Architecture As Making Frames

Architecture is more to do with making frames than painting pictures; more a matter of providing an accompaniment to life than the dance itself.

Certainly it is within the capacity of architecture to frame 'pictures'—as the rectangle of a window frames a view, or a doorway the figure of a person.

It is also possible to compose the products of architecture, in town- or landscape, as if they themselves were objects in a picture, perhaps to be seen from a particular point of view.

But architecture is not primarily about contriving 'pic-

movement and change—and those more abstract and subtle dimensions—patterns of life, of work, of ritual. The products of architecture can frame images of gods; they can frame the remains of dead people; they can even frame the family pet. But perhaps their noblest purpose is to frame the lives of people.

Thinking about architecture as frame-making is part of conceiving it as identification of place. Frames define boundaries. Places in which things happen or are kept are made by the means of architecture. Products

Opposite Page:

In this carving the image of a person (called Rhodia) is framed by the representation of a building. It is a pictorial composition, and a memorial, but it also illustrates a recognition that buildings are 'frames' within which people live, and that buildings can be identified by the people that inhabit them. (The carving is a grave stele from Egypt, and is about 1200 years old.)

Color Japanese Drawing

turesque' compositions; nor is the power to frame limited to distant hills or someone standing in a doorway.

The dimensions of architecture include more than the two of a picture-frame. It is obvious that they include the third spatial dimension, but there is also the dimension of time—which accommodates of architecture are frames: the rooms within which we work, the pitches on which games are played, the streets along which we drive, the table where a family eats, the gardens in which we sit, the floors on which we dance.. .are all 'frames'; and together they constitute a complex and extensive framework within which we live (which though vast can be like the musical accompaniment which sets the metre of a song).

vast can be like the musical accompaniment which sets the metre of a song).

Geoffrey Bawa House Plans

This plan illustrates how a work of architecture frames life. It is a house in Colombo, Sri Lanka, designed by the architect Geoffrey Bawa, and built in 1962. The house as a whole is framed by the outer boundary wall, but it contains many other frames too: the living and bedrooms frame social activities and sleeping; the dining table frames dinner parties; the courtyards frame the trees, plants, fountains, and large stones they contain; even the bath is a frame, and the garage frames the car.

Apparently, the word 'frame' comes from the old English word framian, which means 'to be helpful'. A frame is 'helpful' in that it provides support. The physical frame of some-thing—a loom, a body, a building—is its structure, without which it would be formless. A

frame also 'helps' by defining space: creating demarcations and an ordered relationship between 'insides' and 'outsides'.

A frame is a principle of organisation. Whether it is a picture frame, or a sheep pen, or a room, it is rarely (if ever) sufficient by itself (except perhaps in the poetic device of the 'vacant frame'); it has a relationship with what it frames (actually or potentially) and with what is 'outside', setting something in its place, mediating between it and the rest of the world. That something may be a picture, or an object, but it might also be a person (the hermit in his cave, or 'Mrs Clark' in her house, St Jerome in his study, or one's self in a room), an activity (tennis on a court, or car manufacture in a factory), an animal (a pig in its sty, or a bird in its cage), a god (Athena in the Parthenon, or Vishnu in his temple).

Photographs often portray buildings not as frames but as objects. This is a consequence of the process of photography, which is one of placing a two-dimensional frame around something. This process deprives us of our experience of buildings as frames, turning them into objects which are themselves framed.

This image portrays the building as an object, and is unable to let us experience it as a frame.

This drawing is based on the painting of St Jerome in His Study by the fifteenth-century Italian painter Antonello da Messina. As a picture it has a frame; but within the picture St

We are used to looking at the world through frames: the frames of pictures, the frames of television screens, the frames and sub-frames of computer screens. It might be argued that since these frame remote places that they constitute an abstract, supra-real architecture: that the World Wide Web, for example, is a form of architecture which reinterprets or overlays the physical world.

Jerome is framed, physically and symbolically, by the architecture of the building in which he sits.

Not only is the plan of this African village a diagram of the communal life it accommodates, but the village itself is a conceptual frame which responds to the order in the lives of its inhabitants.

A frame can be a structure and a boundary; but its helpfulness also comes from being a frame of reference, according to which one develops an understanding of where one is. The squares on a chessboard, or the floors of an apartment block, or the streets of a city, make frames that condition how pieces, people, or vehicles

move, and by reference to which their locations can be described.

