Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Modern Design

Modern Design

By Alex Brown


Even until the end of the 19th century by which time industry and technology had affected all parts of society, ornament and more ornament was the solution for most designers of domestic or commercial products.

However, at the same time an increasing number of voices began to call for a new, simpler, more truthful and functional position in art and design. These prophetic voices referred again and again to the need for FUNCTIONAL DESIGN to be applied to all designed products - not just to industrial items, but to social and domestic products and for a unified design style centred on utility and simplicity of form.


Who were these radicals who called for a renewal of design along functional lines? They can basically be split into two groups: the first might be called the MORALISTS, and the second, the RATIONALISTS.

a)        The Moralists saw the issue of design in terms of truth, the power of art, the vernacular-craftsman tradition, a love of nature and a rejection of the brute force of industry. The Moralists saw the answer as a 'return' to earlier, simpler, pre-industrial values with the ARTIST taking a prime role. Amongst these groups we may include:

            1.         The Arts and Crafts Tradition: (Theorists:John Ruskin, William Morris)
            2.         Art Nouveau : (Macintosh, Voysey, Victor Horta)

b)        The Rationalists saw the issue as a full acceptance of industrial power, rational design principles, functionalism and the teaching of 'good' design as a way of ensuring high design standards linked to the realities of industrial production. The Rationalists, however saw the answer as an 'advance' towards new values and a full embrace of the potential of industrial power with the TRAINED DESIGNER as the key figure. Amongst these groups and individuals we may include:

            1.         The German Werkbund
            2.         Henry Van de Velde and the Weimar School
Although both these groups saw the corruption of design (over-decoration, bad taste, lack of truth, and so on) which prevailed in the 19th century as the key problem,   each group proposed a different answer to that problem.


In 1861, heavily influenced by the ideas of John Ruskin, William Morris (1834-1896) set up a design and production company, the first of its kind: Morris and Company: "craftsmen of painting, sculpture, furnishings and glass" and dedicated to the craft and socialist ideals put forward by Ruskin. Morris also designed embroidery, stained glass, wallpapers, textiles, typography and book production. Together with painters such as Rossetti, Burne-Jones and Ford Maddox-Brown (who also saw the pre-industrial age as an Ideal period). His description of the company is as follows:


There were basically two stylistic sources for the development of Art Nouveau style: The Arts and Crafts Movement itself. (Truth, nature, morality and anti-industrial) and French Rationalism (rigorous expression of structural forces, materials and forms). The Art Nouveau style can be understood as an extension and exaggeration of the Arts and Crafts, vernacular tradition. The simple 'peasant' furniture, graphics and products produced by Morris and others were elongated and stretched into more linear/organic forms. 

A)        Special interest in furniture, product design and graphic illustration. (Ie. Total design), plus the use of complex and rich colour selections.

B)        Artists: C.R. Mackintosh (Scotland); Voysey (England); Horta & Guimard, (France); Antonio Gaudi (Spain), amongst others.

(It is also worth noting the work of the Americans: Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright, who produced work similar in form to that of the Europeans. The similarity between Macintosh and Wright both in style and their 'Total Design' approach is quite remarkable). 

5.0    REMEMBER (2)

It should be remembered that the vast majority of designers and the public did not take up these radical positions. In some cases they rejected the 'drive for simplicity and utility'. For them, decoration was not corrupting or 'sickening' but ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY. Without it products and interiors would be characterless - like living in a prison cell or sanatorium.


The Rationalist (and German position) on this was different: industrial power was not a threat but an opportunity to harness the enormous power of industry with the conscious guidance of Art and Design. There was no point in trying to reverse the Industrial Revolution. The real issue now was whether it was possible to direct it towards aesthetic ends to create a TOTALLY DESIGNED ENVIRONMENT. 

Rationalism treats form as the result of a process or an activity. In the case of design, this activity is the use of the object - Its function. Functionalism is Rationalism applied to design and the result was a revolutionary event - the Modern Movement in design.


Two significant things happened in 1907 in Germany that were to have a major impact on European design. The first was the founding of the Weimar School of Arts and Crafts by the Belgian designer, Henry Van De Velde and the founding of the Deutcher Werkbund (= German Work Group) in Munich.

Van de Velde - originally a painter - had earlier set up a 'factory of applied art' in Belgium inspired in part by the ideas of William Morris in the UK. Unlike Morris, however he was much more radical and not content just to look back into history for inspiration.

Design education at Weimar was to be DESIGN FROM FIRST PRINCIPLES.

In a real sense, he had started the first Modern Design School. It became a model for all future Design Schools and led ultimately to the founding of the BAUHAUS. However, Van De Velde, athough radical in his educational thinking, still saw the ARTIST as the prime mover in all design issues and quite independent from industry.


In October 1907, a meeting took place in Munich, Germany between a group of artists and a group of industrialists. They founded an association - the Deutcher Werkbund  - for the joint purpose of bring quality design into industrial production.

Design was no longer craft art but INDUSTRIAL DESIGN.

In 1919, the Weimar School of Art changed its name. From then on it was called , the BAUHAUS.


It is possible to view the development of Modern Design at the beginning of the 20th century as a fusion of the different styles and movements described above. Progressive designers had begun to experiment with a simplified functional style which incorporated:

a)         The orthogonal grid and rationalism of Classicism.

b)        The flexibility and simple functionalism of the Arts and Crafts.

c)         A more 'geometric' Art Nouveau (stripped of decoration).

d)        The rationale of industrial process and mass production (simplicity of form).

