The purpose of the present work is to ground architecture in a philosophical outlook which opens human beings to transcendence. Such an outlook is already present in the earliest tectonic tradition of architecture, the origins of which will be unearthed in the work. Yet, a broader philosophical investigation, which draws on anthropological, epistemological, ethical and theological traditions, is needed in order to articulate the meanings of transcendence and return to the source of scientific rationality by beginning to explore anew the open-ended search for wisdom and truth which is at the origins of human knowledge.
In the broadest sense of the word, which has been endowed with religious and spiritual meaning through history, transcendence relates to the unmeasurable immensity of the universe and the true mystery of being: that there is something rather than nothing. The existence of the universe transcends, spatially and temporally, the grasp of the human mind which can still be receptive to this mystery and wonder about its ultimate meaning.
The question of meaning in human life will be addressed in the fourth and final chapter, while two further understandings of transcendence will be given due consideration in chapter two and three in relation to the more mundane context of architecture: Matter and materials can be said to contain certain tectonics potentials, uncreated by man, who can mind and make them appear. Yet, if he starts forcefully manipulating these qualities, he may end up violating their nature. Matter and the whole of planet earth evoke a kind of “material transcendence”, which is ultimately beyond human words and understanding, although it can still be experienced as something present. This material form of transcendence plays an important role in chapter two on tectonic beauty, and in chapter three, which deals with the ethical implications of architecture, a third understanding of transcendence associated with goodness in interpersonal relationships will be expounded. This chapter picks up on the concepts of human well-being through dwelling and hospitality from the first chapter.
These three understandings of transcendence do not necessarily appear separately, but can reinforce each other, for example as it happens in Christian church architecture which serves as a gathering place for believers to approach God in love and faith. Materials, light and the divine reality, represented in the church, matter and support the liturgical actions which convey the evangelical message of God’s love for human beings, incarnated in Jesus Christ, as the ultimate meaning of human life. The Christian Church seeks to open reason and human hearts to transcendence, so that each person will receive and give to others in the same loving and merciful way as Jesus did. Seen from this perspective, heart and reason are not necessarily opposed.
The purpose of the introduction and the first chapter is to open up human reason, through philosophical wonder and theological awe, to this meaningful horizon beyond human beings themselves. Architecture as the tectonic art and knowledge of building well-fitted artifacts, dwellings and monuments keeps this horizon open also today, as it promotes human well-being and points to a transcendent dimension. Of all the arts, architecture has throughout history been assigned the mediating role of making spaces for people to communicate with each other and with the divine. Religion refers to the connection which binds people together through the belief in God, and church architecture has played a key role in keeping human reason open to transcendence.
The second and the third chapter describe the way from the tectonic origins of architecture over the architectural vision and materialization of spaces to a heightened awareness of the social, ethical and ecological context in architecture. The critical outline of an architectural epistemology sheds new light on the tectonic knowledge of visualization, materialization and contextualization inherent in architecture, but it also draws up the limits of the discipline which is or should not be committed to determining people’s lives. An architectural ethos of responsibility, respect, humility and love takes into account the spiritual qualities of materials, uncreated by man, who through tectonic visions can make these qualities come alive and shine within a larger context.
The subtitle of the work refers to the need for a philosophical grounding of architecture in order to achieve a balance between the transcendent dimension, which many architects have aspired to reach or to represent, and the immanent world in which human beings build or search for a home. The fourth chapter addresses the question of finding meaning in life and the contributions which architects and theorists have made to fulfil human longing for a meaningful and peaceful place on earth and beyond this life. Every human being, who searches for a meaning in life, is searching for a place to come home to, not merely as a physical shelter, but as an existential and spiritual foothold in life which offers openings to transcendence.
Christian churches, some of which are interpreted as paradigmatic architectural examples of a successful union of tectonically well-fitted works, are meant to receive human beings and unite them in the Holy Spirit of God. The work concludes that a similar, yet more modest intention is behind Louis Kahn’s architecture which pursues meaning through the all-but-impossible attempt of letting the measurable workaday world open up to and reflect the unmeasurable dimension of spirit and order. Kahn’s Salk Institute for Biological Studies in California testifies to the meeting of the measurable and the unmeasurable: Life on a small microscopic scale and life on a large cosmological scale meet on the site of the Salk, where research into the tiniest cells virtually takes place with a view to the endless horizon of the sea and the immense sky. Architecture has made it possible that scientific objectivity opens up to and is in contact with that which transcends it, the unfathomable universe which surrounds us.