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Thesis Research Vol. 2

max dehne


Thesis Research Vol. 2

max dehne


Content 6-49

Left Side of Page: Empathetic Mundane

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Right Side of Page: Aesthetics of the Mundane

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Wondering tries to find examples that relate to my written musings of architecture and design.


Part 2a Empathetic Mundane This is not a research of content, nor is it an expanded discourse. The thoughts here within are sited within my own internalization with the content of my wanderings both physical and mental. My empathic longings are born of my own reconciliation of my past and momenta.

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Part 2b Aesthetics of the Mundane: Proximity & Distance Aesthetics of the Mundane explores a parallel tensions between Kantian disinterested distance and personal proximity. This exploration of personal referencing of sensorial information is developed through a philosophical thesis paper.

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Introduction It is my assertion that architecture, in response to and in conflict with the mundane is able to manifest magnificence. This is obtainable if designers are able to appropriately pay attention to the details that are formalized as a byproduct of “meaning” derived from a rational understanding of form, structure, and beauty. Through this attention or interest, there can be an investigation of the reality or the real of an object. This separation between architecture and the user allows both to obtain subjective and objective realization that elevates the intricacies of the mundane. This adherence to human “facts (that) reverberate with meanings that run deep into our personal yet common interests,” allows for meaning to be divorced from its lofty importance and instead root it in what is largely experienced through the mundane of the everyday. This common history manifests itself within and upon the mundane events of our lives and retrieves beauty from the edge of perception when the mundane comes into conflict with context of site. Thus, architecture cannot dispense of the mundane of everyday life. Instead it should reconcile the conflicts with routine, regularity, and the datum of life that is traversed by humanity through, within, around, and upon architectural form. As designers we must peel away space, place, and site from meaning to expose the reality there within. This reality is the substance, the meat of a project and should not be veiled. “The surface of the everyday is covered by a surface, that of modernity.” It is my conclusion that the everyday (the mundane) is the foundation of architecture as an object defined by human time and bound by the commonality of repetition. This friction 8


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Architectural Mediation Architecture, as an aesthetic object, bridges a dialogue between Kantian disinterested distance and personal proximity. Buildings are object that is often placed somewhere between art and inhabitation. Architecture should be defined by, bound by, and inclusive of both aesthetic distancing and proximity in relationship to aesthetic judgment. This inclusion will assist in allowing architecture a means to grapple with the complications of aesthetics and pair it with the sensuality of proximity. Architecture as a product bound in the immediacy of our sensual body fractures the conversation when aesthetic theory is used as the single mediator of beauty. Translating architecture through a dual dialectic allows a conversation or a narrative to arise from the philosophical encroachment that each stance places on the other due to fundamental theoretical concepts. However, when placed in parallel tension, they are able to lend to one another characteristics that assist architecture to become a mediator of personal engagement with the world. Through this mediation, architecture within the built environment is capable of bringing a user into an intimate proximity to place or locality while simultaneously transporting them conceptually beyond the bounds of the users own experiences. Disinterest and Distance Aesthetics in the traditional Western formulation is bound in a visually dominant world of objective understanding that separates the sensual into distinct hierarchical parts. Aesthetics, rooted in Platonic understanding, allows us to conceptually contemplate an object of our interest by separating our lower senses (taste, touch, and smell) from our higher senses (sight and hearing). Born from this separation and distinction of sensual understanding, Kant suggests 9


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with becoming mundane within architectural form places a demand upon designers to engage with this tension and determine its relevance to beauty by exposing or rupturing the surface of modernity. Tangent: The rupture of modernity demands that we do not take for granted the need for sited particularity. Each thread stitched into a blanket holds itself in place by the strength of its neighbors. By rupturing this surface we alter the mundane continuance of the fabric and expose new realities. Thus, the mundane allows for upheaval of a new mundane. However, by objectification and repetition the conversation of what and how to approach architecture as either art or craft should be reconciled and conversely rationalized through the understanding of the mundane as a mediation of human and environmental considerations. Delving into meaning (what is told to architecture) and extracting the reality (how it is used) that is bound within architecture exposes the mundane impositions upon architecture that strive for useful meaning over conceptual meaning. What is the nature of this conflict? How do we construct it, and can it be ethical? What is ethical? Conflicting Definitions When approaching the mundane it is essential that we understand and dissect its meaning. The definition of the mundane: “Belonging to the earthly world, as contrasted with heaven; worldly, earthly� 10


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that the viewers must place themselves at both a mental and physical distance to be able to fully perceive the totality of an object. This placement of our mental and physical selves allows us to become disinterested emotionally to what we are attempting to place judgment upon. Disinterest permits us to see the object of our judgment as not something we desire, but instead as an object with definable properties that make it beautiful or good This state of disinterest is at the core of how we are expected to approach the judgment of beauty. Beauty and more specifically universal beauty can only be obtainable through this act of disinterested judgment. This placement of our cognitive selves allows the object to be perceived correctly and without subjective input or input born of our lower senses. Our lower senses, according to Kant, create a distraction to truth and do not permit us to dissociate from the sensual experience. This is defined by our dual nature of mind and body. This duality, one that exists here in the terrestrial and the other, which is boundless through conceptual thinking, must be separated to see universal beauty clearly. Thus an argument for prohibiting the use of our subjective lower senses is defensible due to the burden placed upon our judgments of beauty. Distances must be engaged through conceptual separation to understand beauty so our judgment is not diluted with the subjectivity of sensual input. The mind, as a Platonic extension of the heavens, allows us to be both part of and detached from the immediacy of the object. However, through this detachment we separate and divide the senses into a hierarchical pyramid with the visual at the pinnacle. Platonically, our higher senses, sight and hearing, allow us to transcend the concrete and elevate our minds to a state that perceives not of an object as beautiful, but to conceptualize beauty itself as an ephemeral idea in and of itself. This conceptualization then becomes the object, and can propagate in the minds of those that can perceive it. This elevated state, 11


