Eyes That Do Not See

In Toward a New Architecture, what does Le Corbusier mean by “sight?” He means both physical eyesight and metaphorical insight, and he moves back and forth between those meanings smoothly but not always clearly or consistently.

First, I have a few general notes. Corbusier praises engineering for its adherence to math/efficiency, which “puts us in accord with universal law… [and] achieves harmony.” Ideally, the architect’s role here is to arrange forms expressively, creating relationships that resonate with us and create beauty. For us to appreciate that, our eyes “are constructed to enable us to see forms in light.” Simplicity and clarity are thus the relevant values that Corbusier believes architecture has stopped honoring in favor of pointless things like historical styles. Likewise, our eyes are the primary way we interact with the built world and are in fact meant for that purpose. He does not specify whether we have evolution or a divine creator to thank for that, but it’s not hard to see a kind of soft Thomistic connaturality as an underlying assumption here.

Continue reading “Eyes That Do Not See”

Concepts: why do we even have them?

In the year since I last wrote here (I know—I have been very bad) I have continued to think about why we even teach concepts in the first place. I have also authored a new course on architectural history and philosophy (hopelessly ambitious in its cross-cultural and temporal reach) which was the equivalent of writing my dissertation all over again in terms of sheer length, and I have now also taught that course successfully both in a classroom and online. I now aspire to write its sequel (things that happened after 1800 CE) but time will tell what happens with that. I do want you to know, readers, that MFA students are capable of reading Plotinus and even Pseudo-Dionysius as primary sources and writing some pretty interesting reflection essays.

And while I was working on the history of the world, I kept encouraging my design students to pick better concepts than “No Boundaries” and “Salute to Our Military Dogs”, with mixed success.Continue reading “Concepts: why do we even have them?”

3 More Darlings

Another semester has gone into the books, and I am pleased to say by dint of great struggle, most of my students managed to avoid the temptations and cliches (and OK, maybe I encouraged them very strongly) that were driving me a little crazy the previous semesters.

However, they were not completely immune to jumping on various ill-chosen bandwagons. Continue reading “3 More Darlings”

You Get One Question

In response to my common in-class refrain about the goals of ancient philosophy, which tried often to define “the good life” and tell us how to get there, one of my students recently asked me what the core question of modern philosophy is. My first hunch was that it’s something like “How can we say that something is true?” Let me unpack that a bit.

There are two parts to my proposed question: one about making statements and the other about truth.Continue reading “You Get One Question”

Scientific Fiction

This past week I have been helping friends pack to move, and the task I have been working on in particular is boxing a lot of old science fiction magazines and monthly anthologies, the earliest of which is from 1939. Through great effort, I have managed for the most part to avoid perusing things as I pack them. However, this is a genre dear to my heart, and naturally I’ve read quite a number of these authors and stories—they are a mainstay of my teenage memories of the Austin Public Library.Continue reading “Scientific Fiction”

3 Darlings I’d Like to Kill

Last week was a disaster on the political front, so I am going to tackle some itty bitty evils just to get in practice for the larger ones we will be struggling with for years. Specifically, there are 3 things I am really tired of seeing in student projects, and I can basically guarantee that I will see all of them in any given class.

Continue reading “3 Darlings I’d Like to Kill”

No They’re There

One of my personal privileges is that I meet a lot of young adults who are still very much in the process of forming their opinions about things, usually without the benefit of relevant experience. My undergrads take a binary approach to gender as pretty much given, for example, even the ones who push the edges a bit. Thanks to Title IX and other initiatives, many of them were not routinely exposed as high schoolers to the same kinds of institutional male spatial privilege that their teachers were—“You have to clear your gym lockers out so that the visiting boys’ team can use them.” So that’s progress. However, perhaps because they didn’t have to deal with such clearcut and almost casual discrimination, they almost universally have a weak grasp of the ways that choices and situations interact in real life, especially for people who are economically or politically disadvantaged. For example, I hear an earful from some of them, at least, about how discrimination against pregnant humans is not at all the same as discrimination against women, even when you can get them to rephrase themselves along the lines of  “discrimination against all potentially pregnant humans.”*

And then, when they’re seniors, it’s part of my current job to get them to design code legal public bathrooms.Continue reading “No They’re There”