School of Architecture and Planning
The Catholic University of America
Looking at today’s civilization, we can’t help ourselves but marvel at the human accomplishments. After all, we have done remarkable deeds in science and technology, in the arts and philosophy, in law and commerce, in medicine, in education and communication, and all these and so, so many others combined, have brought an era of prosperity of such wealth and scale never before experienced by humankind. This story is one of human successes, but of course, one sided. For there is another, darker side. It hardly needs reminding. For, who can forget that we are facing challenges of a scale, speed, and/or kind never before encountered? The list is long and overwhelming: massive environmental pollution and destruction, global warming and climate change; runaway consumerism fueled by unconscious greed and materialism; global economic interdependence expanding the gap between the wealthy and the poor; fast population growth and large migratory pressures; planetary terrorism and rising religious fundamentalism and xenophobia; accelerating technological and scientific breakthroughs of uncertain yet vast impact; media-anesthesized societies oblivious to it all ...
Architecture, the art of establishing the material order of a cultural order, cannot avoid but to reflect and respond to such reality. But, how are we to profess architecture in this world that defies all traditions and seems in the brink of collapse? I believe that our dire circumstances create conditions ripe for truly innovative and transformative architectural education, research, and practice with the real potential of a great impact. The reason is simple: since architecture has a large and pervading albeit silent environmental, economic, energetic, and cultural effect across society, a major positive shift could have huge beneficial repercussions. Hence our dilemma today is not how to address particular problems but rather to architecturally harness this remarkable opportunity to leap forward in human understanding and conduct and thus strike at the causes and effects of the situation. In this spirit, I humbly submit a four-fold way:
SIMPLICITY. Following Duane Elgin’s book “Voluntary Simplicity” and a renewed and critical interpretation of minimalism and phenomenology, I offer a design philosophy, pedagogy, and practice addressing the seven fundamental “Es” of architecture: Ethics, Environment, Economics, Embodiment, Electronics, Energy, and Esthetics. I call it VAS (Voluntary Architectural Simplicity). VAS is directed to transform attitudes, relationships, and responses towards our institutions, way of life, nature, others, and beyond.
SCIENCE. Any important decision, be it technical, political, or economic, demands the involvement of science: today’s only widely agreed method to validate claims and hypotheses. But our zeitgeist asks for a progressive science that is multidimensional, interdisciplinary, and integral instead of reductionist, narrow, and axiomatic. Architectural projects often provide us with opportunities to lead society and other disciplines in processes receptive to such science that deliver remarkable results. Proactively advancing this approach puts architecture in a true leadership role with great beneficial impact on the world. I offer my research experience with Neuroscience as well as Information Visualization Design as examples of this vision.
SPIRITUALITY. Our major problems will never be sincerely addressed unless we acknowledge the ultimate meaning, wholeness, or trans-personal nature of reality and all beings. While this vision does not require a divinity, it doesn’t shy away from the sublime and metaphysical either. In this sense, perhaps, our most urgent job as architects is to profess the sacredness of all space on Earth so that land development may be done with care and wisdom. Architecture must bring spirituality into its fold. Hence, my co-founding and leadership of the 400+member strong ACSF (Architectural, Culture, and Spirituality Forum), and my ongoing teaching and scholarship efforts on profound architectural phenomenologies.
SITUATION. All consciousness, speech and deed are unavoidably shaped by culture and circumstance. And while we owe them our best moments, they are also responsible for our worst. Today’s world asks for a vigilant eye towards our cultural background and particular conditions. Thus, the architectural academy should study, practice and teach the art of gaining and managing situational perspectives. And while cultural studies, the humanities, and philosophy help, there is no true substitute to international travel and exchanges. Creating and directing a 15 year old exchange program with Argentina, leading study-abroad studios, and my continuous journeys oversees are proofs of my commitment to this path.
Catholic University’s motto “Reason, Faith, Service” describes an environment uniquely receptive to an architectural agenda sought at the meeting point between science and spirituality under the tenets of voluntary simplicity and situational awareness. Indeed, the Cultural Studies and Sacred Space graduate concentration at The CUA School of Architecture and Planning offers the perfect springboard to launch, sustain, and advance the type of significant change that our discipline and world need. I therefore put all my passion, knowledge, and commitment to direct this program following this four-fold way.
For a full discussion on this philosophy, please refer to this published paper (click here).