Now backed by the anti-historical, functionalist and workshop-based teaching in the new design schools a generation of designers began to emerge who saw design as an exercise in rational thought  applied to the making of form.

This new TOTAL DESIGN style became known as  the Modern Movement in Art and Design.



Modern Design begins in  real sense after the First World War (1914-1918). The forces of the Industrial Revolution, the theories and practice of the engineers, Arts & Crafts, Art Nouveau, the Rationalism of the Classical Tradition, the endless mass production of the factories and, unfortunately, the catastrophe of the First World War brought about an emergence of a new, non-historical design approach - Modern design or its essence, Functionalism.


The reason for the massive casualties in the First World War was very clear: TECHNOLOGY in the form of massed artillery, machine guns, planes, gas shells, tanks and submarines. At home whole industries were turned over to war production: guns, shells, tanks, planes, and so on. Women, who used to live a purely domestic life, were now working in large numbers in factories while their men went out to the battlefields. Society changed. It became clear that industrial production (ie. mass production) was the key to winning the war, NOT individual heroism.

b)        In Western Europe and the United States, the war had forcefully brought together all parts of production - design and industry  - in a coordinated effort to win the war.

c)         Technology and industrial production had developed rapidly in order to cope with war production needs. The war forced Western society to move more quickly towards becoming fully industrial states. 

12.0  REMEMBER...........(1)

Remember that the ideas and theories of Modern Design already existed before the war began in 1914. While the war certainly disrupted the steady development of the Modern Movement for four years or so, it also 'forced' its various elements together afterwards. The essential Modern concepts were:

1.         Truth to materials and to the idea of Functionalism (`form follows function`).

2.         Rejection of historical styles and decoration ( ie. `truth' to the 20th century)

3.         The idea of a DYNAMIC new and `modern' age: The Machine Age

4.         The search for a unified style for all designed items (Total design)

5.         Design driven by rational analysis of problems and by mass production techniques. The link with industry. In an industrial society the artist becomes designer.

13.0  THE BAUHAUS  ( Germany 1919 -1932 )

Henry Van de Velde had founded the School of Arts and Crafts in Weimar, Germany in 1907. On his retirement he passed the Directorship of the School to Walter Gropius. In 1919, Gropius arranged for the School of Arts and Crafts to be combined with the Academy of Art. This new institution was called the BAUHAUS and it was destined to become the most influential design school of the time (or since).

In other words, design, arts and crafts techniques (handicraft) and Fine Art were to be integrated within one institution. Pure Art education would be combined with Craft education to produce a TOTAL design approach to the environment. Thus, Applied art -DESIGN - would bridge the gap between the Technological and the Artistic.

The painters, architects and designers who taught at the Bauhaus were amongst the most adventurous and progressive. Klee, Feininger, Kandinsky, Moholy-Nagy, Marcel Breuer, Mies van der Rohe, Mart Stam, Hannes Meyer. Guest lecturers from the DE STYL group  - van Doesberg, Oud and Rietveldt. The Bauhaus brought together the best Modern Cubist-Expressionist-De Styl designers of their time.


The basic philosophy of the Bauhaus as defined by the architect Gropius and the artists Itten and Kandinsky can be outlined as follows:

1.         An integration of all the arts (to produce a totally designed and unified environment). 

2.         Design for mass production methods/standardization.

3.         The teaching of  'creativity', basic design principles and rational analysis.

4.         The integration of art/craft and industrial methods.

A new design culture was to be formed by combining all the professions around a single idea.

"Let us create a new guild of craftsmen without class distinctions that raise a barrier between craftsmen and artist. Together let us desire, conceive and create the new structure of the future, which will embrace architecture sculpture and painting in one unity and which will one day rise towards heaven from the hands of a million workers like the crystal symbol of a new faith" (Gropius. Bauhaus Director. 1919)

15.0  THE BAUHAUS PROGRAMME           

The teaching programme was to take place in a WORKSHOP-BASED environment.

The key idea was: LEARNING THROUGH DOING. Even the painters who came to the Bauhaus, taught art skills in this situation: NOT 'high art' theory, but theories and practice of colour and geometry and analysis of form. The School was divided up into:

a)         Workshops dealing with different materials: wood, metal, fabrics, glass etc.
b)         Drawing and Painting studios
c)         Science and Theory lectures

By 1924 we see the emergence of the 'functional aesthetics' that became the real trademark of the Bauhaus and the final image of Modern Design. The city of Dessau, now under the control of the Nazis, finally closed the School down in 1932.


Teaching individual CREATIVITY as a means of PROBLEM SOLVING. Another key difference from the past was the idea of the NEW. That is, that new forms, shapes and solutions could be created to suit new problems.

In this Bauhaus philosophy, the Form of objects is a result of a detailed functional analysis of the 'problem'. Theoretically, the form simply EMERGED from this functional analysis of purpose and materials. The designer simply brought all these factors together in a coherent way. Unlike the artist, the designer did not IMPOSE his/her personality on the problem, but rather acted as 'midwife' to the potential solution. This was the theory of FUNCTIONALISM - the Bauhaus legacy.

17.0                   DE STIJL (the `Style' ): 1917-1931

De Stijl art and design was more radical in form than Bauhaus-inspired work. Its designs were very uncoventional and abstract. However its unique ideas eventually were merged and became influential within the Bauhaus and eventually within the mainstream Modern movement

Reitveldt's 'red and blue chair' is an excellent example of De Stijl design processes:

18.0  CONSTRUCTIVISM  (1918 - 1932)

Very similar in its way to De Stijl, Constructivism (see lecture no.4) in design terms expressed the same very abstract concerns in a more radical way, perhaps than De Stijl and certainly more so than the Bauhaus. Both movements saw the way forward towards the Modern as a matter of FORM, GEOMETRY and ABTRACTION. This was equally true for their product and architectural design work as it was for their art.


