I wrote about COMBINE in June 2013 when I was first toying with this project. I chose two start with it because it’s the architectural aesthetic effect we’re most familiar with. COMBINE is when what we see is reinforced by what we know, and what we know includes all those subjectivities arising from culture and education and that make us make associations whether or not some designer asks us to or not.

The 2013 post goes into more detail about the many equivalents COMBINE has in poetry, music, songwriting and opera. COMBINE may be a basic mechanism of aesthetic pleasure. So might all the others. The previous post in this series, 4: EXTRACT, introduced the set of associations called Unite. If EXTRACT is when [a attribute of] a building evokes an idea of Unite without there being any tangible unity to back it up, then COMBINE is when there is. COMBINE is therefore easy to comprehend and satisfying to comprehend when we do. Moreover, it doesn’t particularly matter if some particular association isn’t made for the tangible unity of UNITE will exist anyway. COMBINE is to UNITE as DETACH is to SEPARATE. Both are strong effects as they each have associations that reinforce the reality of what is seen.

Moreover, because it has an association contradicting the reality of what is seen, COMBINE is to EXTRACT as DETACH is to ATTACH.

COMBINE is a useful effect for architects because it gives clients and people in general a way of thinking about a building that makes it seem appropriate for where it is. The effect is to make a building seem more “at one” with its surroundings and this is generally a good thing.

Colour to 5:COMBINE

Here are some beach huts seen against the sea with which they share a colour. That colour happens to be the colour we know as aqua.

Abersoch beach huts © Richard Williams | Dreamstime.com

COMBINE is the opposite of EXTRACT that had colours not seen in the surroundings but linked by a conceptual association, such as “simple” fun.

The colours of this building can be seen in the surroundings and, what’s more, we think of think of them as “warm” and “natural” colours. We can also think “uncomplicated” as a uniting idea.

This next image hits on the orange colours to do the same thing.


This next image doesn’t. Here we have the “warm” colours of the building contrasted both tangibly and intangibly – it’s cold outside – with the surroundings. This is Colour to DETACH.

This next image however IS an example of Colour to COMBINE. The natural rock colours are still there as tangible UNITE, but we might also see a unifying and satisfying colour scheme at work, with the building supplying the reds and yellows and the surroundings supplying the blues and greens.

Pattern to 5:COMBINE

The patterns of each of the buildings in this next photograph are not identical but they are all similar. suggesting not only that needs, resources, and techniques are relatively constant, and also that some shared values are at work.

sanaa yemen

Shape to 5:COMBINE

These next buildings all have the same shape as something in the environment and in this case that something is other buildings. If there had been only one building then it would probably be a case of Shape to EXTRACT, as the one building could probably be thought of as a farmer’s cottage in a quasi-rural environment. These houses might be so but a more obvious conceptual unity is that they have been designed and probably constructed by the same people.

Position to 5:COMBINE

Here’s an example of COMBINE for Position. It’s a lighthouse standing on a singular landscape feature. There’s the obvious physical unity of one thing and one place but, since we know what lighthouses do, we know it’s not there to look pretty but to warn ships of submerged dangers. This knowledge makes the lighthouse seem more “at one” with its position. The position of this simple building suddenly has that thing called “depth” or – to state the obvious – “meaning”.


With this next example, one building again possesses the one hill. However, if we know it’s a church and have an idea of the basic tenets of Christianity, then the fact that the building is atop the hill means it’s that much “closer to heaven” and thus in an appropriate position to mediate between God and the laity below.


Here’s an example which has a tangible unity of Position but also a unity that we understand to be a functional one. Observatories are ideally located on top of highest peaks in countries with mostly clear skies.

Alignment to 5:COMBINE

This is photograph of the radiotelescope at Parkes, in Australia. It has been taken from an angle whereby the dish is in alignment with the Milky Way. It may be just a pleasant coincidence, but it appears to have meaning when we remember that the radiotelescope is definitely pointing at something specific and for a reason.

Size to 5:COMBINE

Each of these houses has a similar size that is probably the result of some overriding zoning conditions, but they also have a similar scale (and are all identifiably housing).


