“Truth of feature is related to truth of being”
– Frank Lloyd Wright
What does the building in the dream look like?
How does the space make you feel?
During dream work and active imagining, I often ask clients these questions. Many times clients lack any formal training in architectural style or the history of design. When I name the specific architectural styles or design traditions present in client’s dreams they often draw a blank on the names. When I ask them if the design elements of those styles are present then I get “Oh yeah! The stone had this blocky spiraly pattern.” or “The columns had this simple shape over and over like in [X] movie”. People remember how the spaces they were in made them feel first and the details about those same spaces second. In dreams buildings have a symbolic and metaphorical component.
Architects and design professionals will tell you, people don’t always consciously notice the space they are in. Yet people unconsciously feel the interiors they inhabit in an intuitive way. “Clean up your house” is one of the early mandates that many cognitive therapists will prescribe to patients under the assumption that their space becoming more orderly in the exterior will reorder their interior cognition.
Jung began developing his theory of archetype when he was working with psychotic and impoverished persons that had no exposure to anthropology or mythological theory. Yet Jung observed these persons’ psychotic episodes and hallucinatory events often were exact descriptions of ancient Babylonian and Persian mythology. Jung’s conclusion was that the images and symbols of unconscious are often “collective” or universal amongst all humans due to their shared evolutionary history.
Are their archetypal elements of architecture, like their are first forms of design in the same way that their primal elements of consciousness?
As I said before, when I mention to clients during dream work specific architectural styles; Incan revival, Frank Lloyd Wright, Danish modern; they often draw a blank. Yet when I ask them for details about the structures they have experienced many of the specific details of these styles of design through the psyche in their dream world. Are there archetypal visual patterns that come from our unconscious? Carl Jung thought that the unconscious spoke in symbols through myth and dreams. He saw metaphor as a way that our psyche could tell us deeper truths than language and consciousness alone could contain. It would make sense that the unconscious also speaks through the houses and cities we build to contain our lives.
Design itself is a kind of symbol. In the same way that a poem or song can make us feel something that is not present in the literal meaning of its text. Just alike a poem is more than a list or a story, architecture is more than creating a structure that won’t fall down. Like poetry, the arrangements of structural elements in architecture gesture towards a greater meaning than merely practical purpose. Architecture is meant to impart an emotional story, and sense of structural purpose. The point of a well designed building is to have an effect on our psyche.
The interpretation of dreams enriches consciousness to such an extent that it relearns the forgotten language of the instincts.
~Carl Jung, Man and His Symbols, Page 52.
The set designer of the 1982 film Bladerunner (Lawrence G. Paull) did an interview once that I found fascinating. Paull explained that the world in the script of Bladerunner lacked any exposition. Paul said he built three sets over each set. In the first set there was high technology overlaid over a previously mechanical world. In the second set people had overlaid the infrastructure for wireless technological revolution over this first tactile-technical world. On the third layer of the set that he built, Paul over lapped vandalism and security devices. The script doesn’t tell the audience the history of the world, but the audience intuits the history based on the design of the world. The audience feels the conflicting sense of an optimistic and hopeful world overlain with a cynical and hopeless future. Here the subconscious elements of design are used to tell a story.
Our sub-cortical body brains, that Jung described as our unconscious, evolved to feel our deep emotional and intuitive experiences at a level beneath cognition. Being aware of how our environment made us feel at an unconscious level kept us alive through prehistory. Our fight or flight system that helps us to “read the room or “know something in the gut” is the core of this system and the oldest evolutionary piece of our brain, with all other parts developing later. The latest neuroscience indicates that the first thing that our infant brain begins to recognize is the basic structure of the faces around us and then, later, the rooms and spaces those faces inhabit. What is it about these spaces that we are designed to recognize from an evolutionary standpoint? Are there deeply unconscious reactions that design and architecture invoke in us?
We have an instinctual reaction the shape and symbol. A dog will bark at a snake shaped stick because the dogs that didn’t bark at that shape died.
Jung’s idea of archetypal postulated that their were structures that underlay consciousness. These structures manifest as psychological patterns that can be observed repeating across history in mythology, politics, and culture. Could they also be found in design? Seldom are the implications of the visual part of archetypes discussed. But yet, aren’t the “element and principals of design” the first thing that a pupil learns in art school?” There is a tacit agreement among design professionals that certain forms of design are good or bad in a way that defies any cognitive or intellectual rule.
