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The Architectural Self

For better buildings.


The Beginning

The Question

The Language of Us

The Embodiment

The Attitude

The System

Disclaimer This book was written by a student (Summerlyn Alexa Walker; me) who in the last year of her undergraduate architecture degree decided to write a manifesto regarding her observations on architecture. She has had no professional experience. No built works. More than likely zero credibility. Only a few unrealized studio projects, a degree, and the guidance of an architecture professor. This aside, I still have much to learn however, for the sake of community, I believe that I may be right.

The Beginning

As a young kid I always felt the need to do and think differently from others. For years I hid this away because I thought the correct thing to do was to be part of the “normal;” live within the reality that the masses of society have constructed; go by the book. But as I grew older and made my way through design school I have come to the conclusion that conforming yourself to assume the position of normal is most likely the worst possible thing you could do for yourself. Assuming the position of anyone other than yourself is boring. Being normal is boring. I want to challenge the normal. Destroy the normative. We live in a paradoxical world; a world of architectural tectonics that simply iterates upon itself; that leaves us with cities that are only a monotonous blur of normals. Of profit box market urbanist housing that are fitted with “modern finishes.” The paradox of this world is the society; the community and culture that flows within the tectonics. The multitudes of micro cultures, sub cultures, neighborhoods, families, individuals who are all so diverse but have been branded “normal” by our environment. And I hate this. I never understood this paradox. If we are living in a diversified world and the current cultural condition is to find unity within diversity then why do our environments unify us identically? Why do architects keep generating revit modules that have nothing to do with the individuals of the populace? With their perspectives? With their selves? We build so representatively. We build these profit boxes and then assume that our only idea of context is physical so we keep building profit boxes (because the box is all we have contextually) and then what? Everything looks the same, an amalgam of market urbanist streets where there is no diversity, there is no adjustment or concern of the program and therefore there is no specific adherence to the neighborhood’s users and their perspectives. So you are left with these empty buildings that have little to no connection with the people living within them.


When we are building we are so consumed with things like the parti or the plans and sections or the elevations, or power words like axis or cluster or whatever; the physicality of the building, the components and construction of the building. Thats great and they are of course of necessity but design based on physicalites are not the way we should think of the physicalities. The physical aspects of the building should come naturally but in order for this to occur there must be a focus on the people; the community for which the building is intended. The experiences, cultural trends, and local typologies and how these are DEFINED are what should inform design; a definition that informs the language of the physical architecture. When constructing architecture you first must construct the experience, the story of how you will inhabit the building. Without this definition, without this context and without this sequence your walls will just be walls and your revit models will just be revit models; the meaning of these components will lack in a human language; a cultural self. Buildings are physical manifestations of our lives; of the people inhabiting the building. Define this context and the tectonics and construction will follow. Define the lives of the people first and the architecture will come.


The Question


Something that I’ve always found odd is how people walk around dressing up like clones, wearing the same department store brands, the same hairstyles, the same make up, the same overall clothing type. I never understood it. It makes me think deeply about how heavily influential our environments are; how when we look around we see these huge developments popping up all around our cities and that none of them are socially or culturally conscious. They all have the same language, the same datum lines, the same window treatments. These developments cause our cities and our neighborhoods to be a monotonous blur.



Where is the architecture that speak



ks to the reality of our individualism?




If we continue to support market urbanism, we are teaching society to remain segregated from those who are different. Our attitudes become embedded in this ideology of separation and discrimination. Look at where the United States is now, our suburbs are stuck in this false homogeneous society, where all of our homes, strip malls and stores look the same. And then we look at our political leaders who are segregating those who are different; the immigrants, LGBTQ and women who have to fight to “fit into the status quo.” It’s ridiculous and yet as architects we do nothing. We preach for datum lines and context that speaks only to the physical environment and does not set out to challenge the norms and the stigmas of society. We create architecture that does not embody our culture and does not seek for an understanding it only seeks to blend.



