Types Of Big Ideas Cultural Studies Essay

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In this statement, Le Corbusier has employed instances of designer's intention, mood, thought and the interpretation of all these into architecture. These are the keywords that introduce the basis of architecture developed from thoughtful manipulation of ideas; the big idea.

"Architectural thought is primarily non-verbal thought; a fact of very considerable significance since so much of our everyday thinking is verbal" [2]

Even though function germinates the need for design, it's the thought which can enhance the experience of the space to a degree where the building or the space not just remains a physical structure but becomes the supreme yet silent agent affecting the psychology and function of anyone coming into its contact.

Creativity is desired not only to solve one particular problem in the design but is needed in totality, in all parts and all details. It is that creative thinking that translates into design thought of "concept". The fundamental is to realize the underlying essence of the concept and utilize that to design. Thus, it becomes imperative to explore the relationship between the concept or the big idea with its physical manifestation.


Following the known dictates of design for particular types of buildings can lead to monotony or repetition of known accomplishments. Using the same set of solutions to a specific problem in a different situation can add to the problem itself.

Apart from the area program and functional requirements of the building and its response to climate, there lies a large expanse of territory in terms of the creative freedom that designers can implement in their buildings. The need is to explore these options to their full potential. Also, how to explore and implement them needs to be studied. Misled translations can lead to creation of problems rather than solving it.

"The language of spaces, volumes, surfaces and connections can provide numerous ideas to incorporate in a design. "[3]



The dissertation will focus on the works of only Prtizker prize winning architects and understanding their thought and design.

It will discuss many works but will only detail a few.

It will be largely based on secondary study


The dissertation will be based on personal views and understanding of the subject, since the subject is at the level of thought and ideas.

The inability to talk to Pritzker winning architects

The examples selected would be research specific which might not cover all aspects of designing and relevant tools.


Types of Big Ideas - a brief history

Architects have been at home with the big idea in the twentieth century. Some of the major movements in architecture during this century have been labeled by the concepts they employed.

"The machine was the concept of the modern movement; the ruin has been attributed as the concept of the post-modern movement. Other branches or refinements of these movements also employed concepts as their basis for inspirational departure. Technology and vigor of the new society were among the concepts of the Russian constructivists. Anthropomorphy and vertebration (the house with a core and heart) were the concepts of the postmodern historicists, whereas the non-vertebrate (no core, no heart, void) were those of the other branches of the same movement, such as those pursued by Peter Eisenman and Frank Gehry. Some of the most important building types of this century were initially advocated in conceptual terms. The glass skyscraper, for instance, was conceived as a brilliant, free standing crystal on the landscape." [4]

The beginning of the use of metaphor in this century goes back to the early German Expressionist architects and had Nietzschean origins.

"Architects such as Bruno Taut and Josef Emanuel Margold used to keep notes in their sketchbooks from Friedrich Nietzsche's Thus Spake Zarathustra, a philosophical work filled with architectural metaphors. lnspite of the antisocial attitude of this work, early Expressionist architects in Germany accepted the text as a source for their creative efforts. Nietzsche described the creative act in terms of ecstatic revelation. This certainly appealed to the Expressionists and to many other German and Central European architects of the time; the result was a series of projects evoking mountain images because, according to Pehnt: "Zarathustra lives in the perilous solitude of the mountains." [5]

Many well-known Central European architects, such as Joseph Maria Olbrich and Otto Wagner, created architecture using the metaphor of the mountain. They were among the first to impose on the world a superhuman vision, to remind the viewer of the greatness of the universe in contrast to the "smallness" of humanity.

It was perhaps this superhuman attitude and the antisocial nature of Zarathustra that made architects of other cultures look at metaphors with scepticism; and it was perhaps Nietzsche and his appeal to the German intellectuals that made for the widespread acceptance of metaphor among German architects.

A very curious thing happened as a result of the Enlightenment obsession with classification: people became aware of their place in history. Until that time, people and societies had a rather hazy notion of what had happened in the past and when it had occurred. "History" meant stories that pointed out some useful moral. "When" an event happened was of little importance. For the people of the Renaissance, for example, the Roman Empire had occurred "a long time ago." Everything in between was "barbaric." None of these cultures was aware of producing art or architecture of a certain "style;" that is, it would never have occurred to Bramante that he was designing buildings in the "High Renaissance style."

The concept of style, like the classification systems of biology and zoology, was introduced in an attempt to find patterns in the phenomena of the world, to find "universal laws" that explained where we'd been, and, by extension, where we were going. As strange as it sounds to us today, such questions were of no interest to anyone before the Renaissance and of very little interest before the Enlightenment. Newton, however, found that three statements could group and explain what had seemed to be a number of unrelated physical events. Linnaeus discovered that there were not a vast number of individual plants and animals, but that they could be arranged in a few related families. In the same way, scholars grouped art and architecture chronologically according to "style": families of attitudes toward structure, decoration, compositional devices, etc. Architects were made aware of and attempted to produce buildings in a certain style: a "Romanesque" style, a "Gothic" style, and eventually a "Modern" style.

