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BURTON, J._the Differences Between Kahn and Heidegger Philosophies

BURTON, J._the Differences Between Kahn and Heidegger Philosophies

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1998_2
Joseph A. Burton
 
Philosophical Differences in the Thoughtsof Louis I. Kahn and Martin Heidegger 
 
1
Heinrich Klotz and Christian Norberg-Schulz have noted similarities between thethoughts of the American master architect, Louis I. Kahn and the German"Existentialist" philosopher, Martin Heidegger
1)
. Norberg-Schulz has done the most toestablish this philosophical connection between the architect and the philosopher.In "The Message of Louis Kahn", Norberg-Schulz viewed Kahn’s philosophy asincomplete, an architecture theory in progess
2)
.
He states:
 
2
. . . when we take a close look at the writings of Kahn, theoutline of a "theory" of architecture emerges. It is certainlynot worked out in detail, but the basic structure is coherent. To make Kahns theory generally useful, it needs to beinterpreted and developed. As it has a philosophical basis,this work cannot be confined within the limits of architecturaltheory as such. In philosophy the most useful aid is found inthe writings of Martin Heidegger, whose ideas in certainrespects show a striking resemblance to those of Kahn
3)
 
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3
Following Heidegger’s critique of Post-Socratic Western philosophy, Norberg-Schulz’appraisal that Kahn’s theory is insufficient and naive is based in what he sees as Kahn’sPlatonism, where
essence
precedes
existence
. Plato’s philosophy is understood to bedualistic in its division between
essence
as reality and
existence
as illusion, whereasHeideggers’ structurally unified ontology is based upon
existence
preceding
essence
.He writes:
 
4
Kahn’s philosophy evidently has Platonic origins. Thus hetalks about
form
in the Platonic sense of 
idea
, and heconsiders art a result of the will to "express." He even usesthe word "shadow" in connection with the concrete things of the world, as did Plato in his
 Allegory of the Cave
. Kahn alsosubordinates the
existentia
to the
essentia
, and thus thinkswithin the tradition of Western metaphysics.
4)
 
5
Although Kahn’s "faulty" thought seems based upon Platonism, Norberg-Schulz arguesthat it is not really dualistic. He explains that despite Kahn’s amateur status as aphilosopher, the architect achieves in his architecture structural wholeness by uniting
existence
and
essence
in dynamic tension."Being a practicing architect, however, Kahn did not seek to become involved in aphilosophical pursuit of perfect forms, elevating them from the imperfections of theeveryday world. Rather he wanted to discover or reveal the
essentia
directly. Thus hereally returned to the "beginning." Moreover he defined the
essentia
in terms of humaninspirations and institutions possessing order. Rather than separating the
essentia
fromthe
existentia
he instead conceived the world as an integrated whole. The
essentia
donot belong to a realm of their own, but are the basic structures of the one and onlyworld. His illustrations of the notion of "beginning" clearly prove that."
5) 
What impresses Norberg-Schulz about Kahn’s work is the architect’s ability to maketimeless human values concrete in the spatial organizations of his temporal designs.Norberg-Schulz further points to Kahn’s continued programatic renewal of "theinstitutions of man" as exemplifying an architecture "founded on the general forms of man’s Being-in-the-world."
6)
According to Norberg-Schulz, Kahn was engaged in asearch for the structure of Being parallel to Heidegger:
6
. . . Kahn thus takes the total Being-in-the-world as his pointof departure, and defines our human task as the uncoveringof its structure. Thereby he indeed comes close to thephilosophy of Heidegger, who was also deeply concernedwith "beginnings."
7)
 
7
In a second essay, "Kahn, Heidegger and the Language of Architecture", Norberg-Schulz proposed to bring to fulfillment Kahn’s "immature" theory with the thought of Martin Heidegger.
8)
Heidegger’s philosophy provides the appropriate means to furtherthe "incomplete" exegesis of Kahn’s
oeuvre
as well as to give to the architect’s wordssystematic depth and greater philosophical sanction. In this essay, Norberg-Schulzfocuses attention on Kahn’s various uses of the verb "to express". He claims thatKahn’s theory of "expression" is not about self-expression. In Kahn’s theory of expression Norberg-Schulz recognizes that a rudimentary "language of architecture" isbeing constructed by the architect. He, thus, examines Heidegger’s writings concerning"language", "poetry", "art" and "dwelling" in order to complete Kahn’s frustrated attemptto develop a "language of architecture".Norberg-Schulz explains that language as poetry creates concrete "existential space".
 
