In dealing with the world, people sometimes accept what the world provides or does, and at others, they try to change it to achieve a view of how it should be—how the world might be more comfortable, more beautiful, or in better order than it is.
Our interaction with the world can be thought of as a mixture of these two responses: to accept or to change. Hamlet was not the only one to be afflicted with this quandary; it is particularly alive in architecture, where the designing mind has to engage directly with the world.
It is not possible to change everything by the powers of architecture; but neither is it feasible to leave everything as it is; merely by lighting their camp-fire our prehistoric family changed the world. Architecture therefore involves both acceptance and change. The designing mind is faced with the double question, 'What should one try to change; and what should one accept as it is?'.
In this question, architecture is philosophy; it is to do with how the world works, and what the response should be. There is no single correct answer, but a mixture of wondering and assertion.
The following two quotations, both by writers concerned with architecture, illustrate different philosophical positions on how the designing mind should relate to the world. The first is taken from The Ten Books on Architecture written by the Roman architect Vitru-vius in the first century BC; (he is paraphrasing an earlier, Greek writer, The ophrast- us):
The man of learning...can fearlessly look down upon the troublesome accidents of fortune. But he who thinks himself entrenched in defences not of learning but of luck, moves in slippery paths, struggling through life unsteadily and insecurely.
The second quotation is from The Poetry of Architecture, by the nineteenth-century British critic, John Ruskin. He is imagining the quintessential mountain cottage:
Everything about it should be natural, and should appear as if the influences and forces which were in operation around it had been too strong to be resisted, and had rendered all efforts of art to check their power, or conceal the evidence of their action, entirely unavailing. it can never lie too humbly in the pastures of the valley, nor shrink too submissively into the hollows of the hills; it should seem to be asking the storm for mercy, and the mountain for protection: and should appear to owe to its weakness, rather than to its strength, that it is neither overwhelmed by the one, nor crushed by the other.
The attitudes which these two writers express are poles apart. Vitruvius puts forward the idea that architecture is about changing the world for the benefit of people, and that such change is to be achieved by the application of human intellect and the assertion of human will. Ruskin, on the other hand, unsteadies this simple idea by suggesting that it is not the role of human beings to contend against nature for their own benefit, but to recognise that they are part of (not separate from) nature, and to accept its authority, in the faith that nature 'knows best' and will provide. (Ruskin first published the above passage under the nom de plume KATA PHUSIN' which is Greek for 'according to nature'.)
It would not be fair to suggest that these two quotations represent the full bodies of thought that Ruskin and Vitruvius offered in their writings. Nor do the attitudes presented belong only to these two writers; they have been echoed by many others through history. These two passages do however identify the horns of an abiding dilemma for architects.
In a previous section of this book it was suggested that to understand the powers of architecture one should be aware of the conditions within which they may be employed. The conditions which the world presents can be categorised in various ways; here is one way which seems appropriate for discussing architecture.
Generally speaking, in doing architecture, one has to deal with all or some of the following, which are extrinsic to the conscious designing mind:
• the ground, with its earth,rock, trees; its stability, or instability; its changes inlevel; its dampness; its flator unevenness;
• gravity: its constant verticality;
• the weather: sun, breeze, rain,wind, snow, lightning;
• the materials available for building: stone, clay, wood,steel, glass, plastic, concrete, aluminium;
• the size of people, and of other creatures: their reach, their movement, their eyes, how they sit;
• the bodily needs and functions of people, and maybe other creatures, for warmth, security, air, food;
• the behaviour of people, individually, or in groups; social patterns, and political structures;
• other products of architecture (other buildings, places) that already exist;
• pragmatic requirements: the space needed for various activities;
• the future: visions of 'Utopia', or of 'Apocalypse';
• the processes of time: change, wear, patination, deterioration, erosion, ruin.
