Architecture was not a field Hegel had studied widely. Perhaps as a result, his treatment of architecture in his Lectures on Aesthetics does not attempt the historical thoroughness of his discussions of literature and painting. He relies heavily on a few sources and then restricts his chosen examples even further.
One major source for Hegel's treatment of architecture was the work of his elder Berlin colleague Alois Hirt, who had written widely on ancient architecture. For the most part, Hirt's work is historical narrative, trying to produce a sense of the life (lebendiges Bild) of the ancient buildings. But Hirt also seeks to discover laws (Gesetzen Grundsatze Formen Einrichtungen) that lie behind the form of each type of ancient building.
As the overall law that underlies ancient architecture, Hirt proposes:
Hegel's discussion of architectural function is complex and nuanced. Hegel describes architecture's difference from related arts in terms of the externality of function in the architectural work. Further, his three stages of architecture are organized around their relation to function: symbolic architecture comes before any posited separation of function and means, classical architecture achieves a perfect balance of the two, and romantic architecture goes beyond the dominance of function.
The Stages of Architecture and Function
Hegel's overall treatment of art is arranged according to his necessary logical sequence universal - particular - individual. He first discusses the universal ideal of art in general (der noch unentwickelten Einheit seiner Grundbestimmungen). Then he discusses the ways in which that ideal particularizes itself into forms of art, the symbolic, classical, and romantic (entfaltete sich . . . in sich selbst zu einer Totalität von Kunstformen,). Finally he discuss the individual arts and actual individual works of art embodying and realizing the general ideal of art and its particularizations. (das Kunstwerk wahrhaft konkret, ein zugleich reales, in sich abgeschlossenes, einzelnes Individuum). (A 14.245))
In his treatment of the individual arts and works of art, Hegel is confronting their actual existence, not their notional essences. Nonetheless, he is still interested in finding necessary relations. Philosophy does not just catalog the empirical; it is always on the lookout for content which stands firm on its own.
For example, in the course of treating some puzzling forms of symbolic art Hegel remarks:
Given Hegel's systematic goals, his discussion of necessary structure will be carried
out by tracing divisions and transitions implicit in the categories of art, and
connecting these with spatial and temporal diversity and development. In Hegel's
treatment many different notional and historical developments are going on at
the development of the concept of art and its Ideal
the development of each of the three particular kinds of art
the development of the different arts in relation to one another
the development of the actual arts as they appear over time.
the development within each art, and within each stage of that art
These sequences do not always proceed neatly in step, nor do they follow the same logical transitions.
Symbolic Architecture: Immediate Function
The beginning of architecture is the production of works that while they have been mediated by human creative activity, have a content and mode of signification that remains in a kind of unmediated immediacy. On this level, not only are ends and means not separated, but architecture and sculpture are not clearly distinct. (A 14.268)
Hegel says, speaking of the relation of the first stage, symbolic architecture, to its function, that such architectural works will
Symbolic architecture is different. For one thing, it is not a well-structured category for Hegel. Hegel's treatments of the other two stages of architecture are divided as is his overall treatment of art: universal - particular - individual. The general character of the stage is first described, followed by a particularized division of its features and necessary aspects, concluding with a discussion of individual works or categories of works. However, for symbolic architecture the general description, while it comes first, is not one of the three main sections, and all of the sections concern both particular types and individual works. Hegel admits that he is unsure about how to divide up symbolic architecture, which escapes systematic organization. He attributes this to the lack of differentiation in the content and the resultant externality inherent in the symbolic mode of signification (A 14.274).
It is also striking that Hegel begins his discussion of art and architecture with constructed things that are neither quite works of art nor quite buildings. Hegel begins his treatment of symbolic architecture with the towers of Babylon and Belus; the first is not a building but an artificial mountain, serving as a rallying point of unity for a folk creating itself out of scattered tribes; Hegel takes this construct to have no meaning except that of willed unity; pure immediate undifferentiated unity. The second tower adds differentiated meaning in the form of cosmological symbolism, but neither construction manipulates or creates an enclosed space,
Given the eighteenth century discussion in France about the "primitive hut" as the beginning of architecture, Hegel's choice of a beginning is unusual and significant. In Laugier's writings the primal architectural act is erection, support, and enclosure. Hegel (who was aware of these opinions at least to the extent of later citing Goethe's polemic against them) makes the primal act one of marking and assembling.