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“In weakened sense: ordinary, commonplace. Hence: prosaic, dull, humdrum; lacking interest or excitement.” If we are to hold both definitions as true, then that which is of the earth must be humdrum. The ordinary commonality placed upon that which is earthly or terrestrial precludes that the events that are of the earth lack interest. Being ordinary and common suggests that these events bound by the earth or earthly are specifically habitual and engage our “lower human nature”. Tangent: Lower Human Nature When I began to think about lower human nature I am reminded of the platonic separation of the senses and how those related to our animistic nature are “lower senses”. This seems an interesting parallel as mundane relates to our lower nature when you explore its intersection with the earthly and its corresponding definition. It is this relationship to the mundane that events like rain, wind, and sun become perceived as banal, boring, humdrum, in western culture. The terrestrial world, being perceived as down or below foot as opposed to upward or sky bound frames how we approach the earthly body. Architecture, as a means of protection and inhabitation removes human form from the intrusion of mundane events and places humanity out of reach and in a detached state. Through this relationship architecture creates an internal environment constructed through inhabitation and an external relationship to the terrestrial. Walls, windows, doors, thresholds, columns, and beams restrain the mundane and inversely are enveloped by it. Placement of human form, in context to the implied banality of the environment, manifests a division between architecture and the natural world. This tension bound within 12


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in the context of our contemporary lives, has become overemphasized as the primary means of managing sensual input and subjugates our “lower senses” to mere animalistic impulse. Kant, building on the principles of Platonic beauty, furthers this argument by creating a perceptible distance that must be obtained to perceive beauty. This distance, as suggested by Edward Bullough in “Physical Distance as a Factor in Art and an Aesthetic Principle” asks us to divorce ourselves emotionally from the moment and by “putting the phenomena, so to speak, out of gear with our practical, actual self; by allowing it to stand outside the context of our personal needs and ends”. Introduction of Proximity This removal of oneself from the phenomena does not take into account the multiplicity of contextual, experiential, and environmental factors that can weigh one’s judgment when attempting to define what is “universally beautiful”. Beauty, as something to be seen at distance, dominates our contemporary understanding of space and identity. Distancing, detaching, and quantifying the world around us is creating a dangerous aesthetic divide between what we believe is real and what is reality. Digital media only exasperates the hyper consumptive articulation of visual stimulus and further propagates this divide between our senses.. This exasperated state elevates ocular sense , which becomes the primary sensual input in mitigating what we see in contrast to what is real. However, through a physical engagement (taste, touch, and smell) we are able to form a conception of our reality that is verified from multiple personal sources. Thus proximity, in opposition to distance, allows us to engage with the reality of the world. It allows us to experience clarity, through direct experience, of what is real. This direct connection to our understanding is vital to seeing the greater context of our distanced perceptions.

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buildings physically denies the entrance of the mundane, but is inversely unable to stop its inclusion there within. I assert that this division between architecture and the mundane is due to the environmental placement of architecture that disrupts and impregnates site with space. This act of imposition is not mundane or humdrum, but violent and intercedes the neutrality of the earthly world. However, as a parasitic inclusion, architecture transforms and mutates space as an inclusive exclusion (objects in space that include earthly elements, thus are utilized to deny there inclusion) physically constructs this violence between earth and architecture. Architecture is the parallel intersection of two forms of the earthly body, one mundane or earthly, and the other human. This separation of humanity from the natural world from the earthly does not divorce completely, but does reinforce this parallel tension. This relationship to the human and to the earth asks architecture to reach beyond its constructed immediacy and enact upon space an ethos that can bridge between definitions. Like sutures across a laceration architecture can be the location of regional overlap. As a purely human construction, we have the opportunity to take the many forces of the earthly and include them in our constructed boundaries. When the mundane comes in conflict with humanity, we must utilize its banality as an object of regularity. Through this utilization of the mundane and earthly, architecture of regularity can be expressed as undercurrents of useful meaning. Empathetic Introductions Our relationships to the mundane builds an empathetic response that is constructed through a shared history of use. The tedium of our daily lives, through micro interactions molds how we construct a greater understanding of place, space, and site.

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Distance and Proximity To understand this relationship I reference my own experience occupying Le Corbusier’s Legislative Building in Chandigarh India. The building, separated by a twenty-minute tuk tuk ride from the heart of the sprawling city is isolated and only accessible with written permission from the tourist board. It is in this, that the first experiential presence of the building is altered. Instead of a large expansive project allowing for free movement and use, it is inversely experienced as isolating and inaccessible. The calm reflecting pool surrounding the building is in actuality on the back of the structure and is nearly impassable by foot. Only by walking along a concrete edge is one able to maneuver past the pool to the “view� often seen through documented representations. It is this illusion that separates the reality of the building with the imagery often presented. As an object it is quite beautiful, but as something to be experienced it is domineering, heavy, and unapproachable. For its seriousness, the building is not fully understandable till you enter inside. The interior is cool, quiet, and calm. The concrete that seemed so austere on the exterior softens and stretches above your head. The low light of the interior, in contrast to the beating sun outside is enlivening and allows the interior to move and dance through the use of shadow. It is through this direct experience that I was able to both see the fallacy and inability of the visual to appropriately demonstrate the totality of the project. However, to judge the building solely through physical appreciation I would be unable to step back from my physical self to see it as something that transcends its immediate surroundings. The project delicately uses concrete as a plastic building material at a time when it was inconceivable. The open plan on the exterior may come under the burdensome reality of time, but it is majestic in its occupation of space. In a country so densely populated it demands relevance by 15


