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The Sensory and the Cognitive: Modernism and Dom Hans van der Laan

Part 2 Dissertation 2020
Blake Davis
University of Sydney | Australia
Architecture is for humans: the ‘rational animal’. Strangely, the modernist legacy seems to be the denial of architecture’s most peculiarly human aspect: its role as an aid to and embodiment of the cognitive intellect – its ability to convey and assist in the process of meaning-making. This dissertation uses the modern but fundamentally anti-modernist thought and work of Hans van der Laan to explore the architectural emphasis on the cognitive intellect, over and against the apparent modernist fascination with the purely sensory – the meaningless, self-referential world of colour and form.

Rooted in Thomist thought, Van der Laan saw architecture’s primary role as a way to understand the world – a kind of ‘food’ for the mind. Despite being best known for his ‘Plastic Number’ proportional system, it is argued that the broader intellect-centred nature of his philosophy leads to the human-centred nature of his architecture. Thus, Van der Laan’s insistence on the primacy of the cognitive intellect is staged as a counterbalance to the almost animal fascination with sensory experience pursued by the modernists. This dichotomy is the chasm between the world as something which we simply experience, and the world as something which we are driven to understand.

Blake Davis

Chris Smith
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