has no independent structures that could maintain the meaning of absolute motion. According to Leibniz space is perceived as a substance created out of multiple forms (monads) ranging through endless combinations, while united and balanced as this complexity of relation will never lead to chaos.

Michel Foucault also approached chaos, from a more philosophical point of view, in search for the definition and properties of space. According to the theory of cosmology, referred in his text, Des espaces Autres written in Algeria 1967, “there were the supercelestial places as opposed to the celestial, and the celestial place was in its turn opposed to the terrestrial place. There were places where things had been put because they had been violently displaced, and then on the contrary places where things found their natural ground and stability. It was this complete hierarchy, this opposition, this intersection of places that constituted what could very roughly be called medieval space: the space of emplacement.”In the medieval times space was perceived as delimited and fragmented. Galileo unlocked the meaning of space redefining it as open and infinitive, catalyzing the medieval perception. As a result, the concept of space was radically changed to localization and later on to emplacement where position in space is determined from the relationship with the nearby objects. Foucault claims, that today we are situated in a time were space is defined by its position; since the problem of position in space is identified by people in means of demographics, neighbouring, storage, circulation, marking and classification. Moreover he mentions that the present notion of place still retains a part of its original sacred character despite the attempts for its standardization. Thus he introduced the term Heterotopias, a place inside a place that is altered each time depending on the given situations and period of time. In heterotopias time passes in its own pace in relation with the content of each place or in comparison with the present functions. Gardens for example are referred to as a microcosm where everything inside their limits are in complete harmony. Heterotopias, based on the definition given from Foucault, is not a part of our imagination neither is a utopia, It s merely a fragment of our daily social life in space. Recognizing the importance of spatial perception, he tries to approach the external world by studying the limits and elements that characterize daily life through the position and relationship between objects and things.

Lewis Mumford claims that man decides to live in a place only if it serves his needs; needs such as immediate access to water, protection, safety for the reproduction of the species and the possibility of cultivation. Human life transcends between two poles, of motion and rest; the hunter, gatherer and the stability of an installed farmer. It is a contrast between two ways of life, as among the animal and plant kingdom. According to Mumford the development of urbanization was based on a prevailing social group and relative existing perceptions. With the transition from the hunter, collector to the permanently resident farmer, the dominant nepotistic groups organized the form of the city. So Mumford concludes that urbanization is a statutory social inequality as it is established on prevalent social groups. Those are the factors that determine architectural form and not climate or location. Any natural environment provides opportunities which are not necessarily exploited.

Many are the supporters of the view, that space is a result or reflection of the prevailing values at a given historical time, expressing the structure of dominant social classes.

Under this juxtaposition Henry Lefebvre sees the city as “projection of social relation on the ground”During History, each society represents in the city structures and patterns that characterize specific dominant means of production. Thus space contains metaphorical representations of each period. The city exists as a projection of society.

Therefore, ancient means of production and slavery are characterized by a cosmological representation of social space. For instance, in the roman world, the dome of the Pantheon represents the sky; the cosmic element describing the perception of the time. Feudal, pre-capitalist and merchandized means of production which expand new horizons are expressed through similar symbolizations in art and space. Along with the industrial revolution and the new ways of production spatial representation will split into separate parts, such as the cubist representation expressing a quantitative, homogeneous and diminished space where everything is equal and interchangeable.

According to Lefebvre, the city contains multiple systems of symbols and meanings of habitation, forms of daily life and products which were established in many levels.

Within the spatiality of the city, arranged on a sum of systems joints, comparisons and concentration centres we discover continuously a deeper complexity of space. “The world of the objects has this paradoxical ability to encrypt the contradiction of the act. The form of the objects reduces their content. “

The dominance of the objects in the world of beings is also a subject examined by Baudrillard.

In his first writings he explained how in a consumption based society the goods and the products have overpowered and misled the people, and how the object’s world is the dominant one. The object world is becoming more and more pleasing and seductive, TV and afterwards the computer negate the line between private and public. The object dominates the being (subject) ruling with mysterious ways and events. People are living in an age which is ruled by the power of things and objects.

Baudrillard claims, that the object should not be perceived through the eyes but through the mind. There are senses that “see what we have in front of us as positive or negative”. Rationalism did not have the individual in the centre of attention thus creating this unlivable chaos of the cities. The relationship problem between communication and perception is a message, and a feeling. “I am not interested by the architectural meaning of Beaubourg and the W.T.C, Baudrillard states, but the world that they represent” Those structures translate the false reality in which we are living and intern give a conclusion of our society.

The symbols, the codes, the models were always for Baudrillard the organizing framework in a new order of things, in which simulation prevails. Simulation has replaced the economy, politics, social life and culture, defining a daily way of life and subsequently which products are to be produced. Production and consumption are not anymore a way to organize the society but a simulated image, of symbols and signs. According to Baudrillard in the same way that pre-modern society of the symbolic trading is separated from the modern society of production and profit, post modern simulation is separated by the modern. This brings in turn the end of the economic policy of the time in which production was an organizing form of society. Now, in the new age of simulation the processing of information, the fact that communication replaces production, makes work just another message. He claims that the future of modern society was no longer production, and what was described by Marx “surplus value”, but the “signal value”. The value of the Brand.

