Heaven and Earth
Festschrift to Honor Karsten Harries

Vol. 12, No. 1
August 2007


___Juhani Pallasmaa
  The Space of Time – Mental Time in Architecture



“It is as though space, cognizant […] of its inferiority to time, answers it with the only property time doesn’t possess: with beauty.”

Joseph Brodsky[1]

“Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.”

T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets[2]

Time in Science and Fiction

Time is the most mysterious dimension of the physical reality and human consciousness. It appears self-evident in the context of everyday life, but beyond comprehension in deeper scientific and philosophical analyses. Saint Augustine made an appropriate remark on this fundamental mystery of time: “What is time? If people do not ask me what time is, I know. If they ask me what it is, then I do not know.”[3]

Time is the object of fascination both for the writer and the scientist, and, indeed, today the dreams of the fiction writer and the scientist can hardly be distinguished from one another; both suggest multiple realities of time. In his delightful little book about the multiple faces of time, entitled Einstein’s Dreams[4], the physics teacher and writer Alan Lightman fancies two dozen different realities of time: circular time, time that flows irregularly in rivulets and eddies like a stream, reversed time, time as a quality instead of quantity, and time that takes the form of a nightingale, to mention a few of the author’s variations on this physical and mental dimension. On the other hand, today’s astrophysicists theorize the feasibility of time travel through “traversable wormholes” and “warp drives”. They speak seriously of “chronology protection” and “time-machines”. Looked at closely enough, quantum gravity theorists say, even ordinary space and time dissolve into a boiling mess that they call “space-time foam”.[5]

Some quantum gravity theorists even argue that space and time are most likely a sort of illusion, or an approximation to be replaced by some more fundamental idea in the future. Regardless of the dizzying leaps of fantasy in today’s physics, Stephen Hawking confesses modestly in his recent book The Universe in a Nutshell: “Even if it turns out that time travel is impossible, it is important that we understand why it is impossible.”[6]

Our common understanding of time seems to have evaporated under the scrutinity of science, and there are, indeed, several very different theories about time in physics today. And there are also vastly different scales of time, such as cosmic time, geological time, evolutionary time, cultural time, and human experiential time. And we all know how flexible and varied experiential time may be depending on the human situation, or horizon, that happens to provide the measure for the passing of time.

Modern Space-Time

Space and time, as well as the space-time continuum, have been central issues in theories of art and architecture since the early years of last century. The new space-time concept is the focus in, for instance, Sigfried Giedion’s seminal book Space, Time and Architecture originally published in 1941. “Space in modern physics is conceived as relative to a moving point of reference not as the absolute and static entity of the baroque system of Newton. And in modern art, for the first time since the Renaissance, a new conception of space leads to a self-conscious enlargement of the ways of perceiving space. It was in Cubism that this was most fully achieved”, Giedion argues.[7] The masterpieces of Cubism exemplify the novel integration of space and time through movement and the fragmentation and re-composition of images. In Giedion’s view, this new conception was first formulated by the mathematician Hermann Minkowski who claimed in 1908: “Henceforth, space alone or time alone is doomed to fade into a mere shadow: only a kind of union of both will preserve their existence”.[8] Cubism did, indeed, historically emerge soon after this mathematician’s proclamation, and it laid the foundation for the modern artistic perception and consciousness.

In the early years of the 20th century, progressive writers, poets, painters, sculptors and architects alike abandoned the idea of an objectified and static external world as exemplified by perspectival representation and linear narrative, and entered the dynamic experiential reality of human perception and consciousness that fuses reality and dream, actuality and memory.

My intention, however, is not to speculate on the physical or philosophical dimensions of the essence of time, or the understanding of time experienced by the mobile observer synthecizing his/her dynamic and temporal mosaic of observations. I am rather going to make some remarks on the significance of time as a mental dimension in artistic phenomena and architecture. I could characterize my subject matter as the “psyche and poetics of time”. Marcel Proust claims: “As there is a geometry in space, so there is a psychology in time”.[9]

