Classification of Form in Architecture


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1.1. Problem Statement

Classification of architectural form is one of the means through which understanding of Architecture becomes clearer and much easier. Architecture underwent analytical studies through the ages by theoreticians, writers or those who are concerned with it. There are many theoretical classifications of form. We can find many writings that describe the architectural form; its basis, meanings and the influences that led to its final appearance.

Moreover, today digital technology is quickly developing, and changing our ways of thinking about architecture. Technological development in computational design and production allows visualizing forms that could not be considered before, and allows the design and analysis of the most complex forms. However, these rapid changes have an effect on contemporary form, which will be studied in this research.

On the other hand, form is a subject to individual differences in perception. In the expression of form, architects are free to communicate their own ideas and concepts. Not every architect has the gift to exercise this privilege. John Kevin Waters in his book: Blobitecture: Waveform Architecture and Digital Design, considers that only a few architectsgenerate new ideas and forms while others follow, interpreting these ideas and forms in original and personal ways.Waters suggests that the majority of architects accept ideas and forms as given and continue them without leaving a mark or even questioning the meaning behind form or its relevance. Waters calls this process “reliance”(Waters 2003). The question is: can Waters’ notion of “reliance” be applied on form understanding and classification? In another words, how do architects see architectural form compared to the interpretations of theoreticians?

This research investigates the Egyptian architects understanding of architectural form and extracts their classifications. It uses Charles Jencks’ theory of contemporary architecture that helabelled: New Complexity Paradigm as a tool. New Complexity Paradigmis the outcome of Jencks’ thoughts and interpretations of architecture within the past twenty years. Theresearch is based on exploring and investigating the patterns of thinking/knowing among architects of architectural form. The researchis constructed on a survey through two sorting tests and questionnaire.

While this research focuses on the formal aspects of architecture, it is not intended to diminish the importance of the social, political, or economic aspects of architecture. This view is supported by Roger Clark and Michael Pause whose assert that:

While architecture embodies many realms, we concentrate on built form. Without apology, we make no attempt to discuss the social, political, economic, or technical aspects of architecture. The domain of design ideas lies within the formal and spatial realm of architecture (Clark and Pause 2012, V).

A limitation of this research is that with a small population size, caution must be applied, as the findings may not be applicable to the majority of architects. Furthermore, the population is representative of local architects.Also it is worth noting that this research uses photographs in the survey to represent the architectural forms.For appropriate selection of photographs, the research addressesprevious studies related to photographs as a tool of representing Architecture.In spite of that, the selection of photographs could also be a subject to the researcher personalinterpretation. According to John W. Creswell, he notes that when a researcher attempts to gain knowledge of a thing under study, theresearcher recognize that his own background shape the interpretations of the thing under study(Creswell 2003).

In addition, the study of form using photographs definitely differs from studying it in the real environment.Charles J. Holahan reviewed a number of researchesdemonstrated how perception of objects in the real world is affected by several aspects.Nevertheless,studies of environmental perception in real-world settings cannot achieve the experimental control that is possible in a laboratory setting(Holahan 1982).

This introductory chapter provides a brief overview of the research background. It then goes on to theoretical framework of the thesis.

1.2. Significance of the Research

The significance of the study can be discussed under four headings: Why “form”? Why “classification” of form? Why “Jencks”? And what knowledge is gained by this research?

Investigating form is a continuing concern within architectural discourse. It matters to those who are concerned with conceptual architecture, those who object to the validity of formalistic architecture, and those who adopt form as a vital aspect of architectural production. Commenting on the importance of form, Clark and Pause argue that form is “the domain of design ideas”(Clark and Pause 2012, V).Building form is not only a material instantiation but also encoded as a system of rules, thoughts and principles working together. It is about the meaning behind it, the way it is produced and how it is generated. Edmund Bacon highlights the importance of architectural form. He lists it as a major factor that determines a quality or spirit that articulates space. He argues that the skill of the architect in using and relating form’s elements (textures, materials, modulation of light and shade, colour,...) determines the quality of the architecture (Bacon 1976).In the same vein, Frank Ching notes:

Designers inevitably and instinctively prefigure solutions to the problem they are confronted with, but the depth and range of their design vocabulary influence both their perception of a question and the shaping of its answer. If one's understanding of a design language is limited, then the range of possible solutions to a problem will also be limited (Ching 1996, IX).

Therefore the question is: how is “form” perceived, understood and classified?

Regarding the study of form classification, it is necessary here to clarify what is meant by classification.In general, the definition of classification simply means the grouping together of alike things according to common qualities or characteristics (Hunter 2002).Classification delivers important meanings in our life. Without classification we would not be able to identify or organize anything. In sciences, scientists are constantly looking for similar characteristics, attributesor observable features which allow them to group different sorts together and study how they are related to each other(Mayr and Bock 2002). For architects, classification has an essential role to play for easier understanding, studying of form andbetter architectural practice. This research will help investigatingthe relation between theoreticians’classification of formand ordinary architects’ classification.

