Development of Thinking and Theory in Architecture

An Essay on a presentation made by Suha Ozkan to Diwan al-Mimar on October 21, 2001

Prepared by Mohammad al-Asad and Dalia al-Husseini, 2003

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Support for the publication of this essay has been made possible by a grant from the Prince Claus Fund for Culture and Development. Additional support has been provided by Darat al-Funun - The Khalid Shoman Foundation




In this presentation to Diwan al-Mimar, Suha Ozkan (1) presented his explorations of the development of thinking and theory in architecture that he has carried out over the past thirty years. The exploration was prompted by his appointment as an instructor in architecture at the Middle East Technical University (METU) in Ankara upon completing his master's degree there in urban design in 1969. As he undertook the challenges of teaching, Ozkan felt a strong need to develop a comprehensive understanding of architectural theory that would aid him as a teacher and researcher. He also studied at the Architectural Association where he produced a thesis entitled "General Conceptual Framework for Methodology of Design." He finished his Ph.D. at METU in 1980, which was entitled "A Categoric Structure for Theory of Design."

Ozkan emphasized that he very much was influenced by the overall developments that were taking place at the time when he began teaching. It was just before the jumbo jet was invented; a number of satellites already were in orbit, and important achievements generally were being realized in science and technology. Also, new social values were coming into being. The social consciousness movement was being formed, and it was the period just prior to the 1968 student revolts in Paris, with which Ozkan sympathized. It generally was a period of anticipation and energy. As for his own intellectual background, he was brought up in the spirit of positivism, as opposed to speculation and artistry. Consequently, his academic and intellectual upbringing emphasized the belief that theology and metaphysics are earlier imperfect modes of knowledge, and that positive knowledge is based on natural phenomena and their properties and relations as verified by the empirical sciences. For Ozkan, positivism meant that theory should inform practice. He explained that in architecture, all speculations, writings, and essays are considered theory, and he noted that every architect who wrote seems to have a theory - a situation that does not apply to the natural sciences. He gave physics as an example. Not every physicist has a theory; instead many make contributions to the development of a theory. The same is true of mathematics and other sciences.

Ozkan started his exploration of the theory of architecture with the premise that whatever does not belong to a building, whatever is externalized in the form of literature - to explain the point of view of an architect, philosopher, or theorist, thus informing the practice of architecture - should belong to the realm of theory. Ozkan then began compiling these writings, starting with the earliest available examples, which are the writings of Marcus Pollio Vitruvius from the 1st century BC, up to contemporary theories such as Deconstruction.

Ozkan added that during this period he also started to take courses in the philosophy of science. In 1969, he went to London to study at the Architectural Association. In London, he was fortunate enough to study with Karl Popper (1902 - 94), considered one of the greatest philosophers of science of the 20th century. (2) At the Architectural Association, Ozkan worked on structuring the various literary contributions to architecture. In the scope of the theory of the philosophy of science, Ozkan came to the conclusion that everything in the universe is structured. At one extreme, there is logic as the basis of knowledge. Logic is transcribed and defined in the form of mathematics, which informs physics and chemistry as applied sciences, which in turn inform engineering. In these cases, theories are physically explicable, and have an axiomatic structure. A basic axiom such as 1+1=2 or true/false might be a basis that develops a whole body of science and reaches the most sophisticated engineering levels, where one deals with systems analysis, operations, and research. Solving complex problems in molecular biology - or any other science - would be through the basic values in mathematics and logic. In other words, the abstract basis of this axiomatic structure leads to engineering sciences in an inductive way, with one informing the other.

On the other hand, Ozkan states that there are fields of knowledge, the most extreme of which is theology, where one does not question the validity of a point through logic. One simply believes in it. One can be Muslim, Christian, Hindu, or Buddhist, and when one believes in the existence of God or in an explanation of the existence of God or Gods, one does not question it. This is a deductive mode of logic that also is meant to inform. Theology and beliefs are then transformed into ethics, which provide codes of behavior.

The same applies to the theory of arts. It is a speculative form of knowledge. They are not scientifically and objectively explicable for they fall within the realm of belief and conviction. Ozkan believes that when exploring architecture, on the one hand there is the part pertaining to what makes the building stand, and this is informed by the basic sciences. On the other hand, one faces the psycho-perceptual entity of what is called beauty or relevance, which belongs to the normative aspect of the sciences. Ozkan noted that this is the reason why architecture has been deprived of an objective theory. It never belonged singly to one or the other of these modes of logic. Painting and the plastic arts in general belong to the more speculative form of logic, and architecture also belongs to them in certain values. However, this does not apply to issues relating to the physical existence of architecture.


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