- Psychoanalysis and Architecture
Psychoanalysis, from its earliest days, has been interested not only in patients and the neuroses that they construct but also in other human creations—dreams, jokes, works of literature and art, social institutions, and anything that can be understood and appreciated more fully by recognizing its origins in man’s inner mental life. In the early years, as with clinical psychoanalysis, the focus of applied psychoanalysis was on content, and thus on literature, biography, and representational art. Just as clinical psychoanalysis expanded to embrace greater concern with form, so did applied psychoanalysis turn its attention to abstract art and music. From the beginning there have been questions about the methodology of all applied psychoanalysis—how can one analyze something that cannot respond, how can one evaluate an interpretation that cannot lead to confirmation or refutation, what is to prevent the unbridled subjectivity of the interpreter from taking over that process? Is applied psychoanalysis a critical discipline or simply another creative art form? This volume does not answer these questions but extends the discussion to another medium—architecture.
“I remember the first time I went to Fallingwater,” architecture critic Paul Goldberger has said of Frank Lloyd Wright’s most beloved residential design, “taking a long walk down, looking at it from across the waterfall and you just wanted to sing. Just looked at it and you wanted to start singing some song or doing something” (Burns and Novick 1998). Goldberger has dedicated his professional life to translating architecture into language, and yet “at the end of the day, there’s something that I can’t entirely say when it comes to what Fallingwater feels like.”
It is hard not to read Goldberger’s response, as editor Jerome Winer recounts it in this collection of essays, without recalling the comment that talking about music is like dancing [End Page 601] about architecture. Surely there are aspects of aesthetic experience that words can’t capture, sensations that ring loudly in one compartment of mental life—an impulse to “start singing some song”—but that elude analysis or even conscious thought. In its lesser moments, Psychoanalysis and Architecture inadvertently confirms that idea. But when it satisfies, as this volume often does, it makes a convincing argument for continuing the struggle to explain what the title of one essay calls “the emotion in the stone,” for striving to understand how architecture gets into our minds and what it does there.
Psychoanalysis and Architecture collects eighteen papers written by analysts, architects, and scholars encompassing every imaginable interface between the two subjects. Several focus on distinguished architects and the schools that developed around them: Frank Lloyd Wright and Taliesin, Walter Gropius, Mies van der Rohe and the Bauhaus, Emilio Ambasz, Adolf Loos, and critic Adrian Stokes. Others discuss specific structures: the San Francisco Basilica of the Mission Dolores, the Neue Synagoge in Berlin, the Monastery of Arges, and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial among others. Some investigate the psychological meaning of form and space—in dreams, in early development, as a representation of culture, and as a component of psychoanalytic experience. Finally, a few examine the interpersonal relations, the social psychology, of architectural firms and of architects and clients.
When these essays labor to draw connections between analytic theory and architectural theory, a kind of overreaching sometimes leads to empty generalizations or distortions in psychoanalytic theory (Freud’s work is at times stretched into new forms here). Instead, this collection rewards us in its more modest efforts, essays in which an analyst reflects upon a piece of architecture or an architect upon the consultation room of an analyst. Through those collaborations something deeper emerges than first appeared, a piece of cultural experience comes more clearly into view.
Two of the collection’s editors, Winer and Anderson, and three of its contributors serve on the faculty of the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis, and so it seems fitting that their project began (in 2003) with a conference in which Wright, one of Chicago’s greatest sons, was subjected to...