Baudrillard passes from metaphysics and from pataphysics a theory which was developed by Alfred Jarry and its beyond metaphysics, studying the laws that formulate the exceptions, interpreting a supplementary world. Therefore, what describes Baudrillard’s work is the relationship which has developed between object and subject and the convergence of the two concepts.

The debate concerning the connection between architecture and ideology has been going on for a long time. The movements, trends, manifestos and declarations are relatively recent. Rules on architecture have been defined from the ancient age. Though, nowadays architects are skeptical and have a very little concern for architectural rules, because the ideological failure was accompanied by the failure of big designs. Urban theories and architectural rules have no effect on reality. The failure of the New towns in the UK, of the Satellite City (cite Satellitere) in France and many more urban models for housing and enclosed communities raised many questions concerning the relation between architecture and theory. This led to the mitigation of interest towards any kind of architectural theory that wanted to have a unifying role. Many say that the lack of this unifying theory led to the image of present architecture. Many say that the lack of this unifying theory led to the image of present architecture. Baudrillard ,in addition thinks that the gap between Architecture and theory is never going to be filled.

Those theories concern the relation between the building and the user, the object and the environment, the shape and form of the object and finally the message that is passing. Should architectural work have a specific meaning? And to whom?

Baudrillard, juxtaposes the singular object with Jean Nouvel at their continuous conversations in 1997,98,99 trying to define it as: ” Special”, “Worth attention” and”Unique” because repeating it would only lead to something insignificant. “Something that would create an event and its aura will save us from the never ending spiral of recycling”. Therefore it is something unpredictable connected with a vague sense of surprise. Both of them agree that it is not possible to enact rules on Architecture.

Analyzing the environment in which the uniqueness of the object will be highlighted, they describe the dynamic effect that the object will have to the subject who is the user. The relationship between user and creation will determine the uniqueness of the proposal.

We see yet again, the matter of a highlighted message hidden in the background, a message that has been concerning architects and philosophers for a long time. Christian Norberg-Schulz through his observations on the existing relationship between environment, place and architecture resorts to an almost metaphysical basis discovering the Genius Loci.

The aim of his research is to produce a phenomenological theory for architecture and define how man’s identity and character is affected by the objects that characterize the place that he dwells. A that place allows dwelling and settling, has a direct relationship with architecture. Architecture’s goal is a manifestation of the spirit of place. The architect has to create meaningful places for man to dwell in so that he can find meaning in his life. Dwelling is architecture’s purpose and it has to meet not only with physical but also with man’s mental needs.

In each place the structural and conceptual understanding of “things” is necessary for the manifestation of the Genius Loci. Man is connected with the messages of the place, he is depending and identified with nature and becomes an integral part of it. The elements of identification are the natural “things” with a hidden meaning waiting to be discovered. The gathered meanings compose the spirit of a place, its culture and its architecture.

According to Schulz everyday life phenomena, either natural (humans, animals, flowers, stones etc) or man-made constructions such as cities and dwellings constitute the environment that is place. Man’s existence is inextricably linked to the meaning of place as a “total quality phenomenon” with a strong and unique character. Something more than an “abstract location” with meanings and symbols that make its character manifest. The “spirit of place” which man has to reconcile in order to dwell. In addition he builds structures and cities creating enclosure spaces situated in the natural environment. A Man -made environment.

Every settlement has its own identity which appears in the landscape revealing its borders. Therefore an interaction of man-made place with the natural world takes place, adding what is missing and revealing the meanings potentially present. As this eventually is the existential purpose of the building and therefore architecture itself. “The existential purpose of a building(Architecture) is therefore to make a site become a place, that is, to uncover the meaning potentially present in the given environment.” Man has to be able to orientate and identify himself within the environment of the natural and man-made place in which he dwells. This presupposes that the place has a strong and unique spirit along with distinguishing schemata, in order to allow identification and orientation.

From this anthological study of spatiality and place one cannot exclude the concept of Non-place, a term introduced by the French anthropologist Marc Auge. Non places are anonymous spaces occupied by indistinctive and alone individuals generating a collective identity mutilating individuality. Such places are the airports, major railway stations, highways, supermarkets, large hotel chains, malls etc. All non places are characterized by the lack of an identity. Those areas have no effect whatsoever on the thousands of people passing by, while interactions within those places are distant without any real contact with the environment. Surrounded by those places the individual is able to perform multiple transactions simultaneously, as he is contained inside an environment where everything is designed and constructed in a predictable high enough level of quality and technological standards. The users are not concerned by the uniformity and reiteration of the shopping malls, instead they are identified with this standardized repetition. And as a result in each city they will always look for a specific store or restaurant with which are identified. Somewhat similar would happen in an identifiable corner shop in an airport.

Those places occupy spaces which are not inhabited and where people are just passing by. Non-place is a concealed space where relationship between the place and the people are achieved through symbols-orders, (smoking is not allowed in these premises, please mind the gap etc), that the individual perceives as information as he moves through. The individual is stripped from his identity and is recognized merely as a user or a consumer. Large non places are being perceived as tourist attractions, similar to the historical monuments; often included in the program of travel agencies. According to Marc Auge non-places have derived from this society which he calls “surmodernity” or “supermodernity” that artificializes and dissocializes historical landscapes. The historic identity of the cities becomes a typical tourist attraction.


