Relationship between Architecture and Fashion
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Published: Mon, 30 Apr 2018
The body can be seen and thought of as a machine, a vehicle, as well as a building. Therefore it could be stated that dressing of an individual provides a definition of personal space as do architectural structures though they are bigger in scale. Fashion and architecture have many connections: they both aim to “make” shelter for the human being and reflect our taste. In this concept, it is widely accepted that fashion and architecture relation started with the earliest men who used the same material for their clothing and for housing/shelter. This relationship has lead closer connections between the two disciplines, such as, both fields have commonalities in their design process which makes them share the same boundaries: Both architects and fashion designers aim to create perfect, comfortable and beautiful forms for the human body.
On the other hand, Architecture and Fashion differ in many ways, such as, Fashion is inevitable to die in shorter time than architecture, it is related to smaller scale, and most importantly, Fashion is more about marketing and consumption while Architecture is monumental and relates to eternity. These differences altogether create a thread of commodification and commercialisation for Architecture. Architecture acts as a shaper of space, i.e., it acts as a symbolic metaphor and an agent of the society’s cultural values. Since the outer space reflects our inner spaces, this commodification and commercialisation might lead Architecture to lose its mission in the social life. Therefore this work suggests that Architecture should get engaged in human spaces, traditions and cultural values of the society, sustainability, eternity, and wholeness of the life, rather than temporality of fashion.
This Master’s Dissertation aims to explore the relationship between Architecture and Fashion from conceptual, imagery, materiality and global perspectives. This study proposes that in today’s highly globalised world, it is almost impossible to practice architecture separate from fashion since both arts are responsive to the individuals’ and the societies’ culture and environment. In a conceptual sense, both Architecture and Fashion address psychological perceptions, and spatial structures. From the imagery – visual view of point, both arts reflect the taste of the individuals who occupy those spaces, and from the materiality context, Architecture and Fashion have many in common, such as, use of fabrics and materials, use of technology, and from the global point of view, both arts and artists in these fields have an opportunity to interact closely with each other in especially socially responsive, more sustainable, and economical design. The work sets out to explore the role of Fashion in Architectural design and visa verse from exploratory and interpretive perspectives, presenting preliminary findings from the literature survey, visual materials, manifestos of the designers, and personal observations and interpretations. This study differs from the previous studies in the sense that although much of the literature finds out that the relation between Fashion and Architecture is almost a must and inevitable occurrence, and they propose closer relationships, this study proposes that this fact creates a risk for Architecture to depart from conceptualisation and to move towards commercialism and commodification.
In this way, architecture becomes a consumer production, rather than the interpretation of the space. This thesis is further developed to design our “Fashionable Hut”. Architecturally, we aim to represent the timeless architecture tailored according to the timeliness of the contemporary era.
The close relationship between Architecture and Fashion (hereafter A&F) is often referred to the use of the same material for covering of his body and for building shelter of the earliest man. The recent exhibition on this relationship Skin + Bones (24 April – 10 August 2008) has also explored several parallel practices between these two disciplines from 1980s to onwards. These practices included digital design process, use of complex geometry, colours, lines, lights, etc. Globalisation, which is widely accepted as the advancements in technology, particularly transportation and communication means, enabled both A&F to develop more possibilities in design and flexibility in application. Thus one of the aims of this dissertation is to explore the common characteristics and interrelation between Architecture and Fashion in a global concept. In fact, this idea has arisen from the observation of parallel growth of materiality and identification in fashion and architecture designs and implementations.
On the other hand, as this master’s dissertation main argument suggests, these close synergies between the two disciplines might create the risk of commodification and commercialisation in architecture and rather than an ideology, architecture might become a consumer product. The reason for this idea is that fashion is marketing of desire while architecture is monumental; fashion is destined to die in a short time, while architects aim eternity via their opuses; and most importantly, fashion is a tool for joining to the society, being a part of it while architecture provides privacy, i.e. isolation from the rest of the world.
Our main argument is that, the close relationship between A&F, could create a risk for architecture reducing the architectural ideology to the cladding and exterior picture, only.
