The Equivocal (Inter)Subjectivity: Phenomenology in Architectural Discourse and Its Discontents

Qing Liu

Supervisors: Marina Lathouri, Tao Sule-DuFour

The thesis investigates what can be termed a tradition of architectural phenomenology, along with the criticism it encountered and its ongoing transformation, stressing on the problem of intertwined subjective and intersubjective experience in the development of architectural phenomenological thinking. Although Heidegger and many philosophers after him seek to explicitly preclude the possibility to thematize subjectivity in any phenomenological discourse, what has been destroyed turns out to be only the specific conception of a transcendental or universal subject rather than the subjectivity itself. Architectural phenomenology was frequently attacked for being based upon unchecked presuppositions, prioritizing a demarcated “proper” subject, a specific way of being-in-the-world, and thus uncritically establishing its authority in the discipline of architecture, but such deficiency is not necessarily inherent in the phenomenological method per se. On the one hand, there are previous misinterpretations of the relevant philosophical works, as well as an unclear definition of the relationship between architecture and phenomenology in theorizing. On the other hand, the overlooking of contemporary phenomenological studies and their contributions to the reemerging proliferation of the subject in correlated disciplines reconsolidates the misunderstanding of phenomenology in architectural discourse. While the existing reviews on architectural phenomenology shared a general propensity, to refrain from critically analyzing the philosophical thinking both within and beyond the scope of their research materials, the thesis provides a deep insight into the historical polemic that revolves around the phenomenological tradition. Through tracing the crucial notions in both the architectural and philosophical contexts, the thesis explores the paradoxical, complex, and dissenting arguments of architectural phenomenologists from the postwar era to the present, revealing that it is due to an equivocal subjectivity/intersubjectivity in philosophizing that restrictions were imposed to normalize or individualize experience in many of their writings. With this clarification, the thesis simultaneously secures the currently obscured potential of architectural phenomenology by reexamining its competency in penetrating perception and engaging concreteness, therefore shedding light on how phenomenology should still be heuristic as an indispensable theorizing tool in architectural discourse.

Image: Charles Moore (right) instructing students during a lesson. From Eugene J. Johnson, ed., Charles Moore: Buildings and projects, 1949-1986 (New York: Rizzoli, 1986), 39. 

Biography: Qing Liu graduated from Tongji University with a B.Eng. in Architecture (2015) and a M. Arch. (2018). Before pursuing her D.Phil. at the Architectural Association, she participated in the competition and bidding process of several museums in China with Rurban Studio, Shanghai. Her research interest involves the intersection between architecture and philosophy, in particular the phenomenology of perception, embodiment, and image consciousness.