Through the understanding of philosophical reflection, it was examined how the perception of the environment is perceived by the conscience. Man in order to dwell poetically has to be identified with the identity of the place. Accordingly the goal of the architect is to make this character appear. In other words he has to give meaning to a place transforming it into a site. However in order to make this possible he has to recognize the characteristics of the area and identify himself with the subject of his work.

In this context, it is clear that while space is an objective reality its perception is entirely subjective as it is fully dependable on ones identity. This identity is shaped by numerous cosmological, natural and social factors that compose the environment in which man dwells and leaves his imprint. Altering the formation of space will eventually change his existence transforming his conscious and perception. The environment is the background, the canvas, in which we continuously try to represent ourselves.

The transformation of space, from a neutral indirect intellectual understanding of geographical units, to a place, involves a direct and personal experience of the area through a broader conscious perspective. Therefore, an external factor such as the environment is associated with a predominant subjective process. This process is the relationship between the consciousness and the world of objects. A spatial approach which has as its starting point the inner world of the architect, as it is him who reveals the world of things and makes them appear. Because, as it was mentioned above, without human consciousness, natural environment and landscapes would not appear and consequently would cease to exist.

So the architect in order to create meaningful spaces, which will reflect the character of the place, needs to appreciate and decipher the “hidden meanings” of the area. In addition he has to develop a broader perspective in order to represent his statement.

By highlighting different views, between Romanticism and empiricism, among sociological and methodological approaches, the target is to get to a conclusion about the perception and representation of space. And this conclusion evidently can only be subjective, as the concept of space is subjective too. Architecture though, is something concrete; a construction.

Having as a starting point, the way in which people perceive space, it is vital to understand how architecture, this blend of art and science, whose relationship with the environment is immediate, has acted over time in relation to the issue of spatial representation and how is this conveyed into construction.
How architecture does create within an environment of multiple and ambiguous existing views? Does it aim to create a better environment for man? A rightful construction? Does it follow a pattern adapted to the prevailing perception of people?
Does the architect follow a conscious creating procedure depicting the meanings of the existing reality, interpreting the current opinions?

Architecture has always been a process of thinking based on a logical system. The architect has always been creating by interpreting the collective perception of space and depicting the sense of place through the different times. This method has always been the same; as has the relationship with the object of his work. What is continuously changing diachronically is knowledge, experience and historical memory, the observation of things. The collective consciousness is shaped by esoteric procedures that reflect or respond accordingly, to the facts of historical development. The collective perception of space in each historical moment is influenced by all these factors which define the criteria of those reflections or responds, feelings and remembered emotions through which we represent the outside space. So the perception of space differs from the one person to another, as we render the reality through the centre of our consciousness, not as clear reflections, therefore when we change our view the surroundings change too.

Those changes permeate all spheres of human existence such as the social, productive, cultural, and the technological sector. Furthermore, these variations reflect to the one object which is correlated with human experience and has affected man’s presence through history; construction. Through construction, man shapes his environment from which he is deeply influenced, making it his reference point. Through enduring spatial perception, the place in which he is identified reveals, clarifies, a visible past which is essential of individual and collective memories providing a basis for present and future identity and consciousness.

The architect is trying to reveal these traces in the course of history in order to make them visible. However in order to reveal the environment he must first identify himself in it. Not in the lateral sense of the word, but instead to comprehend its nature its spirit and therefore portray represent those spatial elements of identity in his work. The architect then needs to make the identity of the place recognizable by highlighting the memories and experiences of the local tradition. During this process, this phase of creation, when the architecture will try to find the correlation between the existent, and his desire to design, he has to be aware of the prevailing collective consciousness and the current perception of space. This knowledge is later filtered through his conscience into his work. Although often, by conveying the sign of his surroundings he captures the changes in daily life before they occur, before they become dominant collective consciousness; being ahead of his time. Even when planning deliberately the opposite of what his consciousness perceives as a collective and predominant view of the era, by creating something radical, he will be using the existing and available language of the time. Moreover, when some that insists on designing nostalgic things that have ceased to be recognisable, we are dismissively talking about “retro”.

The established collective spatial perception in each historical period is created by converting into image every individual experience, knowledge which gathers the sense of place, the existential approach and the accumulated historical memory. Something that is reflected in the traces of architecture, and has become the mirror of our existence.

Thus, the Greek Temple “stands”, dominating but also shaping its surroundings, as the Parthenon does, while the Roman temples such as the Pantheon in Rome creates an internal environment clearly separating it from the surroundings; something that can be interpreted as a different cosmological approach from two civilizations. Furthermore, medieval architecture was excluding the nature from the cities, where it was thought that all the risks of the unknown existing and invisible world lied. This can be interpreted as a sign of remorseful consciousness characterized by fear and guilt towards the divine. The pointed arches of the Gothic and Romanesque cathedrals and the verticality of those architectura