Environment, Space, Place

Volume 1, Issue 1, Spring 2009

Kascha Semon
Pages 101-119

The Habit of Inhabitation
Rethinking Digital Design via Merleau-Ponty and Proust

Drawing on the phenomenology of Merleau-Ponty, this paper describes the role of habit in the cycle of preconfiguration and reconfigurion of place in architectural practice, especially in the design of homes—les habitations—in which habit and inhabitation intertwine. In this paper, Proust’s novel provides the primary examples of the intertwining of habit and inhabitation. Proust shows us that an artist (or architect) acquires a relation to a prefigured place into which she or he is already thrown and can only reshape that world from the inside out, not the top down. The paper provides an overview of the influence of place in Proust’s novel, then relates these examples to Merleau-Ponty’s reflections on place, along the way considering Merleau-Ponty’s brief mentions of architecture and whether we can justifiably apply his painting-based aesthetics to architecture. Finally, the paper suggests what this might mean for architectural design practice, especially for new digital tools that use gesture to better reflect an embodied relation to place. The program of the paper is to trace the origin of “program”—in its architectural sense of the use-structure of a building and its mediation by habits and inhabitation in the design process. The design process—right down to whether or not architects use pens and pencils or digital tools—must come up for revision if phenomenological evidence (both literary and philosophical) is truly to transform the practice.