A Theory of Alienation: Heidegger's principles applied to Architecture ABSTRACT Heidegger's exploration of 'Being' in relation with architecture focused on the essential role of human presence in design. Successful architecture forms an essential link between humans and the world. Similar to his views on the 'being', Heidegger removes the term architecture from any presupposed contexts to form the basis for 'Building Dwelling Thinking'. However, Heidegger's theories of 'being' and 'placefulness' in architecture becomes a theory of alienation, especially when compared to its opposing aspects in modernism of conceptual focus, progressive thinking and innovative technology.
Considering human interaction with its environment a primary factor in architecture, Heidegger places human dwelling as a principal conceptual focus in his approach to architecture. “The nature of a building is letting dwell” (Building Dwelling Thinking). In this way, architecture is isolated and defined by its relation to people and its worth as a dwelling. This isolation separates the conceptual focus of human presence from other contributing factors of all encompassing building design, and shows itself as a theory of alienation.
“Modernisation refers to a range of technological, economic and political processes associated with the Industrial Revolution and its aftermath” (Modernism). The idea of keeping 'up to date' with progressive thought is a key driving factor in Modernity. In direct contrast to this lies Heidegger's idea of thinking, “Thinking to Heidegger, involved following a path that has been more of less inscribed in the ground by others who have been there before” (Heidegger for Architects). The method of thinking idealized by Heidegger takes away from new thinking, alienating it from the potential progressions of thought and open mindedness.
It is the nature of technology to develop through new ideas and innovations. This continuous movement is challenging to Heidegger's quest for the 'essence of technology' as its addictive pace is ever-changing in nature. “Everywhere we remain unfree and chained to technology whether we passionately affirm or deny it” (The Question Concerning Technology) Modernism on other other hand thrives on the movement of innovating technology and demonstrates the success of its lucidity. Heidegger's hold on capturing the essence of technology alienates a key aspect of its advancement.
Architecture is all encompassing – a king of all traits. It is its multi relational nature that causes architecture to be defined in associative ways; it becomes what one wants it to. When applied to architecture, the antithetical nature of Heidegger’s theory of Being and Modernity's principles can be viewed as opposites, exposing Heidegger's views as a theory of alienation.
A THEORY OF ALIENATION Heidegger's principles applied to Architecture
In 'Building, Dwelling, Thinking', Martin Heidegger's explores the concept of 'man as a dweller'. Using this as a focal point, Building and Thinking are established as inseparable counterparts to dwelling. This unifying viewpoint exposes a strong principle in all of Heidegger's writings; the nature of unity amongst all that composes the world. At the core of this unity lies the 'fourfold', namely the earth and sky, divinities and mortals. “This simple oneness of the four we call the fourfold. Mortals are in the fourfold by dwelling.” (pg 150, text) Martin Heidegger was a German Philosopher (1889 – 1976) who was most famous for his explorations of the 'questions of Being'. An important aspect of his theories is 'existentialism' which places man the centre of philosophical thinking. His work constantly seeks understanding without any presuppositions, taking us back to the original and truthful portrayal of being. Heidegger's theories applied to various fields such as philosophy, language, art and architecture. Heidegger's methods of analysis uses language in its foundations (mostly High German) to understand and explain concepts in his work. The idea of 'preservation' and 'thing' arises when relating mortals to dwelling and the fourfold and forms an essential part of this theories. “Dwelling, as preserving, keeps the fourfold in that with which mortals stay: in things.” (pg 151, text) The ability to contain the fourfold and be united with it exists in 'things' and dwelling brings out the fourfold in things; thereby bringing out truth in things. This seeking and portraying of truth in things is a core aspect of Heidegger's views of being and placefullness applied to Architecture. The views and topics explored in 'Building, Dwelling, Thinking' become a theory of alienation when exploring the unity of the fourfold, begin to oppose modernity through the evolution of language and finally prove antithetical to modern concepts of art and representation.
In 'Building, Dwelling, Thinking', Heidegger introduces his concept of the 'fourfold', though the basis for the idea of four unifying principles could be foreshadowed from previous works.