So where really is the self? Where is the archit

If we think about our life experiences we often think about the where, the what an by, and additionally how that experience influenced our perspectives. In turn our

within the world. Our identity is a reflection of ourselves but the difference is tha

hide in order to fit into the “normal.� I can only conclude that ourse

Our environments determine our experiences, and our experiences alter our per


If architecture can manifest the intention rather than the result then we remove the

of our reality. I fight for an architecture that embodies; the embodiment of somet

tive. Architecture that represents does not self reflect becaus


tecture that represents our contextual reality?

nd the how. Where we were when we had experiences, what we were surrounded perspectives shape our sense of self, the manner with which we hold ourselves

at our identities are only surface level. We hide ourselves behind a construct. We

elves, and our identities, are shaped by our environmental context.

rspectives, our perspectives make up ourselves which then are surfaced by our


e false identity, we remove the representation and we remove the false perception

thing allows us to see the intention rather than the result because it is self reflec-

se it only sees the identity; the surface; the physical context.


The Language of Us

When all of our neighborhoods look the sa

You wouldn’t often associate yourself with walls

architecture is actually an accurate manifestation of our own perspectives and



ame we to lose our sense of individuality.

or structure or facades but the reality is that our

d our own cultural identities. The problem exists when the architecture chooses

t to.


alfred browning parker. craft oriented, incredibly successful starkitect.

me. knows nothing about architecture. naive central.


Growing up in the suburbs of Charlotte North Carolina I was surrounded by a community that was full of normalcy. The neighborhoods all looked the same, from one house to another. Sure they are ‘different” but linguistically, they read the same.

Meanwhile, throughout my entire life I have taken visits to aunt’s home in South Carolina. The house was designed by Alfred Browning Parker, an understudy of Frank Lloyd Wright.

My entire life, I have been exposed to this home. Even when I was younger it felt different from my home in Charlotte. The house has a peculiar way of making a person feel completely at peace. Even without knowing about architecture I noticed this disparity; the way the light nestles itself within the living room, the manner in which the length and height of the stairs are so effortlessly placed that your feet nearly glide through its halls. The architecture is so human and so comforting, that you don’t recognize the scale or the fact that it is even there. In this way it dissipates.


The architecture dissolves in order to place emphasis on these nu

confront yourself and therefore establish an understanding of self. A home should

the family. It should spea

My aunt’s home is a piec

The suburban amalgam of homes in Charlotte are only iterations of others. They

my aunt’s home is a personification or embodiment of the family because it choo



uances; what is quite possibly phenomenological. It allows you to

d strip you of your identity in order to self realize. It should be a personification of

ak in terms of the family.

ce of art; of architecture.

y are not adherent to the family. The family personifies those buildings whereas

oses to dissipate and humble itself to reveal it’s true reality; it’s true intention; the




Her home has taught me of an architecture rooted in a personified language of place and person. Market urbanism is not architecture. Architecture is designed, crafted, personified and embodied.


The Embodiment

How can tain this of embod How do w it re 25

n we obconcept diment? we make eal? 26


Anne Carson, a postmodern literary writer, describes a term she calls muteness as something that exists as having a strong presence that lives within absence. Due to a subject’s muteness, the subject makes itself present via the voice of his absence.

This is how we should think about the term embodiment.

When I say that architecture should be culturally considerate I mean that architecture should draw from the subtext of a community. We see a community on the surface and we can describe that community but when we dissect that community’s surface we see ideals that have constructed that community. These ideals are the muteness; the perspectives that are not spoken outright but rather have constructed the community’s actions, the community’s self. The muteness is separate from the identity, because the muteness does not identify, it is simply the understanding of the identity; the definition.

The embodiment is equivalent to the definition. Whereas representation is the word defined.



Architecturally, we see the problem of representation occurring often in our societies. Buildings attempt to resemble or represent what is already there. This way of thinking only promotes sameness because all architects are doing is utilizing the same language or words to re-create something that already exists, leaving behind an iteration.

Architecture should not be just iterations of our communities.

Our architecture needs to build upon the ideals and re-define definitions that bred the community to begin with. In doing this we can re-affirm and advance societal trends because it is no longer a repetition of the same word, it is rather a reinterpretation of the definition.


In other words, please sto


op building profit boxes.


The Attitude

Lets take a moment to look at fashion.



