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Declaration This work contains no material which has been accepted for the awards of any other degree or diploma in any University or other institutions and to the best of my knowledge does not contain any material previously published or written by another person except where due reference has been made in the text.

I consent to this copy of thesis, when in the library of CEPT University, being available on loan and photocopying.

Vedanti Agarwal September 2017



Contents Acknowledgements Abstract Hypothesis Objectives Scope and limitations Structure of thesis

01 03 04 04 04 05

Chapter 1: State of architecture after modernism Introduction 1.1 Re framed critic on modernism 1.2 The theme: subjectivity of experience and meaning 1.3 Postmodern architecture 1.3.1 Principles 1.3.2 Branches


Chapter 2: Layers of Theory on Subjectivity Introduction 2.1 Subjectivity according to the first layer of theory 2.1.1 Subjectivity from philosophy 2.1.2 Subjectivity from other disciplines 2.2 Subjectivity according to the second layer of theory 2.2.1 Role of architectural theory 2.2.2 Christian Norberg Schulz: Intentions in architecture 2.3 Criteria for selection of cases 2.4 Methodology of study for case studies


Chapter 3: Theory and Practice 3.1 Le Corbusier 3.1.1 Theory 3.1.2 Practice - Ronchamp chapel 3.1.3 Interpretation of subjectivity through theory and practice

56 57

3.2 Robert Venturi 3.2.1 Theory 3.2.2 Practice North Penn nurses’ association headquarters Best products Showroom Gordon Wu hall 3.2.3 Interpretation of subjectivity through theory and practice


3.3 Charles Moore 3.3.1 Theory 3.3.2 Practice University of California Santa Barbara faculty club Piazza d’Italia 3.3.3 Interpretation of subjectivity through theory and practice


08 12 14



51 51

Chapter 4: Chinese whispers through Theory and Practice 4.1 What went wrong? 4.2 Why was this happening? 4.2.1 Whispers within theory 4.2.2 Whispers from theory to practice 4.3 Summary

134 135 141

Conclusions Bibliography Illustration credits

153 154 157


Acknowledgements Writing this thesis has been a journey of explorations and findings not just for the thesis but also in the field of architecture and academics. These years in university have been a phase filled with insightful and warm encounters with numerous people within and outside. I would like to thank every person who has filled my tank of memories and experiences, helping me through these six eventful years. Firstly I want to thank professor Nitin Raje for being a mentor through my finishing years in studio as well as for the research thesis. Thank you for making this thesis so exciting, without losing the essence of research. I would also like to thank Urvi Ma’am for her insightful discussions helping this research ahead. I want to thank Uday Andhare for his discussions through academics as well as perspectives on architecture. As well as all faculty members who have made these six years a valuable learning to be taken forward. Mom and Dad, thank you for your constant support and love inspite of me being away from home. This journey would not have been possible without your will to see me do something meaningful. Sanskriti, thank you for being the most entertaining and fun filled younger sister, my personal stress buster through these years. Sidhanth, thank you for being a constant help, as the architect elder brother whom I could always fall back on. I also want to thank my big extended family, for their immense belief in me. I would like to thank Aman for believing in me, sometimes more than myself and having the patience to hear me out every single time. I also want to thank you for the countless discussions through the thesis and help in clearing the clutter to make the information understandable to others. Nishita, thank you for being the most understanding and sensitive friend, being there through thick and thin always backing me up. Monik, thank you for being such a selfless friend, Kishan thank you for your timely bursts and great ideas and tag lines. I want to thank Krishna for the intelligent and efficient solutions, while Manuni for making the most mundane things exciting enough. Dhwani, thank you for always keeping the spirits high with your sense of humour. I want to thank the compartment s4 team, for having the patience while I finished my thesis, collectively inspiring me to move ahead. I also want to thank the entire batch of 2011 for the oneness I felt being part of it.



Abstract Architecture at any point and time is determined by theory and practice. Theory and practice have certain formulations created by the awareness of the theoreticians and practitioners. Most of the time practice is shaped by certain aspects of theory, while theory is shaped by assumptions from other disciplines and practices including, philosophy, sociology, psychology, etc. Modernism in architecture had its particular theoretical background and corresponding practice, but the movement as a whole faced major criticism by theoreticians and practitioners, who criticized it on the treatise of lack of place character and subjectivity of experience and meaning for users. This affected the architectural discourse, and shaped new theories with assumptions to fulfil what was lacking in modernism and taking users experience to be of prime importance in the architecture. These theories borrowed understandings on experience from other disciplines with the intent to shape further practice of the time, instigating the wholeness of a movement with users in the forefront. However the eventual practice was still regarded as falling short of enough care given to user experience and meaning. The reason for such misrepresented expression is the shift in interpretations of the theme, subjectivity of experience and meaning from other disciplines to theory to practice, losing its essence in translation. This thesis investigates accomplishments of the theme, subjectivity of experience and meaning for users through the texts written by theorists and practice in architecture following the period of modernism. Keywords: postmodern architecture, theory, practice, subjectivity of experience and meaning Note on the title: This thesis is titled as ‘Chinese Whispers in Architecture’, the name adopted from a popular game wherein a word or statement is passed on from player to player, and errors typically accumulate in the retelling, so the statement announced by the last player differs significantly from that of the first player, usually with an amusing or humorous effect. This case is compared with the case of theory and practice in architecture, which by its layers of interpretations eventually gives distorted messages through significantly different built expression.


Hypothesis New theories were formed in the architectural discourse after modernism based on assumptions from other disciplines on the theme subjectivity of experience and meaning. Newer practice in architecture during this time period borrowed from these theories. However the resulting built expressions still lacked an experience of meaning for users. This is owing to the shift in interpretations of the theme through the layers of originating disciplines to architectural theory to architectural practice.

Objectives • To understand how the theme subjectivity of experience and meaning made its way into the architectural discourse. • To understand how the theme affected the formulation and content of new theories and practice in architecture. • To understand the relationship of the layers of theories and practice in architecture. • To understand why practice lacked subjectivity of experience and meaning as explained by theory.

Scope and limitations • The study of architectural theory and architectural practice based on the theme subjectivity of experience and meaning is not limited by geographical context but by the time period. It focuses on the time after modernism until when post modernism had reached its complete expression. • The study of subjectivity of experience and meaning is limited only to the intentions of architects and theorists to analyse their interpretations. The users perspective is not taken into account. • Architectural practice is understood and analysed with reference to architectural theory only.


Structure of thesis The first chapter of the thesis explains how the theme of subjectivity of experience emerged in the architectural discourse. This is understood by re-framing the critique on modernism based on the different assumptions which architectural theories were making with respect to man and his experiences. Further the theme subjectivity is thus explained in more detail as a premise on which the architectural discourse took off after modernism, on the pretext of the way man experiences the world around. The last part of this chapter puts forth the stylistic ideals and perspectives of critiques on +the architectural scenario towards the end of the century. Once the historical scenario is introduced, chapter two creates the framework for architectural theory and analysis of practice. Firstly subjectivity of experience and meaning is explained as it was understood by other disciples like philosophy, psychology, and sociology which architectural theory adopts from. This makes the first layer of theory. After which the defining architectural theory of the period or the second layer of theory is explained for its premise, assumptions and recommendations, extracting its interpretations on the theme of subjectivity. The recommendations become a framework for analyzing case studies of practice. Also mentioned in this chapter is the criteria for choosing the case studies and method of studying them. The third chapter analyzes the major theories of architects for their interpretations of subjectivity and recommendations in practice. Further it also analyses practice of these architects for the recommendations applied from their individual theories and the major architectural theory as explained in chapter two. The fourth chapter brings out the difference in approaches and interpretations of the theme subjectivity of experience and meaning between originating thoughts on it and how it turned out to be in practice. Further analyzing the reason for such whispers through time, laying out the inferences and conclusions.


Chapter 1 STATE OF ARCHITECTURE AFTER MODERNISM 1.1 Re-framed critic on Modernism 1.2 The theme: Subjectivity of experience and meaning 1.3 Postmodern architecture


Introduction When we design a particular space or place keeping in mind what psychological impact it can have on users, what is it that essentially guides the intent. How can an architect make sure that the design can affect the subjective experience of the user so that a long-lasting impression is left behind of the place. Many would argue this to be an intuitive and personal design process but one way to explicitly guide design in this case is through architectural theories. Which translate knowledge about the experience of people to a language which architects can understand and apply. Architectural theory in general is a practice of mediation between formal analyses of a work of architecture and its social ground or context. It has freely and contentiously set out opening up architecture to what is thinkable and sayable in other codes, by rewriting systems of thought in relation to architecture. For example Manfredo Taufri’s work on modernism and contemporary architectural production takes old Marxism concepts and explains architecture as the most efficient ideological agent of capitalism and historical closure.1 Architectural theory relating man and the environment gains knowledge from its sources and prescribes specifications into architecture in many ways. The nature of prescription changes depending on the kind of theory and what it is recommending, for example goal oriented theories may give very specific recommendations in architecture. Like the theoretical recommendations for spaces in a school may require to observe the behaviour of children in different kind of spaces, to generate guidelines for better school design. These kind of theories are formulated with reference to space and behaviour, but when it comes to the psychological impact or experience of a place, theories have referenced models of thought unknown to architecture. The recommendations in this case generally take a poetic direction, using complex terminologies studied through architectural examples in history. In the first case guidelines give a clear account of their applicability, but in the second case applicability of recommendations in the recommended direction is questionable. As a psychological theory the term ‘genius loci’ was introduced by Christian Norberg Schulz into the realm of architecture with the intent of guiding architecture towards an expression of a particular form. In Roman religion, ‘the genius is the individual instance of a general divine nature that is present in every individual person, place, or thing. Much like a guardian angel, the genius would follow each man from the hour of his birth until the day he died and would determine its character or essence’. In light of this understanding, the buildings following the intent of genius loci, were assumed to have the ‘nature’, ‘strength’ and ‘character’ resonating the gravity of the term. But were these expressions observed in practice? Ambiguity of theory can have dangerous effects in practice. Within architectural history, the discourse took a keen interest in man’s experiences of the built environment towards mid twentieth century also 1 Hays, K. Michael. Architecture theory since 1968. Cambridge, Mass, MIT Press, 2000. 7

marked as the end of the modern movement. This shift in the architectural discourse shaped theories and intents in architectural practice. However the eventual stylistic ideals of the postmodern movement showed a gap from the what it had set out to do. The layers within the architectural discourse of theories and practice are assumed to make the intent sharper and directional, but ambiguities can also blur and confuse the outcomes. We will investigate on this time period of architecture after modernism, to understand the problems between theory and practice. But before doing so, it is important to understand the complete scenario consisting of the ideals of modernism and specific critiques which were taken forward to shape theory and practice of post modernism.


Re-framed critic on Modernism

The architectural intentions in the 19th century moved over a wide range, from De Stijl movement whose ideals were based on pure art and architectural form in Netherlands, to social constructivists movement on social art in Soviet Union, to expressionist architecture exploring new materials in Europe, to New Objectivity based on rational thinking and then the Neue Sachlichkeit in Europe slowly spreading to other parts of the world. The Neue Sachlichkeit or modern movement took inspiration from abstract art and new building materials. It rejected traditional architecture or historical forms and intentions to instead explore the pure physiognomy characteristics of form and space in architecture. Pioneers of the modern movement included architects like Frank Llyod Wright, Le Corbusier and Mies Van der Rohe. Le Corbusier wrote that “Man dwells badly, that is the deep and real reason for the upheavals of our time”, at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs in Paris 1925 he showed a prototype of a pavilion to demonstrate the spirit of the modern age. The new spirit aimed at something more than satisfactory of mere physical needs. At the root of the modern movement was the wish to help alienate modern man to regain a true and meaningful existence. To achieve this he needed; ‘freedom’ from the absolutist system of Baroque age and its successors, so that a new right to choose and participate as well as create an ‘identity’ would bring back man to what is original and essential. The ideals of the modern movement were listed down in CIAM (International Congresses of Modern Architecture) founded in 1928, which organized periodic conferences to propagate, reform and create new modernist ideals. During this time there was an insistence towards architecture being an expression of the present time or ‘spirit of time’ and a refusal to apply working methods which illustrated the past. Economic efficiency became an important ideal for the modern movement, stressing on rationalization, standardization and a unanimous impetus to modern man and technology in terms of pushing architectural possibilities. Le Corbusier introduced the idea of Maison Dom-ino(1) as an open floor plan with no load bearing walls and thin concrete slabs and columns as technological advancement possible in the structure. Further technology also drove his


Buildings and concepts from modernism

1. Domino house, Le Corbusier

2. Villa Savoye, Le Corbusier

3. five principles in architecture, Le Corbusier

4. Corner window, Frank Llyod Wright

5. Esplanade Apartment Buildings, Mies van der rohe

6. Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago, Mies van der rohe

7. Functional city, Le Corbusier

8. Pruitt Igoe housing complex 9

five principles of architectural expression in the pilotis, roof garden, free facade, ribbon windows and free plan(3). He used these in the production of Villa Savoye(2) as an example of ‘machine for living’. Frank Llyod Wright introduced the corner window(4) again as a material expression of the technological possibilities. While Mies Van der Rohe explored possibilities in the glass and steel curtain wall (5, 6) as a common expression in his modernist buildings. The functional city (7) and Pruitt Igoe (8) housing were extensions of the modernist ideals and principles, for extremely functional designs. Hence modern architecture aimed at creating a ‘new dwelling’ for man, but because of its inclination towards technology and its rejection of the familiar past and history as well as movements towards architectural principles as an art, man was made alien to his environment. This gathered a whole range of criticism in the architectural discourse which now moved towards achieving what modernism lacked. New architectural theories were formed on the premise of organizing a new vision of a world perceived as unsatisfactory or incomplete from modernism. Man was understood no longer as modern man but from a new perspective. We will go on to list a few of the early theories and its assumptions here, to bring out the underlying theme. ‘Image of the City’ was published by Kevin Lynch in the year 1960, proposed environmental images in the city which may be classified as architectural and urban elements like paths, nodes, edges, districts and landmarks. This created a public image through an overlap of many individual images. His theory was prescriptive in nature giving solutions to the current city form which needed to be designed for a human purpose and not art. “It is our ancient habit to adjust our senses to our environment but now on home grounds we may adapt our environment to our perceptual pattern and symbolic process of being”, thus he assumes the city is losing its image and recommends to heighten it by differentiating the identifiable elements in a city form. The environment according to his theory, needed to respond to the visual perceptions of man which he understood through figure-ground and other principles. Jane Jacob’s book ‘the Death and Life of Great American cities’ published in 1961, quoted, “A city cannot be a work of art, when we deal with cities we are dealing with life at its most complex and intense”. A city was compared to life sciences as an organized complexity and not how conventional planning during that time was portraying it, as simple and disorganized complexity. So the theory offers an understanding on the nature of cities and their processes and recommends a consideration of man’s complex life processes while designing. Modern ideals and methods of architectural analysis and urban planning were proposed as ‘The Functional City’ and Athens Charter by Le Corbusier in the CIAM conferences, which conceptualized the four functions – living, working, recreation and circulation. According to these proposals planning of land distribution was based on functional zones. This was critiqued at length by theories similar to the ones already mentioned on the treatise


of cities being more complex and requiring the care of extending to the individual users and their life processes rather than a rational function based approach. Simultaneously the modernist ideals were challenged in CIAM VIII 1951 when Team 10, the emerging group of young architects led by Peter Smithson reformed the intent of the conference to read as: “Man may readily identify himself with his own hearth, but not easily with the town within which it is placed. Belonging is a basic emotional need and its associations are of the simplest order. From the sense of belonging, identity follows with an enriching sense of neighbourliness. The short narrow street of the slums succeeds many times while a spacious redevelopment fails.”1 This fuelled further criticism on the dull and hygienic emptiness of the Athens Charter, entrusting team 10 to prepare the program for CIAM X. They designed the method of analysis of projects roughly on the basis of human associations rather than functional organization, thus making a radical break in the architectural thinking. Eventually the CIAM group had started to become diffuse with 3000 members and so it broke by the tenth conference in 1956, giving way to team 10 2. Aldo Van Eyck’s manifesto in CIAM X was the most poetic and articulate, suggestive of ways to add multivalent reading in architecture and not just urbanism. He explained that concepts of space and time was what modernism stressed and had led to an exclusion of man. While architecture must include man, this can happen only through place and occasion when space and time pass through the image of man. So each place was perceived as a bunch of places, explaining that a house is a tiny city and a city is a large house. Eyck considered the in-between space from the house to the city as an important realm to be articulated as real places and people with multiple meanings. Multiple meanings according to him can address a large range of people, including man through memory and anticipation which constitutes a real perspective of space and gives it depth. Thus man is included in architecture through aspects of memory, occasion and all that can add meaning to space in architecture. Christopher Alexander said ‘City is not a tree’, referring to the ordering principles in cities which must form a semi-lattice with leverage for overlaps rather than just branches in a tree. According to his theory, architects should look for abstract ordering principles in the cities of the past, which modern cities were not able to achieve. Natural cities, formed organically have a semi-lattice ordering principle as opposed to artificial cities, planned and organized by designers. When thinking in terms of a tree, the richness of the living cities and humanity is traded for the simplicity of design for the planners, developers and architects. Extreme compartmentalization and separation of internal elements destroy the associations and complexity which the city and its people live on. Criticisms on modernism and perspectives of change became setting stones 1 Frampton, Kenneth. Modern Architecture; a critical history. London: Thames &Hudson ltd, 1980. 2 Introduction to Uppercase 3 London 1960, Theo Crosby put out what happened to break CIAM 11

for a new movement in the architectural discourse which Charles Jencks named as ‘post modernism’. He believed that the modern movement died exactly with the demolition of the Pruitt-Igoe housing complex in St. Louis Missouri in 1972 which was built on modernist ideals. Jencks critiqued the modern movement for its univalent form and content. The Chicago Illinois Institute by Mies Van der Rohe, was a result of univalent form which created no differentiation in the environment leading to an office and house to look the same. Jencks saw that modern architects had moved away from social group, economic class and real historic people towards ‘the mythical modern man’. Which had focused design towards economic efficiency and aesthetic expressions from technology resulting into a kind of univalent content. Instead, Jencks emphasized on pluralism and a multivalent levels of meanings in architecture, meanings which could be interrelated and fused together to offer exciting and deep experiences for people. While modernism emphasized on a new spirit, clear conceptions and a machine for living, architecture should aim to evoke contrasting mental states in people through multivalent experiences and various meanings in the built environment. These criticisms on modernism propagated through theories held a common assumption that the quality of architecture was deteriorating during this time because lesser attention was paid to man’s processes and his experiences. They started to believe that, modern architecture had reduced man to ‘mythical modern man’ thus focusing on machines, functions, simplicity and abstract space. While a movement was needed, towards seeing man along with his life processes, focusing on meanings, associations, perceptions and experiences of man. This would shift architecture to ‘real places and people’. Hence, man needed to be looked at for their individual mental states and no longer as a collective.

1.2 The theme: Subjectivity of experience and meaning

Modern architectures’ prominence for space and form for its pure physiognomic characteristics and rejection of the past, deprived people of the experiences and familiarity they felt in an environment. The new forms led to a kind of alienation or ‘placelessness’ for users. Also the simplicity with which modernists treated architecture had lost the power to differentiate between different functions. ‘Place character’ according to many theorist was lost and the layman could no longer understand his environment. Hence also resulting in a loss of ‘place identity’, ‘meaning’ and slowly ‘place attachment’. Before we move on these terms need to be understood for what they meant and what according to theorists was missing in modern architecture. “Character is considered a more concrete concept than space in architecture”.1 On one hand it denotes a more general comprehensive atmosphere and on the other hand the concrete form and substance of space defining elements. The boundaries of a place in some ways define the character like narrowness, openness, closure etc, this when related to 1 Schulz, Christian Norberg. Genius Loci. Italy: Rizzoli International publications, Inc., 1979.


the function or processes of life in the building, formulate place character and differentiation. Most of this was lost to the simplicity of modern architecture. Character would enhance the psychological impact or subjectivity in architecture by relating to the experience of the place. ‘Alienation in the environment is due to a loss of identification between natural and man-made things’. Place identity thus means an environment which man can identify with respect to the urban structure and individual life processes. As human identity presupposes identity of the place, the environment must assume concrete experiences of identification which were missing in modernism. Through identifications, place meaning develops. Finally place attachment with respect to the above terms would mean a secured and long lasting attachment that man can develop with the environment owing to its enriching identification, character and meaning together defining their experience. To bring these aspects back into architecture, the investigations and recommendations of theory after modernism had turned towards mans experiences and life processes to create a psychological impact. Rejection of history in modern architecture had deprived man of such kind of experiences which existed in the environment. New architecture was restricted to abstract space because of which place did not have concrete experiences to relate and hold onto. To get back qualities of place, the principle question asked by architects and theorists while shaping the discourse ahead was, how do users experience the world? Based on the answers got, design and theory was formulated. Any space or place would have some experience attached to it. But what we refer to is a profound impression of the environment on man to aid the creation of a place which people can identify with and attach themselves to. Such experiences also help man orient himself in the environment to know where he is and who he is, constituting his meanings. Meanings create an enriching experience for man. These are the common understandings that he can associate with as experiences. Associations lead to self-continuity through life processes. Hence, postmodern architecture was an attempt to redefine man, making man the subject of architecture to ‘include’ him. Qualities of man’s mind affected by aspects of the built environment were to be understood and applied. Users in architecture were now an individual and no longer the collective modern man. This implied a need to consider contributions which could create a meaningful experience for the subjective user. So the theme subjectivity of experience and meaning emerged, as the intent to be taken forward in shaping the post modern theory and practice. Architectural theories relating to the theme were an essential medium to open up an understanding of how does man experience the environment and how do its meanings suggest architecture. Architectural practice was assumed to be a result of this theme, as the intentions of different architects were shaped from here. 13

1.3 Postmodern architecture 1.3.1

Ideals of the Postmodern architecture formed from the earlier theories and practice of movement 1960 slowly reached its maturity by mid 1970s to be explained by many critiques as a movement. Robert Stern in his paper ‘Gray architecture as Post-modernism, or, Up and Down from Orthodoxy’ elaborates on the ideals of the movement ‘as the orthodox modernist movement had drawn to a close’. The gray architects led by Robert Venturi and Charles Moore according to Stern had developed ‘a power to achieve symbolic meaning through allusion’. And for them ‘more is more’ unlike Mies’s famous proverb ‘less is more’. Stern presented the attitudes and strategies which distinguished Gray architects as: • The use of ornaments translated as the decoration of walls, believing to respond to an innate human need for elaboration and articulation of human scale. • The manipulation of forms to introduce explicit historical references as it is believed that historical precedent can make a new work familiar, accessible and meaningful for users. • The conscious eclectic utilization of formal strategies of modernists and pre-modern period to present a ‘pastness’ in buildings. • The preference for incomplete or compromised geometries, voluntary distortions and recognition of growth of buildings over time is marked in the use of American shingle style, plans of Lutyens etc, paired with an architecture of geometrical compositions. • The use of rich colors and various materials to affect architecture’s imagery and perceptible qualities for users. • The emphasis on intermediate spaces like the porches of circulation on the borders and on the thickness of the wall create continuous space. • The adjustment of specific images charged with carrying the ideas of the building like the metaphorical forms in buildings. Grey buildings were believed to be very much of time and place which selected from the past to comment on the present. Charles Jencks the most important modern architecture critique of his time, gave due recognition to post modernism as well through his writings and was the first few to describe it as a complete movement. He explained the postmodern movement as a ‘pluralistic approach’ emphasizing on the multiple meanings and values which can be considered in architecture. Articulation of architectural language through metaphors, words, syntax and semantics was a method to incorporate the multiple meanings according to him. It was a kind of architectural coding or semiotic relation which gave meaning to architecture through associations.