The Collapse of Time

Philosophers of postmodernity, such as David Harvey, have identified distinct changes that have taken place in our perception and understanding of space and time. They have, for instance, pointed out a curious reversal, or exchange of the two physical dimensions: the spatialization of time. In my view, the other reversal has also taken place: the temporalization of space. These reversals are exemplified by the fact that nowadays we commonly measure space through units of time and vice versa. Daniel Bell also points out that space has taken over time as the central concern of aesthetics: “Space has become the primary aesthetic problem of mid-twentieth century culture as the problem of time (in Bergson, Proust and Joyce) was the primary aesthetic problem of the first decades of this century.”[10]

The postmodern era has also brought about a curious new phenomenon; the collapse or implosion of the time horizon altogether onto the flat screen of the present. We can today appropriately speak of the simultaneity of the world. David Harvey writes about this “time-space compression” and argues: “I want to suggest that we have been experiencing, these last two decades, an intense phase of time-space compression that has had a disorienting and disruptive impact upon political-economic practice, the balance of class power, as well as upon cultural and social life.”[11] It is inevitable that such an experiential compression has a significant impact on how space is conceived in the art of architecture.

In this process of time-space compression, time has lost its experiential depth, its plasticity, as it were. This collapse is brought about by an incredible acceleration of time in the contemporary world. Speed is the most seminal product of the current phase of industrial culture. This development has given rise to a “philosophy of speed”, as exemplified by the writings of Paul Virilio[12]; Virilio calls his novel science of speed “dromology”. In his view, contemporary architecture does not express spacelessness and timelessness but rather a concept of temporal space dominates our lives. The aesthetics of speed, however, was introduced already in the first decades of last century. “The world´s magnificence has been enriched by a new beauty; the beauty of speed”, Marinetti declared in his Manifesto giving rise to a new aesthetic sensibility.[13]

Today, Coop Himmelblau declares an “architecture of desolation”, an architectural aesthetics of speed, compression, fragmentation and violence: “The aesthetics of the architecture of death in white sheets. Death in tiled hospital rooms. The architecture of sudden death on the pavement. Death from a rib-cage pierced by a steering shaft. The path of the bullet through a dealer’s head on 42nd street. The aesthetics of the architecture of the surgeons´s razor-sharp scalpel. The aesthetics of the peep-show sex in washable plastic boxes. Of the broken tongues and the dried-up eyes.”[14] The aesthetics of speed has also brought about an aesthetics of violence that can be discerned today equally in the art of the comic strip, rock music, cinema and architecture. Avantgarde buildings today often appear as machines of violence and torture rather than habitation. A building that excludes habitable time turns into a trap.

The dizzying acceleration of experiential time during the past few decades is rather easy to recognize in comparison with the slow and patient time projected by the great Russian, German and French classical novels of the nineteenth century. It suffices here to mention the painfully slow description of Hans Castorp’s seven year stay in the Berghof Sanatorium in Thomas Mann´s novel The Magic Mountain, or the three thousand and five hundred pages of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time.

Italo Calvino comments interestingly on this acceleration of time during the past century: “Long novels written today are perhaps a contradiction: the dimension of time has been shattered, we cannot live or think except in fragments of time each of which goes off along its trajectory and immediately disappears. We can re-discover the continuity of time only in the novels of that period when time no longer seemed stopped and did not yet seem to have exploded”.[15] Have slow buildings that materialize time become similarly an impossibility?

It is quite astonishing to find the lament of Abbé Lamennais about the disappearance of time written already in 1819: “Man does not read any longer. There is no time for it. The spirit is called upon from all directions simultaneously; it has to be addressed quickly or else it disappears. But there are things, which cannot be said or comprehended quickly, and exactly these are most important for man. This rushing of movement, which does not allow man to concentrate on anything, finally shatters the entire human reason.”[16] This piece of literary evidence, dating back two centuries, assures us that the problem of the acceleration of time has its roots deep in the history of modern culture. Our loss of time is the consequence of a historical process.

