The Myth of the Masterbuilder A Psychoanalytic Perspective
At first glance, architecture may seem to be far removed from psychoanalysis. Architecture refers to the design of buildings. Psychoanalysis can be thought of as the study of inner meaning. Buildings are literally materials that have been shaped by their designers so that they fulfill particular functions: first, to remain standing; then, to provide a residence, a place of business, or a house of worship. But on further thought it becomes obvious that architecture is suffused with meaning. Even the rudest of structures has meaning to its occupants; for example, a simple hovel may feel to its users as if it is a sturdy refuge from the elements. A house of worship has meaning far beyond its primary function of serving as a place for reverence to the divine; such a building touches on and interacts with an abundance of complicated emotions in those who practice their faith within it.
The question is not whether buildings have meaning for those who use them but rather how to get at such meaning.
We propose to exploit an unusual opportunity for gaining entrée to the inner experience of those who make use of a particular religious structure. Mythical stories have a hold on people—and last for many years—because they express, play with, and resolve the conflicts and stresses that are crucial in a given culture. Such stories, then, when explored psychoanalytically, yield up inner meanings connected to the subject matter of the story. In Romania, mythical stories have played an especially central role. "Dominated by foreign power and subjected to corrupt leadership," notes Ted Anton (1996), "Romanians survived primarily through the shared experience of telling stories" (p. 30). One of these stories, perhaps the most widely celebrated, takes, as its subject matter, architecture; it describes the legend of the building of the Monastery of Arges in the town of Curtea de Arges.
In this paper we will investigate the mythical story about the building of this church. Our goal is to analyze the story and to use this understanding of the underlying psychological and cultural function of the story to gain insight into the effect that the building has on those who make use of it.