I am an architecture student who wants to be more than just friends with philosophy.

I am looking for something that narrates forms and spaces very well. It could be metaphoric to human behavior like explaining human weakness and strengths though different dimensions of space and thought.

Are there philosophical ideas that take advantage of the space we are given?

Are there philosophical ideas that use spatial metaphors for the subconscious? (I know this may be very subjective.)

Any help would be much appreciated!!

  • Here is a book I have, I bought it used at a library sale, "Rethinking Architecture: A Reader in Cultural Theory" an anthology edited by Neil Leach. It has articles by many philosophers. books.google.com/… However I don't recall if there is anything about spatial metaphors and the subconscious in this book.
    – Gordon
    Commented Aug 11, 2018 at 18:26
  • Karatani Kojin, Architecture as Metaphor; Language, Number, Money MIT Press, 1995. Massimo Cacciari,Architecture and Nihilism: On the Philosophy of Modern Architecture. Post-modernism was originally a term coined by architects, remembering that could help.
    – sand1
    Commented Aug 11, 2018 at 18:33
  • +1 I made an edit which you may roll back or continue editing. I also added an aesthetics tag. I don't have an answer, but would be interested in reading answers others might have. Commented Aug 11, 2018 at 19:45
  • Rudolph Steiner might be an interesting thinker to check out.
    – user20253
    Commented Aug 12, 2018 at 11:38
  • SEP has an article on Philosophy of Architecture with many references. Try Kwinter's Architectures of Time for a broader context.
    – Conifold
    Commented Aug 12, 2018 at 19:57

4 Answers 4


I'm not quite sure I understand the latter part of the question, but it sounds like you are a student who's looking for an ontological direction through which to view architecture and it's inherent subject/object dichotomy. Immediately I think of architects such as Steven Holl (Questions of Perception) or Louis Kahn or Peter Zumthor; all their material is rich in the poetics and philosophy but really from the 'artists' perspective.

In philosophy proper I would look into the work of the mid-century Phenomenologists, specifically Heidegger's Being and Time or Merleau Ponty's Phenomenology of Perception.

More recently the discussion of phenomenology has been discussed through the lens of neuro-science and cognition. This seems like really fertile ground to explore and the book by Harry Mallgrave (IIT) "Architecture and Embodiment" or "Architecture and Empathy" may be of use.

Hope this helps.

  • I made an edit. You are welcome to roll it back or continue editing if you want to change it. Welcome. Commented Aug 11, 2018 at 23:31
  • Thanks for edits - this is the first time posting an answer on Stack- thanks for the proof read :) Commented Aug 12, 2018 at 16:39

You could look into the "psychogeography" of the Situationists, which is focused on the city. They may be a good starting point, even if more of a political and aesthetic avant garde, they have been influential in continental phliosophy. Have fun.

I believe post modernism was coined in the 1930s by historian Toynbee, before migrating to literature in the 50s.

  • Would you have any more specific references for psychogeography? Also I don't see what the second paragraph about post modernism has to do with the question. Perhaps a reference there would help. Commented Aug 12, 2018 at 1:00

A few quick recommendations.

Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space is wonderful, a moving and thoughtful approach to human dwelling; I might qualify it as part phenomenology and part philosophical anthropology.

I really enjoyed The Continuous City (Lars Lerup) and Aureli’s The Possibility of an Absolute Architecture.

In general you may also want to look at design theorists as well as urban planners; and indeed there is a lot of interesting cross-disciplinary work today (such as you might find in The New Science of Cities.)


I think there should be more aesthetic philosophies. The lack of them, and of attention to aesthetics in philosophy generally, leads to an over-reliance of a shallow understanding of https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wabi-sabi in particular, in my experience.

England had https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arts_and_Crafts_movement which we could do with more like. The manifestos of art movements started by the Vorticists and taken up by art groups ever since, have rung increasingly hollow as their focus' narrowed away from rethinking our ways of life to only the design slogans for decorative fripperies.

Religious movements have a long history of implimenting philosophy in architecture, like the Hindu https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sri_Yantra This is arguably an example of a mandala, spiritual diagrams that are also microcosms, illustrating the whole universe or some part of it, and often including temple walls, so unsurprisingly temples are often designed around these. Sikh temples have inverted lotus flower shaped domes, representing the pure growing from the impure. Abrahamic religions seem to tend to be less philosophical in their architecture, although they do build in spiritual symbols (perhaps they just have simpler symbols).

This article is a bit of a rant against modern architectural trends but I heartily recommend it: https://www.currentaffairs.org/2017/10/why-you-hate-contemporary-architecture Just as theatre, art, music etc now have a full palette again, with not just modernist and post modern elements, but also the option of symmetry harmony and speaking to tradition, so surely architecture. Personally I think we badly need more turrets with turrets on..

In terms of architectural-philosophers, a special class of thinker that expressed their thought in buildings themselves, I feel three stand out. Gaudi, who you will know, used many natural forms like catenary arches which appeal to our biophilia. Hundertwasser https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Friedensreich_Hundertwasser demanded more decoration and playful elements, and the integration of trees with his buildings. Cesar Manrique https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/César_Manrique defined the visual identity of Lanzarote, one of the Spanish Canary Islands. His buildings integrated with, responded to, and were built using, elements of their surroundings.

There are interesting commonalities between the 3. They didn't train as architects, Gaudi was a copper smith, the other two artists. They built some of if not the most popular things to see in their places of work, Barcelona, Vienna, and Lanzarote respectively. And last and saddest, after them no one took up their ideas, and if anything did the opposite in those places, building the same disposable cubes as everywhere else.

Architecture shapes our world, not just human interaction but also what wildlife thrive - we have chosen to build for pigeons, rats and cockroaches, above all others. Imagine if we built instead for parakeets, otters and dragonflies. Orchids high on buildings instead of buddleia. We have unparalleled power to choose, and we are sleep-walking.

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