Regarding to the relation between A&F, we take conceptual, visual-imagery, and contemporary – age of globalisation approaches to explore the synergetic and disharmonious relation between the two fields. In the conceptual exploration, the concepts of beauty and its relation to architecture will be first explored in order to find out fashion’s and architectures common aim to create the beautiful or perfect shelter and dwelling for the human being. From the conceptual point of view, both A&F reflects the taste, identity, and culture of the individual and the society at a given period. However, this period is greatly short for Fashion compared to the eternity of architecture. “If style is the language of architecture, fashion represents the wide – and – swirling-cultural currents that shape and direct that language” says Rybczynski, “architectural reputation, as well as architecture comes on the fashion’s sway. Therefore, at its most basic, “the mission of architecture is application of a style on a space in order to express our taste’.
On the identity side, the fashion system, as described by Barthes (1983, 277) is a “cultural object, with its own original structure, and probably, with a new finality… through the language which henceforth takes charge of it, Fashion becomes narrative”. Therefore fashion manipulates the visual language as a means of reflecting the identity of individuals in specific, and the culture of the society in general while architecture, in a broader sense goes beyond manipulating the visual language, but is more sophisticated in terms of manipulating the concept of the whole space. Fashion is somewhat a reflection of the collective identity of a given group, such as, same gender, age group, occupational group, and so on, while architecture is for everyone in a given society. While fashion is shaped by the individuals, architecture shapes the society through the spatial applications. In sum, fashion can be described as the wall of the body while architecture is the body itself and the dwelling surrounding that body.
On the visual and imagery approach, A&F share more in common, especially with the developments in material and digital techniques, such as, high tech textiles, pliable building materials, computer assisted design (CAD) software, and all that. One commonly observed contemporary fact that architecture and fashion are both enjoying the use of pliable and flexible materials which enables architects, such as, Zaha Hadid and Rem Koolhass to borrow pleating techniques from the fashion designers and fashion designers, such as, Lucy Orta and Yeohlee Teng borrowing from the concept of urban space and durability from architects However, these borrowings today are observed so frequently that it holds a danger for architecture to be reduced to surface, and the harmony between the outer and inner of the structure is almost lost (this will be further explored and discussed in the globalisation concept).
From the contemporary view, several issues will be explored: It can be said that contemporary era conditions, such as, computer aided designs, flexible and durable materials, technology and communication means which are available almost to everyone in the world as pushing factors Fashion, Architecture and other science and art branches interact better than those in the past. The contemporary era is, of course, not without problems: environmental issues, limited sources (such as energy and water), global warming, immigration and civil rights, and so on. Hereof, it is observed that contemporary era designers should be more socially responsible and interact in these issues more. That is to say, design should not be consumed so fast, designers should act more environmental conscious and socially responsive, sameness in global cities might create a catastrophe, commodification and commercialisation should be avoided, the harmony between the inner and outer surfaces and dwellings should not be avoided. If these cannot be done because of the mass media and mass production, than fashioning the architecture is inevitable which is represented in our “Fashionable Hut”. From a simple viewpoint, the role of fashion within architecture is persistent especially on the surfaces and faades, finishes, and appliqus. The purpose of this investigation is to object to the typical relationship between F&A. The position of this thesis is that architecture should go back to its earliest form. This idea is further developed with the design component which attempts to build a wearable space in order to change the surface easily in line with clothing fashion. The architectural investigation centres on the question: can architecture be fashioned rather than conceptualised? The rest of the work is catalogued as follows.
In today’s ever changing environment art fields and designers are influenced by each other. However, when it comes the Fashion and Architecture interactions this relationship goes back as early as the Ice Age. This dissertation explores three dimensions of A&F interactions with special interest on the African influence on Modernity: cultural, visual-imagery and global concept where each of these will conduct individual sections throughout the work.
Fashion and Architecture have many parallels in terms of their objectives and use of scales in addition to use of colours, angles, light, etc. The aim of this dissertation is twofold: to understand the relationship between A&F from the past practices and to design a structure representing the timelessness of the architecture compared to the short life of fashion.
