Expansion and contraction: Goethean polarity and architecture

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Gokmen, Sabri
Spuybroek, Lars
Peponis, John
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As a historic figure, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832) has been drawing interest in contemporary research in humanities due to his involvement in multiple fields such as literature, philosophy, natural sciences and aesthetics while having direct influence on the shaping of the Enlightenment era. Although his body of work has been mostly evaluated under the rubric of phenomenology, this dissertation will aim to develop a comprehensive understanding of his works using his ideas on polarity as the core principle. Polarity stems from Goethe’s early involvement in botany where he describes the development of annual plants through cycles of expansion and contraction as opposite sexual forces of natural productivity. This principle forms the foundation of morphology; a unifying science where Goethe applies polarity to formulate ideas on osteology, geology and color. The thesis will be developed in three main chapters that primarily establish the theoretical aspects of polarity in Goethe’s works and then extends it towards developing a novel morphological understanding of architecture as well as formulating polarity tools for design. The first chapter presents an extensive analysis of Goethe’s most controversial novel—Elective Affinities—as a prototypical literary work applying the concept of polarity for the structuring and development of its story. Using the novel as a theoretical-philosophical framework, the role of polarity is analyzed through character typology, affinity relations among characters, landscape formation and production of architectural projects. The allegorical aspects of the story show that Goethe’s scientific writings and engagement with contemporaneous philosophy informed his novel, producing a literary expression of the transition from Idealism to Romanticism. In the second chapter, polarity in Goethean morphology is analyzed focusing particularly on leaf morphogenesis to demonstrate formal principles of growth. Metamorphosis of Plants acts as the theoretical foundation of polarity, explaining the cyclic behavior of expansion and contraction in plants through Goethean principles. The terms “polarity” and “intensification” are further explored in Goethe’s works applied to other natural sciences such as botany and osteology, as well as color; extending both terms as core principles of an ontological system of nature. This system is explored through leaf morphogenesis studies developed in a computational framework to introduce a parametric understanding of topological polarity rules that explain leaf forms using alternating growth cycles. In the third chapter, Goethe’s statement “All is Leaf” is extended to architecture by applying the concept of polarity through planar and vertical development of architectural massing organized through body-limb duality. Polarity is compared to the classical notion of symmetry and proportion to establish a new look at architectural morphology operating through axiality, primitive huts and parametric application of abstract polarity rules devoid of style. These rules are extracted from a historical analysis of various architectural case studies using samples of Palladian villas, Baroque palaces, Gothic cathedrals, and English manor houses. After developing an understanding of polarized architectural body-limb relations, a procedural polarity machine is developed to apply principles of metamorphosis towards generative studies of architectural massing focusing on Gothic cathedrals as a case study. In the last part of the thesis, polarized morphology is considered as an ecological strategy to approach architectural design under variable conditions of climate and altitude.
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