Friday, July 24, 2009

Dodd, James. Review of Fred Rush's ON ARCHITECTURE. NDPR (July 2009).

Rush, Fred. On Architecture. London: Routledge, 2009. Rush is interested in just what "architecture" would look like, were one to conceive of building from a more robust appreciation of what we might call the experiencing of experience. Again, one should point out that Rush does not provide us here with a general account of the built world (or of experience, for that matter), since in the end he is predominantly interested in how such an architecture is to be apprehended ultimately as an aesthetic object. In this respect Rush's discussion is rather traditional, in that he sees the philosopher's contribution to a discourse on architecture to be either aesthetic or ethical, something that in fact corresponds to the division of the book. Chapter One, "Bodies and Architectural Space", outlines the basic concepts of a phenomenological architecture, while Chapters Two ("Architecture and Other Arts") and Three ("Buildings, Buildings and More Buildings") deal with the significance of these concepts with respect to aesthetics and the ethics of urban design, respectively. Let us take each of these in turn. Drawing principally from Merleau-Ponty, the approach to architecture that Rush has in mind is tied to the theme of embodiment. The idea is that, against what Rush calls the approach of "historical inter-textuality" and "semiological" approaches to understanding architectural form, it is possible to approach the built as a means of expressing structures and modalities of human bodily comportment (pp. 4-5). This is an extension of a philosophical thesis -- that our awareness of our experiencing just is our awareness of our embodiment -- into a reflection on architectural aesthetics, via the insight that the expressive force of the build-world folds back ("loops back", p. 4) into our experiencing itself, raising it to a heightened awareness of itself and, perhaps, in such a way that shapes embodied experiencing. The principal figure in contemporary architecture that Rush discusses here is Steven Holl, who employs phenomenologically inspired notions of "intertwining", parallax, and the primacy of haptic experience in the generation of architectural forms that seek to play on the multiplicity of the dimensions of bodily experience in complex, synthetic ways (pp. 36-38). Rush offers a first person descriptive analysis of Holl's aesthetics in a consideration of the Nelson-Atkins Museum extension project in Kansas City, Missouri. His analysis culminates in the interesting idea that architectural structures that seek to engage the subject in the full dimensionality of bodily experience tend to develop, in a striking fashion, a form of recursive sensitivity, "similar to the way that being sensitive to oneself and one's relation to one's particular life paths is thought indicative of humans" (p. 46). . . . Read the whole review here:

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