On the Interpretation of Architecture
Theory of Interpretation

Vol. 12, No. 2, December 2008


___Markus Breitschmid
  Between Object and Culture


    “Against the Interpretation of Architecture” is the title of an essay published by architecture professor Johannes Albrecht.[1] He begins his essay with the observation that “For some time, it has been apparent that most current discourses have become self-referential: the discursive snake is swallowing its own tail.” He goes on to point out, “in architecture, the building in all its physical manifestations is of little concern… Even if the building has received attention, it is ultimately the interpretation and not the building that is of interest.”

Albrecht’s dichotomy of interpretation and building serves as the foil for this essay. Building is defined as a reference to the analysis of a built object that is limited to material inquiry of an existing built structure, without overlaying the object with object-independent criteria such as the social, political, economic, or philosophical context for its evaluation. The term interpretation means the dealing with architecture as something that communicates significance, ideas, and meaning of an iconographic, iconological, and metaphysical nature, all criteria for a critique that is largely extra-architectural. While an analysis of the object emphasizes the building as it is, interpretation of architecture aims at what it says.

The essay seeks a functional middle ground between these counterpoints. The essay first questions the limits of an “unmediated experience” advocated in Albrecht’s essay. Second, it points out that interpretive acts are not an evil brought about recently by postmodern hermeneutic theories but these interpretations have been very much an integral part of modern humanist aesthetic mentality for the past three centuries. Taking a middle ground position between what it is versus what it says, the essay subsequently argues for a functional differentiation between a relatively fixed understanding and interpretations that revise prior understanding. In other words, the essay does not doubt interpretative acts per se, but questions hermeneutic theories declaring all understanding as being interpretive. Attempting such a distinction, it is significant that the essay does not argue for an ontological differentiation between understanding and interpretation in the sense of different epistemological domains. The essay agrees with Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Wittgenstein that it is of value to make an operational and functional differentiation between understanding and interpretation. In the last part, the essay argues that more recent postmodern hermeneutic theories, by declaring all understanding/interpretation as based in linguistics, grossly limit the ways of understanding architecture. The essay argues that non-discursive understanding not based on explicit interpretation is supplying the cultural meaning-giving ground that makes subsequent interpretation meaningful in the first place. The essay also reminds us of the existence of aesthetic judgments that are not subject to intellectual concepts. The possibility and validity of non-discursive understanding strengthens the argument that not all understanding is interpretation.

Modern Aesthetic Mentality: Ideas beyond Rules

Albrecht laments that “Postmodern thought has argued that theory building be free from the burden of strict rules and definitions and from close adherence to logic.”[2] In other words, Albrecht seems to be in a quandary with the fact that he has left behind the Aristotelian meaning of interpretation, namely, an argument that is strictly bound to logic verifiable by intellectual judgment. As a consequence of his position, Albrecht desires “rules”, “definitions”, “objectivity”, and “logical explanation” for the elucidation of architecture.

Between the title and the text body of his essay, Albrecht inserted a quote by the American literary theorist and novelist Susan Sontag. The quote reads: “to interpret is to impoverish, to deplete the world – in order to set up a shadow world of ‘meaning’ … In place of a hermeneutics we need an erotics of art.”[3] It is a minor issue that the meaning of “an erotics of art” is unclear, but for Albrecht to invoke Sontag’s notorious statement, it must seem to him to provide a remedy for his own thesis “Against the Interpretation of Architecture.” It is of minor importance for the essay at hand to point out that Sontag’s aim seems to contradict Albrecht’s argument. What bothers Albrecht about the interpreting of architecture is the fact that it is a “never-ending project” moving “away from the direct experience of buildings.”[4] Albrecht invokes Sontag’s dictum because he seems to see her as an ally for his own cause to liberate architecture from “borrowed theoretical foundations.” Albrecht understands Sontag’s pronouncement as “an unmediated experience”, an approach to enjoy “things and space”. According to Albrecht, it is such an immediacy of experience of things and space that would counter the perceived "preference of idea over object".[5]

It is problematic to attempt to draw a wedge between an approach to architecture defined as an objective, object-oriented, and material-based form-functionalism that is subject to fixed “crutches of practice-oriented rules and definitions”,[6] in other words, a set of philosophically, religiously, and architecture-theoretical anointed ideals, and an idea-architecture that it is subject to fluid intellectual theories and models. There are more subtle problems with this either/or approach but how would one ever arrive at “rules”, “definitions”, “objectivity”, and “logical explanation” if not for an extended intellectual distillation, which is to a significant degree interpretative work?

