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Time & Architecture: Part 2

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Part I of Time and Architecture introduced the topic and outlined some of the basic concepts that will be built upon here. Shockingly, Part I was written in July of last year and this alone illustrates a fact that is very important for both buildings and architecture (and probably life too) – what seems like the present, becomes the past very quickly. But before expanding upon that, a quick summary of Part I.

  • All building activity takes place in the present. We cannot build in the future. We cannot build in the past. Agree?
  • When they’e built, all buildings exist as contemporary objects – i.e. they belong to the NOW. They look as if they’ve just been constructed. Their colours and motifs are fresh, their shapes don’t distort or sag. They claim their sites confidently, and are often aligned and sized with respect to contemporary landscape features such as roads, views or neighbouring buildings.
  • Buildings age tangibly. They GET OLD. It’s a natural process. Their surface characteristics alter with time. Their surroundings are change as well. After a while, these changes mean that a building can’t be seen as contemporary any more. It has entered the was-contemporary – the was once now, the WAS NOW. 

Colours bleach, paint peels. Surface patterns wear off or fade to be replaced by ones such as corrosion or mould that occur naturally over time.

Materials may fail or suffer some other trauma that changes the shape of the building. 

Newer buildings may be built at a disrespectful closeness. When it was built, a building may have been aligned with something that no longer exists. The size of a newer building may diminish an older one. 

All these and other similar phenomena serve to identify a building as belonging to the WAS NOW.

* * *

That is where I left it last July when I said I’d talk about ideas of NOW and WAS NOW. Before continuing, there’s one thing more. I’m going to assume that Colour, Pattern, Shape, Position, Alignment and Size are six mutually independent visual attributes of all buildings, and that age can manifest itself in any or any combination of these six attributes. For example, if we compare the current situation for this next building, with the situation shown in the photograph, then times have changed – the building has aged. It is no longer in the setting for which it was designed. This is a tangible example of WAS NOW, for Position.

This is an image that's as close to completion as I've ever seen.
This is an image that’s as close to completion as I’ve ever seen.

Ideas of NOW:
Ideas of NOW are easy to understand. They are evoked when some attribute of a building makes us think that a building is contemporary. They are also important, not necessarily intrinsically, but because much 20th century architectural endeavour was focussed on creating buildings that were “of their time”, “up to date”, “an expression of the zeitgeist”, “new”, “Modern”, “modern”.


A building being “of its time” can be something that happens almost incidentally but the arrangement or configuration of certain buildings immediately makes us think they are the very latest thing when they too, are really just incidental products of their time. Only time will tell if such buildings were manifestations of novelty, or predictions for the future – an early example of what became conventional practice.


The quest for continual novelty is often mistaken for innovation, and not just in the field of architecture. This quest consumes vast quantities of architectural and other resources and promotes a constant feeling of dissatisfaction. The production of novelty is important for the consumers of architectural imagery and should not be underestimated in a media-driven architecture. 

Contemporary buildings are regarded as representing Now. They contain notions of what ‘now’ ought to be like and these notions often involve terms such as ‘cutting edge’ and the like. These judgments presuppose knowledge of what went before as well as notions of what a building ‘of our time’ ought to be.

Ideas of WAS NOW:
There are many types of ideas of WAS NOW.

If nobody follows, say, the example set by the above building, then ideas that building once embodied, will quickly become ideas of the WAS NOW. Ideas date for many reasons but Ssome ideas date more easily than others, particularly if they feature stylistic devices representative of a zeitgeist or some passing fashion. The tide changes, the wind shifts. When Architecture is presented as entertainment, people get bored quickly.

There are also buildings that, regardless of how they look, are known to be old because the ideas they articulate have dated. These are  buildings that are said to have been be ‘of their time’. Their ideas have entered the realm of WAS NOW. Some ideas date more easily than others, particularly if they feature stylistic devices representative of a zeitgeist or some passing fashion.

Ideas of WAS NOW are evoked when we can recognise a building as “dated” or “not in fashion” rather than “aged”. This building of this next image may be in perfect condition, but it evokes ideas of being from another time. Nobody designs buildings like this anymore.  


Ideas of NOT NOW:
Ideas of NOT NOW are evoked by buildings that attempt to appear that they were built in the future, or that they were built in the past. These two situations are treated equally because it is equally impossible to do either. In 1956, this building attempted to evoke the idea of having been built in the future. It is said that nothing dates so quickly as an idea of the future.