Proust makes an interesting comment on the alteration of our consciousness of time since the Roman era: “Since railways came into existence, the necessity of not missing trains has taught us to take account of minutes, whereas among the ancient Romans, who not only had a more cursory acquaintance with astronomy but led less hurried lives, the notion of not only of minutes but even of fixed hours barely existed.”[17]

I wish to point out a fundamental change that has recently occurred in a minute and commonplace detail; the difference in the reading of time by means of a traditional and a digital watch (my quote derives from a book entitled Conversations About the End of Time published at the turn of the Millennium): “When you look at a watch dial for the time, that is situated within the circle of time, you immediately recall what you have done in the course of the day, where you were this morning, what time it was when you bumped into your friend, you remember when dusk is going to fall, and you see the time that´s left before bedtime, when you’ll go to bed sure in the knowledge of another day well spent, and with the certainty also that on the following day time will resume its daily course around your watch. If all you’ve got is a little rectangle, you have to live life as a series of moments, and you lose all true measure of time.”[18] This is the fundamental experiential difference between analogical and digital measuring. What is essentially lost with the digital watch is the cyclical nature of natural time.

Significantly, we have even changed our bodily position in relation to the flow of time. The Greeks understood that the future came from behind their backs and the past receded away in front of their eyes. We have turned our faces towards the future and past is disappearing behind our backs.[19]

Most dramatically, however, we even seem to loose our memories. Milan Kundera makes a remark to that effect: “The degree of slowness is directly proportional to the intensity of memory; the degree of speed is directly proportional to the intensity of forgetting.”[20] My paper is essentially about the virtues and benefits of slowness, or the “chemistry of time”[21], to use a notion of Proust.

We have all the reason to be frightened by the disappearance and abstraction of time and the curiously related phenomenon:  the expansion of boredom. I am not going to enter this subject matter, however, beyond simply referring to a recent book on the philosophy of boredom by the Norwegian philosopher Lars Svendsen.[22]

I would like to suggest that we have lost our capacity to dwell in time, or inhabit time.  We have been pushed outside of time, the experiential space of time. Time has turned into a vacuum in opposition to the “tactile sense of [time]”[23] in Proust’s writings, for instance. We live increasingly outside of the continuum of time; we dwell solely in space. It is tragic, indeed, that as we have entered the age of four-dimensional, or multi-dimensional, space in our scientific thinking, we are experientially thrown back to Eucledian space restricted to its three spatial dimensions. In fact, Bachelard suggests that even the third spatial dimension has disappeared; we have lost the verticality of space in our modern homes, and we live in mere horizontality.[24] The substance of time seems to exist nowadays only as archaeological remains in the literary, artistic and architectural works of past eras. Similarly, the originary silence of the world exists only in fragments, but as Max Picard, the philosopher of silence, suggests, we are frightened by all fragments.[25] We are equally frightened by fragments of silence and time.

Museums of Time

In the same way that we can encounter an amazing presence of time, almost as a still and heavy liquid, when reading Anton Chechov´s short story The Steppe, we experience a slow and thick time when entering a Romanesque cloister or a medieval cathedral, or walking on the streets of an old town. In his legendary novel Proust describes the gradually released time dimension by the Combray Church: “[A]ll this made of the church for me something entirely different from the rest of the town - an edifice occupying, so to speak, a four-dimensional space – the name of the fourth being Time – extending through the centuries its ancient nave, which, bay after bay, chapel after chapel, seemed to stretch across and conquer not merely a few yards of soil – but each successive epoch from which it emerged …[26]

In the modernist masterpieces we can experience a gradual quickening of time, and a further acceleration of velocity in today’s deconstructionist buildings. The celebrated buildings of our time often appear to be rushed and neurotic as if time were just about to disappear altogether. Every age and every building has its characteristic speed, sense of time and silence. There are slow and patient spaces as well as fast and hurried buildings. There are mute, silent and garrulous spaces and buildings. “Tell me (since you are sensible to the effects of architecture), have you not noticed, in walking about this city, that among the buildings with which it is peopled, certain are mute; others speak; and others, finally – and they are the most rare – sing?...” Valéry makes Eupalinos ask Phaedrus during their dialogue.[27]

Every truly moving experience of art – ancient, modern or contemporary - seems to suspend time and open the curtains of experience onto a calm, tranquil duration. I wish to suggest that a distinct slowness and silencing of experience belong to profound artistic greatness in general. When visiting the Great Peristyle of the Karnak temple in Luxor, I felt that my entire personality, my sense of separate self, evaporated as I became fused with the space, time and matter of the age of the Pharaos. As Paul Valéry makes Socrates remark in one of his dialogues: “Did it not seem to you that […] time itself surrounded you on all sides?”[28] I experienced a similar vanishing of the temporal reality – the separate categories of past, present and future - when standing in front of Mark Rothko’s magnificent  dark monochrome paintings in the Rothko Chapel in Houston, Texas. These painted spaces invite the viewer into a deep timeless space at the threshold of being and non-being. They bring the viewer to the ultimate shore of time.