To each or all of these the designing mind may adopt different attitudes, maybe in differing circumstances, for example: to make shelter against a cold wind, or to enjoy the benefits of a cooling breeze; to try to control patterns of behaviour, or to allow (or accept, or cultivate, or concede to) their contribution to the identity of places; to submit materials to carving and polishing, or to accept their innate finish, or the finish they are given by the processes of their acquisition (such as that of stone broken by quarrying); to fight (or disregard) the effects of time, or to anticipate (or exploit) the patination of materials by sun, wind and wear; to provide for bodily needs and functions, or to dismiss them as beneath architectural consideration; to accept human size as a basis of architectural scale, or to create a hermetic rule for proportion, one which does not refer to anything outside itself; to follow the precedents of history (even to submit to the 'authority' of history), or to seek the new—making the future different from the past.
Any product of architecture (e.g. a building, a garden, a city, a playground, a sacred grove.) is informed by, and hence expresses, such attitudes. If an architect wishes to fight against the force of gravity, then it will show in the form of the building produced (for examples, a Gothic cathedral vault, or one of the cantilevers of Frank Lloyd Wright's design for the house called 'Fallingwater'). If an architect seeks to control the behaviour of people, then it will show in the form of the building (for example in a 'panopticon' Victorian prison, in which all cells could be watched from a single central view-point). If an architect wants to cool the interior of a house with breezes, then this too will affect the form of the building.
Products of architecture combine acceptance of some aspects with change of others. There is, however, no general rule to dictate which aspects are accepted, and which should be changed or controlled. This fundamental uncertainty lies at the heart of many of the great debates about architecture, in history and in the present: should architects follow tradition, or should they strive for novelty and originality; should materials be used in the state in which they are found, or be subject to processes of manufacture that change their innate character; should architects dictate the layout of the places where people live, or should cities grow organically, without a master plan? People find different answers to these and many other similarly difficult questions.
Designing minds combine change and acceptance in varying degrees. In some products of architecture the attitude of change and control seems to dominate; in others it is the attitude of acceptance and responsiveness which appears to prevail. The archetypal 'temple' and the archetypal 'cottage' illustrate these differences.
The archetypal 'temple'
The archetypal 'temple' is not a real temple, but an idea. The illustration on the next page shows a building which looks like an ancient Greek temple, but as we shall see later there are other buildings which can be classified as 'temples', in the philosophical sense.
The 'temple' can be characterised in terms of the ways its architect dealt with various aspects of the world. It is not necessary to look at the temple in terms of all the aspects of the world listed above; seeing the
treatment of some of them will illustrate the point.
The 'temple' stands on a platform which replaces the uneven ground with a controlled surface as a foundation for building. This flat platform (or in some historical examples subtly curved—as that of the Parthenon on the acropolis in Athens) is a starting level (a datum) for the geometric discipline of the 'temple' itself, and detaches it from the found world. Even if the platform had no 'temple', it would define a special place, distinct because of its flatness and its separation by height above the landscape around.
The 'temple' provides shelter against the weather, to protect its content (the image of a god). Its form concedes little to the forces of climate; it stands prominently in an exposed location.
Its materials are carved into abstract or geometric shapes, and carefully finished—smooth, painted, and with precise mouldings. The stone is probably not that which is readily available at the site, but has been brought some distance, with the expenditure of substantial effort and money, because of its quality.
The scale of the 'temple' doesn't relate to the usual size of human beings, but to the indeterminately larger stature of the god to whom it is dedicated. The module on which the size of the 'temple' is based exists only in the dimensions of the building; the 'temple' has its own ideal system of proportions within its own fabric; this characteristic contributes to its detachment from the found world.
As a house of a god the 'temple' does not provide for the bodily needs or functions of mortals.
The 'temple' is complete in itself, and does not respond to other architecture. It is more likely that other architecture will relate to it, as a focus and point of reference. The 'temple' represents a stable centre. Though not responding to other buildings around it, the 'temple' probably does relate, by axis, to something distant and above built with this fate in mind, but to stand against the processes of time, rather than submit to them. (For the later Romantic mind the reduction to ruin of these icons of human self-confidence—or maybe hubris—is filled with poetic significance.)
