Concerning Architectural Theory

Architecture has been described in many ways. It is at the same time a history of civilization and a beautiful piece of art. It is at the same time a medium of technological advances and a testament to the enduring ideas of humanity. What, though, is architecture and how does its nature determine our approach to this noble practice?

Architecture is the built environment which houses and protects the workings of society and organizes a community. It is by its nature, man-made and because of this must express the rationality that sets apart the actions of man. It must protect its inhabitants by means of its structure, in simple terms walls and roofs. It is a place of gathering for one reason or another and so have spaces to fulfill the different functions of society. Thirdly, it is a creative material work, a work of art which primarily works through representation and symbol to impress upon the viewer the knowledge of the function of the building and its larger meaning to society. In order to strike the right balance between all these considerations, it is necessary to look at the paradigms of shelter, space and symbol. Once familiar with them, the architect will be able to understand from which paradigm it is appropriate to draw and thus to make all things clear to the community and to each viewer of the building.

The Paradigms of Shelter are the different ideas behind protecting the inhabitants within the building. In general, these are vertical or horizontal in nature. Or rather, that from which it protects comes either vertically or horizontally. Simply put, it is the system of walls and roofs. The list of paradigms include:

  • Post and Lintel: Vertical supports with a beam running across the top which supports a roof of some kind. Also called trabeation.
  • Arcade: Vertical supports with a series of arches connecting them which support a roof of some kind. Also called arcuation.
  • Solid Masonry Wall: A wall made completely of some type of stone, used for its strength and durability.
  • Timber/Wood construction: A wall or framing system that is made of wood, used for economy of material.
  • Glass protection: A system of keeping the openings sheltered used to get light into the building and/or to create visibility to the outside.
There are others.

Paradigms of Space are the ideas behind creating spaces for specific functions. There are two types of spaces in a building: Figural and Service. Figural are those which are destinations. They are inhabitable and often public in some sense. Service spaces are those that are used for the upkeep of the building as well as circulation, hallways and the like. The list of paradigms include:
  • Forums: Places for the gathering of large groups for public discourse
  • Theatres: Places with the purpose of differentiating between those who are speaking and those that are listening.
  • Vestibules: Protected places for the initial gathering of people before entering another space.
  • Enfilade Circulation: Circulation through a series of rooms rather than through hallways.
  • Preparation Rooms: Semi-private places for the assembling of all that is necessary for the functions of other spaces.
There are others.

The Paradigms of Symbol are the ideas of what the building means and what is to be represented by the building. There is symbolism of form, material and also ornamentation. The list of paradigms include:
  • Proportion: Right ordering of sizes. Related to hierarchy
  • Hierarchy: The use of proportion to symbolize the importance of the building or elements of the building.
  • Stone: Used to symbolize strength, durability, importance.
  • Glass: Used to symbolize openness or lightness
  • Ornamentation of vegetation: Symbolizes the connection to nature.
There are others. 

In designing a building, then, an architect should examine these well and come to a reasoned conclusion of which to utilize in the building of any particular building. In this way, he communicates something to the members of the community both something about the type of building and its functions and also something about the community itself. This will promote a community identity as well as create buildings that are meaningful to the citizens and thus will be valuable to them. And in this way, civilization is to be preserved.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I encourage you to continue to post. I am an architect and I used to own the-american-commoner.com . I've also been to nd before as a close friend of mine's father was the vice president some years ago. Just thought I'd comment and say hello.