“When Heidegger wrote “The Origin of the Work of Art” he had not yet arrived at the concept of the fourfold, but in the description of the Greek temple all the elements are there: the god, the human beings, the earth and implicitly, the sky. As a thing, the temple relates to all of them, and makes them appear as what they are, at the same time as they are united into a 'simple onefold'.” Using the theme of unity of the fourfold from Heidegger's work as a basis, we can see how both Being and Building are an all-encompassing, uniting element that forms an inherent part of all it associates with. In direct contrast to this theme of unity lies the the capitalist principles that gave birth to Karl Marx's theory of alienation. In simple words, the theory of alienation is the separation of naturally united elements that belong together. This theory came to be in the modern age of industrial production. Marx's theory opposed capitalism to state that under these conditions, workers will lose control over their work, thus man is alienated from his labour. Heidegger was a firm believer in learning through questioning. A fair bit of his work is methodical questions and answers to delve into the root meaning of concepts, such as 'What is Being?' On the discourse of 'Being', Heidegger studies the relation of Being with oneself, Being with others and Being with the world. This theory is established on grounds of unity similar to the idea of the fourfold where the Being forms an essential and interactive part of others and the world. “His recognition that human existence involves being-in-the-world and being-with-others, and acknowledgement that our thoughts and behaviour are shaped by our relationships to the world that provide the fundamental grounds for his philosophy of being.” (pg 3, reframed) With this surfaces two key concepts to Heidegger's thinking: 'Dasein' and 'Being in the world'. While Dasein is the German word for existence, Heidegger used it to pinpoint human existence specifically. This way, the human being becomes relevant aspect of existence which brings us back to Heidegger's theories being existential or humanfocused.
'Being in the world' throws the Being in and amongst the world and takes away the ability view a situation objectively (which would entail separating the Being from the world). This concept of being thrown in and taken along the drive and impulse of the world is called 'throwness'. The implications of throwness in Heidegger's Dasein raise the factor that raises the question of being a Theory of Alienation, which is control. “We are thrown into the midst of life and get carried along by its flows and eddies, its turbulence and its currents. From the moment of our birth, when we are expelled, screaming and kicking, into the world, gathered up by the doctor or midwife and handed to the mother we didn't chose, in an environment we can't control, at a time over which we have no say, we are thrown involuntarily into our future.” (pg 20, reframed) In direct contrast to the momentum of throwness is the control of the capitalist principles making it a Theory of Alienation. As stated earlier, Heidegger states the basic unity of Being with oneself, with others and with the world. Looking back to the root of the Theory of Alienation, we see man being separated from his labour and thereby his work and product of work, which encompasses his immediate world and the others in it. “Marx begins with the alienation of the results of man's labour, alienation of objects produced by man. The realization of labor is its objectification, and this objectification is for the labourer at the same time the loss of object, alienation. Products of his hands constitute a separate world of objects which is alien to him, which dominates him, and which enslaves him.” (pg 421, MTAJSTOR). The next step is looking at 'self alienation' by means of which the Being is separated from oneself. “According to Marx, the essence of self-alienation is that man at the same time alienates something from himself and himself from something; that he alienates himself from himself.” (pg 421, MTAJSTOR). Marx observes these to cause the degradation of man's individual existence. This way loss of control over his work and himself takes away his presence as a Being, alienating him from the world, others and himself.
In 'Building, Dwelling, Thinking', Heidegger questions the manner in which Building belongs to Dwelling. With the charge of preserving the fourfold in things, human beings (mortals) are charged with the care taking of things, which they do by means of dwelling and allowing things to be in their 'natural state' or true form. “In this way, mortals nurse and nurture the things that grow, and specially construct things that do not grow. Cultivating and construction are building in the narrower sense” (pg152text) What is the outcome of this? Following the principles outlined, a building must preserve the fourfold and form the connection or focal point by which everything is connected. Heidegger envisions a true building to be the means by which its surroundings are defined thereby giving it the ability to hold earth and sky, mortal and divinity. In 'Building, Dwelling, Thinking', Heidegger uses the built bridge as an example. The bridge is portrayed as powerful, meaningful and symbolic. It is the centre around which its surroundings are determined. “It does not just connect banks that are already there. The banks emerge as banks only as the bridge comes across the stream....The bridge gathers the earth as landscape around the stream.” (pg152text) In this manner the bridge is established as a 'thing' that can simultaneously be looked at for its functional capabilities of providing a crossing as well as a symbol that has the ability to express what itself as a 'thing'. The bridge gains the power to encompass and express the fourfold in this existence which can be looked at as a definitive feature in buildings that belong to dwelling. Technological advancements in the Modern era oppose the power and purity in Heidegger's idea of building and thing. In the Modern era technology became a means by which man can establish dominance; in this case over objects that never realize their existence as 'things'. In Heidegger's view, technology alters the nature of an object by taking away its purpose and definitive existence. “All of Reality is transformed into standing reserve. That into which Reality is transformed is eventually (as energy) no longer present to man in any way.” (pg376techno) This way the thing is nothing but an object resting in a transitional phase waiting for man to assert his power and transform it as he wishes. There is now a clear loss of unity and oneness between the thing and fourfold. Through technology and
mass production, a building becomes a tectonic construction of objects that cannot unite to transform into a dwelling.
