Home > Philosophy > 1997 After Postmodernism Conference > Medina (background)

Architecture as a Human Science

Angel Medina
Professor of Philosophy
Georgia State University

Structural and Existential Horizons of Functionalism

I. Prefatory Note to Muka ovský's Introduction of Karel Honzík's Towards the Creation of a Vital Order.

The body of this article is an introduction by a major contemporary human scientist, the Prague structuralist Jan Muka ovský, to a collection of essays by Karel Honzík, a functionalist architect from Prague. Both the architect and his commentator attempted to transcend the idea of a simple function from the point of view of human life, a point of view that understands that functions are directly experienced as multidimensional in character because only complex functions constitute a distinctly human world. As it further understands that, by limiting the scope of human aims, technology isolates single dimensions of human creativity, the critique of technological Functionalism parallels structuralism, hence the affinities between Honzík and Muka ovský. Yet, as they develop such a critique, these two authors constantly clarify that the human sense of multidimensional functions cannot be contained within the articulation of codes and contexts typical of structuralism. Both the architect and the human scientist constantly appeal to the specific origination of architectural codes and contexts in a vital and existential order.

For these two Czech authors, a multicausal integration of design factors in architecture would have to consider attentively and calculate minutely possible equivalences and affinities among the components of the material, the climatic, the geographical, the physiological, the psychological, the economic, and the social/historical contexts. But the difficulty in integrating those contexts is not inherent in the discovery of elementary affinities through planning, modeling and calculation. The affinities relevant within design can be detected and defined not by method alone but by a sense of truth and appropriateness that is commonly, yet all too vaguely, associated with the role of the imagination and with a comprehensive understanding of human ends. In their efforts to marry functionalism and structuralism, Muka ovský and Honzík appeal repeatedly to a sense of the imagination that clearly sinks its roots in an intuition of the vital continuity between nature and human nature. The understanding of this vital continuity should not reduce itself, however, to the use of any logical paradigms of either nature or human nature because those paradigms are themselves mere extensions of particular patterns of functional and/or structural design.

In their creativity, both nature and human nature constantly transcend functional/structural associations while including them. This is the ultimate implication of Honzík's dramatic call in this text for an overcoming of dissociational/associational functionalism by carrying it to its limit. The limit suggested by him, with Muka ovský's support, is however an ideal one and it marks the openness of nature that must be constantly defined and redefined by extricating human possibilities from contingency and chaos. It is within an ontological understanding of the meaning of possibility as creativity that a profound, unexpected sense of vitality, that is, of the unbroken totality of life courses in their experienced coherence and consistency, acquires a central and indispensable role. Life is not the totality of its functions. As a reflective totality, that is, a totality that interprets its limits by encompassing them, life must indeed appear as a matrix of functions. This principle of life has been explained by Heidegger as a subordination of in-order-to relations (functional relations whether one- or multidimensional) to liminal, or for-the-sake-of, relations. Similarly, Ortega has defined this principle as vital reason. Thus these two philosophers offer an answer to the gropings of functionalism and structuralism beyond an unreflective, naive human nature and its causal fusion of the circumstances.

At the beginning of our century, the broad art movement known as Cubism attempted to uncover essential forms of reality on the basis of an unusual understanding of abstraction, not as the aim of a single cognitive faculty but as an intuitive and imaginative ordering of the world in its totality. From its inception, Czech architectural Cubism confronted Functionalism within the arena of such a redefinition of abstraction. In the course of this confrontation, which began with a forceful critique of Otto Wagner's Moderne Architektur by some of his young disciples in Prague, the meaning of Functionalism was clarified, expanded and finally assimilated within the aesthetic implications and consequences of Cubism. The earliest essays in Honzík's collection date from the last episodes of that struggle and represent precisely the continuing presence of Cubist principles within Czech Functionalism. In its opposition to early Viennese functionalism, Czech architectural Cubism emphasized in its earliest phase the claims of the cultural imagination over need. In rejecting Wagner's motto, "Artis Sola Domina Necessitas," Prague Cubism brought together a regional inspiration, in its synthesizing of traditional forms and materials, and a Parisian inspiration, in its emphasis on the intuitive and imaginative ordering of the world. Within this innovating spirit there was as much cultural particularism as there was a search for deep sources of creativity. In the mid nineteen twenties, when the cycle of its most outstanding architectural creations was complete, and they had to be measured against the pragmatic and technological achievements of the prevailing International Style, Prague architectural Cubism continued to insist on the meaning of the regional by arguing that the applications of technology, however global in their scale and integration of resources, could not escape the purposeful connections between praxis and community.

Such an emphasis on the correlation between the praxis of means and tools and the praxis of clarification of enduring life forms goes hand in hand with certain vitalistic philosophies of the first half of our century which were themselves concerned with the meaning and limits of technology. Besides the ideas of Bergson, Simmel and Spengler, the thought of Heidegger and Ortega must be considered central for any understanding of the relation between technology (whether industrial, social or psychological) and human life. The meditations on technology by Heidegger and Ortega were decidedly practical, that is moral, social and cultural but, in in the absence of follow up investigations on specific ways of building community, they remained devoid of consequences beyond the correction of individual conscience and the criticism of the excesses of mass social existence.

What is ultimately missing in the continuing investigations of the future possibilities of life is a focus on the convergence and crossing of all aspects, the earthly as well as the spiritual, of human creativity. Heidegger understood creativity as taking shape in a "region" while Ortega thought its proper ground is the interaction of persons in their "circumstances." Without using the term "region," Honzík points to it when he writes about the goal of modern Functionalism as a state of "concord between humanity and nature" where things will be endowed with excellence or "importance in a world context." The region must be seen primarily in the natural context of architectural creativity, as imaginative architectural designs flow from a form of life and multi-dimensional architectural functions flow from a "circumspective space." The translation that follows highlights, through the use of terminology extracted from Heidegger and Ortega, the meaning of design possibilities charged with vital significance. Those are the unique design possibilities that Muka ovský, with his acute structural-analytic sense, tried to illumine in Honzík and Honzík himself patiently brought to light in twenty years of reflective "building, dwelling and thinking."

