Building, Making, Thinking – Heidegger, Bachelard and the Mingei movement.

Heidegger wrote Building Dwelling, Thinking in the wake of the housing crisis in Germany after World War Two. As an existentialist Hediegger’s primary focus was the study of being and more specifically in this work its relationship with building and dwelling, which he viewed as intrinsically linked. Using a brief lexicography into the gothic origins of the verb Bauen (to build), its relationship to Ich bin (I am – derived from the very sein: to be), and its origins as the gothic word for dwelling, Heidegger justifies his view that to dwell, is in essence to be or to exist.[1] Heidegger then continues to explain what is called the fourfold and its importance to the concept of dwelling as only by acknowledging this fourfold are humans capable of dwelling and only when capable of dwelling can we build.[2] He illustrates his point using the example of the black forest house to illustrate a building that was built with these ideas in mind. This is a nostalgic and arguably anachronistic view of both spaces and housing relies largely upon his own inherent belief in Gothic (and therefore Aryan) superiority as part of his background in the Nazi party.


In many ways the Heidegger’s work was similar to Bachelard’s phenomenological approach in the poetics of space. As Joan Ockman eloquently explained, ‘Bachelard’s evocation of the rustic abode in Champagne is almost exactly contemporary with Heidegger’s paean to the peasant hut in the Black Forest’.[3] Both Heidigger and Bachelard also disliked the ‘terrible urban reality that the twentieth century has instituted’.[4] However, unlike Heidegger, Bachelard’s dwelling is less about the space itself and the manner or reasons for which it was constructed, but a space that accommodates consciousness. The same was true of smaller objects within the house, like chests, drawers and cabinets.[5] Buildings and objects are thus shelters or dwellings for our thoughts.


The ideas of Phenomenology and existentialism in Heidegger and Bachelard’s work also have a number of parallels with east Asian philosophy, with Heidegger even being in dialogue with East Asian thinkers during his life.[6] Although these are sometimes assumed to be intrinsically different there are in fact numerous similarities with movements in East-Asia and ideas prominent in Bachelard and Heidegger’s phenomenology. The Mingei movement also celebrates the important of Zakki or miscellaneous things, such as ‘chests, plates and clothing’.[7] In his work, The Beauty of Everyday Things, Yanagi laments the ignorance to the importance of these everyday objects in modern Japanese society and the fact that, ‘their existence has been ignored in the flow of time’.[8] Through seeing beauty in the utilitarian nature of everyday objects, Yanagi evokes a similar feeling of importance in functionality that can be seen in Heidegger’s description of the Black-forest dwellings or bridges.

[1] Martin Heidegger, ‘Building Dwelling Thinking’ from Poetry, Language, Thought, trans. Albert Hofstadter, (New York, 1971)

[2] Ibid.

[3] Joan, Ockman, The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard, (review) in Hardvard Design Magazine, No. 6 Representations/Misrepresentations and Revaluations of Classic Books.

[4] Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space, trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1991), pp120–121.

[5] Gaston Bachelard, Poetics of Space, (Boston, 1958), p74.

[6] Martin Heidegger, “A Dialogue on Language between a Japanese and an Inquirer,” in On the Way to Language (New York: Harper & Row, 1971).

[7] Yanagi Soetsu, The Beauty of Everyday Things, Trans Michael Brase, () p35.

[8] Ibid, p35.

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