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Place: A space that is the site of an action. Space: An opening that can be occupied by an action. Site: The fixed place of an action. Architecture, as a shell of socially constructed interactions has the opportunity to guide perception through the articulations and accumulation of built language. Walls, windows, doors, are banal elements of architectural construction that allow an architect to make simple adjustments to the world around us. The reconsidering of formal arrangements in context to the physical environment is a discovery that unearths mundane events, defining use and responding to its presence, allowing the passage of the everyday to be a critical good. As we separate the “meaning” in architecture from the “reality” of architecture we are able to engage with the mundane and its generative parallel tensions. What is the routine of architectural interaction and is it mundane? What is architectural ritual? What is empathetic architecture? What is empathy? Where and how do these questions relate to architecture? Empathy Empathy as a derivative of ‘em’, a prefix denoting “the placement upon or within” and pathos relating to “the emotional in comparison to the permanent” allows us to approach and connect to subjective matter as an objective through compounded personal perception. Through this self-referential relationship the empathic response binds object to person, person to person, person to object, by placing upon and within one another an emotional infrastructure. It is my assertion that empathy, as a placement within and in relationship to architecture animates and articulates the 18


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the sheer weight of its perimeter and when you are able to divorce yourself from its cultural implications for a moment the procession of time that is eclipse on the grounds embeds itself in our common history both in India and throughout the world. It is by this inclusion of proximity and distance the building becomes more than inhabitation while still holding onto its majestic use of space and material. The meaning is wound through the concrete like rebar and embeds a message in the occupant. Proximity of our Senses When we interact with architecture, it is an experience of substance. Concrete, brick, steel, glass, and wood construct the foundation of our physical reality. Buildings, bound by the earth exist in the real, in the “here” and “now” of our lives. This is in contradiction to Platonic and Hegelian theory, which places architecture at the bottom of the hierarchy of art that we are unable to deny our physical selves. Thus proximity, the condition or position of being near or closeby in space, nearness, allows us to interact with site, space, and place directly through sensorial engagement directs interaction, manifested through the immediacy of our senses, and allows us to create definable experience bound by the reality of inhabitation. These experiences are not isolated to the extraordinary, but extend themselves into our daily lives and places we inhabit. Home, as a manifestation of an extraordinary architectural experience, holds in its perimeter a truth an experience that is articulated through the non-extraordinary. This proximity to home and our awareness of home is framed by the time that is required for a gradual definition of inhabitation through our sensual experience. Thus, our senses: sight, sound, taste, smell, and touch, allow for connections between our empirical self and our physical form that inhabits a space. Senses allow 19


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architect’s interested approach to the design of inhabitation. Inhabitation also exposes the mundane and allows for its augmentation as it relates to human emotional connectivity. Modification of the Mundane The following passages are an attempt to alter the reality or the dialogue of what is mundane and what can be beautiful. The subtleties of everyday life are so rich that to forget them, to ignore them seems to diminish moments of wonder. We need banality if we are to revel in its inverse. However, I find that in the smallest moments of our lives, if we are able to appreciate them we can see the beauty tied to the mundanity of our lives. The Door: The door knob in hand is cold. Shaking the handle, it’s locked and the exterior of place is exaggerated as we wish only to be inside. Keys shake from a pocket and there is a short game of hide and seek as the correct key is located on the ring. The familiar sound and sensation of the key sliding into the lock focuses our attention to the handle. Its form and function in perfect harmony. Turning the key in unison with the knob the latch clears the cavity and the door swings open. Taking a step your inside, the door is closed. The comforting security of the latch clicking back into position and the deadlock spun into the locked alignment ends the sequence. Once again, inside, clothed, disengaged from the exterior. The Window: Its transparency leaves the interior exposed, to the exterior. White shades pull to a side, exterior framing sequence; fall, winter, spring playing out like live television. Within the frame the exterior penetrates and illuminates the interior. Together 20


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individuals to organize their personal reality and act as a mediator between the individual and the group. This mediation through the sensuous connects and grounds those involved within a culture or subculture to the locality , which is defined as home. Home, through our physical inhabitation grows from the slow knowledge of verifiable personal information. Like Le Corbusier’s Legislative Assemble, my inability to experience the structure slowly and entirely removes it from the implications of home, but illustrates the problematic reference of our immediate senses. This problem inversely justifies proximity by its ability to transport us through time by direct sensual input. Senses of Aesthetics The key to my front door sticks. Once inside the lock resists, contorts, and torques the key out of plane until finally, moving the pins the key spins and turns the lock. The doorknob, exposed to the winter chill is cold, crisp against my hand. It stimulates the activity of entrance and reconnects me to the cold. I open the door; pull the metal cord hanging from the foyer ceiling, the small vestibule is illuminated. Walls, stairs, the torn wall paper all come into focus. I am home. Beyond the traditional visually dominated aesthetic discourse, our other senses allow for experiential completion of knowledge that includes verifiable personal information (sensual input). Experiential information enacts upon us a conceptual shift that mitigates the transference of space to place. Thus, when it becomes a site (a place enacted upon), we are emotionally moved in response to the action taken upon it. Thus, humanizing architecture is inherently emotional and is the vitality of great places. Our empathy with architectural form and the places they define for us is tethered to our 21


