ARCHITECTS, ARCHITECTURE AND SOCIETY


7

THE PROBLEM OF ARCHITECTURAL FORM AND URBAN ENVIRONMENT

Architects and urbanists form an autocratic system in modern society. There is only little 'democracy' in regard to the formation of urban space, in which everyone has to move and to live. Critical laics' voices are turned down by 'urban interests'.

Peter Shepheard, in his preface of MacEwen's (1974) 'Crisis in Architecture' wrote:

Thorne's study of laic opinions (1996) shows striking congruences between the attitudes of the general public and the perceptions of individual critics of the architectural profession. There was:

1st question: Why is tourism essentially focussed on premodern historical (European city tourism) or traditional environments (mountain, beach-resort areas), not on our modern architectural and urbanistic "creations"?

2nd question: Though this contradicts entirely with modern totalitarian design "theories", why do many peoples explicitly appreciate to live in premodern conditions?

3rd question: Does man have a kind of architectural archetype in his mind, a spiritual need for past conditions which are not satisfied with modern architecture and urbanism?

4th question: There is this puzzling fact that the life cycle of architectural and urban conditions - at least in historical centres - is much higher than our own human life expectancy. This confronts us always (and in all cultures) with architectural and urban accumulations of various pasts. Does architecture thus form a kind of extra-mental memory which has effects on our minds and makes us selective in regard to different realisations?

5th question: Is architectural (and urban) form an essential part of the human orientation system (in the deepest sense)?

6th question: Is there a psychological tolerance factor of human adaptability related to pace and degree of fundamental structural changes of environments? Does man show psychopathological reactions, if this tolerance factor is transgressed? (-> architectural psychology and psychopathology; -> spatial psychology)

Maybe in knowing the answers to such questions we would be able to build cities which are more conformous to the full scale of human needs (not just physical comfort).

8

PROBLEMS OF THE PAST: MODERNISM AND ITS DILETTANTIC POLEMICS

Modernism triggered a puritanistic thunderstorm which devastated the whole pre-modern formal arsenal. Let us take an example, e. g. the ornament.

The art historians considered ornament and decoration as a rather superficial application, as embellishment of basically functional or stylish form.

This formed the basis of modernism's dilettantic polemics. E. g. Adolf Loos: "Ornament is a crime."

But, this first attempt to an objective and evolutionary approach to architectural aesthetics was ardently attacked shortly after Semper's death by an exponent of the history of art (Riegl). Sempers phenomenological results were illegitimately distorted as 'materialism' and contrasted with a nebulous term derived from Schopenhauer: the subjective "will for form".

On the other hand, the first hand insights of Semper's valuable evolutionary approach were immediately baked into modernism. Semper supported what the machine had taught the architects: form follows function. The modern aesthetic form was quickly interpreted as the result of - industrialised - technical processes.

From the standpoint of recent architectural anthropology, ornament, and particularly the plant ornament, reveals as a structural indicator of evolutionary processes of architectural form (e.g. Egyptian plant-columns).

Vitruvius was a good engineer and writer, but, if we measure him with a modern anthropologist's horizon, he reveals completely outdated today.

In contrast to such outdated "theories of architecture" the new domain of architectural anthropology offers clearly defined domains of research and theory which parallel the whole evolution of man and culture. Many entirely new domains and insights are provided (see below).

Returning to the inital topic of 'the ornament', 'architectural anthropology' may lead to an reevaluation of premodern architectural forms:

Architectural design would return to the human scale and re-discover and re-interprete the premodern toposemantic system ( -> value focussed axis, access place scheme)

9

THE DISASTER OF FUNCTIONALISM

"Form follows function"! The elder generation of architects was indoctrinated with this granite-like formula. Today it is fairly devalued.

Provoking question: Are modern cities a mixture between ocean steamers and alpine sanatoriums?

Do we still have to defend such dilettantic stuff as our present 'architectural and urban theories'?

If - with architectural anthropology - we assume that the architectural tradition (as well as certain types of object culture) transmitted high ontological values in certain forms (e.g. Ionian column), which were perceived or felt on various levels (agrarian, urban) and resulted in high evaluation,

Only gradually we start to feel, what this destruction of 'identification' means:

Note that this conflict is not limited on a certain place or a certain time. If we assume that traditional societies, as well as pre-modern urban societies had in common

Architectural Anthropology and Habitat Research show, that - contrary to the art historian's ever changing styles -

And this was the common structural trait through many cultures:

Only if we realise this pre-modern continuity 'beyond the styles' we can understand what functionalism and its industrial 'creation' of a new, modern' world really means:


20 PROBLEMS (continued)
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