While it certainly can be asserted that talking and writing about architecture is talking and writing about something that really speaks for itself, we also like to reflect on what we do in order to come closer to understanding the mystery of things. Modern man does imbue his objects with ideas. His penchant to understand things speaks to his modern aesthetic mentality. Exactly when interpretation in the Aristotelian tradition was rendered unfit to capture the imagination is not entirely clear, but there are traces of a certain inwardness in Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz’s metaphysics that attempt to grasp the totality of the human soul and deemphasizes the outward and object-based capability for rationality. Other observers of the movement away from a world that is subject to the application of natural law might point to the mysticism of medieval Old Catholicism.

That the “project of interpretation” is “never-ending”, as Albrecht laments, is exactly what contemporary readers treasure most about it. It is also why contemporaries found it necessary to invent the new philosophical branch of aesthetics next to the existing braches of logic and ethics. Aesthetics is modernity’s grandest achievement if viewed from a macro-historical perspective. Albrecht should know better, as it is the rise of aesthetics that has opened the potential to enlarge epistemological possibilities in the arts, which accounts for our experience and understanding in that field. His own discipline, architecture, is an art-from that owes its cultural potential to a never-ceasing play between imagination and interpretive attempts at conceptualization, and the fact that the best works of art let us never rest for long in our attempts to make sense out of them applies equally to architecture. Why else do we never grow tired of listening to Ludwig van Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, looking at one of Mark Rothko’s “Untitled” canvases, or meandering through Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s pavilion at Barcelona?

While Albrecht’s call for an “unmediated experience” seems to suggest a radical repudiation of interpretive acts in architecture, he utters a hint of doubt for Sontag’s approach to how one should perceive art, when, towards the end of his essay, he states, “a moratorium on mental constructs is impossible”.[7] Albrecht does not elaborate this turn in the final sentences of his text away from the invoked “unmediated experience”, and he gives no hint of recognition that Sontag’s surface-formalism is missing the point entirely. The purely formal perception of art that Sontag suggests would somehow leave the content out of the perceptive equation and, subsequently, would not require any interpretive activity. The formalist approach to art, on the other hand, entails at least as much, if not substantially more interpretive effort, than a seemingly correct understanding of an art work’s content.

Albrecht’s advocated analysis of architecture based on “rules”, “definitions”, “objectivity”, and “logical explanation”, as well as his apparent sympathy for Sontag’s surface-formalism – both claiming not to require interpretative activity – are not valid today. Either these approaches are based on a misunderstanding of what formalism fully entails, as in Sontag’s case, or they are pretending to operate within a world in which ideals, including an ideal architecture, still exist. Isn’t it the hallmark of modern humanism that no such ideals exist? While medieval men had institutions that made them believe in an inward-certainty that was able to sustain ideals, modernity does not have such institutions nor do its people have such certainty. Now architecture is based on ideas, and to deny so would chastise man, not only in the discipline of architecture, but in all his inquires.

“Contradiction of Reality”: Understanding as Moments of Completion

So far, some fairly general delineation has been made based on the assertions and positions presented in Albrecht’s essay. It is now time to stake out a position on interpretation that can be valid and useful. For that, we can turn one last time to Albrecht’s essay since he presents an overture for a possible theory of interpretation in the form of a “strategy for conserving precious documents … that are no longer valid … but were still too treasured for complete rejection and abandonment”.[8] Albrecht does not develop this thought to fruition because he unduly restricts interpretation as “an act of translation or transformation according to certain rules”.[9] What is of interest in the above description is a “strategy” that saves understanding, even if it is no longer valid, or will loose its validity in the future. Such a “strategy” suggests an important functional approach of how to mediate between understanding, which enjoys a relatively fixed meaning until we come up with a new more adequate meaning, and interpretation, as that domain that forces us to renew our previously held understanding.

