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Experience Architecture As Communication English Language Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 5503 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Two gentlemen walk into the National Art Gallery in Dublin. One casts his eyes upward in awe of the spectacular space and becomes over run in respect of emotion cast out by the space, while the other person casually wonders around looking for a cup of coffee. Throughout the history of space design, architects have been focused on creating an aesthetic or iconographic space. In the later 20th century designers have become focused on creating a relatable space which is tailored to work for the benefit and invoke emotion within the user. However this is not always the case as with the two fore mentioned gentlemen. A response to an external stimulus is based on prior experience of similar stimuli. With this in mind, what experience is our current environment imposing upon us, its users? The answer to this lies not only within our environment but our culture, our philosophy and most pertinent to this writing, our language.

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Western Philosophy has produced a revelation that what we experience through the senses is essentially incompatible with those mediated through language. That seeing something bears no relation to being told about it. Architecture like all other art practices have fallen prey to this revelation. Recently the role played by language in the visual arts has been questioned [2] . An uncertainty cast upon the belief that art could be purely visual. This has not yet occurred for architecture. What has been written so far about architecture has been likened to tracing, which represents a less than adequate reflection of the reality, but language can constitute a reality in itself.

The purpose of this writing is to first determine that there is communication between the architect and the occupants through the medium of architecture. And to secondly determine a successful method in developing an appropriate language.

Architecture can be considered as an arrangement of elements which, when assembled, equal a building, space or environment which is interpreted and ‘read’ by its occupants. Through the method of design we convey a meaning or a function which is represented to the eventual user. Whether it is intentional or not there is a line of communication between the designer, building and user. How strong and coherent this line of communication is dependent upon the communication source, the designer.

A methodological research strategy was chosen for the process of this writing. Theoretical, interpretive and qualitative research were found to be the most appropriate. Case studies were of importance to the development of the practical side of the theoretical research.

A Method of Theory

Origins of Theory

We are surrounded by signs that reflect our cultural values, our norms, and conventions. These signs can be analysed to gain insight into cultural attitudes and behaviours using a semiotic approach. Semiotics is the study of sign systems. Originally focused on verbal language it can now be extended to visual sign systems with narratives of their own. This science was proposed in the early 1900’s by Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure and American pragmatist Charles Peirce. Saussure argued that there is no inherent relationship between that which carries the meaning, the ‘signifier’, the word or symbol and that which is actual meaning which is carried, the signified [3] . Pierces ideas about semiotics distinguish between three types of signs; ‘Icon’, ‘Index’ and ‘Symbol’. Whether a sign belongs in one category or another is dependent upon the nature and the relationship between the sign itself, which Pierce called the referent and the actual meaning.

An Icon is a sign that stands for an object by resembling it. Included in this category are picture, maps and diagrams and some not so obvious ones, such as algebraic expressions and metaphors. The essential aspect of the relation of an icon to its object is one of similarity.

Indexes refer to their objects not by virtue of any similarity relation but rather via an actual causal link between its sign and its object. So smoke would be an index of fire. The relation between a sign and its object is actual in that the sign and object have something in common. That is the object really affects the sign.

Symbols refer to their objects by virtue of law rule or convention. Words, propositions or texts are examples where no similarities or causal link is suggested in the relation between. Symbols need bear no similarities or causal link to their object. Signs can then be considered by the sign user in unlimited ways, independent of any physical relationship to the sign user. This is a crucial point which lays the foundation for a semiotic view of cognition in people. [4] 


Jacque Derrida was a French philosopher who developed a semiotic analysis knows as deconstruction. He initially proposed this theory through his book ‘Of Grammatology’ in 1967. Deconstruction describes the method of expressing the understanding of language as a writing rather than speech. Derrida’s theory of deconstruction views all texts as constructed around elemental oppositions which all speech has to articulate if it intends to make any cognitive sense [5] . He assumes the idea of language as a system of signs. Derrida’s assumption of language leads to a written text. This assumption is based on the ideas of semiology proposed by Ferdinand de Saussure.

