Skip to content


Post date:

The aesthetic effect MERGE is not as audacious as DISGUISE but it is easier to understand. It’s one thing to contrive the Surface characteristics of a building to make it look like a mountain, but something else to place that building amongst other mountains. With MERGE, a building characteristic merges with that of its surroundings and the identity of the building as a building is lessened. The conceit is to make the building appear as a part of, an extension of, the landscape whatever it is. MERGE is thus a very powerful effect for architects wishing their buildings to appear as a consequence of their surroundings. Whether the intent of deploying this effect is virtuous or dubious is matter of ethics, not aesthetics.

This aesthetic framework maps tangible and intangible relationships between a building and its surroundings but is silent on who owns the building and/or its surroundings or why they might want or not want to forge a relationship between them. It only maps what the relationship is and how it has been forged.

Colour to 7: MERGE

Here’s three buildings making us want to believe they’re the color of the sky. We’re not fooled by any of them but we understand their intention. We see the first as an attempt to make as think for a second that the twelve-storey building is only half as high. It’s audacity is amusing but, if it’s a joke, it’s a purposeful one. MERGE is useful in making us think more positively about buildings that would otherwise be imposing or intrusive. The mirror glass building in the middle does the same thing, and for the same reason. We will never believe this building is “at one” with the sky but, by assuming the colour of something that is not a building, our offense at the bulk of the building is lessened because the identity of the building is lessened. With the third building, the colour of the glass occurs naturally as a reflection but both its effect and intent are the same. Ditto for the colour of grass.

Pattern to 7: MERGE

Camouflage, as used in wartime, attempts to negate the identity of a building by making it appear the same as its surroundings. To negate the identity of a building is the point of camouflage.

The Fifth Avenue Apple Store is a special example of camouflage, and thus MERGE. Its Colour and Pattern are the same as those of its surroundings. The ostensible intent to make the building disappear but, unlike wartime camouflage, slight discontinuities of Colour and Pattern draw our attention to the Shape of the building that, although rectilinear, is the only cube we see here.

In this next example, some artist has applied a camouflage pattern to one surface of the Paris Louvre pyramid in order to make us imagine a state where the pyramid wasn’t there. (Again, this framework makes no judgment as to whether this intent is virtuous or dubious. All it does is identify the mechanism of the effect the work produces in an observer.) Once again, discontinuities of Colour and Pattern draw our attention to the shape. As this is an artwork, there’d be no point if it didn’t draw our attention to the fact that effort had been expended to do something.

More common peacetime uses of MERGE are concerned with minimizing the visual impact of buildings it is assumed we would rather not see. In this next example, a building is given a wrap to conceal unsightly renovation works and the wrap is printed with an image of the former/future building. Nobody is fooled by this but we understand the intent and accept it for what it is.

The effect of many building murals is to create a scene that’s not real but could conceivably exist for the building or in the neighborhood. Such images are often of some idealized situation. The effect becomes DISGUISE when the image is more fantasy than ideal but this next one is Pattern to MERGE as it’s not too far from what could exist.

Shape to 7: MERGE

We are no stranger to examples such as a building with rolling curves intended to make us think it is an extension of the landscape. Although it was never given a name, Shape to MERGE is when architects make us think their buildings are part of the landscape, if not growing out of it. It never seems to go out of fashion.

Position to 7: MERGE

This house in Portugal is fairly famous for having been built between two huge boulders. It’s a strange position for a house to be, and definitely a special one. But is it a house, or just filling in some space between two rocks? A notion of Position to Negate is operating if we ask the question is this a building?

If DISGUISE was about a building looking like a mountain when there are no other mountains around, then MERGE is making a building look like a mountain when there are. Here’s an example of that. It’s Liuzhou Forest City, by Stefano Boeri Architetti. Position to MERGE is not about Surface characteristics but about the building being placed amongst other mountains and so evoke other associations of similarity.

