A paper I presented at Catholic University on May 1, 2010, for a symposium on sacred architecture.
Abstraction and the Architectural Imagination:
The Question: “The Story at the Heart of Faith – Can abstraction call the person into the fullness of humanity?”
Contemplation/Contemplative Imagination: The total imagination involving all of our faculties—thinking, feeling, remembering, hoping, believing, perceiving, abstracting, conceiving and interpreting. It is the conditional ground for our reception of reality, and hence truth, and thereby the condition for our entrance into the fullness of our humanity.
Analogical: Proceeding according to a proper proportion or measure. It is the principle of unity in difference between the part and the whole, the particular and the universal, essentia and esse, becoming and being, the finite and the infinite, where the contraries are so integrated and mutually dependent and informing that to preference one to the expense of the other is to distort the way we contemplate, create, and live in the world.
Introductory salutations. The titular question as it relates to architecture, specifically sacred architecture, possesses a rather enigmatic character because architecture is an essentially “abstract” art, at least in any strict use or “icon”ic sense of the term. In fact, “abstraction” in a certain sense is precisely the power of the imagination that renders the entire creative artistic enterprise possible. Thus, defining its usage and meaning as it is more narrowly evidenced in architecture will constitute the first part of this presentation, highlighting examples of the types of architectural abstraction realized in built works. Following this, I will suggest that abstraction thus defined, in light of the Christological form given to the world and the specific purpose of sacred architecture in realizing this form, is too limited and narrow to “call” the person into the fullness of humanity, at least if the invitation is understood to be a definite, concrete one (imitation of Christ) in which the voice doing the calling adequately represents the fullness of life which it is drawing the person into. Instead, I will submit that contemplation as exemplified in the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius Loyola, is in fact the proper “noia” of the architectural imagination, and that this “noia” is typified by the analogical imagination manifest in the dramatic event-structure of traditional architectural forms.