The American artist and professor Sanda Iliescu writes perceptively of this peculiar perceptual and mental essence of poeticized time: “In aesthetic experiences, time seems to slow down, allowing our memories and perceptions to mingle. Unlike chronological time, which is concerned with actions and consequences, aesthetic time is a layered surface in which present (what is seen, touched, smelled, tasted, heard) and past (what is remembered or re-considered) are embedded. The past and present overlap in fluid ways, neither one serving or being summoned for the sake of the other. Time becomes less a singular journey we travel on than a richly marked and textured surface we touch.”[29]

Time-Free Perception

Regardless of its ephemeral and mystical nature, time is the crucial fluid of our mental lives. We do not live in a fixed, objective reality; we live in a mental reality that perpetually keeps flowing back and forth between reality, dream and imagination. Our mental reality has no fixed boundaries, no fixed temporal order or given categories. In his seminal, but sadly forgotten book, The Psychoanalysis of Artistic Vision and Hearing: An Introduction to a Theory of Unconscious Perception, first published in 1953, Anton Ehrenzweig speaks of a “time-free” consciousness, or mode of perception, as a necessary condition for creative thought.[30] Time-free association, remembrance and dreaming, in fact, also seem to be the condition of our normal daydreaming as well as concentrated thought; in these mental states we detach ourselves from the progression of time.

Ehrenzweig quotes a letter of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart as an impressive example of time-free hearing. The composer describes the gradual disintegration of linear time in his creative process: “I spread it [the composition] out broader and clearer, and at last it gets almost finished in my head, even when it is a long piece, so that I can see the whole of it at a single glance in my mind, as if it were a beautiful painting or a handsome human being; in which way I do not hear it in my imagination at all as a succession – that way it must come later – but all at once, as it were. It is a rare feast! All the inventing and making goes on in me as in a beautiful dream. But the best of all is the hearing of it all at once … .”[31] Just try to imagine hearing the entire Magic Flute or Requiem all at once, an entire musical composition compressed into a singular volume of sound! This description of Mozart makes one think of the unimaginable compression of the entire Universe at the very moment of the Big Bang.

Perfection and Imperfection

Time has a seminal mental importance also because of our unconscious fear of death. We do not only live in space and place, we also inhabit time. Karsten Harries points out the essential mental reality of time in the art of architecture: “Architecture is not only about domesticating space, it is also a deep defence against the terror of time. The language of beauty is essentially the language of the timeless reality.”[32] Our longing and quest for beauty is an unconscious attempt to temporarily eliminate the reality of erosion, entropy and death. Beauty is a promise; an experience of beauty gives a promise of the existence of permanent qualities and values. Jorge Luis Borges makes a strong remark to this effect: “There is an eternity in beauty”[33]. But Paul Válery gives a warning through the words of Phaedrus in his dialogue “Eupalinos, or the Architect”: “What is most beautiful is of necessity tyrannical ….”[34] Besides, Valéry disagrees with Borges regarding the permanence of beauty, as he writes: “What is most beautiful finds no place in the eternal.”[35] This fundamental disagreement about the essence of beauty between two master poets is thought provoking, indeed.

At the same time that we dream of eternal life through images of timeless beauty and perfection, we need experiences that mark and measure the course of time; we need to be convinced of the depth and availability of time. Traces of erosion and wear remind us of the ultimate fate of the physical and biological world, “horizontal death”[36] – to use a notion of Gaston Bachelard – but they also situate us concretely in the flow of time. Time turns into a haptic sensation; it becomes a perception of the skin. Matter expresses time, whereas shape, particularly geometric form, expresses space. A pebble held on the palm conways the experience of materialized time. We cannot mentally live in a placeless space, but we cannot exist in a timeless duration, either. Our contemporary, highly technological environments, built of man-made materials, do not usually mediate traces of time and history. Instead of promoting rootedness and a sense of belonging, they evoke an air of alienation, detachment and lack of empathy. When comparing contemporary cityscape with historical towns we can distinguish a flat time from a thick time or the absence of time from time as a comforting presence.

