INTERTWINING #1: Letter from the Editors

Alessandro Gattara, Sarah Robinson, Davide Ruzzon

 

Science means simply the aggregate of all the recipes that are always successful.
All the rest is literature.
Paul Valéry

 

We want to move beyond thinking of architecture as an object. Architecture is not separate from us- it is not something to be judged merely by its formal properties, its satisfaction of programmatic concerns or its performance in terms of technical parameters. We are not dismissing the importance of these factors but wish to enrich them, to understand and articulate how architecture can capture and express unseen layers of meaning and purpose.

Architecture is always an in-between, a mediator between worlds.
The first constructions that could be called architecture were designed to align human cycles with cosmic ones. Architecture mediated between the human and divine order, served as a threshold between gods and nature. Architecture has given order to, and so to some extent determined the course of human evolution. It is no exaggeration to say that architecture has sheltered human becoming, enabled us to staunchly withstand the ravages of the elements, while allowing us to become humans in the first place. The shape of our buildings and cities has shaped us, and it is this shaping that we want to explore here.
We want to think of architecture as a verb, a mover, a shaper, an active agent in human flourishing. In order to appreciate the potential power of architecture we want to explore the experience of architecture,
and the intimately related experience of making architecture. Turning our attention to experience requires that we listen to and consider knowledge from a full array of disciplines. Experience is multi-dimensional, multi-directional, irreducible, and as Vittorio Gallese insists, “.always more than.” Experience always supercedes, flows over any boundary that attempts to circumscribe it.

Paying attention to and understanding experience brings together disciplines that have been customarily polarized. The superficially disparate methods of art and science come together in experience. To experience means to undergo, to encounter, to be changed by an event. In experience, outer events become inner ones, experience metabolizes and transforms life processes, making the impersonal, personal. Experience is the ultimate empiricism–the bottom line of knowledge.
The empirical method is the gold standard, the irrevocable prerequisite of scientific knowledge. Deriving from the Greek empeirikos, empirical means to experience. The word experience comes from the Latin experientia meaning, “a trial, proof experiment; knowledge gained by repeated trials.” Experience, by definition then is personal, it is a first person event, a witnessing, an internalization of external phenomena. In this sense, the artist’s epistemology is founded in empiricism, for what is the work of the artist, but an exteriorization of personal experience. The artist’s subject takes up residence in their psyche and sensibility, must be internalized, filtered, digested and ultimately transformed into the artistic work. Art is the distillation of this empirical exchange.
Experience is the methodological staple shared by both the arts and the sciences. The word science comes from the Latin, scio meaning to know. Art has a complex etymology related to the Latin, ars, meaning craft or skill, but interestingly the German word for art, kunst, originally meant “knowledge” from the root kennen, “to know.” Art and science are two ways of knowing, both rooted in experience. We understand them not as rivals, but as equally necessary and complementary bearers of meaning, neither discipline has an exclusive claim to the truth.
Paul Valéry understood this clearly when he wrote, “Science means simply the aggregate of all the recipes that are always successful. All the rest is literature.” A key difference between knowledge yielded by science, and that which is yielded by the arts, lies in the delineation of the of the phenomena they seek to describe. The empirical method must be repeated systematically by the scientist in order to yield similar results. If a theory consistently produces the same outcome, it loses its status as a theory to become a fact. These facts necessarily apply to a limited set of phenomena, phenomena amenable to measurement and quantification. Yet experience, as we have acknowledged, is always more than. This vital overflow, this refusal to be bounded is what differentiates artistic knowledge from scientific knowledge, and because of this, it cannot be certain or exact. Outside of strict measurable parameters–“All the rest is literature.”

The poet was in no way diminishing the critical importance of scientific knowledge. Without our time-honored recipes, we obviously could not survive, much less flourish in this world. We need to be mindful though, that the world and experience can never be fully described or accounted for using the strict methods of science. As John Dewey reminds us, “Every great advance in science has issued from a new audacity of imagination.” The world opens ever wider through the work of the imagination. Similar to experience, imagination is always “more than,” transcends measurement, follows its own inscrutable rules. Advancing both scientific and artistic knowledge depends upon the imagination, and the work of the imagination in turn, depends on free play and openness, the imagination spills outside of categorization, thrives on being unbound.
This is perhaps why the inaugural 1864 issue of the esteemed science journal Nature opened with not a scientific paper, but with a poem by Wordsworth, followed by an essay by the biologist T.H. Huxley, the novelist Aldous Huxley’s grandfather. In his essay, Huxley mused on Goethe’s aphorisms of nature. Like Goethe who identified himself as both a scientist and an artist, Huxley insisted that, “Science and literature are not two things, but two sides of one thing.” He was particularly fond of Goethe’s humble approach to understanding the workings of nature, “We live in her midst but know her not,” he wrote. Huxley shared an acute awareness of the limits of knowledge before the grand questions that haunt both science and the arts, and faced his task with a sense of humor born of humility. In that opening essay he concluded: “When another half-century has passed, curious readers of the back numbers of NATURE will probably look on our best, “not without a smile;” and, it may be, that long after the theories of the philosophers whose achievements are recorded in these pages, are obsolete, the vision of the poet will remain as a truthful and efficient symbol of the wonder and the mystery of Nature.”

Looking back on the freshness of those beginnings, we wish to present the work of scientists, philosophers, art historians, psychologists, anthropologists, artists and architects side by side. Every voice speaks a layer of the truth, teases out and illuminates a particular thread of this dense and immeasurable weave called experience.