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they play a subtle dance between their respective realities. In front of the window we become participants to an exchange as we mitigate their introversion. Time lapses through this frame, delineation of exposure. Through our eyes we see the world with new perspective and we are asked to assuage our reality with that of the place we inhabit. The glass, the curtain of transparency is but a filter through which a new formation of truth can be determined. A window is a pause in time where the user is affixed to site of possible prophetic experience. The Opening: Exposure illustrates enclosure, as an opening is a fissure in the body of structure. Architecture forms inhabitation and an opening allows for the reconciliation of interior and exterior. It forces the form to balance, that which is enclosed, and that which is open. Inhabitation of the opening is one of sidedness. Deciding to occupy enclosure or exposure. Inside or out. Thus the opening is a dialectic language that allows for transference of embedded locality. The Stair: We traverse the stair. A step, a riser, a run, a slide of the foot across a surface. Elevation, rest, rise, step, rise, pattern and repetition of form transform two planes into one. The banality of the tread denotes change of space and time. Sole makes contact, the leg presses foot to floor, and we are lifted. The stair is an instigator for change; it demands we reconcile sequence through elevation and sight. Perspectives of the room move and transfigure. Here, in the step, in the stairwell, we are able to actively manipulate form. The Floor: My foot touches the carpet. Its tan fabric is soft, soothing, and reminiscent of my childhood. Thus, in a house nearly two 24


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consciousness by our sensual experiences. Connecting to architecture through our senses must be realized as a defining characteristic that cannot be realized without experience when approached from a purely aesthetically disinterested attitude. Touch Touch allows for us to verify information and orient ourselves in space. The visual is but one determinant of input, and when coordinated with touch, it connects the two and allows for a complete understanding of an object. Touch allows us to sense the world around us by direct experience, and verifies the inclusion of our connected senses. Without touch, without verification of source, vision is dangerously susceptible to the intrusion of subjective understanding. Without the ability to ground us through tactile information the optic is in essence unverified truth . So much so that when we distance ourselves from an object to understand it “completely� we lose that which exists between the tension of art, object, and culture. This tension is bound in the finger tips and the realization of solidity. When we are able to sensually interact with an object, coupling it with cultural importance we construct a network stitch artistic representation to object to a specific culture. This contact allows us to come closer to understanding these conflicts as materializations of form, structure, and beauty. Immediacy of touch forces us to place ourselves in contact with an object bound by our vision. Hearing What do we hear? How do we hear? Reverberations, fluctuations of voice bounce and come into contact with our physical body and are translated through our cognitive senses. This translation is susceptible to subjective understanding, and as such should be recognized like vision, as a fallible sense. Like all senses, hearing requires a second form of verification. The 25


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thousand miles from my childhood home I am transported. The carpet, the floor, the elevation of my physical form allows me to balance between both the heavens and the earthly. I am perched, somewhere between here and there, like a scarecrow, the field my home, the stick under arm the floor, and I am able to see from edge to edge. These walls are my walls, those walls are there walls, but both are enveloped by visionary recollections. The Mantel: Purpose eludes this timber log. History laden protuberance it carries now only the weight of knickknacks and picture frames. Once, so essential it is now but decoration. The mantel above the flame. Relegated to parody, a well endowed shelf. What of its purpose, what of its form? Why do we ask so little of the mantel when it is worth so much? Crumbling The plaster is cracking, shedding like dried elbow skin off the building. Inside the walls are growths. Mold rich drywall is piled in a corner and the studs are bare, the rooms divided now by only bone. Home has eroded back to space, to mere occupancy. Inhabitation is now only a residual context of an old pot still on the stove. The Plaza The brick underfoot shakes wit my steps. The density is unmistakable. The loose weight of clay resonates through the public square as feet traverse its wet surface. The dull sound of falling water echoes from the fountain below a strategically placed Starbucks. The light rail line hums to a red light and the #12 bus rumbles through a green. Between sips of coffee a couple huddles under an awning, building courage to step into the rain. The cascading brick steps down to the large open plaza where the public cuts the corner between 6th and Broadway. 26


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subordination to the other senses should not be understood as a negative implication. Hearing is an essential component to our personal ability to orient ourselves within culture. Language, as primarily act of audio frequency, allows us to manage our actions when placed in social settings that require interpersonal communication. Thus hearing is essential to orienting ourselves in physical space in conjunction with socio-cultural context. Smell Smell is considered within Platonic philosophy to be one of the lowest forms of sensory input. Thus, it is considered a subjective sense due to its role within emotive memory. However, I would contest that this correlation to a specific smell, something that is rooted in the purity of the natural world, is far more objective than that of visual realization. Fall leaves will always smell like leaves. A chocolate cake will always smell like a chocolate cake . These smells in their ability to engage both an emotional and physical recording are incredibly important to how we engage the physical world. Smell allows us to transcend time with the shared connectivity of place that is experienced individually. A sensuous connectivity between people, is formed through an intimate habitation of a space. Taste Taste as a means of orientation within our proximate world is lined with conflicting outcomes. Of the five senses taste, oral sensation is often considered the most barbaric or animalistic. I find this animalism comforting, however. The connection of food, the connection to others through a shared experience allows taste, more than its sensual counterparts, to place us in direct connection with others without physicality. This shared empathetic experience, as a product of human repetition is essential to how we manage perception beyond 27