Strictly speaking, "modern" means what is being done at the moment. In 1889, the Eiffel Tower was "modern." But we have come to use the term "Modern" to refer to the architecture of the First and Second Generations.

"Postmodern," the next "period" after Modernism, is less coherent than Modern. It is a period of architectural pluralism, with many different directions; there is no prevailing theory, no singularly accepted approach. There are different directions emerging after the Industrial Revolution, and in the postmodern period, the approach to architecture is even more eclectic. One characteristic that separates Modern from Postmodern architecture is that history is embraced; it is just interpreted in a variety of ways.

The basic tenet of Modern architecture is the rejection of any specific references to the historical past. A building was not considered Modern if it used the Greek Orders; or if Gothic decorative motifs were used; or if anything that a critic could directly associate with a building of the past was used. Indeed all decorative features were avoided if possible because most buildings of the past had been decorated. Modern architects tried to produce something entirely new for what they felt was an entirely new age.

We can identify two broad categories of the Big Idea: intangible, tangible and combined.

1. Intangible: Those in which the metaphorical departure for the creation is a concept, an idea, a human condition, or a particular quality (individuality, naturalness, community, tradition, culture).

2. Tangible: Those in which the metaphorical departure stems strictly from some visual or material character (a house as a castle, the roof of a temple as the sky)..

All three categories of the physical manifestation of this Big Idea have been employed by architects with varying degree of success.


"Porphyrios, who observed the use and the abuse of the metaphor in the architecture of this century, focused on its use by Alvar Aalto, the foremost Finnish architect of the century, as one who made buildings out of intangible metaphors. Aalto's buildings developed as metaphoric acts based on the concepts of individuality, naturalness, community, and so on. The critical acclaim given Aalto is nothing but an acceptance of the idea that we can produce buildings based on the intangible metaphor of humanity, is perhaps the greatest of all metaphors." [6]

"I am interested in finishing work, but I am interested in the work's not appearing finished, with every hair in place, every piece of furniture in its spot ready for photographs. I prefer the sketch quality, the tentativeness, the messiness if you will the appearance of "in progress" rather than the presumption of total resolution and finality. The paintings of Cezanne, Monet, DeKooning, Rauschenberg, to name a few compared to the hard edge painters, albers, Kelly, etc - perhaps the comparison makes my point more explicit " [7]

Tangible: "The most avant-garde of the Second Generation also avoided the Rationalist/Formalist controversies. They took forms from a non-architectural context and turned them into buildings. The "Archigram" group from London used comic book illustrations, oil refineries, and even insects as sources for their buildings. They also declared that process and change should be substituted for delight in the Vitruvian triad because modern society changes so rapidly and is so mobile; parts of their buildings were designed to move or change with the needs of the inhabitants (the "plug-in" city). One Archigram project was for an entire city that moved wherever its inhabitants wanted to go. Most of this type of architecture, like the earlier and comparable Futurist architecture, remained on paper, but Piano and Rogers used Archigram imagery in their design for a cultural center incorporating the museum of modern art in Paris (the Centre Pompidou or Pompidou Center), which was built in 1972. The "Metabolists" in Japan also pursued directions parallel to the Archigram group. Although these buildings look very functional and technological, in many cases they aren't: technology is used for sensational effect. [8]

With the comprehension and investigation of the types of big idea done, the next step is to understand the domain of the factors that the big idea presents in its inherent features and methods for its translation into a design scheme. The source that generates a big idea has the intrinsic characteristics that narrate the genesis of the big idea. These characteristics are interpreted in the qualities that an architect identifies with, which comprise the language of design. The translation of thought of a big idea into design features is a process that needs analysis.

The tangible: when the source of the big idea is a material object which presents to the canvas of the designer's sense with exact physical features, then these tangible properties are depicted in the design in the dominion of form. Whether in plan, section, façade or detais, these are incorporated in the design. Surfaces and glasses are designed employing the scale, proportion, shape, color, patterns or textures of the object that is working as the big idea. Mature and meritorious interpretations of the idea into design leads to a more aesthetic result than the exact imitation of the big idea.

The intangible: this type of Big Idea can come from a wide spectrum of sources like a perceptible object or a figurative entity. While the material big idea yields to the designer only aspects of form, the abstract big idea delivers an expansive foray of issues pertaining to both form and function. The visible source of the big idea may give cues to not only develop inspiration for form but its structural or behavioral qualities also.

Interplay of various factors influences the architecture. Each of these aspects has veiled in its existence aspects that are Big Ideas in themselves or can generate them.






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This chapter outlines the criteria of comparison of various ways in which the architects employ big idea in their design development. I would like to study the following five architects and their philosophy and more importantly how they employed their thought in the spaces they created and come up with grounds of a comparative between their various works. The following architects have been selected on the basis of a variety of approaches they bring to their design and the outcomes that are very different from each other. An attempt is being made to find some common grounds between these many architectural thoughts and philosophies.

