Symposium at Yale Puts Architecture on the Psychoanalytic Couch

The Yale School of Architecture is hosting a symposium October 24-26 on the relationship between psychoanalysis and architecture, a complex topic that has eluded multi-disciplined scrutiny.

The symposium will gather architects, analysts and academics from a variety of disciplines and reflecting a range of psychoanalytic perspectives to examine the subject from three angles: the designer/architect, the object that is created and the user or observer of the created space.

Associate Dean Peggy Deamer, an organizer of the event, explains that the first category embraces fundamental questions about the nature of creativity and the peculiar bearing such specific attributes of the architect as gender, ethnic background or sexual orientation might have on the object he or she creates.

The second area of focus, the object, which can include anything from individual residential buildings to large-scale urban developments, will take up “formal spatial issues,” Deamer continues. The question “How does architectural form elicit a psychological response?” falls within the “object” category.

Deamer stresses that in linking the object to the response it might arouse, investigators will not be trying to “codify” specific architectural features in a literal way. A practice that developed in the 1960s, she said, codification assigned concepts borrowed from the language of psychoanalysis to elements of the architectural trade, e.g., openings such as doors and windows were linked in the subconscious to orifices of the human body.

When reflecting on the user or perceiver of the built environment, participants will consider how the unique subconscious of the individual might effect specific perceptions.

The symposium begins on October 24 at 6:30 p.m. with an opening address, the Roth-Symonds Lecture, by Richard Kuhns, professor of philosophy at Columbia University and author of the seminal study “Psychoanalytic Theory of Art.” The lecture is titled “Constructive and Destructive Passion: Architecture and Psychoanalytic Thought.”

The October 25 morning discussions, on the identity of the architect, begin at 9:30 a.m., and feature UC Berkeley professor of English and Comparative Literature Juliet Flower MacCannell; psychoanalyst Suely Rolnik; and Robert Gutman, who teaches at Princeton and has written on the subject of architecture and psychology. Gutman and James Krantz, an organization consultant, will address the issue of “The Psychodynamics of Architectural Practice.”

The second session on October 25 will include speakers Deamer, whose talk is titled “Form and (Dis)Content”; Joan Copjec, professor of literature and media study at the University at Buffalo, and director of the Center for the Study of Psychoanalysis and Culture; architects and professors of architecture Stephen Kite and Sandro Marpillero; and Richard Wollheim, professor of philosophy at UC Berkeley. Among the subjects covered in Wollheim’s writings are Sigmund Freud, aesthetics from many points of view, political participation and the emotions. Wollheim’s talk is titled “Why We Hate the City.”

Participants in the third session on October 26 range from the dean of Cooper Union School of Architecture, Anthony Vidler, and Parveen Adams of Brunel University, London, to Donald Spence, who teaches psychiatry at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey; and Mark Campbell, an editor of the scholarly journal “Grey Room.”

A closing address, “Two Principles of Architectural Functioning,” will be made by Mark Cousins, director of critical studies and graduate programs in theory and history at the Architectural Association, London.

The symposium will draw on a wide range of psychoanalytic thought, from the generally familiar theories of Anna and Sigmund Freud and Melanie Klein to the more arcane philosophies of Jacques Lacan and Michel Foulcault, The discussions should provide “a roadmap for the intersection of psychoanalysis and architecture,” Deamer says. “This is not just for architects talking to themselves.”

The symposium is partially funded by a grant from the Graham Foundation for the Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts and the David W. Roth and Robert H. Symonds Memorial Lecture Fund.

“Architecture and Psychoanalysis” will take place in Hastings Hall of the Art and Architecture Building, 180 York Street. The event is free, but those wishing to attend should register before October 10. For more information and to register, contact Jennifer Castellon at 203-432-2889 or

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