The eighteenth century struggled to define architecture as
either an art or a science-the image of the architect as a grand
figure who synthesizes all other disciplines within a single master
plan emerged from this discourse. Immanuel Kant and Johann Wolfgang
Goethe described the architect as their equal, a genius with
godlike creativity. For writers from Descartes to Freud,
architectural reasoning provided a method for critically examining
consciousness. The architect, as philosophers liked to think of
him, was obligated by the design and construction process to
mediate between the abstract and the actual.
In On the Ruins of Babel, Daniel Purdy traces this
notion back to its wellspring. He surveys the volatile state of
architectural theory in the Enlightenment, brought on by the newly
emerged scientific critiques of Renaissance cosmology, then shows
how German writers redeployed Renaissance terminology so that
"harmony," "unity," "synthesis," "foundation," and "orderliness"
became states of consciousness, rather than terms used to describe
the built world. Purdy's distinctly new interpretation of German
theory reveals how metaphors constitute interior life as an
architectural space to be designed, constructed, renovated, or
demolished. He elucidates the close affinity between Hegel's
Romantic aesthetic of space and Daniel Libeskind's deconstruction
of monumental architecture in Berlin's Jewish Museum.
Through a careful reading of Walter Benjamin's writing on
architecture as myth, Purdy details how classical architecture
shaped Benjamin's modernist interpretations of urban life,
particularly his elaboration on Freud's archaeology of the
unconscious. Benjamin's essays on dreams and architecture turn the
individualist sensibility of the Enlightenment into a collective
and mythic identification between humans and buildings.
Subjects: History, Philosophy, Architecture and Architectural History
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