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Architectural Routine Architecture is a ritual of routine. It reveals destinations bound by our unconscious empathy of place. Doors open, windows slide, shutters close, the foundation rest, lights illuminate. These are mundane, banal, boring, in most spaces. In some they are brilliant, exalting, inspiring, and elevate the user into a new understanding of the place they inhabit. It is within the everyday that I hope to expose architectural routine as containing embedded beauty and brilliance. Architecture, in its capacity to regulate our lives has an important role as objects tied to the surface of the earth. The routine that is framed by a building enables architects to shift regularity with incremental change. Architectural Ritual By exposing the mundane, beautiful utility is brought forth through the language and articulation of their sequential merit. The rituals of architecture and more specifically, that, which are universally true, (openings, windows, steps, floors) must be interrogated to objectively understand their role. It is also of vital importance to determine if these elements can or should be perceived as beautiful in their simplicity. Is a door necessary? Is it merely an opening? What are the essential components of architectural form? These questions resonate with earthly inhabitation and humanities need for comfort, for security. When we compartmentalize form, function, and beauty we are manifesting our fear of banality and our need to objectify the reality of an object. Stairs there, door there, beautiful lobby there. However, it is my concern that there be a balance of these scaled arms between form, function, and beauty that allows the aggregation of use to be understood as meaningful. That through the utilization of form, structure can be born and through structure beauty 28


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the confines of our empirical selves . Sensual Immediacy The brick underfoot can be felt. The density is unmistakable. The loose weight of clay resonates through the public square as feet traverse its wet surface. The dull sound of falling water echoes from the fountain below a strategically placed Starbucks. The light rail line hums to a red light and the #12 bus rumbles through a green. Between sips of coffee a couple huddles under an awning, building courage to step into the rain. The cascading brick steps down to the large open plaza where the public cuts the corner between 6th and Broadway. As we manage our personal reality we take sensuous input and place it against our empirical persona. This stimulus is immediate, instantaneous, and specific to us. We imbue that knowledge with emotional context and ground it in our personal conception of space. The outcomes are both personal and universal. They allow us to attach to place, to a site and engage with what it means to be an inhabitant of space that is larger than ourselves both physically and conceptually. Sensuous input of information can be perceived as quantifiable data that, when becoming a participant, connects us to a larger understanding of inhabitance. This connection is a realization of time. Each experience of a locality allows us to define it sensually and incrementally. Unlike the tourist traps throughout the world, local inhabitation is not simply defined by snap shots, or “I have been there� experiences. It is the slow growth of personal experience that connects us beyond our own physical self to the greater populous. In this, our sensuous understanding is capable of eliciting beauty derived in itself as an act of artful humanity. As we traverse the gorge between ourselves, our community, our city, there forms a network and an extension of what it means to be home. This extension 29


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can be found and form can be inspired by beauty. The interrelationships of the mundane and the inspirational are manifested through the same lens. Can architecture be seen differently after the first time, the tenth, and the hundredth? When does the extraordinary move into the ordinary? To what level must we understand context to see these abstractions? If we can understand architectural ritual as universal truth of inhabitation we may be able to tease out a language that can translate previous iterations of the mundane and join them with augmentation and exposure. The opening of the door, the peak through the window, or traversing of the stair are actions, set within the body of architecture that allow a building to transform from object to physicality. It gives life to the inanimate, activating space as something that can reach farther as a conglomeration of rituals. The beauty of architecture, the understanding of its aesthetic function, allows it to break the bounds of its material state and move us emotionally. We are able to empathetically maneuver through the rituals of architecture and know intuitively the needed occupancy of a space. We are tactile beings, ones grounded in the physical world around us. We maneuver between empathic, empirical, and physical states of understanding in an attempt to piece together truth for ourselves. Architecture, as an actor in this play, must find ways in which to facilitate this search of truth. Thus architectural ritual, one formulated by routine and adherence of relatable parts must become a realization of the mundane latent within an action. That as animals constrained to the earth we are intrinsically also bound to the mundane events of our daily lives. Routine, regularity and unoriginality need not be seen as perversions of our individuality, but as commonalities that stitch one another together through a common unconsciousness of constructed interactions. As formal arrangement, architecture has the opportunity to 30


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allows space, the vacuous area bounded by architecture, to be enlivened to place, to sites of exchange. This act of distance, of expansion by inhabitation is much like that of disinterested appreciation of beauty that allows for an understanding of and appreciation for the implications that determine beauty. When we detach from the physical world through learned experience we are able to manage ourselves within the context of others by differentiating the conceptual home versus our immediate home. Placed upon one another, the combination allows for us to reveal humanity as something that exists in the fringe between conflicting realities. This sensuous immediacy demands a counter agent to reconcile its haste with a slow understanding of place, space, site, and time. Thus, personal, communal, metropolitan distancing not only allows us to see the greater beauty found in the network of place, but also engenders proximity by cohabitation. Here, the problems that arise from the parallel tension between distance and proximity (loss of objectivity, detachment from place, and loss of personal responsibility) are transformed into positive positions. Thus, disinterest and distancing, as an aesthetic act, must take into account the realities that span the proximate and global. By subverting the traditional act of distance with one entwined with our sensual being, we are able to approach problems of beauty as virtuous solutions. Distance as a stretching of conceptual understanding has many forms, but one particular example I found nearly everyday while living in Portland, Oregon. Every morning I walked the two blocks to Barbur Boulevard where I waited for the #12 bus to come to a stop at the bus stop at the top of the stair. I would take the two steps into the cab and be transported to work. This simple act, although so experientially contextual, leaves little to see beauty within. However, as I continually rode the bus, felt the persistent timing, and saw familiar faces riding with me, the network of this single bus stretched beyond myself 31


