The Architecture of Architectures (2007~)

There were many iterations of The Architecture of Architectures between the 2007 draft and the current form it essentially assumed in 2014. The problem was always how to communicate a non-linear framework that organises and at the same time describes aesthetic phenomena. Non-linear information has to be comprehended first as a structure and only later as parts that illustrate and confirm that structure. One doesn’t comprehend The Periodic Table, for example, by reading a book Chapter 1: Hydrogen, Chapter 2: Helium, Chapter 3: Lithium … For a while I toyed with the idea of an interactive app for a handheld device and copyright registration does include a clause anticipating some such embodiment but, even so, we cannot escape the linear presentation and comprehension of information. It seems that if we’re not turning a page then we’re scrolling down.

2007: The 2007 draft may have had all the information present in one place for the first time and organised for presentation, but it was clunky and bloated.

For a book supposed to be concerned with visual phenomena and highly subjective ones at that, there were simply too many words and the text too laboured.

At the time I believed that a huge number of words was an indicator of how important something was and how much thought someone had put into it. I also wrongly believed that unusual words and contrived sentences indicated that something was difficult to explain and therefore had to be both important and deep.

Over the next ten years I simplified the text and reduced the number of images. I had thought multiple examples of a particular phenomenon would make it easier to identify the characteristics of a particular phenomenon. Here are four pages from the 2007 draft. The first pair has many words and the second pair has multiple images scanned from architectural magazines, library books and newspapers.

2009: Not much changed for two years, apart from my occupation/employment status and the country where I lived. After becoming a university lecturer, I had the time to restructure the 2007 draft, still keeping the wordy introductions but simplifying the contents and devising a cover that both summarised the contents and described the structure at the same time. All images were ones I found on the internet and I chose them to make their simple points as simply as possible, and to complement each other when seen as a spread. I may have laid myself open to charges of elaboration regarding the cover but, inside, less was more.

2012 February: I attempted to restructure the contents by presenting the conclusions first and with graphics mimicking how I envisaged the screen of a handheld device app would look. The logic was satisfying and it did help me to comprehend the entire structure as a single thing but, as a document intended to explain, it was not a very considerate despite the explanation beginning with a description of the conclusions. It would be too much of a diversion to describe it at this point but I will include parts of it in later posts but those same conclusions will form posts 22-26 of this series. The simplified cover now only hinted at what was inside. It was a step forward in some ways, but a step backwards in others.

2012 November: The format returned to the one that had opposing pages describing paired effects, with a list at the top of the page describing and defining the types of ideas at work. The cover changed again, once again expressing the idea of six building attributes having one of sixteen different aesthetic effects.

I removed the word THEORY since many people find it off-putting. I first replaced it with the word MASS for that is the only dimension this particular framework deals with. I envisaged a second book applying the same framework to describe and classify how mass changes in and over time and would organise temporal phenomena such as extensions, deterioration, weathering, ruins, displacement and such, as well as notions of time such as faux ruins, the illusion of motion, history and such. The framework for TIME is already in place and I wrote a short introduction in 2012. [c.f. Time and Architectures (NOW and WAS NOW)] I also formed a plan to have a third book that would apply the same or similar framework to the dimension of Space but the conceptual framework for that is less certain, probably because our definition of architectural space is so nebulous,

2013 June: Inside, each page had a filmstrip of secondary images. The table at the bottom of each page returned to the app format with a graphical description of the ideas operating.

The title kept changing, first to MY FIRST BOOK OF ARCHITECTURE, and then to THE ARCHITECTURE BEAUTY INDEX, then to THE ARCHITECTURE OF ARCHITECTURE, then to THE ARCHITECTURE STYLE INDEX. This last one had both an English version and a Japanese version because it resembled Chinese and a Chinese publisher was showing some interest at the time. I began to replace all my images with royalty-free images for which I had purchased publications rights.

2013 December: And so I imagined the book printed in two languages and spent some time wondering what characters would best communicate the sixteen types of beauty (albeit in Japanese). The format became square and I decided not to focus on making a book but a graphic object instead.

At the time I felt that the most important thing about the framework was how it identified and defined sixteen types of architectural beauty and I designed the following cover that took the colour notation I had devised and applied it to the Japanese character for beauty. For a few years I had an enlarged print of it framed on my wall. I still find it satisfying.

The dual-language graphic object was coming along well and I became less concerned with explaining and more concerned with indicating that there was a logic to be discovered. I’d already come to the conclusion that truth as we know it is not something absolute but only what most people believe at any one time. (The number of Chinese people currently learning English is greater than the number in the world that currently speak it.)

2014 February: Anyway, the Chinese interest evaporated and though I gave up on the dual-language version, the idea of a graphic object persisted but, competed with kanji, alphanumerics seemed to hide more information than they revealed.