1.3.2 Branches Charles Jencks broke down the movement into branches or the different ‘isms’ or sub themes enlisted as historicism, vernacularism, straight revivalism, ad-hocism, contextualism, metaphorism, postmodern space and later radical eclecticism. These addressed the criticisms from modernism and explored subjectivity of meaning and experience. The branches can be put under common themes of history, metaphors-body and place. We will understand these themes as conferred by critiques for aspects introduced in architecture to fulfil what was lacking in modernism. And later extend a discussion of these aspects with respect to the overarching theme of subjectivity of experience and meaning.


The modern movement refused the use of any systems or ornaments of the past and instead adopted Zeitgeist or spirit of the time. On the contrary, the use of inspirations and motifs from earlier periods in making a new style was believed to ensure continual change, and avoid the kind of alienation people had begun to feel for modern buildings. Hence post modernism called for a reconsideration and revival of disciplinary history. The theme of history according to Jencks bifurcated in two branches of historicism and straight revivalism in the postmodern movement. Alan Coloquohuon, another well known critic proposes a historicism of three kinds, one with the intent that history connects all truths relative to each other, second with an attitude of concern for traditions of the past and third an artistic practice of using historical forms. Postmodern architects penned under historicism, were believed to utilize elements of classical or other past styles in an artistic practice of collage, pastiche, or authentic reconstruction, clearly demonstrating these forms to be superior to contemporary ones because of the associations and meanings they carried1. Historical symbols were used for the associations it gave to the users by relating them to past styles and having a continuity in the present. Casa Baldi in Rome (9) designed by Paolo Portoghesi was the most influential early buildings in 1961, reviving history with the use of Baroque and Borromini styles. The first architect to use historical symbols as decorative and traditional symbols in an aggressive way after modernism was Robert Venturi. His book Complexity and Contradiction showed strong inclinations to historic elements of Baroque, Mannerist, etc. Robert Venturi was an architect who extracted lessons from history taken forward in architecture, other architectural expressions also included free style classicist buildings like neo-shingle style, neo-lutyens, neo-art nouveau etc. Robert Stern’s Poolhouse for Bourke House 1974 (10) uses the shingle style and high mannered classicism in its expression. While Philip Johnsons AT&T building in New York (11) was the first large corporate house to adopt historicism in the expression of the building in the base, shaft and top. Neostyles varied from scholarly construction to pastiche and were believed to influence post modernism largely.

1 Nesbitt, Kate. Theorizing a new agenda for architecture, an anthology of architectural theory 1965-1995. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1996. 15

examples of historicism

9. Casa Baldi, Paolo Portoghesi

10. Poolhouse, Robert Stern

11. AT & T, Philip Johnson

12. Waverton house, Quilan Terry

examples of vernacularism

13. Hilingdon Civic Centre, Andrew Derbyshire

14. Sea Ranch, Charles Moore

15. Gandhi Smark Sangrahalya, Charles Correa

16. 54 Roofs, Kazuhiro Ishii


Straight revivalism took motifs from history directly in the expression of the building and was Inspired by the historian Conrad Jameson who said that ‘architecture need not be creative but can be a successfully applied craft’. Quinlan Terry’s building Waverton House in 1979 in England (12) used the Palladian grammar without the slightest trace of deviation of expression, a kind of straight revival of history. While Allan Greenberg’s Mid-Town Manhattan Park Project in New York was designed as a Lutyensesque park. The traditional motifs, fountains and domes in Greenberg’s language were very close to stereotypes used directly in the building. The revival of history in architecture, created expressions in the form of historical symbols used in unconventional ways and symbols used directly like pastiche. But history was recommended to be interpreted and used in a way of designing for individual associations which could add meaning to the experiences of users. Place:

During the decades of modernism it had become increasingly clear that a functional approach leads to a schematic and characterless environment with insufficient possibilities for human dwelling. The problem of meaning in architecture had therefore come to the fore.1 One of architectures roles was thus to symbolize man’s position with the natural world. Modern architecture embraced the machine analogy instead of the organic analogy. Although machines were designed from natural systems, their use as a formal model denied architecture from referring to nature. According to critiques theories of place arising from phenomenology and physical geography which emphasized the spatial experience, spirit of place and genius loci defined a part of this theme. Postmodern theorists like Christian Norberg Schulz, Gregotti and Tadao Ando wrote on place. Meaning and experiences in architecture was implied through relations to place and nature. Within the practice of post modernism, the place theme transformed into expressions of vernacularism. Neo-vernacular styles emerged in mid-fifties in Italy and also India. The Sea Ranch Condominiums by Charles Moore and Turnbull (14) was a project which used an assortment of mono-pitched shingle roofs with a chimney giving an image of a home, just as the cluster of the houses gave the image of a community. This project had a widespread impact on the mono-pitched and shingle ranches in United States. The Hillingdon Civic Centre in London (13) also used multiple pitch roofs in the public building as a welcoming sign for the users and visitors of the building. While Kazuhiro Ishii’s 54 roofs (16) repeat pitch roofs even as a ghost form to give the image of the house. Ricardo Bofill’s regional centre at Meritxell in Spain, was also a well known example in practice, it is an extension to the Romanesque Chapel and so uses the existing in a way to retain its essence. The original shrine was extended to the bridge, spanning between the two peaks and the landscape became part of the built environment. Charles Correa’s architecture in India like the Gandhi Ashram (15) used the traditional Hindu temple module for the design of blocks and courtyards. 1

Norberg-Schulz ‘Heidegger Thinking on Architecture’ 17

All these examples as described by Jencks came under vernacularism and recommended expressions or images in the architecture like pitch roofs and brick walls which instil associations of warmth and comfort in users.


Meaning in architecture is what the built environment gathers and presents to man. Within meanings is the process of symbolization, when certain objects are transposed from one place to another as symbols with associations.1 Meaning in general is a broader theme which in many cases overlaps with other themes, the focus under this theme is that of metaphors through the process of symbolization which subsumes built expression. Meanings have been represented mostly through the form of the building. Metaphors used in a building indicate different meanings for different people. Ron Champ by Le Corbusier in 1956 (17) was the first building after modernism interpreted to posses a metaphorical form, this further inspired architecture like the TWA terminal by Eero Saarien (18) depicting a bird in flight and later also the Sydney Opera house by John Utzon (19). Metaphors can form signs relating to the taste and preferences of users, function, and context to underlie meanings. Architectural form identified with function requires direct correspondence of specific form to specific function. Codes create meaning, culturally constructed according to the function. Post-modernism gives importance to form over function, and so function is transformed in signs which can be used in the architecture. Robert Venturi’s book on Learnings from Las Vegas and exhibition of Signs of life: Symbols in the American City was considered a plunge into Pop Art, and architecture of Main street, Las Vegas and Levittown. They explored the manifestations of popular taste from lessons of symbolism. Later some of his commercial buildings encoded symbols of the function and popular taste like the BEST and BASCO showrooms (20). Hans Hollein’s architecture was interpreted to have a complexity of meanings, as seen in his Austrian Travel Bureau (21) which characterized the function of the building. He used popular codes to elicit fantasies of tourism like a pyramid to relate to Egypt, desert travel indicated by the bronze palm trees, ship flags frozen in glass and birds in mid air to indicate travels to different destinations. These signs read meanings and distortions quite clearly owing to the use of clear stereotypes. While Michael Graves’s building Fargo-Moorhead Cultural Centre (22) had a plethora of meanings which overlapped with other themes of body and history. He uses duality in the broken arch and keystone, repetition of two colours which is red masonry and blue glazing as well as anthropomorphic coding in the building form representing legs, eyes, chin, head etc. These representations as described by Charles Jencks could be interpreted in multiple ways, the building was regarded as multivalent in nature racing over 1 Nesbitt, Kate. Theorizing a new agenda for architecture, an anthology of architectural theory 1965-1995. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1996.


examples of metaphorism

17. Ronchamp chapel, Le Corbusier

18. TWA terminal, Eero Saarien

19. Stdney Opera house, John Utzon

20. Basco showroon, Robert Venturi

21. Australian Travel Bureau, Hans Hollein

22. Fargo Moorhead Centre, Michael Graves

examples of anthropomorphism

23. Face house, Kazumasa Yamashita

24. Office building, Kazumasa Yamashita 19

all associative links. Metaphorism as a branch recommended the use of meanings as metaphors in the building. A building is perceived as a metaphor when its is compared to similar things and so buildings were advocated to have codes shaped on the basis of previous experiences, functions, or tastes of users as signs. Another branch in metaphors is anthropomorphism or metaphors used in relation to the human body. The interest of body in architecture took many manifestations. Body as a subject was proposed to be in the centre of the world along with its relationships according to classical architecture, where ‘man was the measure’. Jean-Paul Satre, a well known phenomenological theorist claimed in Being and Nothingness that body derives knowledge from objects in the world. In classical architecture the body’s image was mathematically inscribed through scale and proportions of the building or pictorially depicted by representing nature in general and its way of organizing complex functions. But modernism projected abstractions of the machine rather than body in its buildings. However Le Corbusier later did show correlations to body in architecture through his theories on Modulor man. Post modernism on the other hand depicted body as anthropomorphism according to Charles Jencks. He says, “Symbolism through body is the most powerful means of gaining the inhabitants’ confidence, or engaging passerby, as an immediate rapport is felt between the inanimate building and our body”1 Anthropomorphism was practiced by architects like Kazumasa Yamashita, Charles Moore, Kent Bloomer and Michael graves. It rested on the idea of projecting bodily states in the architectural form for example, a building’s facade depicted as a human face and its columns as the human torso or legs. Kazumasa Yamashita uses explicitly human forms in his Face house in Kyoto (23) to look like a face. Another office building by Yamashita in Tokyo, Japan (24) portrays a curved balcony, designed according to the face profile of the client. Michael Graves on the other hand preferred explicit and implicit coding of the bodily forms. This could be seen in his New York city model and FargoMoorhead Cultural center. Michael Graves’s book, ‘A Case of Figurative Architecture’ points out the importance of the human body in architecture as a cultural language which orients man. He aimed to reintroduce anthropomorphism with the use of classical devices to symbolize the relationship of man and his environment. The body was recommended as a metaphor in building forms to generate associative links to be identified by the self or users.

1 20

Jencks, Charles. Architecture today. London: Academy Group ltd., 1988.

Summary: Man v/s Modern Man The unsatisfactory effect of the modern movement on the users had led to a shift of architectural discourse to making man the subject of architecture and not modern man. Theories thus wrote on an understanding of man’s life processes, complexity and the way he experienced the world for its meanings. Architectural practice was presumed to move towards embodying multiple meanings and an enriching experience which could provide a character, meaning and identity to the building for users to relate to. Thus the underlying theme subjectivity of experience and meaning was put forth as a reason for the shift. Eventual ideals and directions that practice had taken were presented about a decade later in the writings of critiques like Jencks, Stern, Alan Coloquohuon and others. These would then be used as setting stones for further directions in the architectural discourse. Charles Jencks presented the movement to have many branches like historicism, vernacularism, straight revivalism, metaphorism and anthropomorphism. Meaning in architecture in these cases were recommended to come from past associations that people had with architectural forms and cultural practices resulting in explicit use of symbols, colours, meanings, materials etc in architectural forms. All of these were proposing a use of symbols of history, vernacular, functions, context and body for meaning in architecture. Jencks recommends ‘radical eclecticism’ as a ‘true and proper style’ to bring back meaning and experience of these meanings in architecture. Radical Eclecticism was described as an expression which used symbols, and multiple styles with respect to context, function and tastes and preferences of users. Correlation of the theme subjectivity of experience and meaning to the postmodern movement transpired by critiques puts forth a hypothesis, stating that place character, meaning and identity in architecture can be achieved by using explicit forms, and multiple styles of the past as well as aspects of context and function familiar to users. But is this a true interpretation of the theme? Are these interpretations a descendant of the theme subjectivity of experience and meaning as described by early theorists and critiques or has the intent shifted? We will investigate this further through the layers of theory and practice which prevailed between the time original theories were formed and the time when results of the architectural discourse were conferred by critiques of the postmodern movement.


Table 1: Branches in the postmodern movement according to Charles Jencks in 1977 meaning in architecture


straight revivalism




Table 2: Timeline of theories and events

Towards a new architecture, Le Corbusier


Citta Nuova, Manifesto for futurism; Italian futurism




De Stijl Manifesto, Theo Van Doesburg; Netherlands



World War I World War I ends starts





Formation of CIAM

The Glass Chain (Expressionist); Europe

ASNOVA group (Constructivists); Russia


World War II starts OSA group (Constructivists); Russia

time when architectural theories and practice for subjectivity were being formulated

Life and Death of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs

Language of Post modernism by Charles Jencks

Image of the City by Kevin Lynch

Grey Architecture as Post modernism by Robert Stern

City is not a tree by Christopher Alexander

Team 10 primer by Aldo Van Eyck




CIAM VIII critique on functional model; formation of Team 10


CIAM dissolves





Demolition of the Pruitt-Igoe housing complex; St. Louis Missouri



six points on critical regionalism by Kenneth Frampton

World War II ends 'Transformations' exhibition by MOMA, on language of postmodernism 23

Chapter 2 LAYERS OF THEORY OF SUBJECTIVITY 2.1 Subjectivity according to the first layer of theory 2.2 Subjectivity according to the second layer of theory 2.3 Criteria for selection of cases 2.4 Methodology of study for case studies


Introduction Theory is an open issue in architecture. It relates to and borrows from other disciplines and practices, thus opening up architecture and showing how it is inextricably connected to other social and theoretical practices. However theory’s applicability and results in designs is widely debatable. Architect’s like Bernard Tschumi think that the role of theory is provocation and interpretation, while theorist’s like Vittorio Gregotti insists on theoretical research as a direct foundation of action in architectural design. Resulting into applicability of theory always being on ambiguous grounds, this study will investigate the role of theory in practice after modernism. In general, architectural theory describes the practice and production of architecture and identifies challenges to it. Theory overlaps with architectural history and criticism as it offers new thought paradigms on possibilities of solutions to current states of practice. In many ways theory deals with architectures aspirations and accomplishments. Conceptual and intellectual questions can be problematized through theory in the manner of philosophy. Theories on subjectivity in architecture are intrinsically composed of two layers. One, elaborating subjectivity as a human experience or feeling, understood through fields like philosophy, psychology and semiotics and the second, is a bridge between these understandings and practice. This second layer is that of architectural theory, making assumptions from the sources to interpret subjectivity of experience and give recommendations in practice directly. Architectural theory before 1977 was an importation and deployment of both structuralist and phenomenological thought, militating against the received models of modernist functionalism and positivist analyses that had re-emerged in the guise of behaviourism, sociology and operations research in 1960. Structuralism and phenomenology projected questions of meaning in architectural elements by describing the world to be made of meaningful experiences for an individual. This concept of how man experiences the world, opened possibilities to shape architecture based on users. Thus this also instigated a paradigm shift in architecture towards the user’s consciousness. Hence in our thread of interpretations philosophy is the origin, while architectural practice is the eventual manifestation, with architectural theory in between the two. In this chapter we will elaborate on these two layers of theory for what they interpreted subjectivity of experience and meaning to be.


2.1 Subjectivity according to the first layer of theory 2.1.1 Subjectivity from Phenomenology, a disciplinary field in philosophy was introduced by many philosophy

as the study of the structure of experience. It studied conscious experience from the subjective or first person point of view. This field of philosophy can be distinguished from, and related to, the other main fields in the discipline like ontology, epistemology, ethics, logic and metaphysics. During the early 20th century, phenomenology came to its name by writings from Edmund Husserl, influenced from writings of Hegel, Brentano, Stumpf and Kant who showed earlier interest towards the subjectivity of man, but Husserl articulated this to make it a branch of philosophy. It descended as a break from Descartes’ objective knowledge of knowing ‘what people think’ to knowing ‘what people feel’. The writings of Husserl further influenced philosophers like Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre and Maurice MerleauPonty towards existentialism. Phenomenology, a philosophy of the mind extends further than mere sensory experiences to cover the meanings ‘things’ posses in experiences, the self, events, tools, flow of time and all lived experiences in the ‘life-world’.

Edmund Husserl

How do people experience the world around? Husserl believed that meaning of things came from particular experiences and not from objective knowledge or presuppositions about them. Hence it was a subjective act of perceiving the world, by leaving out scientific presuppositions and getting back ‘to things themselves’. This was described by Husserl as a process of reduction or getting to the essence of things, a return to the universal underlying knowledge of things not driven by the process of deduction. In this sense even consistent meaning, can be subjectively fulfilled by a unified intuition, such as an act of continuous perception or intuitive imagination, where the structure and other essential features of the meaning in question can be read off from the subjective mode of intuitive fulfillment. For example, a chair as an object is consistent to the use of sitting but if continuously perceived, imagined, and intuitively engaged with it can also be perceived to have more meanings, like a creature which can begin to walk, or as flaps frozen while making the backrest and sitting, or a shelter for someone to squeeze in, or abacus in its legs and members (25). While inconsistent meanings can be singled out and studied by means of (reflection) corresponding experiences of intuitive conflict. For example, the famous duck head and rabbit head perception creates conflicting perception of the image to be both (26). Husserl followed ‘intentionality’, as a structure of experience towards things in the world, a property of consciousness that it is a mental activity of or about something. Different intentional acts or experiences range from perception, thought, memory, imagination, emotion, desire, and volition to bodily awareness, embodied action, and social activity, including linguistic activity. Experiences according to him is directed towards things only


25. A chair if continuously percieved can be imagined to have many meanings.

26. The duck and rabbit head perception.


through particular concepts, thoughts, ideas, images, etc. These make up the meaning or content of a given experience, and are distinct from the things they present or mean. This process was an adoption from Kant, an extremely solipsist attitude assuming all parts of the world as perceivable by subjects and defined by perceptions. How do people share common meaning or experience? The process of intentional acts and meanings according to Husserl can be made explicit by a pure description of the phenomena as experienced. This is where Husserl introduces communication through language as an important medium. Declarative sentences were meant to describe experiences or intentional content which he calls ‘propositional acts’. Hence meanings and propositional acts are regarded to be part of ‘pure logic’ or ‘what makes sense’. And sense can be delivered by logical grammar or communication. All expressions in communicative speech function were seen as indications serving the hearer as signs of the “thoughts” of the speaker, i.e., of his meaning to mental processes. In meaningful communication the utterance of the speaker and the hearer’s understanding of it involve common content or meaning. And this was emphasized as the ‘shared’ character of meaning as speaker’s meaning is shared by the hearer. ‘Intentionality of speech acts is derived from the intentionality of mental states.’

Martin Heidegger

How do people experience the world around? Heidegger approached phenomenology through the root meanings of ‘logos’ and ‘phenomena’, so that phenomenology was defined by him as the art or practice of ‘letting things show themselves’. Adopted from Husserl’s proposal of ‘to things themselves’. Heidegger proposes a conception of the ‘ground’ of being, looking to modes of being more fundamental than the things around us. It emphasizes that philosophical analysis should keep to the careful description of the human encounter with the world, revealing the modes in which a being is existentially or relationally given. This signals the theoretical apprehension of meaning understood with an uncovering of ‘being’ as it is lived out in experiential contexts or horizons. Letting things be confers a subjectivity through lived and primordial experiences of the world, feeds the ‘Dasein’ or the part of human beings which leads one’s life to make conscious choices, rather than just living and producing. Subjectivity of experiences was believed to come from horizons which objects offered for the range of experiences possible in them through the process of de-distancing or directionality. This kind of orientation of beings was believed to get them closer to the ‘life-world’ and lived experiences. For example, a hammer as a thing cannot be experienced unless it is used with the hand or made available to the hand for its heaviness, workability, hardness and its different possibilities. Hence being-in-the-world is believed to have meaning through doing. Heidegger explains the act of building and dwelling in relation to architecture, where dwelling can be translated as the activity giving cognitive


meaning to place. Dwelling can be achieved through things which spare and preserve the fourfold made up of the earth, sky, man and divinities, by ‘letting things be’. ‘In saving the earth, in receiving the sky, in awaiting the divinities, in initiating mortals, dwelling occurs’1. Dwelling as pure architectural experiences takes place by preserving the fourfold through its presencing in things. Heidegger gives the example of a bridge as a thing which gathers the fourfold. The bridge swings over the stream with case and power. It does not just connect two banks that are already there. The banks emerge as banks only as the bridge crosses the stream. It brings the stream and bank and land into each other’s neighbourhood. The bridge gathers the earth as landscape around the stream. Thus it guides and attends the stream through the meadows. This bridge becomes a location by its presencing as a thing and providing a site for the fourfold. Hence the nature of things is believed to come from the fourfold first, and then from the properties of the thing. Location is created in the manner in which the fourfold makes spaces with a boundary where things begin its presencing. Hence Heidegger believed spaces to receive their being from locations and not from ‘space’. Also ‘Building is dwelling’ in the act of construction, which should be close to dwelling. Construction should be carried out by ‘letting things be’. How do people share common meaning or experience? According to Heidegger, what one takes to be a shared public world of experience is in fact a private world of personal subjectivity. Intersubjectivity, described as the common experiences of being-in-the-world. This came in part from lived experiences of the environment in which beings are situated. As well as from the fourfold which can be experienced on some common grounds. Hence Husserl and Heidegger, both understand subjectivity for its meanings through authentic experiences of things but in slightly different ways. While one looks at it as a mental activity another sees it as a lived experience and preserving of fourfold. From this we can extract certain themes as explained below: To things themselves: it is the notion of subjectivity, experiencing the world through its essence of objects and not by scientific or objective knowledge. Thus getting to inherent meanings. Meanings: the intentional content as a result of subjective mental activity or experiences which may be described as perceptions, imagination, judgment, thought, emotions and actions. Communication: meanings conveyed through declarative sentences or language as a means of communication. This is the common content 1 Hofstadter, translated by Albert. “Building, Dwelling, Thinking.” Heidegger, Martin. Poetry, Language, Thought. New York: Harper and Row, 1971. 141-161. 29

understandable across people for its qualities of indication communicating between speakers and hearers. Lived experiences: the subjective experiences and meanings understood by the act of doing. These are lived bodily experiences which bring man close to the object to know all its possibilities and meanings. Dwelling through fourfold: it is the pure experiences and nature of things giving meaning through letting things be. Sparing and preserving of the fourfold which is earth, sky, man and divinities allow for this, creating a location to experienced as it is.

2.1.2 Subjectivity from other Extensions of the concepts of subjectivity in experiencing and perceiving disciplines

through senses had its effects in other disciplines and fields like psychology and sociology which further theorized what people saw and felt.

