Heaven and Earth
Festschrift to Honor Karsten Harries

Vol. 12, No. 1
August 2007


___James McQuillan
Gaborone, Botswana
  Karsten Harries:
Beyond Care – an Architecture of Love



Karsten Harries is celebrating his seventieth year and is a professor at Yale University where he graduated with a doctorate over forty years age. Since then he has published key volumes in the history and theory of architecture, especially The Ethical Function of Architecture (1997), which won the American Institute of Architects 8th Annual International Architecture Book Award for Criticism at the time. Prof. Harries is a German-born and American-educated critic of architecture, the subject of this Conference at Cloud-Cuckoo-Land, and he is a worthy object of celebration after a distinguished career in architectural history and theory of architecture, or criticism, as one wishes. In his personal website he proclaims that he is firstly a student of Heideggger and it is to this aspect of his work which I will pay attention here.

My mind was caught by Prof. Harries' article in Cloud-Cuckoo-Land on Heidegger, entitled 'In Search of Home', (1998).[1] There Harries concentrated on Heidegger's contribution to the second Darmstädter Gespräch in 1951, as well as the philosopher's later contribution to the third Gespräch the following year. The first lecture was published as 'Building, Dwelling, Thinking', and Harries fastens on the concluding remarks in this paper: 'Building is a fundamental activity of man – man builds, by joining spatial figures, thus shaping space – Building, he responds to the spirit of the age – Our age is the age of technology – The plight of our age is homelessness'.[2] Harries pointed out that Heidegger has called into question the basic themes of the conference, that of 'man and space', by considering homelessness. As Heidegger said, 'The real plight of dwelling is indeed older than the world wars with their destruction, older also than the increase in the world's population and the condition of the industrial workers. The real plight lies in this, that mortals ever search anew for the nature of dwelling, that they must ever learn to dwell. What if man's homelessness consisted in this, that man does not even think the real plight of dwelling as the plight? Yet as soon as man gives thought to this homelessness, it is a misery no longer. Rightly considered and well kept in mind, it is the sole summons that calls mortals into their dwelling'.[3]

Harries comments, following Heidegger, that man always has to seek the nature of dwelling, or 'having to learn how to dwell'. He adds: 'To find the home which alone would allow for an authentic dwelling, must we not first learn that the home of which we sometimes dream and whose here and there encountered traces seem to promise some deeply longed-for happiness must always elude us?'. Harries assured his reader that Heidegger's conclusion should not surprise anyone familiar with Being and Time where its author 'understands the call of conscience as the call in which the essentially homeless human being' ('In Search of Home', 2). Harries then mentions Gaston Bachelard who was to challenge this claim, as that philosopher insisted on more primordial issues of being sheltered by the world through our beginnings of our being when we 'encounter cradle, house, home, paradise.'[4] Harries recognised these tensions as he commented immediately, 'In Being and Time, however, Heidegger places at the origin of Dasein an uncanny freedom. Freedom and home call us in opposite directions.' ('In Search of Home', 2) harries moves on to state that Heidegger understands the human being as essentially under way, in search of the essence of dwelling, and journeying home. Says Harries, as Novalis asked, 'Where are we going? Always home'. For Heidegger, a homelessness that will not be satisfied is part of our essence, as Harries puts it.

The other aspect of the argument is that of technology. At this second Gespräch, Harries mentions the address of José Ortega y Gasset, who also spoke to the Conference on 'The Myth of the Man Behind Technology'. For many this was the second greatest philosopher of the Twentieth Century and he stated that 'the human being as the being that had fallen out of nature, that had lost his place in nature, the discontented misfit, the animal that had no home in nature, ever seeking things it had never had'. ('In Search of Home', 2) This discontent was recognised by Ortega as what was highest in the human being, a discontent for things which it has never had. Technology had its origin in such discontent and demands a new world because this world has made us sick. Ortega likened technology to a 'gigantic orthopedic (sic) apparatus', which architects want to create and all of technology had this wonderful dramatic dynamism and quality of being a fabulous orthopaedic creation. To this image of technology Harries compared Heidegger's return to an 18th Century Black Forest farmhouse to which we cannot – Heidegger repeats – we cannot ever return. Heidegger repeats that such a building has been once shows us how building received its nature from dwelling. Harries also moves on to Heidegger's 'backward-looking determination of essential dwelling “as the fourfold preservation of the fourfold” not stand in the way of an understanding of the task of building in keeping with our age?' ('In Search of Home', 2-3) The conflict with Ortega's gigantic orthopaedic creation is at once so noticeable and clear, that one is to ponder deeply what the answer is. And the primordial claims of Bachelard has still to be addressed in this perspective of searching and technology.