When we look at clothes oftentimes we are concerned with appearance. Which, of course, is not a bad or stupid thing. However, we have the tendency to walk into a store, sift through some shirts and think this color is cute, or these sunglasses look nice. You try them on and you reflect, “this fits well, it’s too small, these shoes are just too cool,” or whatever and then you buy them.

Makes sense.

Well now think about the meaning of those shoes or those shirts for a minute. If you look at Moschino’s 2017 fall Ready to Wear, the collection center’s itself around our obsessions with fast delivery packing companies such as Amazon Prime and FreshDirect. Moschino cleverly places all the models into little packages so the person becomes the joke of this cultural stab. Additionally, the collection features a popular 2017 trend of patchwork that was used as an embellishment to correctly represent the package. Patchwork has trickled down through our society’s runway and department store collections and now is a hopeless and meaningless part of our society’s fashion. It is hopeless because through its trickling it has lost its meaning. It is now only an iteration and no longer an embodiment of something cultural.



We look at the runway of the present and see PVC fabric everywhere. Yes, plastic

dards these fabrics define a modern culture. A new self

Fabrics like latex, and PVC makes a woman feel sexy and confident bec

The taboo is that women who work in the bdsm community wear latex and PVC f

work as dominatrixs are revered in the fetish community as powerful, strong, in



c. Why do we see PVC, patent leathers, and latexes’? Because by designers stan-

f separate from those that have died in previous years.

cause there is a specific history and culture associated with the fabric.

fabrics because the fabric itself has been sexualized over the years. Women who

ndependent women. For them, wearing latex and PVC is about confidence and



So when you go to the store and you see these fabrics with bits of latex or PVC, or fabrics that may mimic the appearance of these such as patent leathers, you must realize that these styles, cuts, and fabrics of the shirts on the display stand were not just put there to make you feel “cute.� They were put there because people like Moschino and Balmain have handpicked these cuts, fabrics, and styles in order to generate a new societal definition via the new vogue. The distribution of these fabrics and the wearing of theses clothes instills a specific ideology amongst the targeted community. Which in the case of PVC and latex is women empowerment.

Fashion is an embodiment of a person’s attitude. The attitude is created by the designer when he or she creates a garment. The garment, not the identity of the individual is what brings the attitude to life. The cut, the fit, and the fabric are the tectonics of the garment and they are all generating an attitude via their inter-relation within the garment. If the designer were to build a garment on a pre-existing attitude then his/her fashion would only be representative of current clothes. The designer chooses to embody an attitude that is inspired; a manifestation of emerging cultural trends; trends that decidedly need to be reinterpreted or revealed.

Architecture should be constructed in a similar manner. 41


The architecture is equivilant to the garment. The trends of our communities are e redefine the trends of the community for which he/she


equivilant to the attitude. Like the fashion designer, it is the duty of the architect to is building in order to generate a self actualized reality.


The System


To provide an example of an architectural self, we can look at the development of the motel in the United States.

The motel was originally constructed along major interstate highways during the late 1920s. The motel was intended to offer certain amenities, such as gas, comfortable beds, and a community where travelers can meet other travelers. Some of the original motels were more oriented around the idea of a camp ground. Where the rooms were rendered as cabins. Some of the cabins were devoted to representing the rustic home aesthetic. But what’s interesting about this is that the people who were traveling during this era were drawn to this hometown aesthetic, where the idea of a “mom and pop’” home business was something that was rather appealing.

From this I can conclude that it wasn’t necessarily what the building looked like that was appealing but it was more of what the building had to offer; the subtext of the architecture; the reason for which it was built; the intention vs. the identity.



The amenities and the idea of “mom and pop�, the idea of the rustic, farming aesthetic and the idea of a traveling community culture is what built these motels.

Therefore the embodiment of these ideals within the motel’s physical architecture made the motel successful during the period of the 1920s to the 1960s. The concepts that the motel embodied were relevant for the American culture at the time, they were ideals that were attractive.

The desire to explore the United States along brand new crisp highways that spanned the entire country, the want to meet and share those exploratative experiences with people on the same mission at these random little motels scattered across the highway, is what makes motels a prime example of an architecture constructed around a self; the perspectives and desired experiences of a community.