The problem at hand, which Albrecht finds difficult to untangle, is not the “preference of idea over object” in modern architecture. It is not the problem that modern man has come to realize that the dialectic between fact (object) and effect (subject) is not a one-way street but is reciprocal. This reciprocity causes repercussions in man’s mind that have gained at least an equal epistemological standing if compared with the relatively static built reality of a building. In other words, it is not a problem that the modern course of things – all of what modern man is fundamentally about – “necessitates a complete substitution of semantics with syntax” in order “to get rid of all notions of functions and all semantic associations”.[10]

It is exactly the condition that we live in a humanist world governed by ideas, and not by rigid ideals, which suggests the civilizing practice of continuous interpretive elucidation. Such a condition demands a freeing of semantic attachments to architectural forms and space. This shift towards abstraction, the shift away from a fixed architectural symbolism of any sort, is the entirely logical consequence of contemporary aesthetic mentality, as it also allows aesthetics to gain an ethical dimension. In essence, it is the correlation of the beautiful with the desire for freedom. Immanuel Kant has noted in this respect that it is exactly because “taste, because its judgment is not determined by concepts and regulations”, is the most of all our faculties and talents “in need of those examples that have received applause for the longest time in the course of culture so that it does not fall back into the rudeness of its earliest efforts and become crude again.”[11] It is not a problem that our minds can build worlds, as Martin Heidegger famously noted – Albrecht, in opposition to such thinking, narrowly sees that creative building spirit as an act of destruction of the once anointed ideal – but that the power of the imaginative building is perceived as real, at least as real as the real building. Rosalind Krauss, quoted by Albrecht in his essay as an adversarial voice, explains the capacity of an architecture based on ideas to bring renewed metaphysical joy: “[T]he experience of the physical forms of the [building] is to be subsumed by a reading of them as alternate, ideated forms. Reality is to be excavated mentally, until one is able to unearth a kind of transcendental object lying beneath it.”[12] In other words, there is the architecture of the 5th Symphony, the architecture of one of the canvases named “Untitled,” or the architecture of the German Pavilion. Beneath or beyond the sensual presence of these architectures, we have come to know an architectonic system within which sensory experience can be known, an epistemological act that does not consider the interpretive play of imagination and the subsequent attempts for understanding as an error, as pre-Kantian philosophy has understood it. This perennial realm is simultaneously abstract and tangible, penetrating and defining much of central European thought from Leibniz up to Heidegger. It is what saves this cultural tradition from nihilism, keeps us metaphysically free, and free of a reliance on religion or other dogma.

The problem of current hermeneutic theories that Albrecht failed to recognize can be described in following terms. Interpretive theories of the past two centuries stem from the repudiation of a world governed by natural law. This has led interpretive theories, subsumed under the term hermeneutics, to stand in opposition to the pillars that upheld that natural law world, a world that was perceived as factual, a world where absolute and univocal truth was possible, and a world that accepted the existence of an objectivity that was not dependent on the mind. It was a world in which Isaac Newton’s mechanical theories made absolute sense. But when the eminent historian Leopold von Ranke in the nineteenth century famously declared that historical law would present a world “as it really is”, then there were entirely different parameters at work compared to their pre-modern predecessors. Such a loosening in order to accept a mind-dependent world led to an acceptance that we might have differences on how we perceive that world, and this led to the acceptance that man lives in a world were all things are corrigible by means of a perspectivalism. Perspectivalism is described as the view that all truth is truth from or within a particular perspective. The perspective may be a general human point of view, set by such things as the nature of our sensory apparatus or by culture and history. The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche is considered the father of this approach to comprehend the world. This Nietzsche-inspired perspectivalism, then, began to edge towards nihilism once it was applied to everything without an aesthetic counterpoint, some sort of a metaphysical veil that Nietzsche thought of as necessary. The problem of an unbounded perspectivalism that arose in the subsequent postmodern world was based on the assertion that no understanding is possible any longer.[13] In other words, postmodernism began to suggest a most radical individualization not in the sense of a subjective experience as the modernist model of thought did but in the sense of a relativism that suggests each person’s opinions and judgments are of equal value. Moreover, the perspectival activity that was said to make understanding corrigible led to the further assertion that all understanding is interpretation. This is a profound mistake! The problem is that everything that is not objective mind-independent is also always interpretive because it is potentially corrigible.