As for many arts and humanity studies, the nature of this dissertation is a qualitative one. Thus, data will be collected through sources, such as designers’ works, websites, and interviews in addition to analysis of exhibitions, collections, designs, and structures.
In the clich form, the relationship between these two disciplines back to the earliest man’s use of the same materials for sheltering himself and for covering his body. At its most simplistic description, construction started with the earliest man building a shelter for him and so did the started when he covered his body (with the same material). The evolution of this interaction, mainly from Semper’s view of point will be discussed in the theoretical chapter of this work. For the time being, we first aim to distinguish fashion from clothing and architecture from construction by referring to their meanings.
The word fashion comes from the Latin word facia meaning to make or a particular make or shape (Kawamura, 2005, p. 3). Although fashion is mostly used to express clothing trends, especially, women’s clothing however, in a broader term (and for the purpose of this study) it refers to the rapid changes in trends that occurred especially after the nineteenth-century industrialization as a result of the developments in producing new fashion quickly and somehow inexpensively. Fashion constructs desire, and it is a momentary process. Architecture, on the other hand, is not simply making or shaping the structure, as Colomina defines it “architecture is the interpretation of the space”. It is an experiential, interpretative and critical, consequence. Therefore architecture is a monumentary conceptual, ideological, and philosophical process which constructs vision in contrast to fashion’s visual aspects.
A&F interaction starts in a way of displaying the identity of an individual and creating the perfect spatial surface and structure, both fields share the idea of “the human body and on ideas of space, volume, and movement” and as well because both are a layer that communicates between the environment and body with the ability to convey identity on the personal, political, cultural and other levels within life and society” . In linguistic terms, fashion could be described as ‘the visualization of the image identity that the users want to reflect to the society’. This identity is not necessarily to be the real identity of the person; it is rather about what we want the society to think about us, but not really what we are in real life. Taking architecture as a language defined by Jencks, contemporarily, architecture could be both defined as the visualization of our REAL identities, and identity does not change as often as fashion trends do.
However, as we conceive of it today (and for the purpose of this study), architecture is an experiential, critical, and interpretative practice rather than being about construction only. Therefore it dates back to the Greek Mythology of the Labyrinth (BC 3) where Daedalus who built the Cretan Labyrinth is regarded as the first architect. Nevertheless, be due to the interpretative nature of architecture, contrary to the myth, Daedalus was not the first architect since he built the labyrinth but did not understand its structure, Ariadne who interpreted the structure with the help of a device (a thread) should be regarded as the first architect (Colomina,). Fashion, on the other hand, developed in a different manner, while architecture aimed to shape the society, fashion was shaped by the society itself. In fact, apart from clothing as an ordinary definition, fashion started only in the AD 1700s in line with the merchant capitalism and accelerated during and after the Industrial Revolution since the working class could effort to compete with the upper class in terms of clothing and dressing up . Therefore, from the historical perspective, we can talk about the links between A&F only relating the period after the 18th C. But, what drove such a relationship? In other words, how did architecture collide in the realms of fashion, or vice-versa? Next section aims to answer these questions in order to maintain a theoretical background to our criticism regarding to today’s condition.
Architectural history, it turns out, was ideally situated to deal with the double connotation of fashion as the history of clothing styles and the more specific use of fashion to designate the process of change peculiar to capitalism. Because architects active around the turn of the last century were concerned directly with dress-either as an effort to reform modern appearance or as part of the scenography of interiors-and because they were deeply engaged with the temporal problematic of creating a modern style, their debates betray an interesting conflation of clothing as artifact and fashion as process, which in other fields has created ambiguity. To this they brought a theoretical heritage concerned with the origins or primordial basis of architecture as a fabrication of enclosure, shelter, or dwelling; analogies to covering the body were standard, and textiles were postulated to have played a crucial role. Dress design has been an aspect .