He reports how
 
Heidegger defined "existential space" as "the fourfold".
9)
Heidegger’s"fourfold", an analysis of world: "earth, sky, mortals and divinities", possesses a unifieddynamic tension between structural concepts and concrete descriptions.
10)
By creatingconcrete "existential space", language as poetry, art and architecture allow humankind"to dwell".
11)
"To dwell" is to exist in "the basic character of Being": in "the fourfold", in"existential space". Therefore, Norberg-Schulz reminds that for Heidegger "language" is"the house of Being".
12) 
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Although Norberg-Schulz gives Kahn credit for initiating the search for an architecturallanguage, ultimately a quest for "existential space", he says that the architect neverachieved a complete existential structure of world and space:
 
8
Whereas Heidegger gives considerable attention to thestructure of the world, Kahn hardly refers to this basicproblem. Indirectly, however, we understand that heconsiders the world as having an essential structure (" arose wants to be a rose"). His notion of space is similarlyconcrete. It comes forth in the statement that "a space whichknows what it wants to be is a room".
13)
 
9
 To understand the difference in Kahns thought from Heidegger, it is necessary to lookmore closely at the architect’s world view and its influence upon his expressionistaesthetic theory.Kahn’s
weltanschauung
was founded upon an intuition of a transcendent andomnipresent ground within and behind all physical reality -- a World Soul that he called
psyche
.
Psyche
is a unity consisting of antithetical aspects -- thought and feeling. Thisineffable source underlying all creation, he explained, possesses an a priori
existencewill
or more clearly articulated, an eternal willing to be. He said:
 
10
I think of psyche as being a kind of prevalence—not asingle soul in each of us—but rather a prevalence fromwhich each one of us always borrows a part . . . and I feelthat this psyche is made of immeasurable aura, and thatphysical nature is made of that which lends itself tomeasurement. I think that psyche prevails over the entireuniverse.
14) 
 The psyche is expressed by feeling and also thought and Ibelieve will always be unmeasurable. I sense that thepsychic existence will calls on nature to make what it[psyche] wants to be.
15)
.
 
11
 The a priori
existence will
within
psyche
, Kahn explained, is the beginning of "form . .. a world within a world"
16)
 
Form
is a particular psychic predisposition to be. It consistsof ideal and inseparable abstract elements which invoke a nature, "what a thing wantsto be"
17)
. Being beyond physical and measurable existence, this psychic entity is nevercompletely realized in concrete terms. Thus,
form
has infinite potential for expression.According to Kahn,
form
manifests through unconscious and conscious agencies called
thresholds
,
instruments
and at other times
singularities
18)
. It is revealed mostdramatically in non-conscious nature through the phenomenal source of light, the sun:
 
12
 The sun is the threshold where the urges arise to express, it is the source of energy and all present.
19)
.
 
13
From the sun, the natural world of appearances takes its physical being. The humansoul partakes of 
form
, he said, through its universal sharing in the pervasive world
psyche
. Through the medium of the individual human personality,
form
is realizedconsciously as art
.Psyche’s
descent from non-temporal
form
into time and space is a complete
weltanschauung
that unites spirit to matter. Kahn called his world view
order 
20)
.
Order 
 is all inclusive and self-evident. Reminiscent of the greek concept of 
kosmos
,
order 
 gives significance and meaning to existence. This is because
order 
is rooted in the nonarbitrary nature of 
form
-- the
psyche’s
eternal
existence will
. In two diagramsdelineated by Kahn for a 1973 publication, he presented
order 
hierarchically following
psyche
and
form
.
 
 
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