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E: DESIGNATE

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There are only two effects left to introduce: E: DESIGNATE in this post and F: ASSSOCIATE in four weeks’ time. These two effects are the only two having all three types of aesthetic ideas working together, along with a physical difference in the case of DESIGNATE and a physical similarity in the case of ASSOCIATE. They fit into the framework like this.

The RGB is of course an analogy for how the three types of idea interact with each other to produce the three secondary “colours” of yellows cyan and magenta when only two types combine, and the colour white when all three combine. This colour analogy implies that DESIGNATE and ASSOCAITE are complete, and they are in the sense that there is nothing more to add. Things can only be taken away. Again, the colour analogy reminds us that, when light is mixed, a different colour results when any one of R, G or B is not present. It should also remind us that the resultant colours are neither good nor bad, complete or incomplete but just different. The same happens with DESIGNATE and ASSOCIATE because these two effects rely upon three different types of idea occurring at the same time and this not only rarely happens but is often unstable when it does. If the Idea of Separate is “new” or “novel” for example, then those ideas date quickly and the aesthetic effect will “decay” into one less complex and more stable. The volatility and transience of the complex effect may be part of their appeal (or at least their usefulness for architectural aesthetic churn) but without a valid Idea of Separate to support it, what was once seen as DESIGNATE will now be seen as DIFFERENTIATE – something different for the sake of being different. More on this some other time.

For now, E: DESIGNATE and F: ASSOCIATE are characterized by everything being lit up. These two aesthetic effects respectively contain every other aesthetic effect that has the same physical reality. E: DESIGNATE is C: JUXTAPOSE, A: DIFFERENTIATE, 8 ALIENATE, 6: DISGUISE, 4: EXTRACT, 2: DETACH and 0: SEPARATE all at once. No wonder it has the effect it does, and is regarded as having depth, or at least complexity.

These are two three-dimensional representations showing DESIGNATE on the left where the core (red) element is SEPARATE and ASSOCIATE on the right where the core element is UNITE. This model is also just that – a model to aid comprehension, but it neatly illustrates how, for example, ALIENATE (the yellow) + an Idea of Unite (the blue) combine to give DESIGNATE (the white).


E: DESIGNATE

Colour to E: DESIGNATE

By now, DESIGNATE won’t be difficult to understand. This is an image of He Jingtang’s China Pavilion for the 2010 Shanghai Expo. It is the only red thing we can see – Colour to SEPARATE. In China, the colour red is a special colour (Idea of Separate) and the colour of so many things we associate with China (Idea of Unite) that we can say red is the colour of China (Idea of Negate). This sentence shows how the categories of this framework can create a simple sentence that organizes our thoughts about what the colour of this building is doing. Other people can just as easily make other sentences that organize their thoughts when they see the colour of this building.

Or how about this? The colour of the Beijing Olympics Water Cube (a.k.a. Beijng National Aquatics Centre) was different from the buildings around it – Colour to SEPARATE, but more so at night when not only was its translucency replaced by luminosity, but the colour was also novel in changing as well – Idea of Separate, even though it was most-often blue to evoke the colour of water/swimming pools – Idea of Negate , inside – Idea of Unite.

Pattern to E: DESIGNATE

The pattern of this building is unlike anything else we can see – Pattern to SEPARATE. It is also unlike anything we had even known – Idea of Separate. It has been described as a ‘bird’s nest’, something that has cultural associations with China – Idea of Unite, and birds’ nests are, of course, things that are not buildings – Idea of Negate. The four conditions for Pattern to DESIGNATE are established.

Shape to E: DESIGNATE

Shape to DESIGNATE is what the world knows as the iconic building. I could place the word iconic in quotes but it doesn’t matter as the word has taken on a meaning of its own that seems to have something to do with audacious and novel shape making. In his book The Iconic Building I think it was, Charles Jencks called this novel, associative and audacious shapemaking the enigmatic signifier. I think in this book he even laid down the conditions for an iconic building. There were four.

  1. First of all, the building must look different. I call this having 0: SEPARATE as the core tangible reality for that characteristic).
  2. The building must seem like it is not a part of its context. I call this difference an Idea of Separate and one of the most common Ideas of Separate is for something to be novel, something we have never seen or known of before, the shock of the new. In passing, this explains why one person can see something as novel and shocking, yet another may see it as derivative
  3. The building must seem like a part of its context. I call this unity an Idea of Unite. We know what these are. It’s commonly expressed using terms like “the building (shape) relates to, responds to, acknowledges, chimes with … (some physical feature of the context)”.
  4. The building must seem like it is not a building. I call this an Idea of Negate. It has been frequently and easily achieved by making a building look like something that is not a building – a flower for example. If it is made to look like some local flower then the previous condition is satisfied at the same time and the conditions for DIFFERENTIATE are established. (DIFFERENTIATE is known by some people as metphoric architecture.)

