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Munich, Germany: Waxmann Verlag GmbH; New York: Waxmann, 2000, pp. 189-202; to see other articles in this collection, which originally appeared on the Web, go to: http://www.theo.tucottbus.de/Wolke/eng/Subjects/982/Seamon/seamon_t.html
Concretizing Heidegger's Notion of Dwelling: The Contributions of Thomas ThiisEvensen And Christopher Alexander
David Seamon In “Building Dwelling Thinking,” phenomenological philosopher Martin Heidegger discusses the notion of dwelling and contends that “only if we are capable of dwelling, only then can we build” (Heidegger, 1971, p. 160). A major problem with dwelling as an idea is its lack of specificity, particularly in terms of design significance. This article argues that the work of two architects--Thomas Thiis-Evensen and Christopher Alexander —indicates important but different ways in which Heidegger’s dwelling can be translated into more grounded architectural meaning. ThiisEvensen and Alexander's ideas, placed in a Heideggerian framework, point toward a way of thinking that might lead to the kind of dwelling‑building relationship suggested by Heidegger when he writes that "to build is already to dwell" (ibid., p. 146). DWELLING AND BUILDING In “Building Dwelling Thinking,” Heidegger's major means of investigation is etymological: what is the word history of "to build" (“bauen”) and its links to dwelling? Bauen, says Heidegger, relates to nearness and neighborliness and also implies "to cherish and protect, to preserve and care for" (ibid., p. 147). Bauen also relates to the old High German word for building, “baun,” which means “to dwell” in the sense of remaining or staying in place.
154). sky. things. p. 154‑155). As Heidegger interprets dwelling. In this sense. and make. Thus a walk through a well‑tended garden evokes a different state of being than a similar walk through an uncared‑for garden or an unsightly vacant lot. therefore. subtle—in many ways. The significant questions are how do we dwell in our own particular situations and how can we shape the quality of our dwelling for better or worse? Heidegger links the quality of our dwelling to the quality of our building. ineffable. The world in which we find ourselves completes us in what we are. In other words. a particular way of taking up the body and the world. people. the built environment is crucial because it supports and reflects a person and group's way of beingin-the-world. The built environment is a certain embodied grasp of the world. Heidegger argues that. "it becomes itself the fundamental human activity. a specific orientation disclosing certain aspects of a worldly horizon (ibid. dwelling is just as much a means as an end. a kind of imperfection. in practical terms. in the light of which both place and space find their first clarification" (Jager. is sparing and preserving--the kindly concern for land. Heidegger argues. Zimmerman. entering a church evokes a different human stance than entering a nightclub or a shopping mall or an empty street or a street filled with human activity. p.. pp. One aim for aim for architects is to become sensitive to these experiences and to become more aware of how specific qualities of the built environment enhance or stymie particular human experiences.In emphasizing this link to place. 1983. human dwelling is reduced and so. people are immersed in their world. and people as they are and as they can become (ibid. 1995. 149. and this immersion is qualitative. and therefore the specific nature of the built environment becomes crucial. and at-homeness (Harries. dwelling is no mere extension of existential space or place. is the essential existential core of human being-inthe-world from which there is no escape. 159-63). As human beings. do. 1983). in our modern age." as he signifies higher realities (ibid. which therefore can be said to involve a sense of continuity. pp.).. Similarly. dwelling involves the gathering of the fourfold--the coming together of earth. is building. and a sense of spiritual reverence. we cannot fail to dwell. His explication of why we dwell less fully today . or "the gods. since an effective building arises from a genuine sense of sparing and preserving (see Foltz. Heidegger also argues that. Heidegger suggests that building relates to dwelling. for dwelling. ultimately. There will always be a certain tension. 1983). rather. community. creatures. between what we wish. The crux of dwelling. At the same time.
