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EXTRACT introduces the second grouping of architectural ideas – notions of Unite. In the world of architecture, and especially the world of architectural presentation and media, ideas of Unite are extremely important. Much talk about architecture is couched in the language of ideas that suggest a unity between a building and a landscape or cityscape. 

Much of this talk is talk about Shape, but Colour and Pattern are also commonly spoken of as “resonating”, “respecting”, “recalling”, being “redolent” of, “chiming”, or “echoing” with some nearby feature. Position can “resonate” with a location and Alignment can “acknowledge” or “respond to” an orientation or some feature such as a view. Size commonly “respects” buildings already there. Whenever you hear any of these words implying some sort of conceptual unity, just check that it’s not just some cheap association trying to create the impression of a logical design process that led to an inevitable solution appropriate for a particular location. Take a second to ask yourself “Does it really?” If it doesn’t resonate quietly and strongly, it’s most just a soundbite or meaningless text to accompany an image.

Architects like to give clients many reasons that their building belongs on the client’s site and ideas of Unite can be used to suggest a conceptual unity irrespective of whether an attribute of a building has a physical, tangible unity with its surroundings. EXTRACT is the name of the aesthetic effect that arises when there is conceptual unity without a tangible one. EXTRACT, therefore, can be used to suggest a unity that somehow compensates for the lack of a tangible one. In other words, it’s a way of making something not seem as different as it looks.

When I say compensates, I don’t mean to imply that a lack of unity is always a bad thing. It’s true that [attributes of] buildings can be contrived to relate visually to their surroundings but this is neither good nor bad. It is merely one aesthetic effect which, depending on time and place and client and market can fall into and out of fashion. Something that looks similar yet has a conceptual difference is no more or less important or dramatic than something that looks different yet has a conceptual unity. The two are inverses, not opposites.

Whereas the visual reality of ATTACH (i.e. UNITE) evoked a notion of Separate, the visual reality of EXTRACT (which is SEPARATE) evokes a notion of Unite that this time adds the contradictory spice to the visual reality. The word extract is a synonym of separate, indicating that the core effect is SEPARATE. EXTRACT denotes an attribute that looks different from its surroundings in combination with a way it can be thought think of them as the same. This combination of tangible (visual) reality and intangible notion is EXTRACT, the fifth aesthetic effect.

Colour to 4:EXTRACT

Each of these beach huts is a different colour, none of which can be seen in the surroundings. The colors are all similarly pastel, “pretty” colors and the only conceptual unity they might have with the beach is that the colors of the beach may be similarly muted. These colors might also appeal to the age group expected to come to this location to use these huts.

Here’s a stronger beach hut example of Color to EXTRACT. The various primary hues aren’t to be seen in the surroundings but a conceptual unity with the beach location is evoked by notions of fun and play we normally associate with the colors of children’s toys and playgrounds.

Extract isn’t all about beach huts as these next two examples concern Antarctic architecture. The red color of the refuge and the green color of the station do not UNITE with the surroundings but nevertheless they are red and green respectively because of the surroundings in that they are colors that can be easily identified in a snowstorm. The colors are different but there is a conceptual one-to-one relationship – a unity – between the colours and the environment. This is EXTRACT.

Here’s another example of a notion of Unite acting along with Color to SEPARATE. The house is the only red thing in sight but all the colors can be thought of as comprising a unifying color scheme. The house is red to complement the blue and green

Pattern to 4:EXTRACT

Conceptual notions of unity can come in the form of cultural associations. This next building has a large-scale mosaic graphic covering its walls where normally we would expect windows. It’s unique and unusual but a conceptual unity exists with its site and its greater location as soon as you know the building is the library of National University of Mexico.

Central Library, National Autonomous University of Mexico, designed by Gustavo Saavedra and Juan Martínez de Velasco, and opened in April, 1956

The diagram pattern of this next building was nowhere else to be seen at the time but is claimed to result from the desire to have sunlight force convection air currents around the building. This would hopefully be more than a notion of a unity with the ambient environment but, because it is unseen, it is an idea that helps us understand why the building is the way it is with respect to its surroundings.

Shape to 4:EXTRACT

Shape is a good carrier of notions to unite. This next building is Antoine Predock’s American Heritage Center. It has a shape we don’t see elsewhere in the photograph or very often – ever, in fact. but that makes us think of a teepee, as it is intended to. With EXTRACT, we are now entering territory. One could say that the shape of this building has been contrived to evoke thoughts of teepees and Native American culture in an observer. And that would be correct. Such notions would not be evoked in a person who did not know what a teepee was (and that person would just see Shape to SEPARATE) but the point remains: this world of notions of Separate and Unite is not as subjective as we think. Shape or any other attribute can be contrived to lead people to think of certain associations. Such notions may be associations preferred by an architect or client, but they are not the only ones and what people may or may not think cannot be controlled or policed.

Position to 4:EXTRACT

To a casual observer this oil rig is not positioned with respect to anything we can see. However, anyone with a knowledge that this is an oil rig and what it is they do will know that it is positioned where it is because of oil or the possibility of oil under the ocean below. There is thus a conceptual unity between this oil rig and where it is.