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recognize unconscious commons. Defining these events, architecture should attempt to augment and expose these rituals to the user as moments of mundane revelation. These exposures, as a ritual of habitation, become habits of living and thus become engrained within the context of our lives. If architecture is a construction of the conflict between humanity and nature, then the inclusion of both can allow architecture to define form that manifests beauty in accordance to the convergence between human and natural environments. Empathetic Architecture As briefly discussed in The Mundane, empathy in architecture is an augmentation upon it as a mundane object. What I mean by this is that empathetic architecture is that space through repetitive use and inclusive acceptance has become place by sharing its useful meaning with those inhabiting its belly. Set within the context of our daily lives, architecture quickly becomes banal, but to this effect we are unconsciously aware of the structures imposing an ethical presence. When placed inside the framework of regularity we share with it a sense of place that animates its existence. Through this connection to the mundane, regular use of architectural form can engender an experience with the historical knowledge embroiled within. It is however, only through personal use over the course of the transition from new to banal that we are able to absorb the full body of architectural form. Framed against our own preconceptions, architecture, allows constructed space to bridge personal histories through shared spatial experience. When looking for examples of this empathetic mundane I look to the many coffee shops and cafes strew through out the world. Here, connected through a shared experience there is a connective tissue that binds a group to a specific place. Whether it is the morning coffee with the paper, or conversing about politics, these places of social interest, coupled with 36


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and traversed into a state of detached wonder. The complexity (comma here?) the timings, and? the faith in something so menial as the bus, became an organizer for my entire day. The regularity of the network and the understanding that it would be there when I needed it became beautiful. I was drawn to the intricacies of my route and its implications for the entirety of the Portland Tri Met Public Transportation network. As a piece of artful humanity it was gorgeous, but it required me to see it from a bird’s eye. I had to detach myself from the moment. Like Bullough’s fog, I too let the experience out of gear with my practical self. The efficiency of this system was so meticulously planned that it became something more than a simple bus ride to work. It gave me a sense of connection to others, to my neighborhood, to my city. These are the moments where distance, as a means of appreciation, as a result of disinterest allows for a new revel of personal wonder. Unlike Corbusier’s legislative house, it does not have to be extraordinary; it simply must allow us to see beyond ourselves to a wider set of implications that manifest meaningful connectivity. Like our senses connect us personally to place, our collective imaginations connect us to whole countries. Distanced Proximity Artist Rirkrit Tiravanija defines meaning to his work “Rucksack” as a creation that “through the use meaning arrives”. Meaning, something that is derived from the author and given to the user, is traditionally inherent to architecture. It is found in every doorknob and frame of a window. However, architecture is practically defined as a functional and useful object. This usefulness places the built environment on the fringe of traditional aesthetic theory. I would contend that the immediacy of use, one bound in the practicality of usefulness, should be seen as aesthetically beautiful. This beauty is extracted from Architecture as an object 37


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commodified space allow people to register their reality with those around them. Personal investment thus creates an empathetic response to a particular site as a result of those interactions. Tangent: Iconic Architecture Iconic architecture often times is perceived as something that is not mundane, but what does it mean to see iconography a thousand times? Stop signs are iconic. A red hexagon, white edge. We don’t even have to know what it says; we know as a collective what it means. So, architecture built as an icon must have relative importance. It is in the collision between the iconic and the mundane that this collective regularity that stitches a city together when architecture becomes a thread. One thread among many that allows for definition to arise. All great places include defining patterns, and like a blanket the threads are lost to the totality of form. Tangent: Ethical Restraint Before I can return to the above question of application I see it critical to venture into a conversation of ethical restraint. I find it a social imperative that architects as initiators of lasting physical change take into consideration the impacts manifested in a site, but also the site material extraction. This topic is discussed in the Aesthetics of Elsewhere as an understanding and critical aesthetic response to the material extraction as impacting the aesthetic merit of the greater “site� of the world. The article concludes that through an understanding of the aesthetic destruction of elsewhere, and in turn our understanding of that destruction we could, as consumers make better decisions when we buy a product. Understanding the aesthetics of elsewhere asks us to deny the impulsive nature rooted in consumerism. It asks the user, or the consumer to pose ethical questions. 38


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that roots us conceptually and intimately to a particular place. Through this connective tissue it has the ability to transcend disinterested beauty and traverse between two states of distance. This intimacy with the fringe of architectural aesthetics is where the cloud between distance and proximity comes to a confluence. Hiding in the opacity between form, function, and beauty we are able to intertwine a variety of concepts within the singularity of a building while still considering the implications of distance both proximately and globally. Architecture, if seen through singular act of disinterest, is often relegated to simply a surface, and through our slow understanding of place architecture reaches far beyond the bounds of its perimeter form . Architecture’s proximity to our physical form articulates its capacity to isolate moments in our everyday life that give clarity to a global aesthetic confluence. Thus, it is able to express new realities of what distance means to aesthetics and transform into a connective fiber between personal and communal space that allows us to unwind sensual immediacy into empathetic global.

