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The Poetics of a Wall Projection

Putting aside its specific implications for the philosophy of language, one can claim that Wittgenstein’s early philosophy is an impressive example of an a priori, generalised, totalising concept – an abstract, logical theory. Wittgenstein himself believed that the Tractatus offered the key to solving all philosophical problems. The defining characteristics of such a theory are circularity, rigid systematicity, spiritual subliminity and idealising abstraction, as well as fragility. When Wittgenstein realised that he had based the Tractatus on faulty premisses, he discarded it. Indeed, he abandoned the project of a conceptually oriented philosophy entirely as he became convinced that philosophical theories – as products of the imagination – offered only simplified, superficially profound constructs that obscured the actual diversity of reality. In his late work he turned to precisely those empirical conditions that are stripped away by generalising tendencies in philosophy. His Investigations is replete with commonplace, unsystematic, highly detailed examples of linguistic material, and utterly free from categorical claims. This approach does not destroy the idealistic/heroic pathos of the Tractatus, but simply provides it with a modest and pragmatic counterpoint. Thus we discover in the philosopher’s life-work two polarised principles that – viewed more generally – constitute one of the fundamental oppositions in the history of philosophy. The opposition between the conceptual/theoretical/ rational and the empirical was expressed most vividly in the dispute between continental European rationalism and British empiricism during the seventeenth century. Here Spinoza, Leibniz, Pascal and above all Descartes (cogito ergo sum); there Bacon, Locke, Hume and also Berkeley (esse est percipi). As is well known, the rationalists gave priority to mental constructs, hypotheses and theories while the empiricists emphasised perception, observation, sense impressions and ‘givens’. According to these criteria, the Tractatus can be placed in the rationalist tradition and the Philosophical Investigations in the empirical tradition. What we will try to do now is delineate oppositions

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The Conceptual and the Empirical

that may be considered analogous to this duality in Wittgenstein’s philosophy and, more generally, to the philosophical opposition between the conceptual and the empirical.

1. On Two Approaches to Architecture Viewed in the broadest terms, architecture encompasses two contrasting domains, one associated with the term ‘conceptual’, the other with ‘empiricism’. When architecture follows an abstract concept, it is defined by a categorical, compositional will-to-order. The alternative approach produces an architecture that is committed to concrete existing conditions related to construction, use or site; in this case, compositional intentions and rules – to the degree that they are even evoked – are subjected to, or diverted by, such contingencies. This is reminiscent of the empirical principle of inductive logic. A vivid illustration of these differences (one that mirrors geographically and temporally the debate between rationalism and empiricism) is the contrast between the continental villa, exemplified by Palladio’s Villa Rotonda, and a typical British country house (Fig. 2). In the first case we have rigid geometry and absolute order, with forms and alignments that disregard contingent conditions – a heroic distancing of the man-made from the natural. In the second case there is a casual pragmatism, an almost ad hoc, incidental accommodation of anomalous and unique conditions. The house also displays an untroubled modesty, a conventionality and practicality informed by construction; it fits into the surroundings in a natural and unassuming way. (From here, it is but a small step to the aesthetic of ‘the strip is almost alright’ or even ‘all is pretty’.) If we were to trace these two architectural dispositions back to their origins, we would probably arrive at the paradigmatic image of the Greek temple, in the case of the conceptual approach, and at the pre-existing cave, in the case of the empirical approach.

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Architecture Words 3: The Poetics of a Wall Projection (Jan Turnovsky)  
Architecture Words 3: The Poetics of a Wall Projection (Jan Turnovsky)  

Originally published in German in 1985 as Die Poetik eines Mauervorsprung, Jan Turnovsky's The Poetics of a Wall Projection is ostensibly a...