Emancipating Architecture: Toward a More Serious Aesthetic

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Two such follies that come to mind are the use of shock-value, and seducing obfuscatory language, which, like lava, pours over and around issues until they are beyond recognition. One artist, for example, stated that his depiction of a cut and bleeding stomach was intended to demystify “the common image of the body experienced as a bastion of individuality.” Hans Hollein admitted that he strives for “ritualistic expression of pure, elemental will and sublime purposelessness” (Ockman 1993).

Granted, there might be artistic and architectural expressions that are misunderstood, but many are, no doubt, a farce. Blessed is he who knows the difference. Albert Einstein concluded, “painting and music have definitely degenerated” (Einstein 1979). Where would he have placed architecture?

Giving architecture’s trivial pursuits legitimacy is Ayn Rand’s selfish, indulgent, bad boy for whom social responsibility is a “wimpish pursuit. After all, it demonstrates caring beyond oneself, which ‘bad boys’ do not do” (Findley 1991). Howard Roark epitomizes the architectural hero as the misunderstood genius who tolerates clients as necessary evils but otherwise must be “left alone” to design monuments to himself (Hill 1991). The Fountainhead is still required reading in most architectural schools, and young graduates continue to fashion their ideas of the profession based on Ms. Rand’s misguided principles.


“Emancipation,” according to Webster’s Dictionary, means to free from bondage or any controlling influence. Architecture has been in bondage to various “borrowed” ideologies and “isms,” and neither defined an identity nor a theory of its own.

Architecture’s Identity
In order for architecture to become emancipated, it needs to establish an identity of its own. Is it an art or a science, a private or public pursuit? In the same way, “it is generally assumed that the art theorist should provide a definition which enables us to distinguish art from non-art” (Dickie and Sclafani 1977); architecture must first define its boundaries.

Hans Hollein sees architecture “transcend its own physicality into a comprehensive and invisible technical environment” (Ockman 1993). Yet Hilde Hynen writes: “Architecture designs dwelling, giving it form; its task is the materialization of the world in which we dwell. It would seem to go without saying that this principle must constitute the vanishing point of architectural discourse” (Hynen 1999). Only through occupiable three-dimensional space can architecture be distinguished from other disciplines. Without functionally imperative space, architecture is not distinguishable from art or philosophy. Considering theoretical investigations or graphic representations without the goal of a physical manifestation, architecture would be identical to referring to drawings of sculptures as sculptures.

If architecture is not art, is it a science? Are art and science really different disciplines or merely complimentary ways of perceiving and processing information? By virtue of combining technical with artistic endeavors, it seems that architecture must be both an art and a science. As such, it is afforded a unique opportunity to explore the world holistically. While science can facilitate the discovery of laws that are universally true, art can imbue architecture with a rich, qualitative perception. Both participate in the interplay between man and nature, one through logical equations, the other through form, verse and rhythm. As old, arbitrary distinctions blur, the need to classify architecture with either art or science dwindles.

Theory of Architecture
Peter Eisenman observed, “Architecture has never had an appropriate theory of Modernism” (Papadakis and Toy 1990). However, he goes on to define theory as “a set of ideas which deals with the intrinsic uncertainty and alienation of the modern condition.” His statement raises four questions:
1. What is a theory?
2. Does Architecture need a theory?
3. Is contemporary society sufficiently described by uncertainty and alienation?
4. How is Architecture to respond to the Modern Condition?

What Is A Theory?
A theory is either a set of rational principles or a body of speculative, abstract thought. However, even a speculative hypothesis must be based on factual analysis. All theory is driven by the establishment of a relationship between facts and based on the interdependence between observation and response. In the absence of these, mere personal conviction governs. This is possibly why, today, the very term theory has come to mean confusion, “vagueness and inconsistency” (Freadman and Miller 1992).

Based upon Harre’s definition (1970), three components of a theory would be:
1. Set of conditional propositions forming a deductive system
2. Set of categorical propositions describing an inner structure and external relations of the model
3. Set of conditional propositions describing a mode of behavior

An analogy to this model might be drawn from the Genesis account of the origin of life, which establishes the set of conditional propositions that form the deductive system. It establishes the authority and therefore a framework for the second component, the set of categorical propositions, which are the Ten Commandments. Moses’ laws describing the mode of behavior represent the third component of conditional propositions.

Does Architecture Need A Theory?
According to Ian Adams, without the framework of a theory “a world that is morally comprehensible…where fact and value form a continuum, where man has a place and a direction” is impossible. This may explain some of today’s deficiencies in architecture. Adams goes on to say: “Values, ideals and prescriptions are not enough; they cannot constitute a world. A theory is needed to hold the structure up” (Adams 1989).