Embodied Values

I will be presenting a paper at the Embodied Values conference in Edinburgh University (http://www.iash.ed.ac.uk/Sawyer/Conference.html) for which I have been awarded a post-graduate writing up prize. This conference, entitled ‘Embodied Values: Bringing the Senses Back to the Environment’ is a John E. Sawyer Seminar Series at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities at the University of Edinburgh.

Keynote presentations will be delivered by David Abram, author of ‘The Spell of the Sensuous’ and ‘Becoming Animal’ and Iain Borden from The Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL.

Exploring an Architecture of Heideggerian Space

As a practice that directly intervenes in the environment, it is important to consider architecture as a critical and philosophical reflection upon the social and material world. This raises the possibility that one might be able to give architectural form to philosophical inquiry. By engaging with philosophy through design, one is forced into a position of critical and creative thought. The inherently physical nature of philosophy is made evident and is engaged with in order to advance the design. Design led research thus enables a productive and educative thought process, not merely an explanatory representation of philosophical concepts.

This paper explores the Heideggerian idea that states we modify our perception of the surrounding environment through experience. The author continues this logic and explores the inverse, that our surrounding environment could be designed to embrace the effect of individual experience and perception, as opposed to suppressing it. This goal is termed Heideggerian Form.

All of us have places that we feel are personally meaningful. These might involve memories of our childhood home, a particular corner of a public park or a seat in a café. Heidegger states that our perception of any place is driven as much by these memories and associations as by the place’s physical properties. In addition, any unfamiliar place is judged on the basis of previous experience and pre-conceptions. Like Hansel we each leave a trail of breadcrumbs to mark where we’ve been and these accumulate, identifying meaningful places based on experience and memory. Built up over the course of our lives we form personally meaningful places to the extent that it can be argued that we each perceive subtly distinct realities. The meaningful places in every person’s city are unique.

Heideggerian perception can therefore be seen as an individual’s ineffable nebula of memories and associations superimposed upon all space. It is an ever changing and incomplete perception of form which allows for the potential of new experience. Heideggerian form is thus the environment that allows for individual experience and place making. The author discusses how this form is poetic in that it requires inhabitation and active engagement by the subject in order to exist as well as being a measure of our position in the world.

This is contrary to pervading architectural thought that seeks to impose places upon others from a position of separation. In this paper Aidan Williams explores how the layered effect of Heideggerian concepts such as experience, time, impermanence and individual place-making can be embraced in order to design architecture. This is carried out through design led research involving creative practice in architectural theory as a compliment and counterpart to written analysis of philosophical and architectural texts.


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