Later on in 'In Search of Home' Harries relates that, 'But as Kant recognized, and as Heidegger too had to acknowledge, unless bound by something that makes a claim on the individual, something that is not up to his freedom, freedom loses itself in arbitrary spontaneity and disintegrates. Presupposition of our finite freedom is such openness to what binds. The possibility of a greater, godlike freedom may lure us. But this is a temptation. We are not free to invent values. Otherwise every loss of meaning could be cured just by a strenuous willing. Values cannot be willed, they must be discovered.' But what exactly are these values to be discovered – is there something missing is Harries' determined analysis of these philosophers' attitudes that we need to discover, to search for?

In the explosion of documents and books, etc., on the topic of architectural theory since 1951, the dimensions of this tension between the primordial, the immediate and the problem of technology have rarely come together. Many books on architecture never mention the terms ‘art’ or ‘philosophy’ and given such absences, the reader is left in a puzzle what he or she might be expected to think. Architecture seems to be some addiction or leaning towards the act of building without artistic or philosophical support, and many schools of architecture are equally guilty of passing over or just ignoring such deeper questions of the status of architecture, or where it is going … to some great technological nirvana or homeland? So the questions raised by Harries in ‘In Search of Home’ are important ones and deserve serious reflection. Harries has this to say about Heidegger’s involvement with National Socialism, which might now appear for Heidegger as under the flag of poetic thing or of ecological phenomenology:

Just this [National Socialism] makes critical confrontation with Heidegger a continuing necessity. What matters in this confrontation are not so much newly dugup details of his life, which may show that he was even worse, or perhaps not quite as bad, as all but his most uncritical admirers have long known him to be. By now it should come as no surprise that Heidegger was neither an especially nice nor a heroic individual, that like so many of his compatriots, he was human, all too human, all too human especially in his lack of Zivilcourage, civic courage, all too German in his romanticism, his suspicion of the Enlightenment. But what matters is not Heidegger’s past, but our own future, the role that reason and art are to play in shaping that future.

In 1994 the above words appeared in Martin Heidegger: Politics, Art and Technology, edited by Harries and Christoph Jamme, in Harries’ article, ‘Philosophy, Politics, Technology’, p. 242, the concluding remarks of the paper. It is interesting that in discussing the future, Harries stressed the play of ‘reason and art' in its shaping and that is what we must decide in the remainder of this paper.  After all, to build is to build for the future and not the past, though the primordial issues of Bachelard may play their part.

Last year (2006) there appeared two books which afford much thought and may provide the answer to this question of the meaning of architecture today and tomorrow. Each author is distinguished and they are Alain de Botton and Prof. Alberto Pérez-Gómez, with strong connections to the Anglo-Saxon world, though each are respectively French and Mexican by birth. Fundamentally they are not shy of commenting on the artistic status of architecture and they both share that conviction that such status is basically founded on love. On one hand this is hardly surprising; on the other, this in the twentieth Century is a rude surprise, in a climate wherein some architects seem to want to be engineers, while some engineers are fine architects. In an era of disarray in modern art and general thinking about politics and so many other matters, to agree on a central point is a major point of agreement, of conjunction, and of hope. Even further, even of faith, leading on to that alliance of 'reason and art' that Harries aspired to back in 1994.

