What are the philosophical implications of architecture and urban design?

Have you ever entered a house or other building, or stepped into a public plaza or park, or walked into a startling commercial space and felt a shift in your mental or emotional state? Sometimes, even when simply looking at photos of built places I feel a shift. Different kinds of places–different designs–seem to make different kinds of thoughts and actions more likely, through identifiable principles and design characteristics sometimes refer to as "affordances." 

Do you think a neighborhood of modest houses with large, inviting porches, large tree-shaded walkways, parking in the rear, and facing a shared green space shapes a different sort of community interaction than a typical American suburb of double- and triple-garage-faced houses with no shared community spaces? 

How do public spaces modeled after ancient Athenian and Roman temples make you feel? What sort of tone do they set? Do they change the kinds of thoughts you are likely to have? Compare that to a typical shopping mall. 

If you want to have a deeper, more thoughtful conversation, what sort of building would you find more conducive? Why? Aside from noise, are there other design principles that promote more intimate knowledge sharing? Something with such an ability to influence our perception, mood, and behaviors must be tapping into ancient and universal elements of the human mind and culture. 

The Western philosophical and political revolutions of the 18th Century have been partly attributed to coffee and coffee houses. Caffeine is often cited, but did the cozy, cacophonous quarters and cultural patterns formed in centuries of pub socializing set a fertile stage for the formation and propagation of novel ideas about the meaning of living in society? 

Why is sacred architecture similar around the world? Oversized interiors with massive structural and visual elements, openings to create long shafts of light in dark volumes of space, soaring rooflines and spires outside–is architecture a language encoded in the structure of our minds? 

Been to the old parts of London? Rome? Beijing? Istanbul? Any Latin American capitol? How did it impact your thoughts? How was that different from being in a modern canyon of skyscrapers? 

What of the hearth? We can imagine that many of the most influential ideas throughout human evolution emerged around fires, whether outdoors or in, whether communal or solitary. Why do even modern high-rise condos in New York and Chicago boast of having fireplaces? 

I hope you find the embedded meanings and impacts of the built environment intriguing philosophically, sociologically, and psychologically–as I do. I will post links and print references soon. I want to get this scheduled today to allow you an opportunity to plan to participate.

It's been a while since we took collections to pay for our room reservations. I will pass a can to seek your alms. Names won't be taken, but I'll appreciate anything you can donate (a few dollars would be nice) to defray our costs. 

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  • Leila S.

    interesting discussion, went to surprising places. good to finally join in!

    October 15, 2013

    • Mark H.

      Good to chat with you. You had some interesting questions and insights. I hope you'll be back. Which general area of town are you in? Maybe we can have an out-of-cycle discussion nearer to you sometime.

      October 16, 2013

    • Leila S.

      thanks! i live between downtown & old town.

      October 17, 2013

  • Rajpal S.

    It was great! Mark you did a great job! Looking forward for the next meet up.

    1 · October 17, 2013

  • Mark H.

    Interesting discussion. Now I have more to research and ponder. Thanks to all who participated. It was good to meet The two first timers.

    October 16, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    A unique topic that was of interest to everyone. Mark prepared us well & provided excellent in-group information. Those that attended displayed good knowledge & made good comments.

    October 15, 2013

  • james

    I will not be attending this one, I have been hobbled by a knee injury.

    October 13, 2013

    • Mark H.

      Sorry about your knee

      October 15, 2013

  • jule

    Images and ideas about utopian architecture are interesting and fun to look at.

    October 15, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    I would like my wife Linda to join us. Does she need to sign up, or come as a special guest?

    October 13, 2013

    • Mark H.

      Sorry. Didn't realize it was configured that way. Linda is welcome.

      October 13, 2013

    • A former member
      A former member

      She will be happy to know that. Thank you for the reading material. I think this topic is a challenge because it is not a traditional subject for philosophy.

      October 13, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    I'm sorry that, as a brand new member, I just now had to cancel my prior 'reservation' for the architecture/urban design discussion. I have a prior commitment I had forgotten about.
    I hope to join you soon for a future discussion.