Writing thus enlarged and radicalized, no longer issues from a logos. Further, it inaugurates the destruction, not the demolition but the de-sedimentation, the de-construction, of all the significations that have their source in that of the logos. [6] 

Derrida states that deconstruction is what happens to meaning when language is understood as writing or a visual aesthetic. This raises an issue that meaning does not have a genesis in the logos or the thought of the language user. Instead the language users are understood to be using an external system of signs, the written text [7] . This interpretation of Derrida’s work draws direct correlation to language. This is refered to as communication, and to writing. This is a direct link to a visual aesthetic through the linguistic theory of deconstruction. Meaning is partly driven through experience which is not fully under the control of the user. Meaning according to Derrida involves interpretation and translation and the readers obligation to interpret meaning when a language is understood is why deconstruction exists.

The key in understanding Derrida’s theory is in his link between language as a speech and as a text. Speech has been the preferred and accepted form of language and writing is understood as an inferior derivative of speech.

Unlike a speaker, a writer is usually absent and therefore unable to explain any issues of meaning. It’s in this difference that writing can be considered a language in its own right and that language of writing is a system of signs.

According to Derrida, thinkers as different as Plato, Rousseau, Saussure, and Levi-Strauss, have all preferred speech over the written word. [8] But while spoken words are the symbols of mental experience, written words are the symbols of that already existing symbol.

This statement of language again links our understanding of signs to text. The expression of a sign in the terms of architecture has drawn in some followers to the teachings of Derrida. Peter Eisenman, who was heavily influenced by the Derrida’s deconstruction theory, writes in his article “Architecture as a Second Language: The Texts of Between” of architecture as a second language and ‘scientifically’ proposes architecture expressed as a language or ‘text’.

“The idea of temporality and original value becomes key if this notion of “second language” is transferred to the idea of architecture. In one sense, “second language” would suggest that architecture is always a second language even to those who speak and read it. In another sense, the term second language could suggest that architecture is grounded in other disciplines, that it is secondary to philosophy, science, literature, art and technology. But finally, there is a third possibility for the idea of a second language in architecture; that is, architecture as text.” [9] 

Eisenman makes a direct correlation between ‘text’ and ‘Architecture’. Through his writings he reinforces his theory that text as a structure creates displacement between meaning and form behind the text. Being expressive of literary structure to reinforce a meaning. The meaning which is embodied in architecture cannot be changed. It is what it is and only our interpretation of that may cause ambiguity to the extent of the multivalence nature of ‘text’. Eisenman suggests that text and architecture are two polar opposites in terms of meanings. Architecture has a message with a single and determined meaning but text can have many simultaneous meanings. What are the implications of this?

Text in terms of architecture in this relationship is the beauty. It is the idea that strikes us as we view a magnificent building or experience space which is designed to connect with us. So text now expresses our immediate response to a visual image. This method of expression is originated in Derrida’s response to writing and language. His deconstruction of language into text and speech. Eisenman has taken this theory to a more physical realm in his works.

Eisenman reinforces his theory of relating visual art to language by linking other visual mediums to langugae. Doing this bridges the gap bewteen arcihtecture and text.

Film is a discourse that is constantly impacted by a “second language.” Film is the sine qua non of a dislocated place and time because it always has at least two times and two places: the actual time and place of watching, and the narrative time and place. [10] 

Eisenman is turning to the relatable medium of film to express it as a second language which is the simulataneous representation of time and space and examines the textuality behind this. He dislocates time and space using film. There is a linear time and a chronological time, and so time has evolved to express a multivalence of meaning. The complex and intentional use of superposition’s of future and past create a temporal dislocation which was only introduced to films with the technology of sound. The idea of a text in relationship to ‘a narrative or representational form such as a plot becomes a condition of a second or unnatural language. Eisenman informs us that there is a possible relationship between text and aesthetical medium such as film. This has some relative influences on architecture because of its dislocation of the concept of an internal time or time of narrative. Architecture, unlike writing, has never had the capacity to display time through its design. This causes some problems when mapping architecture to text.

Eisenman focuses on the experience of our responses to architecture and not the actual architecture itself. Architecture is said to have a single temporal dimension of the now. The message of the architecture remains the same without consequence of contextual time. Combining text and time is the link between architecture and a multivalent time. Time is mapped onto text and text is mapped onto architecture and with this hybrid of theories we can now relate time and text to architecture. Eisenman examines how this does not affect the aesthetics or functional presence of an object but lies somewhere in between. This means, as he states, has a new meaning for presence, origin, place and scale. It affects the memory of internal time but also dislocates all these aspects too.Dislocating architecture displays it’s multiple meanings by representing the various relationships between architectural text and other literary texts. [11] 

Eisenman discusses a classical example of how Alberti synthesised two iconographies of architecture. The first being Man’s triumph and the second being religion to produce a church that remained unaffected by this ambiguous style. It contained a multitude of original meaning but also combines and contributes to the sacred meaning within in church. This gives us a primary example of a text between.