Gestalt Psychology

In the beginning of the twentieth century models from findings of Gestalt psychology emerged which recognized certain consistent patterns visually perceived by a majority of healthy adults. The theory mainly proposed two sets of visual perception, one consisted of the main principles of perception and the other of the laws of grouping influenced by perception. The key principles of perception according to gestalt systems defined the way overall visual forms could be perceived, like the process of ‘reification’, where a form is generated more explicitly than represented by visual data (27). Similarly overall form perception may also be defined by ‘multistability’ (28) as the ambiguous visual perception of interpreting two forms in one. Gestalt described more principles as well. The laws of grouping stated that people tended to order experiences in a manner that was regular, orderly, symmetrical, and simple. A major aspect of Gestalt psychology implied that the mind understands external stimuli as whole rather than the sum of their parts. The wholes are thus structured and organized using grouping laws. Eight such laws were proposed by gestalt systems, a few of them can be explained; like the law of proximity, states that when an individual perceives an assortment of objects they perceive objects that are close to each other as forming a group (30). The law of similarity states that elements within an assortment of objects are perceptually grouped together if they are similar to each other in the form of shape, colour, shading or other qualities (31). The law of symmetry states that the mind perceives objects as being symmetrical and forming around a centre point. It is perceptually pleasing to divide objects into an even number of symmetrical parts (32). All these laws state the kind of visual experience the mind of an individual goes through, hence theorizing subjectivity and recommending certain forms for certain experiences.


examples of visual perceptions by Gestalt psychology

27. Reification solids in the white spaces are perceived

28. Multistability conflicting images are perceived

29. Invariance simple geometrical objects percieved irrespective of rotations, scale etc.

30. Law of proximity objects with equal distances are percieved in groups

31. Law of similarity similar elements are percieved together

32. Law of symmetry symmetry is perceived pleasing to the eye 31

These systems gives a hold on visual experience because of the experiments conducted and precise findings. Though architecture can implement such theories and findings directly as a means to experience space, they are not necessarily an account of the complete feeling as it is limited to the sight. On account of the five basic senses, new strategies were being systematized during this period to understand sense psychologically.

Haptic experiences

J.J. Gibson, an environmental psychologist understood the five senses as; the visual system, taste-smell system, the auditory system, the basic-orienting system and the haptic system in 1950’s. Out of these the basic-orienting system and haptic system were believed to contribute more towards an understanding of three-dimensionality of experiences. Basic orientation refers to the postural sense of up and down depending on gravity and knowledge about the ground. Any mobilized orientation requires a total balance of the body. While haptic sense is the sense of touch not just limited to hands but the entire body. Perceptions in this case was believed to be formulated through the active exploration of surfaces and objects by a moving subject, as opposed to passive contact by a static subject during tactile perception. To sense haptically is to experience objects in the environment by actually touching them for its different sensations as well as experiencing them for the movement it elicits within the entire body. This sense was proposed by Gibson as the only one which engaged in both acts of feeling and doing simultaneously, having action-reaction characteristics. This model better understands experiences in the individual with respect to the environment for what is ‘felt’. The bodily experiences define the possessions and impact on individuals as a measure of subjectivity of experience for its meanings, as feelings of the environment and architecture.

Semiotic studies


Semiotics is the study of meaning-making, the study of sign processes and meaningful communication. It includes the study of signs and sign processes, indication, designation, likeness, analogy, allegory, metonymy, metaphor, symbolism, signification, and communication. As a subset of communication and language these studies were also defined as linguistic studies. Ferdinand de Saussure was considered the father of modern linguistics, who proposed a dualistic notion of signs, relating the ‘signifier’ as the form of the word or phrase uttered, to the ‘signified’ as the mental concept. According to Saussure, the sign is completely arbitrary—i.e., there is no necessary connection between the sign and its meaning. Saussure posited that no word is inherently meaningful. Rather a word is only a ‘signifier’, i.e., the representation of something, and it must be combined in the brain with the ‘signified’, or the thing itself, in order to form a meaning-imbued ‘sign’. Saussure believed that dismantling signs was a real science, for in doing so there is an empirical understanding of how humans synthesize physical stimuli into words and other abstract concepts. Hence the underlying characteristic of the signs could be used to signify something else. For example, metaphor is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase

is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable. So the phrase ‘broken heart’ does not mean that the heart literally breaks into pieces but that the person is feeling sad or is emotionally hurt. Here the relationship between the two words is used to signify a situation. And the signifier is important and not the meaning. This requires a layer of rational thought above the metaphor to understand and apply it and not use it directly. Later Charles Morris theorized signs as semantics; relation between signs and the things to which they refer; their signified meaning, syntax: relations among or between signs in formal structures, pragmatics: relation between signs and interpreters. All these three defined the relationships between signs and other aspects, however it was held by Saussure that a sign needed to be understood for its signifier or relationship to the meaning rather than the meaning itself. Hence, ‘meanings’ explained by semiotic studies comes from an understanding of the relationship of signs and not imposing meanings or signs directly. The relationships instigate mental activity to understand meanings composing the subjectivity of experience.


2.2 Subjectivity according to the second layer of theory 2.2.1 Role of architectural Architectural theories can be of different types. They can be, theory prescriptive giving certain solutions in architecture, proscriptive giving

recommendations on what to avoid in architecture or critical giving less or no recommendations but providing a critique on the existing architecture. However all theories are built on a certain premise, based on the existing state of practice in architecture. And give certain recommendations to the direction of movement in practice coming from the awareness of the theorist and assumptions of solutions based on the knowledge from other disciplines. This part of the thesis understands the theories of Christian Norberg Schulz introduced around the time frame of 1960’s as the major architectural theories for shaping further architectural thought on subjectivity during this time. The theory is understood for its premise or a critic on modern architecture, its assumptions from different disciplines and architectural practices followed by a hypothesis on the preferred track towards subjectivity in architecture and finally for its recommendations in architectural practice keeping the above three in mind. The table after the above text illustrates the flow of the theory in terms of premise, interpretations of subjectivity extracted from the assumptions and hypothesis and recommendations in architectural form. The recommendations in architectural form are further explained in detail to define the framework for analysing case studies of practice.

2.2.2 Christian Norberg Schulz proposed this in 1965 as an integrated theory in architecture to Schulz: recover practice from the damages of modernism. Intentions in architecture Premise: The modern movement found its inspiration in abstract art, and possibilities offered by new building materials like iron, concrete and glass. During this time period, new forms were developed in architecture by ‘softening’ or ‘enriching’ the elementary characteristics of form, and displacing the devalued clichés of historicism, to stress on economic efficiency. The modern movement soon saw an observed gap in the way architects and layman looked at architecture. Architects discussed higher level problems like the relation of form to ‘technic’ of construction, while clients or users wanted architecture to resemble a beloved prototype and cost less. Hence the architecture was regarded as ‘ugly and ‘impractical’. Further the lack of precise terminology by architects added to the confusion between them and clients. The situation became highly unsatisfactory when the formal language of architecture was not able to distinguish between different building tasks like a church and a cinema. The new visual order created was not able to replace the devalued style of the past for the public. 34

These basic problems from modernism makes one ask, ‘What purpose has architecture as a human product?’ According to Norberg Schulz the purpose is functional-practical, milieu-creating and symbolizing. The relationship between man and environment was recognized by him as complex and needed to be investigated further. Hence he wanted to create an integrated theory in architecture which understood and took care of the impact of architecture on man’s psyche. The premise of this theory of architecture as a human product has three different categories. Firstly the relationship between buildings and those who use them .i.e. effects of architecture on man, secondly the means to organize buildings .i.e. form and technic used and thirdly particular means corresponding to particular effects .i.e. forms and ‘technic’ correlating to the effects on man. Assumptions: Schulz in his theory assumes certain ways to establish a relationship between architecture and man. According to him, the environment influences man’s mood and hence has not only an instrumental purpose but also a psychological function. Experience of Man is thus recognized as the key to decode relationships. But experiences of outer circumstances may be different for different circumstances, this subjectivity requires an investigation of the way man perceives the world. But according to the theory perceptions of man are highly subjective and so it rather fixes on objects of the environment and their meanings as symbols. Since man possesses several geometrical and topological schemata but hardly anybody is able to use it in architecture and so their experience of architecture is based on special schemata which consists in looking for the forms they are used to seeing. Meaningful experiences demand an efficient classification of objects in the environment with suitable dimensions of comparison across people and situations. Together the effect of architecture on its users is derived from practical-psychological-social-cultural situations. The theory assumes meaning in architecture embedded in the semantic relationships between the means of organization of the building (mass, space, structure) and the objects of man’s environment(physical,social,cultural). Hence, symbolization (a process related to semantic relationships) and perception are understood and investigated in relation to architectural form like mass, space and structure of the building. Hypothesis of the theory: Architectural quality requires relation of building to man and his processes. Man’s experience and meaning is subjective in terms of perceptions, but organizing the built environment as symbols can create common meanings as well as subjective experiences. Architecture should organize itself as a symbol-system, so that man is able to grasp the common aspects in the built environment and also form a subjective relationship to it. Thus there is a need to move towards a logical symbolization of the world. Recommendations: Norberg Schulz provides an ‘integrated theory’ in architecture recommending a symbol system which is logical and derived from an


understanding of other disciplines like gestalt psychology, semantics and phenomenology. We shall see how a later. The theory does not provide any intended solutions but instead opens out possible factors and combinations. Architectural quality may be determined by comparing individual works of architecture to the proposed theory. Semantic relations are of central importance according to the theory, if it is neglected it will result in empty forms and unsatisfied needs. The theory suggests that the more complex and differentiated an environment becomes, the more we shall need a large number of ‘symbol – systems’, well articulated which allows for cooperation, as opposed to the simplistic primitive system based on magical and religious ideals. Hence the theory proposes a symbol-system for architecture by dividing it into three parts, the building task, formal system and technic. The building task comprises of the objects of environment concerning man’s life processes. These object world related to the users are a means to understand subjectivity of the users. The objects are described as physical, social and cultural forms of life, while orientation of users towards the objects would be three types, cognitive based on knowledge, cathetic depending on the satisfaction received or evaluative based on fixed values and ideals. These are intermediary objects, which along with architectural form compose architectural objects having an effect on the user. Hence the architectural symbol system is made up of architectural totalities which are individual buildings. These must form semantic relations at a building level and at an urban level in order to have an architectural character and affect man’s psyche. The ‘building semantic relations’ are of different types and is a relation between the buildings form and the objects of the world as described above. While the ‘urban semantic relations’ takes into account the larger relations of the individual building to its building type, style and time period. In this theory we will concentrate on the architectural form and objects of the world which together concoct the building semantic relations. These later become parameters for studying individual case studies in practice.


Table 3: Breaking down Norberg Schulz’s theory into parts



architectural character

man’s life processes



creating a symbol system

building Semantic Relations



conventional symbols

objects / forms of life

urban Semantic Relations

structural similarity

architectural form

elements physical social cultural

relations formal structure style


Objects/Forms of life

Physical milieu:


Schulz highlighted the importance of man’s way of living as parameters to be reflected in the architectural form. The physical, social and cultural objects of the world comprise the structure of society. In general Schulz divided forms of life in the physical milieu and symbolic milieu which further subdivide in physical, social and cultural objects. According to him, the symbolic milieu must manifest in the architectural form as sociological and psychological situations to take part in the built environment. Physical controls: This encompasses the surrounding environment and physical context of the building, which the building should be receptive of. The physical context or factors of the surrounding are called energies which include the climate, light, sound, smell, things. These energies can be responded to through architectural form elements called filters. Filters include relations, barriers, filters, connections, and switch which may translate as building surface elements like walls, windows, doors etc. (33-37) Functional frame: Function can be understood as ‘the action that take place within the walls of a building’. They can shape the building form in the many ways like the maximum and minimum requirement of functions can determine the size or dimension of spaces (38), easy movement within functions can determine the form of spaces (39). While interconnections between functions can determine the topographic or spatial organization of the building (40) and the need for flexibility of functions can determine the nature of mass elements (41). Thus together ensuring that the building is functional or usable.


Symbolic milieu:


Social objects refer to the man to man relationship which dictates the structure of society. Buildings must respond to the social role, group, collectivity and institution. Differentiating the environment according to social structure is important for sociological and psychological information about the building like the social hierarchy in arrangement, how does one orient oneself etc. Buildings and cities bring together humans and milieus for public and private activities. The collectivity knows symbolic situations, in the past the coronation and sanctification of kings were believed to be of the highest social order and hence architectural forms of palaces and churches were organized in a city for social importance. The social milieu consists of a social hierarchy imbibed in architectural form. (42-44) Cultural objects are composed of common values, empirical constructs, philosophical ideas, moral codes, religious beliefs, ideological convictions and economical conditions manifested by social roles, groups and institutions and by the physical objects serving social life (45-47). Architectural form must reflect cultural themes concertized by what the social milieu symbolizes, to explain only the desired meanings. The social milieu indirectly symbolizes cultural objects for example the emperor is considered divine and so palaces have symbolic ceremonies of divinity. The cultural symbol milieu is also capable of direct manifestations in architectural form for example the stained glass light in churches is used to depict divine light.


Illustrations for Physical objects Physical controls

33. sun controlled with filters.

35. light articulated with different kind of openings.

34. sound blocked with barriers.

36. physical surroundings shape the building.

37. all topological arrangement of functions may be controlled with filters depending on the desired relation.

Functional frame

38. anthropometrics of space decide dimensions.

40. group and clusters formed according to the functions.

39. physical form shaped according to easy movement.

41. flexibility of space allows more functions and dynamism.


Illustrations for Social objects

42. organization according to social heirarchy.

43. organization to create a social center.

44. threshold spaces as a social space.

Illustrations for Cultural objects

45. conventional image of a church.

47. conventional image of a palace.

46. conventional image of a house.


Architectural form

Schulz recommends a higher degree of articulation to be an important measure of complex architectural form. According to him, a well articulated form could concretize a large amount of cultural aspects as opposed to primitive architectural form. This section will explain the aspects of architectural form and the ways they can be articulated.


Elements denote characteristic unit parts of an architectural form. They can be both an independent whole as well as part of a more extensive context. The elements are defined here as mass, space and surface, the most basic elementary categories. They should be shaped to have a figural character which is determined by the ways below: Mass is a tri-dimensional body. The concentration of mass as well as its ability to join with other mass elements determines its quality. A sphere has maximum mass concentration while a pyramid has a higher ability to join with other surfaces. Thus the topological geometry of mass is important to determine its figural character (48), as well as the treatment of corners which defines the mass-boundary. A continuity in the corners explains concentration of mass, while a break or difference in the surfaces of the mass, weakens the mass (52-54). Openings also play a similar role explaining whether the mass is a massive block if the openings have a niche character or thin bounding surfaces if the pane of glass is flushed with the wall (49-51). Size of the opening also determine the mass-form. Treatment of bounding surfaces for the kind of light which falls to create shadow lines or textures also give character to the mass-element (55-56). Space denotes a defined volume, space elements come into existence when intervals or intermediate spaces attain a figural character. Topological closure defines space. A sphere has maximum closure inside. A circular space rests in its self, forming a centralization (57). Again here the bounding surfaces of the inside if similar and rounded create continuous space. The openings define the closure more precisely opening up or closing the space (58). The ceiling, walls and floor together make the bounding surfaces of the space element giving it figural character (60). Sometimes a space element can be defined by the ceiling alone like the religious symbolizations on the ceiling. Surface may be subordinate to space and mass elements or play an independent role in formal organization. Symmetrically and geometrically simple solutions stress on the figural character (61). Articulation of the surface is important through subordinate elements which may be plastic consisting of pilaster like elements (ornamentation) and perforating elements consisting of openings (64-66). Isolating the elements with a frame and repeating elements give it a stronger character. The texture and material of the surface as well as light give it a certain character. (62) While the roof surface is another bounding surface which must be taken care of (63). Symbols and ornaments form a part of subordinate elements. Architectural form depends on the formation of precise elements. Each of the basic elements have subordinate elements and relations. When mass, space, surface elements form a pregnant whole it is called a total gestalten character. Baldachins combine mass, space and surface elements to make a 41

Illustrations explaining elements according to Schulz mass

topological closure

treatment of corners


52. continuity massive block

49. small & niche openings massive block


55. shadow lines

53. discontinuity thin surfaces

50. large openings skeletal structure

48. concentration of mass

treatment of bounding surfaces

56. coarse texture

54. rounded corner massive block

thin surfaces


topological closure


of space inside



58. windows in the center make a closed closure where as the ones in the corner make an open closure

guiding walls

59. movement along the guiding the openess of closure

& ceiling

60. similar and rounded wall surfaces for continuous space



texture, colour & material

roof surface

plastic subordinate elements

perforating subordinate openings

64. pilasters and other elements on surfaces

65. openings

63. dome surface

61. symmetrical geometry of the surface with all elements


shingle surface 66. isolation of elements through framing

total gestalten

67. pediments

68. pilasters

69. the baldachine at st. peter’s basilica


indivisible whole (69). Conventional motives are total gestalten, denoting formal wholes (67,68). Relations

Relations refer to a lawful way of distributing elements. Elemental relations can be bi-dimensional as in bounding surfaces or tri-dimensional as in spatial characteristics of mass and space elements. All relations between elements are understood through principles of Gestalt Visual Perceptions. Topological relations like proximity(71), closure(72) and succession of elements define the arrangement of elements depending on the way humans perceive it mostly in plan. While other geometrical relations like similarity and repetition are defined based on the overall form of elements(73,77). Further geometrical relations may be organized with respect to a line, point or grid system defining an axis, centralization and a complex coordinate system respectively (74-76). In a developed coordinate system both directions and dimensions are repeated to create a grid. Relations of elements can further be defined by arrangements in a particular direction, parallel to each other or converging to a point. However the overall figure ground relation gives a strength in perception(78). A double order or a combination of topological and geometrical relations create different possibilities like centralized forms which may be centrifugal or centripetal (79). These make relations more complex and the formal structure further articulated. Classical orders like Baroque and Renaissance depict complex elements and their relations.

Formal structure

Schulz defined formal structures to denote the different possibilities of combinations of elements and relations . Formal structures should be analysed for the infinite possibilities of combinations towards a rhythmical group rather than an amorphous topological cluster. The theory recommends formal structures to be well articulated in its characteristics. Formal structures define the geometrization of architecture and set rules for the kind of elements and relations. For example, geometrical relations may not demand geometrical elements. The more complex the relations are the more complex the elements become. (82) Any symbolsystem should be coherent, so that the elements can play a specific role in them. Formal structures are formed at different levels, from the individual element level to the urban level. They are mainly composed of primary and secondary elements. The formal system should be made clearly visible by setting rules for arranging and articulating the primary elements. Ornaments and decorations can be employed for distinguishing primary and secondary elements. (81) A clearly articulated formal structure will have separate levels from top to bottom and bottom to top, as an element is a part at one level and a whole at another. Themes and variations add flexibility in the formal structure, allowing individual repetitions and deviations of elements. (80) The meaning of


Examples and kinds of relations between elements described by Schulz Closure




Geometrical relations




74. Centralization

75. Axiality

76. Coordinate system

Double order

77. repetition in the Medici Riccardi Palace Florence

Figure-ground relation 79. centralization - centripetal and centrifugal 78.

Pantheon, Rome (left) Boghazkeuy temple (right)

Examples of formal structures described by Schulz

80. The ‘wall-theme’ of Alberti’s Sant’Andrea with variations

81.Palazzo Rucellai in Florence has primary and secondary elements in its facade.

82. S. lorenzo, Florence has a complex formal structure, with complex elements and relations


architectural elements consist in its relations to other elements. The degree of articulation determines the capacity of differentiation in the formal structure. Lack of articulation would lead to chaos. Style

Schulz defined Style to denote the formal properties common to a collection of works. It is a statistical ensemble of a combination of elements to create a symbol-system. A form can only receive content or meaning if it belongs to a system of forms or styles. A style unites individual objects in a meaningful whole. The theory puts forth that new styles should be formed by connecting known forms or forms which can be correlated with human expectations. Only in this way can it transmit information. (83,84) According to Schulz architecture was denied a style during modernism by people like Walter Gropius, without realizing that style is a prerequisite for meaningful individual solutions. Certain forms are expected in connection with certain building tasks. Taste, convention, habit and tradition have no meaning outside of style. Style is a cultural object and ensures cultural and historical continuity.

Building Semantic Relations

Structural Similarity

Conventional elements


Schulz’s theory recommends semantic relations as the most important property for an architectural work to portray place character. The word ‘semantic’ denotes the relation between a sign and what it designates. Semantic relations in architecture ensure that the architectural forms are related to the objects of forms of life of man, creating meaningful symbols in the built environment. They are expressed at different levels. One level can remain fairly constant and expresses that the building belongs to a class or type while the others may respond to individual objects and forms of life. The elements in the formal structure maybe composed in a way for some to respond to the physical milieu while others to the symbol milieu or to respond to both simultaneously, like a Doric column, is functional and symbolic both. Schulz recommended two kinds of relations between objects and architectural forms as: An object or form of life may relate to a form because of common properties shared between the two, such a relation is a structural similarity. This relates the basic characteristics of form to the characteristics of objects, thus symbolizing both the physical milieu and symbolic milieu. For example social roles can be represented through a structural similarity between the arrangement or organization of space to the hierarchy of social status. Cultural objects like cosmological and religious ones can be combined intentionally with empirical facts for structural similarity (89-93). Conventional signs are symbolizations in a narrower sense. It relates directly to the symbol milieu consisting of both cultural and social aspects .i.e. a cultural object directly translates as a architectural element of form. Conventional signs act as elements of not only as subordinate motives but also made of building types, for example a ground plan or particular space form. They comprise of the iconic relations which may have become signs. Iconic relations are formed from a structural similarity to higher cultural and

Examples of styles as described by Schulz

83. Brunelleschi’s S.Spirito in Florence

84. Inspiration of the style of Brunelleschi seen in Badia Fiesole church in Florence.

Table 4: Components of building Semantic relations

Building Semantic Relations

conventional symbols



formal structure

structural similarity




formal structure


Building Semantic relationships highlighted in the examples Schulz mentions

conventional elements

85.In Ameins cathedral the stained glass windows, and large sun-windows radiate heavenly light while the larger baldachines as a total gestalten expression symbolize the heavens.

86. The Pantheon in Rome has an architectural form of a dome as it represents dignity for churches and townhalls

87. The Roman Pantheon has a direct symbolism, divided in three horizontal zones depicting a heavenly character.

the gods of heavens, the middle zone zone contains the heavenly dome.

structural similarities

89. The differing roles of spectators and performers in Roman and Baroque theatre is visible in the arrangement of the stage and seating. Where the audience either becomes a part of the performance or are just spectators.

90. The ancient Greek city had three divisions of the social structure, the acropolis for gods, agora for social life and the private houses, depicted in the spatial organization and topography.

91. The brise soleil in Atma by Corbusier is a shading device to protect the building from harsh sun and heating

key physical




88. The Giglio Castell Toscana’s enclosed walls represent security, justice and

mass element is shaped to depict social roles

92. The Capitoline Square in Rome by Michelangelo, has a convex square as the

sphere and Rome is the center of the world.