The term enigmatic signifier is fair in a way and [I am going to be very careful with my words here] the shapes of buildings that evoke the ideas that produce the aesthetic effect DESIGNATE definitely do say something and what it is may well be different for different people. Jencks was well aware of this. This does not make such buildings great, special or superior – it’s just the nature of the beast.

What Jencks failed to acknowledge was that buildings have characteristics other than Shape, and that there can be such a thing as “iconic” Pattern, or “iconic” Colour, orPosition or Alignment or Size.

In whatever book it was, Charles Jencks called Renzo Piano’s 2002 Auditorium Parco Della Musica in Rome a failed iconic building. Whether this was fair comment or not depends upon what Signor Piano was intending it to be. The project has three music halls much like the one above and to different people they have resembled blobs, beetles, turtles and (computer) mouses.

None of these thing has any particular association with the immediate (or even some greater) context and so there is no Idea of Unite established. Jencks is right it that the conditions for DESIGNATE aren’t established but this is neither right nor wrong, success or failure. All it means is that this building has Shape to ALIENATE instead.

Similarly, unless Sydney Harbour is known for its blobs, beetles, turtles or dishes, the absence of an Idea of Unite means ALIENATE would also best describe the aesthetic effect evoked by the Shape of this building. However, there are other Ideas of Shape for Sydney Opera House and the most common association and the one with the most longevity is that of “sails”.

I suspect this association happened about the time of One Arup’s involvement with the design. Before, I seem to remember the roof was constructed of shells – a word with a pleasing ambiguity. .

It’s no surprise that Sydney Opera House is an example of Shape to E: DESIGNATE. We have known for a long time now that there is something special about this shape. It was definitely novel when it was first revealed, and still novel in 1973 when the building was opened. But what of now? We may have grown up knowing this shape and it no longer has the shock of the new but, if we want to go down the novelty route, Shape remains distinctive (Idea of Separate) for having been everything (Idea of Unite) and nothing (Idea of Negate) once and we can’t say this about too many buildings. Many associations have been made for that shape over the years but the most common allude to the sails of yachts on Sydney Harbour. Yachts of course, are things not buildings. All three types of idea are established.

Or, there’s Eero Saarinen’s TWA Terminal at NYC’s then Idlewild Airport. It looked like nothing else nearby and still does – Shape to SEPARATE. Although concrete shell structures existed at the time, this went beyond structural expression – Idea of Separate, and evoked notions of “flight” – Idea of Unite through evoking the idea of a bird – Idea of Negate.

Position to E: DESIGNATE

Ignoring the conceptually insignificant dot of land it rests on, Burj Al Arab isn’t on land like other buildings – Position to SEPARATE. This is unusual – an Idea of Separate. The building is stationary offshore like a cruise liner (Idea of Negate) having arrived at some destination (Idea of Unite). This idea of a building “stopping” at some location that is a tourist destination is the chain of association that “put Dubai on the map”. In passing, the notion of buildings alluding to cruise liners isn’t a popular one these days and may be why this building is rarely considered architecture.

Alignment to E: DESIGNATE

This next building isn’t aligned with anything we see – Alignment to SEPARATE – unless it’s The Sun – Idea of Separate – as if to worship it – Idea of Negate – as ancient Egyptians used to do – Idea of Unite.

Alignment is a generally under-rated characteristic of a building and this may be why, as with the building above and as with this next, simple operations can be so effective. The 2001 Lisbon Harbour Control Tower was designed by  Gonçalo Sousa Byrne.

No other thing we can see is angled like this – Alignment to SEPARATE. Nor do we know of any building that leans forward for a purpose – Idea of Separate, as if to “get a better look” – Idea of Negate, for monitoring the harbour entrance – Idea of Unite..

Size to E: DESIGNATE

OMRANIA’s 2002 Kingdom Tower in Riyadh is the tallest thing we see – Size to SEPARATE. It dominates the other buildings and the city – Idea of Separate – like some alien overlord – Idea of Negate – claiming it as its own – Idea of Unite.

DESIGNATE is one of the two most complex aesthetic effects but, as with the other effects, its aesthetic workings – its aesthetic narrative, if you will – can be accurately and concisely described in a single sentence. This is progress, as those ideas and their aesthetic contributions are now exposed for others to decide if they are true for them. In an aesthetic world having a plurality of subjectivities instead of absolutes , this is as good as it is ever going to get. .


SUMMARY

  • DESIGNATE is when a characteristic looks different but at the same time makes us think it is different, has something in common, and doesn’t belong to either a building or the building it actually does.
  • DESIGNATE has a single idea encapsulating all three types of idea, and therefore contains all effects having SEPARATE as the core visual reality, along with all their properties.
  • As with DETACH, ALIENATE and JUXAPOSE, the separating idea reinforces the visual reality. This separating idea must be novel or original, the unifying idea must form some local association and crucially, if it is to challenge our perceptions of what a building can be, the idea of negate must make us wonder if what we are looking at is a building. It is very difficult for a single idea to encapsulate these three ideas or, if they do, for an extended period of time.
  • We already recognise DESIGNATE for Shape as the ‘iconic’ building but the other five characteristics can be be equally ‘iconic’.
  • DESIGNATE is a confident singularity. It is about saying something unique.
  • DESIGNATE is conceptually strengthened and weakened surreal separation.

