Abstraction and the gothic cathedral
Ulrich Gehmann and Flora Loughridge investigate the strong parallels between the Gothic cathedral and the birth of abstraction, using interdisciplinary thinking to tie together ideas ubiquitous across architectural history, sociology, and digital technology, to stimulate a creative discussion on the cross-cultural practices of construction today and in the future.
If we understand architecture as a physically built space as well as an architecture of organisation, the Gothic cathedral is to be considered a prototype of an organisation-mode, which was coined for the development of our cultural sphere – the so-called Latin West. Furthermore, if we understand abstraction as an active means through which to build an organisation (directly visible or not), then abstraction was a cultural tendency of that Latin West. It led from the Gothic cathedral to the digital spaces of today, together with the notions of a cybernetic system and of fractal geometries, the cathedral being a forerunner and the epitome of such a tendency.
Despite the apparent differences between the times of the Gothic cathedral and today’s abstract digital spaces and network-ideas, there is a common denominator: the search for utopia via the attempt to overcome the confinements of materiality and, more importantly, to arrive at a final state for humanity. At the times of the cathedral, it was the Heavenly Jerusalem located outside earthly belongings; later, it became a modernist dream of Bruno Taut and the Neues Bauen architects; before pouring into the dreams of liberation through immateriality underlying the early days of the Internet. The ‘cyberspace’ of those days was already embedded in the Christian concept of the cathedral, the latter being a symbol for a real state to achieve, together with the eschatological hope to end all history as it was. The basic mindset of construction and its principles remained the same; nevertheless, they had become secular.