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Architectural Thinking and Some Aspects of Technical Creativity
eseu [ ]
Colecţia: Texte Filozofice

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de [Sextus Empiricus ]

2008-08-17  |     | 

[A first extended version of this text was published in North-Holland “Human System Management” 4 (1984) © 1984, Elsevier Science Publishers B.V. (North-Holland)]

We are largely surrounded in increasingly complex technical systems. These systems often border on the absurd even though they rely on logical and physical. This is because they move away from «logical efficiency» of natural forms. This text approaches some specific aspects of technical products, i.e. those connected to their «formative structure». I emphasize that the aesthetics and the functions of a product are determined by the consonance between the «formative structure» and the natural structure, and called this «architectural thinking». As an example, consider the well-known «golden number» found both in human body and in artistic and technical products such as Parthenon.

Two questions which this text addresses are: What is a «formative structure»? How can the consonance, or harmony, between such structure and that of a «natural» one be approached?


What makes architectural thinking and an architectural approach differ from other modes of thought? This mode of thinking transcends others, in that it has the main advantage of genetic epistemology: maintaining that the value of the human contribution is a unique and efficient means of accomplishing a goal. Architectural thinking aims to develop the human capacity for efficient activity in the environment (without neglect ecological constraints) in opposition to the old ideal of static, contemplative knowledge.

The architectural thinking/approaching model tries to cover in every possible way all the functions of a system, including the technical, human and aesthetic aspects. For this reason it is not subsumed in the system but instead exceeds the system. Of special interest is the way the integration as it is viewed within the framework of architectural thinking. In opposition to the systemic «objective» gestalt, the architectural gestalt cannot be separated from the subject due to the fact it is the determining factor that creates and intercepts that «whole» of the architecture and produces a unique, scientifically indescribable state.

The thesis of this text is that the architectural gestalt is far from an uncontrolled and uncontrollable subjectivism – and the sphere of technical creativity has been chosen to serve as an example. In other texts artistic creativity will be taking into account but I think that some essential features of an architectural gestalt are the same both in technical creativity and artistic one, and a good example is so called «aesthetical onirism » [1].


I shall start from the observation that imagining the architecture of a future technical product implies imagining a structure that is to realize it. But obviously the architecture must not and cannot be reduced to a structure since the system cannot be reduced to its structure. If I still insist upon only the structural aspect of the architecture of a future technical product that is because, as a first approach, I consider it sufficient to tackle features of the architectural gestalt.

From the designer’s point of view, the product can be seen as a hierarchy of structures. Such a hierarchy may be the following:

(a) A first structure, directly visible, of the «physical» product-object, which I call physical structure.
(b) The second structure, more profound, is the logical structure of the functions of the product, which determine and condition the physical structure, or, in other words, which are implemented by means of a physical structure.
(c) The third structure, the most profound, which I call the formative structure, determines and conditions the logical or, in other words, is implemented by means of the logical structure.


As far as I know, the formative structure of a technical product has not yet been explicitly emphasized. This structure is to a great extent responsible for the appearance (or absence) of the architectural gestalt. In the designer or the user of a technical product, architectural gestalt produces a state similar to one called «job satisfaction» in Anglo-Saxon literature. Consequently there are some good reasons to dwell at length upon this kind of structure.

The main reason emphasizes the intimate correspondence among the three kinds of structures (physical, logical, and formative). It is about a certain class of technical products, namely those meant to harmoniously reproduce sounds. Indeed it seems that there exists here a perfect joining between certain simple numerical rations (for example, between the thickness and length of strings in a string instrument), product functions, and the structure that gives shape to the physical object when it is manufactured [2].

A second reason emphasizes the harmony between, for example, the efficient and aesthetics of the «aerodynamic form», and highlights the natural character of this form found in birds, on an industrial scale. Eventually, I have a related example of the computer and IT&C architecture. Described here is the designing of a profound structure, known as «top-down—hierarchical structure», thru which the functions of the product are ordered. Such a structure is often found in nature. It is similar to the structure of natural reasoning [3]. Clarity and efficiency of design are the ideals of the «hierarchical top-down structure».


What perspective can we gain on formative structure from this discussion? What defining characteristics of a formative structure could be put into relief from our discussion?

First of all, if we are able to look closely at the outlook of the third kind of structure (i.e. formative); we notice that this structure has a maximum of potentiality related to a respective logical and physical structure. It implies the existence of an (numerable) infinity of logical structures, as well as logical structures involving the existence of a new (numerable) infinity of physical structures.

Secondly, one notices a kind of «apriorism» of a formative structure that could be linked to some abstract structures of the human thought process.

Finally, one notices that the efficiency of a technical product appears when its formative, profound structure has a natural character. It seems that «naturalness» of the formative structure is given by its consonance with that of a structure already created by nature (for example, the «golden number» described earlier).

