List

My work on affinity spaces came about, in part, by thinking about space in virtual worlds, websites, and social media. Lately, however, I have been thinking about architecture.  Space for humans only exists once it has been enclosed, bounded, or channeled. Otherwise, unbounded space is like being in Outer Space with no directional points or signals.  The act of enclosing, bounding, and channeling people in and through space (or spaces) is, I suppose, “architecture” in a general sense.

Architecture as a “specialty” (with credentials and degrees) has long had a problem that a good many other professions are just now beginning to face: amateurs.  The vast majority of buildings across time, and even now, have not been built by professional architects.  So, too, today professionals in all sorts of other fields—whether media production, game design, news, advertising, or citizen science—face competition from amateurs, thanks to digital and social media and the self-organizing way people can now teach and learn together outside of schools.  Architecture as a profession just faced the “Maker Movement” earlier than these other areas.

By the way, architecture as a credentialed profession inside universities arose about the same time as English literature professors appeared on the scene, late in the 19th century. When the first literature professors arrived in universities, people wondered why we would need academic experts in literature when literature had been written and read without them for a good long time.  When writers had to begin making their livings as academics teaching writing in universities and no longer as amateurs living outside the Ivory Tower, it did not, to my mind, improve literature, much of which became focused on the ludic play of signs (or English Department politics) and not deep themes.  People could also have asked why we needed a credentialed specialist called an “architect” when people had been building, using, and assessing buildings for thousands of years without them.  One can wonder as well whether architecture as a specialized discipline has given rise, on the whole, to better or worse buildings, though no doubt there are examples of real excellence.

Books on architecture sometimes make a distinction between building for function and “architecture proper” which builds for function and aesthetics (human sensual, emotional, and cognitive appreciation).  Architecture proper is, it is said, an “art form”.  And, indeed, there is no doubt that many a “functional building” is quite ugly.  This distinction between “functional” and something else or more reminds me of a distinction long made (and now long dismissed, by many scholars) in literacy studies.  This is the distinction between “functional literacy” and whatever we are to call literacy that goes beyond mere functioning.  We never had a name for the latter.  Those who liked it called it “high literacy” (covering things like literature and essays) and those who didn’t, called it “elite literacy” (at one time “literate”, meant only “high literacy”, but now it more often means just a base functional literacy necessary for life in a modern society).

The distinction between “functional” and “something else or more” (e.g., art) in architecture and literacy studies seems to me wrong-headed.  Humans cannot function well—indeed cannot even think—without emotion and appreciation.  It is emotion and appreciation that help them know what counts, what matters, what is better or best, what is worth choosing, doing, or paying attention to.  Work in neuroscience has shown that without this function (yes, it is a core “function” of human thinking, doing, and being) humans cannot think or plan, because they cannot value and decide.  So, anything that was “functional” without triggering the human desire and need for emotion and appreciation would not really be functional.  When the human desire for emotion and appreciation is triggered in a deep and life-enhancing way we have something worthy of also being called “art”.

It goes both ways, though.  In architecture and literacy there is no art without functioning.  Above I said that we might think of architecture as the “act of enclosing, bounding, and channeling people in and through space”.  Let me change this just a bit to say that we might think of architecture as “the act of mindfully and designfully enclosing, bounding, and channeling human actions and activities in space”.  Actions and activities include not just bodily doings, but also “mental” things like meditating, reflecting, communing, engaging, focusing, and planning, all of which require a body, since for humans thought is embodied, often mediated by tools, and situated in context and place.  Actions and activities are human mind/body functions.  So all good architected buildings, whether built by professionals or amateurs, must suggest, afford, and emotionally and appreciatively charge human action/activity functioning, even if the humans are no longer there.  So, too, for literature, which is why Kenneth Burke called literature “equipment for living”.

It is interesting that the there is one important school in architecture called “Functionalism” (with a capital “F”).  Functionalism celebrates designing and building “forms” (structures) that perfectly fit the functions the forms will serve.  Anything in form that goes beyond or does not subordinate itself to function is excess, merely decorative.  Here the functional is celebrated as the “higher principle” for design, not as something “lesser” waiting for “art” to redeem it.