Enclosed spaces as such do not enter Hegel's discussion until the third sub-stage of symbolic architecture, which is described as a transition to the classical. And even there, Hegel says explicitly that the cave or hole comes (at least conceptually) before the hut (A 14.289). Extending a natural cave into a subterranean room unites into one seamless action the extending, the surrounding, and the creation of limits, and it produces one undivided surface that plays all these roles at once. Only with classical architecture will these roles be posited as separate and as assigned to separated units of the architectural structure.
As a result, the function fulfilled in symbolic architecture remains globally identical with the structure, without either being rationally articulated. To maintain this position, Hegel has to keep Egyptian temple architecture from becoming classical; he does this by stressing the naturalistic imagery dominating the shape of columns and other building parts, and the lack of organic unity in the whole assemblage.
Although no architectural work can have organic unity in the strong sense in which an animal body possesses such unity, symbolic architecture is particularly unorganic. Hegel emphasizes the paratactic nature of symbolic unities. Egyptian temples combine sculptures, columns, gates, rooms, and so on, but the mode of combination is an uncontrolled one-thing-next-to-another. Such adjacency and addition is characteristic both of the thinking and the construction in symbolic art.
In the symbolic the overall assemblage lacks an overall organizing form that would reflect the function of the whole. Classical architecture, though it remains paratactic, will be called 'organic' because it has a rationally necessary order guiding its parataxis. Romantic architecture will then go beyond parataxis by creating a whole that overreaches its posited internal divisions. But these successes remain shadowed by the externality of their medium and of the fundamental constructional act: putting something next to something else.
Classical Architecture: Self-Showing Function
We can ask, if parataxis is the fundamental mode of architectural unity, why should classical architecture be the most authentic stage of architecture?
The official answer is that classical architecture achieves a special free totality and
unity in a special mode of self-relation and self-showing.
Whereas Hegel despairs of a rational division for symbolic architecture, he is proud of his way of organizing the basic forms and divisions of classical architecture. Unlike the symbolic, the classical has a unifying basic type (Grundtypus), namely, the form of a house surrounding an inside while remaining open to the environing context. This basic type can have notionally precise divisions.
Hegel refuses to trace the necessity behind classical architecture's forms to their acknowledged origins in wood construction. Instead he claims the forms (column, base, capital, the parts of the architrave, the roof profile, the style of walls, and so on) take their necessity from conceptual divisions posited by and within the overall function of enclosure: for instance, bearing loads (columns are die materielle Anschauung des Tragens (A 14.314)), being borne, enclosing (Umschließen), and so on. The three major classical orders are then connected not to any anthropomorphic imagery but to particular aspects of the notion of a building that stands securely and receives ornament.
Hegel knows about more anthropomorphic and ligno-morphic analyses of classical architecture. But he treats these imagistic and metaphorical origins as at best secondary and at worst excessive in relation to the "true" deduction of the parts from the basic ideas of standing and enclosing. This is particularly evident in his discussion of half-columns: he says that they are contradictory (widerlich) because they mix two opposed functions that have no inner necessity of being together. A true column should be round and complete in itself as it gives visible expression to the notion of support (A 14.316). Hegel here admits he may be going against the received picture of the historical development of columns, as represented by his colleague Hirt. (It is in this context that Hegel quotes Goethe against the primitive hut.)
The categorial background of the language of classical architecture, then, involves the building's own act of standing and enclosure. This sounds like Hirt's discussion of function as the guiding rule of architecture. But, as Hegel indicates in his discussion of half-columns, there are crucial differences. The function Hegel is talking about is peculiarly self-related.