    October 11, 2013

    • Mark H.

      No problem, John. Thanks for updating your RSVP. I look forward to seeing you at future discussions.

      October 11, 2013

  • Mark H.

    "Does design form us? In the Poetics of Space, Bachelard writes that ’the house remodels man’. ... there is an implicit faith that an ordered environment might help us create an more ordered, if not moral, life. ... neighborhood design profoundly influences our sense of community and security. In my own neighborhood, ... row house neighbors with front porches tend to communicate with their neighbors far more than the porchless row homes across the street. And at a personal level, an ordered environment helps many to attain a clarity of mind and sense of agency. Yet one does not have to linger long on some obvious failures of this logic. ... Life in the White House did apparently little for Mr. Bush. The finest of buildings, big or small, may do nothing greater for us than some warm soup, as much as we may like to believe otherwise when conversing with our architects ..." B. Levy
    http://boneyardstudios.com/2012/06/06/the-philosophy-of-design-and-this-small-house/

    October 5, 2013

  • Mark H.

    Is the architecture of Brasilia sterile–failing to connect with human scale and experience, and is it an overreaction to colonialization? http://bigthink.com/ideas/buildings-speak-to-us

    October 5, 2013

  • Mark H.

    Imagine you are an intelligent alien secretly visiting Earth. (I know you feel like that sometimes!) You encounter different kinds of structures (freestanding houses, barns, factories, power distribution stations, high-rise office buildings, pagodas, dog houses, bird houses, plazas, sports stadiums, greenhouses, grain silos, palaces, temples, monuments, train stations, airports, ruins, etc.). You might notice different shapes and arrangements are associated with different activities and functions. You might notice northwestern European buildings are clustered closely together with lots of green space between collections, while in much of North America, concentrations of structures include far less open space. You would see geographical and time-based patterns of activity. If you studied the patterns long enough, increasing the fidelity of your observations, would you be likely to learn anything valid about human societies and members' thinking and drives?

    October 5, 2013

  • Mark H.

    "So, too, for the special architectural predicates—most prominently, light, space, and form—and those aesthetic predicates architecture shares with other art forms (color, shape (generally), size, etc.). How do these predicates characterize the architectural work? Do they refer to existing qualities? How do we determine what qualities there are in a work, and which are the most important in a given work?"
    Saul Fisher - http://aesthetics-online.org/teaching/fisher-saul.php

    October 5, 2013

  • Mark H.

    "Architectural predicates—and their metaphysical underpinnings.
    Philosophers often use the term ‘predicate’ to talk about qualities, features, or properties. The idea is to remain neutral in speaking about the actual existence of qualities, features, or properties, as opposed, for example, to the existence of the objects they characterize. This neutrality is accomplished by referring to a given quality of an object y (say, the redness of y) in terms of a corresponding predicate, say r, where r is the predicate “is red”). Then we can say y is characterized by r without committing to the existence of r. What is motivating the device is the worry that talk of qualities as existing somethings is absurd, though many arguments have been advanced for the opposing view, too, and in those cases the burden is to show exactly how we may speak of qualities existing. -- Saul Fisher - http://aesthetics-online.org/teaching/fisher-saul.php

    October 5, 2013

  • Mark H.

    Are the patterns and development sequences of architecture and community design part of a human language--like music, mathematics, or composition? Does such a language emerge from the nature of the world and our interactions with it and with each other? Can we truly modify the language by our innovations (designs and styles, materials, construction methods like 3D prining, etc.) and governance (building codes, neighborhood covenants, etc.). Or, do we simply innovate the combinations of the underlying language that's hard wired in our minds?

    Concise overview of C. Alexander's "A Pattern Language" - http://203.77.194.71:81/Members/mansiparekh2203/a%20pattern%20language.pdf

    A Pattern Language (full text): http://library.uniteddiversity.coop/Ecological_Building/A_Pattern_Language.pdf

    October 5, 2013

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