An Exploration Of Typology Cultural Studies Essay

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Urban Planning, in the history of architecture, have employed a lot of emphasis on the "city" and how to design it. The "City" has always been a kind of "draw" for masses as a picture of opportunity, economic growth, security, and abundance. It has been the playground for experimentation in terms of spatial, programmatic, functionalism based zoning strategies over the ages.

The constructing of cities has an elaborate and convoluted past. Even though city planning as a systematized profession has subsisted for less than a 150 years, altogether cities exhibit several grades of consideration and intentional design in their plan and performance.

This paper is concerned with the theoretical argument about of looking at a city as a defined system of 'monuments' and 'Typology' and reading a city as proposed by Aldo Rossi and comparing it with a the approach to a spatial 'three dimensional anarchy' of 'lobotomy' and 'schism' "city of congestion" of the contemporary urban environment as approached by Koolhaas.

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Consonance in Architecture: An Exploration of typology


"Typological thought refers to the whole, to the manifold relationships among things, to the extreme and at the same time the harmonious. It is a way of thinking that does not refer to the age but to the place; a place at which borders and opposites melt together into an intellectual universal." (O. M. Ungers, Bohigas, "Ten Opinions on the Type"). Prior to any form of exploration we must examine the origin and meaning of the word "Type". The essence of the word can be trailed back to the Greek word 'typos' which means "impression" and Latin word 'typus' meaning "image". (

The term "Typology" in architecture, therefore, is a comparative study of multiple characteristics of the built form into distinct types. "Typology", conceptually have been so ornate in tradition and so significant for scholarly narrations, that it becomes an extremely powerful tool for appreciating architecture in the historical and socio-cultural framework. Nearing the mid-twentieth century, the study of typology had become an elementary way of assessment, which enabled a dialogue between empirical sciences and social and cultural sciences.

History of Typology in Architecture

'To realize and elucidate various parallels and disparities in Architecture, classification comes forth as a powerful tool. That being said, sometimes classification of entities could lead to be quite restrictive in our approach, limiting our understanding of the built environment. One must thus, be very careful in our approach to classification, since both productive qualities as well as constraints can appear when one is dealing with the idea of the type. Classification based on type and typology has gone through a series of historical transformations, since the Enlightenment. Broadly classifying it into three categories as a build-up of one on another the stages are:

Theory of the type in the "Enlightenment philosophy" in which the architects of the era looked as early stages of housing as the threshold to the first "type" of residence. Abbe-Marc-Antoine Laugier (1713-1796), Quatremere de Quincy (1755-1849), J.N.L. Durand (1760-1834) were some pioneers of various movements in this era.

Theory of type in the "Modernist Ideology" which evolved as a consequence of changes in strata of the society and "need based" mass production post the World War. During this period, the classification process was trending in the direction as a replication of housing production process. As a direct consequence of this, "type" becomes a standardised model.

Theory of type in the "Neo-rationalist perspective" which propelled the idea of rejection of "modernist ideology" as a "mechanist understanding of typology" () and the emphasis on "continuity of form and history against the fragmentation" (). Aldo Rossi was one of the leading architects of this era propelling this theory. Since the scope of my study is pertaining to Rossi's perspective on typology I will delve deeper into the "Neo-rationalist perspective".

Typology: a superposition of continuity in form and History- Rossi's Neo-rationalistic perspective

There were previous attempts at the Neo-Rationalist theory by architects like Muratori and M.R.G. Conzen. However, this theory gained much popularity post Aldo Rossi's elucidations of Quatremére de Quincy's "type theory". Rossi's theory about "type" was conveyed with both his writings and his constructed projects. In "Architecture of the City" one of his key theoretical masterpiece, Rossi declares that his prime concern is to propose a "self-governing urban hypothesis." Rossi believed that Urban theories neglecting the "individual" were not just synthetic interventions to a city but also useless. Rossi offers an "investigative process" that contributes itself to quantitative assessment and that has amalgamated principles guiding the assortment of matter to be examined. As an alternative to aiming on transient divergences such as a particular historical era, the financial dynamisms of the time, the scale & size of the artefact, or its primary "function", Rossi advocates concentrating on the parallels, on the collective & enduring, i.e. unending, temperament of cities across a relative study of urban structure, by means of a typological-morphological method. The "Typology", then, becomes the "diagnostic 'moment of architecture'".

Rossi believes that architecture of the city is the key for understanding the comparative difference between-"particular and universal", "individual and the collective", "public & private", "rationality of built environment & locus or the sense of place". Rossi promoted the importance of probing historic cities for architecture through monumental buildings. According to Rossi a city is a piece of artefact moulded over a period of time through the number of dynamic intensities acting on it on multiple scales. Rossi also rubbishes functionalism as a key determinant of form because of its inability to elucidate the endurance of specific forms in spite of functional fluctuations. In setting of Palazzo della Ragione in Padua, Rossi states: "one is struck by the multiplicity of functions that a building of this type can contain over time and how these functions are entirely independent of the form". ()

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The drawing is taken the book of "Architecture of the city". On the left hand side we see the various types of foundations in construction. On the right hand side we see Rossi's interpretation of spaces in plan in based on the "type" of foundation. All the plans are of different buildings having diverse functions with respect to one another. This diagram clearly postulates the Neo-rationalistic perspective on the theory of "type".

