Purpose

This entry follows on from the excellent dialougue started by Monsieur Fincham, where he argued, amongst other things, that creating Architecture is an inherently intellectual activity and that Architects should be more aware of this.

I take something of a big-tent approach to design and architecture and prefer not to spend too much energy following the seams and fissures in language which are used to divide disciplines, and so I’m quite comfortable with the idea that design is an inherently intellectual activity.

I’d like to renew this discussion by exploring a specific aspect of these statements.  I am personally rather ambivalent about the need for Architecture or Architects to realise the intellectual component of their disclipline as I find the concept of Intellectualism, or the Intellectual rather void of meaning until there is some content poured into the phrase.  For my mind being intellectual is a means, not an ends, and is a rather neutral position until the ends are more explicitly explored.     So I’ve become curious to understand what the purpose of intellectualism is?

Purpose is itself an interesting word which in this context is meant to suggest force and direction rather than a neat resolution.  It asks what is the tractory of intent of Intellectualism?  Where does it lead?  I fear if we don’t ask these questions, and answer them honestly we risk becoming trapped by our own language, becoming imprisoned in our own textual constructions.

6 Replies to “Purpose”

  1. Although I am by no means an in-depth reader of his (merely an fortunate audience member), ‘cultural philosopher’ [a title used not by himself of course] Slavoj Zizek rather nobly justified his intellectual pursuits as such (I paraphrase, hopefully not too hopelessly):
    ‘we must stop, then think. We need to understand the world in order to act sensibly.’
    This is appealing because it ties an inter-dependancy between thinking and doing, which is of course existentially fundamental, but it also of course prioritises thinking to occur first, thus resisting naive action.
    Of course the final word ‘sensibly’ is a whopping debate in itself. And i’ve replaced ‘thinking’ with ‘intellectualism’ as a personal presumption that the former is a pre-reflective state of the latter.
    Is the debate of trajectory and intent an existential one? For me it becomes very quickly a reflection on thinking/being/dwelling, as a momentous (but irregular) trajectory in itself. This is a Heideggerian idea i think..with a dash of the phenomenologists (who I tend to align myself with for strengthening this thinking-being thread) (Merleau-Ponty, Vesely).
    I am honestly not sure if this tone or direction of thought is what you are after though Barnaby, because you are critical of the isolationist tendency of academia.

  2. I’m not really after anything, it wouldn’t be an honest question if I thought I knew the answer. I would however like to think (perhaps hopefully) that there is a relatively straightforward answer to this question. Since the role of intellectualism has been raised as an important one for designers and architects, it only seems sensible to me that we should be able to define what this means. Otherwise we descend into conversations about words with no definition, which leads to nonsensc.

  3. I realize that it’s 2 years ago now that we were discussing this, but I was thinking about this the other day for some reason and thought now would be appropriate to add my bit.

    After re-reading the context of my original article, I was actually taking the approach of viewing intellectualism as a means rather than an end because it was all about taking the approach of re-thinking architectural practice and research; vis a vis architectural journalism, curatorial work (hence my reference to Archigram) etc. etc. That was the purpose of my article.
    I think perhaps the issue of intellectualism was stripped out of context a bit and discussed rather independently, which wasn’t really the point.. albeit a lot of interesting discussion came out of it.

    Moving on from that though, one of the main problems of architecture in 21C is not only the objectification of it by architects, but also the virulent protectionism systemic to the institutional culture of architects, sustained by architects.
    Architects must realize in an outward-looking manner that architecture as a discipline is not just about buildings; it is just as much if not more about people, environments and the interweaving social/cultural/political values that surround them.
    Architecture is fundamentally about a shared set of human values concerning the world around us and it is precisely this area of concern where architects must make the right ethical choices to have a sense of purpose in regards to what they do as designers and thinkers.
    I think that should be a potential trajectory of thought, which in turn could help to redefine notions of architectural practice and research; i.e. what it means to practice architecture.

  4. PS: Just to concretize my comments a bit more, the areas of concern I mentioned are in the region of the following (but not limited to):
    The future of cities/urban dwellers, research into affordable housing, the role of architecture in community building, the role of technology in mass production and environmental design etc. etc.

    I think there are many more on this list – basically all the stuff that architects should be doing/thinking of instead of spending so much energy and time protecting themselves from society.

    1. Dale, sorry I’ve been meaning to get back to you on this. Fuck it, ok. Lets do a book on this topic. We are a press after all and I’ve been meaning to reach out and do an architecture books sometime soon. So the question is, if you could do one book about architecture in your life (that is reasonably cheap to print) what would it be? essay? solo rant? photos? plans and sections? drawings? Interviews? story telling? poems? interpretive dance?

  5. Barney, I think a book is an excellent idea. It would be great to get contributions from a number of people and of course I’d definitely like to take part.
    As for what it would be, I think I’ll need to get back to you on that.. all of the above are possibilities.
    I was thinking of framing a possible theme on ‘the future of architecture’ where contributors could take the opportunity to share their concerns/hopes/dreams/anxieties towards the way they see the future possibilities for architecture as a broadly constructive and positive approach.

    Again, I’ll get back to you with some more ideas.. perhaps it could be discussed within a Freerange forum?

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