Because we actually know how buildings were built in the past, it’s more usual for buildings evoking ideas of NOT NOW, to do so with reference to buildings for which there is historic knowledge, recent or not-so-recent. This next image is an apartment building built in the style of Charles Voysey (1857-1941). The example is not a recent one but we can say that this approach to Time and Architecture is still around.


I’m not sure how this Misfits’ Theory of Time and Architecture will develop in future posts but, so far, we have the two tangible states of NOW and WAS NOW and the three types of idea those two states can evoke – namely Ideas of WAS NOW, Ideas of NOW and Ideas of NOT NOW.

Logically, there are sixteen combinations of these two states and up to three types of idea.

0. WAS NOW + no ideas
1. NOW + no ideas

2. WAS NOW + Idea of NOW
3. NOW + Idea of NOW

4. WAS NOW + Idea of WAS NOW
5. NOW + Idea of WAS NOW

6. WAS NOW + Idea of NOT NOW
7. NOW + Idea of NOT NOW

8. WAS NOW + Idea of WAS NOW + Idea of NOT NOW
9. NOW + Idea of WAS NOW + Idea of NOT NOW

A. WAS NOW + Idea of NOW + Idea of NOT NOW
B. NOW + Idea of NOW + Idea of NOT NOW

C. WAS NOW + Idea of NOW + Idea of WAS NOW
D. NOW + Idea of NOW  + Idea of WAS NOW

E. WAS NOW + Idea of NOW + Idea of WAS NOW + Idea of NOT NOW
F. NOW + Idea of NOW + Idea of WAS NOW + Idea of NOT NOW

The shape of Tomorrowland then, has not aged tangibly – it is of NOW but its ideas have dated. First of all, there was the idea of it having been built in the future. This is an idea of NOT NOW. Furthermore, this idea has dated – it is of the WAS NOW. These two ideas are both evoked by the shape of Tomorrowland. Its particular combination of ideas is No. 9 – a combination I will, for the time being, give the name of ASSIMILATE because the building is attempting to convince us it is a contemporary building from the future and that it belongs in this time.

It can make this claim largely because of its pristine state. Not only does cleanliness and shininess mean “recent” in the tangible sense, it is also one of our persistent images of the future and thus another notion of NOT NOW. Nothing would be so sad as a run-down future theme park, but this building comes close.


Here, Pattern is telling us that the building has deteriorated from an earlier state. That is all we need to know. Here, Pattern is 0 – it evokes no ideas beyond that. This state (for Pattern) is WAS NOW, pure and simple.

Here’s a tricky one. The building displays a Pattern of devices for which we have no known precedent but the building does not look contemporary for its bricks have weathered and its metal has rusted. Tangibly, it is of the WAS NOW but its patten is novel yet not novel even though we have no knowledge of a building with this pattern.


The fact that we can entertain two contradictory notions at the same time generates unease. Is this a future artefact – something from the future that has only just been discovered? Whatever it is, things like this exist. This is an example of Pattern for the combination 6, which I shall call DISGUISE – the ideas evoked by the (Pattern of the) building deny the reality we see.

* * *

These are just introductory examples of what I hope will grow into a new tool – I’ve come to hate the word theory – for understanding a building’s relationship to Time. If six attributes of a building can exhibit one of sixteen effects in time, then there will be a maximum of 6^16 = 16,777,216 time signatures a building can have. This should be sufficient to index such diverse yet commonplace architectural phenomena as additions and extensions, decay and ruin, restoration and reconstruction, delayed execution and prolonged construction, but also the lesser building activities such as cleaning and preventive maintenance that also impact upon our perception of the passage of time in the case of buildings. It should also be easy to explain Post Modernism as Ideas of WAS NOW being simultaneously Ideas of NOW, largely for Pattern but sometimes for Shape. (I can’t think of any examples of a Post Modern size of a building, or any building that is positioned in a Post Modern manner.)

Hopefully, this time tool will be able to tell us what is going on in this photograph. It’s a fake, but who’s to know? So much of our knowledge of buildings is dependent upon photographs of buildings.

false memory 1

I suspect this image is a false memory for when a building is demolished, an idea of how it was, remains. For what are memories but ideas unsupported by currently tangible realities? And what, for that matter, is a design – but an image of a building that may be?