Comprehending Cities In Terms Of Monument and History: the Aldo Rossi's Introspect

Rossi suggested that architecture was beyond this "instable" current of history and elicited its power from the attributes of its geometry and accumulation of layers through its endurance over a period of time. Rossi, one of the pioneers of the post-modern movement, uses comparative studies in his book, "The Architecture of the city", based on historical point of view established by "enduring elements" or monuments in "plan", to arrive at a method for an ideal perfect testing of spatiality and working of a city. He placed a great importance to the "collective memory of a city". Consequentially this implied reading a city not just as city as functions of these "enduring elements" (monuments) a "collective experience". Inspired by the theory of reading cities of Marcel Poète and Pierre Lavedan he formulated that a city in terms of collective experience can be read through city plans. He tried to assert that such readings on multiple scales over a period of time did justice to reading cities which created significant focus on his analysis on the issue of "permanence" in architectural typology. The monuments or "elements of permanence" hold within themselves a dense hierarchal city structure.

"Memory is the treasure house of the mind wherein the monuments thereof are kept and preserved." - Thomas Fuller (English writer, historian).()

Rossi's metamorphic post-mortem of "Form follows function", propagated by Louis Sullivan, critiques the ambiguity of functions, which are linked physiological nature of human, as a tool for articulating or rationalising the changing dynamics of a city. Rossi believes that classification based on functions (e.g. zoning) overwhelms and takes priority retarding its dynamism over urban landscape and form.

He says -"… we reject that concept of functionalism dictated by empiricism which holds that form brings functions together and in themselves constitute urban artefacts and architecture."()

Above all, he emphasises that "enduring elements" in terms of "form" survive the test of time in terms of function; i.e. the exterior form is stronger than its content. The form remains the same while the functions change. Rossi exemplified this reflection with a series of well- known paradigms, among them the Diocletian's palace in Split, Coliseum in Rome, the former mosque Al-mezquita in Cordoba, and the Palazzo della Ragione in Padova.

The "enduring elements" are juxtaposed with the multitudes of anonymous houses in the dwelling areas like fleeting shadows in time. They are comparatively less enduring unlike the elements but this is stabilised by the typology from which they descended. The lone dwelling might be destroyed but the type as such endures the test of times.

On the basis of these and other inspections, Aldo Rossi formulates a semi-linguistic, semi-historical understanding on form and elements of the city. This observation of the city as a solid historical artefact and a "man-made object", in return, contributes to the on-going re-thinking of its core and the approach to spatially rationalising it. It encourages architects and city planners to reflect about the city as a combined "work of art" which can be given form aesthetically.

Some Spatial Studies and Reading of "Enduring elements" in a city by Aldo Rossi

It is essential to understand Rossi and his attempt of reading the city which would remain incomplete without diagrams and image that directly reflect his intentions. The following images are taken from the book "Architecture of the city" by Rossi explain various kinds of spatial readings of "enduring elements" through changes in time.

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These are the images of the roman amphitheatre in Arles. The figure (A) here shows the "enduring elements" filled with provisional ensembles converting it into a city quarter. The figure (B) shows how post renovation only the enduring element has survived. The figure (C) shows how the city has built a fabric around the enduring element accepting it as a part of indispensable collective urban.

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The figure (A) is the drawing of an amphitheatre in Nimes. It shows how an enduring element survives the test of time forming a symbiotic relationship in the city fabric. The figure (B) is a diagram showing a very interesting relationship of an "enduring element" leaving its traces on a city plan of Santa Croce in Florence.

Rational city verses Generic City

In the early twentieth century "congestion" was viewed as one of the prime problems of the city. Everyone in one way or the other was working towards eliminating "congestion" in terms of rationalising organisation of spaces in the cities. As a consequence of this, Rossi, one of the pioneers of the post-modern movement, uses comparative studies in his book, "The Architecture of the city", based on historical point of view established by "enduring elements" in "plan", to arrive at a method for an ideal perfect testing of spatiality and working of a city.

Though Rossi's theory of the city supported the salvage of elements abandoned by the globally as an approach, he stressed on urban examination and on the system of architecture which prefers the arrangement rather than the architectural scheme. Rossi furthers his concept towards "rationalising" a city and this approach in the past, as argued by Koolhaas, has only led to further "congestion". Also, Rossi reads the city, and he stresses on it, through a various sets of "plans" in scales at multiple levels. This reading lays, as his analysis suggests, purely two dimensional perspectives diagrammatically. This method directly deficits us in comprehending cities, that are viewing "congestion" as a problem. This problem in the contemporary urban environment becomes a "three dimensional" layering and juxtapositions of a multitude of functions.