 

II. Jan Muka ovský's Introduction.

When, a few decades ago, a new direction in architecture called Functionalism entered the scene, an immediate change took place in the overall appearance of buildings as well as in their internal organization; flat roofs, horizontal windows and suppression of ornament became prevalent. In preference to other terms, such as "Constructivism" which emphasizes extrinsic form, or "Purism" which emphasizes current interest in conceptual orders, the term Functionalism was chosen to refer as directly as possible to essential constituents of the new architecture. Flat roofs, horizontal windows and absence of ornament are however only external signs of a deeper change in architectural thinking, more permanent than current architectural fashion and extending beyond the limits of architectural thought. At the very moment that architectural thinking reached toward functionality, it became the avant garde of a new and truly contemporary attitude concerning human creativity as well as the interrelation of human beings and their world. It is therefore still urgent to focus thoughtfully on Functionalism; to this end, theoretical dilemmas, such as the issue of whether architecture is an art, and practical experiments, such as the debatable use of horizontal windows, should be put aside.

More important than facing these issues would be to ask the question: what is the essential core of the functionalist mentality? As a first approach, one could indicate that Functionalism is a logic peculiar to the machine age. It has not been long since men could create functionally but did not think functionalistically because they did not need to do so; in all activities, they responded to reality with all their faculties, qualities and needs. At the same time, their response confronted all the powers and qualities of reality, whether harmonious or discordant. Industrialization established fully the use of machines. Machines act upon reality in terms of precise and specific purposes which the manual laborer cannot duplicate. These distinctive purposes both channel and restrict machine usefulness; only one aim can be achieved and only certain results are anticipated in machine design. Beings with one-dimensional functions have the machine as a model. Since they are able to serve only those restrictive aims toward which they are conditioned, such beings are useless for general functions.

Through spontaneous adaptation as well as through direct patterning, human beings, intent on mastering concrete actions on materials rather than envisioning creatively their circumstances, adjust themselves to the machine model. The assembly line regulates human activity reducing it to single movements and even to fractions of more or less unintentional though perfectly executed movement. Under the direct or indirect control of this model, human beings become specialized operators and learn to identify individual functions whether in philosophical analysis or in pragmatic pursuits. Functionalist theory contrives its own sense of function; it focuses on adaptation and subordination of actions and entities to neatly circumscribed objectives. The more thorough the subordination, the better the adaptation; the better the adaptation, the better the achievement. Things and human beings take on thus a new meaning primarily as bearers of functions; their differences and coincidences become functional differences and coincidences. From this base, the concept of function expands into the cultural sciences; a specific case of this expansion would be functional [structural] linguistics which takes language to be a tool of expression whose individual forms (for example, ordinary speech or written texts) are the result of the adaptation of discourse to particular expressive needs. Functionalist modes of conceptualization expand further into the arts; each individual art form must then reflectively consider further specific techniques and thus adapt certain products to certain functions in a conceptually justified way. Such reflection was the root of trends toward "abstract" poetry, "abstract" painting, "abstract" film, and so on.

During the nineteen tweties and thirties, either explicitly or implicitly, Functionalism actively took command over the whole territory of human creativity and reflection. It would be difficult to answer the question of whether, in its original form, Functionalism was beneficial or harmful for humanity. If one thinks of the great theoretical and practical advances Functionalism gave rise to, then it could be willingly recognized as a great step in the history of human development. On the other hand, if one considers that it deprived humanity of the wholeness of its nature, then how could anyone look favorably on the conversion of humans into little cogs in a machine which, when disconnected from the gear, completely lose their meaning. Not even an ideal ordering of the material conditions of existence, not even the highest possible living standards could substitute for the total development of talents that flourished during the Renaissance with the exemplary figures of painters who were sculptors, architects and poets and, at the same time, anatomists, physicists, engineers and diplomats.

Besides these greatest of examples of unlimited development of talents and callings, one could point to a genuine representative of the whole of humanity, Robinson Crusoe, as envisioned in the 18th century by Daniel Defoe. Robinson Crusoe did indeed cover an entire world with his paths. Today the balance of the functional relations between man and world has been disrupted; must we condemn Functionalism on this account? To do this would be as foolish as wanting to do away with industrialization which is the root of Functionalism. Functionalism can neither be dismissed not ignored; it can only be carried to its own conclusion. Before considering this latter alternative, a few additional observations about architecture are in order.

As indicated earlier, architectural Functionalism as a self-styled movement came into being at the very beginning of functionalistic thinking and was its avant garde and herald. As is commonly known, the second half of the 19th century produced stylistically eclectic, speculative apartment buildings with useless internal plans; it placed the greatest emphasis on the facade in favor of which the interior was often both neglected and subordinated to the profit motive. Not even the Secession movement could bring any changes to this state of affairs. Faced with the task of building, it took an architect-functionalist to formulate in a specific sense the question, "what for?" As a result of specific architectural questioning, the adaptation of the internal plan to the purpose of the building came about. The answer to the question "what for?" appeared simple at first; it was understood and approached in terms of the analogy of the machine (for example, in the well known maxim of Le Corbusier: "The house is a machine for living"). This understanding points clearly to one-dimensional human functioning in the manner of the machine. Mere habitation is thus conceived as a structured sum of precisely delimited singular motions based on particular groups of vital processes. The job of the architect-functionalist is to isolate these motions and to adapt to them--or rather to devise according to their order--the individual parts of apartments and houses.

