Thursday, September 21, 2006

architecture as language

1. Introduction

It is proposed here that architecture, like natural language (written or spoken language), is simply one of many different types of language each with its own lexicon and grammar. Others would include music, scientific theories, art, political organization and many others. The definition of ‘language’ as it is used here is, therefore not a matter of the content or the particular kind of lexicon or the ‘subject matter’ of any given system, but of what the system does and how it does it.

2. Similarities and Differences

Architecture does not use notes or chords to produce its forms, and music does not use columns or windows. Yet:

a) The real difference between systems whether music or architecture or science is a matter of the medium or material which is manipulated to achieve the goals of the system.

b) The similarity between systems is a matter of the processes involved rather than components which are manipulated.

3. Architecture as a Language

Based on the general statements about language made above we can now look at how well architectural processes fit into that scheme of things. Thus:

a) In other words architecture is a report or representation of the functions and relationships within an institution and the immediate context within which the institution will be materialized. That is the concrete reality of designing buildings.

b) Any statement in a language has a referent. It is always talking about something (event or thing). The referent in architecture is the institution, client or program which is being represented.

c) Language is digital. Architecture's discrete elements (like worsd) are architectural forms or compositional techniques selected from the current typical set of a style (the vocabulary).

d) Architecture makes a metaphor of the institution; a metaphor in built form. That is, a form which represents the elements and relations of the institution.

e) For language there is always a statement about something. In architectural terms, the building is equally a statement about something: the referent institution.

f) As in language, in architecture, a set of typical or conventional architectural forms plus the compositional rules which govern their arrangement can be termed a language.

h) In architecture, a particular or characteristic set of forms together with their conventional usage or rules of combination is called a style.

i) The style is the code, the building is the message derived from selections of forms and syntax of the code-style.

k) As a message, the building is a report about the ‘state of things’ in the referent institution in a particular context, namely this time and this place.

l) Architecture like written/spoken language is rule-governed.

4. The Architect as Author

If we want to think of this issue in personal terms or in terms of authorship we can usefully consider the following:

a) Using the formal vocabulary available to him (within the repertoire of a particular style) and constrained by the rules (of selection and combination and context), the ARCHITECT SPEAKS THE BUILDING. HE is indeed the author of the building.

b) The building is a STATEMENT by him about some referent event and its context and derived by him from a selection of possible (appropriate?) elements and their combinations to represent this event/context.

5. Conclusion

And, finally, where would we find the equivalent of verbs in architecture? These would lie in the relationships which the architect sets up between different parts of the building and which reflect or represent the dynamics of the institution and/or its context. In other words it is the geometrical arrangement of the building which reflects the dynamics of its referent. THE GEOMETRY IS THE VERB. After all its only a report. Now these concrete (!) arrangements don’t look like verbs, but then what does a verb look like? It is a written or spoken WORD. A thing in other words which represents an action. So too with the geometric composition of the building.


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