Practical Wisdom, or the nature of architectural intelligence

Since the advent of architecture in universities, and particularly since World War II, architects have raided the other disciplines for insights and methods.  Yet few of these disciplines come to architecture in the same way, as if our forms of synthesis were naïve, vague, superficial or, even if addressing the divide between the sciences and the arts/humanities, too hostage to issues of individual talent, arbitrary taste, or to particular political, financial or material circumstances to have much objective value.   We should probably distinguish between epistemological objectivity (the methodological criteria for how one knows something) and ethical objectivity (the criteria dependent upon the interpretation of cultural norms and their attunement to the fundamental natural conditions); and we might call the first knowledge and the second wisdom.  This can be traced back to Aristotle, for whom the purpose of a city was profound understanding of being-human.  In other words, what is difficult for epistemology is central to architectural intelligence: how the architect’s spatial understanding of the embodying conditions contributes to a civic praxis always enmeshed in conflict, negotiation, accommodation, collaboration.  This is evident in the diversity of the discipline itself, which ranges from digital simulation of urban growth to hands-on curation of the self empowerment of so-called ‘informal’ settlements.  Moreover, as ‘ecologies’ gradually replace ‘space’ as the name of the deep context for our judgements, it becomes possible to regard the city as a framework for the ethical interpretation of the fundamental natural conditions.

The seminar will meet once a week for three hours, divided equally between collective discussion and presentations from myself and guests.  We will begin with a preliminary sketch of the position of spatial understanding of the embodying conditions with respect to ethical objectivity, proceed to how the historical transformations – and ontological stratification – of the nature-culture reciprocity are illuminated by examples from architecture, landscape design and city-making, and conclude with assessment of the nature of creativity within practical wisdom.

Grades will depend upon participation in seminars (15%), submission of a mid-term outline proposal (15%) for a term-paper (70%).   The term-paper will be either a) an argument for which the visual material is essential (5-7000 words) or b) a research-by-practice paper, with a small project submission + a largely methodological essay (3-5000 words) indicating how the project is a vehicle of understanding.