Throw out all functional explanations in your mind except the life of centers

In the mechanistic positivistic way of thinking, we assume that we identify certain needs or functions — and the design must then “meet” those functions. The geometry and function come, intellectually, from quite different worlds. In our minds, when we are thinking like this, the two things — function and geometry — are logically different in type.

But if the secret of balance lies in the life of the centers themselves, this leads to a conception in which space and function, function and geometry, are truly unseparated. We do not have function on the one hand, and space or geometry on the other hand. We have a single thing — living space — which has its life to varying degrees. It is the space which comes to life. All that we do, as architects, is then to arrange and rearrange this living space, in such a way as to intensify its life.

No matter how many times I say it, the concept is nevertheless very hard for us to grasp — because we have grown up in the mechanistic positivistic way of thinking. It is really almost impossible. Even if I keep repeating it to myself, again and again and again, my way of thinking, which I have inherited from the last several decades, keeps making me think of the two things — function and geometry, function and ornament — as separate. But slowly, gradually, my mind is coming back together, healing itself, as I grasp the essential idea that there is not this separation, and that it is all just one kind of living space, and that my task is only to intensify life.

I describe this — I only know how to describe it — by saying, frankly, that the whole system, the space itself with its material, has come alive. It is not life in space, not an inorganic mechanical substrate, filled with a few living organisms. It is one living thing, the space has come to life, it is nonsense to separate the two.

And if you too feel something like this, then with Diderot, you may frankly say this idea is simpler, and more direct, than saying that there is a dead mechanical world, in which a few living creatures have appeared… far simpler to say that it is all alive in its cooperation, and that space itself, the space we formerly thought of as a dull, mathematical, cold, inorganic medium which houses a few living things, is itself — rather — touched, sparked, and burning.

You may grasp the same idea — more vividly perhaps — if you think about a person’s foot. The foot is a center. It gets its life as a center as it is helping the whole organism. Its life as a center comes from the fact that it is helping to create the larger life of the person as a center. That is what makes the foot profound. The foot literally cut off, viewed in isolation, or literally hacked off a living person’s leg, does not have that special quality, because it is no longer helping to promote and maintain the life of the larger whole.

This is a similar example to those given by Lakoff to illustrate the part-whole-configuration schema.

These two things are true of every living center:

  1. Each center gets its life, always, from the fact that it is helping to support and enliven some larger center.

  2. The center becomes precious because of it.

It is the second of these, above all, which is the key.

A center occurs in space as the space becomes (or is made) precious. It becomes precious because it is helping some other larger center to exist, and to have life, and to be precious. But in the process, it itself becomes precious. So, suddenly, space is transformed. It starts out neutral. But as it becomes a stronger center, it is made precious. This preciousness is the vital core of every center.

#book/The Nature of Order/1 The Phenomenon of Life/11 The awakening of space#

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