In fact, the closest relation between A&F might be stated as to create the “absolutely beautiful structures and spaces” for the body. In order to interpret the space, as an architect, one should experience it, and the centre of the experiential world is the human body. “Our bodies and movements are in constant interaction with the environment; the world and the self inform and redefine each other constantly” . Then, is the mission of fashion to provide the most suitable and comfortable coverings for the body to sense the space? While the importance of body (as proportion, movement, etc.) was emphasised by Vitruvius in the BC20s, it was only in 1900s when corset was abolished from fashion, and more recent, in 1960s that (feminist) women argued dressing in a manner of unrestricting their actual movements.
While the body and architecture and the body and fashion are so close, on the one hand, as Wigley emphasizes, architects tried to escape from the temporality and futility of fashion (represented as feminine ornaments in architecture) during the Modern Era, by their judgment that fashion (represented in ornament in architecture) is something feminine and ugly, on the other, many of those (male architects) “Henry Van de Velde, Josef Hoffmann, Lilly Reich, Frank Lloyd Wright or their wives (Anna Muthesius, Lilli Behrens) designed clothes. Others, notably Otto Wagner, Adolf Loos, and Hermann Muthesius, wrote about fashion” . In order to understand this paradox, Kinney proposes to understand the post-modernism first. However, in a reductionist way, we will follow the historical manner.
The metaphor of human body as an architectural space is not a new concept; or it is not a concept that appeared only in the Modernism intervals, it can be traced as back as Vitruvius who explored the body as a proportion to the structure. According to Vitruvius, “no building can be said to be well designed which wants symmetry and proportion. In truth they are as necessary to the beauty of a building as to that of a well formed human figure, which nature has so fashioned” (De Architectura, Gwilt Translation, 1826, p. 78). In order to create the rhythm, buildings should be designed according to three correlated elements: utilitas, venustas, and firmitas (Rasmussen, 1959). So, as to Vitruvius, architectural design should refer to the unquestionable perfection of the body’s symmetry and proportions. Even so,
The issue of beauty had been problematic for Vitruvius. On the one hand he made allusions to the harmonic ratios of Pythagorean musical theory, suggesting there was a higher cosmic order underlying the judgment of beauty. On the other hand he gave architects the right to vary proportions if the ”eye” calls for corrections, or as the arts make progress” .
As the perfect beauty is rarely found in the nature, thus ornament, as the mediating element between raw nature (materials) and the ordering lines of the architecture (Mallgrave op cit) was needed. This mediating element between the raw nature (body) and the perfect look is clothing and accessories in the fashion sense. As Ruskin states, this ornamentation should be “whatever God has created”, such as, “abstract lines and the whole range of systemized organic and inorganic forms” . Nonetheless, after rediscovery of Vitruvius in the 15th C, people interpreted him according to their own way be due to language obstacles , the fashionable ornamental ‘excesses’ of the Rococo and in the medievalism of the Gothic and especially in the Renaissance Era, architectural ornament heavily relied on the human figures. 18th C is marked as this heavily use of ornament (specifically human figures, Laugier (1755) was responded only in the Modernist Era.
Don’t let us be profuse in ornaments, let us put much plain, something negligent, with the elegant and magnificent, let us pass in common from the negligent to the plain, from the simple to the elegant, from the elegant to the magnificent: Sometimes let us go briefly from one extreme to the other through opposition, the boldness of which strikes the fight and may produce very grand .
This heavily reliance of ornament should have been in a way that would not a dilemma between the ornament use and refute which probably best reflected by Winckelmann (1755). Once he stated that “sameness or monotony as defects in architecture which result building without decoration and is like a healthy person who is reduced to poverty, something no one looks upon as a good thing”, then later he proposed that beauty is represented by “simplicity and serenity,” (mainly by the Grecian designers). ‘The Greeks alone seem to have thrown forth beauty as a potter makes his pot’ (because Greeks were close to the nature and they had copied it) which he calls this beauty as noble (Lefaivre & Tzonis, 2004, pp. 369-370). While Winckelmann was somehow vague between the ornamented and simplified beauty, his contemporary, and main challenger -Italian architect- Giovanni Battista Piranesi was clear about absolute beauty which came as the concept of “sublime” placed above ‘beauty’ in the hierarchy . From an architectural view, Piranesi supported “heavily ornamented late-empire Roman architecture in opposition to the rigorists” . Similarly, Owen Jones who is regarded as one of the most influential design theorists and architects of the 19th C believes that ornament and proportion should serve for the architectural perfection. In his words: “construction should be decorated… As in every perfect work of Architecture a true proportion will be found to reign between all the members which compose it, so throughout the Decorative Arts every assemblage of forms should be arranged on certain definite proportions; the whole and each particular member should be a multiple of some simple unit… every ornament arises quietly and naturally from the surface decorated. . That is to say, the ideal beauty till the 18th C was represented by proportion, symmetry, and rhythm which were found in the human body, naturally.
