unified architectural theory: chapter 4 | archdaily

Unified Architectural Theory: Chapter 4 | ArchDaily
Unified Architectural Theory: Chapter 4 | ArchDaily
Unified Architectural Theory: Chapter 4 | ArchDaily
Unified Architectural Theory: Chapter 4 | ArchDaily
Unified Architectural Theory: Chapter 4 | ArchDaily
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  • 11/3/15, 7:06 PMUnified Architectural Theory: Chapter 4 | ArchDaily

    Page 1 of 6http://www.archdaily.com/509721/unified-architectural-theory-chapter-4

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    Unified Architectural Theory: Chapter 4

    We will be publishing Nikos Salingaros book, Unified Architectural Theory, in a series ofinstallments, making it digitally, freely available for students and architects around the world.The following chapter discusses the complexity of form languages and describes how to usethe form language checklist to measure these complexities. If you missed them, make sureto read the introduction, Chapter One, Chapters 2A and Chapter 2B, and Chapter 3 first.

    There exists a volume of writings by architects in the early 20th century, and we can lookthrough them for the form languages of Modernism. Unfortunately, the useful material turnsout to be very little, most of it describing not a form language but rather marketing anddeclarations of a political nature. Moreover, those pieces of very personal form languagesare presented as normative theories: a prescription of what to do and what not to do, withthe weight of universal ethics, even though they are based solely on opinion, not empiricalobservations or systematic study.

    Here are some practical lists of rules I have found by Naum Gabo and Antoine Pevsner,Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and Le Corbusier.

    By the brothers Naum Gabo and Antoine Pevsner, 1920: Reject closed mass andvolume, and model space from within outwards. Reject color, and use only the naturalcolor of the building materials. Reject all ornament.

    Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, 1923: Open plan for interiors. Materials are limited toconcrete, iron, and glass. Use only curtain walls and reinforced concrete no load-bearing construction.

    Le Corbusier, 1927: Lift the building from sitting with its basement in the earth, tobeing suspended on posts (pilotis). Only curtain-wall construction is allowed. Roofshave to be flat. Windows can only be horizontal and will extend from one load-bearingpillar to another, which makes them very wide (narrow and long).

    These three sets of rules for a modernist form language do contrast with traditional formlanguages, so that of course the product looks markedly different from a traditional buildingerected prior to the 20th Century. This new look was part of the modernist form languagesappeal when it was first introduced.

    Le Corbusier's Villa Savoye manifests his "rules" for architecture: Lift the building fromsitting with its basement in the earth, to being suspended on posts (pilotis). Only curtain-wall

    construction is allowed. Roofs have to be flat. Windows can only be horizontal and willextend from one load-bearing pillar to another, which makes them very wide (narrow and

    long)". Image Flavio Bragaia




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  • 11/3/15, 7:06 PMUnified Architectural Theory: Chapter 4 | ArchDaily

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    Without discussing the merits of the modernist form language and its variants here, there isan appeal to universality, and thus a rejection of regional adaptation. There is also a strongmotivation to reject elements simply because they belong to traditional form languages:turning against ones cultural tradition for the sake of innovation.

    Our society adopted the modernist form language for an enormous number of buildings, andso we have forgotten the store of older and traditional form languages. Thisrepresents a great loss for the knowledge base of the architectural profession. Norational society should throw out practical information, unless that body ofknowledge has been proved wrong, or is no longer useful.

    Nothing wrong was ever discovered in older form languages: indeed, they have a greatnumber of adaptive qualities that create pleasant, functional, and comfortable living andworking environments. We suggest that an architect can learn from all form languages.Some languages are going to be more relevant to the location than others a welcomereturn to valuing regionalism because this leads to sustainability.

    When deciding to employ an older form language to design a building today, the architecthas an option. He or she may use the form language in its original form. Otherwise, thearchitect may choose to upgrade it by introducing improvements or savings through morecontemporary materials. Architects also have the option to add individual innovativeelements of their own, unless commissioned to design in a particular form language.

    A form language evolves in time, just as a written and spoken language does, so change isnatural. What is not natural is drastic reversal in a form language. The crucial concern hereis to modify an architectural form language so that it does not lose its adaptive andexpressive power. In order to achieve this, the architect must begin from a deep respect ofwhat evolved traditional form languages represent.

    An in-depth study and analysis of a particular form language prepares you to use it as adesign tool by understanding how a design arises from the combinatoric linguistic structureof forms. If the student properly and accurately documents a form language, then it could beused to design an entirely new building. The measure of success is if an observer thinksthat the new design resembles an original building enough to be considered as arising fromthe same language. I want to end the common practice of students copying buildings asimages directly, which is both unintelligent and uncreative. The proper way to design in aparticular language of choice is first to extract and document that form language from one ormore examples, then use the form language to design a new building.

    Documenting a Form Language

    Going through the process of documenting a form language is an educational experience.First, it reveals the complexity of the language: how many words (and diagrams) arerequired to describe it so it can be applied to design something. There exists a very simplemeasure of complexity that we can employ here. The Kolmogorov-Chaitin complexitymeasure is the minimum length of a systems descriptor. Its the length of code withoutredundancies. For a form language, it would be the word count of your completed formlanguage checklist [template provided later in this book].

    This first measure of the complexity of a form language opens up new dimensions forunderstanding architecture. Satisfying user needs, adaptations to climate, region, andmaterials should make a form language more complex with a longer word count. Actually,both highly-ordered and random systems are complex, but in a different way. We will studythat distinction later on. Now we note that complexity of form language does not necessarilyimply adaptation, and will look for a correlation between Kolmogorov-Chaitin complexity andregional adaptation.

    The model also allows us to compare very different form languages in terms of theircomplexity. Distinct form languages cannot be compared visually, because of the verydifferent images they present, but rather in terms of each languages overall complexity.

    Traditional regionalism involves adaptation to local materials, climate, culture, and societalpractices. (We will discuss later the possibilities of combining regionalism with 20th-centurymodernism.) Using the model of measuring the complexity of a form language through aword count of its verbal description, we can investigate how adaptation to local practicesand building culture requires a longer or shorter description of the design process. Ourintuitive experience would lead us to say that better adaptation to local requirementsrequires a longer description.

    A form language is one prescription for creating structural order, and its products will havetheir own characteristic appearance. At the heart of every spoken or written language is a

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  • 11/3/15, 7:06 PMUnified Architectural Theory: Chapter 4 | ArchDaily

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    set of rules common to all languages. We can look for these general rules in other sciencesto understand the commonality among visually distinct architectural styles.

    I introduced some rules for structural order to help explain Alexanders theory of adaptivedesign, which we study later. These rules are taken from physics, not architecture, andestablish a helpful rubric for analyzing form languages. They represent the means ofachieving coherence of forms.

    Three laws for architecture are proposed: (1) Smallest-scale order consists of pairedcontrasting elements. (2) Large-scale order occurs when every element collaboratesto reduce randomness. (3) Small is connected to large through a h