93. A typical office plan with spatial

on the social status of the people working there.



total gestalten


social objects. For example a circular space was considered heavenly and that is why the dome as an architectural form was introduced, but once it became an icon the dome was used as a conventional element itself to symbolize heaven. This way of symbolizing plays a decisive role in recognizing buildings symbol milieu (85-88). Urban Semantic Relations:

Schulz recommends relations between a style, a collection of building tasks and technical means of a time as urban semantic relations. It was defined as the capacity of a style to create formal systems which could relate to the individual building tasks of the period as well as interrelations of the task at an urban level. Adaptability of style at an individual and urban level define the formal structure. An epoch was believed to be characterized and determined by semantical correlations of form and building tasks. While form was believed to posses symbolization which became active only through correlations to the building tasks. Hence, according to Schulz devaluation of old forms and ‘technics’ was not a formal problem but had a semantical character, implying that the new forms used were without correlations to the building task.

The importance of Schulz’s theory to future works of architecture: The theory of Norberg Schulz introduced around 1960’s correlates in some ways with the intend of understanding the ‘subjective’ user and using this understanding to design architectural forms. Since he understands the user in terms of the objects or forms of life associated with them, and recommends to relate these to architectural form through ways of perception and symbolization from gestalt’s principles and semiotic studies. From this theory we can say that, in general certain aspects of users of the building and the context need to be extracted and related with the architectural form for an architectural quality in buildings which was lacking in modern architecture. Hence the relations between some aspects of user and architectural form are important, which in this theory is explained as semantic relations. Using this concept of semantic relations in the architectural practice as a premise, further postmodern manifestos, theories and buildings were designed. Since we are studying the interpretation of subjectivity through theory and practice of the postmodern period in architecture, the thesis will now explain the major postmodern manifestos and theories and the eventual practice as a result of it.


2.3 Criteria for selection of The cases are selected based on two major criteria. cases Firstly pioneering architects of postmodern architecture need to be studied for the kind of theories and manifestos they put forth in the beginning and how they took care of subjectivity of users in architecture explained through them. Further on, even the architects’ built works would be studied to understand the effect of subjectivity in architecture. Choosing one early building in practice would be necessary to study the initial interpretations materialized as architectural forms. The built works however is limited to public buildings to study the architectural work with respect to subjectivity with many users. The second criteria is that the chosen architects must belong to similar branches of architecture like history, place, meaning, and body as stated in the first chapter.

Note on the chosen architects: Le Corbusier, Robert Venturi and Charles Moore have been chosen for case studies as all three belong to the same branch of metaphorism and historicism. Also they were the pioneers of postmodern theories and thoughts in architectural practice. One early architectural work of each architect is chosen, while others could be the later works of the architects who took forward post modernism (Robert Venturi and Charles Moore)

2.4 Methodology of study The postmodern theories and manifestos will be analysed to extract each for case studies architects interpretation of subjectivity of experience and meaning in architecture, which is being explained through examples and recommendations of expressions in architectural form.

The postmodern practice will be analysed for the ways semantic relations are expressed in the particular building form. Relations of two kinds will be looked for. Firstly the interpretations of subjectivity in practice is analyses through recommendations from respective architects and expressions present in the building form. Secondly the overall semantic relations as explained by Christian Norberg Schulz’s theory will be analysed by relating objects of the particular environment to the formal structure of the building.


Table 5: Method of study METHOD OF ANALYSIS - THEORY


interpretations of subjectivity

expression of architectural form



semantic relations

le corbusier

expression of architectural form in practice

robert venturi

charles moore

The semantics relations from practice

understandings of subjectivity from the first layer of theory

what went wrong?



assumptions interpretations of subjectivity examples studied recommendations for expressions of architectural form

expressions of form from architects theory to expressions of form in practice objects semantic relations formal structure

whispers within theory

assumptions and interpretation of subjectivity in the second layer of theory

understandings of subjectivity in the first layer of theory

whispers from theory to practice

expression of architectural form in practice

examples studied and expressions of form recommended from the second layer of theory




Table 6: Timeline of all cases



Cases studied Cases referred to 54

Semiotics Course in general linguistics by Ferdinand d.Saussare

Philosophy Logical Investigations by Edmund Husserl


Psychology Gestalt visual principles by Wertheimer, Kohler and Koffka



Philosophy Being and Time by Martin Heidegger






Language of post-modern architecture by Charles Jencks

Intentions in Architecture by Norberg Schulz

L’espace indicible by Le Corbusier

Complexity and Contradictions by Robert Venturi Learnings from Las Vegas by Robert Venturi You have to pay for public space by Charles Moore Life and Death of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs Team 10 primer by Aldo Van Eyck City is not a tree by Christopher Image of the City Alexander by Kevin Lynch

Body, Memory and Architecture by Charles Moore

Gray Architecture as Postmodernism by Robert Stern Genius Loci by Christian Norberg Schulz Critical regionalism by Kenneth Frampton

Meaning in western architecture by Norberg Schulz

Ecological psychology The Senses Considered as Perceptual Systems by J.J.Gibson

Philosophy Building, dwelling, thinking by Martin Heidegger







Sea Ranch Condominium 1 by Charles Moore





Fargo Moorhead Cultural Centre by Michael Graves

The chapel of Ronchamp by Le Corbusier

UC Santa Barbara faculty club by Charles Moore

North Penn nurses' association headquarters by Robert Venturi

Piazza d'italia in New Orleans by Charles Moore

Best Showroom by Robert Venturi

Gordon Wu hall by Robert Venturi


Chapter 3 THEORY AND PRACTICE 3.1 Le Corbusier 3.2 Robert Venturi 3.3 Charles Moore


3.1 Le Corbusier 3.1.1

Theory Le Corbusier a Swiss-French architect was the leading figure in modern architecture, one of the few to introduce the international style in architecture. Congrès internationaux d’architecture moderne (CIAM) was also headed by Le Corbusier starting from 1928. He wrote papers and manifestos of prime importance like ‘towards a new architecture’, Athens charter and many more which explained his ideologies on the five points in architecture, modular man, etc. However the post World War II period saw certain shifts in his purism concepts to more sculptural and materialistic explorations in architecture also called the ‘beton brut’. Le Corbusier drew heavily from inspirations in art, which he had engaged himself in during the World War II, owing to the stagnation of construction during that time. He was engaged in sculptural art and other techniques like the Murano glass art and plastic enamel work. He also wrote the text L’Espace indicible in 1945 which explored the concepts of ‘ineffable space’ in architecture away from functionalism which he had so rigorously promoted. It reflects the contemporary achievements in the concept of space from Gideon’s Space, Time and Architecture or Phenomenon of perception by Maurice MerleauPonty. Ineffable space later shaped his buildings, one of them being the Notre Dame du Haut at Bourlemont Hill in Ron Champ in 1954. This building was believed to inspire the postmodern architecture. We will be studying this phase of Le Corbusier’s writings and work. Assumptions: Le Corbusier took into account the psychophysiology of perception relying on the phenomena of vision, exploring further their effects on the psychology of the individual and his sensations, so much so that space could no longer be an entity measured by Euclidean or Newtonian sciences. In other words, he assumes that space can be magnified by the way it is perceived and its effects on the psychology of the users. ‘Ineffable space’ was believed to underlie the nature of concept of space which could only be understood through acoustic-visual perception, aiming to achieve a psychophysiology of feelings for the users of the building. Recommendations: Magnification of space as the fourth dimension of architectural form was believed by Corbusier to affect the users. According to him, architecture, sculpture and painting are dependent on space and have the need to control it. Within arts, Corbusier gives specific emphasis to plastic arts, for its tendency to create vibrations of sound, cries or shouts which can convey esthetic emotions of joy or oppression within space. He explored sculptural art along with artist Savina, for its plastic quality and believed it to be a research for the sculptural buildings he was going to build. Corbusier sculpted in wood, inspired by organic forms of pebbles, stones and forms of nature he used to collect. Later he explored glass sculpting in Murano creating new forms. Apart from sculptures, other techniques of art like metal enamel painting also intrigued Corbusier. Hence inspirations from art formed the basis for Corbusier to attend to perceptions of users in the buildings he designed and built. Plastic forms, splashes of color, and other learnings from art, he believed integrated as ineffable space affecting the psychophysiology of perceptions and to have an effect on emotions of people. 57

need to relate to perceptions





Table 6: Breaking down Le Corbusier’s theory into parts


need to relate to emotions

visual and acoustic perceptions

ineffable space

studied other forms and techniques of art

studied plastic art

plastic forms splashes of color art forms in architecture no ornamentation

Examples of art explored by Le Corbusier

94. the first sculpture Corbusier and Savina made together.

95. a glass sculpture made by Corbusier

97. a sculptural panel being made by Corbusier

96. a panel in enamel sheet metal technique painted.

98. the third sculpture (in wood)

99. tapestry with many tones



Practice - Notre Dame du RonChamp, France 1954 Haut Bourlemont Hill Description of the building: The building is a Roman Catholic pilgrimage chapel in Ronchamp, France. It is on a hill near Belfort in eastern France. A chapel existed on the site earlier but was destroyed during the war and so the Ronchamp chapel was built in 1954 to replace it. The nave of the chapel houses a space for prayer of about 200 pilgrims, while the east side accommodates around 1200 of them. The chapel thus was an important religious place for the people.

100. Ronchamp chapel

Historical context: The Ronchamp chapel was built in 1954 and became a catalyst for the neo-expressionist style, and inspiration for the postmodern style in architecture because of its emphasis on monumentality, place and metaphorical qualities. This building was mentioned by Charles Jencks in the branch of metaphorism. The chapel, though designed by Le Corbusier did not follow the principles of modernism, with its heavy and sculptural expression because of which it received a lot of criticism in the beginning on the rational of the modern movement. But soon it became a landmark building in architectural history, also appreciated by the local population at Ronchamp who were intensely proud of it. Le Corbusier’s post-war architecture was believed to have a considerably popular appeal amongst users of the building. Architects intent for particular building: The first intuition of Le Corbusier was to invent acoustic devices for the chapel, which was to be silent, sacred and calm.4 Due to the precision of plastic forms in the chapel, it appeared to have been determined by years of religious ritual and iconography. But in reality, the architect Le Corbusier was an atheist and non-conformist, who specifically rejected all conventional signs, religious motifs and approached the problem psychologically. He says that, “the requirements of religion have had little effect on design, the form was an answer to a psychophysiology of the feelings”.1 Le Corbusier’s chapel created an alternative world that was tantalizing rich and believable as the real one, having all coherence except for the conventional references. He describes the chapel as a ‘plastic integrity’ of imagining new forms and then resolving their interrelationships until they seem necessary and inevitable.1 Objects/Forms of life Physical: The physical surroundings of a hill on which the chapel is situated is important. While the functional frame requires for a large number of people to be accommodated. Social: The social role of a chapel is associated with silence and a closed sacred inside. A chapel, being a religious building is given an important social status in the city or region. Cultural: With respect to the chapel, cultural beliefs are held of light being a spiritual symbol. Also many stories can be associated with its religious function.


1 Corbusier, Le, and Willy Boesiger. Le Corbusier 1910-1960. Zurich: Editions Girsberger, 1960. pg 240-250

Site plan






5 4

Ground floor plan 1. tower 2. main entrance 3. altar 4. south wall 5. bell tower 6. open air altar Drawings of Notre Dame du Haut Bourlemont Hill, Ronchamp, France Le Crobusier 1954

1 0





A relation between the recommended expressions of form from Le Corbusier’s theory in the Notre Dame du Haut chapel can be seen as: Refer to Table 7 Plastic forms which Le Corbusier was exploring in his sculptures, saw a complete translation in the chapel which has an organic form shaping its curved surfaces. The walls are thick and sculptural also to resonate and echo the sound of the chapel within creating an acoustic interior. Visually the curved surfaces were intended to take on a theatrical value changing perspectives as the visitors climb up the hill, like those deployed by Bernini with the colonnade in Vatican (studied in his travel sketches). Metaphorical characteristics can be read in the free form surface of the chapel which could be seen as a reminder of the chapel ruined during the war because of its uprooted walls and destroyed roof. Isolated from other surfaces, the south wall stands as a ruin with unusual thickness to shape the light coming from the openings. It is a perforated wall allowing light to look like a constellation behind the altar. Le Corbusier remembers the chapels which, “Wars one after the other destroy mercilessly, because this high place is also a landmark and observation point”. The chapel as a landmark is retained with the tall bell tower to the west which could be seen from the foot of the hills. Other inspirations from his metal enamel paintwork is visible in the main door of the chapel. This was covered on both faces with eight panels of sheet steel enamelled in vivid colours at 760 degrees, an experiment for the first time carried out in sheet metal. While clear geometric forms contained the concrete tub at one end of the chapel which received the rainwater from a double-barrelled gargoyle projecting outwards from the lowest point of the roof. Splashes of colour present in Corbusier’s artwork also reflected in the chapel, as the walls of the northeast chapel tower were painted red in its full length to pour in light from the top giving surface luminosity of a day-glow. While the openings on the south wall had its glass surfaces painted in different colours to get in diffused light. He was very careful not to use stained glass which was traditionally used in churches to depict divine light. Together all the different expressions of art in the chapel and the overall organic form are intended to add to visual and acoustic perception thus creating an ineffable space.


Building analysis 1: Illustrations to depict relations of expressions of form from theory to practice plastic form

101,102. the chapel has an overall organic form with massive walls. 103. the form creates an acoustic inside of quietness. 104. the paper mache texture adds to the feeling of mass in the form.








108 105,106,107. the curved surfaces create changing perspectives while climbing up the hill. 108. approach to the building.


metaphorical characteristics

109,110. the chapel with its bell tower behaves like a landmark, even when viewed from the foot of the hill.





112 111. uprooted wall and a destroyed roof form stand like ruins of the previous church. 112. the thick free standing south wall has punctures shaping the light coming in.

other forms of art

splashes of colour






113. plan showing the placement of all elements. 114,115. enamel painted metal pivot door, the main entrance. 116. geometric forms in a concrete tub receives water from the gutter.

117. coloured glass windows covering the punctures. 118,119. red painted wall surface in the bell tower to create a dayglow.




Semantic relations in Notre Dame du Haut chapel: A relation between the formal structure and physical, social and cultural objects in the building. The physical surroundings, the social needs to accommodate a large number of people in a quiet function of a chapel and the cultural associations of light in a chapel shaped the formal characteristics of Ronchamp chapel. The physical controls in terms of light, wind, rain water and natural terrain all have a structural similarity to mass and surface elements of the chapel. The building has a mass geometry to stand out on the hill top, on which it is located, the hilly terrain also shapes the floor of the chapel which is not flat but follows the natural slope of land. While the roof has a curved shape owing to the strong winds which can have the effect of uprooting a cantilevered roof. Diffused light is allowed through the south wall with large punctures in the massive wall and coloured glass panes. The massive inside is the result of a structural similarity between the mass geometry and social need to keep a quiet and sacred atmosphere within the chapel in-spite of a large number of visitors. Hence the mass geometry is defined by the thick walls, organic form and rough texture. Spatially, an open air or semi-open altar is designed on the east side of the chapel for an overflow of visitors or for large congregations. Being a chapel, the cultural belief of light being a sacred symbol is articulated in a way to add drama and break the dark space within by highlighting required areas. However, no conventional elements of a church like stained glass surfaces etc, are used rather there is a structural similarity between the mass elements and light. Mass elements like the south wall and three towers are punctured for a play of light, while surfaces are coloured to accentuate the quality of light. There is also a structural similarity between the mass elements like the walls and roof of the chapel and the cultural image of a ruin, reminding visitors of the old church destroyed during the time of war.


Building analysis 2: Building semantic relationships visible from the foot of hills

open air altar space closure

mass geometry

overflow of crowds

hill top S


thick walls organic form

sloping plinth level floor surface

space closure

sloping terrain

quiet sacred inside S


colourful glass openings

colour wall in bell tower

surface openings

surface material

harsh daylight

sacred light



3 towers

curved roof

space closure

mass geometry

bring in light

wind force S


opening punctures

thick walls organic form mass geometry

surface openings

collects rain

sacred light S


rough paper mache texture

uprooted walls and destroyed roof

mass surface

mass geometry

massive inside

cultural image




conventional elements


structural similarity








3.1.3 Interpretation of Le Corbusier theorized architecture for its need to affect the subjectivity through theory and psychophysiology of feelings of the users which he recommended to fulfil practice of Le Corbusier through spatial perceptions both visually and acoustically. He intended to relate to human perceptions and emotions through formal characteristics of architecture. The term ‘ineffable space’ was given to such a space, which he studied by explorations in art, perceived larger than reality. Plastic arts were explored for its organic form which perceptually may be different for different people owing to its lacked of a definite form. Corbusier’s Ronchamp chapel is designed as an organic form with no particular symbolic representation and so, it was later interpreted for its possible metaphorical implications. The plastic form generates acoustic and visual sensations having effects on spatial perceptions. The artistic elements used in the chapel are also meant to feed into the varied visual perceptions. Hence practice here has an inclination towards influencing the visual perceptions of visitors for an experience similar to the experiences of art which Le Corbusier explored. The Ronchamp chapel does not use symbols as meanings directly or as conventional elements, rather he abstracts the symbols of a conventional chapel for its relationships which define meanings. These relationships define the formal characteristics of the building. For example the divine light, depicted through sun windows and stained glass in conventional chapels is abstracted for a powerful play of light in the chapel with effective daylight control through its form elements. This form was interpreted by critics to have different metaphors and played a catalyst to create newer forms with metaphorical intentions.


3.2 Robert Venturi 3.2.1

Theory Robert Venturi an American architect contributed heavily to the architectural discourse during the late 20th century. His work has been mentioned as a hallmark in the different classifications given by Charles Jencks in his book, the ‘Language of postmodernism’, especially under the branch of historicism and metaphorism. His pioneering work defined the postmodern movement was inspired from history and everyday signs, which further influenced subsequent architects.

The writings of Robert Venturi explored history, visual perceptions, signs and semiotics in architectural form as interpretations of the theme subjectivity of experience and meaning. According to Vincet Scully, ‘His first book Complexity and Contradictions is a physical reaction to form while Learnings from Las Vegas is linguistic in its approach to form’. 1 Both the books use visual examples to investigate experiences from history and everyday signs respectively. Complexity and contradictions was written and introduced in 1966 very early in the scenario shaping the initial ideals of the movement, while Learnings from Las Vegas was introduced a couple of years later in 1972. Hence, for our study we will analyse these two books and the interpretations of subjectivity in each of them. (Refer to Table 8 which represents this) Three buildings will be analysed namely, the North Penn nurses association headquarters 1961, Best showroom 1972 and Gordon Wu Hall 1984. Chosen for equal time spans from the beginning of Venturi’s practice to later on when post-modernism had reached its maturity.

Criticism on modernism:

Robert Venturi criticized modernism on the pretext of simplicity. He reverted Mies van der Rohe’s famous saying ‘Less is more’ to ‘Less is Bore’ and regarded that modern architects chose to solve only certain problems, ignoring others. Blatant simplicity and selectiveness of content was believed to be their weakness as well as strength. Architecture instead according to Venturi should be inclusive and recognize all problems. He regarded richness in users experience to be lacking because of the break from the past and everyday life situations, towards a set of rules in design. Venturi described modern architects to design ‘dead ducks’ 1 giving a lot of stress on the expression of structure and function, meaning being communicated by inherent characteristics of abstract form and not by previously known forms. “Modern architects rejected explicit symbolism and frivolous appliqué ornament for expressions in architecture, intern distorting the whole building into one ornament” says Robert Venturi. Architectural expression was believed to have become dry and boring by limiting articulation to pure architectural elements of space, structure and program. Venturi’s critic on modernism, led him to base his work on the premise of a need for meaning in architecture for users. 1 Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, Steven Izenour. Learnings from Las Vegas: The forgotten symbolism of architectural form. Cambridge, Massachusetts, London: The MIT Press, 1972. 69

Table 8: Breaking down Robert Venturi’s theory into parts




need for meaning in architecture


richness of experience

user’s visual perception & past associations

user association & popular taste

examples studied across architectural history

examples studied from las vegas and history

visual ambiguity

symbolic association


double functioning elements both-and elements contradiction adapted juxtapposition of elements

inside-outside relationship conventional elements


popular taste

everyday associations

ugly & ordinary elements and symbols words false front colours contrasts juxtaposed orders irony

Robert Venturi’s book ‘Complexity and Contradictions in architecture’ published in 1966 was a straightforward criticism on Modernism and projected the energy needed to get architects inspired to follow a new freedom. The book was accepted in Europe as a new opportunity to partake of a mature architectural culture. His revolt against modernity had led first scholars, later sociologists and then politicians to dream of an orderly, familiar and predictable city. Assumptions: According to Robert Venturi complexity of form specifically visual ambiguity adds to the user’s richness of experience. Ambiguous relations was believed to pose as a question mark to the users, creating a confusion of experiences as well as richness of meanings. Architectural form could be understood through gestalt laws and the individual users experience gauged by the treatment of visual form in the past. Complexity and visual ambiguity as well as symbolic experiences were regarded as ways for richness in experience, as interpretations of subjectivity of experience and meaning. Recommendations: Robert Venturi aims for visual ambiguity through complexity of forms as well as symbolic experiences, which can be achieved through a high degree of articulation in the formal structure of the building. In his book, he demonstrates this through precedents of the past, from which learnings can be projected to the present. The visual examples he has chosen are over a wide range in history from the Mannerist, Baroque and Renaissance period, to Aalto, Lutyens, Kahn, Le Corbusier etc. Another aspect of complexity touched upon other than form is the complexity of functions through symbolization. Visual ambiguity of architectural form and symbolic experiences

Both-and elements

Double-functioning elements

Robert Venturi recommends relations of visual ambiguity and symbolic experiences to manifest through expression of the architectural form. Recommendations of expression of forms are explained below along with appropriate examples following the text.

Both-and elements create a kind of visual ambiguity in the architectural form through the several levels of meanings in elements with varying values. The elements are both good and awkward, big and little, closed and open, continuous and articulated (120), round and square, structural and spatial. These varying levels breed ambiguity and tension. Simultaneous perceptions of multiplicity in formal levels involves struggles and hesitations for the observer, and makes his perception more vivid. Contradictions in scale, space (121), shape, pattern and texture (122) can articulate the formal aspects of both-and elements. By including symbolic, structural and programmatic needs in a certain form both-and elements are defined. For example the buildings of Michaelangelo have both-and elements with ceremonial, symbolic and functional aspects merged in one creating contradictions. Double-functioning elements have complex and contrasting hierarchies of scale and movement, structure (130) and space within a whole. These buildings are buildings and bridges at once. They are multi-functioning elements, versatile in their use, doing many things at once. For example a


room with a generic character can function as any kind of space depending on the need, fixing furniture like modern architecture did would be contradictory. The Renaissance pilaster can be double-functioning at various levels, it can be physically structural, symbolically structural through experiences, compositionally ornamental by rhythms and also add complexity of scale in the giant order.


Juxtaposition of elements and contradictions

Juxtaposition of elements may be through contradictory relationships in discordant rhythms, directions, adjacencies, and especially in superadjacencies and superimposition of various elements. Independence of the form of parts despite their closeness is most significant of contradictions juxtaposed. Super-adjacency is inclusive in nature and bring contrasting and otherwise irreconcilable elements close to each other. It can contain opposites in a whole, and can allow multiplicity of levels of meanings by seeing familiar things from unfamiliar points of view. So juxtaposition can also be used to create new relationships with familiar elements. Juxtaposition are defined through scale (131), direction (132), shape (133) and size of the elements, which are believed to create a visual ambiguity and individual character in the building. Mannerist and Baroque openings show juxtaposition in scales.

