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Any model that attempts to classify and describe the real world has to deal with the problem of grain because anything can be classified if the classifications are large enough or numerous enough. The alchemists first divided the world into the four basic elements of air, earth, fire and water, later adding the three essential substances of salt, mercury and sulfur. It was a simple model but the world couldn’t be squeezed into it. And nor could it be squeezed into a later iteration that respectively associated the Moon and the planets Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn with the metals silver, mercury/quicksilver, copper, gold, iron, tin and lead.

In time, the classification of elements called The Periodic Table came along. It better fitted the world how we observe it because of it and we now understand air as a mixture of various elements, earth and water as compounds of them, and fire as a reaction between them.

Below is what The Period Table now looks like, although it’s now possible to make elements not included here.

The Periodic Table has held up well. It explained many many phenomena and enabled new ones to be predicted. It is the most reliable indicator we have for how the world works and we no longer have to believe the false claims of alchemists.

We’re halfway now, and done with the basics. Red stripes are when a characteristic of a building looks different from that of its surroundings and blue stripes are for when there’s a similarity. This component is shared by all the other characteristics only with the first two effects 0: SEPARATE and 1: UNITE, it is all there is. The three pairs of effects that follow have one of three types of aesthetic idea overlaid upon this primary tangible reality of difference or sameness.

  • The first type was Ideas that Separate. These were ways we can think of (a characteristic of) a building as being different from everything we see around it or even every building we might know of. Novel and unique are two important examples of this type of idea, but others include the idea of artificial in natural environments and also the idea of natural, in non-natural environments. This produced the two effects of 2: DETACH and 3: ATTACH. DETACH is the stronger as the idea of difference reinforces the visual difference seen.
  • The second type of idea was Ideas that Unite. These are ways we can think of (a characteristic of) a building as being the same as or similar to its surroundings. This produced the two effects of 4: EXTRACT and 5: COMBINE. This time, COMBINE is the stronger effect as the idea of unity reinforces the visual unity seen.
  • The third type was Ideas that Negate the identity of a building whether as a building or as the building it is. This produced the two effects of 6: DISGUISE and 7: MERGE.

The first two effects are produced when there are no aesthetic ideas operating, and the other three pairs are produced when there is only a single type of aesthetic idea operating. The remaining half of the framework will describe what happens when the three types of aesthetic idea occur in combination and the first of these pairs will be an Idea of Separate incurring with an Idea of Negate, along with the visual realities of SEPARATE and UNITE. The two new effects produced are 8: ALIENATE and 9: ASSIMILATE. This post is about ALIENATE.

The effect ALIENATE occurs when something that looks different evokes an idea that’s both an Idea of Separate and an Idea of Negate. It can be understood in terms of its two component effects of 2: DETACH and 6: DISGUISE. If looking at a building doesn’t evoke an idea that contains ideas of both types, then that person will perceive only the effect of only the one component. If looking at a building didn’t evoke any ideas, then that person would see only the core effect of SEPARATE or UNITE.

Therefore, something that appears as ALIENATE to one person, might well appear as DETACH or DISGUISE to another, or just as plain SEPARATE to yet another. Different people will perceive the object differently depending on what associations are, or aren’t evoked for them. This is consistent with how aesthetics operates on an everyday, practical level. Different people can look at the same thing and have it mean completely different things to them, or nothing at all.

ALIENATE can be understood either in terms in of what it is or of what it isn’t. ALIENATE has no visual unity to reassure and comfort us and it has no conceptual unity to make us think of it in some sense as belonging. ALIENATE looks alien and it seems alien. It’s easy to think of a building employing this effect as not belonging and, for this reason, it’s a risky effect for architects who generally like to convince clients, municipalities and users that their designs will unite with a landscape, site, people or community.

Unsurprisingly, what I’ll call the flying saucer building is a good example of how this effect operates. The idea of a flying saucer has both a sense of “otherness” [or “separateness” or “not from here”] as well as a sense of “not being a building”. Flying saucer buildings provide a very clear illustration of how ALIENATE works for each of the six characteristics. [c.f. Learning from Flying Saucers for a more general introduction to flying saucer buildings as architecture.]


Colour to 8: ALIENATE

A typical flying saucer building is the color of metal and this makes sense because a craft constructed of timber or masonry would be unlikely to withstand the rigours of intergalactic travel.

Rules are made to be broken it is said, and the awesomeness of the Stargate (“Cheops Class Warship) pyramid lies in that very incongruity.

These two spaceship buildings do the metallic colour thing.

This next example is neither flying saucer nor spaceship but there is the colour of flames – a thought implanted by the shape and which, for a building, is a thought that sets it apart from all other buildings we know of. It is novel, in other words. The three conditions for the effect of ALIENATE are established.

It might well be the case that flame has some symbolic significance to the people of this country but, if so, it is lost on me and so I see this as Alienate and not some other more complex effect yet to be described.

