The Architecture of Nothingness
An Explanation of the Objective Basis of Beauty in Architecture and the Arts
It is a common enough assumption that good buildings make us feel good just as poor ones can make us feel insecure, depressed or even threatened. We may instantly decide that we ‘like’ one building more than another, in the same way that without thinking we choose one work of art or music over another. But what is going on when we make these instant decisions? The process is so complex that it remains an area rarely examined, often considered unfathomable, or for some mysterious, bordering even on the spiritual. Frank Lyons seeks to unpick the complex relationships that go to make up great works of architecture, to reveal a set of principles that are found to apply not only to architecture but also to art, music and culture in general. One of the major complications at the heart of culture is that because the arts are generated subjectively, it is assumed that the finished cultural artefact is also subjective. This is a myth that this book seeks to dispel. The arts are indeed created from the personal subjective space of an individual but what that individual has to say will only be shareable if expressed in coherent (objective) form.
In a nutshell, the book reverses two generally accepted positions, that the arts are subjective and that meaning is objective and therefore shared. The reversal of these seemingly common sense, but mistaken positions enables two important issues to be resolved, firstly it explains how the arts communicate through objectivity and secondly how the meaning of an object of art is never shared but always remains private to the individual. The combination of these two positions ultimately helps us to understand that beauty is a subjective appreciation of an objectively arranged form. Furthermore, this understanding enables the author to explain how a sublimely arranged form can open us to the ineffable; to a field of NOTHINGNESS, or to what some might call the spiritual realm of our own being.
Table of Contents
Introduction 1. Order in Nature, Science and the Arts 2. The Order of Content 3. The Order of Form 4. The Logic of Aesthetics 5. The Aesthetics of Meaning 6. The Order of Nothingness and the Phenomenal Gap 7. Beauty as Reconciliation
Frank Lyons was awarded the RIBA President’s Design Prize (President’s Silver Medal) in the final year of his architectural studies. The unexpected circumstances of this award caused him to question the nature of design, a question that led to a forty-year search for answers and a career split equally between research, teaching and practice. Lyons has won or been placed in several international architectural competitions and has lectured internationally. He is currently Director of Humane Architecture Ltd, and a Teaching Fellow at the University of Bath. The answers to that early question are laid out in this book.
"Not since Christian Norberg-Schulz in ‘Intentions in Architecture’ outlined a systematic and complete framework for architecture, have I encountered such an ambitious and comprehensive investigation of architecture’s cultural role. Like Norberg-Schulz, Lyons uses philosophy as a central discursive source, to which he adds his own experience as a teacher, scholar and architect. Beautifully illustrated by the author and his wife, this comprehensive study draws on analytical tools unavailable to Schulz. Meticulously organised and lucidly communicated, Lyons examines nature, the arts and sciences on a journey across the architectural spectrum that embraces mathematics, physics, subjectivity and objectivity. In so doing, he looks into the purpose of culture, considers the conjunction of Eastern and Western philosophies and takes account of the positions taken by the artist and the scientist. In a discussion that includes the way our senses inform us, Lyons considers how we relate to language, music and poetry. An investigation of the logic of aesthetics elucidates the way we interpret beauty. Facing a considerable intellectual challenge, Lyons’ wide-ranging investigation offers a revelatory survey of complex phenomena." - Geoffrey H Baker, Professor Emeritus, Tulane University, USA
"This thought provoking book explores, amongst a number of other topics, our subjective response to art and architecture and the intuitive processes that underlie creative practice, through bringing to light the rich layers of objectivity that can subliminally inform these processes. Dispelling the myth, Lyons argues, that ‘because the arts are generated subjectively, it is assumed that the finished cultural artefact is also subjective’- a fascinating subject. The general public, as much as practitioners, will have an increased and enriched understanding of their own subjective responses having absorbed Lyons’ analytical investigation and detailed arguments." - Paul Williams, Director, Stanton Williams, UK
"Exceptional in its scope and ambition, this accessible book is the fruit of a lifetime’s architectural practice, teaching and thinking. Frank Lyons draws on Schopenhauer, amongst others, to argue against fashionable relativism for the continuing importance of coherent form in architecture - and indeed in all the arts." - Nicholas Ray, Emeritus Reader in Architecture, University of Cambridge, UK
"In this ambitious and wide-ranging text, Frank Lyons seeks to define an objective framework for explaining beauty in architecture and the arts. This can be tricky territory for the modern mind but one the author has been contemplating for many decades. Using seductive drawings and diagrams, a number of well-known buildings are cleverly analysed to illustrate ideas being explored." - George Henderson, Emeritus Professor of Architecture, De Montfort University, UK
"Frank Lyons’ book is a courageous and ambitious attempt to deepen our understanding of what makes good architecture. It seeks to understand questions of perception, order and meaning informed by an analysis of the work of major thinkers in many disciplines across the arts, sciences and philosophy. Analytical drawings and diagrams helpfully counterpoint the text. I am glad to recommend it." - Christopher Cross, Former Head of the Oxford School of Architecture, UK
"I met the author shortly after he had developed the core ideas in this book. Since that time I have observed in numerous conference presentations how those early ideas have matured into a coherent understanding of good design and beauty. The arguments necessarily range widely, they may be challenging but they will reward a careful reader. This book will be long remembered and certainly a book my students will have to read." - Ewa Węcławowicz- Gyurkovich, Full Prof.D.Sc.PhD. Architect, Director of Institute of the History of Architecture and Monument Preservation, Cracow University of Technology, Poland
"Frank Lyons has written a small book about a big subject after spending a long time thinking about it. Its central message goes to the heart of what it means to be a creative person with a contribution to make. It will underpin anyone’s critical understanding of good architecture." - Andy Dale, Dip Arch ARB RIBA, Teaching Fellow, University of Bath, UK
"I was lucky enough to be taught by Frank Lyons during my post graduate studies in architecture and he was an inspiration. His ideas on architecture and his clarity of thought in regard to design strategy and process were the making of my understanding of architecture and how we create it.
The observations made in his new book are fascinating and his ideas seems to go to the heart of what any architect or aesthete should be striving to understand. His argument feels like a logically worked through exploration of the eternal ‘Beauty and Truth debate’, but with an unfamiliar rigorous clarity and a conclusion. One is left wondering if something wonderfully profound has been discovered." - Dominic Taylor, Teaching fellow and Second Year leader, Bath University Department of Architecture & Civil Engineering, UK