Alain de Botton

Born in 1969, de Botton was educated in Switzerland and later at King's College, Cambridge, first writing novels, before publishing The Consolations of Philosophy and other popular works which made him well-known. He announced several years ago that he had become interested in architecture, writing a short piece for the RIBA Journal on the power of streets, and why we don't design them so well today, if at all. In 2006 The Happiness of Architecture emerged, and straight away he introduced his main theme, a non-specific house which supports and provides for the needs and demands of its inhabitants. 'Although this house may lack solutions to a great many of its occupants' ills, its rooms nevertheless give evidence of a happiness to which architecture has made its distinctive contribution.'[5] Immediately he states that 'a concern for architecture has never been free from a degree of suspicion', citing examples of disdain from pre-Christian and Christian history down the centuries. However in a book without a bibliography and with no abstract entries in the index, it is difficult to really describe intellectually where de Botton is situated and despite the good intentions of his main purpose, that architecture can make us happy, we are unsure why this happens, as he lists people who have little or no interest where they are – St Bernard journeyed round Lake Geneva, and in his writing never mentioned it. A beautiful book with rich illustrations, it also has its critics including Jonathan Glancy in the Guardian: '
Significantly, when discussing the break-up of classical notions of architectural beauty in the late 18th century, citing the example of Strawberry Hill, Horace Walpole's playful Middlesex villa, de Botton lists "the factors which fostered the Gothic revival – greater historical awareness, improved transport links, a new clientele impatient for variety", yet fails to mention religion, and particularly the Catholic revival in England that spawned an architect, and crystal-clear writer, Augustus Welby Pugin, to whom we owe the appearance of the Palace of Westminster.'[6]

Alberto Pérez-Gómez

Born in Mexico in 1949, Pérez-Gómez was trained as an engineer and architect in Mexico before coming to the University of Essex where he completed his Master's and PhD under Dalibor Vesely, later published as Architecture and the Crisis in Modern Science. He became a Canadian subject in 1983 and is a Professor of Architectural Theory at McGill, Toronto. He has translated Polifiliomachia into English and has delivered many works of interest singly or with friends. In 2006 his Built upon Love: Architectural Longing after Ethics and Aesthetics appeared from MIT Press, a 214-page text with full academic support in terms of sources and notes. In an MIT Press endorsement David Leatherbarrow of the University of Pennsylvania stated:

In this book, as in Architecture and the Crisis of Modern Science, Pérez-Gómez rewrites the history of architecture. His aim is not to replace reason with desire; instead, it is to show the insufficiency of the former and the unacknowledged importance of the latter for the making of good architecture. While showing the links between desire, friendship, and responsibility in human affairs, he unveils the ways architecture builds culture by giving material and spatial definition to those relationships. His learning is deep, his writing is passionate, and his message is profoundly humane.[7]

In the space of this paper it is unrealistic to represent the full power of Prof. Pérez-Gómez' argumentation about love and image, except to mention that he relates the denial that technology promises so that 'The true space of desire vanishes, denied through the virtual acquisition of heaven on earth, and is replaced by its bastard, the space of consumption, endlessly projected onto a utopian future.' (p. 213) He goes on to state that 'The Eastern insight into the impossibility of release from attachment to desire resonates with Heidegger's concept of Gelassenheit … Heidegger believed that “releasement” would help transcend the instrumental “will to power”, ensuring a different, more compassionate relationship with the world and with others.' (p. 213) The last sentence of the book reads:

Despite the dangers of solipsism that are inherent to modern creation (lacking a cosmology, a unified living tradition, or a set of rituals to orient our lives), the very possibility of creativity's playful deployment depends on architects' willingness to engage their personal imagination in a quest for beauty, coupled with an unflinching commitment to learn form history and thus continually sharpen their self-understanding. (pp. 213-4)

It is significant that Pérez-Gómez lists the very reasons that are not present in modern communities in brackets – the lack of an agreed cosmology, absence of a unified tradition, the absence of rituals to direct our lives. Not much wonder then that Ortega y Gasset described technology as a great orthopaedic monster to which we are in some way fastened, unable to let go and sharpen our self-understanding.