Alberti took the form of the traditional Greek temple front, which by the fifteenth century had become almost a banal vernacular form with an internalized icononography, and synthesized it with the triumphal arch of Septimius Severus in Rome to form the facade of Sant’Andrea in Mantua. [12] 

When architecture is focused on a singular meaning it can still ‘speak of something else’. The traditional responsibility of form has been removed and has been replaced with the idea of a ‘text between’. When these restrictions are removed then form can be read as a text, a ‘text between’. It can be read independently from the author’s intentions and independently from the authoriality of architecture.

Eisenman’s theory can be summed up that the proposal of the idea of a text between, changes our perception of the traditional system of belief associated with architecture as an object. The symbolism it represents has been dissolved.

Architecture and text are now interrelated. Eisenman uses time to link these two subjects. Through the use combining common meanings he proves this. Meaning if it does exist in architecture has not been addressed by Eisenman. Meaning is to be interpreted by the user. His theory is significant in practice but does not address the quality of space to improve user experience.

“As an educational device, the nine-square problem emerged from a collapse of two modern diagrams Le Corbusier’s domino (structure) with van Doesburg’s axonometrics (space)-filtered through the reductive planimetric logic hypostatized by Wittkower as Palladio’s “twelfth villa.”What this problem provided was a discipline for modern architecture, a perverse and clever argument for a rhetorical capacity against those who would understand modern architecture as simply the literal addition of constructional systems and programmatic requirements. Further, it assumed a language of architecture founded on the articulation of a series of dialectics (centre and periphery, vertical and horizontal, inside and outside, frontality and rotation, solid and void, point and plane, etc.)” [13] 

Eisenman’s theory of displacement of architecture through the use of language is relevant so long as it is a tested theory. Through his method of transformational diagramming he evolves a building. He uses various models and strategies to achieve this experiment of space, which is designed to test space, not to necessarily be inhabited space.

Eisenman had a catalogue of procedures and it is the catalogue that becomes the subject matter of his architecture, a disciplinary condition to a diagrammatic approach. Such procedures include scale, grid, rotations, opticality, verticality, figure-ground definition, shifting, folding, decomposition and centre/periphery.

Peter Eisenman’s uses variable grids, figuration, and fragmentation commonly, like with the Wexner Center. The literal use of the Rotated grid is used by Eisenman as an extensive method of giving the architecture its own voice. The identification of the dialectic Grids stems from conditions that exist at the boundary of the site, Eisenman then Grafts one grid on top of the other and seeks potential connections or ‘event sites’ at the urban, local, and interior scales.

Scale had been dependent on, and governed by the dimensions of the body, which modernist architecture has taken from the classical tradition. Eisenman worked for an autonomous architecture, one not submissive to the conventional dimensions of man. [14] 

Transparency In House VI specifically, the facades are no longer the primary vertical data for the reading of the transparencies. They are pushed to the interior so that the Periphery now crosses at the centre of the structure. Floating above the ground with no visible entry, it is a house which for all practical purposes could be upside down and inside out.

His view on Form is that it can advance his transformational method as both an analytic and synthetic design tool. Form does not exist in this context to solely follow function but instead to be freed from it and in doing so becomes an experimental design tool.

Folding is a process not necessarily a product for Eisenman. He shows this through his process of design with Rebstockpark, Berlin.

Eisenman uses this conceptual architecture to reinforce the idea of semantics and syntactis. He relates these terms to the idea that the objects is perceived as a sign.

The serially numbered transformational diagrams for Houses I and II, like the retrospective diagrams created for Terragni’s work, suggest that the “final” built structures are merely indexical signs that point to a larger process of which they are only a part. [15] 

Another theorist who has a similar understanding of semiology and the sign process is Umberto Eco. Eco, a professor of semiotics, expresses interest in architecture through a number of essays which have had significant influence on architectural thinking with regard to sign and sign systems.

His essay “A Compositional Analysis of Architectural Sign: Column” explores a theory which opposes phenomenological understanding. It dealt primarily with the description and meaning of space. Eco suggests that the description of space was too subjective to lend itself to semiological analysis.