Le Corbusier—a famous “Functionalist” in architecture—once said “A house is a machine for living”.  In my view, we humans do not need machines for living, but equipment for living (and, it is interesting that today we have people who want to replace teachers with machines for literacy instruction and other subjects).  Equipment is what we choose to take to a job or on a journey—including life’s journey—to enhance it, both in terms of performance and appreciation (joy).  No one thinks “equipment” will take over our human place in the world.  But machines might.  They tend to replace human craft, effort, design, cognition, and mindfulness if we are not careful.

Note: I am aware, that modern professional architects often distinguish strongly between designing and building and have even argued that there may be a conflict of interest between the two (perhaps because they are often designing for a possibly litigious “client”).  But, of course, in history, design and building have often been intertwined, as they may well be again (in a different way) with Fab Labs, the Fab Movement, and the re-creation of craft.

  Posts

1 2 3
March 29th, 2018

The Interpreter System (7)

Let’s return to our diagram of a human being (or, “an enviro-human system”).  I want now to look just at […]

March 27th, 2018

Joint Actor Systems (6)

The diagram I used in the last post is misleading in that it makes things look more contained and bounded […]

March 26th, 2018

A Human Being (5)

Last time, we raised the question: “What is ‘Jim”?” (substitute your own name for “Jim” here).  We think of ourselves […]

March 25th, 2018

Jim and Identities/Discourses (4)

When we make a choice, who is making the choice?  We have already seen that there are lots of things […]

March 10th, 2018

Alternates (3)

When we make a choice about ourselves often that choice is vastly undetermined by the information we have available.  Say […]

March 7th, 2018

Flourishing (2)

It makes little sense to see a human being (or any other animal) as an individual making free choices.  In […]

February 25th, 2018

Free Will (1)

Note that the question of free will simply does not arise for animals.  We think that, even for intelligent species, […]

October 29th, 2017

The Principle of Charity

October 8th, 2017

Character Education

Recently, the College of Education at Arizona State University—where I work— received funding from the Kern Family Foundation to make […]

June 15th, 2017

Neoliberalism Part 6 (The End)

What killed people’s sense of mattering was the growth of very high levels of inequality.  What caused such high levels […]

June 14th, 2017

Neoliberalism Part 5

Many of us tend to think of history as a march forward and upward. So, we tend to interpret the […]

June 14th, 2017

Neoliberalism Part 4

The Catholic Church declined in three stages. The same was true for many other institutions.  “The Sixties” (roughly from 1963 […]

June 12th, 2017

Neoliberalism Part 3

Today, we have among the highest levels of inequality we have ever had.  Drug addiction, environmental degradation, flows of climate […]

June 11th, 2017

Neoliberalism Part 2

The British economist John Maynard Keynes and “Keynesian Economics” were foundational to the Bretton Woods Agreement and to the world […]

June 10th, 2017

Neoliberalism Part 1

Though neo-liberalism is the “usual suspect” for the miseries of our institutions and society, it is not nearly as relevant […]

May 30th, 2017

Main Points from My New Book

Teaching, Learning, Literary in our High-Risk, High-Tech World: A Framework for Becoming Human (Teachers College Press, 2017). Ignorance We humans […]

April 17th, 2017

The Importance of Discourse Analysis:
Step 10 The End

Neither love nor liking is necessary for the sorts of critical discussions among different frameworks that might lead to shared […]

April 15th, 2016

The Importance of Discourse Analysis:
Step 9 Interpretation

Goodwill.  What could possibly encourage people in a fractured and inequitable world to have goodwill?  I, for one, do not […]

April 14th, 2016

The Importance of Discourse Analysis:
Step 8 An Example

I want now to give an example of two different frameworks that certainly appear incommensurable.  My purpose here is make […]

April 12th, 2016

The Importance of Discourse Analysis:
Step 7 Discussion

We are at a critical juncture now in our attempt to understand why frameworks can cause us humans such grief.  […]