Levels of Identity and Function
This self-relation or self-showing in classical architecture needs to be examined in order to understand the way function doubles itself in Hegel's vision of architecture.
We can distinguish at least six levels that are relevant here.
Level 0: absence of purpose
A building is a heavy thing, describable in mechanical and chemical terms. On this level there is no teleology, nor any clear delineation of the building from the surrounding physical and chemical things. There is no work of art. Hegel allows that teleological systems can be described in this way, but says that to do so misses their essence. An organism described chemically and mechanically is being described as dead.
Level 1: Pragmatic Purpose
A building is a manifestation of subjective and realized purpose; it embodies and realizes some pragmatic function. On this level the building is a tool. It brings people together, entombs the dead, surrounds or marks an area, houses the gods or provides a location for celebration and ritual, and so on. This is the level conventionally referred to as the program for the building.
Level 2: Self-Showing
No matter what its program or pragmatic function, a building can have the additional function of showing forth or embodying (darstellen) its own notional and performative essence. This is not the same as its pragmatic function.
The Greek temple's pragmatic function is to house the gods and provide a point of assembly for the community. Its columns and walls and roof could fill those functions in many ways. The temple should also look like something that is housing the gods, but this too could be done in many ways. But Hegel insists that function on that pragmatic level cannot be the final determinant of the form of the building. Hegel is concerned that in addition to these requirements the classical building should have each of its parts each show forth their own notionally determined role or action. A column should show forth load-bearing, a roof should show forth being borne and not itself bearing (as in Hegel's argument why southern building have pitched roofs even though there is no snow to worry about). What should go on is a kind of self-reference, where the building reveals its own inner activities of standing and surrounding. Those activities are not the same as the building's external pragmatic function, though in the classical building they are derived from the basic type and its overall function.
This self-showing of architectural function is posited explicitly only in classical
architecture, which is another reason why classical architecture is the authentic
form of architecture. This level of self-showing is missing in symbolic architecture,
whose underlying categories cannot provide notional control and whose form
becomes as a consequence fantastical and multiple. On the other hand, romantic
architecture has articulated notional control, but this concerns the overall plan and
leaves the particular parts freer than does the classical. Hegel is willing to correlate
with notional divisions the classical orders and the differences between Ionic and
Doric architraves. He will also find notional necessity in the cruciform plan of a
romantic church, and in its spires, but he leaves without notional guidance the
particularities of decoration and symbolism and the different kinds of vaulting and
pillars that replace the classical orders. The romantic does not lack resources to make
inner distinctions but it has gone beyond any relation among its parts that can be
stated in terms of categories of the Understanding.
Level 3: Expressing the People's Basic Thoughts
A work of art, by fulfilling its functions on levels 1 and 2 can fulfill yet another level of function; it can embody the thoughts of the people, their basic categories and general representations, their notions of individuality and its relation to the universal.
This embodying is more than the pragmatic purpose of the building, and also more than the self-showing of the parts of the building in their own notionally assigned roles. The temple keeps the rain off the statues and provides a place of assembly; it also shows forth support and load and such rational divisions. It does still more: on this new level it embodies the relation of an articulated inner unity of meaning that is fully expressed in the perfected particularity of an outside. This is the logical unity appropriate to classical civilization. So the architecture is also expressing a category or metaphysical vision of human life and cosmic form.
Just as with the first and second levels (pragmatic and self-showing functions), so the second and third levels (self-showing and expressing the basic categorial thoughts of a people) are fully distinct only in classical architecture. The levels are mixed in the other stages of architecture. Symbolic architecture has for its first level pragmatic function exactly this third level showing of a people's unifying conceptions (consider the tower of Babel, which expresses only the notion of immediate unarticulated unity). In romantic architecture as well, embodying the contemporary notion of spirit's unity becomes the first level pragmatic purpose and the second level self-showing of the building.
This third level overreaches the other two. But this is not yet the end. More than the historical people are involved with the building. There are also "we" philosophical observers, and for us there are two more levels of function.
