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Architectural image of Self-referential architecture [Against] Architecture in a dialogue with phenomenal reality
Architectural representation has been a rather conflicting issue in contemporary architecture on the basis of the discordance between its actual communicative and participatory nature, and the currently broadly applied instrumental representation which refers itself exclusively to isolated fragments of shared meaning and culture. The phenomenon of divided representation is a result of a series of long-term transformations of the culture as a whole, which are based on the primacy of modern (scientific and technological) thought, mass-production, cultural fragmentation, consumption society, development of artificial perspective, and hegemony of vision (1).
What is more, it is closely connected to some of the crucial contemporary architectural problems: instrumentalization, aestheticisation, and novelty and uniqueness as the only measure of quality of architectural works. It is for these reasons that architecture of today is being transformed at large into mere fabrication of seductively aestheticised images whose only objective is self-assertion in terms of admiration and iconicity, as an ultimate value in consumer conditioning culture. Concurrently, the human body as a subject in architecture has been reduced from its richness as a bio-cultural phenomenon to a bodiless observer, by increasingly favoring the conceptual over existential, perceptually based experience of architecture, and constantly strengthening the illusionary, artificially created dichotomy between body and mind.
In accordance with these contemporary occurrences and architectural issues, the goal of this paper has been set toward underlining the differences between architectural images that are the result of two contrasting modes of representation, and secondly, indicating that architecture in its true communicative and humanistic nature can exist as such only if it is represented through the embodied architectural image. Importantly, this is to be achieved by demonstrating that the common ground of both architecture and its adequate symbolic representation – the embodied architectural image – is the phenomenal reality, while relying on the phenomenal body as their common subject. In a world overwhelmed with images and virtual (realities), this tendency to understand the [mis]representation in/of architecture can be seen as a way to bring about the strategies and potentially tools, which will allow the architects and architecture to strengthen our sense of the real, and thus, defend the undeniable authenticity of human existential experience. The opportunity for this different critical perspective lies in the application of neurophenomenological approach which argues for a central issue in architectural design to be human experience - that is, how we perceive and understand the built environment (2). In terms of symbolic representation and its pertaining architectural image, since being rooted in the phenomenal reality, the relevance of this approach can be additionally supported by the recent results from the fields like neuroscience, neuroaesthetics, evolutionary psychology, and similar. With these novel research outputs manifesting the interdependency of our imaginative and corporeal processes, implementing the neurophenomenological approach provides a promising outset for reaffirming the delicate connection between the articulation and embodiment of the lived world through architectural space and its representation.
Phenomenal Body as a Subject in Architecture
The important determinant in distinguishing the characteristics of two types of architectural representational images is the phenomenon of the human body as a subject in architecture. Thus, it is of the essence for the paper’s argument to provide a brief outline of the most relevant issues concerning this complex phenomenon.
In general, the cultural positioning of the body has been a direct consequence of the desire to recognize the presence of divine reality (presented in light, intelligibility, and order) in the human world and make it accessible to finite human understanding (3). One of the fundamental transformations in culture with far-reaching consequences in architecture has been the consideration of the nature of light as a common matter, a mediator which establishes continuity between divine and human realities. Moreover, by seeing light as a link between body and soul or as a way of affecting the «soul directly through the perception of visible world» (4), perception becomes a mean by which a body participates in the world.
It should be noted that the status and conception of the bodily phenomenon in the overall of culture has been throughout history translated into architecture and its relationship toward the body. This implies that previously described alteration in cultural thinking, has closely related the phenomenon of perception with the setting of the human body as an architectural subject, transforming it into a perceiving subject. Merleau-Ponty defines this relation in terms that what means to perceive is «to render oneself present to something through the body» (5). With this in mind, grasping the external space through the bodily situation can be seen as the process of creating relations between the points of perceived object and the perspectival center - the body, which thus becomes the referencing point for perceiving space, a «degree zero of spatiality» (6). Here it should be noted that the previously mentioned bodily situation or corporeal scheme is what gives us a global, practical and implicit notion of the relation of our body and things. According to Vesely, the corporeal scheme is a spatial and temporal unity of sensory-motor experiences, which shows itself «as an ability to come to terms with the spatial conditions of the situation as a whole» (7). The corporeal scheme is flexible because it is a scheme of possible actions, potential (communicative) movements.
What is more, the communicative movement is the shared element of both the body and architectural space, which conditions that at the time of an encounter, architecture truly brings «the world into the most intimate contact with the body» (8). The communicative role of the movement can be seen in its ability to take part in the qualitative transformation of reality by creating and organizing the unity of sensory and imaginative perceptions. As such, it is a source of structuring power and meaning in experiencing architecture, and thus, allows spatial and temporal situating – the fusion of situation, space and time into one experience, the sense of being. Furthermore, on the basis of the communicative movement and features of corporeal scheme in mind, it can be observed that the human body with its corporeality and sensoriality always belongs to the natural world, but it is through the communicative movement that it can use its corporeal existence to symbolize and signify the world instead of merely to coexist. It is precisely this characteristic of the human body that architecture should be able to facilitate, and reversely, bring sense and meaning into its own existence on the account of the phenomenal body as its perceiving subject.