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The Ineffable and the Knowable.
A Design Theory on the Double Unknown Side of the Architectural Project.

Doctoral dissertation in International Cotutelle
Universität Innsbruck
Universidad Politécnica de Madrid

Karolin Schmidbaur
Graham Harman
Federico Soriano

The purpose of this doctoral thesis is to elaborate a theoretical-practical framework on the architectural project (abbreviated AP), to explore its conceptions, possibilities, and impacts on the activity of spatial design and occupation under a contemporary anti-exceptionalism of the human subject. Assuming the end of modernity—and its critical postmodern project within it—based on an anthropocentric worldview, the question is how architectural discourse and practice can be articulated under a subjectless scheme. Adopting a realist view in which every object is irreducible to how it is apprehended, the AP stands as an autonomous One/Many entity: each AP is an indivisible package of a unitary existence or being coupled with a heterogeneous multiplicity of manifestations. How does our approach to the free-standing AP deal with its ontological condition of unity-multiplicity? What does it mean for the cognitive activities of designing and inhabiting that what the AP is, as well as what it does and what composes it, cannot be fully encompassed? This double impossibility of faithfully attaining the existential depth and material extension of the AP, instead of unfavorable, is precisely conducive to addressing its double unknown as a cognitive challenge. For this, aesthetics becomes the means to enter into the project’s depth and openness. On the one hand, the unitary being of each AP—or One—reveals itself ineffable to experience. Its deep aesthetic register can be intuited but escapes material articulation. On the other hand, the AP’s qualitative cornucopia—or Many—incites a pluralization of its remnant myriad of appearances and effects beyond its biographical and present state. Since there are no essential expressions or authoritative approaches, each observer can freely engage with the project. Such emancipation of the cognizer suggests a form of socio-political equality that derives from the AP’s autonomous and ontological condition, rather than from moral or rational imperatives formulated by the subject.
    Methodologically, the development of the AP’s ineffability and knowability stems from two main references: Object-Oriented Ontology (OOO) and the oeuvre of Enric Miralles. The first is a contemporary philosophical school that accounts for the autonomy of any entity in the cosmos, regardless of how it is composed or perceived. The influence of this movement on architectural discourse is significant since the early 2010s; an agenda on the representational displacement of the real in architecture into which this thesis joins affirmatively, critically, and expansively. The second, the work of the architect Enric Miralles, emerges as a recent historical reference on which to vindicate and broaden the postulates of OOO in architectural design. Through this binomial, the present theory advocates the design process—and not only the user’s experience—as a fundamentally aesthetic activity.
    The thesis also presents its own design account and methodology for the production of architectural expressions capable of inducing the unknown double tension in the design process and architectural occupation and use, in each case differently. A particular understanding of abstraction and part-whole composition as design tools characterizes this approach.

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