3. Contemplation

After the tranquility of the elementary beginnings of living in nature follows a stage of contemplation. Now the experience of being  deepens by a multitude of thoughts. The structured unity of thoughts is called a belief (on a religious level) or an idea (on a human level). Many great buildings are conceived in the mind of people who believed in an ideal, both on a religious or worldly level. Building is often a tribute to the higher meanings in life. It is therefore, worthwhile to investigate those inspired buildings and try to find their message.

World religions like Buddhist, Hinduism, Christianity and Moslem have all created their own spiritual world. Their specific beliefs do not concern us here. We like to find their common expression in terms of division thinking. Which type prevails as we read the physical products of their belief? In order to understand the language of building (IV) – in relation to its initial inspiration (I) – we have to cross the borderlines of the divisions and search for the ideas (II) which have resulted in the physical outcome of architecture (III). That is what contemplation should be all about: thinking about a setting. And the relation in time and place should be expressed in a system of values born in understanding. Our tools in the investigation of contemplation are four in number:

———————  1. An intuitive understanding

———————  2. A structured expression

———————  3. An understandable reality

——————— 4. An enduring presence

This chapter deals with a number of architectonic features, which have their spiritual and practical inspiration in common. They can be found in buildings, which are used by the masses to express their ideas, hopes and beliefs. The term ‘mass’ does not refer to the rather old-fashioned sociological interpretation by writers like Gustave Le Bon (1841 – 1931; Psychologie des Foules (1895; translated as The Crowd) and Elias Canetti (1905 – 1994; Crowds and Power, 1960). It is even further away from the opinion of the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard (1813 – 1855), who bluntly stated that ‘The crowd is the lie’ (BIDDISS, 1977).

The new interpretation of the ‘mass’ is devoid of the negative connotations, which were gathered over the years, and can be defined as a group of people involved in a universal communication. The setting and behavior of such a group (crowd) highly depends on the division-environment in which it is placed. If a crowd is placed in an oppositional environment, like Elias Canetti did for instance – in his case for good reasons, since he had witnessed the Holocaust – than the outcome is predictable: a crowd can act either for good or bad. However, if a crowd (or multitude) is placed in a quadralectic environment, its behavior has to be valued accordingly. The crowd is, in the latter case, a dynamic unit running through the motions of a universal communication with the observer/historian.

Contemplation can be an individual activity, like the Desert Fathers proved in the third and fourth century AD. Collective contemplation (or worship) is another matter, taking place in a community. Buildings of reflection, like temples, churches, hospitals and asylums are the outcome of a collective ‘will’, in which a general spiritual feeling is translated into a visible entity. This process – of a dynamic multitude – is associated with the outlook and actuality of the Fourth Quadrant, where the visible invisibility is the hallmark of the communication.

Quadralectic architecture feels at home in the Fourth Quadrant. It has to be. Although the last quadrant does not rate higher than the others do, it is – unquestionably – a very characteristic element in the quadralectic way of thinking. Lower types of division thinking do not have an intellectual space to accommodate the ‘Fourth Quadrant’. This given fact makes this area within a communication special, but not in the setting of the tetradic philosophy itself.

It would be easy to rate the achievements of a four-fold way of thinking higher than the lower forms, but no philosophical reasons can be found in the quadralectic environment. Communication is a matter of division and movement: only these two basic entities contribute to the valuation of an interaction. A choice for a ‘lower’ (division)environment is not necessarily better or worse than the position in a higher echelon. On the contrary, in certain situations – for instance, in traffic or survival in nature – an oppositional outlook is highly necessary. Decisions must be taken in a split second, otherwise a sudden and horrible death can follow instantaneously.

Similar behavior in other circumstances might be less appropriate, although  still effective. The interim manager, who is hired to dismiss unwanted personnel, is doing just that. His ruthless behavior might be the survival of an organization. Fortunately, there are other types of human relationship where the oppositional overtones are not dominant. People working in a higher-division framework often understand each other better because they allow feelings to play a role. Segregation and/or discrimination – which are often part and parcel of lower division-thinking – are neutralized in a quadralectic communication.

Michael BIDDISS (1977) typified the modern society in Europe since 1870 as living in ‘The Age of Masses’, characterized by the rationalization of processes. There is, in his vision, a gradual shift in sociological importance from groups (communities) to large aggregations. This opinion, which was widespread in the middle of the twentieth century, had a serious influence on architecture. The vision of the ‘masses’ as faceless aggregations had a detrimental influence on social building activities. Le Corbusier’s pre-war, megalomaniac ideas were formative and a source of inspiration. Army-type flats and unimaginative high rise buildings filled the sprawling suburbs all over the world.

The psychological evaluation of the multitude has changed considerably since then. ‘Aggregates’ are again people of flesh and blood, with a face and a voice: at least that is the ideal situation. And current building activities reflect these changes: things are considered from a human perspective. Architecture is lost if it does not take place with the emphasis on personal, human interest as its prime target. The architect has to provide a space to contemplate our own being in an environment, which is appropriate for our own dignity. Any other way is bound to fail.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s