The human consciousness is balanced between Eros and Thanatos, and it is one of the mental tasks of architecture to mediate between the two polarities. Paul Válery argues: “Two things do not cease to threaten Humankind: order and disorder.”[37] The quest for perfection has to be balanced by traces of imperfection. John Ruskin advises us: “Imperfection is in some way essential to all that we know of life. It is the sign of life in a mortal body, that is to say, of a state of process and change. Nothing that lives is, or can be, rigidly perfect; part of it is decaying, part nascent […] And in all things that live there are certain irregularities and deficiencies, which are not only signs of life but sources of beauty.”[38]

Architecture needs deliberate devices to express duration and time. The 18th century’s fascination with artificial ruins is an example of the attempt to expand the scale of architectural time. An element that somewhat unexpectedly evokes time in juxtaposition with architecture is water.

Water and Time

Joseph Brodsky gives a surprising meaning to time: “I always adhered to the idea that God is time, or at least that his spirit is”.[39] He makes other intriguing associations: “I simply think that water is the image of time”[40], and: “Water equals time and provides beauty with its double.”[41] In the poet´s imagination, God, time, water and beauty are connected to create a mysterious cycle, or Mandala of sorts. These associations are not, however, Brodsky´s alone; Gaston Bachelard, and Adrian Stokes, for instance, make similar suggestions.

Water is also a frequent image in various art forms. Think of the fusion of images of water and the extraordinary sense of time, spirituality and melancholy in the films of Andrey Tarkovsky, or the gentle and hypnotic slowness of the paintings of water by Claude Monet, or the architecture of water by Sigurd Lewerentz, Carlo Scarpa and Luis Barragan. Water dripping from a giant seashell into the dark wound in the brick floor at the Klippan Church of Lewerentz, the underwater architecture of the Brion-Vega Chapel of Scarpa, and the reflecting veils of water, as well as the images of rushing water in Luis Barragans buildings, all evoke a hightened and sensitized experience of duration. The reflective surface of water hides its depth, as the present conceals the past and future. The life-supporting image of water also contains the mortal images of deluge and draught. We are suspended between the opposites of birth and death, utopia and oblivion.

Images of water turn into instruments of concretizing the passing and persistence of time. The dialogue of architecture and water is truly erotic. There is a special fascination in all towns that are in dialogue with water. As Stokes remarks: “The hesitancy of water reveals almost like a textile of visual and audible ingredients architectural immobility.”[42] The sound of the waterfall at Frank Lloyd Wright´s Fallingwater House creates a dense sensuous weave with architecture and the enveloping forest, almost like a textile of visual and audible ingredients; one dwells comfortingly in a natural duration next to the beating heart of reality itself.

Symbol and Reality

The two ideas that have given rise to fundamental misconceptions about the essence of artistic phenomena are: art understood as a symbol, and art seen as novelty.

Artistic and architectural works do not just symbolize something outside themselves; they create a reality and they are this other reality. “… [A] poem […] is not a paraphrase or a metaphor for reality, but a reality itself”, as Brodsky argues.[43] A work of art or architecture is not a symbol that represents, or indirectly portrays something outside itself. It is an image reality, or ideated reality that places itself directly in our existential sphere and consciousness. It becomes part of us and we become part of it.

Architecture, also, creates its own altered reality, in which perceptions and experiences of space, duration and gravity are transformed. Architecture projects specific horizons of perception and understanding. Buildings also condition our reading of time; like the cinematic or literary arts, they can speed up, slow down, halt and reverse time. Great buildings are not mere temporal symbols or metaphors, they are museums and stores of time. As we enter a great building, its particular silence and mode of time guide our experiences and emotions. In fact, the depth of cultural time is measured and expressed primarily by architectural constructions. Just imagine how shallow and scaleless our sense of history would be without the image of the Egyptian pyramids in our minds. This is true regardless of whether we have ever seen a pyramid in reality or not. Architectural structures have seminal functions as externalized mental structures, and as extensions of our individual and collective memories and consciousnesses. They constitute instruments for grasping and sustaining history and time as well as understanding social and cultural reality and the essence of human institutions.

