The Limits of Architectural Expression
The vital question of the limits of architectural expression gains special value when seen against the backdrop of the successive removal away from paradigms external to architecture toward paradigms that are internal to it. Thus Nature as a paradigm gave way to history as a paradigm, to tradition as a paradigm, to social mores as a paradigm, to technique as a paradigm, to the linguistic analogy as a paradigm, to the paradigm of the city as a receptacle of experience-tested types, characters, and styles. Very few architects today operate on the basis of imitating the laws of Nature, although the relationship between globally detrimental building practices and severe ecological disturbances may eventually compel an earnest reconsideration of this paradigm. Few architects associate specic architectural forms with social mores, although many architects reect with concern on the sociological impact of their buildings. Architectural character is justied today mostly on the basis of four competing paradigms. First is modernism. Operating under the assumption that modernist artistic abstraction denitively replaced the imitation of Nature and the imitation of conventions, modernist architects directly relate architectural representation to the abstraction in modernist painting and sculpture. Indeed compositional strategies such as volumetric organization, spatial denitions, spatial transparencies, relations between solids and voids, tensions between context and frame, are considered as common compositional devices shared by architecture, painting, and sculpture. Second, is the continuing strong inuence of l’architecture parlante and versions of the linguistic analogy. Architects who adhere to this paradigm expect architecture to always communicate a degree of expressive content, e.g. that the character of a hospital, a bank, or an art gallery somehow communicates something about healing, about securing material wealth, or about displaying art. Third, there are architects who seek to produce an architecture that is conceived as a set of fragments of previous fragments, that distorts and destabilizes established meaning.1 They use the new means oered by digital technologies developed for automobile, aircraft, and defense industries, in order to bring together complex, ambiguous, contorted, and unrelated forms with
dierent tectonic purposes and dierent textures. Some, explain their complex non-linear geometries and folded forms as direct presentations of the complex socio-cultural conditions of the post-Cold war era, of the rends in social fabric, of gender ambiguity, or a resistance to rampant consumerism. Other architects still, search for forms devoid of any meaning and representational value whatsoever. Fourth, is the architectural paradigm based on established conventions that range hierarchically from the private to the civic. Columns, piers, arches, windows, doors, hipped or gable roofs, and domes, are shared by private and civic buildings alike, but these elements nd themselves further ennobled, articulated, and built of more rened and enduring materials when answering the purpose of civic architecture. In turn, private buildings and civic edices each have a hierarchical and unambiguous range of expression that distinguishes between the character of a hospital and that of a hotel, between the character of a church and that of a house.