Sure they were shanky, but the ideals of what that building means to its community are more important than the appearance will ever be.



The self in regards to architecture are the community perspectives and themes, the conceptual foundations for which the architecture is built upon. When we build we think tectonically. But the meaning of these tectonics should respond and respect the contextual community and culture’s ideals. It is therefore the job of the architect to dissect and generate a tectonic system that adheres to these ideals.

Architectural tectonics are not only about “the feeling” or “the structure” or “light” but rather about the meaning for which these tectonics were intended to be constructed.

With that intention clearly in mind, the feeling, the structure, the light quality, the finishes, the plans, the sections, all of it, fall into place because you have already created a system for the tectonics to follow. A language of self revolved around the perspectives, trends and ideas of the contextual community.


The idea, the meaning and the concept are what constructs that system; it is wha

and context When the architect generates a system via a self, the resultant architecture

architectural language that allows us to generate an appropriate architectu



at re-emphasizes and re-defines ourselves and therefore establishes a corrected

tual identity. becomes that of a personification of community. This personification is the

ural identity. Translating the intention to the result, making the subtext real.




An excellent example of this is brutalist architecture.

I’ve always found pleasure in the presence of a brutalist building, with their monolithic proportions protruding into the street, the manner in which they make you feel small. They speak loudly amongst their neighbors. Their bold voice makes the user fully aware of their presence. A powerful, strong, domineering affect.

Because of their ability to speak so profoundly loud, they are some of the most jarring beauties. You know exactly what they are thinking, what their walls are beckoning you to do. In their presence you know to be quiet; you know to move swiftly through and at some points with unease. They put you on the edge of your seat the way you question their monstrosity.

But this experience is of course intentional. It is the manifestation of a contextualized perception.



It was the intention of the architect when building Raleigh’s Wake County courthouse, to make a brutalist building. When you think judicial, you think government. The government must be firm, must express its power, must be respected, and must distinguish itself from the rest of society in order to establish itself as an authority. This is the self of the brutalist building. Its proportionality, and its physical presence are its identity. The butalist building self actualizes.


Moving Forward


We need to redefine the way we think about constructing architecture. We can no longer hide behind terminology that only represents other terminology. The beauty of language lies within its possibilities, its un-ending ability to re-define other words.

We should be curious about language, about definitions. The need to question our definitions and the way we view ourselves is such a powerful thing. Without question and without challenge we remain stagnant. We retain a false identity. We choose to not decipher, to not question. We choose only to accept.

When we stop accepting we find the mute. We realize the hidden and we become self aware. We shed our skins and aim to push past normatives.

Architecturally I can only hope for a future that exceeds this expectation, an architecture that chooses to self actualize in order to appropriately and inventively stand for the people, for the citizens of our communities. This architecture does not hinder creative outlook, but rather seeks to exonerate it.




Image Source


Carson, Anne, et al. Nox. New Directions, 2010. 36

Wilcox, Claire, et al. Viveinne Westwood. Victoria & Albert Museum, 2005. 38

Phelps, Nicole. “Fashion, Beauty, Celebrity, Fashion Shows.” Vogue, Vogue, 31 Dec. 1969, Moschino. Fall Ready-to-Wear ‘17. 40

Bolton, Andrew, et al. Punk: chaos to couture. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2013. Vaucher, Gee, et al. Crass Art and Other Pre Post-modernist Monsters. AK Press : Existencil Press, 1999. 42

Leitch, Luke. “Fashion, Beauty, Celebrity, Fashion Shows.” Vogue, Vogue, 31 Dec. 1969, Balmain. Fall Ready-to-Wear ‘18. 47

Rowntree, Diana. “The Architectural Review | Online and Print Magazine about International Design.” Architectural Review, 1 Mar. 2016. 49

Rowntree, Diana. “The Architectural Review | Online and Print Magazine about International Design.” Architectural Review, 1 Mar. 2016. 51

Rowntree, Diana. “The Architectural Review | Online and Print Magazine about International Design.” Architectural Review, 1 Mar. 2016.

The Architectural Self  
The Architectural Self