Cover image for The ethical function of architecture
The ethical function of architecture
Harries, Karsten.
Personal Author:
First MIT Press paperback edition.
Publication Information:
Cambridge, Mass. : MIT Press, 1998.

Physical Description:
xiii, 403 pages : illustrations ; 26 cm
General Note:
Originally published: c1997.
Format :


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NA2500 .H375 1997 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Can architecture help us find our place and way in today's complex world? Can it return individuals to a whole, to a world, to a community? Developing Giedion's claim that contemporary architecture's main task is to interpret a way of life valid for our time, philosopher Karsten Harries answers that architecture should serve a common ethos. But if architecture is to meet that task, it first has to free itself from the dominant formalist approach, and get beyond the notion that its purpose is to produce endless variations of the decorated shed.

In a series of cogent and balanced arguments, Harries questions the premises on which architects and theorists have long relied--premises which have contributed to architecture's current identity crisis and marginalization. He first criticizes the aesthetic approach, focusing on the problems of decoration and ornament. He then turns to the language of architecture. If the main task of architecture is indeed interpretation, in just what sense can it be said to speak, and what should it be speaking about? Expanding upon suggestions made by Martin Heidegger, Harries also considers the relationship of building to the idea and meaning of dwelling.

Architecture, Harries observes, has a responsibility to community; but its ethical function is inevitably also political. He concludes by examining these seemingly paradoxical functions.

Author Notes

Karsten Harries is Professor of Philosophy at Yale University.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Architects are doing kitchens. "Contractor architecture" is emerging, taking the form of what Harries (philosophy, Yale Univ.) calls "the decorated shed." Harries's readers will soon become entranced and puzzled. This is not ethics at the "conventional" level. Harries demands that architects go beyond a limited sense of the "aesthetic." Readers will need some familiarity with Continental traditions, phenomenology since Hegel at least, hermeneutics and critical theory, as well as existential thought about the experience of dwelling and the authenticity of designers and end users of buildings and spaces. Harries's reflections will influence architects, design students, and planners. Working with modernist Sigfried Giedion's ideas that architecture must interpret a valid form of life, Harries looks at decoration, excitement, dwelling, and the human need for relief, in "temples," from the pressures and terrors of time. Whether it is mythos, ethos, or eros, architecture pursues its own authentic truth, and ours, not reason alone. Heidegger demands, and Harries concurs: "the Work lets the earth be an earth." Photographs, e.g., of Caspar David Friedrich's Ruins of Aldena Abbey, help Harries demonstrate how repetition in structures comforts by "affirming time." Undergraduate through graduate and professional readers. S. S. Merrill; Purdue University--Calumet