Architecture Live
Phenomenological Studies of Extraordinary Architectural Experiences

Research Description

Two thousand years ago, Vitruvius proposed 3 principles of architecture that have withstood the test of time: firmness, commodity, and delight. Firmness refers to the structural and technological integrity of buildings that stand and remain in time. Commodity addresses the architecture’s socio-cultural and functional nature of providing support to human activities. Delight acknowledges the pleasing experience that a building’s beauty may elicit.

While the Architecture discipline has been successful at studying and developing knowledge covering the first two principles, the third has remained elusive. The reason is obvious: delight is by definition intangible, qualitative, experiential, even esoteric. For instance: what is architectural delight?, how does it take place?, how does it feel like?, why and when does it happen?, how do you measure it?, and son on. This is not to say that there hasn’t been any discussion on this matter. Over the ages, uncountable philosophers, psychologists, sociologists, architects, artists and others have written much on aesthetics, perception, and the like. Some light has been shed indeed! Yet the central matter, our understanding of delight, still remains obscure.[1]

This research proposes that realizing the nature of delight (1) needs to go no farther than our own live experience of architecture, and that (2) it may be greatly facilitated by studying the most dramatic cases available: extraordinary architectural experiences. Hence, instead of dismissing (or being indifferent to) the power and reality of first-person exceptional aesthetics as our discipline has done for too many years, Architecture Live investigates this little acknowledged yet remarkable area of human experience. 

Thus, the goals of Architecture Live are to

1. raise awareness and develop appreciation for the profoundly qualitative in architecture;
2. improve our understanding of both the ordinary and the extroardinary in architectural phenomenology, and in so doing;
3. assist in the planning and design of environments that foster strong aesthetic experiences.

 Architectural Live research pursues these goals by

1. studying non-dual aesthetic events. Trust worthy testimonies of extraordinary architectural experiences consistently describe situations involving no separation between subject and object and felt as unifying, intimate, and even transcendental identifications of self and other.[2]
2. developing a complete and well balanced phenomenological account of architecture that coordinates first, second, and third-person experiences. [3] Architecture is ordinarily experienced in third-person, that is, as an “it” fundamentally different from “me” and from which “I” am perceptually, emotionally, and intellectually detached. Traditional phenomenological methods enable us to move from such limiting and instrumentalist view of architecture (an “it”) to one of materialized intentionality that actively interacts with us in a meaningful and experiential conversation (a “you”, second-person). Yet, there is one more shift possible:  from second to first-person experience. This final phenomenological move implies the total identification of self and other (i.e., the building), an event in which subject and object are merged into one (I=you=it). Thus far, these three very distinct phenomenological outlooks have remained disconnected.
3. examining the role of the built environment as a potential gate to transcendental insights and phenomenologies.

(c) copyright Julio Bermudez 2007-2016

[1] Many agree with this statement. For instance: “By delight … Vitruvius seems to be intuiting a building’s ability to not only provide shelter but, also, to elevate the human spirit … Delight is the most important of Vitruvius’s trinity but it is the hardest to define. In the end, we can only say that to become architecture, a building must reimagine the way that we inhabit the earth and, in so doing, it must convince us with its beauty.” (from the Austin E. Knowlton School of Architecture – Ohio State University website: accessed 10/17/2007). This file / web location is no longer available in Jan 2016.

[2] For example, Claudio Silvestrin (1999) puts like this: “When one actually sees the solidity of a mountain or the vastness of the sea, when one comes upon it suddenly, there it is in its monolithic presence.  Everything, including one’s own ego, has been pushed aside, except the majesty of that mountain or that sea. Such a sight absorbs you completely —it is beauty itself. If you are fortunate enough, think of a building that absorbs you with the same intensity —that building I call architecture: the others are nothing but edifices.”

[3] I am here using philosopher Ken Wilber’s theory of first, second, and third person phenomenologies (2000).