Lectures: Faith In Design Conference Harvard GSD

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Our profession has suffered from a biased image of The Architect. Whether consciously or unconsciously, the architect is most often seen as male, independent, educated, white and secular. This architect could rationally analyze any building program, study the urban fabric of any place and produce a building to meet the needs of any client. He is a kind of ‘archetypal’ human, able to respond to any ‘typical’ client, with standard ergonomic proportions and known needs.

Of course, to a certain degree, this is a gross and inaccurate accusation of our field. Many architects are deeply attuned to the particularities, or peculiarities, of each client and the poetics of place and climate. Nevertheless, when I studies architecture, it was my understanding, that become an architect, was to identify and strive to be more like these guys (image 3).

But none of us are typical or generic, and neither are our clients.

I have learned in my practice – from the challenge to bringing more Equity to Design and from my Jewish beliefs – that it is in our uniqueness, diversity and differences that innovation and beauty are found.

I would like to dedicate this short talk to my dear friend, mentor and teacher, the psychoanalyst Lew Aron, who died last week.

You are probably thinking – “we are already confused by bringing faith into design – why is she also adding psychoanalysis?” I hope the connection will become clear as we continue.

Psychoanalysis, much like architecture, is both a theory and practice. It studies how we are motivated not only by our intentional ideas but also by memories, traumas, desires and all that other unconscious stuff. It suggests that if we can understand these forces hidden within us, we will be able to live a happier life and improve our relationships.

For most of the 20th century the image of the psychoanalyst was similar to the image of the architect.  The psychoanalyst was the expert while the patient was seeking help. The analyst “knew” what was happening and through his interpretations of the patient’s pathological distortions and projections, the patient achieved greater maturity and independence.

Relational Psychoanalysis, of which Lew Aron was a towering figure, came to correct this view. Its main claim is that both analysts and patients are always creating and recreating themselves in relation to each other. I am as I am now because you are who you are, and together we create a unique relational field. The self is not fixed, but rather a complex constellation of talents, wishes and habits which unfold in the specificity of time, place and interaction.

One of the extraordinary aspects of Lew Aron’s theoretical work was that he chose to integrate his Jewish spiritual tradition (image 7-8) into a highly secular psychoanalytic field. Inspired by his understanding of the relationship of Man and God, he saw therapy as a mutual creation of both therapist and patient, while also preserving the asymmetry that is demanded by the therapist’s professional responsibility.

So in Lew’s spirit, I want to try to understand how we can each bring our whole, layered and complex self to the architectural task, and realize that the design work is a mutual, creative process that unfolds between the architect and client.

I suggest that to bring more of yourself to this process is to enrich and deepen your architectural work.

So what do I bring from my Jewish practice to my architectural work? I will present three projects and link them to what I see as a Jewish concept of communal space.

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Harvard Graduate School of Design

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