Karsten Harries’ book, The Ethical Function of Architecture, raises the question of how architecture can be interpretive of and for our time. Part of Harries’ pursuit of this question is done in dialogue with the philosophy of Martin Heidegger, whose evocatively expressed ontology of building and dwelling recovered, in philosophical and poetic terms, the power of buildings to symbolize and interpret the most fundamental truths of being and human existence. The present essay identifies contributions to this hermeneutic and ontological approach to architecture drawn from the philosophy of Hans-Georg Gadamer, emphasizing Gadamer’s notions of play (Spiel), symbol, and the relation of the present to the past. While Gadamer expanded upon Heidegger’s hermeneutic, he also diverged from Heidegger in ways that mitigate some of the difficulties that Harries and others have found with Heidegger’s archaism, rural romanticism, and singularity of philosophical focus.

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