As shown by Heidegger's definition and use of the word 'thing', language is a crucial aspect of his work. All works use a methodical prose of asking and answering questions as well as clearly defining terms that apply to his theories. Heidegger strongly believes that language used in its origin is a vessel of information that reveals an object's true form and is the means by which we recognize, learn and understand the essence of it. In this way, language is seen not only as a means of communication but also an expression of importance of an object. “Just as he does not understand art as representation, he cannot accept the interpretation of language as a means of communication, based on habit and convention. When things are named for the first time, they are recognized as what they are.” (pg64text) However changes occur in language towards the modern era that alter the way language is perceived. Modernism sees language through a changed lens due to the globalization of language and man's assertion of dominance over its evolution. In Heidegger's work “On the Way to Language”, he speaks of the 'way to language' as revealing the essence of language to itself. This is done by 'bringing language to language from language', as stated by Paul Livingston in his paper 'Heidegger: On the Way to Language'. “This means to bring the essence of language to itself, to speak in language its own essence.” (PL) In 'Building, Dwelling, Thinking, Heidegger reveals the origin of crucial architectural terms from their Old English, High German and Greek roots such as: Bauen or Building, Ich bin or I am, Friede or Peace, Raum or Space, Peras or Boundary and Spatium or Interval. Just as the bridge was a focal point that defined and held all around it, Heidegger explores these architectonic terms as the focal points in their meaning. For example, the Greek word Peras for Boundary lies at the centre of its meaning, by which its relating elements are defined. “A boundary is not at which something stops but, as the Greeks recognized, the boundary is that from which something begins its presencing.”(text)
Heidegger's methods of definition by seeking out the root meaning of the word placed in it a unique power that was realized by its ability to reveal Being and contain the fourfold. Language became the vessel by which an object and its expression was given the important ability to encompass and contain a deeper poetic meaning. At no point did language seize to be a method of communication; it was always that and more, a means of instilling self worth and power into an object's existence. “Modernization refers to a range of technological, economic and political processes associated with the Industrial Revolution and its aftermath' modernity to the social conditions and modes of experience that are seen as the effect of these processes.”(pg6modernism) It was the age of forward movement, innovation and progressive thoughts. There was a sense of release, of freedom to explore previously unconventional processes of social and cultural expression and a chance for human beings to make their mark as individuals. Change was powerful and this relationship began to show itself in technological advancements, creative works and language. With the Industrial Revolution and rise of technology came Globalization. A catalyst in a cycle of continuous advancement, globalization spread the web of connection for political relations, cultural differences. A key factor in this process was the use of language to establish a common ground for discourse giving birth to the idea of globalization of language. “The main point that emerges from this approach is that all the highly complex and diverse contemporary processes of globalization inherently have a language dimension, because globalization and indeed social change in general are processes involving dialectical relations between diverse social elements of moments 'always including discourse'.”(pg18fairclough-language&globalization). With this globalization, the functionality of language took precedent: it was now first and foremost a means of communication that went through a series of transformations, simplifications and alterations through translation and the effects of mass media. The birth of modern language left behind the symbolic and truthful reveal of words at their roots, separating the object from its 'thingness' and ability to hold the fourfold. “A modern language is one that is still in everyday use and is thus still adaptable and transformable for the purposes of
expression. The classical languages of ancient Greek and Latin, by contrast, are fixed into and unchanging form by their surviving inscriptions and by the canons of their literature.” (pg16modernism) The reoccurring theme of man asserting dominance comes into play in the alteration of language towards the modern era. When regarding Heidegger's emphasis on the importance of language, we see that it is inherent to man's understanding of the world thereby making it an essential and powerful player in man's dwelling. There is an equal relationship between work, word and world which man realizes through dwelling. According to Heidegger man dwells “between work and word” causing 'word' and language to have a reigning power over man's understanding of the 'world' which is then given presence through 'work'. As mentioned earlier, modernization and globalization instigate change and advancement. Language now becomes a tool of communication and man establishes his control over its nature by claiming the power to alter and redefine it. Similar to the capitalist approach of production and the theory of alienation, this control separates man and language taking away the power language had to contain the essence of nature and the fourfold in an object. Heidegger states the negativity of this dominance in 'Building, Dwelling, Thinking'. “Perhaps it is before all else man's subversion of this relation of dominance that drives his nature into alienation.”(pg146text) Heidegger warns the world of the slow changes in the nature of language. “The relation of human beings to language is undergoing a transformation, the consequences of which we are not ready to face.”(1960interviews) While language is still essential to our existence and progression, the role it plays in Heidegger's theories opposes its role in modernism due to the globalization of language and man's assertion of dominance over the tool of words.