weight. Weight involves the sense of . wall. The result. Through evoking one style of sparing and preserving." which for Thiis-Evensen can be identified as the floor. In this sense. and roof. through over and below. through within and around. wall.. is "a common language of [architectural] form which we can immediately understand. which.is complicated. regardless of individual or culture" (ibid. wall. His vehicle is what he calls architectural archetypes—“the most basic elements of architecture. allowing it to be and become. is the relationship between inside and outside. wall. he means the architectural element's sense of dynamism or inertia--that is. 17).. whether the element seems to expand. Thiis-Evensen argues that any building can be interpreted experientially in terms of these three archetypes. Thiis-Evensen and Alexander provide ways to see and think more clearly..1 Thiis-Evensen's aim is to understand "the universality of architectural expression" (ibid. A PHENOMENOLOGY OF ARCHITECTURAL FORM Norwegian architect Thomas Thiis-Evensen's Archetypes in Architecture goes far in developing a language of architectural elements as they have relation to dwelling (Thiis-Evensen 1987). in part. and roof (ibid. and roof sustain and presuppose. the wall. Just by being what they are. Both architects seek concrete means for identifying and describing built qualities that sustain and strengthen the quality of dwelling. Using examples from architectural history as evidence. see. and substance—the three “existential expressions of architecture” (ibid. and this letting‑be includes the ways we build. understanding of dwelling. and the roof. through above and beneath. His main purpose is to describe the kinds of environmental and architectural experience that different variations of floor. a key to dwelling is letting ourselves and the world be. to contract. more grounded. 8). might lead to better designing and building. it is because we manipulate and demand from our world rather than meet it an attitude of sparing and preserving‑‑i. 21). and roof automatically create an inside in the midst of an outside.e. The essential existential ground of floor. rather. he suggests that. understand. are common to all historical and cultural traditions. or to rest in balance. he claims. Thiis-Evensen demonstrates that a building’s relative degree of insideness or outsideness in regard to floor.). It is this need for letting‑be in designing and understanding that marks the value of Thiis-Evensen and Alexander's work for a deeper. By motion. and roof can be clarified through motion. and think.. wall. he argues. though in different ways: the floor. in turn. p. Thiis-Evensen argues that these three architectural elements are not arbitrary but. the floor.
heaviness or lightness of the element and how it relates to gravity. 23). climbs or descends. and substance?” The relationship between insideness and outsideness has. Dovey 1985. 1994. Seamon 1991. If it is dark and of stone. and roofs provide related results in that they shape an insideness in the midst of outsideness so that the individual and group can dwell. Mugerauer. and roofs express insideness and outsideness. Mugerauer 1991. the floor spreads out. “How do floor. warm or cold. The walls stand up or sink. A soft and fine floor is warm and open. In this way. the medieval fortress's impenetrable walls versus the Renaissance palace's walls of many windows).. received considerable attention in phenomenological research on environmental and architectural experience (e. weight. but if it is hard and coarse. it closes and is heavy ( ibid. coarse or fine. walls. One of Thiis-Evensen's contributions is to illustrate ways in which architecture contributes to insideness and outsideness and therefore grounds a sense of dwelling. varying physical qualities of floors. and so forth. especially in geographer Edward Relph's phenomenology of place (Relph 1976). the central question Thiis-Evensen asks in Archetypes is. This work marks the start toward a descriptive language delineating the invariant elements of the built . if they are short and wide. That which rises is light. and substance that floors. and substance. weight is also implied.g. Last. it is closed. and roofs lead to different experiences of motion. In addition. they ascend. weight. they sink. walls. wall. substance relates to the material sense of the element--whether it is soft or hard. it is open. THE WALL AND WINDOW AS EXAMPLES In the three main sections of Archetypes. walls. in fact. the roof rises or falls. which demonstrates that insideness is the hallmark quality transforming space into place and sustaining the deepest sense of dwelling. and roof express insideness and outsideness through motion. Regardless of the particular stylistic or cultural expression. weight. And if the roof is bright and soft as a sail. however. In broadest terms. the floor and the wall do? As a motion. If the openings in a wall are tall and narrow. floors. Thiis-Evensen emphasizes that different architectural styles and cultural traditions may interpret the inside-outside dialectic through different degrees of openness and closure (for example. The result is an intricate set of tensions between architectural elements and architectural experience: What is it that the roof. Thiis-Evensen examines the ways through motion. Chaffin 1989. that which falls is heavy. Silverstein 1991)..
