Juhani Pallasmaa’s call to the Imagination

Few thoughts on The Thinking Hand (A book by the Finnish architect Juhani Pallasmaa)


In his book The Thinking Hand, Pallasmaa, one of Finland’s most distinguished architects, examines the importance of the human hand as well as the whole body, in performing a creative act. He stresses the need for the reintroduction of the body into the experience of any intelligent action, be it a skilful craftsmanship or the conception of a sophisticated architectural structure.

Although not dismissive of computer technology, Pallasmaa is extremely aware of its limitations:

“The computer is usually enthusiastically presented as a solely beneficial invention that liberates human fantasy. In my view, however, computer imagining tends to flatten our magnificent multi-sensory and synchronic capacity of imagination by turning the design process into a passive visual manipulation, a retinal survey. The computer creates a distance between the maker and the object, whereas drawing by hand or building a model puts the designer in skin-contact with the object or space.”

Pallasmaa believes that the hand has its own intelligence and this intelligence as well as knowledge can only be communicated when it has a freedom to move expressively. At times the conscious mind can be completely bypassed and a deeper knowledge accessed directly through the body.

The author praises the importance of craftsmanship, tradition, existential knowledge, imagination, even boredom (as a a space where imagination has a space to develop) and “vagueness”, which to him embodies a sense of mystery as opposed to rational exactitude.

“As our imagination weakens we are left at the mercy of an incomprehensible future. Ideals are projections of an optimistic imagination, and consequently the loss of imagination is bound to wipe out idealism too. In my view, the lack of horizon, ideals and alternatives even in today’s political thought is a consequence of withering political imagination….A culture that has lost its imagination can only produce apocalyptic visions of threat as projections of its repressed collective unconscious.”

As a counteract to balance the negative influences of our current consumer culture, Pallasmaa calls to the artist to try and preserve meaning in a form of sensual experience:

“In a world where eventually everything becomes similar, insignificant and of no consequence, they have to maintain differences of meaning and, in particular, the criteria of sensuous experiential and existential quality. It remains the responsibility of the artist and the architect to defend the enigma of life and the eroticism of the life world.”

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