Similar to language, Heidegger art is a means by which the nature of an object can be explained and its truth can be revealed. In direct contract to art as a representation, “the work of art does not
represent, rather it presents; it brings something into presence.”(pg82text) Here the 'work of art' presents the truth by bringing into presence the fourfold and by establishing a meaningful place in this world. A work of art being the presenter provides it with a historical characteristic; denoting it as a point of origin whose existence is essential to understand the world. In Heidegger's work 'The Origin of the Work of Art', he says “art is historical, and as historical it is the creative preserving of truth in the work...Art is history in the essential sense that is grounds history...To originate something by leap, to bring something into being from out of its essential source in a founding leap – this is what the word origin means.”(HEIDEGGER) With this a relationship between work of art, building and dwelling is established with uniting characteristics of being an origin as well as having the capabilities to contain truth, nature and the fourfold. (AWKS) Heidegger gives birth to the word 'representationalism' which when compared to art as a representation places his theories in direct contrast with modern art. Heidegger explains representationalism as a mode of thinking versus an outcome (such that an imitation or representation would be). It is a means by which art presents to us the nature and fourfold in an object. Representationalism follows the theme of unity in all of his works, joining art to expression and truth. Art as a representation for the most part has been an unquestionable theme throughout time. Through to the twentieth century, the mimetic aspect of representational art was considered a skill for artists. The ability to directly mimic reality distinguished great artists till the emergence of photography as an art which took over the role of recording life. However, art still remained a representation of reality through methods of imitation to carry out themes of all aspects of life. Looking at art this way, it can be seen as a means through which we understand the world; re-presenting in a manner through which human beings can capture relevant themes of reality. “The spectre of representation continues to loom large as the system that prescribes the way we know our world.”(pg55reframed) Representation can relate back to Plato's ideal forms; any copy will never be as perfect as the preconceived ideal form.
This carried on into Western representation forms a lack: “There will always be a gap between reality and representation. This gap is often figured as a lack.”(55reframed) Modernism with relation to art and literature was a reaction against nineteenth century rationality and science leading to the creative exploration of unexplored areas of the mind. (CITE?) Modern Art is the epitome of individual expression. It is very much a reactionary outcome of the artist to the world he senses around him. In other words, reality is broken down by the artist, its elements and meaning analyzed, to produce a work that portrays an opinionated view of reality.(AWKS) “It is normal to associate the modern in art with the breakdown of the traditional decorum in western culture that previously connected the appearance of works of art to the appearance of the natural world.”(pg9modernism) Modern art is known to express in elemental forms – colour, shapes and materials and are pieced together to form the impression reality has created in the artist's mind. This breakdown nature of art to form an individual's interpretation of reality lies in direct opposition to the unified presenting nature of art described by Heidegger. Following the breakdown of reality is the theme of art that documents reality through means of a 'picture'. “In his essay 'The age of the world picture' (1950) Heidegger designates the modern epoch as the era of representation.”(62reframed) The modern epoch starts from Descartes and runs till contemporary times. Heidegger states that during this time representation is reduces the world to a picture. He defines a picture not just as an image but as any representational figure (drawing, model, scheme) that uses Descartes mathematisation to reduce to world into this form. “The age of the world picture is not concerned with a visual picturing, with mimesis, but rather with a modelling or framing of the world. It is the reduction of the world to data.”(63reframed) In the world of representation, being is broken down and analyzed as data, thus making it preconeived and controllable, opposing the natures of Dasein and throwness. It is a true war of art as being subjective or objective and in Heidegger's mind it is never objective, can never be known in
advance. It can be seen through representation versus representationalism that Heidegger's theories of art â€“ that are inherently related to dwelling â€“ are antithetical to art in modernity.
After exploring the unity of the fourfold as theory of alienation, the opposing aspects of evolved language from Heidegger's ideal and the warring nature of his theories to modern art and representation, we can see that his views are antithetical to modernity. Heidegger was one of the most influential philosophers prior to the turn of the century and the vast net he throws over various topics are of great importance to architecture to this date. Heidegger's theories essentially capture the subjective, more poetic side of architecture where unity, truth and oneness are at the forefront of design. What can be proven from these relations is the all-encompassing nature or architecture; it pays heed to areas of philosophy, nature, language and art. True architecture has the ability to unite and contain itself, others and the world in it.
Barbara Bolt, Heidegger Reframed (London: I.B. Tauris & Co. Ltd) Bernard Smith, Modernism's History (Australia: University of New South Wales Press Ltd) Charles Harrison, Modernism â€“ Movements in Modern Art (London: Tate Gallery) Stuart Elden, Mapping the Present â€“Heidegger, Foucault and the Project of a Spatial History (London) Peter Collier and Judy Davies, Modernism and the European Unconscious (Cambridge: Polity Press) Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology Heidegger, Building Dwelling Thinking Adam Sharr, Heidegger for Architects (New York: Routledge)
Published on Apr 15, 2014