Because of this he examines the elements of architecture such as stairs, doors or columns and attempts to extract syntactical meaning [16] . His study of semiotics and sign representation in architecture lends itself to works of Peter Eisenman and his understanding of Jacque Derrida’s theory of speech and text. Eco relates sign and language to a code which can be deciphered if the user has the knowledge do so.

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Eco’s novel “The Name of the Rose” (1980) is a first person narrative of an aged monk Adso. He recalls the events in 1327 as he experienced them during a seven day visit to an Italian abbey as a young man. Together with Franciscan friar William of Baskerville, Adso investigates a series of unexplained murders committed on the monks. Certain clues and the following of logic lead them to a cryptic library, a labyrinth.

One of the principle tasks of an architect is to shape rooms and spaces. In a similar way in which an architect uses his plans and sketches to illustrate his vision, a writer uses his words to express his thoughts. [17] 

Eco uses both writing and sketches to construct a diagram of the labyrinth.

Eco sets a scene of the two friars trapped in a labyrinth in search of Aristotle’s lost book on comedy. The representation of the Labyrinth portrays an image of infinite enclosure while simultaneously remaining quiet transparent. The two monks who have similar values and beliefs, also have key differences. Eco represents these two characters as a clear metaphor of Plato and Aristotle. Never the less one uses logic and the other uses wit to escape the labyrinth. The use of logic to decode a labyrinth is a meaningful metaphor in terms of architectural interpretation of a text.

Giovanni Battista Piranesi was an Italian architect most famous for his etchings of Rome. The Carceri is a series of 16 prints which show mammoth subterranean vaults with stairs and mighty machines. Piranesi’s etchings have, amongst others, influenced Eco’s work. His elaborate labyrinths and prison like landscapes communicate Piranesi’s thoughts and ideas to the viewer.

Only Literature contains truth because all that is written, that characters do and say, can be checked in a text. [18] 

Does this statement, by Eco, have the same implications for drawings as it does for text? To answer this, Daniel Libeskinds refers to Piranesi’s work in that its significance lies in the fact that he never used architecture for non architectural purposes, that he was wild about its own truth. [19] To Eco, Piranesi drawings include in them a truth about architecture as the author is communicating everything he wants to say through the drawing.

This intense narration is magnetic. Just like a time machine, Piranesi’s prints transfer ideas and visions, while mems carry them from one mind to another. And so they last beyond time. [20] 

Piranesi’s etchings narrate a message throughthe medium of drawing. A visual form by which architecture is also narrated. The dialogue created between Piranesi and the observer is timeless. There is a multitude of messages which will always be interpreted

Architecture as Language

‘Language is at the core of making, using and understanding buildings’ [21] 

If language is a part of architecture then the difficulty is to describe the relationship in such a way as to not make language an accessory. Language is a part of architecture but is also a system in itself. What is written or spoken about in architecture is merely a tracing of them and usually a less than adequate reflection of their reality. but language is a reality in itself while not comparable with the reality, through the other sensory senses is still adequate.

Looking at Roland Barthes – Fashion system, why does fashion interpose between the object and it’s user, such a luxury of words, such a network of meaning?

Just as fashion is a system with three parts, – a material product (garments), images (the fashion photograph) and words (the fashion commentary) -so architecture is a three part system constituted of the building, it’s image (photograph, drawing), and its accompanying critical discourse (architect, client or critic).

What the analogy of architecture with the fashion system makes clear is that language is not something that simply gets in the way but is a system in its own right, on a par with buildings.

There is constant flux between words and meanings. This is apparent through a historical context but also between different languages. The interpretation of architecture through history is dependent the experience of the users of that time and the meanings they interpreted through the representations available at the time. The issue with language and history is to recover the past meanings of words so that we can interpret what those who uttered them intended to say. Through history meaning is replaced from one meaning to another

We can only speak one language at a time, and the words necessarily take their meaning from the language they are spoken in.

Between European languages, there has always been a brisk trade in critical vocabulary. Any account of ‘space’ in architecture that did not take into account its origins in German, or ‘structure’ that overlooked its development in French would be manifestly incomplete and inadequate It is therefore necessary to give a good deal of attention to terms as they developed in a language other than English.