In the short space of a single section of such a humble study, one can say little about the wide gamut of the whole debate of beauty, ornament, nature, and all the above issues reviewed above. Rather, we intend to provide a short background to the closer relationship between clothing and architecture with special reference to Semper’s Theory of Dressing, Sullivan’s “nude buildings”, and Loos’ absolute rejection of ornament in bodies and buildings altogether created fundamental changes in clothing and style, too in the Modern Era.
Gottfried Semper, who broke the Vitruvian high ideals by his Four Elements of Architecture, could be regarded as the first who directly pointed out the A&F connection though arguably he might have led reducing architecture to the wall and roof by emphasizing only the application of the evolution theory to these structures. According to Semper, idea of the wall evolved from the sequence of spatial enclosures and the stages of the evolution were: primitive screen or woven mat, then metal sheathing and, eventually, carpets, whose colourful images were applied to the surface of masonry building to evoke a sentiment of monumentality. Further, Semper developed his “Theory of Dressing” aimed two aspects: first, to underline the importance of the textile industry in the origins of architecture and second, Semper was concerned with the difficulty involved in the artistic use of iron in monumental architecture . .
Among them Viennese Architect Otto Wagner examined the relationship between architecture and fashion both in theory and practice . However, his contemporary, Adolf Loos is most known for his interest in fashion (as taking Semper’s ideals further and implementing them) and absolute rejection and obsession with the ornament in the human body and in buildings. It must be noted here that, while primitivism referred to simplicity and purism for Semper, however, Loos took it as uncivilized world (for him Papuans referencing Africa). He (Loos) stressed that the more ornament the human being uses (such as tattoos and piercings) the most likely he / she is to commit crime. Architects such as Le Corbusier, Hermann Muthesius and Peter Behrens also perceived the building as a nicely garmented body and thus appreciated Loos’ lessons on dressing and building. By doing so, Modernism, particularly as expressed by Le Corbusier, aimed to break from the utopian life by eliminating the medieval inequalities of social classes, destroy the distinction between the streets and stripes, through art, especially architecture since architecture is the art of living.
Among the fashion designers, Coco Chanel is best known for her style in line with Loos’ ideas (this concept and relationship will be examined further in the next chapter of this study), however, Loos’ main significance for this study is that He was the first among those who declared the fashion and architecture relationship sharply.
Ever since Louis Sullivan called for called for “…refraining entirely from the use of ornament for a period of years, in order that our thought might concentrate acutely upon the production of buildings well formed and comely in the nude” (we might also add Adolf Loos’ proposition to connect ornament with crime and primitivism) till Moussavi’s work on the Function of Ornament and Domeise’s Re-Sampling Ornament exhibition, recently ornament has been a dirty word in architectural circles for decades . In fact, ornament was associated with gender, mainly femininity and sexuality by the Modern Architects and thus it should have been omitted and FORM is to FOLLOW FUNCTION. This functionalism, as Loos puts it, for Modernist architecture is that the house does not have to tell anything to the exterior; instead all its richness must be manifest in the interior (cited from Colomina: 1996, p 32). Colomina further declares that the outside is only the cover of the book, it is clothing, it is mask. However, inside it is a meditation between the space and the individual. While fashion is the graphical translation of the individual human body while architecture is the non-verbal communication between the space and the society. Fashion as a Mask is satisfies our quest for individuality within the context of a society while architectural construction is a tool for satisfying the need for isolating ourselves, it is the real shelter. While fashion performs uniformity in the society, architectural manifest refuses restrictions. This disjunction further brings out the refusal of fashion-able as in Le Corbusier’s statement:
What we wished to express in art was the Universal and Permanent and to throw to the dogs the Vacillating and the Fashionable. 