Art and Novelty

In his intriguing book The Philosophy of No: A Philosophy of the New Scientific Mind[44], Gaston Bachelard explains the development of scientific thought as a transition from animism through realism, positivism, rationalism and complex rationalism to dialectical rationalism[45]. This is the closed orbit of scientific thought, in his view. “The philosophical evolution of a special piece of scientific knowledge is a movement through all these doctrines in the order indicated”[46], the philosopher argues.

Significantly, artistic thinking aspires to develop in the opposite direction. An artistic image works its way from the realist, rational and analytic understanding back towards a mythical and animistic grasp of the world. Science and art, therefore, seem to move past each other in opposite directions along the same continuum. Whereas scientific thought progresses and differentiates, artistic thought seeks to return back to a de-differentiated and experientially singular, oceanic understanding of the world. Artistic imagination seeks expressions that are capable of mediating the entire complexity of human existential experience through singular images. In that sense, art is a perpetual tautology. It keeps repeating one and the same message: the experience of being a human being in this world. The paradoxical task of uniting singularity and universality is achieved through poeticised images that are experienced and lived rather than analyzed and understood. Alvar Aalto points out this paradoxical task and capacity of art: “In every case one must achieve a simultaneous solution of opposites[…] Nearly every design task involves te…, often hundreds, sometimes thousands of different contradictory elements, which are forced into functional harmony only by man’s will. This harmony cannot be achieved by any other means than those of art.”[47]

Our time is obsessed by ideas of uniqueness and novelty, and art – particularly of our own time - is usually appreciated and judged primarily through its unforeseen novelty. I cannot think of a single profound artist, however, who would have written about this kind of a futuristic interest, excluding the futurists for whom the interest in the future was a semi-religious motive. “No real writer ever tried to be contemporary”, Borges appropriately argues.[48] No real artist or architect is interested in such shallow and meaningless notions as contemporaneity and freedom. Whenever someone begins to speak enthusiastically about freedom in an artistic endeavour, the questions arise; freedom from what, and freedom for what? “Strength is derived from limits and it dies in freedom”, Leonardo da Vinci already taught us.[49]

Reversed Time

“[W]hen one writes verse, one´s most immediate audience is not one´s own contemporaries, let alone posterity, but one´s predecessors”, Brodsky confesses.[50] No authentic creative work takes place in a cultural or mental vacuum: creative work takes place in the continuum and traditions of culture, in a constant dialogue with one´s great predecessors. The profound artist seeks advice and approval among the dead, not the contemporaries, not to speak of seeking to please the future reader, viewer or inhabitant. Consequently, the past, the very depth of time is the real mental dimension of artistic work. “In its desire to acquire great perfection, each work of art must from the moment of its finalization descend into the darkness of millennia with great patience and extreme caution, and return, if possible, into the immemorial night in which the dead will recognize themselves in this work”, writes Jean Genet when writing about the work of Giacometti.[51] Instead of aspiring for futuristic fantasies, the artist seeks to recapture the undifferentiated consciousness of the child and the singularity of human existence. The artist defends the historicity of the human being and desires to fuse again with the world.

The magical quality of art is exactly in its disregard for the element of progressive, causal or linear time. Great works of art overcome the abyss of time and speak to us in present tense. “An artist is worth a thousand centuries”, as Valéry writes.[52] A stone-age cave painting confronts our eyes and mind with the same force of life and actuality as any work of our own day. This is exactly because time as a chronology or causality is meaningless in art. Art is fundamentally an existential expression that makes the observer confront his/her own existence with sensitized senses and heightened braveness.

Instead of being interested in contemporaneity, art is driven by an aspiration for an ideal, an ideal mode of consciousness and being. This desire for the ideal is not a sentimental yearning; it is a search for an experientially singular world where the opposition of object and subject disappears, and this is the realm of beauty. This quest of the artist is the source of profound humility and uncertainty. As Brodsky wisely writes: “Uncertainty, you see, is the mother of beauty, one of whose definitions is that it´s something which isn´t yours.”[53] Beauty cannot be possessed; it can only be encountered. Similarly, artistic meaning cannot be invented; it can only be re-discovered, re-identified and re-articulated.

