Architecture and Psychology; an intimate relationship, by Peter Sear

Architecture and Psychology; an intimate relationship

Psychologists regularly employ architectural metaphors. They talk of structures, levels, depths, building blocks and windows to the soul. This shared language hints at an intimate relationship.

Architecture is a form of human expression, portraying the psychology of the collective or the individual creator. The Jungian Analyst, Christopher Hauke suggests that ‘individual architects – like great artists and psychologists – sometimes have the genius to express something about the condition of humanity for all of us when they are at their most subjective in expressing themselves and their own vision, in their buildings.’(Hauke 2002b: 86)

The father of analytical psychology, Carl Jung described a building as ‘a structural diagram of the human psyche.’ Like art, architecture offers a vehicle for conveying our deepest thoughts.

Jung rarely wrote explicitly about architecture, but demonstrated how important surroundings were to him by carefully building his own tower at Bollingen, and subsequently dedicating a whole chapter of his book, Memories Dreams and Reflections, to it. (Jung 1963). The tower was ‘an expression of Jung’s inner world.’ (Hauke 2002a), Jung confessed that it represented a ‘psychic wholeness.’(Jung 1961:252)

‘I had to achieve a kind of representation in stone of my inner most thoughts and of the knowledge I had acquired. Or to put it another way, I had to make a confession of faith in stone.’ (Jung, 1961: 250)

The tower became a place where Jung felt at home, a space in which he could thrive. The building climbed up from the depths of his unconscious to become a shelter precise for him and his work.

Curiously, both Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud had sons who became architects. The value of the process of building appears to have been bequeathed. Franz Jung recalled a time when he and his father played building games together by the side of the lake.(Chodorow 2006: 222)

Freud’s youngest son Ernst, redesigned his father’s house in Hampstead to suit his work and interests and established his practice in Berlin, where a large number of his clients were doctors. The majority of his commissions were for houses and consulting rooms.

Modern architects have also been influenced by these great thinkers, but not always with great results. Someone who explored Jungian ideas and a compatriot of Jung’s, has been blamed for creating architecture in the 1960s that lacked everything Jung’s tower was about. It is often said that Le Corbusier talked about more successful projects than the ones he left us with. He spoke of ‘alchemical symbolism,’ the ‘masculine and feminine,’ and ‘psycho-physiological reactions in man.’(Samuel 2002: 44) Yet his buildings are widely considered to be cold, silent and lacking soul. The lesson here seems to be that the inspirations Jung indulged in came from his own unconscious not a book.

‘It seems evident that every building designed by an architect who is in a position to have a free hand must express something of the individual personality of the architect as well as something of their relationship with the wider culture, and so in that sense constitutes a self expressive work of ‘art.’ (Hauke 2002b:85) The process is no longer ‘art’ once it is controlled by external influences. A building that is to be appreciated has to come from deep within an individual or collective.

For thousands of years, in various civilizations, this artistic expression created beautiful buildings and glorious spaces. In 1446  Henry VI gave the go ahead for Kings College to be build, a project that took over a century to complete. Long term projects seemed common throughout history up to then. Yet more recently money and time have overtaken art and beauty as priorities. Now everything has to come in under budget and within a short time period. Who could imagine today’s decision makers commissioning projects that  even their children will never see completed. Artistic license is a casualty of financial constraint and we build for ‘purpose,’ and our purpose, not that of future generations.

The creative process of shaping our spaces has been stifled by these constraints of modernity. Individually and collectively, we miss the opportunity to fuse our dreams with physical materials in the real world to create spaces that are truly right for us. In the ensuing confusion, we are left with spaces that we don’t quite fit. Our spaces now shape our behaviour, rather than contain who we are.