Phenomenology (architecture)

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Phenomenology in architecture can be understood as a discursive and realist attempt to understand and embody the philosophical insights of phenomenology.

According to Dan Zahavi:

"Phenomenology shares the conviction that the critical stance proper to philosophy requires a move away from a straightforward metaphysical or empirical investigation of objects, to an investigation of the very framework of meaning and intelligibility that makes any such straightforward investigation possible in the first place. It precisely asks how something like objectivity is possible in the first place. Phenomenology has also made important contributions to most areas of philosophy. Contemporary phenomenology is a somewhat heterogeneous field."[1]

The contributions of phenomenology in architecture are among the most significant and lasting in architecture, due to architecture's direct involvement with experience.


The phenomenology of architecture is the philosophical study of architecture. In contrast, architectural phenomenology is a movement within architecture beginning in the 1950s, reaching a wide audience in the late 1970s and 1980s, and continuing until today. Architectural phenomenology, with its emphasis on human experience, background, intention and historical reflection, interpretation and poetic and ethical considerations stood in sharp contrast to the anti-historicism of postwar modernism and the pastiche of postmodernism. It was never a movement proper because it did not have an immediate aesthetic associated with it, thus is should be understood as more of an orientation to thinking and making.

Historical development[edit]

American architects first started seriously studying phenomenology at Princeton University in the 1950s under Prof. Jean Labatut, whose student Charles W. Moore was the first to write a PhD dissertation, titled Water and Architecture (1958), that drew heavily on the philosophy of Gaston Bachelard.[2] In Europe, Milanese architect Ernesto Nathan Rogers, through his influential editorship of the journal Casabella Continuità helped to advance architectural phenomenology in Europe.[3] He collaborated with philosopher Enzo Paci, and influenced a generation of young architects including Vittorio Gregotti and Aldo Rossi.[4] By the 1970s, the Norwegian architect, theorist and historian Christian Norberg-Schulz achieved international acclaim with his book "Genius Loci: Towards a Phenomenology of Architecture" (1979), which was markedly influenced by Martin Heidegger's hermeneutic ontology.[5][6][7] Christian Norberg-Schulz was, for many architecture students of the 1980s, an important reference in architectural phenomenology,[8] especially because the combination of texts and images in his books provided readily accessible explanations for how a phenomenological approach to architecture could be translated into designs. Norberg-Schulz spawned a wide following, including his successor at the Oslo School of Architecture, Thomas Thiis-Evensen.[9] In the 1970s, the School of Comparative Studies at the University of Essex, under the direction of Dalibor Vesely and Joseph Rykwert, was the breeding ground for a generation of architectural phenomenologists, which included David Leatherbarrow, professor of architecture at the University of Pennsylvania, Alberto Pérez-Gómez, professor of architectural history and theory at McGill University, the architect Daniel Libeskind. In the 1980s, the phenomenological approach to architecture was continued and further developed by Vesely and his colleague Peter Carl in their research and teaching at the Department of Architecture at the University of Cambridge. As architectural phenomenology became established in academia, professors developed theory seminars that tried to expand the movement's range of ideas beyond Gaston Bachelard,[10] and Martin Heidegger, to include Edmund Husserl, Maurice Merleau-Ponty,[11] Hans-Georg Gadamer Hannah Arendt and an ever wider group of theorists whose modes of thinking bordered on phenomenology, such as Gilles Deleuze, Henri Bergson, Paul Virilio, Charles Taylor, Hubert Dreyfus and Edward S. Casey.

The phenomenon of dwelling was one research theme in architectural phenomenology. Much of the way it was understood in architecture was shaped by the later thought of Martin Heidegger as set in his influential essay: "Building Dwelling Thinking." He links dwelling to what he refers as the "gathering of the fourfold," namely the regions of being as entailed by the phenomena of: "the saving of earth, the reception of sky (heavens), the initiation of mortals into their death, and the awaiting/remembering of divinities." The essence of dwelling is not architectural, per se, in the same manner that the essence of technology for him is not technological per se[12][13].

Influence in practice[edit]

Prominent architects, such as Daniel Libeskind, Steven Holl, and Peter Zumthor were described by Juhani Pallasmaa as current practitioners of the phenomenology of architecture.