In an abstract sense, a frame can be a theory. (The intention of this book, for example, is to be 'helpful' by offering a framework of concepts for understanding architecture.) Architecture involves considering how things should be framed, theoretically as well as physically: designing a museum involves thinking about how objects should be exhibited and the routes people might take through its galleries, but it also involves taking a theoretical stance on the notion of a museum and its role in culture; designing an opera house involves thinking about how the spectacle of an opera, and the dressed-up people who come to see it, might be displayed, which depends on a theory of the culture of opera; even the design of a kennel poses the problem of how a dog should be framed.

In more complex cases, the design of a house involves theorising on how the lives it will accommodate might be lived and producing an appropriate frame; the design of a church involves understanding the lit-urgy—the theory of how it is to be used for worship and ritual.

Architecture, in all these cases, involves the responsibility of proposing a physical, and a theoretical, framework within which art can be viewed, opera watched, dances danced, gods worshipped, meals eaten, produce sold, or whatever.

A picture frame, or a museum exhibition case, or an ancient Greek temple, holds something which is static, something for which time has been halted. Through architecture, however, people also make frames for movement and for change: a football field is a frame on which an artificial battle is fought; a street frames its traffic; the track of a fairground ride describes the passage of its carriages; a church frames a ceremonial route, from lychgate to altar.

Frames (physical and theoretical) are used to give the world, or part of it, some sort of order. These pages (which are themselves frames) have been organised into two-dimensional rectangles, (the graphic 'architecture' of the page); some computer programmes are based on the use of frames for different tasks. The range of types of frames in architecture is greater; and they are not always simple or rectangular.

A conceptual requirement of a frame is that it must have something to frame, whether or not that something is temporar ily or even permanently absent. (A chair is not always occupied. A cenotaph is, literally, an empty tomb; though permanently empty it is a frame for the 'idea' of the dead.) It is not necessary that a frame always contains something, but its relationship with content is essential.

One usually assumes that a picture frame is of lesser importance than the work of art which it contains. One similarly assumes that the glass case which protects, for example, the bust of Nefertiti in the Egyptian Museum in Berlin is less important than the bust itself. But the question whether the products of architecture are of lesser, or greater, importance than the things they frame is more difficult.

The answer of moderation is that the two are in a symbiotic relationship; it may be that a frame is secondary to its contents; but the contents also benefit from their frame—in the protection it gives, in the accommodation it provides, in the amplification which it gives to their existence. A room provides a service as a frame; as does a chair,

Salisbury Cathedral is composed of a number of frames for different purposes: the porch frames the entrance; the cathedral frames the altar; the altar frames the ceremony of preparation for communion; the square cloister frames a place of contemplation; the octagonal chapter house frames a place for communal discussion.

Walter Corbit House

The aedicule of the Albert Memorial in London frames a statue of Prince Albert, but in death it also frames his memory.

a bookcase, a pulpit, an aircraft hangar, even a bus shelter. Each protects, accommodates, and reinforces the existence of its contents (or its inhabitants). The relationship between contents and frame is pivotal.

Architecture is most often a matter of framing the ordinary and the everyday, but famous instances make the point and are memorable: the simple blue garage in Laugharne on the South Wales coast is the frame within which Dylan Thomas wrote his poetry; the new palace in Bucharest, Romania, was intended to frame and amplify the political power of the dictator Nicolae Ceausescu; the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem frames a sacred place; the concentration camp at Auschwitz framed the deaths of a million people.

Thinking in this way, one realises that human beings surround themselves with frames, by which they organise the world architecturally. Sitting writing this I am surrounded by many frames: the frame of streets of the planned village in which I live; the frame of our piece of ground, our house, my study. In the study there are:

shelves which frame books (themselves frames of ideas and facts); a table which frames a surface for work; a drawing board; windows; a door; a fireplace; lights; pictures; cupboards; and computers, which frame lots of things from all over the world.

Architectural frames, and the ways in which they can be used, are innumerable. There are simple frames (an aedicular porch), and complex (the network of routes in a modern air terminal). There are small frames (a keyhole), and large (a city square). There are two-dimensional (a snooker or pool table), three-dimensional (a multi-storey structure), and four-dimensional (a labyrinth), and many dimensional (the Internet).

