The Ethical Function of Architecture

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Can architecture help us find our place and way in today's complex world? Can it return individuals to a whole, to a world, to a community? Developing Giedion's claim that contemporary architecture's main task is to interpret a way of life valid for our time, philosopher Karsten Harries answers that architecture should serve a common ethos. But if architecture is to meet that task, it first has to free itself from the dominant formalist approach, and get beyond the notion that its purpose is to produce endless variations of the decorated shed.In a series of cogent and balanced arguments, Harries questions the premises on which architects and theorists have long relied—premises which have contributed to architecture's current identity crisis and marginalization. He first criticizes the aesthetic approach, focusing on the problems of decoration and ornament. He then turns to the language of architecture. If the main task of architecture is indeed interpretation,in just what sense can it be said to speak, and what should it be speaking about? Expanding upon suggestions made by Martin Heidegger, Harries also considers the relationship of building to the idea and meaning of dwelling. Architecture, Harries observes, has a responsibility to community; but its ethical function is inevitably also political. He concludes by examining these seemingly paradoxical functions.

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What People Are Saying

From the Publisher
"The stirring gift of a mind like Karsten Harries allows a link betweenarchitecture and philosophy. In our splintered, individualist age hereminds us it is impossible to think without generalities." Steven Holl, Architect
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780262581714
  • Publisher: MIT Press
  • Publication date: 7/3/1998
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 424
  • Sales rank: 1,385,300
  • Product dimensions: 7.00 (w) x 10.00 (h) x 0.81 (d)

Meet the Author

Karsten Harries is Professor of Philosophy at Yale University.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
1 Introduction: Postmodern Prelude 2
2 The Aesthetic Approach 16
3 The Problem of Decoration 28
4 The Promise of Ornament 50
5 The Decorated Shed 70
6 The Language Problem 84
7 Representation and Symbol 98
8 Representation and Re-Presentation 118
9 Tales of the Origin of Building 136
10 Building and Dwelling 152
11 Space and Place 168
12 The Voices of Space 180
13 Learning from Two Invisible Houses 202
14 Building, Dwelling, and Time 214
15 The Terror of Time and the Love of Geometry 228
16 Mold and Ruins 240
17 Death, Love, and Building 254
18 Architecture and Building 270
19 The Publicness of Architecture 284
20 Grave and Monument 292
21 The Representation of Life 312
22 Dreams of Utopia 326
23 Lessons of the Labyrinth 340
24 Conclusion: The Shape of Modernity and the Future of Architecture 352
Notes 368
Index 396
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 1, 2008

    A Clear and Profoundly Illuminating Meditation on Art

    . This is simply one of the best books I have ever read. On one level it is a critique of contemporary thinking about architecture. In the first part of the book Harries argues that the aesthetic approach to art doesn't do justice to the meaning and power of architecture. In the second part he argues that the semiotic approach to architecture is based on a model of language that cannot fully grasp and illuminate the symbolic dimension of architecture. In the third and fourth parts Harries tries to show that questions of architecture are ultimately questions of dwelling (broadly conceived), that questions of dwelling are irreducibly ethical and political, and that architecture thus has an irreducible ethical and political function. On a deeper level the book is a critique of modern philosophies of art. Harries follows thinkers such as Heidegger, Gadamer, and Agamben in criticizing the aesthetic approach to art (which regards artworks simply as beautiful or interesting objects) and theoretical approaches to art (which regard artworks as the expression or illustration of ideas that can best be grasped and articulated with philosophical concepts). Harries argues that artworks have the power to illuminate the world and to call us back to what really matters, and that art is a (nontheoretical) way of responding to basic questions of human existence (How should we live? What does it mean to be human?) Unlike Heidegger, Gadamer, and Agamben, however, Harries develops his arguments with a great number of specific, concrete examples drawn from the whole history of Western architecture and art. So while the book is philosophically ambitious, it is also exceptionally clear, sober, and down to earth. Finally, I should note that the writing itself is beautiful--it is simple, precise, and conveys a sense of deep concentration and wonder. The Ethical Function of Architecture won the American Institute of Architects 8th Annual International Architecture Book Award for Criticism. But it is about more than architecture. I recommend it very, very highly to anyone interested in Heidegger, phenomenology, aesthetics, ethics, poetry, literary theory, modernity and modernism, and the history and philosophy of art.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 5, 2010

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