The 1920s were the beginnings of the Modern Movement in design.

The economic despression of the late 20s, the anti-Modern policies of German and Soviet dictatorships and finally in 1939 the start of the Second World War, prevented the mass application of Modern Design principles. They were available and after the War they would be applied on a global scale - as the only design approach and philosophy that suited the Modern Age.


A major shaping force has been the complex pattern of CONSUMERISM in our society, creating new markets for design. A In the 1950s a new affluence was generated by the growth economy and revitalized post-war industry. As the pattern of consumerism became essential to the economic structure of highly industrialized manufacturing nations, it engendered a cycle of obsolescence and renewal. The wheels of industry and comrnerce, oiled by the increasingly sophisticated techniques of advertising, both in print and on television, were kept in motion by a wide middle-class market whose appetite for the new was constantly stimulated.

 A demand  was created for constant stylistic evolution


In a society based on growth, few products escape the cyclical force of fashion.

Style consciousness and design awareness have been greatly stimulated by the proliferation of colour magazines attached to newspapers dedicated to materialistic concerns

Prominent among such magazines are the up-market fashion journals 'Vogue' and 'Harpers Bazaar', more popular womens magazines such as 'Elle' and 'Marie Clair', mens magazines such as 'Playboy' launched in 1953 and the French 'Lui', launched in 1964, the last two were just as interested in selling products, style and gadgetry as with selling female glamour; design magazines such as the British 'Design' or the Italian veteran 'Domus', and interior design magazines such as French 'Art et Decor', the  British 'House and Garden' and American 'House Beautiful'.


The late Fifties saw the birth of advertising as we know it today, a high powered business dedicated to the development of insidiously effective marketing techniques

A significant new market category was the urban young, who around 1955 began to assert their own stylistic ambitions in the United States and in certain European countries, notably Britain. They found a collective identity through the rhythm of the new Rock and Roll, through rebellious young movie heroes such as James Dean and Marlon Brando, and through certain aspects of style, particularly fashion and dance.

In 1955 Mary Quant opened her first Bazaar boutique in the King's Road, Chelsea, a highly
symbolic event in the story of fashion. For fashion was to become dominated by the tastes and demands of a popular young market whose priorites were novelty and stylishness.


No art movement of recent decades has been so influencial within styles and the applied arts at a popular level than  'Pop Art'.

It can be seen as the new urban art, relying upon the 'widely accepted trivia of the  commonplace world, as seen in movies, television, comic strips, newspapers, girlie magazines, "glossies", high fashion, "high camp", car styling, billboards and other advertising.' Pop was an exploration, at times even a glorification, of the gaudy, the transient and the superficial aspects of a consumer society.

In 1956 Pop as born. The Whitechapel Art Gallery held an exhibition, 'This is Tomorrow'Hamilton defined the ingredients of Pop Art as: popular, transient, expendable, low-cost, mass-produced, young, witty, sexy, glamorous and Big Business.

In the United States, Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg, Robert Rauschenberg, Warhol, Tom Wesselman and others using the language of product packaging, from beans to Campbell's Soup tins, comic strips, advertising hoardings and pin ups.


The Pop ethic positively encouraged designers to exploit vulgarity, brashness and bright colour, and to use synthetic or disposable materials in contexts in which they would formerly have been unacceptable. Pop has had a lasting effect on design in a wide variety of media, including interiors, graphics and fashion.


The new International Modernism became the adopted style of big business around the world, expensive understatement symbolizing success in the reception areas of Corporate offices. In an age of jet travel, it provided the conceptual basis for the large commercial design projects of an increasingly urbanized society within such contexts as contract office-planning and the design of airport concourses. In furniture design the  purist designs of early Modern designers such as Mies Van der Rohe, Le Corbusier and Marcel Breuer became international classics.


The form language of Modernism has evolved and in the late Seventies, developed a new style, born as an offshoot of Modern Functionalism. Hi-Tech, or the Industrial Style. by the architects Norman Foster Associates.


Since the mid Fifties in the United States the influence of youth has made itself felt in those aspects of style - self-abandonment and dance - that are central to what sociologists might call: ritual. in the Teddy boy Dandies of Britain and the Existentialist students of Paris, but it was the American young who first attracted attention as a market force. This style-conscious generation of the late fifties has been glorified in such films as 'American Graffitti' (1973) and the clothes and hairstyles, cars, music and drive-ins have been romanticized as part of the folklore of adolescence.

London became a focal point for the young in the Sixties. The Beatles' Era. This British counter culture owed much to the POP art movement for it too was charcterized by a brashness of colour and approach, a sense of impermaence and a  delight in novelty and the superficial. Its most obvious symbols were cheap, eye-catching fun fashions and the bold, gaudy and the Pop frontages of the new boutiques.


In April 1965, 'Harper's Bazaar' devoted an issue to the explosion of youthful talent on both sides of the Atlantic, presenting features on Pop Art, Space-age and Op-Art fashions and the new heroes, among them Bob Dylan and Jean Shrimpton.

POP MUSIC and its associated drug culture were a rich source of inspiration fbr graphic imagery in the psychedelic art of the late sixties. Characterized by hallucinogenic clashing colours and complex, often virtually illegible, organic lettering, this art was drawn from various cult sources. It included Art Nouveau, Surrealist, mystical, Pop, Op, cartoon and other motifs for rock concert posters at the Fillmore Auditorium. In London, the artists Michael English and Nigel Weymouth produced extraordinary psychedelic graphics.

