Subjective Encounters as Transmitters of Knowledge in the Architectural Experience Sight, Sound, Light, and Orientation in Louis I. Kahn's Hurva Synagogue in Jerusalem
"Knowing is always fragmented (…) the first feeling must have been touch (…) eyesight came from touch. To see was only to touch more accurately (…)When sight came, the first realization was the realization of beauty (…) now from beauty came wonder(…) from wonder must come realization (…) from sight to touch to hearing (…) one becomes manifested and experiences become ingrained". (Louis Khan, 1973)
While imagery is often considered the main mean to transmit knowledge in architecture, and perception is mistakenly reduced to Cartesian aesthetics emphasizing vision, phenomenological studies have shown that sensational inter-subjective encounters are the only vehicles possible for the understandings of the world by mankind. Architect Louis I. Kahn challenged aesthetic theories of the Beaux Arts and the Bauhaus, which regarded 'knowing' as rational understanding, deriving from biological perception, and emphasizing the importance of forms and organizations such as balance, symmetry and harmony, as means to convey objective meaning. Kahn believed that the only meaning of architectural was its capacity to transmit historical narratives, philosophical beliefs, spiritual rituals and ethical concerns by actively engaging humanity on common grounds. This understanding was essential in defining the nature of Kahn's projects in the USA, India, Bangladesh and Israel, where historical and cultural conducts were translated into daily architectural experiences, promoting active participation by addressing the primary of the depth of the phenomenological perception.
This paper will deal with Kahn's humanistic phenomenological approach to knowing, as it is expressed in Kahn's exceptional design for the Hurva Synagogue in the Old City of Jerusalem (1974, unbuilt). Kahn's design will be presented as an example for a restrained architectural expression, stripped of all familiar traditional formal elements, which manages to transmit meanings and ideas embedded in Jewish culture. The way in which program, forms, materials, light and sound, are used to convey ideas such as prey, purification, abstraction and the seeking of knowledge, deeply routed in Jewish antiquity and biblical spirituality, will be discussed. The paper will shed light on the possibility of embodied experiences, captivating all senses to transmit knowledge, and to create an attracting meeting point for people in their highest sensational sensitivity, where the encounter with God in the house of God takes place.
Dana is a practicing architect at Margalith Architects and Urban Planners Ltd., Jerusalem, an architectural instructor and a PhD candidate in History and Theory of Architecture at McGill University, Montreal, Canada. Her main interests are in the architectural creation process and the ethical and hilosophical concerns it addresses. Her current research deals with the architecture of Louis I. Kahn and the way he addressed history in his architectural creation, focusing on the relationship between the continuous and the fragmented nature of history as a living space in modern times. She received my Professional Masters Degree in Architecture, Magna Cum Laude, from the School of Architecture at Tel-Aviv University, in 2002 and her Post Professional Masters Degree in Architecture, with distinction from The Bartlett, University College London, in 2004. She joined the PhD program in History and Theory of Architecture at McGill University in 2006. During her professional career as an architect Dana has been involved in the design of different projects in the fields of Urban Planning and Urban Design, Residence and Private Housing, Public institutions and Commercial buildings, many of which are situated in the intricate historical surrounding of Jerusalem. In her academic career she has been instructing architectural students in their design projects at School of Architecture at Tel-Aviv University, in the Beazley Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem and at the School of Architecture in McGill University. She was also conducting architectural seminars in History and Theory of Modern Architecture at the School of Architecture in McGill University. Scholarships and awards: The McGill Recruitment Excellence Fellowship (REF)(2007), The Azrieli Foundation Scholarship (2006), The AVI Fellowship (2003-2004), The America Israel Cultural Foundation Scholarship (2001-2002, 2002-2003).