Nietzsche himself gives ample reason to doubt this new postmodern dogmatism, as he was an untiring critic of his contemporaries for their “cowardice from consequentiality”.[14] By “cowardice from consequentiality”, Nietzsche meant his contemporaries’ inability to ever come to a resolution about anything; moreover, he accuses his contemporaries of making their inability their ideal, an ideal in which “the unconscious is of higher value[15] and makes “another species of men … impossible, in particular the great ‘building masters’.”[16] Contrary what many postmodern critics write when they invoke the voice of Nietzsche, the erstwhile philosopher saw it as the most significant problem of his time to capture the fluid world only in terms that are, themselves, fluid. Addressing this existential problem, the future man “above all has to be solid,” he manifests.[17] Nietzsche views the fact that the quest for a formal totality has been given up as a major metaphysical dilemma and seeks solace from such an abyss by means of a radical aesthetization of the world. His entire concept of the Grand Style has to be viewed as a project in which man presents himself with the relative stability that is necessary for a meaningful existence. Epistemologically speaking, the Grand Style as the objectified and concrete “contradiction of reality”,[18] gives man the possibility to transfigure his being and the relationship of his being to the world into an object of relative permanence that is a solidified idea. Man is in need of such moments of completeness and finality; he achieves this by means of the experience of the actuality of a complete work. Nietzsche proclaims, “Man in this disposition transforms things until they mirror his power – until they are reflexes of his perfection. That need to transform into perfection is art … in art man finds himself in perfection.”[19] The created object is, in this sense, an image of his asserted values. Man experiences joy that his values are affirmed and have become objectified-present through his work. Nietzsche emphasizes that the visionary man requires such moments, a heightened witnessing of a moment of metaphysical joy, a period of a heightened joy for his existence.[20]

Epistemologically, Nietzsche’s Grand Style points to a distinction between understanding and interpretation, albeit, not on a strictly categorical level or an ontological basis. Prior to Nietzsche, not to speak of postmodern culture, understanding was not synonymous with unquestioned universal truth, while our interpretive attempts at conceptualization are questionable subjective judgments with little epistemological value. The relationship between understanding and interpretation is fluid but, as it is important to note, they are also not equal. Understanding and interpretation are different in the way they are related to each other and how they depend on each other.

What is the functional difference between understanding and interpretation? What Nietzsche describes as the “cowardice from consequentiality” is nineteenth century modern historical man’s surge to apply historical law to the utmost degree to all things, and it is that fulfillment that led to a relativist world view. Nietzsche still insisted – evidenced in his eventual philosophical opposition to Arthur Schopenhauer – on a difference between a relatively fixed understanding, which provides at least a momentary ground that is able to direct our subsequent interpretation of that understanding, and interpretation, which is the questioning, searching, and explorative modification of that prior understanding.

Understanding is different from interpretation because it provides a moment when something is complete. Understanding gives a stable ground from which to operate and from which to give meaning to all things. How else would we be able to even begin a new interpretation if there is not something already understood? We do not need to come to some conclusion about the things of the world between successive interpretations. It is exactly this functional differentiation between understanding and interpretation that also caused Martin Heidegger not to succumb to a more radical hermeneutic position. Heidegger pointed out in his famous remark that “any interpretation which is to contribute understanding must already have understood what is to be interpreted”, and he indeed desired to create a “historiology which would be as independent” of the interpreter as possible.[21] Ludwig Wittgenstein agrees with the central tenant of these Nietzschean and Heideggerian observations when he writes, “ ‘What I really see must surely be what is produced in me by the influence of the object’ – Then what is produced in me is a sort of copy, something that in its turn can be looked at, can be before one; almost something like a materialization.”[22] The materialization Wittgenstein is speaking of is similar to Nietzsche’s Grand Style, both are built by a “building spirit” that ought to contradict brittle reality. This association becomes particularly evident when Wittgenstein continues, “and this materialization is something spatial and it must be possible to describe it in purely spatial terms”.  Leaving the difficult texts of Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Wittgenstein to the side, it can be explained in simple non-philosophical language that we require some sense of what we interpret before and during interpretive activity. The interpretation of a text, for example, most likely requires some literary understanding of the text at hand. At the very least, it requires a basic understanding of what is being individuated as the object of interpretation, simply to identify it as such.

Another point that calls for a differentiation is the fact that everything encountered is not interpreted. How do we decide what to interpret? It requires a prior understanding as something meaningful, a moment of fixed meaning that is entirely satisfactory to the perceiver of an object at the moment when he is first confronted with it. It is that relatively fixed understanding that motivates him, at times, to understand the object more fully and to begin the subsequent interpretive act. Additionally, the interpreter of an object also makes imaginative hypotheses about the object interpreted on the basis of what is already understood. It is important to recognize that a hermeneutic theory depends on a revolving cycle of understanding and interpretation and cannot be interpretation only. As Nietzsche has pointed out on countless occasions, there is a physiological and psychological need for a relative stability of understanding. What would the interpretation even mean to us, since it would push us into an infinite process of continuous interpretation without having moments of grounding understanding?

