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Hegel’s Architecture David Kolb “The first of the particular arts . . . is architecture” (VA 1:116/A 1:83).1 For Hegel, architecture stands at several beginnings. It is the art closest to raw nature. It is also the initial art in a progressive spiritualization that will culminate in poetry and music. The drive for art is spirit’s drive to become fully itself by encountering itself; art makes spirit’s essential reality present as an outer, sensible work of its own powers (VA 1:453/A 1:351).2 If Hegel’s narrative of the arts creates a hierarchy, architecture stands lowest, yet it nonetheless plays a unique and necessary role in spirit’s development. In this essay I will first describe Hegel’s views on the nature of architecture and its three stages (symbolic, classical, romantic). Then I will indicate some problems with Hegel’s narrative. Finally, I raise the question whether Hegel’s theories might be adapted to our present architectural situation. The External Art As “the external art [die äusserliche Kunst]” (VA 1:123/A 1:89) architecture works toward its spiritual goal with what is in itself unspiritual: heavy, sensible matter subject to the rule of gravity. “Architecture’s matter is the material world itself in its immediate externality as mechanical heavy masses” (VA 1:116/A 1:83). Architecture deals with matter in its most elemental mode, as occupying space, as heavy and as supporting weight. One chunk of matter is external to another. Stones and bricks have no inner guiding teleology to unite them or express itself in their being and actions. Like all art, architecture makes of its sensible matter something whose being is no longer purely sensible (VA 1:57/A 1:36). Architecture takes up this material not as an object of desire or theory, but as an appearing of spirit (VA 1:60/A 1:38). The vocation of architecture is to build outer nature into a surrounding shaped to a beauty coming from spirit through art. This surrounding 29 no longer carries its meaning in itself, but gives up its independence and finds meaning in another, in humanity’s needs and the goals of family life, of the state, religion, etc. (VA 2:270/A 2:633) Architecture shapes stones and bricks and wood into a purposive world around us, but what distinguishes architecture from the other arts is that its purposes remain external to the objects it creates. Architecture forms matter (VA 2:267/A 2:631) into an outer surrounding for spirit, a manmade environment that is especially “outer” because it will support purposes and activities and meanings that are quite literally “inside.” These self-enclosed processes within the building enact forms and a unity that transcend any shape heavy matter can have. For Hegel, meaning cannot be embodied as directly in architectural form as it can be embodied in painting or poetry. This is partly because architecture is not representational, and partly because there are so many pragmatic constraints on architectural form. More importantly, if architecture were to be permeated with self-embodied meaning as are music or poetry, something would be lost to spirit’s self-awareness. Architecture ’s task is to deal with heavy external matter as such, showing it forth in its foundational role as support and surrounding for spirit’s activities. If spirit is to find itself fully, not only the unity of meaning and matter but also the recalcitrance of the material world and its difference from spiritual meaning must be posited artistically. The Three Stages of Architecture In his aesthetics Hegel examines the individual arts with a view to their necessary features, looking at their history with a view to their essences.3 He seeks more than an insightful arrangement of historical data; he wants normative necessary relations.4 Philosophy always seeks content that stands firm on its own conceptual structure.5 His most general descriptive categories are therefore brought to art from his logic, but the particular divisions and transitions within these general structures are unique to art. Hegel’s lectures on art are arranged according to the logical sequence “universal, particular, individual.” He first discusses the universal ideal of art in general. Then he discusses the ways in which that ideal particularizes itself into the three general stages of art: symbolic, classical, and romantic art. Finally he discusses the individual historical arts that actualize the general ideal. Hegel argues that the classifications of the fine arts found...


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