if only the lintel is highlighted. of the three archetypes. either physically or visually through doors and windows. In turn.. Thiis-Evensen points out that a window is much more than a wall opening: a window that is only a gaping hole makes the wall "a lifeless skin around a dead and empty interior" (ibid. which are said by Thiis-Evensen to contribute to a building's sense of inside and outside in that they announce the mode of life within the building. the frame of a window is important because it makes a setting for the inside space and brings it toward the viewer on the outside.. (ibid. then the entire interior space seems to reach outward. there can be complete openness and invitation. On the other hand. he shows to reconcile most potently the relationship between inside and outside. He then considers how each of these components contributes to a sense of insideness and outsideness. 251): While the door is determined by its relation to what is outside. the sense of movement for a wall as a whole can be affected by the arrangement of window frames (figures 2 & 3). One example is Thiis-Evensen's explication of the wall. The wall resolves the existential tension between inside and outside in two ways: either the wall draws exterior space inside. depending on what parts of the frame‑-sill. because it leads the inside out.). Just like the eye. and jambs‑-are emphasized or deemphasized (figure 1). or. In addition. . the window is the symbol of what is inside. This "leading out" occurs in varying ways. then an upward movement and roofs take precedence (b). 259). the outside forces its way in. therefore.environment that have significance for human experience and dwelling. on the other hand. a sinking movement and floors take precedence (c).. One way in which the wall expresses this dialectic between openness and closure is through its windows. For example. there can be complete closure and rejection. The frame is important. lintel. if only the sill is highlighted. If all its parts are emphasized (a in figure 1). the face in the opening. Windows are "always an expression of the interior to the world at large" (ibid. which. since it is by way of the wall that one "passes through" between exterior and interior. this degree of penetration from inside to outside or vice versa can vary: on one hand. it expresses the interior's outlook over exterior space. he examines the parts of a window‑-the opening. or the wall draws interior space outside. In clarifying how windows actually give life to a building... and the frame around the opening. If the window has no frame.
2 & 3 Another important quality that relates to the window's sense of insideness and outsideness is the shape of its opening for which Thiis-Evensen identifies three variations‑-vertical (a in figure 4). and central (c). while a horizontal window (c) suggests an inside lateral movement that is separate from the person outside. These different forms lead to different inside-outside relationships. horizontal (b).Figures 1. Figures 4 & 5 . thus both vertical (a in figure 5) and central (b) windows suggest a movement coming from inside out.
one realizes that narrow stairs typically relate to privacy and a faster ascent. gravity-levity.. whereas wide stairs often relate to publicness. ceremony. as. and a slower pace. and so forth‑-that mark the foundation of architecture. and roof. Or. that. if one studies the experienced qualities of stairs. steep stairs express struggle and strength. comfortable pace and typically involve secular use. Similarly. too often. outsideness. 89-103). a wall with windows whose lintels are emphasized suggests a sense of upward movement and levity. closure. Thiis-Evensen assumes that there are various shared existential qualities‑-insideness-outsideness. isolation and survival--experienced qualities that frequently lead to steep stairs' use as a sacred symbol. weight.In his explication of the floor. for example. coldness-warmth. substance. an architect's aesthetic sense is subjective because he or she has not thoughtfully considered how architectural forms arise from and translate themselves back into shared existential qualities like motion. shallow stairs encourage a calm. Thiis-Evensen believes that understanding the archetypes “and their expressive potentialities is essential when [a design] vision is to . as in Mayan temples or Rome's Scala Santa. On the other hand. and so forth. insideness. Michelangelo's steps leading up to the Campidoglio of Rome's Capitoline Hill (ibid. wall. just as a wall with windows whose sills are emphasized will feel heavier and in relationship to the ground. Thiis-Evensen argues that his work has direct design implications. permeability. Thus. He claims.
