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* Chris Abel *
"Abel writes in a brisk, no-nonsense manner and steers
clear of glib acceptance of received wisdom"
Andrew Ballantyne, Times Literary Supplement
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On Self-Organizing Systems
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On Customized Automation
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On Critical Theory
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On Cultural Identity
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On Rational Design
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On Empathy
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On Innovation and Metaphor
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On Globalization
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On History
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On Henning Larsen
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On Norman Foster
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On Richard England
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On Postmodernism
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On Sustainability
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On Deconstructivism
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On Biotech Architecture
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On Vertical Architecture
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On Harry Seidler
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On Australian Architecture
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On Virtual Evolution
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On The Vertical Garden City
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On The Extended Self
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* ON EMPATHY *
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In so far as the 'typifying function' or essence of architecture has to do, as I believe Norberg-Schulz correctly describes it, with a response to the 'vocation of the place,' the genius loci, then architecture has to do with what is particular to a place and a people. That is, it is the unique purpose of architecture to lend concrete form to the cultural processes of human individuation and identity formation. This I believe to be true of architecture of all times and of all places. If there is any universal attribute of architecture then it is precisely this quality, which, paradoxically, has to do with the expression of the particular. The placeless and characterless International Style was, and in so far as it still constitutes one of the Western world's major exports to so-called 'less-advanced' cultures, remains an aberration in the long evolution of the culture-form we call architecture. That it was also the direct product of earlier brand of scientism, is of course, not without some import in the present context. The universal rationality that so inspired the Heroes of the Modern Movement is by definition incommensurate with the traditional function of architecture in the creation of unique locations for human interaction. Given the Heroes' fascination with the new science of their day, it was inevitable that they should reject the particularity of architecture for a universal architecture commensurate with the scientific ideal of a universal rationality. But the human science of our day is a very different science, though it has yet to be properly recognised as such. That the new human scientist should be disposed to 'enter into' a particular place and culture bodes well for the study of an architecture the chief function of which is to give form to that which is characteristic of the culture and sets it apart from other cultures.

The concept of empathy is therefore central to both an interpretation of 'architecture as identity' and to the newly emergent human science. Though the architect and the scientist may put the concept to a different purpose - the architect empathises with a people and a place in order to give form to that identity, the scientist in order to understand, describe or explain that identity - our understanding of the processes of empathetic reasoning, or 'indwelling' as [Michael] Polanyi calls it, is therefore likely to become of increasing importance both to our conception of the new human science itself, and to our understanding of how it is that people come to 'feel at home' and identify with a place, which may be a single room or a whole region. My own conviction is that the key to the explanation (rather than the simple description [Harold] Proshansky and Norberg-Schulz have settled for) of place identity, lies with something like Polanyi's theory of empathy as a process of tacit knowing. The same also goes for how architects acquire the complex skill of design in the first place. The art of architectural design, I maintain, lies with architects' tacit skills and not, as the advocates of design methods would have us believe, with the availability of complete and explicit knowledge.

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* From: 'Vico and Herder: The Origins of Methodological Pluralism,' in R. Jacques and J. Powell (eds), Design: Science: Method, Westbury House (1981), pp. 57-58. *
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