Art and Architecture

Carolyn Fahey

International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture (ISPA):

I S P A   / iz-poh /  noun

ISPA was founded in the spring of 2009, in response to two issues. The first issue pertains to the great geographic distances between the relatively few philosophers of architecture. Having struggled to find others interested in similar topics which can easily come together to discuss their ideas, we sought to take advantage of the ease of communication brought about by the relatively recent developments of the World Wide Web. Specifically, the introduction of free and sophisticated blogging sites are capitalized on in order to efficiently and effectively bring together those interested in the philosophic study of architecture.

Second and more importantly, the general inaccessibility of open rigorous philosophic dialogue dealing with the subject of architecture and building, beyond that is trends using philosophic theories such as phenomenology, Deconstructionism, semiotics and others. Aesthetician John Haldane describes the situation here: "architecture in [the twentieth] century has suffered from the pernicious influence of quasi-philosophical ideas" (Haldane 1990: 205). The objective of I S P A is to engender as well as provide an informal platform for real philosophic engagement with the subject of architecture.

The intention of doing so is not merely to raise questions about architecture, but also in a Wittgensteinian sense, bring clarity to an otherwise metaphysically muddled discourse. Again John Haldane eloquently describes the situation:

the facts of disagreement should encourage one to investigate the grounds of aesthetic judgement and the possibilities of establishing by reason-giving the superiority of one building or scheme over another. Too often it is simply assumed that disagreement over values within a community is proof of the subjective character of the rival attitudes. What is more rarely noticed is that a necessary condition of there being such disputes is that all parties to them share a common presupposed belief in the objectivity of value (Haldane 1990: 204-5).

This is no easy task. Karsten Harries’ 1987 article entitled, “Philosophy and the Task of Architecture” is particularly illustrative of the problems of philosophically engaging with the topic of architecture, pointing out that philosophers and architects think differently about architecture (Harries 1987: 29). On the one hand, philosophers often are no more than dilettantes when it comes to the subject of architecture and building. Although, there are of course many exceptions. On the other hand, architects often fail to understand the import of philosophy, generally, and in their discipline. Amongst those that purport to understand is a tendency to ‘theory shop’ and produce what Haldane described as ‘quasi-philosophical ideas’ with regards to building. These theory shoppers fail to understand the ideas and methods assumed in their equally as dilettante readings of philosophy, and results in curious movements. An example of this is the use of Derrida’s Deconstructionism by Eisenman and acolytes.

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