Of course, this functional differentiation between understanding and interpretation does not render interpretation unnecessary. That would be against our natural constitution. We seek interpretation because we are not satisfied with current understanding. We desire to make understanding total, and that desire can be stirred by an almost infinite number of impacts, but that new or higher understanding is related to the older (now considered inadequate) understanding. Sometimes we are satisfied with our understanding. That is the moment when we allow ourselves not to interpret. It is not that there is no further interpretation possible in those moments of non-interpretation, it is simply a moment when we feel at home, a moment of metaphysical joy. We are content. To deny that such pauses are possible, as some more recent postmodern theories have chosen to do, is to conceive humanity as a monstrosity, a machine restlessly intellectualizing everything and doing so all of the time.

What theories of hermeneutics have brought to daylight is the fact that there is no rigid wedge between understanding and interpretation but rather continuity and interdependence. However, some of the same theories have suggested that there is no difference between simply understanding something and interpreting that which is understood. It is then no surprise, considering what Wittgenstein writes about the process of “materialization”, that such assertions put more recent hermeneutic theories at odds with Wittgenstein, because he seems to oppose such a dogmatic view when he noted, not unlike Nietzsche and Heidegger, that interpretation must ultimately depend on some prior understanding that is “not itself an interpretation”.[23] While Nietzsche arrived at his demand for a relatively fixed understanding of objects and thoughts in the world out of metaphysical concern for modern man, Wittgenstein arrived at the same distinction through the study of language in philosophy. The philosopher Richard Shusterman has pointed out that the result is essentially the same: “understanding grounds and guides interpretation, while interpretation changes, critiques, asserts understanding”.[24] Such a functional distinction allows for a fluid cycle in which understanding is a product of prior interpretation but now is immediately grasped. In other words, what is now immediately understood may once have been the product of a labored interpretation and may form the basis for further interpretation.

While the Nietzsche-Heidegger-Wittgenstein functional distinction between understanding and interpretation seems to make perfect sense in our everyday lives – we practice this functional distinction every day – it might be worthwhile to ask why there is an acceptance of the conflation of understanding with interpretation. The only comprehendible scenario that makes such dogmatic assumptions possible is to forget almost the entirety of the humanist philosophical tradition and pretend that the older natural law tradition, that is subject to religious truth, is still in place. It is only in the pre-Kantian world where we find a tradition in which understanding was defined in contrast to the ulterior interpretation, as that which was not correctable. But as soon as epistemological models of the humanist tradition of how knowledge is gained are not neglected, in short, if we abandon the pre-modern view that understanding can never be renewed because it is given to men by a God, then the possibility that understanding can be renewed is valid and necessary. Once it is recognized that understanding can be renewed, indeed must be renewed, there is no need to declare all understanding as interpretation simply because interpretation is changeable and understanding is not.[25]

Even a superficial glance at the history of the Roman-Catholic Church, which incorporates this embodiment of the beholder of eternally valid and righteous truths, presents surprising fluidity in the interpretation of religious dogma. Of course, this is not an argument about the ability of how the Church deals with the world, but it serves as a counterpoint to question the possibility of why false, rigid, and entirely dogmatic assumptions about the interrelationship of understanding and interpretation can have that much credence in today’s higher echelons of the intellectual world, in particular, within circles of academia.

What is understood, what is grasped as true or factual, often turns out to be wrong, requiring correction, revision, or even replacement with an altogether different understanding. Of course, it seems entirely self-evident that the newly gained understanding, which is the product of an interpretation of the prior consensus, will eventually itself be substituted by an even newer interpretation that corrects what was held as fact. It is this completely lapidary process, in which neither understanding nor interpretation can claim an epistemological position higher than the other, that has given rise to the assertions that there are no truth or facts but only interpretations.[26] Postmodern thinking has inferred from this epistemological leveling of understanding with interpretation that they are the same, that there is no difference between the two. Somehow, more recent postmodern thinking pretends that this is a revelation in so far that it denies that simple genuine understanding has not been subject to revision. For postmodern thinking, understanding has to be interpretative in order to be open for revision, and this proposition has received great support despite its dogmatic assertion, as it is now common that almost every university student assimilates all corrigible understanding to interpretation.