Practice makes obvious from the very beginning that functions cannot be as radically isolated as it might appear possible beforehand; rather functions exist together in highly complex syntheses. Practice also shows that man, a whole being, cannot be fulfilled in the performance of ordinary vital processes, and finally that the very material reality to which the architect gives form--not just building materials but also such elements as light, air and the like--is subject to very complex laws which must not be disregarded. A certain purpose, even a material one, may be drastically altered if it is subordinated to multiple additional purposes or to local or other peculiar circumstances. If such modifications are carried very far, the original purpose is altered in ways that might be considered practical in some cases and may turn out to be quite impractical in other cases.

It is clear, that a room which does not satisfy some needs of the human psyche (coziness for example) would become uninhabitable even if it is pragmatically adapted to the basic environmental context. Or, in another example, the general rule about lighting levels in interiors has to be revised for every particular room by applying those environmental and physiological criteria that would forestall the harmful consequences of an indiscriminate use of the general rule. More detailed listing of examples would be useless; Honzík's work is full of them. In any event, our concern now is primarily with the fact that, after an ambitious take-off toward a comprehensive modification of practical life, Functionalism ran immediately into difficulties not only in this broad front but in what were thought to be narrower areas and disciplines such as architecture.

Confronted with this situation, the contemporary mind must finally ask the following questions. Was Functionalism just a mistake, a blind alley? Is it necessary to begin again in a different direction? This prospect is meaningless because it is impossible to return to the beginning of our era. Such a return would require the undoing of industrialization and industrial culture which together deprived functions of their old balance, brought about their separation, and defined them in isolation from each other. Our only choice is to probe the depths of Functionalism. What is problematic is not the deepest meaning of function but the early understanding of it. As defined above, functional activity is the subordination of one entity to another in the pursuit of an end. From a pragmatic standpoint, this was an acceptable insight; but in limiting this insight to the assignment of one single entity to one single end, the ground and core of all functional activity remained concealed. In uncovering assignments, it is the human being that makes ends present in a meaningful, functional, balance.

When human beings are themselves assigned as tools to the achievement of a certain end, they act as bearers of functions; on the other hand, when they manipulate things or other people in establishing ends, they act as initiators of functions. In either case, they act as subjects and thus they may either determine or they may influence ends, purposes, and therefore functions. We have not yet, however, come to the heart of the matter. The assertion that man establishes functions may suggest that functions depend completely upon the will, or even the whims, of humans. This is not the case; rather than being superficially added to human life, functions are built upon human nature. It is human nature, not the gratuitous will that has the upper hand with regard to functions. To enjoy spiritual and physical balance, human beings must be able to position themselves vis-à-vis natural and social reality (that is, "to function") in many different ways. The functional initiative of human beings integrates alternative conditions present in every social situation.

In order to direct themselves meaningfully toward an end without being physically and spiritually determined in their establishment of functional initiatives, the members of a society must presuppose a balance between necessity and freedom. This balance used to support itself on instincts; without regard for the awareness of functionality, human beings operated playfully amidst the conglomeration, intersection, and conflicting pulls of different functions. As was shown before, machine civilization disrupted that functional balance but without making the disruption ineluctable. Honzík's work, introduced in these comments, presents many explicit instances of the fact that a technology which unfolds and applies all its potentials hand in hand with human nature can recover for man the necessary level of functional openness.

Such recovery must be preceded by a basic turn in human attitudes. Only after they are envisioned from the perspective of humanity and human nature, functions will free themselves from their isolation and appear as concomitant, multi-dimensional tendencies. The trend toward one-dimensionality in the (so called "abstract") techniques of thought and production will be seen then as a transitional episode, not a permanent ideal, in the succession of art forms. In deforming man physically and spiritually, one-dimensionality exhibits its true character as an extremely harmful phenomenon in those areas of practical life where man is the carrier of functions, for example in the purposeful division of labor. When envisioned from such perspectives, the most salient aspect of the turn in our attitude toward functions will be to account most urgently for the concrete transformations of life that are possible through multi-dimensional, reciprocal interaction of human beings and their environment. Science has been aware for quite some time of the inseparability of function from human being and of the reciprocity of their structural relations; this awareness has been present for example in some works by the USSR's ethnographer P. G. Bogatyrev: "A contribution to structural ethnography," (P ísp vek k strukturální etnografii), 1931; "Native costume as sign: Functional and structural conceptualization in ethnography" (Kroj jako znak. Funk ní a strukturální pojetí v národopise), 1936; "Function of native costume in Moravian Slovakia" (Funkcie kroja na Moravskom Slovensku), 1937.

The situation in architecture is the same as in other areas; but the need to transcend original functionalism in the direction of the openness and multi-dimensionality of functions as involved in human goals is more pressing and more widely felt in architecture than in any other field. The last issue of the journal Kvart (Vol. IV, no. 2), published an interview of J. Gallotti with Le Corbusier, titled "The Look of Tomorrow's Europe" (Tvá zít ejší Evropy), in which the latter states:

I have always liked the beautiful things from earlier epochs. They taught me architecture and revealed to me the falsity of academic teaching and of Vignola's rules. As a young man, I travelled through Italy, the Balkans, Constantinople, and the Orient...I still have with me the sketchbooks where I drew the dwellings of monks...All these old realities have "a human scale." In Morocco, the native towns are so dense and so low-built that people are everywhere within voice range and practically everything is at hand; they all dwell alongside each other as one family in one house.

Thus far, Le Corbusier. In our country, few architects acknowledge the urgency of transcending functionalism; up to now, the most significant expression of this urgency is the present book by the architect K. Honzík.

I do not know if Honzík himself would subscribe without qualifications to the above statement of Le Corbusier. During the Second World Wwar, the French and the Czech architect each reflected on these matters while confined each within a different world with no possibility of communication; their unanimity is however undeniable. It would be easy to find in Honzík's book many reiterations of the proclamation of human life as the all encompassing context of means and ends of building. Here is an example:

Not long ago, the maxim that "man is the measure of all things," was extended to refer to all equipment, machines, vehicles, apartments, houses, streets and cities. It was then that a certain natural "anthropometrism" was introduced into architectural thinking. Houses are not for giants or for dwarfs but for people 150-180 cms. tall, with shoulder 40-60 cms. wide. This "humanization" of our buildings and our environment must be understood not only physically but spiritually, not only statically but also dynamically, not only one-dimensionally but multi-dimensionally. The matter from which our environment is created will prefigure not only physical traces of our bodies but also the movement of life, the patterns of human coexistence and the interpenetration of human beings and space (Chapter Four: Society and Sense of Value [Spole nost a sloh]).