Alignment to 7: MERGE

UPDATE: 5th October 2021 Since I wrote this next few paragraphs, I’ve modified my original classification slightly. For many years, I’ve used the term Alignment to indicate one of the six fundamental building attributes. I’ve been forced to re-think this, mainly because of the need to find equivalent words in Chinese, and so help student understanding. The name Orientation fits just as well and also translates directly. This has two consequences. One is that examples such as these below now need to be considered as example of Position to Negate, not Alignment to Negate. [Think of it as a building shifting horizontally to within the mountain. If it shifted any more it would not be visible, and hence an example of Postion to Negate. The other consequence is what is the meaning of Alignment to Negate? And what would an Idea of Alignment to Negate be? These are the only examples I can think of.

The first is something that could not conceivably be a house. It’s identity as a house has been lost due to its alignment (and also its position). We suspect it has an identity as art, or at least as an advertisement. The other structure has an identity as a house but is incapable of being used as one. We suspect it might be some kind of amusement and we would be right.

This is the Iranian village of Kandovan. We don’t see much that has an identity as buildings.

This building is a museum and does the same thing but for different reasons. And then there was the hotel proposed for Wadi Rum, in Jordan. If either of them had any more unity of alignment then they would disappear into the landscape and mountain respectively, and have no identity at all.

This example is from Germany but underground and cave dwellings exist in places as diverse as China, parts of Africa, and southern Australia. All are examples of Alignment to MERGE.

Size to 7: MERGE

This is part of the Ostrog Monastery in Montenegro. Niche and building are one. It is no bigger or smaller than the niche in the mountain.


  • MERGE is when a characteristic of a building looks similar to what’s around it and also makes us think that that characteristic doesn’t belong to a building or to the building it appears to.
  • MERGE is when an idea of negate is evoked by the visual reality of Unite.
  • With MERGE a building characteristic unites with its surroundings in a very obvious way but loses its identity to become part of a scene.
  • If DISGUISE is about making a building look like a mountain or a tree when there aren’t any mountains or trees around, then MERGE is about making a building look like a mountain or a tree when there are.
  • MERGE also has the capacity to change our perception of what a building can be.
  • MERGE is hyper-real similarity.

777 77 7: The Beauty of MERGE

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


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

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


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

These next buildings have all six attributes working to the same effect and are good examples of The Beauty of MERGE. As with DISGUISE, the point of MERGE is not to make a building go away but to make its identity as a building disappear. True, these next two examples are still buildings but they do not appear to be the buildings they are. They’re two of many now famous electrical substations in Toronto that have been made to merge with their surroundings by making them appear as suburban houses.

pdf file download

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


AFTERTHOUGHT: Many cities assume we’d prefer to see advertising rather than renovation or conservation works being carried out. These next are examples of DISGUISE because the respective buildings were never like those around them to begin with and, although they’re being disguised as themselves, it’s as the buildings they were or will be and not as the buildings they are. The surface motifs (a.k.a. patterns) of the buildings’ wraps notionally restore the original visual difference but it is then immediately countered by the advertisements creating new and very tangible visual ones. We assume the advertising subsidizes the repairs.

Buildings were once said to have been signs but these two examples suggest that buildings are merely excuses for signs – a thought that makes Post-modernism a logical development of The International Style rather than any reaction to it, as has been repeated often enough to make it accepted truth. We’ll never know who told who what, but I can see how someone [Who? Most likely MvdR or Phyllis Lambert.] describing Seagram Building as a giant bronze-coloured bottle of honey-coloured whisky. That would have gone some way towards convincing Samuel Bronfman and his bankers that its design and expense would be worth it. Anyway, the colour of the glass and the steel – i.e. everything we see – are both examples of Colour to DISGUISE. [c.f. 6: DISGUISE]

What all these buildings have in common is a product to shift. To talk of signifiers and signifieds is to beat around the bush.

If the International Style and Post-modernism can be linked in this way, then I’ll wager that other classes of products will link Deconstructivism and Parametricism and show how nothing ever changes.