Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Big Rethink

As part of its new editorial direction, the British journal Architectural Review has invited Peter Buchanan to present The Big Rethink, a series of 12 ambitious essays that set out to redirect the course architecture for our time.

One of the most interesting installments so far was published in the March issue, where Buchanan introduces the concept of Integral Theory to his argument (I will be catching up with the April installment in the next few days).

To put it very simply, Integral Theory offers a framework for assuring that architecture, like other areas of thought, includes both objective and subjective fields, and both collective and individual viewpoints.

This is something I have long argued for, although never so systematically (see my essay After Functionalism from 1993, among other writings).

I met a student at the Madrid School of Architecture recently who forms part of a group of students working on the TGA -- Teoría General de la Arquitectura or General Theory of Architecture -- so something is definitely in the air (see their web page here). As always, bad times can be great times for architectural thought.

Here is a heavily-edited excerpt from Buchanan's article:
"[Integral Theory] is concerned with integrating, or at least bringing into relationship, all the rapidly expanding knowledge now available yet fragmented between specialisms."

"Significantly, ... Integral Theory .... attends not only to objective matters but gives equal weight to the subjective realms. Also, in developing Integral Theory, [Ken] Wilber sought to bring together the teachings of West and East, and so science and spirituality. Besides being an intellectual system, Wilber intends Integral theory to guide personal and spiritual development, another cause of academic resistance...."

"The core determinant of the character of an era is its underlying notion of reality − and the mostly unquestioned assumptions it results in that condition people’s understanding of and experience of the world. For modernity this notion is that there is an objective reality, external to and independent of us."

"Baldly stated, this might seem relatively banal and inconsequential. But the consequences of adopting this historically unprecedented sense of reality were vast and still continue, explaining much about both modernity and modern architecture. Prior to modernity, the notion of an objective, independent reality was inconceivable: you were an engaged participant in reality to which you were responsible because it was, in small part at least, shaped by your actions and thoughts. Rituals were needed to ensure rains and harvest, even in some cultures to ensure the sun rose."

"....the problem is less with the idea of an objective reality ... but rather that this reductive ... view became modernity’s dominant and often exclusive view of reality."

"Immeasurably compounding this problem is the idea that the reality of things can be fully understood by reductive analysis of them abstracted from context. Here it is the newer sciences of ecology and New Biology, of systems and chaos theory, and complex adaptive systems that challenge this view by insisting that things can only be fully known in their wider webs of relationships."

"Modern science and scientific materialism, the concomitant mode of thought virtually synonymous with modernity, study this objective reality through detached observation, measurement and reductive analysis − as has proved hugely effective. But detached observation also suppresses our emotional and empathic connections with the object observed and the world at large."

"...the result is Flatland, a narrow and desiccated reality that excludes the sensual joys of embodied experience, along with psychological depths and spiritual heights. Also excluded are all the dimensions of meaning invested by the left [subjective] quadrants, so intensifying the loss of meaning arising from living in Newton’s dead, mechanical universe where even evolution is the blind product of chance mutations and natural selection."

"Objective reality explored by reductive analysis dissolved the sense of intellectual and experiential connections and relationships between things, and even between people. This led inevitably to the fragmentation of the world into isolated objects, as evidenced by the buildings in the modern city, to social atomization, the rise of individualism and erosion of community − and again to the reduction of the natural world and other people to resources to be exploited. Compounding this, detached observation privileges the distancing sense of sight, further eroding emotional and empathic engagement."

"...we are left lonely and isolated, rootless and restless, and prey to the addictive and destructive behavior that is much in evidence all around us. Once again this reasserts that sustainability cannot be achieved without confronting the exciting, collective challenge of applying visionary imagination to cultural transformation....." 


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