Level 4: Doing What Architecture Does
By fulfilling its functions on the previous levels, the building is, to the eyes of the
philosophical observer, fulfilling a still more general function within the overall
development of architecture. For "us" the building's particular mode of unity and
its achievement on the second and third levels fit in as a stage in a narrative which
is not the narrative of this or that people but the story of architecture as a whole
relating inner meaning and function to outer form and expression.
Level 5: Doing What Art Does
But the narrative of architecture is itself a part of the deeper narrative of art as a whole. We philosophical observers can also see the building as functioning within the movements and transitions involved in art as a mode of absolute spirit coming to itself. On this level all of architecture remains a first stage, functioning throughout in the symbolic mode of signification.
These fourth and fifth levels of function are not available to the members of the
historical peoples, norif you grant an unargued claim about the spread of
philosophical vision in Hegel's modern stateto the citizens of the rational state.
They are the privilege and the task of the philosophical observer. We might,
however, envision a situation where these levels also became available to the
ordinary people as art becomes further self-conscious. I will speak about this
Function and Constraint
These levels of function put constraints on buildings. Talking of the arrangement of his chapter on symbolic architecture, Hegel makes it clear that what he would like would be fixed types and non-arbitrary assignments:
Nonetheless, in both symbolic and romantic architecture there is uncontrolled excess. In symbolic architecture form is not controlled because there is no speculatively fixed content to provide a measure; symbolic architecture is all excess. In romantic architecture excess comes in the detail of decoration, sculpture, and other particularizations that are not defined by the overarching Spinozistic unity of the building in the way that the building's basic plan is defined.
We should not, however, think of Hegel as a modernist trying to control form and decoration by reference to a building's pragmatic function. For Hegel the teleology which is to control excess is not the functional teleology of the building as a tool (on the first level of function), but rather the special teleology of self-showing and of expressing the grounding categories of the time (the second and third levels of function).
For example, in discussing the difference between posts and columns, Hegel remarks that for a post
In this control by notional essences, Hegel is close to modernist insistence that building parts show their own function. But Hegel envisions those functions more narrowly, even as they are allowed to admit and control un-modern decoration.
Notice that because this control comes from the level of self-showing function, it is most effective only on the level of classical architecture, where that level of function is explicitly posited. Pillar heights in symbolic and romantic architecture are under no such constraints (in symbolic architecture there is no measure, and in romantic architecture the pillars are part of a structure whose overall showing does not depend on such clearly demarcated measurable functions, so the ratio of length to width can become, as Hegel says, visually incalculable).
Hegel does find one kind of excess that is possible on the first level pragmatic functionality. Hegel says that if a building tries to fulfill too many pragmatic functions at once then beauty becomes only embellishment (Zierde), and goal relatedness (Zweckmässigkeit) rules the building's form (A 14.348). But this exception proves my point; Hegel worries about a building trying to fulfill too many first level functions just because this gets in the way of the building fulfilling its second and third level functions. So he does not intend to control the form of a building by function in the sense in which Hirtand some modernistsuse the word. This becomes even more obvious when we turn to romantic architecture.
Romantic Architecture: Beyond Function
While the classical attains a beauty that goes beyond the impressiveness of the symbolic, classical beauty is in its turn subordinated in the romantic, which introduces self-related infinity into architecture. The romantic building
Hegel develops the particular divisions of the form of the romantic building out of the basic type of a house closed in upon its own interiority and there open to the infinite, rather than the classical house open to the environment while surrounding the images of the gods. The colonnade of the classical temple let one stand facing outward toward the world, but the windows of the gothic church raise one up to the indeterminate openness of the sky and a light that is not that of the Greek sun. The classical column speaks its own load-bearing, while the romantic pillar rises upwards, bearing its load without effort within a movement that cannot be defined by the task of resisting gravity (Das Emporstreben gerade das Tragen in den Schein des freien Aufstigens verwandelt (A 14.336, see also 338)). The calculable proportions of the classical give way to a romantic effect of the whole that goes beyond measure.
