Of Language and Architecture
Architectural theories, often rooted in metaphors, help us gain insight into the built world from a number of viewpoints. This talk will explore the idea of architecture as a symbolic system similar to that of language. Its vocabulary comprises formal elements that, when put together according to the rules of syntax, can express meaningful content. Like language, architecture has to be functional; at its best it can also convey emotion and become a work of art.
Architectural theorists, like linguists, argue whether architectural languages share universal features or are unique to specific time and culture. Gothic cathedrals, for example, carried symbolic meaning closely associated with the Bible and the interpretation of nature as God’s creation; they provided “reading material” for all, including illiterate. While this vocabulary continued to be recognised after the Middle Ages, its intended content was for the most part forgotten. The Classical Language of Architecture proved to be longer lasting. Starting in Antiquity and continuing through Renaissance, Baroque, Classicism, Revivalism and Post-Modernism, the Classical Language has provided a well-defined grammar and a vocabulary of forms that seem to “speak” to all, even today. On the other hand, Modernist architecture, characterised by a vocabulary of abstract forms, is often accused of showing an “arrogant unwillingness to speak in a language one can understand”.
In sum, it seems clear that architecture can communicate only if it employs a vocabulary of recognisable “words” and “phrases”. We will present some research that has been done to this end. The so-called “pattern language” and the “grammar of architectural archetypes” are both based on universally shared experiences; they encode our psychological responses to the built form, and present them in a systematic way. This is of particular importance as the linguistic metaphor provides the basis for much of the work in the rapidly expanding field of “digital architectonics”.
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