The Beatles promoted the psychedelic style as patrons of a group of young Dutch artists who created rich colourful graphics, with more than a hint of Surrealism. They are best remembered for decorating the Apple store opened by the Beatles in Baker Street. The Beatles animated film 'Yellow Submarine' of 1968 was a remarkable synthesis of fashionable graphic imagery, including purely psychedelic imagery.


The most forceful manifestation of young style after psychedelia and the hippie cult  was the British PUNK phenomenon of around 1976-7. Punk was a counter-culture founded on raw-edged music and half-formed REBELLIOUS philosophies. Its impact on fashion and graphics was considerable and it rapidly entered the vernacular of avant-garde design, suggesting a cynical visual language with a quasi-subversive chic. New Wave graphics which, in a highly-polished and stylish form, have had a lasting influence on the Eighties as part of the ongoing radical or anti design movement which found its most vociferous exponents in Italy.


For the Italians, style, visual and tactile quality, elegance and a certain understated panache have tempered the austerity of pure functionalism.


The radical Italian 'ant-design' movement gained momentum in the Sixties as the stimulation, if necessary by shock tactics. In the Vanguard were Ettore Sottsass, Jr. regarded as the father-figure of the radical design  movement, Gaetano Pesce and the two experimental design studios founded in Florence in 1966, Archizoom and Superstudio.

Sottsass was also influenced by the iconoclastic character of British Pop.


The 1964 Olympics, staged in Tokyo, and the Osaka World Fair of 1970, the last grand-scale international fair, were crucial in encouraging cultural exchange.

The Japanese spirit is evident in designs by the sculptor Isamo Noguchi for lamps, created for American manufacturers and much copied. A young generation of Japanese fashion designers has, in the Eigthties made a considerable impact in the West with styles evolved from Japanes cultural heritage. Isse Miyake is the most celebrated and the most talented.

international language of petrol stations, fast-food outlets, neon signs and advertising hoardings. The Japanese display a seemingly insatiable appetite for slick western commercial photography and for the symbolic brand images of western society, from Coca-Cola to McDonald's.

In Japanese interior and Architectural design, a very distinct and powerful style has emerged. Eg. Arata Isozaki, Tadeo Ando and Shin Takematsu in architecture and Yasuo Kondo and Uchida in Interior Design.


The fashionable, and often controversial, topic of Post-Modernism is central to the applied arts today. This label has been used for a variety of decorative styles which have in common the designer's reaction against what is seen as the sterility of Modernism.
Post-Modernism represents a search for a style of design to enrich and entertain the spirit with visually familiar points of reference, and to stimulate aesthetic responses with the shock of novel forms, patterns, colours and contrasts.

Ettore Sottsass Jr., a key figure in the Italian Radical Design movement has become a spokesman of the influential Italian Post-Modernist movement, particularly as it affects domestic design. As a member of the Alchymia design studio, founded in Milan in 1976 Sottsass, suggested a new language of furniture and object design was characterized by bright, playful colours and lively contrasts, laminates printed with patterns like magnified noodles or granules, and logic defying forms sloping shelves, asymmetrical chairs and tables


Post-Modernism has found its advocates internationally in such figures as the American architect-designer Michael Graves, who has created eclectic furniture for Memphis and other manufacturers; and in the British architectural historian Charles Jencks, who should be credited with giving the movement its label and whose London home is an elaborate excerise in the metaphors of Post Modern decoration.

Modernism today Modernism flourishes in the Knoll International style, and the rationalism of the movement's founders is perpetuated in the work of designers internationally. Exciting designers include Calvin Klein, Georgio Armani, Donna Karen and Norma Zamali in America, the former known for classic, easy styles, the latter for stylishy cut day and evening wear and swimwear;


Theory of Theory of Architecture

Architecture as System 

 By Alex Brown  


 1.                  INTRODUCTION
Theory of Architecture is not History of Architecture by another name. History deals with buildings and the various styles of architecture which have arisen throughout time. History in this sense is a DESCRIPTION of the architectural facts.

Theory attempts to provide an EXPLANATION for those facts. It looks at the reasons why buildings look the way they do and why architects have chosen to design their buildings in particular ways. It also looks at the reasons why architectural styles have changed over time and the assumptions and attitudes of architects which influenced their thinking during particular periods and led to those changes. Equally it looks at the sources for the ideas that architects use in the design of their buildings. Where do architectural ideas come from? How do they get into circulation? Examples of movements, influences, ideas and theories in architecture which changed the course of architecture over time – the way it looked and the styles that were used. That is which made buildings different to what they were before. How theory influenced the practice of architecture by introducing new perceptions of the same events - new way of looking at reality and therefore new ways of representing that reality in built form.

a)                  Buildings are material facts. They are physical things. No matter how complicated they are, their basic function is to provide shelter for human beings against a hostile climate.  As physical enclosures they also provide a psychological sense of security to their inhabitants.

b)                  Because buildings contain different activities and are built in different locations, they are necessarily different to one another. They respond to their particular context (time, place, technology & programme). Individual buildings represent very particular individual circumstances.

c)                  Yet there are similarities between buildings -sometimes considerable similarities even between buildings of different size and function. A survey of the many buildings built during a period of history will show that they can be classified into groups of similar buildings. That is, buildings which share similar characteristics. They use the same basic set of forms to solve their very different programmatic, climatic or locational problems. In other words they use the same language to express their different situations.