The spiritual and technical attitudes from which Honzík's present book emerged were quite pervasive. More notable in his approach is the fact that this book was not conceived overnight in one stroke of the pen but in stages; the component essays were published in a number of years in journals and anthologies. This fact proves that the present work is not just the result of a momentary hunch but of long reflective struggles which delimited and brought forth the basic thesis in all its facets. Honzík brought to his work an acute empathetic gift; the maxim, "Man is the measure of things," is for him more than an abstract thesis. The author's empathetic gift can be shown clearly in a handful of quotations:

Let us take a chair as an example. Man is present in its shape which integrates the mechanics of sitting, leaning and shifting. The chair's relation to space is determined by possibilities, assignment and places of use. In contrast with the old static understanding, we begin to grasp the object's position within the order of its assignments. A city square, for example, is composed of many scenes (in the midst of which a peaceful silence has its place). The movement of traffic and the parading of crowds also enter into it. The shape of the square logically grows from these scenes. Undoubtedly, the total order of their integration is closely connected to patterns of motion and energy (Chapter 10: Things as assignments [V ci v provozu]).

Or, in another section of the same chapter:

It has always been assumed that aesthetic and creative activity begins precisely where pragmatic adaptation ends and abstract associational fantasy takes over. What was forgotten until now is that there are many varieties of fantasy. Along with abstract association, there is a vitally dynamic fantasy which is itself aesthetic in nature; it recognizes the essential wholeness of forms. The ordering of pragmatic assignments is indeed a painstaking task, thus many entities that may be considered practical turn out to be not so once they are placed in their assignment. When this happens, it becomes clear that the meaningfulness of the assignment in question was rudimentarily and schematically conceived without the help of creative imagination. The design never lived up to its assignment. We should conclude that functionality is not the result of mere practical thought, what used to be called rationalization, but of a very special empathetic fantasy.

For Honzík, the forms of practical things and buildings are not dead fossils, vestiges from the past or creatures of aesthetic speculation; rather they are manifestations of controlled but still bursting functional energy. Forms created by man coalesce in the same way as those created by nature:

Both dead and living matter change and grow under the influence of all manner of forces whether manifest or latent; at the end of such process, matter achieves a certain level of stability and differentiation in recurrent and law-like wholes...In conclusion, when the inwardly and the outwardly operating forces achieve harmony with each other, matter comes to a rest. Once this harmony is achieved, formlessness is replaced in matter by identifiable, self-regulated structures: lines-of-force, crystals, flowers, organisms, all of them virtual energies. Form is nothing more than a projection of balance. To be sure, entities change but this change is controlled by a virtual order: projected stability, harmony, substantiality and maturation... Human products and buildings also change under the influence of a countless number of forces, of countless economic, social and psychological conditions. Under these influences, the forms transferred by an agent to products and buildings change in order to become harmonious forms, important within a world context (Chapter 16: Notes on Bio-technics [Poznámky k biotechnice]).

The greater the differentiation of detail in the complicated functional structures and the greater the differentiation of the presupposed materials as they all participate in the orderly creation of a form, the less predictable and less accessible by means of abstract fantasy that form will be. When Honzík reflects on the essential qualities of dwelling (Chapter 7: Toward a circumspective space [Za prostorovým komfortem]), he lists no less than ten groups of criteria that have to be taken into account, for example: geometric, climatic, ambiental, optical, thermic, all of which may be further subdivided. How far we are at this point from the original awareness of function and its subsequent simplification! Significant in our perspective is also the notion of "importance in a world context" toward which led the above quoted remarks of Honzík. This expression has many meanings; it may even evoke the image of homeostasis, self-restoring organization; but for the author of this book it means a total order within which human nature re-creates its highest qualitative achievements.

Human nature is not the result of a few individual constituents; it always involves a multiplicity of contexts. Honzík's attitude toward singularity requires therefore special attention. He does not look down on standardized production, on the industrial planning of the means of daily life. He is aware of the fact that planning can develop these means more precisely than individual craft. But beyond this planning, he demands that all the contextual conditions that lead to an individual situation be imaginatively articulated. Abstract schemata are unacceptable.

The relationship between the concepts "nature"/"technology," is of utmost importance for Honzík. These concepts are usually understood as polar opposites. Honzík clearly discerns that phase in the development of functionalism when "technicism" was the norm and it was generally taken for granted that technology was to have ultimate control over nature. Technocrats readily accepted that future humanity will become physically adapted to the advances of technology, that, for example, we may become deaf in order to silence traffic noise. In keeping with this "technicism," architects have built houses that seal up their artificial interior environments with inoperable windows, and even planned buildings without windows. It should be obvious from the foregoing comments on Honzík's insights that he disagrees with such a trend. He does not however naively stand on the side of nature, instead he imposes upon technology higher demands than any technocrat. Here is what he states:

We debate among ourselves on whether we should embrace technical civilization or embrace nature. One must carefully consider the extreme character of these alternatives. True believers in technology for technology's sake would be willing to accept that humanity will have to adapt even to those features of technology whose apparent consequences can be clearly foreseen as harmful. These true believers accept without reservations the prospect of unlimited biological adaptation to mechanical systems... On the other hand, anyone standing, against extreme technicism, and for something like an extreme naturalism would have to conclude, at least theoretically, that the crowning achievement of technical civilization should be the return of mankind to nature ("Architecture: the shaping of the lived world, [Architektura jako tvorba prost edí a klimatu]" Volné Sm ry, XXXVIII, n. 7-8, Prague, 1943).

