Date: 31. 1. 1998
To: Noah Raford <Noah_Raford@brown.edu>
From: email@example.com (Nold Egenter)
Subject: Re: Architectural Anthropology and Ekistics
Dear Noah Raford,
thank you for your kind and interesting letter and your report, which I have received (and also your double check below). I have been away for four days, this is why I had not answered yet. I have printed out your report and have marked it. We have a lot to discuss, I think.
I liked your very positive report on Ekistics and it is true, from its motives it is very close to 'architecture and habitat anthropology'. But there are also some important differences.
I had been working in the Swiss national planning office after graduation at the ETH in Zurich, and had read some of Doxiadis' books at that time. But this was fairly at its beginnings, and somehow it did not convince me then. But, this has to do with the 'Zeitgeist', I think. Urban, regional and national 'space-planning' (Raumplanung) was mainly based on non-diachronical sociology then, and, influenced by Mitscherlich and others, I was rather in favour of fundamental changes, seeking new sources and scientific basics for architecture and urbanism, in the sense of a temporally deep reaching anthropology.
Your report gives me the impression that Ekistics has developed a very wide horizon in the mean time (for the following I number it into 10 paragraphs). I can fully subscribe to most what you write in paragraphs 4 to 7 and 9 and also 10, which outlines somehow the goals of ekistitic understanding and I feel strongly that it "wants" essentially the same.
However, there is a difference in method in regard to architecture and habitat anthropology (AHA). It starts from the observation how architecture is conventionally practiced and studied, the schism between the practicing architect and the 'scientific' historian of art becomes visible. We realise that, in fact, architecture is a post medieval (Renaissance) "myth of the profaned creator genius". Evidently this myth can work only in a small domain of Euro-Western history (and even there is highly problematic). It is based on a subjective aesthetical value system, is highly subjective and can be manipulated at will (e.g. Jencks propagation of post modernism). We also become aware that it can exist theoretically only by suppressing vast domains of facts, e.g. vernacular architecture. I have written extensively on these theoretical incompatibilities in regard to architecture today (s. below; see also Paul Oliver's encyclopedia).
The consequence of these critical positions is the following: architecture is newly defined in anthropological terms, now including "low" and "high" architecture in a strictly scientific domain (See my 'The present Relevance of the Primitive in Architecture', vol. 1 of research series, 1992). We then discover 3 things:
1) Architecture and constructive behavior might have played an important role already on a subhuman level (nestbuilding behavior of Great Apes) and might have been an important impulse for the development of human culture.
2) From its beginnings (subhuman and semantic architecture), it was closely related to the definition of environment and territory ('nuclear demarcation' and 'territorio-socio-semantic' functions, TSS)
3) Semantic Architecture suggested a categorially polar model for human cognition ('spatio-structuro-symbolic' functions, SSS).
4) From its beginnings (subhuman and semantic architecture) it defined a humane type of space which we call 'access-place-scheme'.
Thus with these 4 new parameters we can not only explain the whole evolution of pre-modern architecture (modernism ousted this system by introducing homogenous space of physics, thus imposing a tremendous change on 'laics'!), we can also show how culture evolved using architecture as a model for the perception and organisation of space. The evolution of architecture tells us a lot about the evolution of culture.
The processes of this scientific buildup use exact methods of the natural sciences. Buildings in the widest sense are globally documented, like botany or zoology documented plants and animals all over the world and their 'anatomy', cytology, physiology, and forms (Linné). Botanical and zoological theories are all based on these documentations. Similarly architectural 'theory' now will be based on this global documentation of buildings.
Thus, in comparison with ekistics, the procedure is inverse. AHA does not borrow from other disciplines to explain architecture, it explains culture INFRA-disciplinary from conditions related to the evolution of architecture and spatial per/con-ception.
Of course, we are only at the beginning of this huge work. But I have myself dealt with this method long enough to be convinced, that it provides fairly exact answers to most of the contexts you mention in paragraphs 2 and 3, and also 8. Probably the most important insight for architects as well as cultural anthropologists is the evolution of spatial per-/conception: we will become aware of the high 'virtuality' of our modern worldviews! (A lot of 'retroprojections'!). Working with 'complexes' and relational aspects of cultural phenomena, we also become aware to what extent disciplines and their differentiating methods dissect cultural conditions. We also become aware that there are two contradictive systems of cognition, the analytical cognition of science and the polar cognition of the arts, architecture and many aspects of the social, philosophy and religion. That these basically antithetic systems are not clearly perceived might be one of the main causes for our modern turmoils.
Maybe a weakpoint of AHA: that it is rather on the cognitive anthropological side. It will take time until it can produce useful conclusions, whereas Ekistics, as far as I know, is more a tool intrinsically related to architecture and urbanism. Maybe you see a synthesis!
P.S. I am about to write some of the abovementioned things more in details gradually into our website (Workshop files). There are other concepts supporting AHA, e.g. the ethno-pre-historical method, the 'anthropological concept of material cultue' (against archaeology), or terms like 'object tradition', 'cultural lag', 'accumulation', etc. which are already indicated in the website. But on these things later.
P.S. I will be at the ICAES meeting in Williamsburg/Virginia this year (24. July - 2. Aug. 1998). There is a section on 'architectural anthropology' where I will read a paper. Maybe an occasion to meet?
