Seeing comes
before words.

[…] It is seeing which establishes our place in the world; we explain that world with words, but words can never undo the fact that we are surrounded by it. The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled.

—    John Berger, Ways of Seeing, Penguin, 1972
Recognition is an important part of our visual perception, but it is not the only one! Yes, without it things may stay invisible even being just in front of our eyes. But on the other side something perceived may become a source of inspiration itself, interpreted with our ability for free associations we may truly open our eyes. When 1884, 30 years before Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity1, the british schoolmaster and writer Edwin A. Abbot opens up higher dimensions and depicts the importance of time to explain spatial phenomena in his novel Flatland2 – it is powerful and it is important! Imagination is curiosity, is sensitivity, is activity! And Einstein himself said: “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”3, and thereby didn’t neglect the importance of knowledge, but rather pointed to the close relation of both concepts.

To ‘look’ and to ‘see’ are two possible translations of the greek word ‘theorein’, the etymological root of the english term ‘theory’. Considering that, it is quite irritating to hear Hans Blumenberg’s statement: “Theory is something one does not see.”4 So we could say that everybody is a speculator, looking for something that can’t be seen… And yes, just because something can’t be seen doesn’t mean that it isn’t there yet or can’t be there in general, or in the words of physicist Richard Feynman: ”Turn some knobs on the box to get the swashing just right, and you hear Radio Moscow! And you know that it was there. How else would have it get there? It was there all time. It's only when you turn on the radio that you notice it. But that all these things are going through in the room at the same time. Everybody knows, but you've got to stop and think about it, to really get the pleasure about the complexity, the inconceivable nature of Nature.”5 And taking a further step, following Jacques Lacan this complexity just reflects inside of us: “Inside we are a formless continuous stream of consciousness made up of speedings, thoughts, desires and images we are polysexual, chaotic ever changing and ambivalent to the core but on the outside we seem like a more or less stable entity with composed and symmetrical features that betray almost nothing of what is going on within.”6 In his understanding words are our way to bridge that gap – to speak to the world. But remembering John Berger’s saying: first we need to see it!

Astronomy without eyes 7 

“Each evening we see the sun set. We know that the earth is turning away from it. Yet the knowledge, the explanation, never quite fits the sight.”8 “The way we see things is constantly changing.”9 And sitting there, one could ask: Where is that change happening? Is it inside of us, in the things surrounding us, or in the in-between? When what we know conditions what we are and how we look – we change our world, things and universe with every sight we take on them (or not). Not in uncovering underlying structures, but in abstracting from them! Or as Socrates put it: “Those intricate traceries in the sky [the paths of the stars and planets] are, no doubt, the loveliest and most perfect of material things, but they are still part of the visible world.”10 So lets “use the embroidered heaven as an example to illustrate our theories – just as one might use exquisite diagrams drawn by some fine artists such as Daedalus.”11 And S. Toulmin and J. Goodfield were adding: “A theory of the Heavens must not just describe how the stars and planets appear to move: It must make sense of those movements.”12 Watching them with half-opened and half-closed eyes – being outside and inside at once, like in an observatory. Right in “the middle of field and laboratory”13, where both “sight and study might embrace within one and the same perspective the greatest possible number of objects and their greatest possible diversity.”14 A place to orientate and disorientate ourselves, a place for observation and speculation, a place where “thinking means inventing.”15

Articulating the sky

The “indeterminate action of the power of thought comes together in a word as a faint cluster of clouds gathers in a clear sky.”16 “Language is an activity”17, drawing from the full source of possibilities. It is neither nature nor culture, but it is both – laying at the center of their differentiation.18 And as it is with separations, the virtue of language “relies on the fluency, exactness and accordance of its divisions and connections.”19 Wilhelm von Humboldt wrote: “Articulation is the very essence of language, everything it contains can be a part or a whole in it.”20 And the same can count for architecture! Taking an ancient greek perspective, one like Daedalus’, we would see that “every process of creation entails a process of differentiation from primordial chaos”21, or nowadays’ noise. “Structure is not about framing or making skeleton, but about giving meaning to connectivity.”22

“It was the discovery of fire that originally gave rise to the coming together of men, to the deliberative assembly, and to social intercourse. […] And as they kept coming together in greater numbers into one place, […] upright and gazing upon the splendour of the starry firmament, […] they began in that first assembly to construct shelters.”23 When Vitruvius pictured communication and architecture at their very first spark, it appears not to be just about safety, but rather about chances. Observing the abundance of the universe and sizing our place in it, over and over again. Architecture is not just reaction, it is action – or better an activity, unseparable interwoven with each moments knowledge, dreams and ideas of living with one-self and with each-other. Le Corbusier meant: “To search for the human scale, for human function, is to define human needs.”24 Our spaces and objects are laying as much outside as inside of us, hence architects need to master them just as life itself – they simply need to be masters of their time, “observing the sky, but visiting the world“!25

1—Albert Einstein, General Theory of Relativity, 1915
2—Edwin A. Abbot, Flatland. A Romance of Many Dimensions, Seeley, 1884
3—Albert Einstein, Interview in The Saturday Evening Post1929
4—Hans Blumenberg, Das Lachen der Thrakerin, Suhrkamp, 1987
5—Richard Feynman, “Seeing Things”, Video-Interview in Fun to Imagine, BBC, 1983 
6—Jacques Lacan, Video-Commentary in Psychotherapy - Jacques Lacan, The Shool of Life, 2016
7—Michel Serres, “Gnomon”, in A History of Scientific Thought, Blackwell, 1955
8—John Berger, Ways of Seeing, Penguin, 1972 
9—David Hockney, Interview in David Hockney (Ed.: M. Livingstone), Thames and Hudson,  1996
10—Socrates, Quote in The Fabrics of the Heavens (Ed.:S. Toulmin & J. Goodfield), The University of Chicago Press, 1999
12—S.Toulmin & J.Goodfield, The Fabrics of the Heavens, The University of Chicago Press, 1999
13—S.Le Gars & D.Aubin, “The Elusive Placelesness of the Mont Blanc Observatory (1893-1909)”, in Science in Context, Issue 22, 2009
14—Henri Focillon, The Life of Forms in Art, Zone Books, 1992
15—Michel Serres, “Information and Thinking” (Trans.: J. Visser), Lecture at Philosophy After Nature Utrecht, 2014
16—Wilhelm Humboldt, Quote in Dictionary of Untranslatables (Ed.: Barbara Cassin), Princeton University Press, 2014
17—Wilhem Humboldt, Schriften zur Sprachphilosophie, Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 2002
18—Jürgen Trabant
, Artikulationen, Suhrkamp, 1998
19—Wilhelm Humboldt
, Über die Buchstabenschrift und ihren Zusammenhang mit dem Sprachbau, Dümmler, 1926
21—John Hendrix, 
Architectural Forms and Philosophical Structures, Peter Lang Inc., 2003
22—Cecil Balmond
, Facebook-Post, 2.11.2012
, The Ten Books on Architecture, Harvard University Press, 1914
24—Le Corbusier
, The Decorative Art of Today, MIT Press, 1987
25—Michel Serres
, Intro in Thesaurus der exakten Wissenschaften (Ed.: M. Serres & N. Farouki), Zweitausendeins, 2001