Contradictions adapted

Contradictions adapted is the relationship of inconsistencies within a whole which is impure, and admits improvisation. It involves disintegration of a prototype and ends in approximation and qualification. For example the distortion of a gambrel roof of its original gable for the need to accommodate a living space is a contradiction adapted away from the prototype. There are two ways of carrying forward adaptations. One way is circumstantial distortion and another is by adding an expedient device (124) as an element in the architecture dependent on a strong order. Adding a diagonal in a rectilinear plan, was a technique adopted in the work of Le Corbusier and Alto, is also a circumstantial distortion (123). This articulation adds to user individualities in the architecture and also creates visual ambiguities (125).

Conventional elements

Conventional elements refer to a changed use and expression of some past meaning as well as new meanings. It is a result of more or less ambiguous combination of the old meanings called by associations modified with a new meaning created by a new function - structural or programmatic, and/ or a new context. For example pop architecture used rhetoric elements along with enriching meanings. Architecture should use conventional elements, unconventionally. Conventional elements are common in their manufacture, form and use which should be accepted instead of searching for something new and advanced. The architect must be limited to the unconventional organization of conventional parts, to create new meanings within the whole.

Difficult whole

The difficult whole in an architecture of complexity and contradiction includes multiplicity and diversity of elements in relationships that are inconsistent or perceptually weaker. They have complex rhythms. A difficult whole has a multiplicity or number of parts which reads as a wholes by the

tendency of its parts to change scales (129). While Duality in architecture is when program or structure dictates a combination of two elements within any varying scales resolving into a whole (126). Parts can be wholes, in a greater or lesser degree as they can be fragments of a whole. Parts can be articulated and wholes accented, while obligation to the whole encourages the fragmentary parts. Inflection of the whole is implied by exploiting the nature of individual parts, number and positions. Inflection is a means of distinguishing diverse parts and implying continuity (127). Inflection is a device of monumentality as well as wholes. It accommodates difficult wholes and duality to create easier complex wholes for resolving dualities. Inflection can take place at the detail as well as complete building level in varying degrees, as an implied continuity or literal continuity. A group form or collective form has generative parts with their own linkages and wholes hence the system and units both are integral. It is a whole which can be dominated by the hierarchical relation of parts rather than the inherent nature of the part (128). This may also consist of a dominant binder in the hierarchical relationship of parts, which achieves a whole through one dominating element. This is a less complex way towards a whole rather than inflections and resolving dualities. Inside-outside relationship

Contrast between inside and outside is a major manifestation of contradiction in architecture. There is a necessity of continuity between inside and outside. Since inside is different from outside the wall becomes the point of change and an architectural event, which may be articulated in many ways. By recognizing the differences between the two architecture opens doors to an urbanistic point of view. The outside wall maybe a facade articulation through openings smaller in scale responding to the inside as compared to the large monumental outside (134). Space within space differentiation of inside and outside, creates a container like relation having spatial intricacies hidden within a separate envelope to unify outside in relation to the scale of the city (135). The outside may have contrasts between top and bottom of the building, depending on the inside. While a rigid frame can take care of crowded intricacies like the frames in Le Corbusier’s high court building Chandigarh. Contradictions between inside and outside can manifest in an attached lining which produces an additional space between the lining and exterior wall called a residual space (136). This can be treated as residual rooms, with articulations for different kinds of spaces and light in the additional volumes (137,138,139). Front and back of the building contrast depending on outside and inside relationships. The front outside space if more important need to be designed outside-in while the back inside-out resulting in different types of porches and false faces (140,141).


Expressions of form highlighted in the examples Robert Venturi investigates both-and elements

120. the Borromini’s chapel in Propaganda Fide has continuous and articulated wall and ceiling elements. A dome and vault both due to its rounded corners and multi directional grid.

121. Nicholas Hawksmoor’s St. George Bloomsbury’s shape implies north-south axis while balconies and openings suggest a dominant counter axis as well, hence creating contradictions in space.

122. Byzantine capital’s profile makes it seem continuous but its texture and pattern is articulated. Texture, shape and pattern can play contradictory roles.

124. the ornamental post in the centre of the inner portal at Vezelay which is a shore for the lunette, interrupts the axis to the altar. It acts as an expedient device breaking the order and adding complexity.

125. the shifted columns in the Villa Savoye plan is an impure whole but adds meaning through situational columns as contradictions adopted.

contradictions adapted

123. the Wolfsburg Cultural Centre by Alvar Alto tries to maintain the rectangularity in plan by adjusting the diagonal elements created around the auditorium.


difficult wholes

126. in Sullivan Farmer’s and Merchant’s Union Bank, the door and window reflect a duality, which is bisected by the shaft above. The arch and lintel reinforce as well as resolve the duality. There are multiple elements but as a whole the facade makes a unity.

127. in the parish church Remilla,the directional inflection of side walls counteract with the dis-unifying effect of the two bays. Inflecting towards the center creating an enclosure and strengthening the whole.

128. the Hawksmoor Chirst Church has a hierarchy of supports in a sequential order - large, medium and small making the whole. This a group form.

double functioning elements

129. the Blenheim Palace(above) achieves a complex whole by fragmentary parts, together making a whole. While the Holkham hall(below) can be read as separate buildings. Here the multiplicity of parts read as wholes with the parts having a tendency to change scales.

130. Sagrada Familia by Gaudi has a tilted pier buttress which supports the weight of the vault as well as buttresses, the thrust in one continuous form. Acting as double functioning structural elements.


juxtaposition of elements

131. Eastbury Vanbrugh’s giant arch openings are of the same proportions as the windows upon which they are superimposed. Creating a tension in the scale.

132. Kragsyde in Manchester-by-the-Sea has slopes and projections which are less contained and create a multiplicity of directions.

133. Foligno facade has adjacencies of varying sizes and shapes like circles, semi-circles , arches and triangles in the openings and pediments

135. Bank of England is enclosed by Soane’s walls, an exterior envelope enclosing the intricacies of the courtyard inside.

136. an attached lining between inside and outside creates an additional space-residual space different in shape, size, pattern, position, material, form, texture, scale.

inside outside relationship

134. facade openings must respond to inside human scale in contrast with the rigid monumental outside like the Nepveu Chateau in Chambord.


137. Charles V’s Palace in Granada has a defined court and perimeter shape resulting in residual spaces as rooms.

138. Louis Kahn’s Unitarian Church has residual spaces which are closed.

139. in S. Chiara Bra, the residual space is elaborate, open and manipulates light.

140. general types of porches, where front and back of the building are treated differently, creating contradictions. The concave facade in the Baroque church shows the spatial need for the front to respond to the urban street.

141. the plans of the two pavilions by Fischer von Erlach illustrate porches, in one the inside is a dominant space through concave curves and in the other the outside is a dominant space through the convex curves.


The book Learnings from Las Vegas was written by Robert Venturi in 1972 along with Denise Scott Brown and Steven Izenour. They analysed the phenomenon of architectural communication in Las Vegas which defined the American urban scenario at that time, to move towards semiotics in the architecture of popular tastes and everyday signs. Later Venturi also put up an exhibition on Signs of Life: Symbols in the American City in 1976, an extension of the same ideals and study. Robert Venturi mentions his shift from complexity and contradictions to the ugly and ordinary, owing to the need to respond to user tastes. He said, “buildings cannot be made twice, once to fit the some heroic idea of its importance to society and the world of art and second to reflect the client’s and society’s restricted idea of architecture’s value”. Hence the architect according to him should concentrate on ‘what is’ or the existing situations. Ugly and ordinary or conventional elements were believed to come from the common tastes of users and this was aimed to be understood in more detail. Assumptions: According to Robert Venturi modern architecture focused on physiogonomy and pure characteristics of architectural form, whereas architectural form needed to communicate to its users. Hence meaning in architecture was believed could be achieved through effective communication in the built environment, and as architecture was part of the system of communication in society. Venturi justified that complex programs and settings required a complex combinations of media and communication beyond the purer architectural triad of structure, form, light at the service of space. And so communications were to associate with and involve the users in the process, hence knowing the existing tastes of the users was important for him. Communication in architecture through symbolization of everyday life and common tastes of the users was assumed to generate associations to past experiences. Since architecture depended on associations for perception it also depended on associations for creation, hence architecture was advised to hold onto the communicative or semantic aspects rather than the structural or syntactic aspects for a richer meanings in the environment by Venturi. Recommendations: The crux of the authors recommendations in architecture explain that symbolism is important in architecture. Architecture must respond to the popular tastes of people and so the source material for it must come from a model of the previous time or from an existing city and situations which could be replicated. These recommendations take inspiration from Alan Colquhoun’s description which describes the anthropological and psychological basis for the use of typological forms and symbols, saying that ‘architecture is not free from typological models which have the imagination and power to communicate with others’. This regarded that architectural form must be attributed to some systems of conventional meanings not inherent in the physiognomic forms which were ambiguous, but rather express through particular cultural ambiance.


The Las Vegas strip was understood for its signs and symbols as a system of communication. Simultaneously examples from the period of Renaissance, Baroque and other nineteenth century styles were also understood for their eclecticism and symbolism. In general there was a search for common meanings and ways of communicating to the users which could be universal. These examples and studies reinforced the importance of symbols and signs in architecture which sometimes may be contradictory to form, structure and program of the building. So Robert Venturi put out the broader expressions of architectural form to have two manifestations: • The architectural system of space, structure and program submerged and distorted by an overall symbolic form. This kind of building-becomingsculpture is called duck in relation to ‘The long Island Duckling’ in ‘God’s own junkyard’. (142) • An architectural form where systems of space and structure are directly at the service of program and, ornament is applied independent of them. This is the decorated shed. (142)

142. Duck and decorated shed illustration by Robert Venturi

The duck is a symbol while the decorated shed is a conventional shelter applying symbols. Robert Venturi recommends a decorated shed in architecture which uses the ‘ugly and ordinary’, familiar forms which evoke associations from past experiences. According to him explicit associations, and conventional elements can be used with changes in scale, shape and context as well as decoration for new relations.

User associations and popular tastes

The recommendations suggest relations to user associations and popular tastes through explicit and implicit expression of architectural form. Apart from the broader division of architectural form explained above a more detailed recommendation of expressions in form were extracted from a complete study of Las Vegas, and examples from the Renaissance, Baroque and nineteenth century architecture, and are explained as:

Ugly and ordinary elements and symbols

Refer to the importance of conventional, everyday elements that users are familiar with. This was observed in the architecture of Las Vegas which uses conventional elements in the form of the building behind. Also some of the symbols are conventional, which users are familiar with and can relate to with past experiences. These elements are placed in a new context and used in new ways to give new meanings. This forms the implicit meanings of form. The Strip symbolizes functions in architecture. The signs provide identity and continuity through associations. Symbols are important as they dominate space, architecture is not enough. The architecture of Las Vegas is pleasure-zoned with heightened symbolism, and the ability to engulf the visitor in a new role, through use of explicit symbols(143). Big sign and little building was the rule of Route 66. (144). This oriented visitors who identified these signs. While Renaissance ornaments are symbolic of structure. The image of the structure and space reinforce rather than contradict each other. Symbolism in Renaissance is not independent of


the space like the Las Vegas Strip but intertwined with it. The elements are dependent on each other. Renaissance architecture also uses symbols in an implicit manner. (146, 147). The 19th century architecture saw symbolism of function or functionalism via association of a symbolic manifestation. The Beaux-art new 19th century building types expressed function via style.(148) The use of symbols create denotation and connotations. Denotations suggest specific meanings corresponding to the ornamentation while connotations are general meanings corresponding to conventional elements. Words

Words are used on Billboards in Las Vegas, especially in large open space for commercial persuasion reading out, the best bargains of the day, names of shops etc, adding to people’s experience on the strip. They give direction and orientation to people. (149)

False front

The false front of shops give symbolic messages of their presence. As seen in the strip, the front is made important while the back is different. The front is composed of billboards, big signs which connect to drivers in the vast landscape and media dominates the visitors. In Renaissance and Baroque architecture the pediments, triumphal arch, pilasters and coffers are markers in space like the billboards of the strip. They are primarily symbolic and secondarily have spatial characteristics of form, position and orientation (150). The Ameins cathedral also can be described as a billboard with a building behind (150).


The strip uses vivid neon colours which add to the image of the place, making them as landmarks or pointers in space. The use of colours create vivid experiences for the users (151).

Contrasts The strip creates a contrast of interior from exterior owing to the light and dark spaces. The gambling rooms are dark and low spaces with lights just to highlight the jukeboxes and gambling stations, while the outside foyer and reception have high ceilings and are well lit creating a contrast between the two. (152) Juxtaposed The strip has no simple order dominated by the expert and made easy for orders the eye but is rather complex. The moving eye and the moving body have to work to pick out and interpret a variety of changing signs and building orders within the obvious order of streets, this creates an overall juxtaposed orders (153). Hence the relations of user associations extent further towards meaning in architecture through orientation, identification and continuity while common meaning for the users through popular tastes is believed to be sympathetic to current needs and issues of the people. “So when designing a window, you start with an image of the window this ensures an architecture of meaning for users. Modernists were designing ‘dead ducks’, in the age for symbolism.” -Robert Venturi


Expressions of form in the examples Robert Venturi investigates ugly and ordinary elements and symbols

143. symbols and words directing space in Las Vegas.

145. Howrah Johnson’s Motor Lodge and Restaurant in Virginia has abstracted a pediment to symbolize the entrance.

147. Palazzo facades representative of structural symbolism during the period of Renaissance.

144. big sign and little building derived from Las Vegas.

146. the Belvedere Court, Vatican showing the Renaissance use of symbols as structure, intertwined together.

148. an eclectic bank of the 19th century Beaux art style depicting functions via style as a symbol. 81


149. map of Las Vegas strip showing written words seen from the road.

false front

150. a comparative analysis of billboards in Las Vegas, representative of the false front in architecture. 82


151. neon colours on the strip elicited vivid experiences for the visitors.


152. the interior of Las Vegas had low ceilings and lights to highlight jukeboxes in contrast to the large heights in lobbies.

juxtaposed orders

153. the Strip showed an obvious visual order of the street elements and a difficult visual order of buildings and signs creating juxtaposed orders. 83

3.2.2 Practice North Penn Visiting Philadelphia, 1961 Nurses’ Association Headquarters Description of the building: The building houses the function of a nurses’ association or office. The program includes a number of offices, reception spaces, living rooms and special storage spaces. The parking lot can accommodate five cars within the boundary walls.

154. North Penn nurses’ association headquarters

Historical context: The nurses’ association building was the first public built work of Robert Venturi. Along with other buildings built by him during this time. It became inspiration for future works of architecture yearning away from modernism. One of the critics, Marina Lathouri mentions that ‘what emerges in this project, as a defined approach and architectural position, is a formal logic and a material arrangement seeking to give rise to fluctuations of significance’. Architects intent for the particular building: The building was intended as a box both simple and complex. According to Frank Lloyd Wright’s modernist approach the box can be broken by spatial continuities, but Robert Venturi designs his building differently, “the building has destroyed the box not through spatial continuities but circumstantial distortions”. The overall intent was to design the building from outside in taking into account all complexities in its architecture.

Objects/Forms of life Physical: The functional frame included complexities of special storage which needed to be provided for, as well as a variety of other functions. Hence the functional requirements of the building were very rigid. Physical controls were bound to the setting or surroundings dictated by the large buildings around. There is a large open space which surrounds the building’s back side. Social: The building was to function as a nurses’ association which is a public function housing a permanent staff of doctors, nurses and other help along with all its visitors. And so inspite of the building’s small area requirements, it needed to project a public scale at an urban level.



10 7


6 5

2 3



Ground floor plan

1. parking 2. entry 3. waiting room 4. kitchen and examination room 5. director’s office 6. secretary’s office 7. dentists óffice 8. dark room 9. storage space within the wall 10. ground cover beyond court and block 11. crawl space 12. coats 13. lavatory 14. heater room drawings of North Penn nurses’ association headquarters, Philadelphia Robert Venturi 1961



15 13 14


Basement floor plan 1 0





A relation between the recommended expressions of form from Robert Venturi’s theory in the Nurses’ Association Headquarters can be seen as: Robert Venturi stressed on visual ambiguity and complexities in architectural form as well as symbolic associations in his earlier writings, which is observed in this building. Visual ambiguity through both-and elements is apparent in the overall mass geometry of nurses’ association building. The geometry is expressed as a distorted box. The faces of the building are aligned to the boundary wall which distorts the overall shape of the box along with a pointed projection created at the front to respond to the court. Further distortions are created by the punctured windows and openings eating into the box with a thin roof surface so that the openings can reach the top. These expressions were meant to create a visual tension of whether the form is a box or not. The visual ambiguity of the corner is reinforced with a niche puncture, creating a kind of contradiction between the thin corner and massive surface due to the recess inward. The upper storey openings of the main street facade are recessed in a manner to accommodate the special storage spaces needs of the program inside, expressed as double-functioning elements being a window and a storage. The formal structure intends to project a difficult whole owing to its complex composition of elements in the facade. There are multiple parts in the facade creating relations to each other, towards a composition inspite of the asymmetrical placement of openings and surface elements. Duality, which Venturi mentions as a composition of the difficult whole defines the relationship of the building and the court for parking. The two are similar in area, one a box and the other a curvilinear form emphasizing duality. The pointed front however acts as an inflection towards the curved court to resolve the duality. The diagonal wall in plan is characteristic of contradictions adapted from the rigid space requirements and varied spaces in the building. While contradictions of the big openings are adapted with expedient posts added in the upper storey window and the entrance to support the roof. Paradox in elements are apparent in super adjacencies of the disparate things associated with a public building entrance, facade and street line. Within the entrance, a juxtaposed order is created with rectangular, diagonal, arched and segmental elements as in Renaissance doors. Also juxtaposing the large entrance with the man scaled door behind. Projecting a public character was of prime importance which shaped the inside outside relations of the building in the main facade and entrance. The main street facing facade is made public with an increase in size of the upper storey openings while the lower storey openings are increased in scale with a secondary larger wooden frame. The entrance is large and made eventful with arches and shapes to symbolize a public entrance within the site boundary. The building is designed outside-in and so the outside envelope is fixed creating inner complexities like a dentists residual room. The attempt for a public character, visual tension and complexities define specific formal expressions while the eventful entrance and stucco surface create symbolic associations. 86

Building analysis 1: Illustrations to depict relations of expressions of form from theory to practice both and elements

double functioning elements

contradictions adapted







155. distortion of the box in the overall form. 156. distortion of the box created by punctures upto the roof. 157. niche creates a continuous and but broken corner.

161 158,159. the double functioning upper sotey window has a storage inside. 160. the expedient member in the entrance. 161. the expedient member in the large upper storey opening.


juxtapposition of elements

162. disparate elements ..placed adjacent to each other 163. juxtapposed shapes in the entrace 163. the arch symbolizes a public entrance


difficult whole




165 164. multiple parts in the composition of the facade. 165. duality between the building and parking.

inside outside relationship



166 169. green stucco is applied as the material of the building.


168 166. a secondary frame increases the scale of the lower window. 167. large openings to increase the scale of the upper windows. 168. dentist’s room as a residual space.


Semantic relations in the North Penn Visiting Nurses’ Association Headquarters: A relation between the formal structure to physical, cultural and social objects in the building. The formal structure relates to physical objects of the environment mostly through structural similarity between the rigid functional requirements and spatial organizations, resulting in the diagonal wall in plan, recessed windows accommodating special storages and the asymmetrical placement of windows according to functions. The parking also creates a structural similarity to the curvilinear wall form, setting up a kind of duality. The formal structure is organized in a way for frame and surface elements to take care of all the intricate relations responding to the social need of a civic building, while mass elements to create a visual ambiguity in the box form of the entire building. The public nature reflects in the main facade through the increased scale of openings using mass and surface elements and also through the entrance which is made symbolic and eventful with surface subordinate elements. These structural relations result in an implicit or undisclosed building form within the spatial continuities and circumstantial distortions.


Building analysis 2: Building semantic relationships inset upper storey openings

secondary frame

space closure

surface plastic elements

accomodates storage

public face S


diagonal wall

large openings surface opening elements public face

space organization accomodates rigid functions S


eventful entrance


surface opening elements public entrance

mass element parking S


green stucco surface

assymetrical placement of openings surface composition

surface material

functions inside

cultural C



conventional elements


structural similarity






physical 91 BEST products catalog Oxford Valley, Pennsylvania, 1977, showroom

Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown and Steven Izenour Description of the building: The catalogue showroom is located in an area with vast parking lots and numerous crossroads surrounding a major shopping mall. Its purpose is to display mail-order household goods and furniture of BEST Products Company. Customers drive in, choose what they want from the samples on display, fill out an order form, hand it to the clerk and collect their purchase from a counter convenient to the parking lot. The system is fast and efficient, operating without a large sales staff.

170. Best products showroom

Historical context: The BEST products chain had almost 169 showrooms in 23 states before going into bankruptcy, most of the earlier designs were by SITE architects starting from 1972, after which Venturi came into the picture. Later on the Best products team along with MOMA, asked solutions from six prominent architects like Charles Moore, Robert Stern etc, for solutions on ‘what to do for a showroom which is a window less box?’. These were then put together in the form of an exhibition. The designs for Best showrooms substantially reflected architectural expression of postmodern architecture. Robert Venturi’s design, was later taken on as a precedent in commercial architecture. The flower pattern he uses for this building was developed and replicated on the walls of the Fabricworks Museum. Architects intent for the particular building: The aim for the building was to create a distinctive identity for a standard steel-frame structure of a showroom by giving it a decorative exterior design. Robert Venturi accepted the showroom as a shed requiring ‘decoration’ to enhance its existing role. The building also became a kind of reflection of pop art and popular culture. Objects/Forms of life Physical: The space dimensions of the building was fixed to a box which was 203’ wide, 190’ deep and 30’ deep. Sixty five percent of the floor area was a warehouse, the rest was the showroom. Its internal layout was also fixed over the years. And it was to be a windowless box. Social: The building was limited to the consumer society, and the dynamics within it with lesser man to man interactions. Hence it is limited to the consumer experience. Cultural: Signs could be used to express consumer ideologies. While the building has a potential to engage ideologies of the consumerism and architecture.


171. Best Products catalog showroom plan n Notch by SITE. Standard plan layout for all showrooms

172. A standard Best product showroom.

Not so bad and not so good


A relation between the recommended expressions of form from Robert Venturi’s theory in the Best showroom can be seen as: ‘Learnings from Las Vegas’ seemed to have an enormous impact in designing the showroom as a decorated shed. The ugly and ordinary box showroom form with a functional inside and openings only for entrances and exits is replicated in the BEST showroom form. The large, boxlike building is clad in decorative panels painted with oversized, colourful flowers, a pattern derived from the commercial wallpaper in Venturi and Scott Brown’s own bedroom. The large-scale abstract red and yellow flowers used in the outer facade were blown up in scale and painted on porcelain enamel panels. This gave a wallpaper effect and reinforce the two-dimensional graphic scale of the facade pattern. The flower pattern was chosen for its obvious appeal and pleasing effect believed to be the popular taste of viewers. The word, BEST written in big letters on the facade and the big scale pattern was more like a false front of the showroom in midst of large parking lots. A big sign with bright colours was pasted on the showroom which gave a commercial box-like building character. Like the buildings studied of Las Vegas this showroom also projects a large sign and false front or billboard within its wide landscape. The showroom was meant to be reflective of popular and conventional elements placed unconventionally to arouse associations in viewers.

