I began to do some research on a very interesting concept by a philosopher Henri Bergson recently. He has a theory, which he calls (la durée) in other words duration. It is his theory of time and consciousness that has gotten me so deep into his works.

Bergson first introduced his notion of duration in his essay Time and Free Will: An Essay on the Immediate Data of Consciousness. According to Bergson, duration and the time in mathematics is not real. Although his work is incredibly hard to follow, as an avid theorist and philosopher his writing style is definitely confusing, but from what I could portray in his words, it brought me back memories of what was architecture. Space and time, and experience.

My Time is not Your Time

In his book, Bergson distinguished between time as we actually experience it, lived time – which he called ‘real duration’ (durée réelle) – and the mechanistic time of science. This, he argued, is based on a misperception: it consists of superimposing spatial concepts onto time, which then becomes a distorted version of the real thing. So time is perceived via a succession of separate, discrete, spatial constructs – just like seeing a film. We think we’re seeing a continuous flow of movement, but in reality what we’re seeing is a succession of fixed frames or stills. To claim that one can measure real duration by counting separate spatial constructs is an illusion.

In myself, I mean, INSIDE of myself, I have very different states of consciousness which are organized not by space, but by duration. That is, time cannot be defined, it can only be felt. Time and duration are something qualitative instead of quantitative. The very succession of what is going on at this specific moment is something that is happening between the present and the past.

Everything that is going on around is happens inside of myself. This is where duration is experienced, in a very psychological way. What I call a certain duration is not the same duration for someone else, meaning that it did not take the same time. Perhaps, I experienced it differently and thought a certain activity lasted longer that the other person’s brain thought it lasted. Duration is something that a person interprets, not something science can put into numbers.


I went a little deeper to try solving the mystery of duration by looking at scientific experiments done in the past. There was one that was quite interesting, the experiment by Michelson and Morley. This is the most import experiment in the history if physics. Here, Michelson and Morley proved that, the ether, an element thought by Aristotle to be a medium in which the velocity of light would travel to, was not really it. Every type of wave has to have a medium through where it passes, such as sound and ocean waves, that must need wind and water to exist. Light was said to exist through ether.

And so the description of the experiment is a bit complicated, but I will try to clarify what I understood occurred. Basically what they did was that they set up two mirrors, the light was going to travel from a source, to a mirror, to the perpendicular mirrors which will divide the light into two simultaneous rays of light in perpendicular directions. They would travel the same distance and they would get to the same point in common. What ended up happening was that the light got to the point at the same time, the refracted lights traveled the same distance and got there together. It meant that ether was not the element they travel to. Bergson on the other hand, believes that this time recorded was wrong.

He says that the people that recorded this experiment are wrong, because the time for one person is not the same for the other.

blog_172What does this bring back to architecture? Well, from my inference, I believe that distance — Bergson’s theory, is right. Time is not real time. The time in architecture, I mean, the time you spend going through a landscape or an experience, takes you less or more than another person’s experience. Designing architecture is perhaps very treatable to this experience. For some, one experience could have a different duration that someone elses. Thinking of architecture as creating different paths and perhaps, creating different experiences in each, will make the point of “duration” understandable. How can a person stay “longer” in one part of the experience rather than the other? That, is up to you.

The only project I could think of that dealt with the idea of duration and different paths was the Sonsbeek Pavilion by Aldo van Eyck. Here, there are statues and pieces of art in between the walls, but no path is the same as the one next to it. People go through each path, almost like a maze and experience different things from the others around.

Posted by:archiologist

I am a Masters Architecture student at Florida International University with a passion for architectural research and learning precedent studies. My interests include hand sketching and writing.

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