P.S. Please tell me more about your Klondike Goldrush project. In the 'Australian', Canadian mountains (Sulphur), 400 km SE of Fairbanks? How is it related to Ekistics?
P.S. I like your Whitehead-motto!
Date: Sat, 31 Jan 1998 14:21:22 -0500 (EST)
To: firstname.lastname@example.org (Nold Egenter)
From: Noah Raford <Noah_Raford@brown.edu>
Subject: Re: Architectural Anthropology and Ekistics
Dear Mr. Egenter (or may I call you Nold?),
First, let me thank you for such a wonderful response. I was excited to
receive your mail and I must admit, I danced around my room in delight for
a full minute! Indeed, we have a lot to talk about.
After reading your thoughts and rereading your website, I agree the AHA and
Ekistics have much in common, yet also differ in several ways. Their
primary similarity is that they both seek to understand human beings in
relation to their built environment. They both transcend the limitations
of traditional architectural and planning practice by acknowledging the
truly fundamental, co-creative connection between the structure of
perception and the structure of our the built environment. Yet they differ
in their goals, if I understand AHA correctly. As you pointed out, AHA
begins with the present and works towards an understanding of the past.
>From this understanding of the roots of construction and cognition, AHA
works forward to decrypt the present. This is your Habitat Theory of
Ekistics, on the other hand, begins at the second stage of AHA (the deep
past), works through the present, and then goes one step beyond. In other
words, it begins with a study of environmental and biological factors (the
pre-existing conditions within which we build and operate), then studies
how different human beings have approached the problem of survival and
meaning in the universe through architecture. This brings us up to the
present (easily a lifetime's work. I'm glad there are others working on
But where Ekistics differs from AHA is that it takes the observations and
lessons from studying the past and looks critically at the present and
future. Unfortunately, modern architecture is still the dominant paradigm
and is being rapidly exported to developing countries. Despite it's
enticing rhetoric and cheap construction, we both agree that modern
architecture as both a social program and aesthetic experiment leaves us
alienated from our environment and cut-off from the nurturing elements of
nature. (You use Pruitt-Igoe as an example. A larger scale example might
be the increasingly faceless and destructive expansion of urban sprawl and
suburbia, a la Los Angeles) Such cultural construction, rooted as they are
in the Enlightenment separation of man from nature, is directly threatening
the health and physical well-being of the ecosystems that support us. Not
only do they fail to nurture a meaningful social fabric, but they may
ultimately prove deadly to ourselves and the entire web of life that we are
a part of.
As such, Ekistics is not value free. As stated in the last paragraph of my
report, it is intended to expose where and why such habitats are damaging
and to produce solutions for these problems. When asked to explain
Ekistics in ten seconds or less (as I am often asked), I tell them that
Ekistics is applied Architectural Anthropology! Ekistics builds on the
knowledge unearthed by AHA and attempts to provide working models for
future construction of our habitats and cultures. Perhaps it too is a
social program, but one quite different than the Renaissance myth that
still effects us. (Have you read Edward Robbin's new book, "Why Architects
Draw"? He highlights the development of architectural practice and the
transition from on-site builder/designer to controlling construction from
afar. His emphasis on the social importance of drawing is notable. The
whole book is interesting but the first chapter is most important. If
you'd like, I could photocopy it and send it to you.) The social and
cosmological basis of Ekistics is one of synthesis and holism. I am
currently exploring the systems theory side of settlement, in light of
Christopher Alexander's work and recent ideas on self-organizing systems in
biology. We can talk more about this later, however.
Of course, it seems that one could not engage in a fruitful study of
Ekistics without thorough knowledge of AHA. They seem to have more in
common than different. My question however is, given the immensity of the
problems faced, the relative infancy of these studies, and the substantial
political and cultural momentum resisting such a shift in attitude and
practice, where does one begin implementation? Is there grounds, given the
applicability of AHA in day to day life, for substantial practice? In
light of our discussions, a career producing architecture in the current
paradigm sounds less than appealing. The same goes for urban
planning/policy making. How do we reconcile the differences between
current practice and Ekistical integration? How does one make a living
doing this? Perhaps the question itself devalues our studies, for it
capitulates to today's capitalist world-view. But I am living in America
and such questions much be addressed. Is the situation different in
Switzerland? Do you still work for the Planning Commission? Do you have a
chance to integrate your findings with your work?
It seems the questions are beginning to outnumber the answers now, so I'll
leave it at that. Thank you again for your reply and I look forward to
talking more with you!
PS - Let me know when you update the website with these thoughts. Also,
I'd love to come to the come to the ICAES meeting in Virginia. I was born
nearby there. Is there a website with more information on it (cost, date
and time, schedule, etc.)? And finally, I have included the abstract from
my research proposal for the Klondike. Unfortunately, the National Park
Service declined our request for special use research permits so that
project is on hold for now. I have a 20+ page detailed proposal if you are
interested. I'd love to talk more with you about it. Now that I know more
about Architectural Anthropology, it would perhaps be more aptly entitled
"An Architectural Anthropological Analysis of Klondike Fringe Settlements".
But the final plan was to provide a report to both Parks Canada and the
National Parks Service that would suggest ways to enhance the experience of
the event and it's historic relevance to the region, so maybe it could be
Attachment converted: HD:abstract.txt (TEXT/ttxt) (00011BD5)
We cannot think first and act afterwards. From the
moment of birth we are immersed in action, and can
only fitfully guide it by taking thought.
- A.N. Whitehead