though he works at a different experiential scale than ThiisEvensen. p. Alexander argues that.be turned into a realization" (ibid. The possibility becomes greater that human beings and their built world are reconciled and the quality of dwelling strengthened. Alexander believes that architecture today often fails both practically and aesthetically. "identifiable neighborhood" .” The obligation is that the thing built must work “to create a continuous structure of wholes around itself” (Alexander 1987. who largely emphasizes lived qualities of individual buildings. A pattern is both interpretive and prescriptive: first. The practical tool that Alexander develops to foster environmental wholes and healing is "pattern language"--a conceptual method whereby the layperson or designer can identify and visualize the underlying elements and relationships in a built environment that foster a sense of place (Alexander et al. In his master volume. or patterns. 1993). In other words. a city like Venice or Oxford.. 1979). He emphasizes that the crucial process is healing. 1977). or a building like Chartres Cathedral or a Japanese farmhouse--generally had a sense of togetherness and harmony (Alexander. In his work. Pattern Language (ibid. buildings. the aim is place making that sustains dwelling. spaces. He also believes that many built environments of the past--for example. Like Thiis-Evensen. coherent way to create places that are coherent. if an environmental whole is made rightly. Alexander and colleagues identify 253 of these elements. CHRISTOPHER ALEXANDER AND PATTERN LANGUAGE This reconciliation between people and their built world is also a major aim in the research and design of American architect Christopher Alexander. it has a powerful sense of place. must be made in such a way as to heal the environment. Alexander seeks a way to return a sense of wholeness to the buildings and environments of modern Western society. whether building or square or street furniture or window detail. An important focus of Alexander's work is how architectural parts belong together in a larger environmental whole (Alexander. 387). 22). where “heal” especially means “make whole. which may help people who live in and use that place to have more satisfactory.). as the are called. vibrant lives. how can activities. and alive for their residents and users? In short. Every new construction. and landscapes be designed in an integrated. it is a description of a particular element of the built environment that contributes to a sense of place (for example. The result might be a building whose formal qualities resonate with its practical needs. Alexander is more concerned with architecture in its larger environmental context. beautiful.
g. New design problems and environments may require revised patterns or even entirely new patterns that the architect will need to create from scratch (e. Patterns that describe individual building details (e. In the end. .g. Patterns that describe buildings and groups of buildings (e. 278]).g. 1977. client.000. that successful places are always composed of many interrelated patterns that work synergistically to create a whole greater than the individual parts. 1993). “front door bench” ). "family of entrances" . a neighborhood.. In this way. “columns at the corners” . Instead. for any new design problem. "shopping street" . a precinct‑-by great gateways where the major entering paths cross the boundary" [Alexander et al. 3. second." . "community of 7. 16) explains. p. Alexander emphasizes.. pattern language is not a finished product but an on-going process of dialogue among architect. Pattern language is not a master list of unchangeable design principles that must be incorporated in all buildings and places. p. "structure follows social spaces” . 14]. Alexander argues that. Patterns that describe larger-scale environments that cannot be designed or built all at once (e. the larger qualities of environmental wholeness are held in sight as smaller qualities are fitted around them.g. As Alexander (1987.. Coates and Seamon. 2. To incorporate this wholeness in pattern language. user. "positive outdoor space" ). "degrees of publicness " . no matter how small. however. in regard to "main gateways." "Mark every boundary in the city which has important human meaning‑-the boundary of a building cluster.[no. "main building" . it is a practical instruction that suggests how to design the particular element effectively (for example. Design must be premised on a process that has the creation of wholeness as its overriding purpose. "main gateways" . builder. it is a way of looking at and thinking about buildings and environments so that one can better understand how their parts might work together to create a whole. He also emphasizes that the 253 patterns in Pattern Language are illustrative and far from complete. Alexander organizes the 253 patterns from larger to smaller in three groups: 1. "high places" . and site. and in which every increment of construction.. it is important to write a pattern language that begins with larger patterns and then incorporates smaller patterns. is devoted to this purpose. "housing cluster" ). and "window place" ).