“Forms of Space”: Non-Linguistic Meaning-Giving Ground

Theories of interpretation demonstrate a proclivity to place interpretive models in close proximity with linguistic formulations. Their key characteristic is the translation of one form of expression into another one, and the one major criterion for a renewal of any kind of meaning is the ability to express it in explicit linguistic terms. Architecture, though, is in its essence a syntactic totality of forms and spaces. Forcing architecture into a linguistic system, as has been witnessed more recently, is to create an intellectual phantom out of architecture, an art form that clearly is not limited to linguistics. As a matter of fact, it can be argued that the forcing of architecture into a language-system is to emasculate the emotive power of architectural form and space. More basic non-linguistic understandings of architecture exist then we are aware of. To make just one prominent example from within architectural theory: August Schmarsow’s essay “The Essence of Architectural Creation”, one of the key texts of the late nineteenth century’s endeavors into physiological-psychological aesthetic theories, demonstrates that there exists a basic understanding of the verticality or horizontality of an architectural space for which we do not need an interpretation in order for understanding.[27] The equation posited here can also be reversed: man gains a very limited field of understanding when he reads a description of the lofty space of a cathedral with its rising bundle-pillars and vaults and the illumination of the space by means of its colorful rays of light that infiltrate through the large windows and transubstantiate non-corporeal void into a wonderful world that we are capable to see with our eyes. We are able to understand this description in intellectual terms, but architecture demands that we experience that space. In other words, the body has to be present in order to fully grasp what the space of a cathedral is. Another example from music: a linguistic explanation of what one of Bach’s sonatas does presents very little of the tonal richness if we contrast any linguistic articulation of it to actually hearing a performance of such a sonata in person. Some of the things we understand are never captured by language because the fullness of the experience of an architectural space or form defies adequate linguistic expression. As Wittgenstein writes, “the primitive language-game which children are taught needs no justification; attempts at justification need to be rejected”, it is intellectual blindness to claim that unreflective, non-discursive dimensions of ordinary experiences are meaningless to understanding.[28] Like the harking back of postmodern hermeneutic theories to the epoch when the world was understood in terms of natural laws in order to be able to define a counter position for its supposedly new arguments, recent postmodern theories similarly seem to forget that Kant already declared that man can make aesthetic judgments that are not based on intellectual constructs such as a linguistic concept.[29] It is exactly such non-discursive understandings that establish a common background of meaning, and which enables the identification of something we call culture, so that we can then proceed to interpret it differently. The argument of postmodern thinkers, who like to conflate understanding with language, is only correct so far as we never talk or discursively think about architecture without a linguistically based mediation. This proposition does not mean that we cannot understand architecture without recourse to language, nor does it mean that architecture cannot be meaningful to us – just that meaning is not limited to linguistic terms.[30] It is a very one-sided view of comprehension if non-linguisitic understandings are dismissed as invalid. Understanding does not necessarily require linguistic articulation. Again, to make this clear, these examples are not an argument not to interpret, but to distinguish understanding from interpretation. Architecture and music are perhaps better examples than the linguistic arts to demonstrate that many things make up for a full understanding that is beyond linguistic articulation. Nietzsche, the philosopher who is often portrayed as the originator of the claim that there is no understanding any longer, emphasizes the non-linguistic basis for understanding. Like Wittgenstein’s statement quoted above, Nietzsche finds understanding in spatiality when he declares, “Our mind is a power that works on the surface, it is superficial … man discerns through concepts: this means that our thinking is a rubricating, a naming. As such, something that turns on the arbitrariness of man does not affect the thing itself. Only in calculating and in the forms of space does man have absolute insight.”[31] These remarks regarding the limits of the degree to which architecture can be made subject to linguistically-based systems are not meant to question whether architecture is free of interpretation, something which it is clearly not, but to support the main argument of this essay that interpretation requires a meaning-giving ground. Architecture is in the fortunate position that its constitutional materials (form and space) are pure extension, absolute and complete realization. For this reason, modern thought has had some hostility towards architecture because it seems too closely tied to material and is quasi-extraneous to language. However, it is due to this linguistic absence that architecture can succeed to present an understanding of the transcendent world.