Biological Time in Architecture

We are primarily biological and historical beings whose genetic programming extends millions of years back into the past of the human race. Our instinctive reactions to spatial situations and qualities are grounded in the living conditions of countless past generations of our predecessors. The human sensations of directions, above and below, darkness and light , safety and threat, pleasure and discomfort, horizontality and verticality, nearness and distance, etc., are all grounded in our collectively shared unconscious. We may live in a city and be deeply engaged in the technological and digital realities of today, but our embodied reactions continue to be grounded in our timeless past; there is still a hunter gatherer, fisherman and farmer concealed in the genes of each one of us, and architecture needs to acknowledge this deep historicity of humankind. This bio-cultural historicity poses a critical perspective to today’s preference for novelty and uncritical enthusiasm for digital and virtual realities. Scientific research in the biological and evolutionary essence of aesthetics and beauty has hardly begun[54], but the poet and artist already know the depth of these phenomena. “Believe it or not, but the purpose of evolution is beauty”, Joseph Brodsky declares with the assurance of a great poet.[55]

The historical grounding of architecture, also, is likely to be found decisively deeper than our current understanding of the few thousand years of architectural history suggests. It is evident that the origins of architecture are beyond history and verbal accounts in the deep anthropological past of Humankind. In my view, the ethical task of architecture is to defend our biological essence and historicity in order to root us in the essential mental realities of life. This, I believe, is the most important time perspective for the art of architecture.



“As the consequence of the annihilation of time, the public space is replaced by the public image”.

Paul Virilio[56]

“Language is a diluted aspect of matter … By manipulating it into a harmony or, for that matter, disharmony, a poet […] negotiates himself into the domain of pure matter – or, if you will, of pure time – faster than can be done in any other line of work.”

Joseph Brodsky[57]

“To be conscious is not to be in time
But only in time can the moment in the rosegarden,
The moment in the arbour where the rain beat,
The moment in the draughty church at smokefall.
Be remembered; involved with past and future,
Only through time time is conquered.”

T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets[58]




[1] Joseph Brodsky, Watermark (London: Penguin Books, 1997), 44.

[2] T. S. Eliot, “Burnt Norton”, Four Quartets (San Diego, New York, London: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Publishers, 1988), 13.

[3] As quoted in Jorge Luis Borges, This Craft of Verse (Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, England: Harvard University Press, 2000), 19.

[4] Alan Lightman, Einstein´s Dreams (New York: Pantheon Books, 1993).

[5] Dennis Overbye, “Remembrance of Things Future: The Mystery of Time”, New York Times, June 28, 2005.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Sigfried Giedion, Space, Time and Architecture: the growth of a new tradition (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1952), 368.

[8] Ibid., 376.

[9] Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time, Volume 5: The Captive, The Fugitive (London: Random House, 1996), 637.

[10] Daniel Bell, The Cultural Condition of Capitalism, as quoted in David Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity (Cambridge Massachusetts, Oxford UK, 1992), 201.

[11] David Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers, 1992), 284.

[12] For instance, Paul Virilio, Katoamisen estetiikka [The Aesthetics of Disappearance] (Tampere: Gaudeamus, 1994).

[13] As quoted in Thom Mayne, “Statement”, Peter Pran, ed. Ligang Qiu, (DUT Press, China, 2006), 4.

[14] Coop Himmelblau, ”Die Fascination der Stadt”, as quoted in Anthony Vidler, The Architectural Uncanny (Cambridge, Massachusetts, London, England: The MIT Press, 1999), 76.

[15] Italo Calvino, If on a winter´s night a traveller (San Diego, New York, London: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1981), 8.

[16] As quoted in René Huyghe, Dialogue avec le visible: Connaissance de la peinture (Paris: Flammarion, 1955), page number unidentified.

[17] Marcel Proust, op. cit., Volume 4: Sodom and Gomorrah, 258.

[18] Catherine David, Frédéric Lenoir and Jean-Philippe de Tonnac, editors, Conversations about the End of Time (London: Penguin Books, 2000), 139.

