Dear Dr. Egenter,
I read your book review with interest. Both it, and the book by Wilson seem very eloquent and engaging pieces of anthropological discourse. Or may be I should have said, architectural anthropology, if such a term makes sense and is accepted with in the interested community.
I noticed in your review the term "phenomenology," e.g. "Habitat anthropology - a phenomenological approach to culture." Reading the text, I could not understand how to interpret this approach. Do you mean "phenomenological" in the tradition of Husserl and Heidegger, implying the understanding of the world through experience and reflection, emphasizing the perceptual bases of knowledge? Or you construe the the term "phenomenological approach" as an analytical tool applied to empirical observations (the term observations is used in this case in a very broad sense).
School of Architecture
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Dear Lubomir Popov,
thank you for your positive reply to my bookreview on Wilson's 'The Domestication of the Human Species'. Your letter raises some interesting questions which I try to answer in the following.
I know that the term "architectural anthropology" is an inconvenient, or non-conventional, even provoking term. It may be rejected by many who define architecture in the conventional sense as based on 'high' aesthetic standards. I have written about this, tried to justify this term, particularly mentioning that it questions present "theories of architecture" as based merely on subjective (or collective) value standards, producing approximately 100 "theories of architecture" today (Jencks). Of course, this is - scientifically - not tolerable. I also claimed that "architecture" taken in the objective sense, including building, can be taken like "zoon" in zoology, thus indicating the potential to develop a scientific branch of architecture: architecturology, or "architectural anthropology". It seems that there is a growing interest in this wider term a) because it allows a scientifically reliable consideration of architecture (including building) and b) because it allows to build a bridge to anthropology which can provide a much wider view, not just on architecture, but on the (evolutionary) relation between architecture and man. This "empirical" component suggested by anthropology as science brings us close to the term "phenomenology".
I am basically following O. F. Bollnow's phenomenological approach to space. On one hand Bollnow is clearly in the tradition of Husserl and Heidegger. But, Bollnow made an enormous step within the phenomenological school. In my opinion, Husserl, and to some extent also Heidegger, were still strongly involved in conventional logics as a method and as thematical focus (Husserl against prevalent psychologisms around the turning period of the 19th and 20th century). Like Husserl and Heidegger, Bollnow is strongly related to language, particularly German, its literature and its etymologies, but he brings in three new *systematic parameters*, thus transcending the phenomenological method: 1) evolution of space per/conception, 2) human space is not void, but is intimately interwoven with the empirically objective (domesticated/ nondomesticated environment) and 3) the topic 'man and space' transcends Eurocentric logics, it is a cross-cultural, an anthropological question. These three "monumental" insights provided by Bollnow question conventional humanities fundamentally in some respects and allow new reconstructions of evolutionary processes of culture related to architecture and habitat in the anthropological framework. Point 1) questions the humanities fundamentally in regard to (spatial) retroprojections. Point 2) supports a new definition of architecture (-> "subhuman architecture"; "semantic architecture") and thus favours the anthropological approach suggested in 3).
The empirical paradigm has another important aspect. It implies an infra-logical element of cognition: categories. Bollnow has suggested this clearly with the organisation of his whole book into polarly contradictive units. Bollnow's phenomenology of space thus unveils an immanent order of human space. It is structured into contradictive categories which form unities. This can be taken as a full fledged cognitive system which could not be discovered by conventional logical or analytical reasoning, because it was/is absolutely incompatible to analytical logics (-> disaster scenario in our website). That this immanent spatial order carries whole world-views along its axially polar structures was clearly shown by Mircea Eliade (axis mundi relating heaven and earth) for evolved historical societies. Bollnow may provide the phenomenological concept to interprete Eliade anthropologically. Research into the human settlement or habitat gains central importance.
In this sense I understand "phenomenology" definitely in Bollnow's sense (in both ways you mentioned). Paired with its empirical component it can 1) research material culture objectively and scientifically exact, or architecture (in the sense of zoon) or settlement-patterns, 2) reflect on each 'object' "phenomenologically" in the widest cultural context, and 3) reconstruct culture in new ways, as, for instance, described by P. Wilson in his book: as an "architectural [and spatial] revolution".
P.S. I would, however, not really consider Wilson as a "phenomenologist". He uses the conventional discursive method related to defined topics. He does not deal with his 'objects' in the framework of phenomenological reflections. His factual understandings of a house are rather literary.