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Architectural Dogma

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In Rotterdam, some architects called Dogma have been serving up reheated Superstudio as their ticket to their day job at The Berlage Institute,

whimsical Dogma project called “A Simple Heart”, 2011

whimsical Superstudio project called “2,000 Ton City”, 1971

but this post has nothing to do with them. Rather, it was this house which, as it happens,  is also in The Netherlands, got me thinking about dogma and its meaning for architecture.

The architects claim to have been inspired by The Dogma Rules for film-making. The full text accompanying the AD images is:

“Inspired by the Dogma rules, a detached house was built in the Zuideburen district of Leeuwarden. The design and details were all specially created for this house. The facade arises from the floor plan, and vice versa. The models of the house where made by hand. The drawings of the house contain nothing but architectural information. The materials where used according to their nature. The architecture of the house contains no ornamentation and no references to architectural movements. It is architecture of the here and now. The house speaks for itself. The architect supervised the entire construction process.”

The phrase “inspired by” does nothing to inspire me – it’s a bit like “based on a true story” but, to be fair, we should first take a look at what values these architects think worthy enough to be dogma.

The design and details were all specially created for this house.

Urk. A bad one to start with. This is Arts & Crafts for the 21st century, romanticising the production of one-off objects for people who can afford the time, materials and labour required to design and fabricate them. Much architecture aspires to be this. It is still regarded as A GOOD THING but it is really a huge value-adding component dressed up as pseudo-noble aspiration. Working definition: bigger fees.

The facade arises from the floor plan, and vice versa.

I don’t think much of this one eihter. I presume they’re talking about external walls, those things that that have the inside on one side and the outside on the other? Didn’t LC say something like “the plan is the generator!” before he proceeded to ignore it?  Or perhaps they mean it more literally?

facade literally “arising” from a plan

The models of the house were made by hand.

Another attempt to add some Arts & Crafts value to the task of modelmaking – no robot workforce for these guys. Were the drawings also made by hand, I wonder? Oh.

The drawings of the house contain nothing but architectural information.

Sweet! True – some architectural drawings are value-added pieces of paper traded and collected in the same way as art. There are many beautiful antique architectural drawings like this, and there was also a brief PoMo craze for architectural drawings as art, but these drawings were never the production drawings.

“just build it like in the drawings mate!”

The materials are used according to their nature.

“I asked the brick what it would like, and the brick said ‘I like a curve'”? Sure you did, pal. The whole idea of attributing human values like “honesty” or “integrity” to materials is a bit iffy anyway. It’s a bit like those mad people who talk to cats. (“Oh come on then! Do you want to come inside or go out?” etc.) After all, it’s the bloody nature of plastic to be “plastic”. It’s what plastic does best. It’s not called plastic for nothing, etc. Similarly, it’s the nature of veneer to be “a veneer”. If it does the job it’s good. It’s a bit pointless fretting about the nature of stone and timber if it’s all going to be gone soon anyway.

The architecture of the house contains no ornamentation and no references to architectural movements.

At first read, this sounds good. References to architectural movements are actually just another shape that ornamentation comes in and ornamentation, as we know, is just another way of making buildings more expensive than they need to be. There are lots more ways out there, waiting to be discovered. It takes a while for these new ways to be recognised as stealth ornament and, ultimately, as an architectural movement.  Today’s new is yesterday’s news tomorrow. Which brings us to …

It is architecture of the here and now.

Contemporaneity = planned obsolescence = good for architects. It’s always been accepted that “good” architecture is a reflection of its time and place but all buildings are a reflection of their time and place unless they try to be otherwise. Trying to be otherwise usually involves some extra money or resources to do just that. If we didn’t waste money or resources AT ANY GIVEN TIME, then we wouldn’t have to worry about contemporaneity or “expressing the here and now”, as they call it.

The house speaks for itself.

” “

What can one say?

The architect supervised the entire construction process.

= bigger fees = good for them, etc.

Conclusion? One person’s dogma is another person’s inspiration is another person’s cliché is another person’s business opportunity. However, any attempt – even a misguided one – to bring some sense to the production of the built environment is welcome. Council regulations are dogma, although the goals – and the goalposts – move. Building regulations are dogma. Their goal is health and safety. LEED and all such building rating systems are dogma in that they are sets of rules to be obeyed. Their goal is to achieve a certain kind of perfection regarding humans vis-à-vis buildings and buildings vis-à-vis the environment. At the same time, they’re not really dogma because dogma is dogmatic, not voluntary, and because dogma is black and white, not several shades of grey.

This new intelligence is at odds with inspiration. Intelligence that can inform the design and construction of all buildings all the time, is having to fight to be heard against inspiration that (for better or worse) informs the design and construction of some buildings some of the time.

intangible vs. tangible
subjective vs. objective
complex vs. simple
unmeasurable vs. measurable
unique vs. reproducible
“perfection” vs. improvable
inflated value vs. real value
seen by the eye vs. experienced by the body
venerated by the mind vs. appreciated by the body
transitory vs. everlasting

In this comparison, it’s inspiration that comes away as wanting. Some say inspiration is necessary to produce buildings that are … umm … inspiring and, in doing so, suggesting that stimulating some subjective response in a person, society or culture is a necessary function of buildings. This is dodgy logic because nobody knows what “beauty” is, when or where that particular “magic” gets input, or how to guarantee a building has it.

What we do know is that beauty, or the pretence of it, can be easily identified when money has been spent for no tangible improvement in physical comfort. In really sad cases, money has been sent to actually degrade the level of physical comfort. 


Completely purge the building of all notions of architectural beauty. This would be a better use of resources and we would at last be able to see if a beauty-neutral building really makes us feel that bad after all.


People wishing to “add beauty” should be made to prove that what they are adding
1) Does not compromise the performance of the building,
2) Can be achieved without the use of additional resources, and
3) Actually is beautiful.

We at Misfits believe that satisfying even one of these three conditions is impossible without a total re-think of what it is we want beauty to be.




  • Great post. I actually laughed out loud several times while i read through it!

    Been addicted to this blog for the better part of a week now.

    The manifesto on the home page sums me up as a 3rd year arch student perfectly.