[19] Robert M. Pirzig, “An Author and Father looks Ahead at the Past”, The New York Times Book Review, date unidentified.

[20] Milan Kundera, Slowness (New York: Halper Collins Publishers, 1966), 39.

[21] Proust. Op. cit., Volume 6: Time Regained, 331.

[22] Lars Fr. H. Svendsen, Ikävystymisen filosofia [The Philosophy of Boredom] (Helsinki: Kustannusosakeyhtiö Tammi, 2005)

[23] Jean-Claude Carriére, “Answering the Sphinx”, Conversations, op.cit., 95.

[24] Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space (Boston: Beacon Press; 1969), 25

[25] Max Picard, The World of Silence (Washington, D.C., Gateway Editions, 1988), 212.

[26] Proust, op. cit., Volume 1: Swann´s Way, 71.

[27] Paul Valéry, “Eupalinos or the Architect“, in Paul Valéry Dialogues (New York: Pantheon Books, 1956), 83

[28] Paul Valéry, Dialogues op.cit., 94.

[29] Sanda Iliescu, “Eight Aesthetic Propositions”, unpublished manuscript, 2006, 23. Constantin Brancusi’s Sculpture for the Blind, 1920 was first exhibited inside an opaque cloth sack with sleeves through which visitors could touch the primordial egg shape of the sculpture. Iliescu, ibid., 11.

[30] Anton Ehrenzweig, The Psychoanalysis of Artistic Vision and Hearing: An Introduction to a Theory of Unconscious Perception (London: Sheldon Press, 1975).

[31] Ibid., 107-8.

[32] Karsten Harries, “Building and the Terror of Time”, Perspecta, Yale Architectural Journal, issue 19 (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1982).

[33] Borges, op. cit., 115.

[34] Valéry, op. cit., 86.

[35] Valéry, op. cit., 76.

[36] Gaston Bachelard, Water and Dreams, An Essay On the Imagination of Matter (Dallas, Texas: the Pegasus Foundation, 1982), 6

[37] Paul Valéry, source unidentified.

[38] Josh Ruskin, The Lamp of Beauty: Writings on Art by John Ruskin, Joan Evans, editor (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1980), 238.

[39] Brodsky, Watermark, op. cit., 42.

[40] Ibid., 43.

[41] Ibid., 134.

[42] Adrian Stokes, “Prologue: at Venice”, The Critical Writings of Adrian Stokes, vol II (Plymouth: Thames and Hudson, 1978), 88.

[43] Joseph Brodsky, On Grief and Reason (New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1997), 386.

[44] Gaston Bachelard, The Philosophy of No: A Philosophy of the New Scientific Mind (New York: The Orion Press, 1968).

[45] Ibid., 15.

[46] Ibid., 16.

[47] Alvar Aalto, “Art and Technology”, lecture in the Academy of Finland, 1955, published in Alvar Aalto in His Own Words, edited and innotated by Göran Schildt (Helsinki: Otava Publishing Company, 1997), 174.

[48] Jorge Luis Borges: On Writing, ed. by Norman Thomas diGiovanni, Daniel Halpern and Frank MacShane (Hopewell, New Jersey: The Ecco Press, 10994), 53.

[49] Leonardo da Vinci, source unidentified.

[50] Brodsky, On Grief and Reason, op. cit., 439.

[51] Jean Genet, Giacomettin ateljeessa [In Giacometti´s Atelier] (Helsinki: Kustannusosakeyhtiö Taide, 1987), 15. Translation Juhani Pallasmaa.

[52] Valéry, Dialogue, op. cit., XIII.

[53] Brodsky, Less than One, 339.

[54] See, for instance, Ingo Rentschler, Barbara Herzberger, David Epstein, Beauty and the Brain: Biological Aspects of Aesthetics (Basel▪Boston▪Berlin: Birkhäuser Verlag, 1988).

[55] Brodsky, On Grief and Reason, op.cit., 207.

[56] Paul Virilio, as quoted by Mika Määttänen in Paul Virilio, Katoamisen estetiikka, op. cit., 127.

[57] Brodsky, On Grief and Reason, op. cit., 311.

[58] T.S. Eliot, “Burnt Norton”, Four Quartets, op. Cit., 16.



Vol. 12, No. 1
August 2007