Zaha Hadid - Zaha Ḥadīd (born 31 October 1950) is an Iraqi-British architect and winner of the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2004, and the Stirling Prize in 2010 and 2011.

Design philosophy: staying power and non-conformation

"it is very important to have the commitment to persevere, and to go back to one's own education in a sense. As a woman, you need the confidence that you can carry on and take new steps every time. I believe in hard work; it gives you a layer of confidence. Now we can do a lot of different projects because we have an enormous formal repertoire. The years in isolation, when we were quarantined in a sense, is like research in cience. The more research you do, the more and better the results. It was a very critical period because most people thought I would disappear or give up" [9]

Peter Zumthor - Peter Zumthor (born 26 April 1943) is a Swiss architect and winner of the 2009 Pritzker Prize.

Design philosophy: an ideal of perfection

"I do not work towards architecture from a theoretically defined point of departure, for I am committed to making architecture, to building, to an ideal of perfection, just as in my boyhood used to make things according to my ideas, things that had to be just right, for reasons I do not understand. It was always there, this deeply personal feeling for the things I made for myself, and I never thought of it being anything special. It was just there."[10]

Christian De Portzamparc - Christian de Portzamparc (born 5 May 1944 in Casablanca, Morocco) is a French architect and urbanist. He won the Pritzker Prize in 1994.

Design philosophy: constant evolution

"all my projects reflect an evolution, related not so much to taste but to the idea of architecture as a cultural and formal presence. An idea of architecture as determining space rather than the other way around. I admire people who were system builders like Johann Sebastian Bach. But I am not like them. My example would be like Picasso or even Frank Lloyd Wright, people who evolved throughout their lives, relating to time and its passing. You have the Wright of the turn of the century, and then you have the Wright of Art Deco and the Wright of fifties' modernism. Extraordinary. He was always himself, but he never failed to respond to the problems of his time. The same goes for Picasso. They were travellers as opposed to system builders. Some things in my work are systematic, but as far as form goes, I like to be constantly evolving. I try to avoid worshipping an ideal style, and am always trying to escape my own mannerisms - which can be difficult" [11]

REM Koolhaas - Remment Lucas "Rem" Koolhaas (born 17 November 1944) is a Dutch architect, architectural theorist, urbanist and Professor in Practice of Architecture and Urban Design at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University. In 2000 Rem Koolhaas won the Pritzker Prize

Design philosophy: from journalist to architect

"Well, unlike most architects, I had a profession before I was an architect. I think that being a journalist had an important effect. Journalism is ironically one of the few professions that is almost completely immune to fame. There are almost no famous journalists. The journalist is driven by an insatiable curiosity coupled with the ability to find and condense information quickly. That experience, coupled with the fact that I started relatively late in architecture - I was twenty five before I even started studying architecture- made it relatively easy for me not to feel intimidated by the architecture world at that stage. The great benefit of writing a book before practicing as an architect was that it helped me get work. But it was bad because it meant that my subsequent work had to meet an unusually heavy burden of proof. I think that my experience exposed me to a number of unspoken prejudices that still operate in the current cultural moment. There's a strange prejudice that says you cannot both think and do architecture at the same time" [12]

Renzo Piano - Renzo Piano, Ufficiale OMRI (born 14 September 1937) is an Italian Pritzker Prize-winning architect. He won the Pritzker Prize in 1998

Design philosophy: genius loci

"An architect has a clear social task and is always part of the organization of society. Since ancient times, someone did the hunting and someone made sure there was shelter. The architect is a Robinson Crusoe today, as in the past. You have to take possession of the location, understand the climate, the atmosphere, and the genius loci. You must capture the spirit of that place in order to construct something beautiful and useful there" [13]

The works will be looked at with respect to the following criterion:

The design philosophy in general

Form and why

Material employment and why

Function and its result on design

Response to its surroundings

Apart from these five, the dissertation would contain references to the works of many Pritzker prize winning architects like Tadao Ando, Sverre Fehn, Norman Foster, Glen Murcutt, Jorn Utzon, Aldo Rossi, etc.


This chapter contains the final outcome of the comparison. This outcome will be used to generate inferences and hence draw conclusions as to how does a big idea affect your design. The idea is to look at the works of various architects throughout their life and draw connections.

Understanding the benefits of employing the Big Idea in the design process

Understanding the various ways the Big Idea can be employed in the design and the way it changes its manifestation.


This chapter attempts to draw inferences based on the comparison in an attempt to do a comparative of various manifestations of the Big Idea.

What are the levels at which the Big Idea is linked to design:

material, planning, construction process, involvement of people etc.


This chapter concludes the research by providing inferences and recommendations based on the case studies.

How can we as students make our design process more interesting

How can this knowledge help us to consciously make choices about various aspects of design and construction process, in terms of materials, etc. and thus good buildings.