[MUSIC PLAYING] K. MICHAEL HAYS: I’m in Gund Hall, which is the home of the Graduate School of Design. And I’m in the studio space, which is where the most intense activity takes place of design, of analysis and research, of imagination. We’ll speak about the architectural imagination. And I’m going to suggest that some concept like the imagination is necessary if we want to treat architecture as a mode of knowledge. The classical philosophers said, the soul never thinks without phantasm, which is to say that thought needs a material image, something to carry the thought. So we begin to think of the imagination as bridging the gap between perception and understanding. What’s implied is that there is actually a space in the mind where the work of picturing takes place. The imagination is different from other mental processes like perceiving or remembering insofar as to perceive something requires that something has to be there. And that’s not required of the imagination. And even to remember something– the event or the object or the person– it had to have already been there in order to remember. But the imagination creates its image. The image isn’t there until the imagination produces it. The imagination is also different from a concept because the imagination requires the materialization of thought. For example, I can conceptualize freedom. I can even explain to you what freedom is as a concept. But it’s very difficult to show you freedom. In order to show you freedom, I would have to construct a picture. I would have to construct a scene. Then I could help you imagine freedom in that materialization, in that scene, in that picturing. So we should think of the imagination as the capacity for producing images, the mental capacity to picture things. And what we want to show is that there is a specific kind of imagination, which is the architectural imagination. Look at these two images. Let’s say you know nothing about them. You don’t know what their function is. You don’t know who their patron was. You don’t know where they are. But you can already start to compare them nevertheless. One is made of stone. The other one is made of white stuff and glass, probably wood or steel. Look at how they meet the ground. One is nestled into the ground. It almost seems to be emerging from the earth. Indeed, some scholars would say that it even compares itself to the landscape and to the mountains around it. It almost wants to become like a mountain. Now, the other one is also very conscious of the landscape, but it’s lifted off the earth. It doesn’t emerge from the earth, but it kind of perches on the earth. But both of them are conscious of the ground. Already, the architectural imagination is starting to emerge. And then we could also say they have something else in common. They both have a kind of wrapper, which encloses a single volume. But the wrapper is very special. It’s a modulated wrapper. It’s made of columns. Even though one has stone columns, one has steel columns, even though the columns have different spacings, the space in between the columns is important. The proportion of space in between the columns and the rhythm of the columns is important. And then look at how the columns meet the horizontal beam, or what we call the entablature. In one case, there’s a very articulated picture of the joinery, the way the vertical column meets the entablature. And there are several pieces in between that make that transition from horizontal to vertical articulate. Now, the other one doesn’t have all those pieces. But it almost seems like there’s still great thought about the pieces. But it’s a kind of negation of all the articulation. And yet, in the very negation, the intensity of that joint is still made. So what do we have? They’re both empty, rectangular volumes defined by a wrapper. And the wrapper is articulated by columns and space that have a geometry, a kind of geometrical, proportional system. They both pay a lot of attention of how they meet the ground. And they both pay a lot of attention about how they’re in a landscape. So what has happened is that we have constructed. And what has started to emerge is a very particular kind of imagination that is purely architectural. It’s independent of the materials. It’s independent of the function. It’s independent of who paid for it. And we have adapted a set of assumptions about one building to a set of perceptions about another building. We’ve worked across those two buildings. Now, what’s implied here is that template of things, in some sense, had to preexist our understanding of those buildings. That set of architectural characteristics that they share in common had to, in some sense, already be there when we start to perceive those buildings. This is nothing less than the architectural imagination at work. And what we have arrived at is a fundamental instance of aesthetic judgment. In the comparison, that set of assumptions emerged. And it is as if it preexisted in order that you could make the comparison in the first place. So what’s happening is that, let’s say, a very old building is shaping our perception of a very new building, but also that that more modern building is shaping our perception of the old building. And it seems as if that template of items and assumptions that we made about the wrapper, about the ground, about the landscape– it seems as if those assumptions preexisted our perception.

Aesthetic perception and the architectural imagination
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One thought on “Aesthetic perception and the architectural imagination

  • March 3, 2019 at 9:08 pm

    Learn more with our free online course, “The Architectural Imagination”: https://harvardx.link/u9zxf


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