For Honzík, the meaning of "advanced naturalism" should be, as has been made obvious, a synthesis of nature and technology; better yet, a renewal of the concord between humanity and nature through the offices of technology. For him, the opposition nature/technology is not diametrical but dialectical. In his telling example, in order for human nature to elevate itself above noisy traffic, it would not be required that humanity accepts deafness; it would be better for technology to make room underground for transportation, and to make a dwelling for humanity wherever light and serenity can be protected.

Many other theses of Honzík's work deserve analysis and even a full discussion. But according to precedent, the aim of every introduction is to put the reader under way to a book. Let the readers cross this threshold. It is up to them to respond with satisfaction or dissent. Every really enduring work calls for disagreement as well as agreement. Readers might say: "There are indeed many prescriptions in this work; in what ways should they be put into practice? In a field with as much urgency as architecture, only practice can confirm the validity of theories. Let us just hope Honzík's thoughts become reality."

A way out of this quandary is not imminent. Accomplishments happen in many ways, the road to them is full of turns and the chances for deviation are many. All of this is always true when radical thought is translated into action. Amongst those intending to implement Honzík's ideas there will some who will see them only in the light of their own conservatism, who will replace his "importance in a world context" and his emphasis on the "concord between humanity and nature" with a conventional "aurea mediocritas." Such positions are to be expected but not allowed to prevail. What matters is that most readers understand that they are faced with an attempt to discern the possibilities of radical renewal found in functionalism, to carry out its creative imperatives. If any debate of these imperatives follows, it will be to Honzík's credit that he contributed to spark it. This work is profound and does not shy away from incisive statements. It is to be desired that its contents are received in their own terms and that they become a strong contribution to the history of Czech architectural thought.

 

III. Commentary.

In Modern Western thought, the knowledge of the order of nature, whether by rational or empirical methods, was the source of the definition of the human condition. It has been the merit of Heidegger to give a unique interpretation of the practical condition of human life beyond the cognitive light thrown upon human nature by suggestions of order gathered from nature itself. The opposition between the practical and the theoretical emerges in Heidegger precisely from his awareness that the order of nature is not something given in terms of cognitive relations determined by a straightforward apprehending of order nor in terms of cognitive relations naturally constituting the mind itself. The meaning of nature in Heidegger is fundamentally determined by the convergence and encounter of worldly creative possibilities and human self creation.

According to Heidegger, this creative encounter makes possible the uncovering and exhibiting of purposeful assignments of entities to one another in the context of even the most basic practical activity. The accumulation of such assignments, the ordering of things as a totality, constitutes, in a broad and prejudgmental sense, the realm of technology. Indeed, the circumscribing of the assignments of things to each other within a meaningful whole cannot be subordinated to the definition of purpose in terms of simple, one dimensional relations among selective aspects of things, or in terms of a renewal of courses of human action that would simply modify existing ways of biological adaptation. In the correspondence between the two sets, i.e. of activities and of instruments, the only sacrifices of adaptation and the only increases in assignment complexity that in the end may be justified are those that guarantee the viability of an experienced concord between the assigned entities and the enabled courses of human action. Indeed, in order to circumscribe a meaningful totality of assignments and the meaning of each assignment within that whole, a comprehensive set of courses of human action would have to be established as worthy of preservation and elaboration. Here is how Martin Heidegger elucidates this point:

Thus along with the work, we encounter not only entities ready-to-hand but also entities with Dasein's kind of being--entities for which, in their concern, the product becomes ready-to-hand; and together with these we encounter the world in which wearers and users live, which is at the same time ours. Any work with which one concerns oneself is ready-to-hand not only in the domestic world of the workshop but also in the public world. Along with the public world, the environing Nature [die Umweltnatur] is discovered and is accessible to everyone. In roads, streets, bridges, buildings, our concern discovers Nature as having some definite direction.

To sum up, for Heidegger, "worldhood," the form of the world, owes its significance as a natural environment to the belonging together of the being that makes, and of the beings made, by means of concernful work. The "in order to" or purposefulness of assignments of entities to each other would have to be found ultimately in terms of a "for the sake of," that is, within a context of actions of recognizable total validity for human beings. Heidegger is proclaiming here that the congruence between the incorporation of worldly powers in things and the incorporation of human choices and decisions in enduring forms of human life is the best sign anyone could have of a creative sense that would be natural to, or inherent in, reality. For the author of Being and Time, the acknowledgment of this congruence is both confirmed and betrayed by the mere presence, whether sensory of conceptual, of things to a purely cognitive or object oriented consciousness.

Heidegger calls apophansis the representation of objects in language by means of relational statements linking various aspects of an object as conscious or various objects of consciousness with each other. In these relational statements, "objects" become distinctly visible and a universe of discourse is contrived to signify the world not as encompassed by human concern but as reliably representable. Reliable representations of the world are indeed very selective perspectives on things; in spite of this fact, in objective world views, cognitive reliability takes precedence over a vital congruence between the limits of life forms and the mapping of worldly situations, a congruence which is nevertheless pre-understood, pre-owned to, and pre-conceived in the creation and operation of entities. The substitution of cognitive reliability for human significance is, however, never complete; the congruence of life form limits and world horizons is still at work under the thesis that the world form is either physically or mentally given and, as given, unrelated to the interaction between human beings and reality. Two examples of the underlying significance of human horizons for the objective determination of world horizons may be helpful.

In Classical and Christian philosophy, creativity was centered in the concurrent action of four causes (material, formals, efficient, and final) which in Aristotle work together in a purposeful way. However, in uncovering and implementing purposes throughout the universe, the activity of the four causes is analogical to that of a mind; the presumably independent sense of creativity embodied in the causes owes its direction and the worth of its achievements to vital ordering tendencies that work for Aristotle not unlike human reason. In such overlap of causal purpose and mental purpose, the congruence between human limits and world limits is both implied and potentially manifest; under the objectively established physical order lies a complementarity or connaturality of human creative horizons and world horizons.