The Chicago Civic Centre designed by a follower of Mies, shows similar confusion in communicating the diversity of its content. The long horizontal spans and dark corten steel express “office building,” “power,” “purity,” while the variations in surface express “mechanical equipment” [22] 

None of these attributes express the complex meaning of the building in context of the working city. It does not communicate its important civic functions nor as a meeting place for the citizens of Chicago. It is inarticulate. It celebrates the process, which symbolises the change in building technology and materiality.

Case Studies

For a case study analysis, the works of Peter Eisenman and Daniel libeskind are of relevance. For Esienman an in depth look into his method of evolving a building through multiple dispositions are of importance to his theoretical work with sign and system experiments’. For Daniel libeskind his evolution of his designs through diagrammatic language is important as he does not use architectural forms to inform an design.

These two case studies reveal the use of diagram and structure as a language. The product of these methods reveal in themselves the process of their design

Peter Eisenman

Theoretical Genesis

The Casa Guardiola is a single family dwelling. The relevance of this work as a case study is due to the method which Eisenman employs through the understanding of his theories. This house represents the manifestation of Plato’s receptacle where traces of logic and irrationality are intrinsic components of the object/place [23] . The house is represented as both figure and frame simultaneously which lends itself to the theory of Eisenman’s “Texts of Between” in which architectural forms can occupy simultaneous meanings and therefore dislocating the building. Eisenman touches on Plato’s Timaeus and the image of the receptacle. This episode explores Plato’s genesis of man and views the universe as the receptacle which is unchanging but featureless. There are unchanging forms and the changing participating elements within the receptacle. Eisenman adapts Plato’s receptacle not in the pure form of the sphere but in the cube which has a mathematical relevance mentioned in the Timaeus. The difference between earth and fire is the difference between 45 degree and 90 degree triangles. This is how Plato defines the element of earth as having one right angle and one 45 degree angle. If you fuse two triangles you produce a square and if you fuse six squares along their sides you produces a cube [24] . This explains the solidity of earth which is made of microscopic cubes which are packed together. The Casa Guardiola is heavily influenced by topologies of the site (earth) which Eisenman reflects in his design as the cube.

Eisenman employs a method of unfolding intersecting, subtracting and multiplying. As if the form were a mathematical equation to be solved where each line when marked becomes a part of the process in which it was created and so like a mathematical equation shows a clear method from start to finished result.

Grids, meshes, rhythms, multiplication and division, turns and distortions are a universe in themselves. The other is a perceptible system of scale, light and colour, with habitable forms, recognizable typologies, and perceptually defined spatiality. [25] 

The interest in this case studies lies in the tension Eisenman creates between contained and container, inside and outside. He draws on the relationship between geometric and tectonic forms.

The tangential L- shapes penetrate three planes, appearing in a constant state of flux or movement. He blurs the containers limits and boundaries through materialisation, as if it flowed from internal to external.

Eisenman manipulates the cube through 8 dispositions which appear to randomly influence the cube resulting in an intentional mistake of a building. By first displacing and subtracting one cube from another to generative the iconographic L-shapes and again multiplying these to create the intersection of these forms. He retains the voided intersection of these L-shapes and tilts the one form about the axis of the other by rotation. He then traces the frame definition from the displacement between solid and void to result in the imprinting of these solids and line traces onto the surface of the buildings.

This process as a method of design was a genesis of method throughout the design of his other works. The set of apparent random rules results in a building which shows it’s origins and informs the user that there is much more than a traditional build here but rather a message to be decoded and understood.

Daniel Libeskind

Diagram in Language

The drawings from the project ‘The Cahmber Works’ constantly represent the present. They cannot be said to exist as pre built or future builds. By eliminating visual metaphors Libeskind makes an architecture constructed by the reader. The relevance of this case study is linked to the visual aesthetic, in this case the diagram, as a system of codes and signs to be interpreted.

The Chamber Works are a set of twenty-eight black line drawings. Subtitled Architectural Mediations on Themes From Heraclitus, they are divided into two sets of fourteen members each. The first set of horizontal variations and the second of vertical ones. The two themes are introduced by the equation “1+2+3+4+5+6+7=28.” This equation consists of a set of consecutive positive integers arranged in a series that constitutes what the Greeks termed triangular numbers: numbers representable by a set of dots arranged as an equilateral triangle. This equation and the triangle that it describes represent the structure of the Chamber Works. [26] 

The triangular number whose base line is seven shows us that not only is the project divided in two but in turn is divided into two subsets of seven numbers each. It is based on the assumption that th


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