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Architecture Is Concealed unto Itself: Helmuth Plessner and his Influence on Twentieth-Century Architecture

Adler, Gerald (2019) Architecture Is Concealed unto Itself: Helmuth Plessner and his Influence on Twentieth-Century Architecture. Architecture Philosophy: The Journal of the International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, 3 (2). ISSN 2372-0883. (KAR id:65393)

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The Human in Architecture and Philosophy: Towards an Architectural Anthropology

‘Architecture is concealed to itself: Helmuth Plessner and his influence on twentieth-century architects’

‘[…] man never returns. We have to renounce the romanticism of alienation and homecoming inherent in Marxism and admit to ourselves its illusionary character.’ Helmuth Plessner, 1969

Architectural anthropology is currently experiencing great traction, as a reaction to the perceived aridity and exclusivity of much contemporary philosophy and evincing a renewed interest in empirical methods of seeing the world and enacting changes in it. This is hardly surprising: most architects will act pragmatically, adjusting existing models of buildings and terrains in their attempt at balancing competing demands of site, client needs and organisational logistics. In recent years many have been under the impression that this was insufficient and intellectually weak: many architects sought solace in philosophy, and the thinking of choice was the Continental variety, especially that brand that was highly suggestive of architectural form-making. The fact that deconstruction held sway for so long, or that Gilles Deleuze’s rhizomes reminiscent of networks of circulation, structure and other architectural connective tissue should have largely replaced it as lodestar for the avant-garde, is testimony to this.

More recently, and productively, architects have found increased confidence in their innate nous, and have felt greater affinity with the quantifiable premises of the social sciences than with the airier descendants of Idealist philosophy. This paper examines the work of the German philosopher-anthropologist Hermann Plessner (1892-1985), one of the earliest modern thinkers in this tradition, beginning with his notion of ‘positionality’. His long career enables us to view his enduring relationship to a variety of architects. His view of humans as life-forms has obvious connections to today’s environmentalism, and is one that transcends any crude ideological, alienated reading of man. Plessner’s work has serious implications for an anthropological locus of architectural practice (one thinks of the work of Bruno Latour and Albena Yaneva); the political implications of his notion of humans as ‘ex-centric’ beings capable of self-reflection extend far beyond the world of building design. Finally the self-concealed nature of architecture, a play on the title of one of Plessner’s late texts, leads to a consideration of the enigmatic qualities of great buildings, to the ‘black box’ of both Reyner Banham and Latourian social scientists today.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled keywords: philosophical anthropology, twentieth-century architecture
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BH Aesthetics
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > Kent School of Architecture and Planning
Depositing User: Gerald Adler
Date Deposited: 13 Dec 2017 12:25 UTC
Last Modified: 10 Dec 2022 10:30 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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