they typically experience two forces: first. though the two architects’ thinking is somewhat different as to what these essential qualities are. second. but he would also emphasize that these architectural qualities are of little use if they do not contribute to the building's wider sense of place. and place. For example. and experience. they want to rest and be comfortable. both Thiis-Evensen and Alexander believe that the built world can help illuminate and sustain essential qualities of human understanding. environment. Alexander argues. life. and big windows with low sills and comfortable chairs drawn up to them. p. This pattern particularly well illustrates Alexander's emphasis on how buildings work as networks of behaviors and experiences.. and a space is transformed into a place where one can both sit comfortably and enjoy the light. In Pattern Language. we can consider one example‑-windows..Therefore. in every room where you spend any length of time during the day. Alexander includes several patterns dealing with windows and. to which both writers devote considerable attention but in different ways. 192) insists that the building. the pattern "windows overlooking life" (no. have direct visual or physical relationship with the surroundings so that there will be a connection between inside and outside. He explains that "many patterns overlap in the same physical space: the building is very dense. it has many meanings captured in a small space. and through this density it . 180) says that: Everyone loves window seats. the pattern "window place" (no. A window seat automatically resolves these two forces. Alexander uses the term density to describe the multivalent meaning of the built environment. Alexander would no doubt appreciate Thiis-Evensen's effort to understand architectural elements existentially.. p. they work in such as way as to involve people more directly with their place. but he might ask that Thiis-Evensen give more attention to how individual archetypes join together into a larger sense of human meaning. through its windows. To understand more clearly this difference between Alexander and ThiisEvensen. bay windows. In pattern language. Similarly. When people enter a room with a window. 837). 834. they are drawn toward the light. Alexander would probably accept Thiis-Evensen's interpretation of the way that architectural qualities support a sense of insideness and outsideness.ASPECTS OF AN ARCHITECTURE OF DWELLING Like Heidegger. make at least one window into a "window place" (Alexander 1977. in each. For example.
and physical arrangement. he speaks of the window largely in terms of its formal existential expression. A thorough architectural and environmental phenomenology would delineates this full range of architectural and environmental experience and considers how qualities of the natural. In this sense.becomes profound" (ibid.. could be said to gather and reconcile darknesslight and movement-rest. built. does a window allow the interior and exterior of a building to speak or not to speak to the world beyond? Thiis-Evensen’s emphasis on how formal architectural qualities are experienced does not mean that Alexander is more complete in his existential understanding of architecture than Thiis-Evensen. In other words. which. both architects seek a virtuous circle in which people and world. and human worlds contribute to a sense of place and environmental wholeness. xli). Thiis-Evensen does not consider how windows work as a significant locus of activity. weight. By incorporating a "lighted place to be comfortable. In different ways. complex aggregations of buildings. on the other end. from the pure architectural element to. In this sense. these differences in approach and scale point toward the considerable variety of ways in which the built environment can contribute order and pattern to human life. Heidegger would no doubt cheer these works. seeing them as a pragmatic complement to the larger philosophical questions that he reopens in his own writings. both Thiis-Evensen and Alexander’s theories of architecture and place are a major contribution to clarifying Heidegger’s cryptic statement cited at the start of this article—“Only if we are capable of dwelling. by its specific size.” The work of both architects helps us better to dwell because they help us better to see one part of our world— the way that architecture can contribute to human being-in-the-world. designing and building are all mutually supportive. A simple example of density is the "window place" pattern. thinking and designing. one of the major figures in . Unlike Alexander. and substance. Instead. only then can we build." a room becomes more meaningful and dense than if it included either a "lighted place" or "place to rest" alone. Rather. on one end. how. NOTE 1. Thiis-Evensen's book is a rewritten version of his 1982 doctoral dissertation done under the direction of Norwegian architect and architectural theorist Christian Norberg-Schulz. One can imagine a continuum of architectural and environmental meaning that runs. p. in terms of Thiis-Evensen’s motion. shape. spaces and environments that evoke a powerful sense of place.
