Densification, Technologization, Commodification, Existential Crisis, Phenomenology, Dharma, and Buildings . . . all the good stuff

The truth is that our contemporary world, technologized and structured by the commercial logic of late capitalism, is not conducive to meaningful dwelling, especially not in large urban centres. The goal of inhabiting meaningfully is made problematic by many factors which pull us into a space both intellectualized and also devalued by material justifications and goals. Ontological problems which initially arose out of mechanization and commodification have been exacerbated by the electronic and ensuing digital technology of our age. Space-time compression, the genesis of competing virtual domains (competing both with each other and with the real), and the full enframement of existence within material and economic logic makes our inhabitation of the world increasingly difficult to conceptualize and, indeed, to build for.

This ungrounding of existence partially accounts for the recent resurgence of interest in phenomenological method both in philosophy and in architectural theory and practice. The Husserlian prescription to go ‘to the things themselves’ through an encounter with phenomena presents a potent attraction as we find ourselves pulled from our direct experience of the world by the immense abstract networks to which we are tied and upon which we are increasingly left to rely for meaning. Phenomenology, with its insistence upon direct encounter, opens up alternate routes to meaning which evade the systems of meaning interwoven into our systems of production, consumption and exchange.

Interestingly, the texts of Buddhist philosophy, dharma, with their emphasis upon mindful presence, present a corollary to phenomenology seen in this light. Buddhist scriptures, for the most part written 2500 years ago, caution against the dangers both of material ensnarement and intellectual abstraction. This anticipates Husserl's response to the continuous clashing of idealists and materialists in their various incarnations throughout the history of Western philosophy that his school of phenomenology was intended to be. Dharma, in a way actually similar to phenomenology, offers us a way to reconnect with the basic problems of dwelling. And (interesting to an architect interested in using phenomenology in architecture), dharma has two distinctive building types associated with it intended to serve its practices: the Buddhist temple and the monastery.

And Buddhism in China is booming. In response to the collapse of Marxist ideology, to increasing economic prosperity (and disparity), and to technological enframement, the Chinese are flocking to religion. Currently the practice of choice for 10 million Chinese people, Buddhism is the fastest growing religion in the People's Republic of China. This is a sea-change for a country that not so long ago villainized all religion. During the years of the Cultural Revolution, for example, the beautiful Jing 'An Temple in Shanghai operated as a flour mill. Tellingly during this period the images of Buddha were replaced with images of Chairman Mao. Now, however, it has been restored to its original purpose, one of a total of 30 temples in Shanghai restored and renovated during the five years between 2001 and 2006.

As China rapidly develops and its population moves en masse to the city, Buddhism is rapidly gaining popularity. Both Buddhism and urban density are growing, simultaneously. But Buddhist temples and monasteries have traditionally been spacious places of respite from the world, sites of quiet and secluded practice. It is as of yet unclear how these sorts of buildings will be incorporated into the megacities of tomorrow. They may remain as focused centres of retreat, their sacred precincts defiantly empty in the midst of rapid development. On the other hand, temples could scatter, and, adjusting to the changing spatial economics, find themselves in unexpected locations such as old office spaces 23 floors above grade. Could we imagine a monastery adjusted to fit the 20th through 25th floors of an office tower, right above an IT company and below a PR firm, the lotus pond and bamboo grove on the roof accessed by elevator? I don’t see why not, but the metamorphosis of the typology would present a serious challenge.


Continuous Partial Attention

As our gaze loses focus, does it become more empathetic?


Google Wants To Give You Some Money

I posted here back in November about the settlement that had been reached between Google and representatives of the 'print industry'. I find this to be totally amazing: essentially in this deal, which still requires in-court approval, we are witnessing, as if it was being played out for us in a play, the final crisis of the take over of print media by digital media. Now all we will have left is the end-game, the tidying up of loose-ends, the denouement.
See the New York Times here for the most recent news. Google is making a monumental attempt (ironically using large-scale printed advertisements [its a bit like slapping someone with their own hand, no?]) to contact all copyright holders. Why? To give them some money.
Google, as part of its mission to organize all of the world's information, is intending to scan everything that was ever published in print-media. So if you've ever published anything, they want to give you some money, both a) right off the bat for the right to scan, and b) every time someone pays them to read it.
Of course, the really big thing we should be aware of here is: if print media has fallen, both absorbed by and also made obsolete by the digital, what's next? What exactly is going on here?
Go to the article for more information.