The limited functions in the interior of the classical temple change to the open independent space of the church that is generously indifferent to what takes place within it. Its overall pragmatic function is swept up within its third level function, or, more accurately put, its third level function is to express the people's notional self-conception, which at this point itself is the third level awareness of spirit's motion that sweeps up any first level pragmatic function within the its movement.
In a letter describing his impressions of the Cologne cathedral, Hegel wrote:
We recall that symbolic architecture comes before explicit function; it is all function, and all means, and all independent construction. Romantic architecture refuses to be determined by the functions it nonetheless fulfills. Only classical architecture is dominated by function, but that is the second level self-showing. So architecture in general refuses to be reduced to pragmatic function.
Hegel's descriptions of romantic architecture emphasize a complex task done with grace and transcendence. If the classical surrounds a usable interior and expresses that function in ways that the symbolic cannot manage, the romantic achieves that and more, not indifferent to function but overreaching it in the movement of recollection and inward transcendence. If the classical posits the essential divisions in its own concept in a way that the symbolic never could (because it had no unified concept), the romantic also posits its internal divisions, but affirms an intenser unity than the classical. If the goal of art is to bring spirit to presence in outward forms, then the romantic achieves that goal better than any other architecture.
Given these considerations, we can ask once again: why does Hegel say that classical architecture is the most authentic and proper architecture?
Hegel would answer that the Ideal of art is a perfect equilibrium of a self-articulated inner meaning and proportioned outer form. That is achieved in classical architecture. In romantic architecture the inner has begun to predominate. If, for Hegel, romantic painting and poetry bring the end of art, perhaps we should say that romantic architecture brings the end (or self-transcendence) of architecture.
But this emphasis on inner and outer suggests a way to renew our question: if architecture as such always involves externality of purpose and paratactic unities, and if as a result architecture cannot really ever achieve a perfect balance of inner and outerwhich is why architecture remains low on the hierarchy of the artsthen why should we not consider the symbolic be the most authentic stage of architecture?
Hegel's reply would be that in the symbolic the necessary self-articulated totality of meaning has not yet been posited. But perhaps we should wonder about the possibility of that articulated totality of meaning. I argue elsewhere that externality will not be so neatly subsumed. Furthermore, the classical unity refuses to be as tidily harmonious as Hegel would have us believe. Hegel's notion of classical architecture maintains its purity only by a too rigorous exclusion of naturalistic and other "excesses" of meaning. Is the Egyptian temple really so un-classical as Hegel says, and are the Greek temple forms so purely dominated by notional second-level functions?
If there is some contamination of the classical that compromises the purity that keeps it apart from the other stages, then it might not be so strange to suggest that a hybrid of symbolic and romantic architecture may be where we now live: symbolic parataxis plus free externality, plus a self-conscious movement that acknowledges but goes beyond domination by inner divisions or by any level of function.
Hegel himself takes a step in this direction. Speaking of the walls and colonnades of Greek temples, he says that
Such a more open notion of the classical might make possible a joining with the symbolic and the romantic. That in turn might lead towards a Hegel-derived notion of the postmodern, one that avoids endless irony and facile facade-ism, as well as purist formal play.
Such a postmodern Ver-weil-en would be self-conscious life in a stronger way than the agoraic life looking out from the Greek columned porch. This dwelling would have become aware of itself as expressing itself in art as such. In terms of our earlier discussion, we might imagine that the fourth and fifth levels of function had become available to the community as part of what the community expected of a building. Hence the building would publicly perform in a communal narrative about art and architecture's history and career.
In this stage beyond (or completing) the romantic, the perspective of "we"
philosophical observers and that of the observed community would come together.
This would perhaps be an artistic parallel to the achievement of self-consciousness
in the modern state, or to the way the "we" and the observed consciousness come
together at the end of the Phenomenology of Spirit. This joining would continue
the never-complete liberation of architecture from determination by function.