Perspecta. 1993. NY: SUNY Press. B. 153‑180. Dwelling. and the Metaphysics of Nature. Atlantic Highlands. Home and homelessness. 1985. Environmental Ethics. Seamon. 331-54. C. pp. pp. Home Environments. Seeing. New York: Oxford University Press. 1995. Promoting a Foundational Ecology Practically Through Christopher Alexander’s Pattern Language: The Example of Meadowcreek. Foltz. REFERENCES Alexander. Albany. pp. Toward an Architectural Vocabulary: The Porch as a Between. Bernd. Ishikawa.. reprinted in Dwelling. 1987. Dovey. Landscape Journal. Altman & C. pp. NJ: Humanities Press. Norberg-Schulz. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press. New York: Praeger. Dwelling and Rhythm: The Isle Brevelle as a Landscape of Home. V. Thoughts on a Non‑Arbitrary Architecture. C. Harries. Albany. NY: SUNY Press. eds. and C. Albany. S. Mugerauer. 7: 96-106. New York: Plenum. A Foreshadowing of 21st Century Art: The Color and Geometry of Very Early Turkish Carpets. R. Jager. Giorgi. New York: Harper and Row. C..developing a phenomenology of architecture and environment. J.. ed. 1983.. New York: Oxford University Press. V. and Designing. 1971. In I. 1980. In D. 1989. NY: Oxford University Press. Poetry. D. Chaffin.. and Designing. K. l985.. 1983.. and Designing. 1980. Space. vol. 41-59. 9‑20. Theorizing and the Elaboration of Place: Inquiry into Galileo and Freud. Alexander. 1994. F. Norberg-Schulz's work also draws centrally on Heidegger’s thinking and is another major contribution to grounding Heidegger’s notion of dwelling practically. In D. Interpretations on Behalf of Place. and Architecture. Existence. Albany. Seeing. Language. Barton. C.. Seamon. Though not discussed here. Maes. Duquesne Studies in Phenomenological Psychology. ed.. Dwelling.. R. A Pattern Language. Heidegger. M. A. Martin. 1993. Norberg‑Schulz. NY: SUNY Press. 1993. K. and Seamon. ed. 20. D. Thought. pp. G.. 103-28. 1971. 1971. C. Alexander. Coates.. See Norberg-Schulz. M. 1977. in A. 1988. A New Theory of Urban Design. Seamon. NY: SUNY Press. Genius Loci: Toward a Phenomenology of . 33-64. Mugerauer. Seeing. & Silverstein. Inhabiting the Earth: Heidegger. Werner eds. 4.
1987. Advances in Environment. Thiis-Evensen. D. T.. C. T. Zonn (ed. 1993. Moore and E. Seeing. Environmental Ethics. D. Back to top . Place and Environment: Towards a Phenomenology of Person and World. Norberg‑Schulz. Relph. Zimmerman. D.. in Place Images in the Media. 1979. Seamon... New York: St. 1985. l. Seamon. Albany. Dwelling. New York: Rizzoli. E. New York: Rizzoli.). The Humanistic Psychologist 17 (Autumn). D.. NY: SUNY Press. Martin's. Seamon. C. 3-27. M. Behavior and Design.. 1983. pp. l987. New Jersey: Roman and Littlefield. A Geography of the Lifeworld... 1991. Seamon. D. 1982.Architecture.. Awareness and Reunion: A Phenomenology of the Person-Environment Relationship as Portrayed in the New York Photographs of André Kertész. 2. 119‑140. & Mugerauer. The Phenomenological Contribution to Environmental Psychology... 1976. 1993. 1985. New York: Plenum. Albany. London: Pion. D. Place and Placelessness. pp. eds. Journal of Environmental Psychology. 99‑131. Norberg-Schulz. R. New York: Columbia University Press. Dwelling. 1988. The Concept of Dwelling: On the Way to a Figurative Architecture. 280-293. The First Roof: Interpreting a Spatial Pattern. ed. Seamon. Dwelling.. Phenomenology and Environment‑behavior Research. New York: Rizzoli. Oslo: Norwegian University Press. pp. ed. 77-101. 87107. Zube (Eds. Seeing and Building: Toward a Phenomenological Ecology. Silverstein. Toward a Heideggerian Ethos for Rational Environmentalism. In G. Totowa. In D. vol. NY: SUNY Press. Seamon. and Designing: Toward a Phenomenological Ecology. 1989. Architecture: Meaning and Place. D. Humanistic and Phenomenological Advances in Environmental Design. Seamon. L.).. Seamon. 5. Archetypes in Architecture. M.
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