The needs of architecture

To try and offset the meaningless and hopeless picture, without meaning, without purpose, spiritualism has reentered the world with a vengeance. Churches are growing. Fundamentalist movements throughout the world punish their followers for any departure from traditional or conservative canons of behavior. Belief in astrology, visits from outer space, telepathy, are rife. Movements mixing therapy with spiritualism, belief in afterlife, belief in the goodness of man, efforts to exist within some canon of a religious sort, have come back, and grow every day. These religious movements try, somehow, to shield us from the awful import of mechanistic science. They try to make the world bearable, by leavening the machines which we ourselves are, with the incantations of prophesy, of goodness, of liberation, of heaven, perhaps too of hell.

But none of this can really work.

The fundamental root or our troubles, of our meaninglessness, lies in our view of the nature of matter. If matter is indeed machinelike, and if then we are indeed ourselves machines — what good is it to call on spirits, to sing hymns of praise, to look for God? The devastating truth is that if the world is made of machinelike matter — and we are ourselves therefore machines — we are doomed to live, for a very short time, in the meaningless and living hell of Franz Kafka, colored only by the banality of its machinelike pointlessness.

Our despair and hopelessness follow from the belief, our certainty, that matter is machinelike in its nature and that we then, being matter also, are machinelike too.

The lumps of passive matter, which we arrange, must somehow become meaningful as we try to make them live. But how is that to be done, in a universe which is, in large part, mechanical?

The ideas I have brought forward — some solid, some more tentative — are in many ways unlike the ideas that are common in our daily experience of science and technology. Many of them rely, explicitly, on unusual methods of observation. Many are based on feeling.

A person who adheres to a 19th- or 20th-century belief about the nature of matter, will not be able to accept the revisions in building practice that I propose, because these revisions would remain too disturbingly inconsistent with that person’s picture of the world.

Unless our world-picture itself is changed and replaced by another, more consistent with the felt reality of life in buildings and in our surroundings — the idea of life in buildings itself, even with all its ensuing revisions in architectural practice, will not be enough. The old world-picture will constantly gnaw at our attempts to find a wholesome architecture, disturb our attempts, interfere with them — to such an extent that they cannot be understood or used successfully.

That is the reason why I choose, now, in the fourth of these four books, to go — at last — directly to the question of cosmology.

  • What is the universe made of?
  • What might a fully adequate picture of it be like?
  • What is the nature of matter?
  • What is its fundamental character?

(Pages 14-15)

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