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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

Design, Form and Reparation

Two experiences underlie my interest in the psychodynamics of the creative architect in architectural practice. One is a seminar I have taught for professional degree students in architecture on the subject of psychoanalysis and architecture. It has been interesting to me to see how young architects can learn to make use of psychoanalytic ideas in their studio work, and the ways in which it can assist them with the problems they encounter in the student role. The parts of the psychoanalytic tradition that appeal to them vary. Many of them are drawn to Jung because of the way in which they regard themselves as working through a relation between their secret self and the more public persona they present to the world. Also, among the great analysts, Jung was the only one to have designed a building. Others are moved by Freud, but less because of his ideas about the unconscious than for his specific discussions of art and the meaning of monuments. Melanie Klein they find difficult, until they discover the work of the British critic and painter, Adrian Stokes, whose brilliant comments on painting and architecture allow them to discover the relevance of the Kleinian tradition for understanding the relations between their own architectural production and their personal feelings. Many of them have found Winnicotts studies of children, play, creativity, and the holding environment ideas that can help them interpret space in new ways. Although we also deal with Lacan--what survey of psychoanalysis at this time can afford to overlook him--Lacans work has not proven of much assistance in discussing architecture, but perhaps this reflects my bias as much as theirs.The other experience which has helped to inform the discussion that follows is my consulting work with architecture firms, professional associations, and client groups who hire the services of architects. In almost all these settings, I have noticed that the architects who conceive the fundamental form and outline of the building, and whose ideas therefore establish the protocol for the way in which the space of the final product is organized and the appearance it will have, occupy an almost heroic status in the profession. These people, men and to some degree now women as well, are known as design architects. They are the architects who are regarded as the authors of buildings, it is they whose special signature or style is discussed by the newspaper critics, and it is they who get interviewed by Charlie Rose. The design architects are the artists of the profession. They tend to act like prima donnas, and are treated in these terms by many audiences.Although the importance of the design architect (as distinguished from the architect who deals with construction or makes sure the building will function well) has a well established lineage in the profession, it has acquired a new prominence in the past thirty years. This prominence results partly from the tremendous growth of interest in visual culture and art generally, but it is also enhanced by new, sturdier, flexible building materials and advances in building technology which make it possible to construct seemingly bizarre, puzzling, but very intriguing building forms. These developments foster the reinforcement of the self-attitudes of design architects, and they raise the same sorts of questions about the personality of the design architect that critics sometimes ask about psychoanalysis itself: to what extent are the syndromes that therapists treat manifestations of contemporary cultural and social conditions?As is the case with other prima donnas, the attitude within the profession toward the design architect is characterized by a good deal of ambivalence. He is the cock of the walk, the heroic figure, the individual on whose identity the public seizes, and for these reasons often infuriates his more pragmatic colleagues who correctly argue that without their services buildings would not stand up. As with other artists, the design architect often has mixed feelings about himself, too. He recognizes the fragility of his achievement, how much it was won through some fierce battle with his inner self, and the ease with which the publics admiration fades quickly. This happens especially in this era where the audience for artistic production is continually searching for something new and different. In consulting to organizations and groups involved with architecture, questions arise frequently about the pressures which the special status of the designer generate in a realm where colleagueship is supposed to prevail. Or to put the issue in terms that encompass the interests of ISPSO and this conference: what difficulties do the psychodynamics of creativity viewed from the point of view of the individual artist, breed in an organization that deploys the creative product, the design for a building, as an organizational asset?