d)                  Architects in the same geographic area exchange information and experiences. They look at each others work and select forms which they combine in their own individual projects. The forms used in these projects are then selected by other architects. This continuous selection of forms between the architects within the same architectural area produces an increasing similarity of form. Buildings begin to look similar to one another because certain architectural forms are selected more often than others. These forms become typical of an architectural group. They become its identity and define its character.

e)                  This typical set of forms used by a number of different buildings is called a STYLE.  Styles are groups of similar buildings. Sometimes there are several styles existing together. Sometimes there is a single dominant style which most architects use.
A style is a similarity between a large number of different buildings no matter what their purpose or function. The style emerges over time and through the practice of many architects. It acts a model of behaviour for architects and provides an economic solution to the problem of designing buildings. The architects does not have to invent every building from nothing. The style (as model), offers a ready-made set of elements which have been developed and tried by many architects over time and which are understood or familiar to the public. These few elements can be selected and combined for new projects.

 f)         Architecture can be defined as the stylistic similarity between different buildings. Architecture in this sense is not a physical state but rather INFORMATION.  That is, information which characterizes (gives a particular identity) to buildings which are physical objects – material facts. Communication between architects produces information – styles or patterns of behaviour which influence or shape buildings.

To understand what Theory of Architecture is, we must first look at what architects DO in the design buildings.

The basic function of architecture is to REPRESENT social institutions in built form.

To do this they TRANSLATE the complex relationships of an institution into the language of architecture. (That is the programme of the institution). These are relationships between the various activities which take place within the institution. Architects give each of these activities a particular physical space and these spaces are arranged according to the functional relationships between groups of activities within the institution. In this way a building represents the ORGANIZATION of the institution in physical form.

a)        Individual buildings represent individual programmes, circumstances and institutions. They REPRESENT the relations between different parts of the institution.  They represent those relations IN BUILT FORM. That is, in the language of architecture.

b)        The style – as a collective phenomenon – REPRESENTS the relations between all of the architectural work in a given area and the many institutions which they represent. These institutions outside architecture act as the ENVIRONMENT of architecture. Architecture represents that environment with built form. Not, however with any kind of forms, but with the typical set of forms produced by the interaction between many architects over time. That is, with the current style.

c)       Theory of Architecture looks at the kind of choices architects can make in selecting forms for their buildings. When architects select forms from the work of other architects to be combined in their own work, they are making a choice. Eg. ‘What is the most suitable combination of forms for this particular circumstance or project?’ ‘What is the most suitable combination of forms which can EXPRESS (represent) the character of this particular institution?’ Does this building (this representation) match the organization, the complexity, the symbolic character or expected social meaning of the institution which is being represented.

            At the level of the whole of architecture, Theory of architecture asks the same sort of questions: does the current style match the state of the environment which it is meant to represent? Does it offer enough choice to the architect to accurately express the character and complexity of social institutions? The environment changes over time. Styles change too, but at a different rate. It is possible that the style no longer adequately represents the environment. It may be that a new style is necessary – a new approach to architecture.

This relation between the architectural form of buildings during a particular period – the historical facts - and the institutions (the environment) which they represent is the area of Theory of architecture. Theory of architecture can be understood in several ways:

a)                  Theory acts as a critical function between what architects actually do and what they think they are doing or what they should be doing. It identifies the difference between performance and achievement. If the task of architecture is the correct or accurate representation of its environment (social institutions), then theory assesses how well that task has been achieved.

b)                 Theory identifies problems which occur when architecture fails to represent its environment successfully. These are semantic problems. That is, problems of MEANING where the identity of the institution (its character, purpose or organization) cannot be understood or PREDICTED by looking at its architectural form.
Theory of architecture analyses the causes of such problems and in some cases offers solutions. When we say that Theory is used to analyse something, we mean something quite specific. That is, HOW SUCCESSFULLY architecture represents that particular institution.

c)                  The analysis of the success or failure of a single building or the work of a small group of architects in the task of architectural representation is called: architectural criticism.  Theory applies the same kind of critical thinking to the global level of architecture - to the whole of architectural production. It looks at the stylistic choices currently available to architecture and asks whether they are capable of adequately representing the current environment. This is theory’s critical role.

d)                 Do the current styles match the complexity of the environment? Do they allow architects the necessary vocabulary to respond to human psychological, physical, social and symbolic needs. If they do not, why not and what are the options open to architects to solve these problems. Architects do not ‘design’ styles. They emerge over long periods of historical time through the work of many architects. Thus individual architects cannot invent styles on their own which ‘work better’. In order to be understood, they MUST use the currently available styles. These are the only language available to them even if they don’t work too well. Architects cannot choose NOT to use the styles. They are trapped  in history - they have to use them.  If they don’t use the available styles (architectural languages), no one will understand their buildings.

Theory of architecture analyses this condition and identifies the nature of architectural problems, suggesting alternative approaches. That is, ways in which architects can break out of this historical trap – ways they can successfully represent social institutions with architectural form.

e)        Theory of Architecture offers critical analysis of the relation between architecture and other institutions. It does so by: 

i.                  Offering architectural criticism of the design of single works or groups of works in terms of their success or failure.

ii.                Looking at what architects WANT TO ACHIEVE against what they ACTUALLY ACHIEVE in the act of representation

iii.              Offering possible solutions to the semantic or stylistic problems within architecture as a whole (new stylistic approaches, images, sources of inspiration or new directions). Sometimes it imagines a future architecture where current problems have been solved.  (The Utopian solution).

iv.             Providing explanation, context and historical background to critical issues in architecture and to current problems. It says why things are the way they are.

v.               Examining the process and techniques by which designs are created and the influence which these have architectural form. For instance, in order to translate the form of the institution into an equivalent architectural form, the design process may exclude complex relationships within the institution. While this may provide a simple diagrammatic explanation, it fails to accurately represent the complex reality of things. Here, Theory would indicate that the design process itself is inadequate for its stated purpose of representation.