Semantic relations in the Best showroom: A relation between the formal structure to physical, cultural and social objects in the building. The functional frame of the showroom is fixed to a standard and highly efficient organization with dimension replicated in all showrooms including this particular one designed by Venturi and Scott Brown. This defines the overall mass geometry of a box with no windows. While the physical surroundings of a parking lot creates conventional relations to the surface elements. Hence the formal structure is dominated by the two-dimensional surface and what can be done for its exterior. The cultural signs, which in this case is the tastes of consumers become a pretext for defining surface decoration made up of the pleasing pattern of flowers similar to the wallpapers in a house. Bright colours and BEST written as facade decoration have a conventional relation to consumer culture and behaviour of getting attracted to a showroom due to its visual power. Sizes of the panel and scale of the pattern is also defined by the need for a wallpaper effect on the surface. Overall the buildings form and structure were all directed towards relating to cultural objects or consumer tastes of visitors.


Building analysis 1: Illustrations to depict relations of expressions of form from theory to practice symbols

ugly and ordinary

false front





173. standard BEST showroom box form replicated. 174. continuous surface and edges to reinforce two dimensional surface pattern. 178



175 175. red, yellow and green coloured facade.

176. pleasing pattern. 177. BEST written in big letters on the facade. 178,179. facade composition of flowers. 180. big scale of flowers create a wallpaper effect.



Building analysis 2: Building semantic relationships ordinary showroom box

continuous suface and edges

mass geometry

surface treatment

fixed functions

cultural image C


BEST written

colorful flower facade

mass element

surface decoration

consumer behavior

cultural image C


wallpaper effect on metal panel

pleasing patterned surface surface decoration cultural image




conventional elements

surface treatment


structural similarity


cultural image






physical Gordon Wu Hall Princeton university, 1984 Description of the building: The Wu hall has a dining room for around 500 students which connects with the old brick dormitory building. On the first floor it has functions like the library, lounge area, informal sitting spaces and administrative offices. The building is at the centre of Butler college in the Princeton campus.

181. Gordon Wu hall

Historical context: The Gordon Wu hall was built much later in 1984 and hence was representative of Robert Venturi’s ideas in architecture which lived through the years. This was also the time when postmodern architecture was at its maturity, so this building could be representative of the developed thoughts of this time and style. Architects intent for the particular building: The building was intended to be distinct with an individual character which could be easily identifiable. The project brief also required the building to provide a new identity and focus point of social life for the campus. Robert Venturi did so by relating to the architectural past of Princeton campus, which included buildings made in Gothic and Tudor styles. Simultaneously Wu hall was also intended as a ‘visual script’ connecting all the dormitories.

Objects/Forms of life Physical: Functional frame of the building required a well defined relation to the functions which were mostly public in nature, with flexible sitting and informal spaces. Social: The building was meant to be a social space for students of the campus, with common facilities like the dining area and sitting spaces. An important social space also owing to its proximity to the private dormitories of students. Cultural: The Butler memorial at the southern end, was an important identifier. Gothic-Tudor styles were a part of the campus history.





Ground floor plan




First floor plan

1. dining hall 2. multifunctioning staircase 3. butler memorial 4. informal lounge 5. offices 6. library drawings of Gordon Wu hall, Princeton university Robert Venturi 1984





5 10


A relation between the recommended expressions of form from Robert Venturi’s theory in the Gordon Wu Hall can be seen as: Refer to Table 11 The expressions of form in the building are symbolic in many ways to Gothic, Renaissance and Tudor style elements. The overall mass of the building is a long with one of its faces more public in nature, articulated for a distinction in form. The edges and windows are flushed to reinforce the surface. ‘Ugly and ordinary’ box windows are a reminder of the conventional window style which define the surface openings elements. While surface plastic elements like the squarish motif of white marble on top of openings, the semi-circular window, the band of grey limestone trim running around the surface of the brick and the entrance pediment ornamentation are meant to create symbolism in the building. The entrance ornamentation symbolizes the entrance to hold importance similar to the Renaissance expression of a pediment. It is made eventful with a juxtaposition of circles, triangles and squares using black and white marble. Further the use of brick as a surface material attempts to match the language of the buildings around. The bay windows used on either ends of the building bring in ample light in the spaces like the dining area, library and informal sitting space. As an individual element it is similar to the Gothic-Tudor style bay widows. A sense of grandeur of Gothic styles was attempted in the dining hall with its long table arrangements as well as the staircase space lit up from the bay window. The staircase was designed to not only connect the ground and first floor but also act as an indoor amphitheatre with an additional flight of steps, thus becoming a double-functioning element. Apart from use of conventional and symbolic elements, the architects also play with the formal structure of the public facade which has a shifted symmetry to form a difficult whole. The composition of subordinate elements in the facade create relations at different levels, like the bay window arrangement on either side of the facade, the symmetrical arrangement of the pediment and semicircular window, and also the band of windows cutting the surface geometry horizontally, together these relations compose a complex whole.


Building analysis 1: Illustrations to depict relations of expressions of form from theory to practice juxtapposition




186 185. juxtapposition of shapes in the facade. 186. juxapposition of shapes in the entrance pediment

182. visual connector with a public face. 183. continuous mass surface to reinforce the surface ornamentation.

difficult whole

double-functiong elements

184 184. double-functioning staircase also an informal space.


187 187. shifted symmetry in the facade composition with multiple parts creating a difficult whole.

ugly and ordinary elements




188. ordinary box elevation windows.





189 189. materials like brick, limestone, white and black marble is symbolic of Gothic elements.

190. long dining hall arranged like Gothic dining rooms. 191. surface ornamentation uses Gothic and renaissance symbols. 192. pediment ornamentation above the entrance to symbolize a public entrance. 193. bay window used symbolic of Gothic-tudor elements.


Semantic relations in the Best showroom: A relation between the formal structure to physical, cultural and social objects in the building. The formal structure related to the building as a social identifier and connector through a structural similarity between the mass which has a long geometry and the consequent public space it creates in the front of it. The long mass creates a public front and also connects to the other dormitories. The need for informal and formal social spaces relates to a staircase form with different tread heights to sit and climb up as well. The cultural image of Gothic and Tudor styles used earlier in the Princeton campus is formalized in the Gordon Wu hall through conventional relations. Surface elements like bay windows, entrance pediments, differently shaped ornamentation and the materials like brick, black and white marble used define the conventional relations to the Gothic and Tudor styles. The geometry of mass forms a whole through a flushed openings and corners to reinforce the surface elements. Further the spatial organization of the dinning hall has a long form similar to the arrangement of Gothic dinning halls. Conventional relations thus dominate the formal structure of the building organized to create a public front as a social connector.


Building analysis 2: Building semantic relationships long visual hyphen

surface ornamentation

mass geometry

surface plastic elements

social connector

cultural motif C


multi-functiong staircase

ordinary box elevation windows

space organization

surface opening elements cultural image

informal social space C


bay window

long dining hall

surface opening elements cultural motif

space organization gothic dining halls C



materials like brick, limestone, white and black marble

surface plastic elements cultural motif

surface material cultural image C


continuous mass surface and flushed windows surface treatment cultural image S


conventional elements


structural similarity








3.2.3 Interpretations of Through the theoretical writings of Robert Venturi, it is clear that he subjectivity through theory and moved from a focus on users past associations through learnings from practice of Robert Venturi history and a visual ambiguity in architectural form towards popular taste of people studied from Las Vegas. Complexity in forms were according to him different from what users wanted in reality and so instead of designing buildings which cater to the architects’ idea of what the building should be he preferred to respond to the users tastes. Visual ambiguity and complexity of form derived from historical examples was employed in the North Penn nurses’ association’s architectural form giving symbolic importance to the entrance and public face. While a popular taste influenced the Best showroom and Gordon Wu hall to a great extend materializing in the surface treatment of the buildings. Best showroom made use of a wallpaper effect on its surface, while Gordon Wu hall used historical forms as surface elements. Over time Venturi’s buildings used symbols directly from cultural objects as appliqué in architectural form. He understood the Route 66 and applied its sensibilities in other building types, without realizing the importance of each user group or context. Need for users associations was translated in practice as meaning for built form. And so explicit use of words, colours etc, derived from studies on Las Vegas all became a part of Venturi’s expression of architectural form. Which he called the ‘decorated shed’, a conventional building with signs and symbols as ornamentation in form.


3.3 Charles Moore 3.3.1 Theory Charles Moore was an American architect regarded as one of the harbingers of postmodern architecture, popularly called ‘the pied piper of post modernism’. He wrote a great deal on the challenges of place-making and experience of buildings. As a graduate from Princeton university in New Jersey, he began his writings with hid PhD on ’Water and Architecture’ in 1956. After which he also wrote ‘Plaster and architecture’, both were written from an experiential standpoint in architecture. Initially he was intrigued by Disneyland’s nature of public spaces, but later his writings moved to the importance of place in architecture and subsequently memories of it. In books like Chambers in the memory of place and Body, memory and architecture (written along with Kent Bloomer in 1977) themes of body, memory and place were explored. Moore gave many lectures and wrote short articles voicing all that he believed architecture needed to move towards. We shall extract from all his writings to get a picture of Charles Moore’s theoretical inclinations in architecture. Criticism on Modernism:

Charles Moore was dissatisfied with the unadorned forms of modernism, according to him the statement ‘glass box’ itself demanded attention to the problem of developing an architectural character. And so he stated, “The architect today must seek a richness and depth which will make architectural composition more than just clear and simple ideas so that it becomes a dwelling”1, in a broader sense he thought, architecture had been restricted to an enclosed place where the inside of buildings were isolated from the outside. Hence it lacked the essence of place which enriched human emotions as sensual objects. According to Moore modern architecture was ‘reductive and general’ while architecture needed to be ‘specific and additive’, buildings required relations to their unique sites and not an ignorance of social and compositional hierarchies. Apart from its identifiable character architecture also needed to have factors affecting human consciousness and dwelling. Table 9. Summarizes Charles Moore’s theory which held assumptions and recommendations explained in more detail further.

1. Bloomer, K.C, and C.W Moore. Body, memory, and architecture. New Haven: Yale Univ. Pr., 1979. 105

Table 9: Breaking down Charles Moore’s theory into parts




attending to human consciousness

individual experiences

familiar elements

bodily experiences

dynamism in form


body boundaries in form

examples studied across history and time


elements of poetic imagination

creating a place

examples studied from vernacular architecture

dynamic forms

examples studied from disneyland

dramatic places


identifiable elements


physical boundaries center places

introductions suspensions obeisances yearnings for depths of time

places paths

yearnings for depths of sea


yearnings upwards



Assumptions: Architecture’s fundamental purpose is the creation of an ‘ethnic domain’ which is an extension of man’s image of himself and his society on the face of earth. According to Moore “all architecture originated in archetypal psychological experiences, which he called poetic images. For [Moore], the postmodern recuperation of historical precedents in contemporary architecture entailed a search for those poetic images.”1 Memorable places were regarded important for their psychological experiences which Moore stressed could be elicited through a ‘full corporeal experience’ of the place and its surroundings. Haptic experiences were believed to be of specific importance over visual experiences. Hence memory, human participation bodily experience and place were the key themes towards an architectural subjectivity for Charles Moore. Recommendations: Charles Moore suggested to lay importance on the architectural experience towards an inclusive approach in architecture. Moore along with Kent bloomer in their book ‘Body, Memory and Architecture’ put forth human subjectivity in architecture through, bodily experiences and memory. They were aware of these concepts being part of philosophy as ‘sense of beauty’ put forth by philosophers like David Hume, being part of psychology as visual experiences by gestalt psychology or as a part of ecology as haptic experiences by J.J.Gibson. Charles Moore takes these theories as his starting point in an architecture of subjectivity along with body-image theory, referring to the complete feeling or threedimensional Gestalt in the model of perception, to enhance dwelling. Primordial haptic experiences were assumed to develop the body boundary and feelings towards architectural form. Dynamism in architectural form:

With bodily experiences, place and memory as a means to design architecture, Moore developed concepts in architectural form which he explains as: Bodily movement possesses rhythmic richness and experience which man yearns to see in buildings. For example, a glass curtain wall building has no movement as compared to a Ziggurat staggered building (194) which man can imagine scaling, leaping and occupying. It could also be said that when people were engaged in action, their building reflected the same, like the Kings dream in New York with its multi-layered streets, rooftops, bridges etc. (195). Hence the building must encourage a choreography of dynamic relationships among persons moving across domains which makes the building a stage for movement. Dynamism of form and movement can also be seen in the Taltin towers (196). Apart from this Charles Moore also described water as a natural source which can contribute heavily to man’s environment with physical delights of splash, play, falling and mental qualities of calm, profundity and invitation to meditation. Hence according to him, one of the important means to bodily and mental experience is through the dynamic forces which water posses, ‘Since water moves and people move, the possibilities for composing 1 Jorge Otero-Pailos, Architecture’s Historical Turn: Phenomenology and the Rise of the Postmodern. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010. 107

Expressions of form in the examples Charles Moore investigates dynamism in architectural form

194. ziggurat form creates dynamism versus a glass curtain wall.

195. King’s dream with bridges and movement in architectural form.

196. Taltin towers a stage for movement.

197. Villa d’Este at Tivoli, Rome movement of water and people.

body boundaries in architectural form


198. symmetrical house front creating a welcoming physical boundary.

199. fountains as center places.

200. staircases as center places.

201. clocktowers as center places.

the two motions are immense’ The Villa d’Este at Tivoli, near Rome has been explained as such a composition (197). Body boundaries in architectural form:

Body spatiality is centred on landmarks and bodily memories that reflect a lifetime of events encountered outside the psychic body boundary. The body boundary requires certain cues in architecture reflected as physical boundaries and centre places. There are different house boundaries, like the entryway is a sensitive house boundary when the individual is reorienting from a private place to a public place, for example the front doors and house façades traditionally exhibited symmetry as a public face of the building (198). On the other hand, the boundary of the backyard of the house must have feelings of security so that sacred activities of the family are undisturbed from the outer world. The centre places can be described as, common shared spaces with a sense of centre to incorporate greater stimuli for social activities and experiences of the environment etched as feelings of our identity on personal encounters in the world. In such places memories of the self are ritualized, new memories accumulated and old memories re-experienced. Such places exist in the house as well as city, staircases (200), water bodies or fountains (199), gardens or public parks and clock towers (201) are all examples of centre places. These centre places and boundaries are characteristic of Charles Moore’s investigations on a sense of place, cognizant of the architectural character, orientation and encounters narrating the architecture of subjectivity. According to him the notion of creating a sense of place is two-fold, it simultaneously describes the need for a conscious understanding of the inherent character of a site including its landscape, its history, the building traditions of the larger surrounding area, while also describing the need to provide an experience for the user.

Creation of place:

Creation of place is a projection of the image of civilization onto the environment. The projection can be translated spatially and formally as a sensible image of the civilization giving people a sense of where they are and what happens in a civilization. For example, a barn is a place which responds to the structure of the land, and its functional requirements. Moore gives detailed recommendations for creation of place through photographic examples of boundaries of spaces which respond to the natural landscape, human bodies and memories through place, path, pattern and edge. These examples of forms and locations remind us that the world is rich in examples of the connection between man’’s image of his own internal landscape and recognition of it in the outside world, through relations to earth and sky which centre man and create a relation between him and others. The examples through which Moore explains place, paths, patterns and edges to have centring characteristics can be described as: Places need to be clearly distinguishable as objects in a void, voids in a solid or an edge between void and solids (202,203,204). They can be a cave with a skylight, an enclosed space with a courtyard and a box clearly visible with openings. Pyramids (205), domes, columns (206), flags and banners as well


Expressions of form for creating a place places

203. void in objects.

202. objects in a void.

205. pyramids features.



206. columns as towers.

204. edge of void and objects.

207. piazza do San Marco in Venice as a feeling of home.


208. different kinds of paths.

210. the act of climbing a ritual path.


209. paths for the eye and feet.

211. Braga in Prague, pilgrimage path.

as tented pavilions have strong distinguishable characteristics to behave as landmarks in a fabric. Prime characteristics needed for a public place and public inhabit-ability is for the people to feel at home, like the Piazza do San Marco in Venice (207). Paths are of different kinds, the only point to make a decision in a path is at the intersection (208). The act of climbing, walking up and down can subsume the specialty of place. The moving body and richness of the path is further seen when the body moves on the path but the eye traverses faster seeing all routes (209). Examples of important paths are the pilgrimage routes (210), where the path itself is the ritual, like Braga, Portugal offering a highly structured vision (211). Patterns are made of paths and places and again depict some kind of identity or orientation towards man’s image of civilization depending on the type of pattern. Haptic patterns are piece by piece responses rather than any visual or grand conceptual design. Like the old city of Cordoba Spain consisting of large and complex residential blocks which create narrow lanes and defensible housing (212). Haptic with geometric plan are observed in the middle eastern town plans with haptic streets and unrecognisable patterns (213). Radial patterns have major roads leading to the centre and minor roads connecting neighbourhoods like the Karlsruhe created as an image for the physical manifestation of power (214). Radial centrifugal plans like the Doric and Ionic site plans (215) have buildings, walls and objects which close in the view and create an inner space. The rectangular Cartesian grid has an image of a powerfully ambitious system, authoritarian and democratic. Like the Puebla grid made according to the laws of the Indies (216). Finally the twentieth century saw a three dimension grid system like the one by Yona Friedman consisting of a mega-structure with streets in air for people, goods and services (217). Edges have characteristics to ‘wall it in’ or ‘face it out’ consisting of elements like the facade, the parapet, the wall, the bay and the folds in the system which add character. The facade can be described as an edge for the world outside. Like the mission church in Sonora, Mexico with a white stucco face resembling a lady with a painted face to affect someone outside. (218). Parapets face out across the landscape like the parapet edge of the Italian town of Assisi facing out across the air (219). While walls have surfaces for excluding the hostile outside. However, walls can be articulated like the walls of Marrakech where a duality creeps in, as the outside walls create a backdrop of marketplace. The qualities of the edges are heightened with bays, coves or harbours ringed with facade like in the Crescent at Baths England which form bays off the wide space of the river valley (220). Finally, folds in the system are places where the pattern stutters to produce an edge. Like the San Francisco grid which collides and creates an edge of the most urbane business district in American West (221). According to Moore these examples show an immaculate collision when building or landscape pieces come sharply against one another, without loss of their individual identities or spirit which is important to make memorable places. It gives an account of the experience of place strengthened with identifying characters. 111


212. haptic pattern of Cordoba Spain

215. radial centrifugal patterns of Doric and Ionic site plans

213. haptic geometric pattern of 214. Karlsruhe a radial system to depict medieval towns with a contained power boundary

216. rectangular Cartesian grid in Puebla 217. three-dimensional grid system by Yona Friedman according to the laws of Indies



218. a mission church in Sonara Mexico with a stucco facade resembling the face of a lady.

219. Assisi’s parapet walls face out across the valley.

220. crescent bay at Bath forms a wide edge at the river.

221. San Franscisco grid collides at the edges forming folds in the system.

Using elements of poetic imagination:

For Moore the experience of being in a place was more than visual and generally as complex as the image which stayed in memory. He used devices like the aedicule which by definition is a space framed by columns supporting an entablature and pediment, manifested as ‘a small temple or house within a house,’ to provide ‘the archetypal poetic image of inhabitation.’(222,223) For Moore, the aedicule was a form that communicated an encompassing feeling, one that put the human body at ‘the centre of the world.’1 The aedicule was used as an element within the architectural form, first in the Sea Ranch project. Scholar David Littlejohn has described Moore’s process as beginning “by attending to, somehow yielding to, its environment, whether natural or man-made” and then “proceeding by allowing the user’s needs, peculiarities, and fantasies to shape the emerging form.”2 One of the prime characteristics of experience in place for Moore was human participation which he expressed to be, “the opportunity of people riding through space and walking around to relate to other people in a social context so seriously necessary that people would spend a great deal of money for it because it is missing”3 Disneyland (224,226,227) in Los Angeles was acknowledged (1965) as such a place of human participation, having a substantial impact on the minds of people as opposed to political public places like the city halls of San Francisco, Gilroy and Los Angeles (225). Disneyland had created a place of sequential occurrences, with big and little drama, and anarchies of importance and excitement. It was an American main street of about 1910 with its principal themes as, fairy-tale fantasies, frontier adventure situations, jungles, and the world of tomorrow. The important feature of Disneyland was, people participation without embarrassment, since there were forms and activities which visitors could identify with. But in spite of its skill and enchantments, Moore believed that it did not offer a full range of experiences. Since Disneyland fell short of experience of a civilization which Charles Moore was looking for; he lectured on Architecture and Fairy tales in 1975. Wherein he referred to a wide range of buildings mostly vernacular, carrying strong parallels to folk tales through which their lessons and traditions were carried down. Moore reads in seven realms of architectural fairy tales important for the minds of people and hence subjectivity in architecture. The seven realms include, three wonders, three yearnings and one surprise. The first wonder, Introductions are familiar and unfamiliar elements creating the boundary between inside and outside to create surprises for both. For example threshold spaces like the portico, doors, enclosures and other spaces composing the in-between realm (228). The second wonder, Suspensions is an achievement of a heightened awareness in the onlooker of freaky inversions. Like the Queen of Heaven and attendants shooting up at the ceiling, create wonders while sitting and standing of how they hang invisibly (229). The third wonder, Obeisances is the act of paying respect and seeing off the king 1 Charles Moore and Donlyn Lyndon, Chambers for a Memory Palace, Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1996, 113. 2 ibid. 17. 3 Kevin Keim, You Have to Pay for Public Life: selected essays of Charles W. Moore. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2001. 113

Expressions of form for poetic imagination. aedicule



222. in Orinda house, which created a smaller space in the large room, creating a residential scale.

223. aedicula in the Sea Ranch Condiminium.


224. Disneyland parades

226. Disneyland rides and main street


225. the Gilroy city hall

227. the cable car and mountain in Disneyland.

or hero. Architectural places like the pavilions and gazebos at the top or altars of churches and edges (230) make obeisances. Also windows as eyes of the building line up against the background for public action. The three yearnings or quests in fairy tales, are a search for something to be restored to its proper place. The yearnings for the depths of sea is when the mind makes an imaginary journey to bottom of the sea. The example Quelz fountain portrays the mystery created by the water which can impact the mind through movement, source, disappearance and edges of water (231). Th second yearning, yearnings for the depths of time is the chance of finding things lost in time. Buildings like Trajan’s market are a reminder of the change in time with medieval, ancient and modern forms on top of each other (232). The third one, yearnings upward and towards infinity can be expressed as a movement upwards in architectural form as a flight of steps upwards, towers, etc (233). Surprise, the last category, is the most powerful tool in architecture and deals with scale, to make things bigger or smaller than they actually are (234). Moore primarily understood the way architecture could affect the human mind through bodily and mental experiences which he projected in the creation of a place in architecture. Most of his recommendations were derived from traditional and historical examples in ways already described. Much later in 1980’s Moore recognized classical architecture to have shifted from structural clarity to a linguistic clarity. During this time in the architectural discourse, for some classical architecture was the most articulated set of architectural systems familiar and widely accessible, while for others remoteness of classical sources (not of our times) was irrelevant and not real. Moore however finds solace in integrity where, “the only sure bets are plants of the garden which can confirm linguistic redress - full of memories and associations, even classical ones - with the realness. Now, if only we could get architecture to do the same”.1

1 Kevin Keim, You Have to Pay for Public Life: selected essays of Charles W. Moore. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2001. Moore’s introduction to the conference, 291. 115

three wonders

228. S. Zeno Verona gate is an elaborate 229. Priory church, Rohr Germany in-between realm, defining suspends the ornamentation creating a Introductions. kind of illusion defining Suspensions.