Notable architects[edit]

Notable architects and scholars of architecture who are associated with architectural phenomenology include:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ ZAHAVI, DAN. (2019). HUSSERL'S LEGACY : phenomenology, metaphysics, and transcendental philosophy. OXFORD UNIV PRESS. ISBN 0-19-885217-7. OCLC 1104647929.
  2. ^ Otero-Pailos, Jorge (2010). Architecture’s Historical Turn: Phenomenology and the Rise of the Postmodern. University of Minnesota Press. p. 102. ISBN 9780816666041.
  3. ^ Jorge Otero-Pailos, Theorizing the Anti-Avant-Garde: Invocations of Phenomenology in Architectural Discourse, 1945-1989, (Ph.D. Dissertation: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2001)
  4. ^ Vittorio Gregotti and Jorge Otero-Pailos, "Interview with Vittorio Gregotti: The Role of Phenomenology in the Formation of the Italian Neo-Avant-Garde," in Thresholds, n. 21 (Fall 2000), 40-46
  5. ^ Mark JarzombekThe Psychologizing of Modernity (Cambridge University Press, 2000).
  6. ^ He also wrote Intentions in Architecture (1963)
  7. ^ For example, Martin Heidegger's essay "Building Dwelling Thinking", 1951
  8. ^ A Norwegian, he graduated from the Eidgenossische Technische Hochschule (ETH) in Zurich in 1949 and eventually became Dean of the Oslo School of Architecture.
  9. ^ see Thomas Thiis-Evensen, Archetypes in Architecture (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987)
  10. ^ Gaston Bachelard The Poetics of Space (1958)
  11. ^ Maurice Merleau-Ponty's Phenomenology of Perception (English version 1962)
  12. ^ "Building, Dwelling, Thinking" translated by Hofstadter, published in "poetry, Language, Thought", Harper Colophon Books, 1971. First published in German in 1954
  13. ^ *Nader El-Bizri, "Being at Home Among Things: Heidegger's Reflections on Dwelling", Environment, Space, Place Vol. 3 (2011)pp. 47–71; and Nader El-Bizri, 'On Dwelling: Heideggerian Allusions to Architectural Phenomenology', Studia UBB Philosophia 60 (2015)pp. 5–30; also: Nader El-Bizri, 'Phenomenology of Place and Space in our Epoch: Thinking along Heideggerian Pathways', in The Phenomenology of Real and Virtual Places, ed. E. Champion (London : Routledge, 2018), pp. 123-143

Bibliography (major works of this movement)[edit]

  • Patrizio Ceccarini, Architectural Affordances as Morphogenetic Process of Places, in "Around the work of Pierre Boudon", Dir. P. Ceccarini and P. Boudon (Montréal: Les Cahiers du LEAP / LEAP Research Notebooks, 2019)
  • Patrizio Ceccarini, Phénoménologie et morphogénétique architecturale. La morphologie architecturale et urbaine au regard de la démarche sémiophysique thomienne (Paris, Philotope n°7, 2010)
  • Patrizio Ceccarini, Catastrophisme architectural. L'architecture comme sémio-physique de l'espace social(Paris, L'Harmattan, 2004)
  • Nader El-Bizri, 'On Dwelling: Heideggerian Allusions to Architectural Phenomenology', Studia UBB Philosophia 60 (2015): 5–30.
  • Karsten Harries, The Ethical Function of Architecture (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1997)
  • Deborah Hauptmann (Ed), The Body in Architecture (Rotterdam: 010 Publishers, 2006)
  • Benoît Jacquet & Vincent Giraud (Eds), From the Things Themselves: Architecture and Phenomenology (Kyoto and Paris: Kyoto University Press and Ecole française d'Extrême-Orient, 2012). ISBN 978-4-8769-8235-6
  • David Leatherbarrow, On Weathering: The Life of Buildings in Time, with Mohsen Mostafavi (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 1993)
  • Christian Norberg-Schulz, Genius Loci: Towards a Phenomenology of Architecture (New York: Rizzoli, 1980)
  • Juhani Pallasmaa, The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses (New York: Wiley, 1996/2005)
  • Alberto Pérez-Gómez, Architecture and the Crisis of Modern Science (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1983)
  • Steen Eiler Rasmussen, Experiencing Architecture (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1959)
  • Rush, Fred, On Architecture (London & New York: Routledge, 2009)
  • Joseph Rykwert, The Dancing Column: On Order in Architecture (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1996)
  • David Seamon & Robert Mugerauer (Eds), Dwelling, Place & Environment: Towards a Phenomenology of Person and World (Martinus Nijhoff 1985/Krieger Publishing 2000)
  • Dalibor Vesely, Architecture in the Age of Divided Representation: The Question of Creativity in the Shadow of Production (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2004)