Pattern to 8: ALIENATE

The buildings above are not only suggestive of the Colour and the Shape of flame but, if you look closely, also of the Pattern of flame. These buildings are a strong example of the three Surface attributes having the same effect: Alienate. They are a better example of Pattern to Alienate than the two flying saucer buildings above with their patterns suspiciously like sheet metal cladding. A proper spaceship would deny known materials and construction processes because our understanding [a.k.a. mental construct] of flying saucers is that they are from places and probably times we can’t imagine. We like our spaceships seamless, as if they were constructed from no known material and no known process. In other words, they will have no identity as constructed objects. This is something alien to us.

The design and construct a building that has no identity as a constructed object (i.e. the building it is) is a very expensive thing to do. The architects of the building above claimed they have wanted the front to be an air curtain but it proved too expensive and thus they had to settle for conventional glazing – a statement that shows them to be favorably visionary and reassuringly pragmatic at the same time. Whether they at any time considered having a single pane of glass we don’t know.

Fantasy also bumps up against reality with buildings that may indicate otherworldliness by their colour and shape but which, on closer inspection, have their Earthly origins betrayed by prefabricated panels and their expedient joins.

Shape to 8: ALIENATE

The shape of “real” flying saucers will always be an example of Shape to ALIENATE because it defies our heavier-than-air understanding of propulsion and aerodynamics. This next building is not a flying saucer building but it’s unlike anything ever seen or known so, on that count, there’s definitely a notion of Separate operating. There’s no denying it’s novel. There’s also a sense that this is not a building even if we don’t know quite what it is trying to be. Perhaps some kind of trophy? All the same, there’s a strong disregard regard for Earthly conventions and notions of aesthetics. We lack a framework of reference. We just don’t know where this building is coming from. By comparison, flying saucer buildings are familiar and reassuring.

This particular image has been bouncing around the internet and Pinterest in particular ever since I included it in a 2014 post. [c.f. Guilty Pleasures]

Position to 8: ALIENATE

A building that exhibits Position to ALIENATE will look out of place and make you wonder why it is where it is. This is the Krešimir Ćosić Hall in Croatia. A closer photograph would make it appear less incongrous but this shows what I mean.

Flying saucers being flying saucers, they can land anywhere and have no strong inherent or fixed to where they are. One place is as good as any other. This aspect of our understanding is present in many a flying saucer building such as the Philips company’s Evoluon (1966) and the Biblioteca Sandro Penna library (2004).

Evoluon is the closest we have so far to the complete look. It’s metallic, saucerish and has strut-like supports and small and regularly-spaced peripheral windows and even a central domey opening at its middle. It ticks all boxes apart from Alignment and Size.

Alignment to 8: ALIENATE

The crash-landed flying saucer combines both Position and Alignment to ALIENATE. These next three appear to have landed suddenly and by accident. Either that or the inhabitants of these structures place no importance on gravity – a thought that only works to further alienate.

Famous flying saucer crashes in our cultural history.

Size to 8: ALIENATE

The building known as Spodek is the closest we have to a close encounter–sized flying saucer building even if sporting arenas tend to be both large and saucerish anyway.

On a more Earthly note, La Tour Monparnasse has, to many, the size of something that is not a building or, in this case, not the building they want in this place and in this city. People may object to its colour or its construction but it’s size is usually flagged as its most alien characteristic.


  • ALIENATE is when a characteristic of a building looks different from what’s around it, makes us think of it as different, and makes us think it is not a characteristic of a building, or at least of the building it is.
  • ALIENATE is when an idea of Separate and an idea of Negate are encapsulated in a single idea evoked by the visual reality of Separate. For example, the idea of flying saucer contains the idea of not from here which is an idea of Separate – of difference – and also the idea of not a building which is an idea of Negate.
  • The weirdness of ALIENATE comes from it having no visual unity and no uniting idea – there’s no way of understanding how it could belong. This amplifies the visual difference that exists anyway.
  • ALIENATE describes buildings that have, say, the colour of a flower, the shape of a flying saucer, or the size or position of a monument.
  • ALIENATE can be ingenious when the idea of separation is novelty.
  • ALIENATE is conceptually strengthened, surreal difference.

888 88 8: The Beauty of ALIENATE

The Beauty of ALIENATE occurs when the following six tangible conditions for SEPARATE are satisfied, and each attribute also evokes an idea that is both an Idea of Separate and an Idea of Negate. There is no visual unity and there is no conceptual unity.


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

I have two contenders for The Beauty of ALIENATE. The first is the Krešimir Ćosić Hall in Croatia. It’s got the lot.

The other is Jean Nouvel’s cube for the 2002 Murten Expo. It’s neither saucerish nor shiny but it has a surface muteness that makes it seem monumental and not a building. We definitely wonder why it is where it is and the fact it’s on water makes it seem even more that it could be anywhere. Star Trek Borg cubes and mute 2001 monoliths updated our notions of alien spacecraft, as they did for our notions of aliens. The rust colour of this building is the only familiar thing about it but that only prompts further questions of what and why.

Jean Nouvel’s Monolith auf der Arteplage der Expo.02 in Murten/Morat, aufgenommen im Oktober 2002. (KEYSTONE/Gaetan Bally) : DIA]

There’s a notion of an “artifact from the future” at work and, for now, we can think of this is a type of notion to Separate. A better and fuller explanation will have to wait until this aesthetic framework is complemented by another one mapping the dimension of Time.

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