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Ask The Concept Of Phenomenology In Architecture As Developed By The Norwegian Theorist Christian Norberg-Schulz

Dear Concept Of Phenomenology In Architecture As Developed By The Norwegian Theorist Christian Norberg-Schulz,

My 12-year-old daughter has recently started her own Facebook profile, and while I try to be respectful of her privacy, I have to admit I'm a little concerned. She's just a kid, after all, and who knows what kind of creeps could access her photos and personal information. I want her to have her own social life and be able to relate to her peers, but I also have a responsibility to protect her. How do I approach her about this?

—Troubled in Toronto

Dear Troubled,

Many may find themselves curious as to why we "need" a comprehensive theory of architecture as a phenomenological concept. Of course, the intellectual abstractions of theory cannot—nor should they—ever replace the direct sense-experience of architecture in our daily lives. The philosophy pioneered by Christian Norberg-Schulz—considered "one of the most impressive intellectual edifices any architect ever produced"—was never intended to compete with perception. However, by organically combining such materials as Gestalt psychology, information theory, the work of Martin Heidegger, linguistic analysis, and semiotics, we can move toward a more correct and profound experience of architecture, with a renewed sense of the "meaning" of structures, both in the buildings we construct and the loci within which we live. Only when examining what the form represents as a manifestation of higher objects can we be said to be discussing a real architectural experience. Even when examining purely formal (aesthetic) properties, there can be no sound basis for the discussion of structural forms without theoretical insight, because the very concept of architecture transcends the formal aspect.

Dear Concept Of Phenomenology In Architecture As Developed By The Norwegian Theorist Christian Norberg-Schulz,

My boyfriend is an avid bicyclist who rides his bike to and from work every day. Despite my direct pleadings for him to purchase a bike helmet, he has so far refused to wear one. He claims they look silly and are unnecessary if you're a good cyclist. How can I convince him to practice proper bike safety without him feeling like I'm "cramping his style"?

—Concerned in Cleveland

Dear Concerned,

Architecture (insofar as architecture is an art) should contain within it the potential for the revelation of that which is unknown. Changes in our physical environment, particularly in the structure of our cities following the Second World War, have resulted in a loss of a sense of place, as well as a subsequent "empty space" within our perceived experience of our world. This can only be remedied by a renewed sense of human settlements as urban foci, and of the role of architect as designer of meaningful sub-places where man can simultaneously experience individuality and belonging. A building is not merely a building but a shared spatial experience—a locality—that embodies and shapes the values of its environment and of culture as a whole. This is not merely a matter of identity in the sense of the development of local characteristics, but also of equality in fostering opportunity to play a part in a greater context. The lived experience of building materials and their sensory properties is, of course, paramount to achieving this understanding.

Dear Concept Of Phenomenology In Architecture As Developed By The Norwegian Theorist Christian Norberg-Schulz,

I'm as open-minded as the next person, but my neighbors regularly wander around their apartment in the nude and don't close the curtains. I guess they are "liberated," but I'm bothered by their, in my opinion, disrespectful disregard for basic boundaries (our backyard faces directly into their family-room picture window) and so is my wife. How do I get them to show some simple modesty without coming off like an old-fashioned stick in the mud?

—Peeved in Pensacola

Dear Peeved,

In examining the trinity of "places, paths, and domains," remember that whereas a place denotes the distinguishing of "inside and outside," a pathway between places can symbolize the full extent of man's existence as he moves from the known to the unknown through a succession of spaces. The rhetoric of residing is therefore distinguished from the rhetoric of movement through the phenomenological world. The distinction unfortunately continues to elude many modern theorists, who have unfortunately followed the dissolution of the once-vibrant early potentialities of so-called postmodern thinking into superficial playfulness.

Confidential to Frazzled:

Remember that phenomenology is not a throwback to the 1970s, nor is it mere intellectual abstraction. The real-world impact of the ideas of Norberg-Schulz and the thinkers who followed him are there to be seen in the buildings they designed. Important works in the Phenomenology movement include such notable structures as Paul Andreu's National Grand Theater of China, the iconic titanium-and-glass design of which resembles an egg floating on water and is intended to symbolize a cultural island in the middle of a lake while both enclosing and revealing the function of the structure within public/private space. Completed in 2007, the theater stands as proof that the phenomenology of Norberg-Schulz, despite the waning of interest in recent times toward the conceptual framework he pioneered, remains a vital and culturally relevant school of thought in architecture today.

The Concept Of Phenomenology In Architecture As Developed By The Norwegian Theorist Christian Norberg-Schulz is a nationally syndicated advice column that appears in more than 250 papers nationwide.

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