Now to return to the chief argument for the summary of this essay: in order for us to operate meaningfully in this world, we have to preserve something distinct from interpretative activity, even if it cannot be immune from interpretation and may indeed rest on what was once interpretation. Understanding provides interpretation with a piece of resonance to help delimit and thus shape its meaning. Without a relatively fixed understanding that contrasts interpretation, interpretation does not come to mean much. If everything would always be interpretation, interpretation would come to signify nothing definite at all. If not for a functional differentiation between understanding and interpretation, interpretation becomes synonymous with everything we do and would loose meaningful specificity. Understanding provides a quantity, a relatively fixed meaning of one thing or the other that subsequently enables the interpretive act to be distinguishable as having some definite meaning of its own, since any meaning is defined by what it is not.


List of Literature:

Albrecht, Johannes: Against the Interpretation of Architecture. in: Journal of Architectural Education No. 2, 2002.

Breitschmid, Markus: Der bauende Geist. Friedrich Nietzsche und die Architektur. Lucerne: Quart Verlag 2001.

Heidegger, Martin. Being and Time. San Francisco: Harper and Row (1927) 1962.

Kant, Immanuel: Critique of Judgment. New York: Hafner Publishing Co (1790) 1951.

Kraus, Rosalind: Death of the Hermeneutic Phantom: Materialization of the Sign in the Work of Peter Eisenman. in: Peter Eisenman (ed.) House of Cards. New York: Oxford University Press 1987.

Nietzsche, Friedrich: Sämtliche Werke. in: Kritische Studienausgabe in 15 Bänden. ed. by Giorgio Colli, Mazzino Montinari. Berlin, New York: Walter de Gruyter (1869-1889) 1988.

Schmarsow, August: The Essence of Architectural Creation. in: Form, Space, and Empathy. Problems of German Aesthetics. ed. by Harry Francis Mallgrave; Eleftherios Ikonomou. Santa Monica: Getty Center for the History of Art and the Humanities (1893) 1994.

Shusterman, Richard. Beneath Interpretation: Against Hermeneutic Holism. in: The Monist. An International Journal of General Philosophical Inquiry, Vol. 73, No. 2, 1990.

Sontag, Susan: Against Interpretation. in: Against Interpretation: And other Essay. New York: Anchor Books 1990.

Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Philosophical Investigations. New York: MacMillan Publishing Co., Inc. (Posthumous in 1953) 1973.



[1] Albrecht, 2002, pp. 194-196.

[2] Albrecht, 2002, p. 194.

[3] Sontag, 1990, p. 7.

[4] Albrecht, 2002, pp. 195-196.

[5] Albrecht, 2002, pp. 195-196.

[6] Albrecht, 2002, p. 194.

[7] Albrecht, 2002, p. 196.

[8] Albrecht, 2002, p. 195.

[9] Albrecht, 2002, p. 195.

[10] Albrecht, 2002, p. 196.

[11] Kant, 1790, p. 125 [translation revised].

[12] Kraus, 1987, p. 176.

[13] Shusterman, 1990, p. 187; Part 3 (pp. 186-194) and part 4 (pp.194-199) of Shusterman’s essay presents a rebuttal of “Hermeneutic Holism” and argues to “leave room for something else (beneath of before it)” other than interpretation. The essay of the trained philosopher Richard Shusterman was of invaluable guidance to articulate the distinction between understanding and interpretation implied in Nietzsche’s aesthetics.

[14] Nietzsche, 1888, KSA 13, p. 221 [quotation translated by author].

[15] Nietzsche, 1887, KSA 12, p. 435 [quotation translated by author].

[16] Nietzsche, 1888, KSA 3, p. 596 [quotation translated by author].

[17] Nietzsche, 1888 KSA 13, p. 596 [quotation translated by author].

[18] Nietzsche, 1885, KSA 11, p. 510 [quotation translated by author].

[19] Nietzsche,1888, KSA 6, p.117 [quotation translated by author].

[20] Breitschmid, 2001, pp. 79, 36-46.

[21] Heidegger, 1927, p. 194.

[22] Wittgenstein, 1953, p. 199.

[23] Wittgenstein, 1953, p. 81.

[24] Shusterman, 1990, p.196.

[25] Shusterman, 1990, p.187.

[26] Shusterman, 1990, p.187.

[27] Schmarsow, 1893, p. 281-297.

[28] Wittgenstein, 1953, p. 200.

[29] Kant, 1790, p.124.

[30] Shusterman, 1990, p. 194.

[31] Nietzsche, 1872/73, KSA 7, p. 440 [quotation translated by author].