Conclusion: Back to Harries

The correlation of love and happiness in the above two authors in their publications in 2006 has removed us far from Harries and it is proper at this stage to return to writings of our starting point once again. Did Harries write about love and architecture? The answer is, indeed, yes, he did. In the pages of The Ethical Function of Architecture there is a Chapter entitled 'Death, Love and Building' (pp. 254-267). In p. 256 he introduces Bachelard, and quotes him “Human life starts with refreshing sleep, and all the eggs in the nest are kept nicely warm. He experience of the hostility of the world – and consequently, our dreams of defence and aggressiveness – came much later. In its germinal form, therefore, all of life is well-being”[8] Harries relates that Bachelard contrasts an original sense of well-being, tied to a sense of being part of a larger order, with a more strongly developed self-assertion that places the self into antagonistic relationship to the world. By p. 258 Mircea Eliade is brought into the picture when he considered that 'primitive' cultures were able to banish the terror of time by interpreting human buildings as repetitions of the cosmos: 'A building that is experienced as a repetition of divine building can claim to give our dwelling its proper measure and foundation.' Eliade understands dwelling as the repetition of the cosmos and therefore has as its goal the abolition of death. 'The traditional symmetry of temple, church, or house, which establishes a particular building as a repetition of some divine archetype, lets those worshipping or dwelling in it participate in a timeless archetypal pattern.' (p. 258)

Eventually after a discussion of Plato and Aristotle, Harries takes up the subject of love: 'What makes our lives worth living is love. Phaedo and Symposium, ars moriendi and ars amandi, the art of dying and the art of loving, belong together. The prospect of his own death cannot crush the lover precisely because he cares more about what he loves than about himself, whether that be a person, a country, humanity, the gods, or justice. Love lets us take ourselves less seriously, teaches us to be less self-centred.' (p. 263) Less self-centred – this is a little different from Pérez-Gómez' demand for self-understanding, but at any rate there are either different or analogous processes of self-awareness going on in each proposition. It would be highly interesting to confront each of these writers with the meaning of each pronouncement with respect to the other one, especially as Pérez-Gómez has defined the context of loss of cosmos, etc., as a qualification to his own statement. It is also of interest that Harries' treatment of love is short, and maybe he might have needed more time to expand his meaning in this part of his book. Maybe there will be an opportunity for such a connection to be made, even before this year is out, so that we can all share in what both writers really mean.


Sources in Books and Articles:


De Botton, Alain. The Architecture of Happiness, (Hamish Hamilton, London, 2006).

Harries, Karsten. 'In Search of Home', Cloud-Cuckoo-Land, Issue Vol. 3, No. 2, June 1998.

Harries, Karsten. The Ethical Function of Architecture, (Cambridge, MA, London, 1997).

Harries, Karsten. Infinity and Perspective, (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2001).

Harries, Karsten and Jamme, Christoph. Martin Heidegger: Politics, Art, and Technology (New York, London: Holmes & Meier:1994).

Pérez-Gómez, Alberto. Architecture and the Crisis of Modern Science, (Fourth Printing, Cambridge, MA, London, The MIT Press, 1988).

Pérez-Gómez, Alberto. Built on Love; Architectural Longing after Ethics and Aesthetics, (Cambridge, MA, London, The MIT Press, 2006).



[2] Otto Bartning, Darmstädter Gespräch Mensch und Raum, ed. (Darmstadt: Neue Darmstädter Verlagsanstalt, 1952), p. 33.

[3] English translation of 'Building Dwelling Thinking' by Albert Hofstadter, Poetry, Language, Thought, (New York: Harper & Row, 1979), (pp. 143-161), p. 84.

[4] Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, trans. Maria Jolas, (Boston: Beacon, 1969), p. 7.

[5] Alain de Botton, The Architecture of Happiness, (Hamish Hamilton, London, 2006), p. 11.

[8] Poetics of Space, p. 103-4.



Vol. 12, No. 1
August 2007