Koolhaas, consciously, takes a different approach. Rem Koolhaas, on the other hand, through his book "Delirious New York", celebrates the "unplanned" nature of city life. Koolhaas believes that with the upsurge of "congestion" in the 20th century the "the chance inter-relationship of spaces" within a "single congealed form" became the essential subject of architectural consideration for the formation of a more flexible "Generic" city supporting a multitude of spatial activities. The concept of these spaces implies "an intervention to adapt to multiple functions and human behaviour" allowing flexibility for the evolution of the city. Koolhaas interprets and reinterprets the dynamic relationship of "Manhattanism" between architecture and culture in various significant chapters of New York's history.

Evolution of the theory of Monument as Automonument

"Beyond a certain critical mass each structure becomes a monument, or at least raises that expectation through its size alone, even if the sum or the nature of the individual activities it accommodates does not deserve a monumental expression."()

Koolhaas believes in contrary to the general notions of "symbolism" or "iconography" that groups of monuments grant. According to him it is not always the "conceptual epitome", notions of "institutional importance", "articulation of social hierarchy", or "a memorial", that gives them symbolism. It's because of the utter volume it holds, that it cannot avoid being a "Symbol" or an "icon".

Therefore, a skyscraper, without trying, becomes the purest form of manifestation of the monument in the contemporary world (Automonument).

In contrary to the "symbolism" of a monument according to Rossi, a Skyscraper is not an icon of "permanence", "solidity" and "serenity" but rather an icon of flexibility in terms of accommodating a large variety of functions.

Perception of Lobotomy in a Contemporary "City of Congestion"

"In the deliberate discrepancy between container and contained New York's makers discover an area of unprecedented freedom. They exploit and formalize it in the architectural equivalent of a lobotomy-the surgical severance of the connection between Frontal lobes and the rest of the brain to relieve some mental disorders by disconnecting thought processes from emotions."

The psycho-surgical procedure of liberating the psyche from the power of over-expressive emotion has always been a practice associated and represented within many fields. Rem Koolhaas however, suggests an idea of lobotomy in architecture as an estrangement between the inner spatial mechanisms of an architectural built form and the exterior exchanges of transaction with the built form's relative surroundings. Koolhaas investigates how this attempt at "architectural lobotomy" has guided the formation of the massive concrete tangle of skyscrapers in the city of Manhattan. This theory of "architectural lobotomy" is in conjunction with his idea of "automonumentality": how in the contemporary world, skyscrapers have developed in essence, as "monuments" inside the city fabric, finally extends its linguistic relationship among 'automonumentality' and 'architecture' as 'Lobotomy'. Summation in core, the archetypal depiction of "architectural lobotomy", a skyscraper, propagates its 'monumentality' in a contemporary urban fabric, eventually denying architecture of any iconic, philosophic, and theoretical likeness and separating it from its environment, equally in context of space and time. This renders the skyscraper a 'timeless relic' with no bonds to any relative context to cultures.

"Lobotomy is a neurosurgical procedure, a form of psychosurgery, also known as aleukotomy or leucotomy. Another name for this procedure is the "bilateral prefrontal lobotomy". It consists of cutting the connections to and from the prefrontal cortex, the anterior part of the frontal lobes of the brain."( "The prefrontal cortex is the brain region has been implicated in planning complex cognitive behaviour, personality expression, decision making and moderating social behaviour." (

In the early twentieth century, this surgical process of Lobotomy for mentally effected individuals was a common practice. It effectively diminished difficulty of social behaviour in the patient, but was often at the price of dampening the patient's reactions, behaviour, and preference. This disconnection of the prefrontal lobe from the remaining brain give rise to far worse consequences including: failure to be acquainted with future outcomes ensuing from current actions, failure of choice between good actions and bad, failure to overcome objectionable social reactions, failure to resolve dissimilarities and similarities among things or events, and failure to devise long term memories, dependent upon the basis of the emotional nature. In the context of 'architectural lobotomy', much equivalence can be illustrated from the medical to the architectural and conclusively to the cultural. Lobotomy renders the human mind emotionless and detached from any future repercussions. This supports the theory of Koolhaas's architectural lobotomy. The "Skyscraper" has become an archetypal indication of this theory in the world of architecture. Koolhaas suggests that this "architectural equivalent separates exterior and interior architecture" removing any expression and association of the 'interior' to the 'exterior'. Relating the procedure of lobotomy to architecture, Koolhaas bring forward the idea that the interior of the skyscraper can be metamorphosed with the brain of a human being. Conceptually speaking, the interior system of working of a built form gives the building its intent and theoretical importance, leaving the external facade as a more public expression than a symbol of its interior containment, like a body. 'Lobotomizing' such a public expression of the 'icon' which is the facade of the Skyscraper can eventually imply shedding it of any 'theoretical' and 'metaphysical' meaning in relation to its 'exterior façade' and to its cultural entity. Just like lobotomy sheds a human being of any form of guilt or fear of the future. This process of lobotomizing finally culminates the skyscraper of any form of singular purpose. Since the interior is in no way related to the exterior facade it creates an opportunity for endless continuum architectural use rendering it 'timeless' and disconnected from any historical, contextual, and theoretical grounds based on society today.