We don’t know why this lighthouse is positioned where it is – we can’t even see the ocean that we assume is there. Nevertheless, our knowledge of what a lighthouse is and does makes us assume a nearby ocean and that the lighthouse is where it is to warn passing mariners of some submerged danger.

Alignment to 4:EXTRACT

At first sight this igloo might not appear aligned with respect to anything in the surroundings but knowledge of igloo construction will tell us that the entrance is always aligned against the direction of the prevailing wind in order to enhance internal thermal comfort.

One building is this next photograph does not have the same alignment as the others. However, knowing it is a mosque tells its alignment is united with some greater context.

A third example of Alignment to EXTRACT is this radiotelescope. There is nothing else in the image with the same alignment yet, just as we assumed a conceptual link between the oil rig and its position, knowledge of what a radiotelescope is and does makes us assume it is aligned very precisely towards something not visible even to conventional telescopes.

Size to 4:EXTRACT

The extension to the Solomon Guggenheim Museum is larger than the original building but the grid pattern and, more importantly, the horizontal openings give it the same scale when seen from the front.

It is the inverse of this building that has the same size but a different scale.


  • Extract is when a characteristic of a building looks different from what’s around it yet makes us think it has something in common with its surroundings.
  • Extract is when an idea of unity is evoked by the visual reality of Separate. This idea is often some contextual or cultural association but can be a functional association resulting from knowing what a building does. If no such idea is evoked, a person will see the core effect of SEPARATE.
  • Extract is intellectually challenging until a satisfactory unifying idea is arrived at.
  • Extract is conceptually weakened difference.

444 44 4: The Beauty of EXTRACT

The Beauty of EXTRACT occurs when the following six tangible conditions for SEPARATE are satisfied, with each attribute also evoking a notional [i.e. conceptual, intangible] unity.


A building’s colour is not seen (to be) in that building’s context.
A building’s colour can be ‘seen’ to be in that building’s ‘context’.
A building’s pattern is not seen (to be) in that building’s context.
A building’s pattern can be ‘seen’ to be in that building’s ‘context’.
A building’s shape is not seen (to be) in that building’s context.
A building’s shape can be ‘seen’ to be in that building’s ‘context’.

A building’s position is not seen (to be) with respect to that building’s context.
A building’s position can be ‘seen’ to be with respect to that building’s context’.
A building’s alignment is not seen (to be) with respect to that building’s context.
A building’s alignment can be ‘seen’ to be with respect to that building’s context’.


A building’s size is not seen (to be) with respect to that building’s context.
A building’s size can be ‘seen’ to be with respect to that building’s ‘context’.

This is Portmerion in Wales and is an example of The Beauty of EXTRACT. It’s an environment that is 100% designed to appear as if it had grown and developed organically. No two buildings are the same yet all appear as if they were designed by the same hand – which they were. This controlled difference is the dominant notion of unity. Everything fits without any of the mistakes or accidents of environments that grew more organically.This is not to make any value judgments. It is merely a different aesthetic effect. Many people find a beauty of EXTRACT in developments such as Poundbury in Dorset, UK or Seaside in Florida, USA


The colour of each building is different from that of adjacent ones.
Whether to contrast or complement, the colours of the buildings are all different in the same way. They have been selected by the same person – in other words, they have been designed.
No two buildings have the same motifs or arrangement of motifs.
Even without knowing this is not an organically evolved environment, we might suspect this is more by design than accident.
A building’s shape is not seen (to be) in that building’s context.
Even without knowing this is not an organically evolved environment, we might suspect this is more by design than accident.

A building’s position is not seen (to be) with respect to that building’s context.
Again, all buildings seem to be exactly where they ought to be, without the accidents or mistakes that would be apparent in an environment that had grown organically over time. (This, I admit, is an observation from experience.)
A building’s alignment is not seen (to be) with respect to that building’s context.
There is nothing wrong with alignment either. Everything is totally harmonious, as it ought to be if a single person was responsible for it.

A building’s size is not seen (to be) with respect to that building’s context.
No two buildings are the same size but there is an array of low buildings as counterpoint to some important-looking building, and vice-versa. 

You might see in my choice of example the tenets of what was once known as New Urbanism. There is some truth in that but my choice of Portmerion was to indicate an example of a certain kind of beauty that exists as an aesthetic effect prior to any New Urbanist repackaging such as with Poundbury or Seaside. If one has a sensitivity to the notion of unity present in such built environments and is untroubled by whether that notion of unity results from having been designed by one person over a compressed period of time, or many persons over a much longer period of time, then one will be appreciating The Beauty of EXTRACT. There is a place for such a type of beauty in a world where, increasingly, entire environments are designed from scratch. More people are living in such environments and more will be expected to in the future. Masterplanning is a growth area. Aesthetic effects 6:DISGUISE and 7:MERGE will describe things not being what they appear to be. These are still to come. For now, we have 4:EXTRACT as the fifth identifiable aesthetic effect.

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


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