The Symbolic Dimension: Meaning and Metaphor in the Archetypal Language of Architecture
Patterson Finch, Jody
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The timeless task of architecture is to create embodied, existential metaphors that structure and sustain our experience of the world. This vital role has been obscured in recent centuries, but maintains critical importance - even ethical imperative - in our increasingly urbanized habitat, where built objects are the predominant frame of human existence. Fixing verticals and horizontals, architecture is always a symbolic act: it describes the conditions of relationship between man and environment, whether integrated or isolated. The premise of this thesis is a search for the dimension of deeper meaning - missing in most contemporary buildings - that can help to reconnect us with a higher order and assert our place within it. Returning to first principles, it examines cultural constructions across a broad historical period to recall the archetypal language of architecture and its didactic function: concretizing elemental dichotomies and eternal human truths. The essential conditions of body and space, earth and sky have intuitive meaning and enduring implications – this a priori tectonic vocabulary is the basis for orientation and identification (enabling dwelling), and the focus of the thesis work. Its interest is the resonance between inner experience and external environment that engages us in powerful architectonic expressions, relating body, building and world. The work presented narrates these explorations on three levels, within the scope of Western architecture and its primary influences. Part 1 establishes a philosophical foundation for this generalizing approach, rooted in universal structures, and substantiates a synoptic viewpoint. Two ubiquitous models of natural hierarchy - the upright human figure and the stratified cosmos - are manifest in built form from time immemorial; Part 2 presents a body of historical research into these parallel realms of metaphor in traditional belief structures. Surveying the paradigm shifts (both physical and conceptual) that shape our present built environments, Part 3 culminates in a speculative discussion of contemporary power structures and conflicting spatial concepts today, where architecture supplies alternative realities and artificial ‘worlds’ instead of reinforcing meaningful existential connections. Approaching present and future uncertainties through archetypal absolute values, the objective of this discourse is to regain some common ground - underlying the fragmented contemporary condition - where reconciliation between man and environment may yet occur.