230. the tomb of Akbar a pavilion space, defining Obeisances.

three yearnings

231. Queluz fountain a mysterious boat about to sink creates, yearning in the depths of the sea. surprise

234. the big scale opening in the middle of the square creates an element of surprise.


232. Trajans market in Rome has 233. south Dakota church tower point additions over time creating, yearnings up connections towards the sky creating, yearnings upwards. in the depths of time.

3.3.2 Practice University of California California 1968, Santa Barbara (USCB) Faculty MLTW architects club,

235. Santa Barbara faculty club

Description of the building: The faculty club was the first community space for the University of California campus in 1960. It was to be a centre for faculty and community activity and collegiality, and a distinguished venue for greeting and entertaining UCSB’s friends, visiting scholars and public figures. The professor wanted the club to express an arresting architectural beauty and a strong and dramatic sense of place, which is why it was sited by the Campus Lagoon, to capture the serene ambiance of the calm place with wide vistas. The club was to house facilities of recreation for outsiders and members of the university including private rooms as well as large social spaces, becoming a centre of great distinction for the campus and San Barbara. It was fancied to have the quality of the Santa Barbara Mission of 1815-20 and of the Santa Barbara Country Court House of 1925-29 (the two most sought-out monuments within the community). The club was to play the game of being contemporary, but at the same time closely related to California’s rich tradition of popular and high art and architecture. Historical context: The response to the site, place and human memories immediately established this building as a major example of architecture,both at a national and international level. The Santa Barbara club was realized soon after Moore’s Sea ranch project and contained the early inspirations and building practices of his professional career. Architects intent for the particular building: Charles Moore wanted the club to give a dramatic sense of place with an impact on the visitors consciousness. Objects/Forms of life Physical: The club building needed to respond to the wide vistas and island nearby. The functional frame included private rooms and common spaces for outsiders and university members. Social: The club was to be a social centre for the campus and Santa Barbara. Activities of recreation, relaxation and social gatherings required elaborate social spaces without compromising on the private spaces. Cultural: The faculty club in Santa Barbara was to relate to the art culture and history of the place. Santa Barbara had an architecture coming from Spanish Colonization seen in the monuments like the Santa Barbara court house which could have its roots even in the art and architecture of the club.




Second floor plan 5








10 11

First floor plan






1 2 3


Ground floor plan

1. courtyard 2. dining 3. buffet 4. kitchen 5. mechanical room 6. meeting rooms Drawings of Gordon Wu hall, Princeton university Robert Venturi 1984


1 0

7. entrance 8. janitor’s room 9. guestroom 10. recreation 11. office 12. library 5m



A relation between the recommended expressions of form from Charles Moore’s theory in the USCB faculty club can be seen as: Charles Moore wanted his buildings to have the capacity to relate between the body, imagination and environment which he thought could express by developing a sense of place and extension of human identity within the building. The Santa Barbara faculty club extends the body boundary through physical boundaries of the space closures in spaces like the private bedroom balconies, central courtyard and dinning area of the building. The private bedroom balconies cantilever out and extends the body towards the wide landscape accentuating calmness. The central courtyard becomes the heart of the building with large openings in the walls around it and also a center place with the colourful mural fountain which Moore regards as cues for future memories. While the dinning area is a welcoming place for the visitors with large openings and the double layered facade extending outwards and towards the courtyard to create a physical boundary both secure and open. The play of zigzag staircases and walls cutting across the space, add dynamism to the dinning area which is an eminent social function for the club. Characteristics of the surrounding landscape are furthered in the building with its edges, which is composed of a massive wall with very few openings towards the road and walls with larger openings towards the island and swimming pools. Building as a place is distinguishable through its geometrical form of multiple pitch roofs similar to the architectural form of Santa Barbara during Spanish colonization. Apart from the creation of place and response to body, the building expresses drama and fantasy in its elements. Antique art pieces like the tapestries, wall hangings, chandeliers were donations from the faculty and club members which the architects added as identifiable elements for those who visit the club. Neon banners created by a group of young enthusiasts were added in the interiors of the club, which was made dramatic with the use of colours in the upholstery, entrance bench and fountain mural. The club was designed as a reminder of Santa Barabara’s architecture with white stucco surfaces and low pitch roofs covered with Mediterranean tiles. The chimney in the lounge and antique art pieces were placed as identifiable of the Santa Barabara high art and architecture. The antique art pieces and modern neon banners created yearnings in time experienced by the visitors. Most striking of Moore’s design was the double layered facade in front of the dining area and the courtyard. The two layers are held from the top by a wooden truss and is intended to provide wonders of the place in thresholds, opening to the sky and giving a flush of light as introductions of place. The two layers allow different expressions large openings in the front and varied ones at the back, enhancing the experience of thresholds. Fantasy towards the sky is elicited with the one sided pitch roof which houses the library on the second floor and stands as the tallest structure in the cluster of volumes.


Building analysis 1: Illustrations to depict relations of expressions of form from theory to practice dynamism in formal elements

body boundaries in form




240 239. The facades enclosing the dining room are more open to extend it outside. 240. zig-zag staircases cutting across the dining area.

236. the inside courtyard encloses a social space with the facades looking into it. 237. private bedroom balconies open towards the vista extend physical boundaries. 238. courtyard with a colourful fountain becomes a center place for memories. 120


creating a place

fantasy in architectural form






243 241. open facade towards the vistas. 242. enclosed facade towards the road. 243. low pitch roofs define the geometry of the place.

244. wonders for introductions or thresholds: double layered facade with a truss holding them from above adds wonders of the surroundings to the threshold. 245. yearnings in the depths of time: antique art juxtaposed with modern neon lights and banners. 246. yearnings upwards: single pitch roof extending upwards


dramatic places and identifiable elements






253 251. chandelier. 252. antique wall hangings and tapestries. 253. white stucco and pitch roof with Mediterranean tiles reminder of Santa Barbara Architecture.

250 247. colourful interiors chimney. 248. neon colour light banners. 249. colourful mural fountain the coutyard. 250. colourful bench at the entrance


Semantic relations in the Best showroom: A relation between the formal structure to physical, cultural and social objects in the building. The buildings’ forms of life are defined by physical aspects of the surrounding landscape, to need for the club to be a social centre and the cultural history of art and architecture as well as tastes of the people. Mass and space elements are mostly shaped by physical and social objects while surface and furniture elements by cultural objects. With respect to the physical object, less disturbance from the outside and orientation to the landscape shape the design decisions on space enclosure of the private and public spaces. There is a structural similarity in the way the enclosure must be and the kind of social space and physical orientation desired. While the surface openings are larger towards the vistas and smaller towards the road. Social gathering spaces have a structural similarity to the space enclosure expressed in the openings and dynamism in form. Large openings inwards define the surrounding faces of the courtyard, while dynamic forms of the staircases in the dining area, are meant to create lively and sociable spaces. The double layered facade as a spatial enclosure allows liberties in the surface treatment inside and outside allowing structural similarity between the social space and the facade. The courtyard’s outside face or first layer of facade has larger openings for a centre place, while its inside face or second layer has smaller openings for private rooms. Finally, the colonial architecture of Santa Barbara shapes the overall mass geometry of the faculty club as well as the surface material treatment expressed in the white stucco walls and Mediterranean tiled roof. Thus the cultural image of the form superimposes the form of the building. The colourful fountain in the courtyard expresses the intent to make it a centre place for memories coming from a cultural image. Identifiable elements include neon lighting and antique furniture elements which makes the place dramatic by responding to the cultural tastes of the users, coming from donations of university members.


Building analysis 2: Building semantic relationships white stucco and mediterranean tiled roof

double layered facade space closure

surface material

captures light

cultural image

elaborate thresholds



private guestroom balconies

neon colors and banners

space closure


towards vistas

cultural taste

private space C


chimney and colorful interiors

walls with large openings surface openings

surface material

towards vistas

cultural image C


colorful bench

continuous wall with small openings


surface openings

cultural taste

towards the road C


colorful mural fountain

dynamic and open dining area space closure

mass element

social gatherings

cultural image




large openings in walls surrounding the courtyard space closure


social center

cultural taste



antique wall hangings and tapesteries

white stucco and mediterranean tiled roof mass geometry


cultural image

cultural taste





conventional elements


structural similarity






physical Piazza d’italia New Orleans 1978, Charles Moore in collaboration with Perez Gomez architects Description of the building: The Piazza was the urban plaza component of a larger development intended to revitalize the area between New Orleans business and warehouse districts. Through an invited design competition the Italian American Federation of New Orleans commissioned the Piazza d’ Italia, as a public space to celebrate and commemorate the Italian festival in New Orleans. The programmatic requirements included the design of an urban plaza, fountain, projected outdoor cafés, restaurants, shops and community meeting places.

254. Piazza d’ítalia

Historical context: The Piazza d’Italia constitutes one of the most controversial and widely acclaimed designs of the late twentieth century architecture in New Orleans which went on to become a precedent of postmodern architecture. It has become a cultural icon of local, national and international status. In 1979, critic Paul Goldberger described the Piazza as the ‘most significant new urban plaza any American city has erected in years.’ The Piazza d’ Italia falls outside the traditionally accepted idiom of New Orlean’s architecture by virtue of its age and style. Architects intent for the particular building: The Piazza d’ Italia (19751978) was an urban environment challenge for Charles Moore. He was inspired by the human participation in public places like Disneyland. Though he did not admire the love for theme parks, which signified the deterioration of public life of the people, he was intrigued by the vitality of ‘big and little dramas’ missing in the world outside. He argued that, ‘to create a public realm, we must look to other sources than the establishment of other times or other places, to people or institutions interested at once in public activity and in place.’ 1 He wanted to inject the public places like the piazza with humour and joy to engage experience. Objects/Forms of life Physical: The piazza was intended to revitalize the area between New Orleans’ business and warehouse districts, and function as a commercial space as well. Social: The piazza was to be an active public place within the urban fabric for large gatherings as well as everyday smaller scale sitting spaces. It was to bring attention to the downtown of New Orleans where the Piazza site was located. Cultural: New Orleans had a considerable Italian population for which the piazza was to be used during Italian festivals for ceremonies and gatherings. And so the piazza could have a strong identifiable character for the Italian community and the city of New Orleans. 1 Kevin Keim, You Have to Pay for Public Life: selected essays of Charles W. Moore. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2001. 141. 125


9 6


3 5




Ground floor plan

1. pergola 2. clock tower 3. podium 4. portico 5. doric column ring 6. tuscan column ring 7. ionic column ring 8. corinthian column ring 9. composite column ring drawings of North Penn nurses’ association headquarters, Philadelphia Robert Venturi 1961


5 0

20m 10


A relation between the recommended expressions of form from Charles Moore’s theory in Piazza d’italia can be seen as: Charles Moore stressed on experience of place for the visitors in Piazza d’italia, which was designed with the intent of creating a strong identity as well as ‘big and little drama’ inspired from Disneyland. The overall form of the piazza was to be an expression of body boundaries and creation of places. Continuity in the mass geometry of concentric colonnades created an internal public space like a void within the city fabric, approached from the narrow streets, defining the pizza’s physical boundary, place and path. The distinguishing character of a centre place was emphasized with the clock tower entrance as the highest point in the piazza. Identity of the piazza is attempted to be established with the use of specific identifiable elements, which the architects thought visitors could relate to like the plan of Italy on the floor surface of the piazza with the Adrian sea on either side and Sicily at its tip. The five classical orders, Doric, Tuscan, Ionic, Corinthian and Composite columns which frame the concentric colonnades were meant to be representative of Greek and Roman architecture. While Latin inscriptions on the colonnades were to give a flavour of the language visitors could associate with. Apart from the imagery attributes, the use of earthy and vivid colours were to give a hint of Italian houses and streets. As a whole the colonnades in the background and water fountains in the front, intended to remind visitors of the temples and public squares of Italy like the Trevi fountain in Rome. Being a public place of celebration, the architects injected drama and fantasies within its formal attributes. The vivid introductions to the place or thresholds, like the elaborate pergola at the entrance from the commercial street and the entrance tower with the flag of Italy at the other end were to elicit wonders of what the place would be within. While Obeisances became a part of the piazza with the podium at the centre as a place from where the mayor of the city would address the celebrations. It was positioned strategically at the tip of the superimposed plan of Italy representing Sicily, this comprised most of the Italian population in New Orleans. Water was meant to play a mysterious and joyous role in the piazza. Mysterious in the sense of yearnings in the depths of sea articulated with the water pools forming, the Adriatic seas in the plan of Italy. Water is made playful by keeping the fountain accessible to all along with elements like spouts articulated from conventional motifs and sprinklers named ‘wetopes’ instead of metopes above the Doric columns. This articulated the Doric column profile which is a thin steel plate in the centre with streams of water. The movement of water relating to the movement of man is what is thought to add dynamism in the form. The five orders is made of a steel capital and coloured stucco profile. This juxtaposition of old and new, adds yearnings in the depths of time. Thus the public space was designed in a way to leave behind vivid memories, reminding the visitors of Italian culture and identity, brimming with joy and humour to resonate the celebrations that the public space was to offer. 127

Building analysis 1: Illustrations to depict relations of expressions of form from theory to practice dynamism in formal elements

body boundaries in form




256 255. clock tower as a centre place or landmark. 256. mass continuity of the collonaddes, with buildings on all sides creates an inner physical boundary.

257. water spout 258. ‘wetopes’: water sprinklers framing doric columns.. creating a place


260 259. the piazza forms a void in the urban fabric defining place. 260. The paths leading to the piazza are narrow street intensifying experience. 128

fantasies in architectural form

261. thresholds: pergola at the entrance from the commercial street gives a sense of entry. 262. thresholds: the clock tower entrance represents the italian flag.




266 265. yearnings in the depths of the sea created through the water bodies surrounding the piazza. 266. old and new materials, steel and stucco come together creating yearnings in time.

263 pergola

collonades portico podium


clock tower

263. portico at the back. 264. podium at the tip of the plan of italy for the mayor during celebrations.


dramatic places and identifyable elements

267. neon lights to add drama. 268. earthy colors represent italy. 269. plan of italy in the heart of the pizza with the two waterbodies representing the adriatic sea. 270. latin inscriptions on the collonades. 271. collonades in the background like temples with water and fountains in the front.











272. doric columns 273. ionic columns 274. tuscan columns 275.composite columns 276. corinthian columns the five classical orders framing the collonades arranged in concentric circles.


Semantic relations in the Best showroom: A relation between the formal structure to physical, cultural and social objects in the building. The physical surroundings of the urban fabric, social dynamics of a public space and the cultural images and tastes of an Italian community shaped distinctive expressions of form in the building. The physical surroundings of a dense urban fabric of the downtown in New Orleans, shaped the approach to the piazza with narrow streets tapering it. There is a structural similarity between the space closure of the piazza and the social need for a secured and inclusive public space. Mass continuity of the colonnades and tall buildings around form a kind of courtyard for activities both, social and commercial. The piazza was intended to be a kind of landmark for the city indicating an important ceremonial space, this is taken care of with the entrance clock tower rising above the other elements. The social boundary of entrances to the piazza or thresholds are clearly defined by conventional element relationship with distinctive elements like the pergola and entrance tower indicating a gate. The conventional clock tower element as a social symbol is a distinguishing landmark for the piazza. The void formation defines structural similarity between an inclusive social space and the overall form. A continuous mass geometry results in a introverted space closure allowing ceremonial activity. The piazza’s elaborate thresholds are articulations symbolic of entrances creating a conventional relation with the social milieu of the city. The cultural objects respond to cultural images, motifs and practices assumed to represent the tastes of the Italian community. Images of the Italian cities, shape the surface materials and colour of the elements which are colourful and lively, while images of the plan of Italy shape the spatial organization of water, plinth and sitting elements. The overall form of colonnades and articulation also come from a cultural image of eminent public fountains in Italy like Rome’s Trevi fountain. Cultural motifs used are slightly modified in different ways like water spouts, or with additions of new materials like neon lights and steel in the columns. These are used as disparate mass elements with surface ornamentation. The central podium however is symbolic relating to both cultural and social objects being placed at the tip of the plan of Italy representing the Sicilian population of New Orleans which the mayor would be addressing during the ceremony. With stress on the cultural and social images and practice, the piazza is made symbolic in many ways relating to the tastes of the visitors.


Building analysis 2: Building semantic relationships narrow paths

latin inscriptions

space closure

surface plastic elements

surrounding streets

cultural motif C


continuous form

five classical orders

mass geometry

mass geometry

defining boundaries

cultural motif C


collonades with water

clock tower mass element

overall form


cultural image C


movement of water through elements

a void in an object space closure

mass element

inclusive social place

cultural motifs C



pergola mass element

mass element


cultural image




tower entrance mass element

mass element


cultural practice



steel and stucco material

colors surface material

surface material

cultural image

cultural image



plan of italy spatial organization cultural image C


conventional elements



structural similarity







3.3.3 Interpretation of subjectivity through theory and practice of Charles Moore

“The missing links, we submit are the vertical ones, which connect our bodies with earth and sky and allow us to feel ‘centred’ and in a place and therefore able to relate effectively to other people”, is an excerpt from the intent with which Charles Moore puts users in the forefront of architecture. He placed the problem of architecture in the need to attend to the human consciousness, for providing an environment where man could know where he is and who he is, by projecting man’s image of the civilization. Moore interpreted subjectivity in architecture by relations to place, memory and body, which was studied through examples from vernacular and classical architecture, as well as places like Disneyland and other built expressions spread over history. Relations to place explore the distinctions in formal characteristics of a built structure depending on the surroundings both visually and experientially. While relations to body is concerned with experience of social security through body boundaries in the environment. Also movement or haptic experiences which engage the entire body and senses attend to human consciousness. Memory however, is described as a medium to engage human participation in the environment through drama and fantasy. Moore’s early architecture responded to interpretations in theory but later expressions towards memory of identifiable elements, dramatic and esoteric forms, use of unconventional materials and vivid lights began to govern his practice. The Santa Barbara faculty club in California emphasized on the body boundary through expressions of space enclosures like thresholds and courtyards. It integrated the language of place through mass geometry and material similar to colonial Santa Barbara architecture with relations to the surrounding wide landscape. Familiar furniture elements to create memories covered the interiors, as donations from club members including neon banners and wall hangings. On the other hand, the Piazza d’Italia which is a public space used familiar elements of classical Italian architecture as conventional mass elements in the built expression. Here popular tastes dominate the form characteristics. The experience of place is through identifiable elements of culture very similar to that of Disneyland. Though the approach and form of the piazza responds to the surroundings and body boundaries, its character is governed by identifiable elements like classical columns, porticoes, clock towers, pergolas and other conventional motifs. Water elements, present in both the projects are described by Moore as dynamic forms to engage bodily experience. But the Piazza gives more stress on memory through identifiable elements. After the Piazza d’italia Charles Moore also designed a pavilion for the New Orleans’ world fair in 1984 which again showed vivid expressions of colour, dramatic and conventional forms. While his Lovejoy fountain in 1960 mostly played with the dynamism of water in a public space. Hence there is an observed movement in Moore’s practice from interpretations of theory to a stylistic fever.


Chapter 4 CHINESE WHISPERS THROUGH THEORY AND PRACTICE 4.1 What went wrong? 4.2 Why was this happening? 4.3 Summary


4.1 What went wrong?

Recapping the quest of ‘how do people experience the world?’ The theme, subjectivity of experience and meaning was a means in theory to give architectural practice a place character, identity and to develop a place attachment within users which was lost during modernism. So then, is the eventual practice studied a descendant of the theme, subjectivity of experience and meaning? To get an answer, the layers of theory and practice need to be correlated and understood as a unanimous whole. The whole of the theory on subjectivity as already described earlier is made of two layers, one layer is an understandings of the way people experience the world from other disciplines like philosophy, psychology etc, and the other layer of architectural theory is the bridge to practice. Architectural practice picks out recommendations from theory which helps to shape the intents and solutions for design. All the three architects studied made recommendations in theory, some of which were applied in practice, creating unavoidable links to the first layer of theory and the intent of designing through human experiences. Attaining a place character close to human experiences was the common intent of the postmodern movement in architecture. We will now study how close did architectural practice get to this intent by comparing it to the first layer of theory, as the starting point. Philosophy from phenomenology believed that affecting subjectivity of man assumed meaning and experience to be revealed in the way, a work of architecture returned to ‘things themselves’ or experiences as they are. These experiences like language was meant to give universal content understood across people as pure experiences and not from a prior objective knowledge. For example the different ways a chair can be experienced other than a sitting, is based on the experience of its materials and forms having universality and similarity to other things in the world. This gives meaning to experiences. Other disciplines like psychology and semantics also understood experiences through the universal content. Gestalt visual principles understood and found the common human experiences of different visual configurations. While semantic studies understood the human experiences of meanings by relating different objects to one another. Experience of place and character are close to creating a ‘building as dwelling’ where the fourfold is embodied in things which can be experienced through movement, touch and senses in other words through lived experience. Lived experience was later theorized as bodily experiences or haptic experiences. The fourfold which comprises of earth, sky, man and divinities if present in things generate common human experiences and meaning as ‘things themselves’. For example the bridge which Heidegger refers to gathers the fourfold by connecting the banks over the stream, readying for the sky’s weather and in a way connecting the stream and banks. And so it collects different aspects of the landscape to be experienced as they are by all, portraying the character of ease and power in the landscape. Norberg Schulz’s theory translated some of these understandings in architecture as symbol systems or semantic relations, forming the second layer of theory. Such symbol systems relate the different forms of life


physical, social and cultural objects to architectural formal structures. Semantic relations recommend ‘totalities’ of a ‘character’ with universal content which makes a work of architecture appear as part of a comprehensive whole, apart from its relation to a specific situation. Schulz explained that examples of vernacular and classical architecture achieved this by providing specific functions to specific building types and organizing existential meaning for forms of life in environmental symbols. For example, the typical church architecture during the Renaissance period had stained glass windows symbolizing heavenly light which was used universally but experienced for the way light came in the building and how the church related to the sky. Here the stained glass expression is specific to the period and place but the experience of light can be described as the universal content to communicate meanings irrespective of contexts. Meanings are thus recommended by Schulz as abstractions of symbol systems which provide a universal language that can be transported to other contexts, for man to experience meanings wherever they are. If we interrelate these two layers of theory most important will be, the process of symbol abstractions as ‘things themselves’ with understandings of the fourfold in symbolic forms. This would define experience of meanings for qualities of an architectural character. For example, the nature of universality and abstraction in the pyramid, dome, pediment and arch as valid architectural images is revealed in the way they form general relationships between up and down, inside and outside, here and there between the earth and sky. Hence symbolic experiences can be described as shaping the post modern architectural intents towards place character and identity. However relationships to the fourfold are significant for symbolic abstractions to be taken forward in an architecture of subjectivity. As explained earlier, the semantic relations for symbol systems can be analysed in the building as two processes of symbolization. Firstly through structural similarities between forms of life which is physical, social, cultural objects and architectural forms. Secondly through conventional elements displaced to a different context in order to be experienced differently. But as totalities, the works of architecture have certain universal aspects or contents which govern their symbolic relations and make them a part of a more comprehensive whole. We will investigate and compare the cases of practice on the ways abstractions of symbol systems were made in their particular building types, to analyze semantic relations for the universal content and place character they portray. This becomes a means to measure the success of the theme subjectivity in experience and meaning in practice.