Theory identifies critical problems in architecture. Some examples of these kinds of problems are given below:

a)                 When buildings or styles are too similar to each other
For instance, if the buildings of a particular period are too similar to one another or its forms are too stereotyped and rigidly fixed, the difference between different buildings cannot be expressed or represented. If all buildings looked the same, there would be a serious semantic (meaning) problem. One would not be able to tell the meaning, purpose or function of any of them. One would in a sense be ‘lost’, unable to differentiate one place from another.

b)        When buildings or styles are too different from each other
For instance, as in the 19th century, where there are too many equally-valid competing styles in architecture to give a single coherent image of the environment. In this case there are too many differences between buildings. If everywhere is different from everywhere else – there are no similarities – then one would again be psychologically ‘lost’.

c)         The Introduction of new Building Types
The ‘sudden’ increase in the number of new building types which emerged during the Industrial Revolution in the early 19th century: railway stations, large factories, mass housing, office buildings, departmental stores, could not be adequately handled by existing architectural forms. A whole set of new forms had to be invented to cope with these problems – a whole new architecture called the Modern Movement was born.

19th century theory concentrated on this particular issue. What would a new and ‘Modern Architecture’ look like? How would its forms be shaped to cope with these new large-scale and complex building types?

 d)       Rigid Styles which generate Hostile or Aggressive Environments
Or, in the 20th century, where the rigid and geometric forms of Modern Architecture were regarded as hostile, abstract and meaningless having nothing to do with human sensitivities. In both these cases, it was generally understood that there was something fundamentally wrong with the architecture of the period. The result was a crisis of meaning in the 1970s, a rejection of Modern Architecture and the rise of the Post-Modern Movement.

e)         The loss of Regional Character or Identity in Architecture
Theory can point to the loss of particular regional architectural types when an economically dominant society imposes its culture on another society. For instance Modern Western architecture has replaced regional architectures in the Middle East, Africa and Asia because of the dominance of Western (European/American) economic power. This loss means that a single dominant architecture is imposed everywhere. There are no other ways of representing things. The special identity of places and cultures is wiped out in favour of a single global culture. There is a loss of cultural complexity and variety. That is different ways of expressing things. This is like the loss of regional languages which allow peoples to identify ‘who they are’ and express their cultural differences from other societies. Theory can discuss this problem and suggest possible solutions.

The general function of Theory of Architecture is to define the relationship between architecture (which itself is a social institution) and the other institutions in a society. In all cases, however its primary concern is the state of the architectural language – its capacity to represent those institutions - how that language expresses or represses the symbolic and organizational character of other institutions. It also deals with the influence of these other areas on architecture itself. Theory of Architecture in this way is a truly interdisciplinary subject.
For example, theory can analyse the relation between:

a)                  Architecture and Sociology
Studies how architecture expresses the changing relationships within society and the emergence of new social groups. Eg. Urbanization. The rise of an industrial working class or middle class in the 19th century – eg. mass public housing The rise of the post war consumer society. The suburban dream or minority ghettos. Different architectural or urban building types in different societies. Theory in this case deals usually with URBAN issues and how the City changes to meet new social and population developments. Also looks at how architecture reflects the complexity and plurality of society in the late 20th century – its division into numerous special interest groups. Can a single architectural style really express this plurality of interests? Post Modern architecture as a response to increasing diversity of lifestyle and social groupings by introducing multiple styles. Other examples of this kind of theory include the study of how architecture represents gender issues, minority groups, the disabled, etc. etc. and ultimately how it reinforces the roles and stereotypes which prevail in a society.

b)                  Architecture and Technology
Studies the influence and use of new technologies on the shape of architecture. In historical terms the use of iron and concrete in the development of the Modern Movement in architecture. Examines the possibilities for new architectural expression based on developing technologies. Eg. Archigram in the 1960s theorized the possibility of fluid or mobile cities. New communication or computer technologies – virtual realities - suggest the possibility of distibuted spaces rather than specific locations for buildings.

c)                  Architecture and Politics, Wealth, Power or Class
Analyses how the social division of society is reflected in the architecture of a period – the type of buildings and the type of symbolic images and forms used to reflect power within a society. Eg. The architecture of monarchies, dictatorships or democracies will be different. In what way do the relationships of power within a society affect the architecture? Eg. The shape of Baroque architecture and the use of the dominant axis, or the presence of Modern Corporate power in the design of office buildings. Or, analyses the theocratic architecture of India or South East Asia in terms of the strict organization of society and architecture laid down by rulers. Looks at ‘revolutionary architecture’ as a break with tradition and authority. Eg. Boulle and Ledoux during the French revolutionary period.  Studies the relation of Modern architecture to democratic

d)                  Architecture and Art
Studies the sometimes very close relationship and influences between the art of a period and its architecture. Eg. The invention of perspective and new drawing techniques by Renaissance artists and the work of Neoclassical and Romantic painters decidely influenced the design of buildings during those periods. Note also the direct relationship between Cubist painting and the development of the early Modern Movement. So too, Modern graphic art and the movies suggest new, imaginative forms which architects can use in the design of their buildings. Modern art, which deals with environmental design (Installation Art) produces ideas which become influential with current architectural thought.