EEE EE E: The Beauty of DESIGNATE

The Beauty of DESIGNATE occurs when the following six tangible conditions for UNITE are satisfied, and each attribute also evokes an idea that is both an Idea of Unite and an Idea of Separate. The visual unity evokes both a conceptual difference and a conceptual unity.

SURFACE ATTRIBUTES
Colour

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

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

A building’s shape can be ‘seen’ not to be the shape of a building.

PLACEMENT ATTRIBUTES
Position

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

SIZE ATTRIBUTE
Size

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’ to be with respect to that building’s context’.

A building’s size can be ‘seen’ not to be the size of a building.

Unsurprisingly, Sydney Opera House is an example of Shape to E: DESIGNATE but equally so are its other five characteristics. We’ve known this shape for some time now and we can no longer say it is novel but the fact it was novel once still sets it apart from most other buildings about which that can’t be said. Earlier, I wrote that its Shape remains distinctive (Idea of Separate) for having been everything (Idea of Unite) and nothing (Idea of Negate) once and we can’t say this about too many buildings. Along with Saarinen’s TWA Terminal, these two buildings represent the birth of the enigmatic signifier – buildings that try to be everything to everybody by evoking associations they take no responsibility for.

  • The colour of this building looks different from what is around it (Colour to SEPARATE) and is also known to be the colour of an artificial material (Idea of Separate) that reminds us of the colour of water-related things (Idea of Unite) like shells that are not buildings (Idea of Negate).
  • The pattern of this building looks different from what is around it (Pattern to SEPARATE) and is also known to be the pattern of an artificial object (Idea of Separate) that reminds us of the patter of water-related things (Idea of Unite) like shells that are not buildings (Idea of Negate).
  • The shape of this building looks different from what is around it (Shape to SEPARATE) and is also known to have been unique once (Idea of Separate) for reminding us of the shapes of water-related things (Idea of Unite) like shells and sails that are not buildings (Idea of Negate).
  • The building doesn’t look positioned with respect to anything in particular (Position to SEPARATE), as if it has incorporated its land (Idea of Unite) to creating something new (Idea of Separate) that appears to float (Idea of Negate).
  • The building doesn’t look aligned with respect to anything in particular (Alignement to SEPARATE) and, like a boat (Idea of Negate), as if it is able to manoeuvre (Idea of Separate) into position (Idea of Unite).
  • The building is larger than the surrounding boats and yachts (Size to SEPARATE) but its different scale (Idea of Separate) and monumentality (Idea of Negate) give it a commanding presence (Idea of Unite).

[metaslider id=”217767″]


The 2007 Draft: Introduction
The 2007 Draft: Derivation
The Architecture of Architectures (2007 ~ )
0: SEPARATE
1: UNITE
2: DETACH
3: ATTACH

4: EXTRACT
5: COMBINE
6: DISGUISE
7: MERGE
8: ALIENATE
9: ASSIMILATE
A: DIFFERENTIATE
B: INTEGRATE
C: JUXTAPOSE
D: CONFLATE
E: DESIGNATE
F: ASSOCIATE
Consistency
Importance
Strength
Emphasis
Beauty
Afterword

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Comments

  • Iconic implies to segregate from its surroundings. No context, could be anywhere, therefore, it’s nowhere. I’m divided in my thoughts about Lloyd’s of London – what? – an oile refinery in the City of London? So there’s that, Graham. Bestest, CBW

    • It’s true the core effect of DESIGNATE is that of separation and difference – and that’s just how it is. It is part of what it is, but there is also that Idea of Uniting with its surroundings – the shells of Sydney Opera House being “sails” (and white ones at that) are an example of that. If those white shells don’t evoke that particular association (or some equivalent one) for someone then yes, that building (or rather, that characteristic of the building) will appear divorced from its context. If it doesn’t have that Idea of Unite, then it is an example of ALIENATE – not an example of DESIGNATE which is my more precise term for “iconic”. If it doesn’t have an Idea of Separate and is not really novel, then it is an example of DIFFERENTIATE. If it doesn’t have an Idea of Negate and make us wonder if it really is a building (and, at best, force us reconsider what it is a building can be), then it is most likely an example of JUXTAPOSE. All these are just different effects and this is just a way of organizing our subjectivities and makes no judgments as to whether any particular effect is more suitable for any particular occasion. This whole serialization has taken longer than I thought but, after I’ve finished describing the basics, I plan to write more about their application.

      Afterthought: I prefer to use the word “designate” to describe what it is these buildings do – i.e. they all “say something”. It’s better than “iconic” which implies there’s something absolute in how we should react to them. Thats not the case, although Jencks didn’t mind us thinking that.