Frames need not be constructed of tangible material— a spotlight can frame an actor on a stage—and can apply to senses other than the visual: a beautiful woman might be framed by an aura of scent; the warm air from an air vent might frame a group of people trying to keep warm on a cold day; a mosque is in a way framed by

A table, in its space, frames the life of a meal.

the sound of the muezzin calling Muslims to prayer.

Russian Dolls

Frames often overlap one another in architecture, or fit one within another. Frames can be like Russian Dolls, each of which has an inside into which fits a slightly smaller doll, to the limits of practicability.

outer defensive wall; the outer ward; the inner defensive wall; and the inner ward.

In architecture frames are rarely simply concentric like Russian Dolls; frames overlap, combine in complex ways, intrude one on another, and operate at vastly variable scales.

Imagine a walled town. The 'first' frame is the wall it

Beaumaris Castle on the island of Anglesey off the coast of North Wales, consists of a concentric series of defensive barriers.

Some works of architec- self; there are the gateways ture can be like this. The plan through the walls; then there is of Beaumaris Castle on the is- the network of streets, geomet-

land of Anglesey off the coast ric or organic; each of the of North Wales shows five con- houses or church or civic build-

centric layers: the moat; the ings is a frame itself, but to-

A condominium frames a number of apartments, that frame rooms, each of which contains a number of smaller frames.

Reference for Moore House:

Charles Moore, Gerald Allen, and Donlyn Lyndon—The Place of Houses, 1974.

gether they might define a market place or town square; in the square there might be a fountain set in its own frame of water; inside each of the houses there are a number of rooms, each of which contain frames of different kinds—tables, chairs, fireplaces, cupboards, chests, beds, a bath, a sink, even a carpet can frame a place; a table might be set for a meal, each person having their own place framed by a chair and some cutlery; the table is maybe framed in a pool of light; a desk might frame work in progress; a television frames views of the outside world; and so on.

Buildings can be frames structurally, but architecture makes frames conceptually too. This is a diagram of a small house which the American architect Charles Moore designed for him-self and which was built in California in 1961. It is not a large house, but it contains two aedicules, like small temples. Each of these frames its own place: the larger, a living area; the smaller, the bath and shower. Both aedicules are lit by rooflights, so both places are also framed by light. The house as a whole is framed by the envelope shown dotted on the diagram. Other places within the

Reference for Moore House:

Charles Moore, Gerald Allen, and Donlyn Lyndon—The Place of Houses, 1974.

house are framed by a combination of the aedicules and the outer envelope, together with pieces of furniture. Taken altogether the house is a complex matrix of overlapping frames.

This is another building in which aedicules of different scales are used to frame places. In this case the places are not to do with dwelling, but with death and bereavement. The Chapel of the Resurrection, designed by Sigurd Lewerentz, was built in the extensive grounds of the Woodland Crematorium in Stockholm in 1925.

In the plan one can see a number of aedicules and other types of architectural frames. The entrance, from the north, is framed by a large porch of twelve columns supporting a pediment; this porch is not actually attached to the main part of the building. Then there is the body of the chapel itself: on the outside this is very plain, rather like an austere tomb; on the inside surfaces of the walls y there are shallow relief col) umns, so that this cell is also a J temple-like aedicule.

Within the chapel, and very carefully positioned, is a smaller, more elaborate

The Chapel of the Resurrection, designed by Sigurd Lewerentz is composed of many architectural frames.

Reference for Chapel of the Resurrection:

Janne Ahlin—Sigurd Lewerentz, architect 18851975, 1987.

Chapel Resurrection Lewerentz

The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Berkeley, California, is an aggregation of many aedicules. It was designed by Bernard Maybeck, and built in 1910.

Reference for First Church of Christ, Scientist:

Edward Bosley—First Church of Christ, Scientist, Berkeley, 1994.

aedicule, which identifies the place of the altar and frames the cross (both of which themselves are symbolic frames); and in front of this aedicule there is the catafalque, which provides a frame for the coffin during funeral ceremonies. The coffin, of course, frames the dead person. All together, the coffin and the mourners, with the altar and cross in their own aedicule, are framed by the chapel itself.

The Chapel of the Resurrection is composed of many architectural frames. The window in the south facing wall is in the form of an aedicule. Its primary architectural role is not to frame a view of the outside but, as the sole source of daylight in the chapel, to allow the sun into the cell, to frame both the altar and the coffin on the catafalque.

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  • Pekka
    Does architect make frames?
    3 years ago
  • macaria baresi
    Which famous architect used pure shapes to frame views?
    9 months ago

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