ARC 327R / ARC 386M
Instructor: Michael Benedikt
Architects offer several lines of reasoning for why their buildings look the way they do. Some are functional; some are esthetic; some are economic, and some are social.
This seminar focuses on the line of reasoning that cuts across these. It has to do with the quality of human experience, which, within architecture, falls into two domains. One is the experience of the building as such—its materials, proportions, spaces, light, movement-patterns, sounds, sense of style. The other is what it’s like to be/live/work in and around the building over time, in the presence of other people, with media and tools, and with things to do other than appreciate the building. The good architect is interested in both domains.
Why the special interest in experience? And why now? The idea that individual human experience is the locus/focus of absolute value has been prevalent in prosperous Western cultures for at least sixty years, with a history that goes back much further. Here, each and every person, as they mature, is charged with seeking/finding/realizing/providing not just material goods and labor, but the experience of happiness, personal growth, pleasure, entertainment, and enlightenment for themselves and others. The result, collectively, is that we now live in a largely “Experience Economy” (see readings below), with architecture swept into the process.
There are reasons to wonder whether this is a Good Thing. The focus on experience might ignore and displace other concerns, like social justice, like the health of the planet, like consequential relationships, like real beauty; not the experience of these things, which can always be arranged, but the things themselves, valuable for reasons independent of our happiness. The question arises: what kind of architecture would result from moving our concerns not only beyond practical matters (budgets, laws, construction, politics), but beyond experience-talk also, which today usually suffices to satisfy architects’ need to transcend practicality?
This is not to condemn “good experiences.” (Our seminar will be a good experience!) It is to begin to see that the just, sustainable, and more beautiful world we all want might depend on our going past, or at least us on our supplementing our devotion to arranging pleasurable and interesting experiences through architecture with something else, something deeper.
And what is that “something deeper?” Jonathan Hale, author of of Merleau-Ponty For Architects, comes close to telling us on the jacket of Architecture Beyond Experience: “Benediktparadoxically offers a new and deeper understanding of experience: rather than being the prime object and outcome of architectural design endeavors, experience is allowed to emerge as a property of the relations being acted out between works of architecture themselves, their components, and the bodies and behaviors they house.” Close.
Join the class.
“Architecture and Experience” is intended for graduate students of architecture. Upper-division students of architecture also qualify. Graduate and upper-division students from other departments are welcome, but should inquire with the instructor for permission. It would be highly desirable for students not in architecture to have taken art and/or architectural history. It would benefit all to have a philosophical frame of mind.
The seminar meets weekly in person on Tuesday afternoons. Students will be expected to read all readings and to attend all classes, two unexcused absences, max. “Bonus points” for following up references in readings or from class discussions. Students will write one short mid-term paper and one longer final paper or original video.
Core readings from:
B. Joseph Pine & James H. Gilmore, The Experience Economy
James J. Gibson, The Senses Considered as Perceptual Systems
Juhani Pallasmaa, The Eyes of the Skin
Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space
Robert Venturi et. al. Learning from Las Vegas
Martin Buber, I and Thou
Michael Benedikt, Architecture Beyond Experience
Supplemental readings as semester progresses.
Full syllabus on first day of class.
ARCHITECTURE AND EXPERIENCE
ARC 327R / ARC 386M