Thursday, October 14, 2010

Architecture and Philosophy

In a strange and difficult-to-describe way, there is a connection between architecture and philosophy: between conversation about life after death and the shape of a stained-glass window; between the logical analysis of time and the curve of a stone arch. It is no mere coincidence that, for example, the great philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein was also an architect. "The disposition of Gothic sculpture," write Ann Mitchell,

is more controlled, since it is confined to the important unites of the building, the load-bearing capitals (in England, the keystones), and finally the facade and portals.

The organized nature of Gothic sculpture corresponds to the mathematical elegance of the philosophical books being written at the same time:

The logical quality is particularly apparent in the cathedrals of the Ile de France whose basis of design shows striking parallels with the forms of the current philosophical system known as Scholasticism. Its major work, the Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas, is another of the encyclopedic series of this period. Erwin Panofsky in his Gothic Architecture and Scholasticism has defined the system's three requirements. First, a presentation of the totality of knowledge (theological, moral, natural, and historical). This we have seen in the sculpture of the facades of the cathedrals. Secondly, an arrangement of this knowledge according to a uniform system of division and subdivision. This is best illustrated by the uniformity in design of a sector of the apse, the whole apse, and the choir. And thirdly, these divisions, though related to the whole, should be quite distinct; for example, the cross-section of a pier should explain the whole structure of the church. From the last quarter of the thirteenth century to the end of the middle ages, Scholasticism was beginning to be replaced by other systems and no longer had the same influence; nor was its effect felt so strongly outside the Ile de France.

The emphasis on reason during the era of Scholasticism and Gothic architecture made it an era which gave birth to the concepts which eventually became modern physics, chemistry, and mathematics.