However, with Chanel’s response to that functionalism, in her “little black dress” that can be a party dress with accessories, such as, a pearl necklace, and also it functions as a day dress with a cardigan or worn plainly, it can be said that fashion felt in the realms of architecture, or looking at Le Corbusier’s statement above, we can say that fashion invaded architecture’s space. This irony that on the one hand, while architectural ideas tried to escape from the fashion, fashion designers, such as, Chanel, Schiaparelli, and Dior adored architectural’ ideas on functionalism and omitting ornaments and applied architectural styles in their designs, on the other hand, while stating how ugly the feminine fashion, architects did not keep away from fashion’s space.
Art, craft, architecture, style one for all
The above ideas summarize Bauhaus (and, International Style, after the World War II and migration of Bauhaus members to other countries, mainly USA) further to create rational societies through rational design. Bauhaus was revolutionary school of art, architecture and design established by the pioneer modern architect Walter Gropius at Weimar in Germany in 1919 (Tate Modern). It was a place of learning and implementing where the borders between art and science and man and machine were eliminated. This design issue was not restricted to only architecture, but included almost all branches of art and design, such as, designing factories, their catalogues and even stationeries, or designing houses and offices, their furniture, the paintings, etc. (from the Manifesto of Bauhaus by Gropius). The idea is straightforward: in order to unite the universe, as artists we must unite our styles and International Style, could supply a framework for this. The principles are: down with frontiers, up with the grid, no curved lines, so that art will be collective for the universal, and general grammar of the shape would be geometry. . The stage workshop was an interaction between all performance arts, i.e., music, dance, theatre. Led by Schlemmer (an architect, paint, designer) Bauhaus costumes were designed in order to express philosophical and compositional expression of key body types: pure, clear, and clean. Costume, architecture, body, and space were dynamic and inextricably linked for Schlemmer. “His single subject was the human figure. He reduced to puppet-like, two-dimensional shapes that were expressive of the human body as a perfect system of proportions and functions analogous to the machine age” (Bauhaus Archive Webpage). Schlemmer’s costume designs were playful and disruptive, and restrictive for the human body that inhabited his costumes reflecting Schlemmers theory that human types were artificial constructions. The function of costume is to emphasize the identity of the body or to change it. Costume expresses the body’s nature or it purposely misleads us regarding it (extracted from: History of Modern Drama, Emory University). The skectches of body and costumes designed at Bauhaus will be further explored and critised in the next chapter. Meantime, from the chronological point of view, the true beauty of the Bauhaus movement according to the author, is that it’s dictum anounced by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe:
less is more
The concept is simplicity and clarity lead to high-quality design. From the perspective of an architect, it is a working method in which aesthetic seeks to astonish in a simple way and without unnecessary elements. The spaces are adapted to an idea of life that is intended to be simple, the walls linear, the floors with smooth texture and as a whole the structure that allows fascination. The virtue is absence, absence of ornament, unneeded details that will result more sensation. Since fewer elements mean fewer possibilities, minimalist architecture is more difficult to achieve perfection. Thus it represents the aesthetics of the silence, the space of culture. The space functions create a rehearsal with the mind and isolates us from the outside.
Modernism and its principles as an architectural movement were well set, as emphasised in the dictums, manifests and practices of the scholars and designers. However, two paradoxes could be observed here: one is that although its principles were well set and communicated, its implications diverted from country to country (mainly be due to vernacular and dwellings of those places) hence a uniformed design could not be implemented, second, although the word ‘modern’ refers to contemporary, being contemporary, adopting the developments, etc. Modernist architects were more utopian in their principles as the only acceptable truth in design issues.
Skin and Bones, that is architecture, no needles
The following years, with Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s revolution, the glass house, the principles of Modern architecture, i.e. functionalism, concreteness, transparency, cleanness and lightness all came to life. His dictum “less is more” represented the idea of less structural frame with mo
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