Importance of Distance The plaster is cracking, shedding like dried elbow skin off the building. Inside the walls are growths. Mold rich drywall is piled in a corner and the studs are bare, the rooms divided now by only bone. Home has eroded back to space, to mere occupancy. Inhabitation is now only a residual context of an old pot still on the stove. Despite its elevation of visual judgment of beauty, distance is necessary to properly see architecture as well as proximity. Like the short narrative above, without distance, without stepping away from the conception of a project 39


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Alleviating this pressure, architecture has the opportunity to take into consideration this new aesthetic for the user. Allowing the user to have an empathetic trust that the architects have taken on more than simple construction and have embedded knowledge of the aesthetics of elsewhere into a project. Like a new t-shirt, architects and clients are drawn to fashion, trend, and the newness of technological advancement as a veil for good design. However, projects rooted in newness, often successful in their ability to generate news are unable to sustain newness as repeated image quickly becomes banal. This trend towards objects, buildings, icons, become mundane must be understood as implications of sustainability. Economics will always play a role in the creation of architecture, to deny this is to deny reality, but it does not mean we have to succumb to the rationalities of the now. We must investigate the past, illustrates its strengths and garner strength from the truths found there. So to apply ethical restraint we must come to terms with the restrictions upon ourselves as designers and find, in the mundane a truth of historical habitation in a place to better understand what is implicitly associated to our site. This could be seen as defaulting to vernacularism, but I do not preclude form but use as the foundation for meaning. That if we approach architecture as an object that is ethically restrained from its onset, architects must realign a project with the particularities of site. Ethical Empathy Like a scab over a wound the traces of the past are bound in the surface of the built environment. Our collective past is tied to the places we inhabit and as we expose those places to the newness of renovation their potency is weakened. It is this reference and adherence to sympathetic memory that architecture must root itself. In this same vein I would argue that architecture does not need to be explicit in its infliction 40


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we are unable to determine critical flaws in our creations. Architecture thus has the opportunity to position itself as a material representation of ethical and conceptual growth. By locating architecture as an object that can be viewed by distancing ourselves from its physical form we are able to insert it into an ethical infrastructure. In his The Nature of Design, David Orr illustrates how through a thoughtful and critical design process architecture has the ability to create a “curriculum embedded in any building that instructs as fully and as powerfully as any course taught in it� with an analysis of the reconstruction of the Oberlin College Environmental Sciences building. This usefulness of architecture as teacher has to be pursued as both a societal good, and in the moment of pause as an object of beauty. As illustrated in the narrative, without a distanced approach to designing and implementing architecture, we are doomed to constructing functionally ugly buildings. The apartments described above are the result of the architect not considering the rain-laden environment of Oregon. The rain, as it seeped through the plaster siding, infiltrated the walls causing the rooms to be cold. When the temperature was increased to counter environmental infiltration mold was able to grow between the interior and exterior finishes. As an approach to distance, architecture must manage expectations that result in solutions that are born from a critical understanding of a building’s siting. Balancing a new duality of beauty, one inspecting both the proximate and the distanced, we must assume the inherent good of design and designate it beautiful as an ethical imperative. This ethical distancing is a needed step to bridge between established concepts of beauty and move architecture into a realm between art as non-emotive mental construct and the real or physical inhabitable object. Inhabitation, however, places a heavier burden on the act of distancing oneself from the object and asks the user to decipher a building into experiential 41


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of iconography. I do not want to reduce the importance of iconic architecture, but want to recognize that architects, given limited design flexibility and restricted by client, budget, or desire still have societal effect. Through shear critical mass of mundane architecture an infrastructure speaks to us. This conversation is one of silent resonance that we are not expected to respond or even acknowledge. This form of the mundane, having the potential for ethical empathy allows us to traverse the everyday. Without the mundane there could not and cannot be the extraordinary. The two are intrinsically fused in the completion of place. As long as we are able to step far enough from the epicenter of our own experience there is a moment, on the fringe of preconception, where the mundane becomes exotic. Here, on this edge, ethical empathy finds a home. Between the known and unknown we must grapple with the impositions that the unusual plays on our preconceptions of the mundane. Thus, ethical empathy, a condition of moral rightness, asks us to share with the specificity of context and submerge ourselves to understand there corresponding duality. Ethical empathetic design aligns us with the practicalities of living in a particular location. It allows architecture to breathe with place. When we are able to engender a project with an empathetic resonance it lives beyond walls, doors, and windows. It becomes something personified by usefulness and through its functionality is both mundane and magnificent.

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parts. These fragments of a building, when amalgamated by gradual inhabitation, allow the user to see the totality of both useful meaning and form. This construct, when coupled with an understanding of architecture’s ability to enact moral good, can begin to alter ethical perceptions of how to interact with both space and the larger societal context. Aesthetics of Elsewhere Reconstructing the conceptual framework for beauty we must consider the ethical and moral considerations as fragments within the philosophical discourse of beauty. Ethical fragmentation, like the gradual inhabitation of architecture, allows for a slow uniting of partitioned knowledge. To this effect, in “The Aesthetics of Elsewhere: An Environmental Everyday Aesthetics� Jonathan Maskit confronts the environmental destruction associated with a high consumption lifestyle. Maskit tries to stitch together the western consumption patterns with the aesthetic considerations that frame our purchasing decisions and the modern demand for newness. The aesthetics of newness when married with aesthetic incentive manifests a culture in search of what is only temporary. This, compounded with our obsession with visual representation, constructs an ideology of the world that is outside time. The expediency of transportation goods and services only aid in this conceptual fallacy as our purchasing power allows us to obtain this fleeting moment and derive pleasure from the aesthetic of the purchase faster at farther distances. However, we must include in our understanding of this aesthetic that our purchase, although fulfilling our immediate need, places an equal aesthetic pressure upon its point of origin. Thus, to ethically consider aesthetics, we must first be able to distance ourselves at multiple scales to fully see the implications of a singular purchase. Like experiencing space over an extended period of time, we must see aesthetics of elsewhere as 43


