Measure: phenomenological & ontological readings

Measures of subsistence: common grazing. Illustration: Author's own.

Measures of subsistence: common grazing. Illustration: Author's own.

Man’s measure is not a quantity that can be measured. Only man’s being itself can tell what its measure is, by the fiery test of the living encounter of the human self with reality...Human measure is to be sought in the quantity of our belonging – in the magnitude, direction and degree of our being with the other as with our own.
— Albert Hofstadter, Agony and Epitaph: Man, His Art, and His Poetry (New York: George Braziller, 1970)

October 2005 saw the start of my Postgraduate Diploma in Architecture degree year at Edinburgh College of Art. I joined the 'Locus Architecture' unit, the aim being to "discover and identify the elements and forces that constitute a Locus and to translate these into authentic architecture". Tackling challenging rural situations in the Scottish Highlands, the year was about integrating dissertation topics within the design project and focused post-graduate research. The unit helped crystallise ideas that I have long felt missing from much contemporary architectural practice and allowed me to attempt to tackle such issues within the difficult and highly emotive landscape of the Scottish Highlands.

During the course of the year I wrote a dissertation which explored the term measure as it relates to human interaction and understanding of the natural environment. Measure is most usually understood as the units as well as the mathematical or cosmological structure with which one may understand a certain reality; measure is also the particular technological instrument that shapes, or makes manifest such units and the ethical gauge against which the actions and cultural products of these instruments can be assessed. Taking a key text on measure by James Corner and Alex Maclean entitled Taking Measures Across the American Landscape as a starting point, the dissertation aims to explore the phenomenological aspects of the term suggested in the text, and furthermore demonstrate that measure can be read from an ontological viewpoint. 

This ontological viewpoint takes the philosophy of locus architecture as a starting point in order to show how by a structuralist approach, such a reading of measure can be understood to reveal the deep structure of a place. Simply put, locus architecture is the practising of a careful architecture with authentic design drawn from the deep cultural study of a specific place. At its core is a concern for the powerful essences of pure being that exist in a place, abstract essences that have been described as ontological forces. Whilst locus architecture is the philosophical background to the dissertation and the author’s own diploma design work, the Scottish Highlands is the geographical background. 

The dissertation is illustrated throughout by the author’s exploration of changes in measure in the Scottish Highlands. These informal diagrams and maps are an extension of the text and suggest further avenues for study as described in the final chapter.

You can download the dissertation here (55Mb).