June 2014; I decided that the sixteen types of beauty was just a finding and not the main idea of the book and so the cover became a reworked 6 x 16 graphic using various colour combinations to imply the diversity of architectures possible. As an expression of that, I changed the title to 16,777,216 ARCHITECTURES which is the number of combinations you get when six building attributes can each have one of sixteen aesthetic effects (= 16^6) [Think of a slot machine with six wheels that can each have one of sixteen positions.] The font is Bank Gothic. It seemed no-nonsense and without the graphic pretensions of Gill Sans or the architectural pretensions of Helvetica.

2014: The background was RGB 65:75:65 which looked better than 50% grey but there was simply too much of it so I enlarged the outer circles into eye shapes. To my mind, this said something about how different people can look at the same thing and see something different. I placed the text on the sides of the central graphic so it once again further described the cover and explained the contents, as it had in 2009.

2019: The content and its organisation remained basically unchanged since 2014. Only this year did I add the words THE ARCHITECTURE OF ARCHITECTURES because, after all, that is what it is. This brings us up to the present. What you see below is the cover as it stands and the only preliminary text that is required. Apart from the David Hume quote ““Beauty is no quality in things themselves – it exists merely in the mind that contemplates them” as a frontispiece, there are no acknowledgements, thank-yous or dedications. It also has no references or citations. It was developed in isolation and outside the three architectural theatres of practice, academia and media. This is either its weakness or its strength. I will leave it to you to judge.

• • • 


This book aims to demystify architectural aesthetics. It contains a framework for explaining not only the beauFOREWORDtiful but also the mundane, the confused, the fantastic, the grotesque, the new, the sensational and the vast and bland no-man’s-lands inbetween.

There are many buildings out there. We like to think some are universally exceptional but we’re still quick to say ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ when others don’t agree. This is close to the truth for multiple and subjective definitions of beauty better describes the world we live in.

This is what Philosopher David Hume had in mind when he said ‘There is no beauty in things themselves – it exists solely in the mind that contemplates them’. He saw a distinction between the thing wee see and what we think of when we see that thing. This framework of this book develops that idea. 

When we look at a building, we think certain things about it. Even if artists, designers, architects or critics want to tell us what some of those things should be, people will not all think the same. Different thoughts will lead to different aesthetic judgments. 

This book presents a framework that maps relationships between visual stimuli and the mind’s responses to them. The type and number of those relationships define and identify known aesthetic effects. 

This simple framework can map and describe every building that has ever existed or ever will. 

It cannot make people agree but it can identify where and why they do agree and where and why they don’t.


This framework is built on the idea that the aesthetic effect of a building results from  relationships between the objective visual data of a building and the mind’s allocating subjective meanings to that data. 

It recognises six types of visual data that all buildings have
– the three Surface characteristics of Colour, Pattern and Shape
– the two Placement characteristics of Position and Alignment 
– the Size characteristic 

All people can see if each of these is the same as or different from what they’re seen against. This is merely visual perception and has nothing to do with culture, education or knowledge.  

Ideas are another matter. All people may see the same thing but they won’t think the same things when they do. This is where the subjective and pluralist nature of aesthetics comes into play.

The framework identifies three types of aesthetic idea. 
– ideas representing a difference between a building characteristic and its surroundings,
– ideas representing a unity between a building characteristic and its surroundings, and
– ideas misrepresenting a building characteristic as belonging to something either not a building or not the building it appears to be.  

The 2 cases of same and different combine with the three types of idea to produce 16 unique aesthetic effects. 

The first 192 pages show the sixteen effects in turn, for each of the six characteristics. If all buildings have 6 visual characteristics that each has one of 16 aesthetic effects, then all buildings will have one of 166 = 16,777,216 unique combinations of effects that form the aesthetic signature of that building.

The remaining pages show signatures corresponding to well-known aesthetic qualities.

• • • 

The Architecture of Architectures
The 2007 Draft: Preface
The 2007 Draft: Introduction
The 2007 Draft: Derivation
The Architecture of Architectures (2007 ~ )


2 thoughts on “The Architecture of Architectures (2007~)

  1. Peter Taylor

    Fascinating to follow your thought progressions, but are you overthinking this? Even aficionados and academics fall for a simple title that nails it. Remind me how you decided on Architectural Misfit? Best of luck with the project. Pete

    1. Graham McKay Post author

      Yes, I am guilty of overthinking it. I’m glad I did though, because from now on it’s all simple – shockingly so. As for the name misfits, it was initially intended to identify those who saw architecture as a matter of performance rather than looks. This series The Architecture of Architectures fits in with that in that it will (eventually) show that architectural aesthetics is not the unknowable mystery it’s made out to be. The Arch. Of Archs. Pis intended to provide a unified structure and vocabulary for anyone to express their likes and dislikes. This will upset the purveyors of snake oil. Excellent question!

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