Leon Krier is one architect who has written about the archetypal elements of structures. Krier has written extensively about the patterns and forms in city planning and their effect on our psychology. Krier is an architect, design theorist, and urban planner. He became famous for his work on Seaside, Florida; Poundbury, England; and Ciudad Cayalá in Guatemala. He was influential to the new urbanism movement. Krier works in a postmodern classicist style. His work striped ornamentation, removed extraneous detail and assembled the oldest and most timeless architectural features. You will recognize many design elements in his drawings that have been a part of architecture since the bronze age.
“The poet does not excel by inventing new words, but when by particular arrangements of otherwise familiar words, he makes us see ourselves in new ways,”
Krier’s architecture is interesting to me as a psychotherapist because his work is in conversation with Jung’s ideas and focuses on the psychological reactions that design evokes. Krier felt that the archetypal ideas in architecture were unchanging because they were inborn from the deep psyche. Krier believed that the usage of structure and space should be intuited from design. Much of Krier’s work was built around his study of the way that people think and function. Krier was molding the architecture to the person instead of attempting to mold people with architecture.
Krier and the new urbanist movement designed space that innately fused with the way that humans historically think, feel and live. This clashed with the modernist ideas present at the beginning of Krier’s career. The modernist architects practicing after the middle of the century sought to uproot the structures present in society and transform the way that humans lived through design. In Krier’s notes and doodles he expresses contempt for the hubris and revolutionary tendencies of the disciples of Mies van der Rohe and le Corbusier. The debate of tradition vs progress has been raging in architecture for nearly two centuries.
‘In traditional cultures invention, innovation and discovery are means to improve handed-down systems of communication, representation, thinking and building … in Modernist cultures, by contrast, invention, innovation, and discovery are ends in themselves’
Krier is not clinging to tradition and antiquity simple to be anachronistic. Instead Krier is reaching through all of the traditions to find the most fundamental pieces of architecture in their most pure form. Jung’s work in psychology was an attempt to find these same primal forms and the roots of what makes us human. Krier’s insistence on shaving design elements back to their most time honored and simplest forms make his buildings seem like they sprung from dreams or myth. Krier works in with structural archetypes. His buildings often feel like they exist in both all eras and none.
One of Krier’s early projects, Atlantis at Tenerife, was never built. However, elements of it informed thousands of projects that Krier and other architects did build over the next decades. Don’t these renderings look like the setting of a dream? Perhaps Krier did have an intuitive insight into the forms that lurk in our shared unconscious psyche.
In the Dominion of the Dead, Robert Pogue Harrison writes about architecture “Must we change our way of existing before we can change the way we build? Or would changing the way we build change the way we exist?”.
Jung observed that our brains are capable of processing information in both an introverted and extroverted way. Our brains are designed to search the world around us for information but also to have our inner and subjective experiences guide us. We are designed to learn about the world around us through the spaces we inhabit, but also through our own inward journeys. In other words, our thinking is a product of our environment while also our environment is a product of our thinking. Both projects must be undertaken simultaneously. We need creativity in our personal interior and cultural exterior worlds to be whole.
We need both internal and external creativity to be whole. We need to look for the soul of our collective hummanity dually in the patterns of our ancient history and our ability to transcend that history.
The search for the basic structure of the deepest parts of consciousness is something that the field of architecture, like all other creative disciplines, can help us with but not somethings that it can do for us. We can take inspiration from innovation while still recognizing that what makes a design good is how well it resonates with the deepest patterns inborn in our creative human spirit.
Humans make mythology in the same way they make architecture. Both The Odyssey and Star Wars are built on the same mythological framework and describe the same inborn heroic process within us. Both are one attempt to tell the same story with in our own ongoing human story. Both are using the same elements to tell the same story, yet both stories are different. We are driven to describe over and over again the patterns and voices, shapes and spaces that we sense from within our own soul.
The debate between modernism and traditionalism in design is a flawed one when it assumes only environment or self determines reality. We can neither completely control society through building nor can we find inner peace and natural order while living in a creatively devoid chaotic wasteland. The journey to find and know the self through creativity is both a collective and personal one. It is through discovering how to build that we can find ourselves and through finding ourselves that we discover how to build.
Continued reading on the Atlantis project available here.
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