  • COMBINE is when a characteristic of a building looks similar to what’s around it and also us think it has something in common with those surroundings.
  • COMBINE is when an idea of unity is evoked by the visual reality of Unite. The idea of unity resonates and is perceived as giving depth to what is seen. Talk of aesthetic appropriateness is often couched in ideas of unity.
  • COMBINE is typically generated by ideas of “artificial” in urban surroundings or ideas of “natural” or “organic” in natural settings.
  • COMBINE is a strong and reassuring effect that does not challenge or provoke.
  • With Combine, a visual unity still remains if a unifying idea is not recognized.
  • Combine is conceptually strengthened similarity.

555 55 5: The Beauty of COMBINE

The Beauty of COMBINE occurs when the following six tangible conditions for UNITE are satisfied, and each attribute also evokes a notional [i.e. conceptual, intangible] unity.


A building’s colour is 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 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 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 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 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 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’.

As my example of The Beauty of COMBINE, I choose the Yemeni city of Sana’a. All six building characteristics are broadly similar and each of the relate each building to the other through a shared culture as well as a shared construction culture. The context here is not Nature but other buildings and each of those buildings retain sufficient identity to be recognized as individual building even while they are part of the collective endeavour.

sanaa yemen

All of the attributes of each of the buildings above are not identical but they are all similar. They are not self-similar as there is no controlling designer or design idea. Nevertheless, there is very little deviation and this suggests their respective designers and builders were all operating to some set of unifying design and construction rules that we understand somewhat condescendingly as “vernacular tradition”.

Environments such as the one below can be found in many countries. This one happens to be in Mexico but I wouldn’t have to go far to find similar ones in the UAE. I found this example problematic at first because I couldn’t find a way to differentiate it from the above example of Sana’a.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is teaser_home_taboada-002.0x600.jpg

The buildings obviously share all characteristics with their surroundings and are also products of the same culture and obviously of the same designer and construction team. Is it a case of too much of a good thing? A similar situation exists with these next two examples. Why is it easier to like the one on the left?

The point of this framework is to explain architectural aesthetic phenomena and the mechanism behind our feelings towards them. It’s possible to categorize anything if there enough categories or if those categories are sufficiently broad but these two examples of densification nation suggest something else at work. I suspect it comes from it no longer being possible to talk about a building vis-à-vis its surroundings when the building has become the surroundings. In other words, one of the fundamental premises of this framework doesn’t apply here. The Mexico and the Gropius example can’t be described using only the two tangible categories of SEPARATE and UNITE and their combinations with ideas of SEPARATE and UNITE. There’s something else at work and the following two aesthetic effects, DISGUISE and MERGE will go some way towards explaining what.

I didn’t plan to end the year on a cliffhanger but this will be the last post of 2019. Looking back through the chronological list of posts, there have been two main trains of thought.

The first is what a disaster The Bauhaus “style” of education has been for architecture, despite its dominant legacy being justification for the mass-production of crap. This train of thought was prompted by a privileged glimpse of what went before. I shared as much as I could in the post The Notebooks of Ludwig Kurz. This led to spin-off posts such as The Will of the Epoch (1/2) where I suggested The main thrust of Architecture at any given time is to satisfy the dominant force driving the economy and (2/2) where I brought it up to date. Little did I know that Siegfried Kracauer had already said circa 1920 that The mass ornament is … the aesthetic reflex of the rationality aspired to by the prevailing economic system. But still, the post Let’s Dance made easier reading even if it did say the same thing.

While I was criticizing academic theory with dubious applications, I began serializing The Architecture of Architectures in a series of posts describing my understanding of the how the quantities and qualities of architecture combine and operate. Its only application will be to show that the world of architectural aesthetics is much broader and richer than what we’re led to believe. [“The Periodic Table liberated both chemistry and mankind from the false claims of alchemists. It did not did diminish the wonder of the Universe.” GM] The partial chart above shows we’re not even halfway there.

Mixed in with these were posts where I was thinking out loud about things that caught my interest, things that had preoccupied me and I wanted to share, and things I simply felt needed saying. This last is what makes blogging different from writing books, academic papers, newspaper articles, press releases or creating other types of strategic content such as TED talks and YouTube videos. It is also the one that elicits the most personal and considered responses and this is where I have to thank all you readers, especially those of you who write or comment telling me where I’ve got it either right or wrong. “Liking” a post doesn’t mean the thoughts it contains will go anywhere but a comment proves they have and I would like to let you all know how much I appreciate that.

Wishing all of us all the best for 2020!

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