archetype: idea and form

“It is a law that thought suggested to the mind, though not understood, much less comprehended, builds itself into the organism, so that when the building is complete the meaning of the thought is grasped. Therefore revelation came first in types and shadows, the external form of the vital energy that was within.” Plato  

The archetype exists outside of time and place. Myths and legends are both particular and universal; while they transform in context and detail to reflect the temperament of a particular culture, their archetypal meanings remain unchanged.The wisdom expressed by the ancients in their philosophies and myths open the door to a vast array of patterns, themes and symbols; investigation into the meanings behind these archetypes has lead the individual to fresh perspectives on life and cultures to new worldviews.

By tapping into this wellspring of ancient wisdom we carve a path for novel ideas, drawing images and essential truths from the depth of their words. Myths and metaphors provide the structure for making the modern home meaningful. As a design tool they probe the depths of the earth and the highest potential of the heavens, they present the mechanism for enriching an empty husk of a house with vitality and personality.  

Psychologist Carl Jung recognized this durable characteristic of myth, and spent many years deeply engrossed in the study of world mythology and ancient religions. The outcome of his investigation was the discovery that certain themes were recurrent across the ages and around the world. From these commonalities he was able to establish a classification system of universal themes that he referred to as archetypes. His description of the idea of archetype was Platonic in terms of definition; the formless pure potential of an idea, imagined as an outline or shadow of a concept which, in order to become meaningful, must be filled in with pertinent detail and assume a specific form.

The archetype as a potentiality and idea is universal, it becomes personal and meaningful only when the archetype assumes the form of an actual object or place. Alternately, an archetype need not fulfill a stereotype and can obviously take on any number of other forms. Jung cataloged a general anthology of these recurrent archetypes, and then utilized them in his work with patients.

Through dream therapy, Jung looked for archetypes, patterns and symbols, and then in reviewing their shared meanings with his patients he helped them understand and change destructive or limiting behaviors in their lives. Thus, Jung found that by understanding the common meaning—or by simply listening for the personal significance of the metaphors concealed in an archetype, his patients were able to apply this wisdom to recognize patterns and make adjustments in their own lives; archetypal signs suggested solutions to their problems, dreams, goals and obstacles.  

Like Jung, Bettina Knapp, in her book Architecture, Archetype and the Writer, argued that architecture holds a critical position in the subconscious development of ideas, whether experienced through literature or directly through the senses.

“Architecture as a spatial creation is the outer garment of a secretive and vital system; it is a nonverbal manifestation of a preconscious condition. A completed and relatively fixed architectural structure is nevertheless a dynamic and organic entity, a system of coordinates that relates inner and outer spheres and in so doing creates a complex of new harmonies and tensions. Within its walls, columns, ceilings, chimneys, windows, turrets, or other structural elements, an edifice may be looked upon as a world in itself—a microcosm—an expression of a preexistent form that may be apprehended on a personal and temporal as well as a transpersonal and atemporal level. As such, it may be considered archetypal.”

To understand the concept of archetypes, we need to think of them as instincts of the psyche, similar in design to the survival instincts of the body. In the same way birds instinctively migrate across the hemisphere, or spiders grasp how to build a complex geometrical web, man has instinctive mental structures that allow him to give meaning to forms.

It was through this instinctive ability to assign common meaning to signs and symbols that man developed language. It was through recognition of patterns that man learned to predict the seasons—the precedent for agriculture, and ultimately through the additive symbolic meanings in language and mathematics that lead to civilization and the highly developed world we now inhabit.

Every home needs an archetypal identity, an expression of a universal form or ideal. Then as we live in the home, add to it, decorate it, remodel it, landscape it we will have a reference point about which each decision can refer—whether as a compliment or a contrast to the original identity. When our home has an archetypal identity it helps us focus on our own personal identity, and opens our minds to fresh perspectives on life and the world beyond our own front door.