Making the Garden

During my years as a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, I encountered considerable resistance from the faculty and administration. Even though the religious content of my work was certainly not articulated in those early years, my colleagues in the department of architecture made continuous efforts to diminish the importance of my work, and did their best to dissuade students from taking my classes. The spiritual content and underlying message of my approach, though always presented in a form acceptable to common sense, struck them (rightfully) as an attack on the prevailing forms of thought and practice in fashionable twentieth-century architecture.

I could not knuckle under. To protect my ability to teach and to protect my students, I was obliged during the period of 1985 to 1992 to undertake a First Amendment lawsuit against the university, since the university was undermining my right to teach what I believed to be true. I was by then a full professor in the department, and my work was in large part empirical, but it took seven long years before I prevailed in my right to teach the approach I had formulated, and was able publicly to go ahead with research and further reasoning that seemed empirically adequate to me.

During all these years I still had not formulated an explicit way of understanding the connection between God and architecture, nor had I found it necessary to do so. But half-consciously, it was always at the heart of what I was doing. Questions about the nature of God, the relation between God and our concepts of modern physics, the apparent disparities between the various views of God presented in different cultures and religions, were with me every day. For one or two decades, I also immersed myself in various forms of practice—Zen Buddhism, psychotherapy, private forms of meditation—to do what I could to sharpen and clear my mind. As a practicing Roman Catholic, I learned much from Christian mystics (especially The Cloud of Unknowing); Sufi saints (Mevlana, Ibn Arabi); Buddhist and Taoist writers (Chuang Tzu and Lao Tse, especially the Tao Te Ching); Zen poets (especially Bashō); south sea anthropologists Gregory Bateson, Ruth Benedict, and Jane Resture; the Sanskrit classical canon; Western writers such as the French psychiatrist Hubert Benoit; Aldous Huxley; and the Enlightenment (especially Spinoza).

As time went on, I also began formulating practical and modest theories, which enabled me (and others) to build better buildings. Some of my works became widely read, and translated into many languages. These theories were focused on the search for a deeper sense of well-being—not thermal comfort or energy saving, but a deeper psychological and emotional comfort, in which people could feel their own existence as human beings. These theories gradually became widely accepted, but also continued to raise discomfort in the profession. They plainly were at odds with the stark and ego-centered view of buildings that was then being taught by most teachers of architecture, and that was commonly accepted in late-twentieth-century society as the “­correct” view.
As a result of struggling to understand these things at a deeper level, while establishing a foundation that seemed ordinary and practical, I found it more and more difficult to fit together a well-defined scientific or intellectual model of what was going on in a way that could encompass these simple matters. And yet it was also clear to me that the empirical reality of these simple matters could not be denied, and certainly could not be abandoned.

In the period from 1979 to 1990, I found to my surprise that I was gradually forced to wrestle with questions about the nature of reality, of space, of value, and of human freedom. As I moved forward, the need to clarify these issues became more and more apparent. I also found that within the positivistic, scientific canon I had grown up with while studying at Cambridge, it was virtually impossible even to formulate adequate concepts that would be capable of solving the more profound issues that lie at the root of architecture.

Up until that time, I had accepted the academic, positivistic, scientific philosophy and practice of my youth. I had been trained in physics and ­mathematics, and assumed, virtually as part of my educational birthright, that these scientific disciplines could be relied on, and that I should not step outside the ­intellectual framework that they provided. But to solve the practical and conceptual problems in architecture, I now embarked on a study of a series of concepts that, though formulated more or less within scientific norms, nevertheless opened ways of ­thinking that were highly challenging to the academic ­establishment:

• Wholeness
• Value, as an objective concept
• Unfolding wholeness
• Connection with the inner self
• Centers
• Structure-preserving transformations
• Degrees of life