The same connaturality may be found underlying the objective sense of balance in modern mechanistic philosophies. The struggle for completeness in the development of mechanism as a world view is not confined to the objectification of a finite or limited universe. Objective representations of motion, as contained and measurable within various geometrical schemes and with different degrees of precision, were introduced by the heirs of Copernicus, from Kepler to Galileo and Descartes. But it was not until Newton attempted to measure motion in a real or absolute sense that the issue of a real representation or delimitation of universal dynamics came into focus. All previous efforts to relate partial to total motion in the universe had in fact resulted in plausible mathematical schemes whose validity was based only on key verifications or on mere configurational elegance.

Newton needed to escape the circularity that would have resulted for his system from an establishment of absolute motions in terms of relations such as inertia and gravity and the converse discovery of the existence of gravity and inertia, as possibly natural forces, on the basis of relatively measured motions. Instead of appealing to unobservable, absolute space as the ground of absolute motion, Newton relied on the human experience of inertia that he confidently extrapolated from the context of ordinary human actions to the planetary system and down to the atom. As Harry Prosh accurately summarizes:

Inertia,[Newton] maintained, is one of the principles we do make use of (in fact, which we must make use of) when we work with the terrestrial bodies around us. Relative to us they all seem to possess inertia, or the power of inactivity, inasmuch as we have to find a way to push or pull them--apply force to them--to start or stop them. And our experience seems to be that this necessity to apply force in order to move them extends even to the finest particles.... Newton could see no reason why it would not also be so with respect to the atoms themselves--the smallest possible particles out of which all bodies were made.

Mechanical causality and the objectification of the Universe in terms of it are thus not extraneous to an underlying congruence between the human experience of balance and the total balance that marks the limits of the universe as a dynamic whole. This congruence makes the universe a machine upon which human destiny is projected. As Velázquez perceptively depicted in his masterpiece, The Spinners, the fable of Arachne condemned to toil forever as a spider overlaps significantly with the relentless motion of the spinning wheel.

When he attacks, in The Question Concerning Technology, what he calls "the deceptive illusion...that modern technology is applied physical science," Heidegger places technological development in a very intimate relation to the self-elucidation of human existence-in-the-world. Heidegger's ultimate implication in this respect is that technology itself is the locus of the congruence between human self discovery and the orderly establishment of those assignments of things to each other that mark the creative limits of the world. For Heidegger, technology as a way to the mutual elucidation of self discovery and discovery, or to the mutual elucidation of human nature and of nature, is always prior to science. The awareness of that general priority of technology over physical science is especially important with respect to an authentic interpretation of the development of modern physics which he characterizes as leading ever increasingly to a resignation "with the fact that its realm of representation remains inscrutable and incapable of being visualized..." This unwillingness of modern physical science to commit itself to any world picture is not truly theoretical, nor "dictated by any committee of researchers"; it is rather the result of prior decisions, taken by human beings involved in technological creation, to the effect that "nature must be orderable as standing-reserve." In the end, the decision to configure the natural order as an accumulation of energy reserves, even when only taken as a way of combatting scarcity and danger, is a decision about the significance and shape of human life. It makes human beings dependent upon the instruments of such accumulation of energy.

For Heidegger, the significance of this dependence is predicated upon the fact that it hides the fundamental character of the technological enterprise whose aim appears to be to discover the connection of means to an end but is always at the same time a discovery of the connection of ends to means. When human beings assign means to an end, it is assumed that the ends are fixed and the means simply multiply the ways of reaching the fixed ends, that is, they add to those ways initially available the ones made possible by the new means. But in fact, new assignments and the discovery of new means may imply at times the perception of new ends which indeed are revealed in the very act of assignment as making it possible. The mutual dependence of the sense of the relation of means to end and of ends to means would be forestalled if the ends themselves were not subject to variation by human agents. But if they are, such variation of ends should not be understood, though philosophy and social practice now understand it, as a mere manipulation of chance or as the exercise of an arbitrary will. The discovery of new ends should be understood necessarily in the context of a strict correlation between the total significance of the assignments of things to each other and the total significance of the activities made possible by those assignments (the total significance of the activity of building, for example, as a correlative of the assignment of tools to certain materials). In Heideggerian terms, the manipulation of chance and the self-assertion of the will in contemporary science and philosophy are the unequivocal signs of a generalized neglect and distortion of the congruence of human self-limitation and world delimitation.

As the above considerations suggest, that congruence may be fatefully hidden whenever, within the purview of technology itself, human ends, no matter how complex or diverse, are assumed to be either fixed or open-ended. In an essay that throws much light on the variation of human ends in culture and technology, the Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset carefully explored the ways in which technological choices affected the understanding of human ends and means in various phases of civilization. Ortega discerned and described three stages of technology. These stages are not consecutive or mutually exclusive in terms of their phenomenological features, however they have been historically separated from each other in an artificial manner whenever the human will becomes hopelessly lost in the manipulation of chance or anxiously obsessed with temporary goals.

The most basic stage of technology is characterized by chance invention. In chance invention, a technical function as such simply supports and extends the capabilities of natural acts; indeed the human being is not even aware of any special status of invention that would motivate premeditated and deliberate search. A stick which had its main uses as a weapon or rafter acquires a new assignment as a fire producing tool. The manipulating activity simply links natural powers with each other more regularity than pure chance, but the extension and contraction of activities and of available power are not yet considered ends in themselves. Extension and contraction of activities and energy resources follow, in this technological stage, the laws of probability. No self-conscious regulation leads to a pure accumulation of power or to any concentration on inventing. In primitive groups, there is little or no distinction between discoverers and users of tools. Since chance is not subject to any control or manipulation, technology is not aware of itself as multiplying the means connected with human ends: the lives people lead with their modest collection of technical comforts and the lives they would have with only a part of these comforts are not radically different.