e)                  Architecture and Philosophy
Philosophical ideas about meaning, order, ethics, the ideal, rationalism, the methods of critical thought, deconstructivism, logic, consistency, the idea of beauty, harmony, aesthetics, theories of mind, representation and perception, and so on all have their parallels in the Theory of Architecture. Usually these relate to how to organize buildings according to some non-functional but controlling idea such as symmetry, hierarchy or multiple axes and how to integrate the different parts of a building into a coherent and understandable or meaningful whole. Theory can also take a moral or ideological position where it demands that architecture express the shape or form of a better society – a more just or moral society. (Eg. Arts and Crafts movement).  Also, the philosophical concept of functionalism or instrumentalism has been translated into architectural terms by the expression of the internal dynamics (spaces) of the building. Some of these ideas where incorporated into the forms and organization of the Modern Movement in architecture. A more recent and complex philosophical analysis of architecture is that of Deconstructivism. In this, Theory is used to compare the complexity of the programme or the institution with the inevitably simplified version represented in the building. In Deconstructivist terms, the order of the building ‘pretends’ to represent the institution but in fact merely substitutes a set of preconceived and simplistic forms. While the building seems to have an order, it is not in fact the order of the institution which it is supposed to represent. In Deconstructivist terms, the building must express the complexities and contradictions, accidental arrangements and organizational collisions which are the real nature of all institutions. What architecture usually does is to reflect only a pure or ideal version of the institution not the messy reality. The issue of how architectural form is actually perceived by humans can also be found in philosophical ideas and this can be taken into account in the manipulation of built form.

f)                   Architecture and History
This looks at the uses of history in the pursuit of architectural form. Eg. The idea of ‘historicism’ where there is a deliberate use of traditional forms in modern buildings to provide continuity with the past and increased meaning in the form of new buildings. This is either by the direct use of forms from past architectures or as eclecticism where forms from different past and present styles are mixed together. And, the counter-argument which rejects the use of past forms as superficial and decadent. Theory looks at the function of history in architectural design and how previous forms are re-combined to produce the new. Theory also looks at the idea that each architecture is a pure product of the social and economic  processes of its own time quite separate from previous architectures. This radical idea formed the basis of the early Modern Movement which completely rejected traditional forms. Today, however, with Post-Modern architecture traditional forms can be freely combined within a modern building in order to give it an ‘instant’ memory – a set of ready made associations and a richness of image.

g)                  Architecture and Science
The various branches of science, from physics to biology to cognitive studies to systems theory and artificial intelligence (AI), cybernetics and computer engineering offer examples and analogies to processes operating within architecture.  These are of essentially two kinds: those such as AI and computer engineering which deal with the design process. For instance, identifying or mapping networks of relationships and hierarchies within the institution to be represented as a building. The theory is that these ‘scientific’ techniques allow the architect to be more accurate in the design of the organization. Sciences such as physics, biology or general systems theory provide examples of architectures as ‘systems’ or ‘organisms’ in terms of system-environments, behaviour, cybernetic feedback, field theory (space-time perception) and others. These suggest examples of how social institutions like architecture might operate. These are necessarily abstract examples and attempt to get a different or ‘outside’ perspective of how the discipline functions without getting involved in the languages, history or practices of architecture.

i)          Architecture and Human perception
Theory and practice both suggest that HOW human beings perceive buildings will affect how buildings are designed. People get their experience of things through their five senses: sight, touch, taste, smell & hearing. There are also psychological factors in how people perceive space and form – issues of familiarity, distance, colour and the shape or spatial; definition of space (narrow, enclosing, open vistas, concentric or linear, axiality, etc.). Each of these factors – sense and psychology – can be used to analyse the success or even just the character of built space. Theory looks at buildings in terms of how it they are supposed to be seen or experienced and how it is ACTUALLY experienced. Theory compares what we know about human perception and the experience of shape, colour and texture (decoration) of particular buildings. Theory can also discuss architecture in terms of perceptual territory, psychological security, defensible space, the relation between social groups and their identification with particular urban areas. That is how people perceive their social space and how new buildings reinforce or destroy that identification. (Eg. Living in tower blocks surrounded by open space rather than low level housing and high densities. A factor in this kind of analysis is to match crime, social delinquency, psychological or social alienation and community breakdown to the shape of architectural and urban space).

j)          Architecture and the Future
One of Theory’s tasks is to suggest alternative architectures. There are three possible ways of doing this. The first is to produce architectures of the future which are designed to suit new or developing technological or social conditions. Some of these ideas can then be incorporated into present day architecture to solve current problems or provoke a change in direction and a recognition of developing trends that are not being expressed in architecture. The second is that these completely imaginary architectures are used to shock or disrupt the normal processes of architectural thinking. These attempt to break architecture out of a cultural trap where it produces inexpressive or cliched buildings or shapes the form of architecture purely in terms of functional or instrumental goals. In such a case, an imaginary (or Utopian) architecture might propose an architecture stripped of all references to history and to the conventional forms of architecture. To produce a truly radical architecture by inventing or discovering forms which had no precedent in history. The third is to produce pure works of the imagination – graphics which are in a sense artworks. They are there to provoke wonder or pleasure in the viewer – an experience in itself. In this case the architectural forms are merely the content or subject matter of a work of art. These however can be provocative and influential, in some cases producing changes in architecture itself.