Why Jencks? Jencks is an American architectural theorist and critic, landscape architect and designer. His books on the history and criticism of Modernism and Postmodernism are widely read in architectural circles in the West(Sweeney 2009). He isbest known for The Language of Post-Modern Architecture, in which he captures the paradigmshift from Modernism to Postmodernism in architecture. It is a widely held view that Jencks’ approaches to architecture are based on forms, often criticized as“a perceptive phrase maker and style tracker”(Salingaros 2008, 6).

Jencks gained a reputation in the Egyptian architectural community.In February 2005, the Architecture Departmentat Cairo University, organizeda conference that includedJencks among othersas keynote speakers. After three years, on the 31st of January 2008, Jencks gave a lecture entitled "Why Critical Modernism?" inthe Architecture Department, at Misr International University (MIU). Besidethe reputation he gained in the Egyptian architectural community because of his lectures, his books illustrated with glossy photographs are the easily followed by whom interested in architecture.

Jencks classification is used as a tool to help in answering the research question. This research helps to bridge the gap between theories, which defines and classify forms, and the actual understanding of these forms. It providesan opportunity to investigate how Egyptian architects see and understand form, what they pay attention to in the formation of contemporary architecture, and if theories have a role in shaping knowledge.

1.3. Objectives

The main objective of this research is to investigate how architects think about and understand form. It seeks to obtain Egyptian architects’ classification and labelling using the New Complexity Paradigm as a tool, which helps to address their understanding and classification of contemporary forms.Theresearch therefore sets out to assess if architects share theoreticians (Jencks’) understanding (classification and labelling)of form. It will determine the extent to which they agree with the classification and labelling of formsby theoreticians, or they have their own classification that is most suitable to their awareness, knowledge and cultural background.Italso intends to testif there is agreement among architects on form.

1.4. Research Questions

To investigate architects’ thinking and understanding of form, thisresearch seeks to address three main research questions:

  • How do architects classify form?
  • Is there an agreement between architects’ views of form and theoreticians’ interpretations? (Do they understand form the same way as theoreticians’?)
  • Is there agreement among architects on form?
  • How do they label their categories?
    • Do they share the labeling of theoreticians, or do they have their own labelling?

1.5. Strategy

In order to study the disparity between New Complexity Paradigmforms between theory and local knowledge, this thesis comprises two parts.First,the research demonstratesan overview of Jencks’ theory of New Complexity Paradigmand analysisof its categories.The purpose of the literature review is to familiarize readers with the architecture of the last twenty years from Jencks’ perspective. A clear understanding of Jencks’ theory is crucial because this research evaluates Egyptian architects understanding through his classification.

Secondly, the research conducts anempirical study to measure the Egyptian architects’ perception and understanding ofNew Complexity Paradigm formsusing sorting techniques. The sorting process as a research method can provide useful information on categories (clusters and their labels), vocabularies (how architects label the forms) and relationships (if they agree with Jencks’ classification).

1.6. Structure

The overall structure of the research takes the form of fivechapters, including this introductory chapter.

Chapter 1introduces the problem statement and the significance of the study. It provides a framework for establishing the importance of the research. It explains the research motivation and purposesof the study, highlighting the research questions and the strategy used in it.

The aim of chapters 2 and 3 are to provide a conceptual, theoretical framework in order to establish a context for the research. This literature review surveys Jenks' writings about “New Complexity Paradigm” and its formalistic classification. This is followed by discussing related architectural photography. It is laying out the theoretical dimensions of the research.

Chapter 2 is an in-depth exploration of Jencks’ writings about the “New Complexity Paradigm” and classification of its architecture. It also explores the pertinent topics of “Cosmogenic Architecture”, “Complex Adaptive Systems” and “Complexity I”, in addition to adopting some conventional understanding about the primary established theory “Complexity II”. Finally, the chapter addresses the formalistic classification of the “New Complexity Paradigm”, pointing out the examples used by Jencks in the application of his theory.

To outline the potentials and limitations of using photographs in the research, chapter3reviewsarchitectural photographs and perceptions related to it. It analyses photographs as the architectural representation used in the empirical study. It looks at their bias and limitations, feeding directly into the photographic message. It also presents perception of the photograph and how to assess it.

Chapter 4 is concerned with the empirical study and the methodused toit. It examines the photographssorting method carefully. Details of the surveyprocedure are addressed. This followed by describing the survey design including: data needed, sampling method,photographs coding, setting, and tactics of data collection. The chapter includes the analysis of results and the observations spotted during the survey.

The final chapter, Chapter 5,includes the interpretation of results from the empirical study. It reveals the empirical findings of the sorting survey.It draws upon the entire thesis, tying up the various theoretical and empirical strands.Finally, the conclusion section responds to the final research question.It gives a brief summary and critique of the findings.

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