Heaven and Earth
Beyond Care – an Architecture of Love
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.
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.' 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.'
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:
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” 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.
De Botton, Alain. The Architecture of Happiness, (Hamish Hamilton, London, 2006).
Harries, Karsten. The Ethical Function of Architecture, (Cambridge, MA, London, 1997).
 Otto Bartning, Darmstädter Gespräch Mensch und Raum, ed. (Darmstadt: Neue Darmstädter Verlagsanstalt, 1952), p. 33.
 English translation of 'Building Dwelling Thinking' by Albert Hofstadter, Poetry, Language, Thought, (New York: Harper & Row, 1979), (pp. 143-161), p. 84.
 Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, trans. Maria Jolas, (Boston: Beacon, 1969), p. 7.
 Alain de Botton, The Architecture of Happiness, (Hamish Hamilton, London, 2006), p. 11.
Poetics of Space,