Since the second stage in the consideration of the character of the technical function constitutes in some important respects a synthesis of the first and the third, it may be useful, before examining the second stage of technology, to draw attention to the contrasts between the earliest and the latest moments as analyzed by the Spanish philosopher. The early or late character of these moments does not imply a necessary, progressive development, nor does it imply, as will be seen, a total exclusion of the practices of one moment by those of other moments. The latest moment is constituted by the technology of the machine. The first distinctive feature of the use of machines is the profound modification of natural activities it brings about. Not only do machines alter the work of the hand, the foot or the eye, but they work on their own. The weaving machine which was invented in 1825 was no longer a tool but the autonomous assembler of its product. A second important feature of this technology is that, with machines, inventing becomes fully aware of itself as a distinctive activity. With this awareness, a separation is established between the inventor and the worker who executes the inventor's plan. The inventor or engineer is exclusively concerned with the activities of machines and with the products of such activities on their own; no longer does inventing have directly in view the repertoire of actions and comforts that are, as it were, naturally integrated in the life forms of a community.

A third and most important feature of this technological phase is that dependence on machine activities and products becomes so strong that human groups cannot do without them; the activities and products of machines take on the character of human ends. In this respect, Ortega points to the curious condition of the modern users of technology who assume that the enormous multiplication of the available natural powers is itself natural. The users of machine technology tend to believe that all technical objects and procedures that make up their artificial environment "are there in the same way as nature itself is there without further effort on [their] part: that aspirin and automobiles grow on trees like apples." Even more paradoxical than this popular confusion between nature and artifice is the fact that the engineer, by arbitrary pursuit of invention, multiplies the popularly accepted human ends with the same obedience to probability as the primitives had in their multiplication of means in the service of a naively assumed human nature.

The overall implication of this comparison between the first and third phases of technology in Ortega is a full exposure of their common ignorance of the mutuality of the relation of means to ends and ends to means. For the primitive certainty of human ends, technology disguises itself as the discoverer of means; for the modern assurance regarding an endless "natural" supply of means, technology obscures itself as a discoverer of ends. The deeper significance of the ignorance of this mutuality is the tragic loss of the sense of technology as a middle ground in which ends and means of human action illumine their value for each other in terms of purposes that are shown as fully experienced and fully meaningful within the broadest possible vital contexts.

Ortega joins Heidegger at this juncture in making explicit that technology is the locus of self-manifestation of nature as neither human nor worldly but vital. In the context of vitality as a middle ground, technology can take its place as itself a middle ground of human means and ends. It must be remembered that this vital middle ground is constituted by an interchange of limits; only when a significant overlap of limits manifests a convergence and encounter of existentially creative possibilities and worldly creative possibilities can it be said that creativity is natural or inherent in reality as a whole. As they close this circle of complementarity, both Ortega and Heidegger define nature as technology and technology as nature. But the circular passage from one to the other must always begin with acceptable human limits because it is the congruence of the limits of human action and worldly action that constitutes them both as a single, vital ground:

It may seem obvious to hold intelligence responsible for both the existence of technology and the difference between man and animals. But we should by this time have lost the calm belief with which, two centuries ago, Benjamin Franklin could still define man as the "tool-making animal."...If life is not the realization of a program, intelligence becomes a purely mechanical function without discipline and orientation. One forgets too easily that intelligence, however keen, cannot furnish its own direction and therefore is unable to attain to actual technical discoveries. It does not know by itself what to prefer among the countless "inventable" things and is lost in their unlimited possibilities. Technical capacity can arise only in an entity whose intelligence functions in the service of an imagination pregnant not with technical, but with vital projects.

At this particular juncture, the reflections of Heidegger, Ortega and Muka ovský converge. Muka ovský, following Honzík, points to the need to transcend the early, naive stages of Functionalism so that humanity can recover the complexity of the functions associated with craftsmanship without returning to the technological stage of craftsmanship. The great Prague structuralist explains that process of transcending as a return to nature or, as Honzík puts it, the adoption of an "advanced naturalism." In the latter's view, advanced naturalism is "a synthesis of nature and technology; better yet, a renewal of the concord between humanity and nature through the offices of technology." The above references of the human scientist and the architect to the impossibility of returning to the technological stage of craftsmanship do not imply that there are no lessons to be learned from this stage. As Ortega describes it, craftsmanship involves an increased distinction of technology from nature which is based on the separation of craftsmen from the rest of society because of the extranatural intensification of their skills and because of the extensiveness of their training which began at a very early age. However, since their dedication to their métier took the appearance of a habit and since variations of technique were strictly regulated by traditional conventions, the separation between technology and human nature was even more concealed in the stage of craftsmanship than it was in chance invention.

The increased separation and increased integration of nature's tendencies and technology at the level of craftsmanship are not paradoxical; this distinction and union are rather the expression of a strong adherence to the congruence between the sense of human life and the sense of world creativity within this stage. The main indication we have of the manner in which this congruence was lived in the Classical world and the Middle Ages originates from the significance they attributed to major crafts that transformed human destiny beyond the vicissitudes of chance invention. Vital crafts such as agriculture, war, navigation and building (specifically the arrangement of communal environments from monastery to town) constituted at the same time an exercise of extraordinary skills and a way of life. The belief that technology belongs to the nature of man was then supported by a general recognition of the fact that societies, through the function of their principal craftsmen, found themselves equipped with the fixed system of the arts. Indeed, as Ortega notices, the union of technology and art at the level of the vital crafts in these cultures was clearly implied by the Greek use of the word techne to name the arts and the parallel use of the word "arts" to define technology in the medieval West.

