On Space. Architects are Taoists. As proof, juxtapose the following quotes:
Solid-void theory . . . holds that the volumetric spaces shaped or implied by the placement of solid objects are as important as, or more important than, the objects themselves.
— Matthew Frederick, 101 Things I Learned in Architecture School (thing #5)
Thirty spokes are united around the hub to make a wheel,
But it is on its non-being that the utility of the carriage depends.
Clay is molded to form a utensil,
But it is on its non-being that the utility of the utensil depends.
Doors and windows are cut out to make a room,
But it is on its non-being that the utility of the room depends.
Therefore turn being into advantage, and turn non-being into utility.
— Lao Tzu, Tao-te ching, chapter 11 (translated by Wing-Tsit Chan)
Chan, Lao Tzu’s translator in the philosophically and historically rigorous The Way of Lao Tzu (Tao-te-ching), states in a comment that “this chapter alone should dispel any idea that Taoism is negativistic, for non-being — the hole in the hub, the hollowness of a utensil, the empty space in the room — is here conceived not as nothingness but as something useful and advantageous. . . . It was because of the Taoist insistence on the positive value of non-being that empty space has been utilized as a constructive factor in Chinese landscape painting. In this greatest art of China, space is used to combine the various elements into an organic whole and to provide a setting in which the onlooker’s imagination may work. By the same token, much is left unsaid in Chinese poetry, for the reader must lay a creative role to bring the poetic idea into full realization.”
It seems to me that Lao Tzu is using non-being in these three examples in a physical sense as a way to predispose his reader to a more abstract understanding of non-being. But I guess the little I know about the Buddhist idea of Emptiness, which came a bit later to China, predisposes me to think that the Taoist notion of non-being is surprisingly utilitarian. Of course, the Tao-te ching can come across like Machiavelli’s The Prince sometimes with its seemingly cynical advice to rulers. But I do like how Lao Tzu’s notion of non-being works in architecture, painting, poetry, and spoons.