With the next pair of characteristics A: DIFFERENTIATE and B: INTEGRATE we run out of digits and so switch to hexadecimal naming, convenient because there are sixteen aesthetic effects. These two are the eleventh and twelfth. If every building, that has ever been built or will be, has the six attributes of Colour, Pattern, Shape, Position, Alignment and Size, and if each of those must exhibit one of sixteen unique aesthetic effects, then this means that there will be 6^16 = 16,777,216 unique combinations of tangible realities and types of ideas evoked by those attributes. My thesis is that this sequence of digits represents the aesthetic signature of a building. Different observers may or may not react to the same building in the same way but buildings that people do react to in the same way will have similar aesthetic signatures. Statistics could be gathered for this but all it would prove was the degree to which a certain building was fitted to evoke certain responses in a certain number of persons.
“Beauty is no quality in things themselves: It exists merely in the mind which contemplates them; and each mind perceives a different beauty.” David Hume
What I’m proposing here is not to codify beauty but to provide a framework and a system of notation for organizing our aesthetic reactions in the hope we at last have proper conversations about the nuts and bolts of architectural aesthetics, and how those nuts and bolts are put together to shape our reactions.
A: DIFFERENTIATE and B: INTEGRATE are the second of three pairs of characteristics comprising two types of idea. The first idea is an Idea of Unite or – if you prefer – a conceptual association, and the second is an Idea of Negate, a sense that the characteristic (or attribute) observed isn’t that of a building or the building it appears to be. A: DIFFERENTIATE is the effect generated when these two ideas are evoked by a characteristic that looks different from its surroundings, and B: INTEGRATE is when these two ideas are evoked by a characteristic that looks similar to its surroundings. Here’s where they fit into the framework. This post will be about DIFFERENTIATE.
The three types of idea are defining characteristics and so it’s as easy to identify a particular affect by what types of idea are absent as it is by those present. The previous two effects 8: ALIENATE and 9: ASSIMILATE evoked no Idea of Unite, for example. Similarly, A: DIFFERENTIATE may look different but that visual difference evokes no Idea of Separate. Consequently, building attributes that exhibit this effect can never seem novel or innovative.
Buildings exhibiting this effect may even appear a bit lame but to say this would be to overlay subjective judgments onto already subjective ideas of Unite and Negate. Nevertheless, if a person tended to like only buildings that were loudly novel, pretentiously cutting-edge, and ostentatiously groundbreaking then yes, DIFFERENTIATE may well appear lame.
Colour to A: DIFFERENTIATE
In this next image the Beijing National Acquatics Centre is blue against a black sky. It’s striking. This building isn’t always all blue but the clue is in the name, and also in its popular name of “Water Cube”. The colour of this building is a colour we associate with water, 1) something we might know is inside and 2) something that is not a building.
Pattern to A: DIFFERENTIATE
The Gasunie Building in Groningen, Netherlands is a strange beast but, to me anyway, insufficiently strange. It’s certainly odd, but I get the feeling I’ve seen it before. To many, the notion of “organic” will link it with Nature, as in these plants that frame it, or perhaps a rock or mountain. The notion of “organic” always involves an Idea of Negate for, although its possible to construct buildings using organic materials, buildings are never created by natural processes.
Shape to A: DIFFERENTIATE
Buildings with wave-shaped surfaces or wave-shaped buildings adjacent to water are, along with boat-shaped buildings, an architectural trope employed to force an association of unity with their contexts despite the absence of comparable waves. Waves happen to be things that are not buildings but nevertheless the conceptual link between water and wave-shapes is understood. [Tellingly, the term fluidity is never used to describe buildings such as these.]
We may be coming out of a 15-year phase of DIFFERENTIATE as aesthetic endeavour but, then again, its intentions are easily understood and photograph well, so perhaps not. Once you’ve seen one building shaped like a wave or flower you’ve seen them all and the idea can no longer shock, excite, or even interest.
Position to A: DIFFERENTIATE
Here, the building isn’t positioned with respect to any landscape feature (SEPARATE), like a boat on water (Unite + Negate).
Alignment to A: DIFFERENTIATE
The Position of Le Grande Arche is determined by where the line of Les Champs Elysées intersects the line set up by La Tour Eiffel and La Tour Monpanasse. Its 6.33° non-alignment with Les Champs Elysées meant its foundations could avoid a metro line, an RER line and a motorway directly below. Knowing this lets us comprehend why the alignment of the building is the way it is but this knowledge is an Idea of Unite. Le Grande Arche being off-axis with Les Champs Elysées is not something we expect of statement buildings at the ends of Parisian boulevards. This is an Idea of Negate, not in the sense of it not being what it is, but of not being what we think it should be. It is different.
Size to A: DIFFERENTIATE
Here we have a big building and a small building and this is Size to SEPARATE. We also see is that the big building is big at one end and small at the other. Anyone who has ever lodged a planning permission knows the kind of arguments that are made as justification. [In this case, we could claim Alignment to UNITE if the roof pitches were identical but we nevertheless recognize the Idea of Alignment to Unite.] As far as size is concerned, the inclined roof is a device intended to make the building not look as massive as it is. A ten-storey slab of equal length could have accommodated the same number of apartments and all would have had river views but only half the number would have had views towards London out of frame off to the left. This building changes in size from the building it needs to be at the left, to the building it has to be at the right in order to gain planning permission. It’s still a massive building, but an Idea of Size to Unite is established, even if this partial size is not the size of the building it is.
- DIFFERENTIATE is when a characteristic of a building looks different from what’s around it, makes us think of it as somehow the same, and also misleads us to think that it’s something other than what it is.
- DIFFERENTIATE is when a visual reality of Separate evokes a single idea that encapsulates an Idea of Unite and an Idea of Negate. The former creates a conceptual association and the latter creates a surrealism of sorts. For example, a building looking like some local flower would have an idea of unity with its location and an idea of being something
- DIFFERENTIATE can never be novel for it contains no idea of difference. At most, it is a skilful restatement of known ideas.
- DIFFERENTIATE conceptually weakened surreal difference.
AAA AA A: The Beauty of DIFFERENTIATE
The Beauty of DIFFERENTIATE occurs when the following six tangible conditions for SEPARATE are satisfied, and each attribute also evokes an idea that is both an Idea of Unite and an Idea of Negate. There is a visual difference but no conceptual one.
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 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’ 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’ 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’ 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’ 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’ to be with respect to that building’s ‘context’.
A building’s size can be ‘seen’ not to be the size of a building.
For me, the ArtScience Museum at Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands is an example of The Beauty of DIFFERENTIATE. The idea seems to have been to make a building evocative of a lotus flower floating on water. It succeeds because it looks more like a lotus flower than any other structure in sight, and sufficiently so to evoke associations with eastern religions and cultures and life itself, while all the time ornamenting the development of which it is a part. Building as fascinator. I don’t hate it.
The 2007 Draft: Introduction
The 2007 Draft: Derivation
The Architecture of Architectures (2007 ~ )