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external pressures on both time and site. Stemming from an understanding of our proximate selves we are able to step back at greater intervals to see the network that moves outside the boundary of our city and connects us nationally and globally. Applied Elsewhere It has become more common in modern buildings to source products as close to the site as possible. This locality oftentimes limits the use of certain materials. However, this challenge, when presented to architects, should not be seen as a disadvantage. Instead these limitations should be seen as a problem that calls for virtuous solutions. In Ladakh India, just outside of Leh is a small school tucked into the hills of the Himalayas which has become an innovator in local building practices. The buildings, constructed of either compacted earth block or granite stone, use traditional building techniques and combine them with modern innovations like passive solar heated trom walls. Through this careful planning and intertwining of past and present, the campus has become a beautiful representation of how these problems of accessibility, sustainability, and program can manifest into truly virtuous solutions. Led by ARUP engineering and architecture, the campus has been able to build a facility that encourages growth of the community, a school, and its students. Through the use of local labor, materials, and building practices, the architecture has not submitted itself to the locality and instead reinvigorated it with new possibilities. This exchange between the past and the present is essential if we are to understand the aesthetics of elsewhere in relationship to contemporary architecture. Contemporary architecture, when discussed as beautiful, must be reconstructed conceptually to bring about by an understanding of distance and ethical discourse. Architecture, as a physical manifestation of ethical propriety, has the opportunity to build on this conversation by means 45


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of making, materials used, labor practices, and understanding that the world we build today is intertwined with an ethical code of tomorrow. Ethical architecture that is concerned with both moral placement and aesthetic beauty will have the opportunity to implement incremental ethical change over time. Return to Proximity Through this extension of the aesthetics to architectural experience we return back to the place of its origination. Distance may allow us to conceive of other realities, but our physical body remains. We remain. We still touch, taste, and see the world. Architecture’s ability to house experience, to connect individuals to the physicality of the world, and design that interaction has the singular goal of manifesting beauty whenever possible. Defining beauty as a cyclic feature of proximity to distance and back to proximity allows the user and the architect to engage in a conversation. This conversation now has the chance to span lifetimes, and like our understanding of place, is born from personal time and critical awareness. When we are able to enter into this conversation as designers, it is our job to reconcile site, space, and create places that house function. We are not imposing our meaningful will upon a site, but instead reacting to the realities placed upon us to create a beautiful object. However, by understanding the possibilities of proximate distance, architecture can expand its influence beyond functionality and accept our need for beauty as an inherent good. By ethically approaching the local and global of the forms we create, while accepting the need for beauty, architecture can hold onto its virtuous intent while still crafting beautiful places. If we accept our functionality as constructors of fringe conditions between proximity and distanced experiences, we can mitigate a multiplicity of realities that contract and extend the surface of a building. 47


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The sensuous birth of function is at the base of allowing for an ethically constructed act of disinterested beauty. Instead of denying beauty we should redefine its parameters and how it is approached. Aesthetics and Ethics of Care Careful, caress, care come to mind when we begin to build this ethical discourse into the fabric of use. To bring my thoughts to a tentative end I have found that more than anything, we must care. We must care to inhabit careful places. We must care to purchase carefully considered products that in turn care about their origins. It has taken the length of this paper to abstractly define what seems so apparent in these concluding words. That without care, without consideration, without the caress of hope, none of this is possible. The finitude “I don’t care” is so completely devastating that it manifests the worst in people and places. It allows for use to be coopted and people to be coarsened. As architects, as designers, as citizens we must care about our placement in the world, and what we place there within. Through care, the infinitude of growth is possible. Not just within architecture, or aesthetics, or design, but in life. But without care, without its consideration in our daily lives we degrade the experience of what it means to be human. Instead, care is replaced it with cliché, trendy, the modern, the contemporary, the now, the new and hope that it fulfills the care we have lost in our everyday lives. Care can only be derived from an understanding of the sensual proximity of our daily lives and a distanced realization of our actions within a greater societal context.

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Part 2c Wondering The next several pages are a meandering of thoughts put into a collection of images taken or found by me.

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Through the use, meaning arrives. -Rirkrit Tiravanija

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“I always had this idea that doing art was just a masturbatory activity, and didn’t really help anybody. I was teaching kids in the California Youth Authority, an honor camp where they send kids instead of sending them to prison. One kid came to me one day and asked if I would open up the arts and crafts building at night so they could work. I said, “If all of you guys will cool it in the classes, then I’ll baby-sit you.” Worked like a charm. Here were these kids that had no values I could embrace, that cared about art more than I. So, I said, “Well, I guess art has some function in society,” and I haven’t gotten beyond that yet, but it was enough to convince me that art did some good somehow. I just needed a reason that wasn’t all about myself.” - John Baldessari

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So what becomes of all the little boys, who run away from home, well the world just keeps gettin’ bigger, once you get out on your own, so here’s to all the little boys, the sandman takes you where, you’ll be sleepin’ with a pillowman, on the nickel over there. -Tom Waits from “On the Nickle”

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