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Digital phenomenology and post-humanist ethics in architecture

conference contribution
posted on 2023-05-23, 04:48 authored by Loo, S

Contemporary developments in experimental digital architecture increasingly appropriate biology for formal and methodological inspiration, leading to concepts such as 'generative ', 'algorithmic', and 'emergent', as well as form-finding processes through cellular repetition, network relations, and automatism. This paper argues that such practices challenge the ethical function of architecture for two reasons. Firstly, while the ethical imperative in aesthetic judgment remains with the architect, this role is made highly complex because the immense number of possibilities generated by digital processes. Ethical judgment is forced to engage with the reconceptualization of 'truth', whether it is of the whole, the milieu, or even the nature of existence itself, insisting on excess beyond what humans can grasp and understand. The implicit excess in and of truth is akin to Jean-Luc Marions's onto-theological idea of the "saturated phenomena": truth as "genuinely transcendent revelations." Secondly, owing to the speed and efficiency at which connections between concepts, techniques, and forms can be made, these digital processes make contingent the individual human designer as the source of judgment, and insist that non-human organic and inorganic entities as well as the dispersed but self-organizing multitude are participants in judgment, towards a 'post-humanist' definition of ethics.

Phenomenology provides ways to approach the indeterminacy inherent within the ethics of digital architecture. This paper, drawing on Martin Heidegger's concept of dwelling, analyses relations of thinking, and therefore judgment, to a comportment to space and materiality by the subject, as not calculative but engaged. However, the effectiveness of phenomenology in this regard cannot proceed from conservative appropriations of Heidegger's work common in the fields of architecture and philosophy of place. In this regard, this paper aims to rehabilitate dwelling in its true definition as a post-humanist condition through investigating the collapse of the thinking subject as the progenitor of judgment, moving towards an ethical subjectivity that is inscribed by processuality.

In experimental digital architecture ethics arrives 'practically' through the unfolding of an aesthetic practice whereby every aesthetic act is accompanied by an ethics particular to its material instantiation and specific temporality. Furthermore these processes engage human experience in unanticipated but potentially productive ways and extend the territories within which human 'life' is technically produced and augmented. Processual ethics has close parallels to the Way in the Taoist tradition, pointing to the relevance of Eastern philosophy to post-humanist readings of Heideggerian philosophy in phenomenology. Here, subjective being and thinking need to be theorized as ontogenetic: continuously being brought into existence through practices that change the conditions of genesis each time. Dwelling, as it pertains to digital architecture, is no longer that which provides the difference between the being and its milieu for thinking to occur, but it is the very taking-place of relations between thinking and being.


Publication title

Architecture and Phenomenology




EFEO Research Centre in Kyoto




School of Architecture and Design


Kyoto Seika University

Place of publication


Event title

Architecture and Phenomenology International Conference

Event Venue

Kyoto, Japan

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Date of Event (End Date)


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Copyright 2009 The Author

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  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Expanding knowledge in built environment and design

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