Notes & Exceptions
We’re almost done. Over the past twenty months, at the rate of one post per month, I’ve explained how this thing called The Architecture of Architectures came about and what it claims to do, and I’ve described how the sixteen aesthetic effects are derived from a simple structure that shows both how they are different and how they are all related. Their place in the framework is both description and explanation.
This post is the first of four that will use this framework to describe various architectural phenomena. This post will describe exceptions and why they are. The second will narrow the meaning of words commonly used in architectural studios and offices. The third and fourth posts will describe combinations of attributes that have special meaning for architectural aesthetics. In all cases, known aesthetic phenomena will be explained in terms of this framework. This post will concentrate on aesthetic phenomena that are external the framework yet can still be explained because they are external to it. These are the phenomena that work to subvert or diminish the factors that influence our aesthetic perception of a building by
- Altering the tangible relationship (any or all of the attributes of) that building has with its surroundings and/or, as a result of that,
- Lessening the power of that building to evoke the anticipated Ideas of Separate and/or Unite and/or Negate.
CHANGE is not an aesthetic quality but just a word that says nothing stays the same forever – a reminder to not look for longevity in aesthetics or anything else. Fundamental to this framework is the tangible relationship a building has with its surroundings but no building is timeless and nor is its surroundings. Formerly large sites are subdivided and development encroaches and overshadows. Once grand buildings no longer look so grand. Splendid isolation vanishes. Many commentators thought these apartments were built a bit too close to Sydney Opera House and, as can be imagined from the left image, lessened the delight to be had by observers approaching it on foot. Persons are definitely denied opportunities to look at the building, but more critical aesthetic damage is done by there now being a reference for human scale present and working to diminish the monumentality of the building.
History is not short of other examples. Wright’s idea of the Robie House evoking notions of the prairies may have been brilliant marketing but, in suburban Chicago, its aesthetic sustainability was doomed from the start. Architecture history books used to have bad airbrushings, proving the world of architecture preferred representation to reality long before post-modernism.
Call it the zeitgeist if you will, but ideas change more quickly and the aesthetic effect of a building is neither stable over time or even in space as buildings rarely evoke the same ideas from whichever direction they are viewed. Most have a good side, a more flattering angle. I used the term aesthetic decay to describe how buildings lose their ability to evoke the same ideas. Just as Thorium decays into Uranium 233, this is neither good nor bad. It is just one thing changing into another. Architectural fashions change and complex effects decay into simpler and less volatile ones when a characteristic of a building no longer evokes the same component Ideas of Separate and/or Unite and/or Negate.
This is guaranteed to happen if the Idea of Separate is the notion of novelty, innovation, avant-garde or some other variant of newness. The fashionable becomes the dated or passé. Dated buildings of reputed architects can only be rebranded as important examples of early work.
Although less common, it’s also possible for buildings no longer new to be “seen in a new light” and for at least some characteristic to be described by a more complex effect having additional ideas of Separate, Associate or Negate not anticipated by their designers. In this way, buildings that have either slipped from history or perhaps never entered it are aesthetically repurposed to create new content for our era in which there is never too much content to monetize. Many a modern book is designed as a receptacle for a collection of academic essays doing just this.
The premises of this framework state that all buildings have the six tangible and mutually independent attributes of Colour, Pattern, Shape, Position, Alignment and Size. This being true is what makes the framework applicable to all buildings past, present and future. However, sometimes we simply don’t know what we are looking at and UNCERTAINTY is when it’s not possible to definitively say whether something is one attribute or some other. For example, it’s difficult to tell whether this corner of Hiroshi Hara’s Kyoto Station is Pattern or Shape. It’s more three-dimensional than the curtain wall “behind” but, all the same, not as three-dimensional as it seems. The bas-relief is disquieting, as if we are watching the moment where Pattern morphs into Shape.
Bas relief has a long history in art and architecture but Art Deco and later examples emphasized the flatness of the shapes in relief. Something similar is happening with these are-they-or-aren’t-they 3D shapes that don’t convince, as if they’d half-prefer to remain in elevation.
The MTC Southbank Centre in Melbourne by Australian outfit ARM is a more self-conscious example of an illusory three dimensionality sometimes described as “playful”.
If you want to induce a sense of uncertainty in a viewer, then all you need do is confuse the difference between any two of the six building attributes. This is easiest for Pattern and Shape because differences in Pattern allow us to perceive (and mis-perceive) Shape.
DISQUIET we saw in the post 0: SEPARATE in which I posed the question “Is this building the same colour as the sky or not?” A child might say yes it is.
And is this next building transparent or not? Again, a child might say yes, and many an architect might too but many other people might not. How different people make these fundamental judgements about what they are actually seeing are at the heart of many an aesthetic disagreement. This framework provides some essential concepts and vocabulary for talking about them.
DISQUIET also occurs when a person tries to hold conflicting opinions at the same time, or swings from one to the other without resolution. Yet, at a different time of day or under different meteorological conditions, the same person might have no trouble deciding.
If for some reason you want to induce a sense of disquiet in a viewer, then all you need do is make it difficult for them to decide if one or more of the six building attributes is acting to SEPARATE or UNITE.
UNCERTAINTY and DISQUIET are two phenomena that can be explained by how they don’t fit into the framework. There may be others and, though I hope they too will be exceptions that prove the rule, I simply don’t know. Conventionally, Uncertainty and Disquiet have been explained by instructors and commentators claiming “the proportion’s not right” or “it’s out of scale” but this framework provides explanations more convincing, consistent and universal than traditional ones founded in dogma.
This post has focussed on exceptions this framework can explain only tangentially. The following two posts in this series will focus on the guts of what this framework is about. The next post will show how the framework defines – and at the same time explains, as any good framework should – key architectural concepts such as Consistency, Importance, Strength and Emphasis. The penultimate post will summarize how this framework defines AND EXPLAINS architectural Beauty, all sixteen types of it. It won’t be a big finish. When I began this project I never expected the floating world of architectural aesthetics and beauty to be simple, but it turned out to be nowhere near as complex and unfathomable as I’d thought or, more to the point, been led to believe.
The 2007 Draft: Introduction
The 2007 Draft: Derivation
The Architecture of Architectures (2007 ~ )
Notes & Exceptions
Words & Buildings