But how can the consonance between the formative structure of a future technical product and the appropriate structure already existing in nature can be realized? The importance of giving the right answer to this question is obvious. In fact, I consider that this consonance has the power to determine the appearance of the architectural gestalt of the future product. In this instance I am tempted to assimilate the architectural gestalt’s elaboration to a process of an intuitive nature. Further development of such processes, after some «incubation» period which is marked by fixating intense concerns on the subject, spontaneously reveals the solution, assuming the form of an «insight». Such a solution immediately reveals itself (as a kind of direct inner perception) and it thoroughly and conspicuously imposes itself upon the subject.


In this point of our discussion I ask you to permit me a parenthesis. So, an analogy between the appearance of an insight and the resolution of a Zen koan [5] it seems to be made.

The koan is given to the student firs of all to bring about a highly wrought-up state of consciousness.

The reasoning faculty is kept in abeyance, that is, the more superficial activity of the mind is set at rest so that its more central and profounder parts which are found generally deeply buried can be brought out and exercised to perform their native functions.

The affective and cognitive centers which are really the foundations of one's personal character are charged to do their utmost in the solution of the koan. This is what the Zen master means when he refers to "great faith" and "great spirit of inquiry" as two most essential powers needed in the qualification of a successful Zen devotee.

When the mental integration thus reaches its highest mark there obtains a neutral state of consciousness which is erroneously designed as «ecstasy» by the psychological student of the religious consciousness. The Zen state of consciousness essentially differs from ecstasy in this: ecstasy is the suspension of the mental powers while the mind is passively engaged in contemplation; the Zen state of consciousness, on the other hand, is the one that been brought about by the most intensively active exercise of all fundamental faculties constituting one's personality. They are here positively concentrated on a single object of thought, which is called a state of oneness (ekagra). It is also known as a state of fixation (daigi).

This is the point where the empirical consciousness with all its contents is about to tip over its border-line, and get noetically related to the Unknown, the Beyond. In ecstasy there is no such tipping of transition, for it is a static finality not permitting further unfoldment. There is nothing in ecstasy that corresponds to "throwing oneself down the precipice" or "letting go the hold".

Finally, what at first appears to be a temporary suspense of all psychic faculties suddenly becomes charged with new energies hitherto undreamed of? A penetrating insight is born of the inner depths of consciousness, as the source of a new life has been tapped, and with the koan yields up its secrets.


Now, I’ll come back to our discussion.

The value of a technical product is given both by its utility and its performance. If taken broadly, utility is seen with respect to the period of product elaboration (by identification in detail of functions). Performance, especially in the case of large-scale systems, is often almost ignored. On the contrary, I think that only to be aware of performances (in terms of qualitative and/or quantitative ones) is the catalytic factor which encourages and brings about, during the technical creativity process, the appearance of adequate formative structure from the point of view shared by us (consonance).

The idea of architectural gestalt and architectural thinking as approaches to design significantly updates the problem of inter-correlation and inter-dependence of the subject to/on the object. No doubt, there is a disturbing subjectivism, which can be an obstacle to acquiring knowledge. But there exists a creative and constructive subjectivism which weaves the threads through the true knowledge and activity out of respect to the objective and natural truth.

[1] see Leonid Dimov & Dumitru Þepeneag, “Onirismul estetic”, Antologie de texte teoretice, interppretări critice și prefață de Marian Victor Buciu, Curtea Veche, 2007.
[2] It is a known «mathematical» way of determining the ratio between lengths of homogeneous strings and of strings of the same thickness, meant to reproduce the sounds of the scale. It derives out of the Pythagorean principle, according to which numbers are the model of everything. (See: Matila C. Ghyka, Estetica și Teoria Artei, ed. Științifică și Enciclopedică, 1981; Vitruvius, The Ten Books on Architecture,Dover Pub. Inc., edition first published in 1960; M Bartolozzi and R Franci, „The theory of proportions in abacus mathematics from Leonardo Pisano to Luca Pacioli”, Boll. Storia Sci. Mat. 10 (1) (1990); Pius Servien,Estetica: muzica, pictura, poezie, stiinta , ed. Științifică și Enciclopedică, 1975 erc.). It is also worth mentioning that at end of the 11th century a monk called Teophile established a strictly empirical rule for manufacturing the bells that ring the key note, the third, the quint, and the octave. According to him, the bells must have their diameters proportioned to 30, 24, 20, and 15, and their weights in inverse ratio to 80, 41, 24, and 10.
[3] Gorun Manolescu, “Abordarea ierarhic structurată și informatica”, ed. Academiei, 1982.
[4] But several other natural structures must not be neglected, as, for example the (hidden) rizomatic, fractal, strange attractor structures (the last was put into evidence by the Chaos Theory) and so on.
[5] D.T. Suzuki, “Zen Buddhism – Selected Writings”, Image Books DOUBLEDAY, 1996.

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