Ronchamp chapel, Le Corbusier

Structural similarities between physical, social and cultural objects govern semantic relations in the Ronchamp chapel. Abstractions in the symbol systems of a church function is carried out for universal content through relations to natural forces around, or through man to man interactions, or through abstractions of the cultural ideals of a church. Natural forces of light, wind, water and earth are abstracted in the experience of the towers, roof and ground. The quietness and echo in a chapel as well as the cultural experience of sacredness is translated in the character of heaviness and play of light in the Ronchamp chapel. While the universal human experience of visual form manifests in the organic form of the chapel. Restrictions to the use of conventional elements attempts a return ‘to things themselves’ as form is no longer governed by the objective knowledge of how a church should be, but is open for visitors to interpret and experience its meanings derived from symbol systems of a church.


North Penn visiting Nurses association headquarters, Robert Venturi

The North Penn visiting nurses’ association headquarters show a structural similarity in the way its rigid functions and civic building symbols relate to the building form. Abstractions in the symbol system of a public civic building define the outside shell of the headquarters as a universal experience of a public building. The large scale of openings and importance to the articulation of entrance with respect to the public street, create an experience of symbolic meanings associated with public buildings. While the universal experience of visual ambiguity in form is derived from gestalt visual principles and add to the character of the building.



Best products showroom, Robert Venturi

The Best product showroom has a structural similarity in the way the form and elements are organized to the commercial vernacular in vast landscapes of highways and parking lots of America. Hence abstractions in the symbol system of commercial vernacular decide organization, but the elements used are conventional elements from commercial products. And so the ‘pleasing’ flower pattern used as decoration on the building is assumed as the popular taste across people through universal content for the experience of the building.


Gordon Wu hall, Robert Venturi


The Gordon Wu hall has elements organized as a commercial vernacular. Abstractions however still follow the symbol systems of Las Vegas with ornaments or conventional elements used as big signs in a public university building. Meanings are experienced through the bay windows, long dining hall, entrance pediment and other ornamentation of Gothic and Tudor styles as universal and identifiable content, with the intent for it to be similar to the old Gothic buildings present in the rest of the Princeton campus. The building may be experienced as a reminder of Gothic styles.


University of California Santa Barbara, Charles Moore

Semantic relations of structural similarity is observed between the formal structure of Santa Barbara faculty club and the physical surroundings of wide landscapes as well as social gathering spaces. Abstractions in the symbol system of social centre places create a character of openness and security in the courtyards, and major social gathering spaces. While cultural images of Santa Barbara’s colonial architecture represent the material and mass geometry of the building. Identifiable furniture elements donated by people cover the brightly coloured interiors. Hence the universal content is defined by the experience of social centres and openness to the landscape as well as identifiable elements of history and antique artefacts assumed to be familiar across people.


Piazza d’italia, Charles Moore

Semantic relations are governed by conventional elements of the Italian culture in Piazza d’italia. The streets leading to the piazza have a character of narrowness to openness, but the piazza itself is defined by abstractions in symbol systems of public places like Disneyland which uses identifiable elements to engage visitors. Meaning in the piazza is determined by the use of five classical orders, the plan of Italy, Latin inscriptions and other elements like pergolas and clock towers which are assumed to be marks of public thresholds, familiar to the people. Hence, in this case universal content or experience is governed by familiar elements and popular tastes of people.


The original intent of affecting subjectivity of man in architecture assumed meaning and experience to be revealed in the way, a work of architecture returned to ‘things themselves’ becoming part of a whole through its universal content. It was defined by the common human experience, of symbolic meanings, of visual form, of relative content and of movement, touch and senses. As analysed, examples like Ronchamp chapel, Santa Barbara Faculty club and North Penn Visiting Nurses Association, extract universal content through abstractions in the symbol systems of the desired building types for experience of symbolic meanings. Hence portraying a character of heaviness in the sacred chapel of Ronchamp, openness in the social centre of Santa Barbara faculty club and publicness in the visiting nurses’ headquarters. Common experiences of visual form define the organic form of Ronchamp chapel and visual ambiguity in the visiting nurses headquarters. However examples like the Best products showroom, Gordon Wu hall and Piazza d’italia adopt universal content as identifiable elements within their particular building types and not in inherent experiences. Meanings for them came from recognizable forms and elements that the buildings incorporate, like a town understood from its two-dimensional map rather than character. Hence for these cases, valid architectural images like the pyramid, dome, pediment and arch are believed to get its nature of universality from their identifiability and not as a result of abstractions from the way they related to the earth, sky, man and divinities. From this analysis we can say that the universal content that theorists and architects looked for while designing an architecture of subjective experiences and meanings moved from their original recommendations of inherent experiences to a popular taste of users. Corresponding to this totalities of buildings also moved from a place character to place recognition or from an experience of symbolic meanings in the environment to a memory of signs. So practice no longer possessed the ‘dwelling’ which Heidegger talked of. This gap between the originating theories and eventual practice intensified over time, perhaps due to dilution with newer theories and practices (refer to Table 11 and 12). The problem further magnified when popular tastes and explicit use of symbols was later on accepted as the stylistic language of post modernism and then used to design new buildings of the era assuming this to be the ideals of creating a meaningful user experience. As explained in the first chapter post modernism by 1980s had been defined in terms of branches like historicism, metaphorism, vernacularism, contextualism, and postmodern space. Part of this came from this problem of difference in what practice was meant to move towards and what it turned out to be. Charles Jencks, a major theorist of postmodern architecture, placed value in architectural communication carried out through the form associations for users. Hence he further articulated the need for using recognizable forms in architecture for its meanings to recommend a ‘double-coding’ as the basic principle for postmodern architecture, later termed as radical eclecticism. He recommended to create meanings in architecture by first using avant-garde


and elite codes familiar to the experts and insiders and then using popular codes known to average users and the layman. The Piazza d’italia was an example held high in this branch of architecture. Robert Stern also mentioned the ideals of post modernism in his note on gray architecture as post modernism. According to which the ideals were defined by explicit use of symbols, rich colours, use of ornaments. But neither of these came close to the subjectivity of experience and meaning as explained in the start of the movement by the first and second layer of theory (around 1960s), which were propagating the importance of encounters and inherent experiences. This marks out a shift of the intent in architecture from meaningful experiences to memory and recognition, away from place character thus endangering further theory and practice in architecture.

4.1 Why was this happening? 4.1.1

Whispers within theory

The branching pattern Charles Jencks interpreted metaphorical characteristics in the Ronchamp chapel owing to its organic form showing visual coherences like a duck, ship, hand etc (283) . This way of interpreting came from an architectural theory with the intent of architectural communication through associative and memory links for the user. On the other hand, the Ronchamp chapel was analysed and designed for an experience of meaning leading to communication across users through an abstract symbolism of the context, function and building. Experience of meanings in the chapel related to the first layer of theory, phenomenology from philosophy which was missing in the interpretation of Charles Jencks. These changing interpretation of subjectivity of experience and meaning is a visible phenomena if we relate different layers of theory. The common assumption was that, architecture after modernism needed to move towards an architectural character, architectural identity and attachment for users. With the goal of subjectivity of experience and meaning for users, different architectural theories made their own interpretations of subjectivity borrowing from the first layer of theory including philosophy, psychology and other disciplines which understood, how people experienced the world around us. This ensured a link between the second layer of theory and the first. However interpretations could be many and in numerous directions resembling a kind of branching pattern of interpretations from one layer to the next. (refer to Table 11) The early findings from phenomenology explained subjectivity of experience as a return ‘to things themselves’ or getting to the essence of objects, being experienced in ways different from what scientific or objective knowledge suggested. Subjectivity was theorized for its inherent experiences on the grounds of universal content through ‘communication’ and ‘meaning’ understood across people different from scientific knowledge. Interpretations of these translated as visual perception studies in ‘gestalt’s visual principles’ and ‘semantic studies’ for the common experiences across people. On


the other hand inherent experiences were also theorized as ‘dwelling’. Subjectivity of dwelling and being was set in lived experiences and preserving of the fourfold .i.e. earth, sky, man and divinities in things so that they may be experienced as they are. Lived experience related to the common haptic perception or experience of touch, movement and senses with the environment. The architectural theory began to interpret subjectivity in experience to come from the processes of symbolization and perception of the environment which together recommends a symbol system in architecture. Symbolization was understood through semiotic studies while perception through gestalt’s visual perception principles. Symbolization was recognized as a more reliable means of designing for its possibilities to make objective common meanings, which was difficult in the process of perception owing to its high degree of subjectivity from person to person. And so architectural works were believed to get its character through semantic relations between architectural form and physical, social, cultural objects. This may be theoretically true if physical, social and cultural objects like the ‘fourfold’ which is earth, sky, man and divinities would be abstracted in the architectural form. But theory instead of stressing on qualities of architecture, suggested a more scientific approach of semantic relations. Schulz for example, believed the world to be a complex structure with existing symbols and so recommended that conventional elements of social and cultural objects could be used directly in the architectural form for a symbolic milieu. This means that a dome can be used as a symbol of sacredness. However, phenomenological theories insisted on an experience of things ‘as they are’ without any prior objective knowledge of the world. Using symbols as they existed, would manifest meanings through objective knowledge of what they are and not how they have been experienced through the ‘fourfold’. How a thing relates to the fourfold was expressed by Heidegger when he analyzed a jug as a thing, “In pouring water dwells the source. In the source dwells the rock, and the dark slumber of the earth, which receives the rain and the dew of the sky. In the water of the source dwells the wedding of the sky and earth. The gift of the pouring is the jugness of the jug. In the character of the jug, sky and earth are present”.1 The use of conventional elements as a scientific approach was furthered on in the later architectural theories as well, by Robert Venturi and Charles Moore. Though their earlier theories had tendencies towards the experience of symbolic meanings, visual forms and bodily connections. The first few architectural theories included Le Corbusiers’ theories on the physiology of experiences through visual perception principles, which recommended ineffable space in practice. A space based on interpretations of visual and acoustic perceptions of man. Visual experiences of complex architectural form and experiences of symbolic meanings present in history, informed the early theories of Robert Venturi interpreting subjectivity in architecture. This was based on an understanding of gestalt visual principles and meaning in circumstances. However his later theory moved towards 1 142

Poetry, language and thought by Martin Heidegger.

a semiotic approach of understanding the popular codes for users in the architecture of Las Vegas. These studies took a semantic direction to understand what the users were identifying with in the particular contexts. This was similar to Charles Moore’s reference to Disneyland as a public place with a high degree of human participation, and need to visit it. Moore understood that the success of the place was owing to the identifiable elements and drama which visitors could relate to. In this way he interpreted architecture of subjectivity to portray man’s image of the civilization. Simultaneously, Moore also formed theories understanding place, bodily experiences and memory. Since interpretations of the body of knowledge on subjectivity and experiences put forth by the first layer of theory are open to the discretion of the theorist, certain ambiguity of the sources and confusion of terms like place character, place identity and others would lead to different directions. Meanings through popular tastes and familiar or identifiable elements branches out from the many interpretations and it reduces the users experience of architectural character to architectural recognition (refer to Table 10). This slowly started to govern the architectural practice of post modernism. Thus the intent of experience and deep dwelling which phenomenology talked about was lost through the stages of interpretation, inherently loosing also the premise for the shift of architecture away from modernism to post modernism. (Table11)


Whispers from theory to practice

The role of architectural theory in practice was to recommend certain solutions towards a subjectivity of experience and meaning in architecture. The architectural theories made assumptions and interpretations from the first layer of theory on subjectivity and studied these interpretations through suitable examples to recommend expressions of form in practice, extracted from the examples. The intent of practice after modernism was to create a dwelling, concrete character and identity of place for users, which was lost due to alienation of forms in modern buildings. Historical forms and styles which had been rejected during modernism where thus reconsidered in post modernism for the meanings that people experienced from them. Most architectural theory of post modernism began to study examples from history to reeducate their sensibilities of meaning present in the environment in concrete terms. With the aim to make a totality of significant human experiences potentially available again, and also to make history a dimension of fundamental importance in the world. This however played a reverse role in practice which had began to use historical examples studied by theory not for the recreation of experiences but for a recognition of forms. History was considered as meaning itself to be replicated, rather than learnings to be taken forward. In the case of Robert Venturi’s theory on complexity and contradictions studied examples of history from the Renaissance, Gothic, Baroque, Mannerist periods and from projects of architects like Louis Kahn, Alvar


Alto and Le Corbusier for the complexity of visual experiences they provided towards an ambiguity of its architectural form. Recommending architecture to have expressions of both-and elements, contradictions, juxtapositions etc. These expressions were visible in the Visiting Nurses Association building, one of Venturi’s first few projects to create an experience of a public building within visual paradoxes. However his building Gordon Wu hall designed much later used Gothic and Tudor elements like bay windows and ornamentation explicitly to be recognized by the people on Princeton campus, housing other buildings of Gothic and Tudor styles. This approach developed after the study of Las Vegas, a commercially planned street in America. It was studied for the popular tastes and identifiable elements which users associated with. Hence recommending an explicit use of symbols, words and false fronts to dominate architectural character and identity. Thus resulting in the use of historical examples as signs in Venturi’s buildings. Similarly in the case of Charles Moore, he initially studied Disneyland, an amusement park for its human participation. He was intrigued by the effect of identifiable elements and drama in its architecture over the historical town halls. He studied vernacular and classical history examples as well for the experiences of fantasy and surprise they embodied in thresholds, places of public action, and other space elements. Moore’s Santa Barbara Faculty Club applied learnings from the examples studied for different experiences of boundaries and thresholds in the design of the double layered threshold spaces and courtyards. While drama, colour and identifiable furniture elements crowded the interior spaces. However Moore’s Piazza d’italia used classical elements like pergola, clock tower, classical columns explicitly for threshold spaces and centre places, expressing forms in a manner similar to the experience of Disneyland, through identifiable elements. From an individual look at the architects’ direction of theory and practice, we can conclude that there is a marked difference in what theory was studying and recommending from history and what practice was picking up from it. Inferring further on a tendency of practice to grasp the tangibles and visuals in theory. Hence Charles Jencks classification of the branches in practice as historicism, vernacularism, straight revivalism, metaphorism and anthropomorphism, can now be seen as informed by the approach of practice to use identifiable elements studied in theory directly in buildings, for an architecture of subjectivity. (refer to Table 12)


283. metaphorical interpretation of Ronchamp chapel

Table 10: detailed branching pattern place character



lived experiences


fourfold earth, sky, man and divinities

symbol system physical social and cultural objects

conventional elements

familiar elements

popular tastes

Norberg Schulz’s theory

structural similarity studied Disneyland

Moore’s theory

studied Las Vegas

Venturi’s theory

place recognition


Table 11: Interrelations of interpretations of subjectivity in the layers of theory (branching pattern) subjectivity in experience and meaning to things themselves

dwelling Heidegger

communication Husserl

lived experiences Heidegger gestalt visual perception Gestalt laws

fourfold earth, sky, man and divinities Heidegger

haptic experiences J.J.Gibson



meaning Husserl

semiotic studies Ferdinand d’Saussare


Le Corbusier’s theory -French Swiss acoustic perception ineffable space visual perception

place character subjectivity in experience and meaning in architecture

place attachment

place identity Norberg Schulz’s theory -Norway

forms of life physical, social, cultural objects

conventional elements

architectural form

structural similarity

symbol system/semantic relations

Robert Venturi’s’s theory -United states visual ambiguity popular tastes user associations

everyday associations

Charles Moore’s theory -United states bodily experiences place



familiar elements




Table 12: Interrelations between architectural theory and practice (branching pattern) place character subjectivity in experience and meaning in architecture

place attachment

place identity Le Corbusier’s theory -French Swiss acoustic perception ineffable space visual perception Norberg Schulz’s theory -Norway

forms of life physical, social, cultural objects

conventional elements

architectural form

structural similarity

symbol system/semantic relations

Robert Venturi’s’s theory -United states visual ambiguity

popular tastes user associations

everyday associations

Charles Moore’s theory -United states bodily experiences place



familiar elements




The chapel of Ronchamp, France by Le Corbusier

North Penn Visiting Nurses' association headquarters, Pennsylvania by Robert Venturi

UC Santa Barbara faculty club, California by Charles Moore (MLTW)

Best Showroom, Pennsylvania by Robert Venturi

Piazza d'italia, New Orleans by Charles Moore

historicism anthropomorphism

straight vernacularism metaphorism revivalism

Gordon Wu hall, Princeton by Robert Venturi


1985 149

Table 13: Overall branching pattern

subjectivity in experience and meaning


















PLACE venturi


















Architectural theory since 1960 can be reduced to a singular inquiry, the inquiry after the subject productions in architecture or in other words ‘how to include man’. The rise of modernity is seen to have introduced the subject of man as not self-determining but fragmented and colonized with the rise of capitalist industrialization and the overwhelming process of production which was beyond the grasp of the individual. Postmodern attempts to rehabilitate the humanistic subject are not just disconnected quarrels of historiography, nor are they just theoretical paradigms, they are rather a key to understanding architectures attempts of contemporary productions of subjectivity. All postmodern formalism premised on representational schemata, fail to grasp the real subject productions immanent to architecture, the anonymous architectural subjectivity is irreducible to an individual object. Rather than every subject representing something, impersonal effects are needed. The architectural experience is an encounter that pre-exists all personal agents that navigate space. ‘To things themselves’, proposed experience as a subjectivizing agency prior to the representation of any building. Subjectivity of experience and meaning does not mean that a building becomes a person but rather it confers upon perceptions of man and the accumulation of its effects which condition experiences, from which one’s own particular relation or sense of individuation is derived. This gives meaning to architecture which can be comprehended to a universal language. Postmodern practice did the opposite by representing the universal content with attached meanings in architecture to devise experiences of nostalgia. The idea of collage, of pictorial art had been implemented more or less directly by several architects. Evidently the collage entailed dangers. Most pioneering architects like Robert Venturi, Michael Graves, Charles Moore started out with fascinating combinations of modern and historical elements, but their later works unfortunately proposed a Disneyland flavour. In such cases the things themselves do not speak anymore, as they were being substituted merely by memories. Place character, meaning and identity proffered through pure experiences extending towards aspects of the environment and human characteristics, was reduced over time to a place recognition by postmodern practice. The shift of intent from subjectivity recommended by originating models of thought to mere recognition in practice can be censured on the shifting interpretations through layers of theory and practice. Theory’s inherent nature of branching out from one recommendation resulted in examples of post-structuralist and semantic theories proving to be inadequate to architecture’s crisis of subjectivity. The theme of subjectivity of experience and meaning is not only misinterpretation in theory but is also a problem of over-valuation of text, linguistics and reduction of subjectivity, in practice, to a textuality away from architectural experience through encounter. The literal use of examples referred in theory also in practice can be seen as a tendency of practice to move towards tangibles, which meanings from familiar elements and stereotypes offer. Hence architecture’s problem of the outcome on subjectivity can be thought of as a reflex of the mechanisms of


representation, which guarantees a return of the lost subject to ‘include man’. Modernism was critiqued by many for the utopia and thoughts it projected on ‘what ought to be’ in architecture away from ‘what is’. Postmodern architects, like Robert Venturi aimed to eliminate the architects utopia by responding to ‘what is’. But an account of the prevailing practice renders it as a representation of what the architect assumes are tastes and preferences of users like the Route 66 methods used in different building types are not necessarily a projection from users. On this pretext does not post modernism seem as modernism in a fancy costume of subjectivity. Recapitulating the phenomena of shifting interpretations of subjectivity in experience and meanings through the layers of theory and practice as well as the reason for the shift, corroborate that stylistic ideals do not coincide with the original intent. The movement was thus not meant to be a bifurcation of branches like historicism, vernacularism, straight revivalism, metaphorism and anthropomorphism which according to critiques like Jencks, Stern and others get their expression through explicit use of stereotypes, colours and styles. It was proposed instead as a revival of meaningful experiences for the subject which was assumed present in the architecture of classical history and vernacular. Using functions and tastes of users explicitly came as a subset to the use of historical and vernacular symbols. However, these stylistic ideals did shape further practice resulting in developed expressions of post-modern classicism which employed a variety of classical style in newer ways with the intent of subjectivity of experience and meaning in architecture. Thus the misplaced merits of subjectivity as projected by critiques like Jencks, further amplified in practice towards the end of the 20th century.


Conclusion The complication between the texuality of theories and prevailing realities in practice exists in varying amounts in many fields and disciplines. Mathematics and science however see theories in different ways defined by the protocol of experiments and observations finally proposed as facts. Do theories in architecture have the same efficacy in practice? Theories on subjectivity of experience and meaning in architecture formulated after modernism are in many ways poetic and prescriptive from history and examples in architecture, while their proposals and recommendations can be interpreted in not one but many ways. Since interpretations are left to the individual discretion of a theoretician or practitioner, it takes different forms. Thus shifting through understandings and prescriptions over stages and time. Practice being a concomitant as well as end product of the theory on subjectivity gave blaring results shifted from the original intents of the post-modern movement as formulated in the beginning of the period. Further stylistic critiques of summing up and articulating the misplaced interpretations set the path for a newer expressions. Thus creating an unavoidable loop and linear progression within the post-modern movement, compelling it to move in a particular direction ignorant of its originating ideals. A break to the linearity of post-modern movement was later propounded by Kenneth Frampton with his paper on ‘six points on critical regionalism’ in 1981. Did not theory and practice in modernism show similar whispers from the intent of creating ‘a true dwelling for man from his everydayness’ to creation of principles of the style, used in the design of Pruitt-Igoe housing complex, leading to it being demolished? This phenomenon of linearity analysed in the theme of subjectivity of experience and meaning defining the postmodern movement can be paralleled as a general situation to be aware of in the architectural discourse of theory and practice. Theory can thus be both a boon and bane in architecture depending on the way it is interpreted and taken forward. It can be a rich text for its links to other models of thought pushing practice to create a larger relation with society and opening out the architectural discourse. But only if one is careful of its ‘whispers’ or ambiguity tending to possibilities of shifting interpretations. Same is true for stylistic ideals as well, which should be reconsidered and aligned to the sources for meaningful insights and results in practice.


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Illustration credits

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Chinese Whispers:  

A case of shifting interpretations of subjectivity in theory and practice in architecture. This research is a product of my final semester...

Chinese Whispers:  

A case of shifting interpretations of subjectivity in theory and practice in architecture. This research is a product of my final semester...