Rationalism and Architecture

By Arthur Erickson

I used to tell my students, "Don't think.  Do not let reason intrude into the creative process.  Instinct, not reason, should be the guide; but your instinct needs to be informed by the extensive experience of life as well as your trade.

But Rationalism has been the predominant intellectual cast of the 19th and 20th Century.  Without it we would never have entered the mechanized world we enjoy today.  Just as Rome borrowed the forms of Greek architecture to decorate the surfaces of their brick aqueducts, baths, theatres and markets and spun their highways from Asia Minor to Britain, the Americanization of the 3rd world today is evidence of a similar technological takeover. 

St. Francis unwittingly started the scientific revolution, the origin of which was the innocent glorification of the sensate world.  Until then, that world had been only a symbolic expression of the divine will.  With this acceptance of the world of the senses, came renewed interest in ancient Rome and the physicality of its architecture, sculpture and painting, giving birth to the renaissance.  The immediate consequence was the rediscovery of the beauty of the human body, as celebrated in classical art and architecture.  With it, perspective, the visual capture of space as the eye perceives it dominated art, culminating in the work of Leonardo Da Vinci.  His preoccupation went beyond the appearance of the object to the mechanics of its perceived phenomena - how birds flew, fish swam, humans walked and so on.  He was the first scientist of our era.  It has taken us 400 years of the observation and analysis of the natural world around us to fly, to discover how the eye sees, to develop macro and micro devices to explore the limits of outer and inner space and how the brain works, to develop the computer.  The 19th century was celebrated as the "machine age" at the great Paris expositions. Our advances in mechanization have been based on natural phenomena:  the jet motor from the propulsion of the squid, for instance.  The 20th century has been the scientific age, in which science has moved from the mechanics of phenomenon to probe the unknowable itself, as the boundaries of reality keep slipping illusively away.  Science and art have been close contenders in the race to grasp the cogent essence of reality.

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