k)         Architecture and the City
Theory of architecture deals in many cases with urban design theories. It is in the complexity of the City that architecture finds its truest expression. That is, in the collision of many different buildings both from the past and the present and from the many functions which the City includes. There is a direct parallel between the theory of architecture and that of urban design. In both cases the issue is to represent in built form and in spatial enclosure the organization of a social institution. The City is the most complex social institution in history. It has to be given physical form inspired by or determined by the nature or character of the many sometimes conflicting institutions which co-exist within it. Theory of architecture as such analyses architectural interventions in the City – how they either reinforce or change its identity. The architectural basic elements of this urban analysis can be the network of streets, routes and paths, squares, focal points, neighbourhoods, domains, symbolic centres, boundaries, public monuments, vistas, enclosures, the presence of nature (parks, water), the continuity of street fronts, the significance of street corners and so on. These elements are matched against the functional zoning of the city into business, industry, housing, entertainment, government areas and in general into the complex mix of functions which make up the city itself and its transport infrastructure. The other factor is that the City is the product of continuous development through many historical periods and that this constrains the present and future development of the City. The City is layers of memory slowly transforming through time – a geological - sedimentary  (deep) structure as society after society writes out its own character in physical form. Theory looks at new types of city structures which incorporate new urban technologies – superhighways, trains airports and the changing relation of the countryside to the City.

l)          Architecture and Ecology
Ecology deals with the relationship between an organism and its environment. That is, how well the organism responds (adapts) to changing conditions in that environment. The behaviour of the organism. Its ability to respond to heat, cold, light, its use of energy in order to survive. Or, in the worst case its tendency to destroy its environment and thus destroy itself.  In architectural terms, these factors are expressed in the form and materials a building uses and its ability to conserve and use energy generated by the natural environment or its own internal processes. An ecologically sensible building will be designed on the basis that it can deal with the local climate (sunlight or cold) without the need for expensive importation of energy (electricity), eg. in the form of air conditioning. The form of a building is dictated by many factors (programme, site, technology, finance, etc.), ecology is another factor which constrains (controls) the final shape of a building. For instance the design of a building can be influenced by the need for shading from sunlight, thermal insulation of its walls, the use of natural ventilation techniques, natural air circulation, orientation, solar panels, re-cycling of its water, low technology construction techniques, use of traditional or low energy building methods and materials in certain regions, the use of internal courtyards, compact layouts or response to the existing topology and landscape features. Theory of architecture analyses current building technology and design to see how efficiently new buildings are designed to optimize energy resources and minimize waste.

Architecture – like any other language – represents experience with a combination of particular forms. In other words, architecture communicates experience. The elements of any communication systems can be described as ‘signs’. That is, something which stands for (represents) something else. The study of these sign systems, what they mean in combination with each other and the rules by which they can be combined (the grammar or syntax) is called Semiotics. Architecture can be analysed in semiological terms as a system of signs (architectural forms) which are drawn from a familiar and generally-understood vocabulary (Style) and combined to mean something in particular circumstances. Any system of communication involves three levels of activity. Semiotics defines these as:

a)      SYNTACTICS: the rules which govern the acceptable combination of signs (the syntax or grammar). In architectural terms this would be the stylistic rules or conventions which govern the combination of a group of architectural forms. Forms cannot be combined at random. If they are, the result is meaningless. Syntactic rules are derived from the most recurrent or regular practices of the past. They are familiar and they become the standard practice, the norm which guides all future acts of communication.

b)      SEMANTICS: the meaning of the signs. What they are supposed to suggest, or the associations they produce in the observer’s mind. ‘Meaning’ refers to how familiar or probable a particular combinations of signs are. If the form of an object such as a building is totally unfamiliar – it is meaningless. Semantics deals with the difference between the POSSIBLE as against the PROBABLE (the familiar or understandable). Spoken language is very similar. There are an infinite number of possible sounds or ‘words’. However, only a few of these will have any semantic use. The others will be meaningless and thus useless. There are an infinite number of possible architectural forms that can be imagined and built. However, there are only a few of these which can have any meaning or significance in architecture.

c)             PRAGMATICS: all communication has an intention, a goal or a function. Each act of communication (such as design of a single building) is a report or a message about an event. In architecture the building is a meaningful report IN BUILT FORM about the relations between the different parts of an institution. (the event). In order to carry out the task of communication it is necessary that the message be clearly understood. This is the pragmatics of communication. It defines the communicational PURPOSE of the message – the likelihood of its being understood and acted upon in a particular context or the circumstances.  In different circumstances (context) the same message (the same building design ) will mean something completely different. Pragmatics governs the selection (of signs) and combination of those signs in each particular case. Pragmatics compares the intended message/meaning with the actual message/meaning.

Communication involves both codes and messages. In architectural terms, a code is a style – a set of TYPICAL ways of doing things, while the building is a message – an ACTUAL way of doing things. The code - which limits the possible arrangement of the elements of a message is not a separate ‘thing’ from the message. It is the name for the most typical or probable features present in the many messages (buildings) which are created in the system of communication (architecture). A code or an architectural style is a VIRTUAL entity (thing) – a statistical concept scanned out of the similarities between the many elements of the real world. Remember: a style is a similarity of form between a large number of buildings. So too a code is a similarity of form between a large number of messages.

Theory of architecture is the tool by which architects check or compare the goals of architecture with its actual achievements. It is the critical function which regulates the practice of architecture and attempts to bring it back into line with its function of accurately representing social experience.

In many cases Theory of Architecture is presented as a WRITTEN COMMENTARY (a text) on the physical or visual reality of architecture – its buildings. However, it can also be presented in the form of a VISUAL COMMENTARY – drawings, which propose alternative or imaginary architectures, or new directions for existing architectures.  In both cases Theory can be defined as the regulatory function of architecture, or perhaps in a moral sense - its conscience.