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.


On Space.  We teach the genres (high school) and the modes of rhetoric (freshman comp).  So our writers’ forms don’t follow function but rather the states’ standards of learning.  A writer learns forms best by discovering her writing’s parti, and then by finding forms, or parts of forms, that best express it.

A parti is the central idea or concept of a building.  A parti [par-TEE] can be expressed several ways but is most often expressed by a diagram depicting the general floor plan organization of a building and, by implication, its experiential and aesthetic sensibility. . . .  [I]t is unlikely, if not impossible, to successfully carry a parti from an old project to a new project.  The design process is the struggle to create a uniquely appropriate parti for a project. [Emphasis original]

– Matthew Frederick, 101 Things I Learned in Architecture School, Thing #15