Monday, March 21, 2011


By Cray Shellenbarger

For my thesis I am studying spiritual architecture. One difficult aspect of my current work is to develop a way in which to analyze spiritual spaces that is scientific, while including the feelings and interpretations of space. It is very challenging to capture and integrate data regarding a person’s subjective feelings. This invites an almost infinite number of variables. Almost by default, a individual’s feelings are dismissed in most situations. The possibility of cultural and ideological predispositions weighing on one’s responses is certain. The best that can be done is try and understand as many of these variables as possible. I am using the following methods in my research.


The concept of phenomenology begins to analyze all of the things mentioned above. According to Thomas Barrie, “phenomenology rejects the scientific separation of subject and object and re-inserts individual perspectives into scientific and scholarly activity.” This explanation alone says much about the direction of architectural research. Aside from environmental and numerical data, all architectural research should be described in phenomenological terms. An architect practices in order to provide an improvement in the way of life of the occupant. This alone should be reason enough for the architect to take great interest in this area. Barrie goes on to mention more about this idea. He brings up the fact that phenomenology and the concept of rejoining of the subject and object cause another problem: How does one engage and study these types of data? Again, Barrie states, “Hermeneutics, a branch of phenomenology, aims to provide answers to these questions and methodologies to reconcile them.”


According to Barrie, hermeneutics has been influenced by postmodernism perspectives in three ways: “reality” is not give, but is constructed by human agency; meaning is always dependent on its context; and no one perspective should be privileged because contexts are endless. This is reminiscent of Friedrich Nietzsche’s idea that wrong and right are subjective. They are extremely dependent upon a person environment, just is a person religious beliefs. If someone is brought up as a Christian, the chances of that person growing up to be a Buddhist is very low. Humans are easily indoctrinated in regards to any subject. We hold things in our subconscious indefinitely. These subconscious “memories” can include anything: feelings, beliefs or interpretation of symbolism in the built environment.

The concepts of phenomenology and hermeneutics can be confusing when trying to define them. It has taken a substantial amount of reading to fully grasp what each means and the differences between the two. However, both are very useful when attempting to understand how a person interprets a space

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