This sense of the inextricable union between technology and human destiny always disappears when the arts are reduced to those technical skills that enter into specific artistic designs and outcomes (as they disappear also in a purely analytic philosophizing whether it is connected with empiricism or with nihilism). The artistic qualities of a craft are negated by that reduction to the furthering and reckoning of skills, consequently craftsmanship becomes indiscernible from chance invention. At the beginning of Modern architecture, for example, Semper considered the art of building a mere extension of the technique of weaving thus connecting it with bare necessities rather than with vital projects. It should be also obvious that when the role of vital crafts is dissolved within the autonomous development of forms in an art medium, the art in question becomes an exercise of a formal skill such as developing or recognizing patterns which may be incidental to the self-determination of a human destiny. When, in opposition to Semper, the Viennese art historian Riegl explained the development of decorative style as the result of changes in the use of perceptual skills, art was thereby cut loose from its roots in the major crafts that shaped vital projects, and it was thus assimilated to the freewheeling contrivance of arbitrary ends typical of systematic technology.

In reaching toward its conclusion, this elucidation of the ultimate horizons of Czech architectural Functionalism approaches the core of a full and adequate definition of the concept of function in vital terms. Muka ovský's understanding of this vital Functionalism involves the transcendence of the naive idea of function, a transcendence that takes into account the lessons regarding the multi-dimensionality of human functions prevalent in the technological phase of craftsmanship. Implicit, as was seen above, in the multi-dimensionality of the major crafts was a deep sense of the congruence, the concord, of human self-creation and worldly creativity. In previous ages, this sense of the natural had been neglectful of a clear notion of creativity as a diversification of ends as well as means. By contrast, the new, vital Functionalism will have to proceed with a full recognition of the variability of both ends and means implicit in the congruence between human destiny and world order. As Muka ovský states: "In order to direct themselves meaningfully toward an end without being physically and spiritually determined in their establishment of functional initiatives, the members of a society must presuppose a balance between necessity and freedom."

The connection between creativity and freedom that arises from the essential dependence of creativity on the congruence of man and world has been more radically explained by Heidegger than by Muka ovský. Heidegger clearly associates the one-dimensionality of functions with those exercises of the human will that arbitrarily choose human ends in multiplying the availability of means with the pretext of submitting to necessity. In establishing freedom as the variability of ends and means that is based on his profound sense of "nature," Heidegger fully distinguishes freedom from any human faculty, such as pure willing, and attaches it to the experience of "natural" creativity:

The essence of freedom is originally not connected with the will or even with the causality of human willing.

Freedom governs the open in the sense of the cleared and lighted up, i.e., of the revealed....All revealing belongs within a harboring and a concealing. But that which frees--the mystery--is concealed and always concealing itself. All revealing comes out of the open, goes into the open, and brings into the open. The freedom of the open consists neither in unfettered arbitrariness nor in the constraint of mere laws....Freedom is the realm of the destining that at any given time starts a revealing upon its way.

In this text, Heidegger gives his audience a sense of creation as an opening of the totality of what is; this opening stands against the closeness of being in terms of chance. Chance occludes being and, as chaos, is the source of all concealing. What is remarkable in the investigations of Heidegger and Ortega about technology is that they discover the presence of chance in the heart of reality but also in the heart of human endeavors. And in both philosophers "nature," (that is, the world as opened by human self-creation and the being of man as opened by its imaginative appropriation of virtual creativity in the world) is what stands in the open against the rule of chance. Nature is not the wild; it is precisely the opposite of the wild in the world and in man. The great danger looming in chance arises from its capacity to hide behind the uncreative confusion of means and ends at the highest levels of technological development. The great danger is that even the most skillful exercise of human faculties, when it is not mindful of, and subservient to, "nature" turns out to be ruled by chance.

That is why it is important to understand very carefully Muka ovský's remarks about the meaning of "humanization" as the basis of the new Functionalism. When he points to the contributions of an "empathetic fantasy" at work in the concrete and practical suggestions of Honzík regarding design and architecture, Muka ovský is not referring to a specific human faculty, an intuitive form of intelligence that would conjure multi-dimensional functions in opposition to the abstract associative intelligence (induction) that creates and multiplies one-dimensional functions. What he points to, and what Honzík multifariously revealed in years of patient work and meditation, is a "natural" sense of human vitality at work in architecture, the main surviving example of the vital crafts. This is why Muka ovský, following Honzík, calls empathetic fantasy a "vitally dynamic fantasy," a mode of concentration in a task that synthesizes in images, rather than in linear relations or typological abstractions, "all the contextual conditions in a situation." What they both understand is that the context of architectural creation is always the human context, much more difficult to reveal and assess than any schema devised by a faculty. It is easy to train oneself and others in the plain exercise of a faculty or in the mediocre employment of a craft but only an awareness of the natural limits of the world, and the experience of a tradition as it envisions and transcends human limits with care, will teach how all the contextual conditions in a situation enter into imaginative syntheses.

From its inception, Prague Cubism intended to overcome a vital imagination grown stale, as was the case with the styles of the Romantics and the Viennese Secession very early in our century. The young Cubist architects wanted to replace this stale imagination with the sense of vitality that animated the search for, and the "reactivation" of origins typical of the new nation and the new century. In this attempt, their early experiments often confused the rhythms of natural vitality with the most exuberant rhythms of the machine and its civilization. What saved Prague Cubist architecture from simple experimentation with abstract geometrizing was precisely its concentration on architecture as an imaginative craft. That concentration led directly to an overcoming of abstract designing and of abstract functionalism as well. Honzík's book, whose first essays date from 1924, the end of "analytic" architectural Cubism in Prague, recovers the "synthetic" aspects latent in the best works of this movement. The study of the Functionalism illumined by this book is incumbent upon anyone interested in the discovery of the total meaning of architecture. Emphasizing the importance of this study was the aim of Muka ovský's able introduction; the aim of this article has been to provide a humble introduction to its most difficult concepts.

 

Milan Vancura, Ph. D. Architecture, Architect, Atlanta, Ga.

Angel Medina, Professor of Philosophy, Georgia State University (ret.).

Joyce Medina, Lecturer in Art History, Ga. Institute of Technology, High Museum of Art

 

[After Post-Modernism Conference. Copyright 1997.]

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