The archetypal 'cottage' Like the 'temple', the archetypal
the ordinary: a sacred place on the peak of a distant mountain, a star, or the rising sun.
As a shrine the 'temple' has a simple function, which is not complicated by messy pragmatic requirements. Its form is ideal, dictated by geometry and axial symmetry rather than by the spaces needed for a mixture of activities.
The form of the classic Greek temples was the product of refinements made over a number of centuries, but as an idea the 'temple' is timeless—belonging equally to the past and the future. Though ancient temples are now in ruins, they were not
'cottage' is not a real building but an idea. Whereas the 'temple' manifests humanist detachment from the found world, the 'cottage' fits in with its surroundings. The drawing above shows what appears to be a British cottage (of somewhat vague origin), but there are many other buildings (and gardens) which illustrate the 'cottage' idea.
Unlike the 'temple', the archetypal 'cottage' sits on the ground. The unevenness of site is incorporated into its form. Not detached from the landscape, its walls may extend into the surroundings as field walls.
Like the 'temple' the 'cottage' provides shelter against the weather, but for people and animals rather than the image of a god. Its architect has responded to climate: it has a steeply pitched roof to shed the rain, and is located to find what protection there is from trees, and from the lie of the land. Its relationship with the sun is not one of setting up a significant axis, but maybe a matter (in a cool climate) of taking advantage of its warmth, or (in a hot climate) of providing shade from its heat.
The 'cottage' is built of materials that are ready to hand. Though necessarily subject to some shaping and finishing, they are used in a rough state.
The scale of the 'cottage' relates directly to the actual size of people, and perhaps also livestock. This is particularly evident at doorways, where height corresponds to human stature, and width, if the door is giving access to a cowshed, maybe to the span of cattle's horns.
The 'cottage' provides for bodily needs and functions. Its main purpose is to house people who spend their time working to keep themselves alive. There is a hearth for warmth; there are places to sit, to prepare food, to eat, to sleep.
The 'cottage' and the places around it accommodate many different pragmatic requirements. In response to these the layout is not formal, but complex and irregular.
The 'cottage' is mutable, and accepts the processes of time—wear and age. It is probably never complete; additions are added as more space is needed, or removed when redundant. Its fabric acquires a patina which deepens with age; lichens grow on its stones; and plants grow in their own way, establishing themselves in the crevices of the walls.
Though the above descriptions are analyses of the images of apparently real and plausible buildings—a 'temple' and a 'cottage'—the issue for the designing mind is the underlying one of attitude. The mind that is engaged in architecture must have an attitude, or a permutation of attitudes, to the conditions which impinge. Attitudes may be held unthinkingly, or asserted consciously, but they always affect the character of the work produced. There is not one attitude which informs all architecture; in this, variety in works of architecture is the result of variety in the philosophical approaches of architects.
Broadly, the attitudes which designing minds adopt exist on a dimension which stretches from submission, through symbiosis, to domination; one may submit to the conditions that prevail, seek to work in harmony with them, or seek to dominate them. But they also include many, more subtle, nuances of attitude: ignorance, disregard, acceptance, resignation, response, change, mitigation, amelioration, exploitation, contention, subjugation, control; all of which can combine in a variety of ways in dealing with the many different aspects of the world perceived as conditioning the production of works of architecture.
With regard to climate for example: on a particular site you, as an architect, might be ignorant of some wind that blows with potential destructive force in the same month each year; you might know about the wind and yet disregard it; you might seek to mitigate, or even exploit its effects for the environmental benefit of the users; or you might perhaps suggest a windbreak to deflect or control it. Some of the options may be negligent, reckless, or downright stupid; others may be subtle, poetic, and intelligent; some might exist in a grey zone between the two; but the options in attitude are always there, to be adopted with regard to different aspects of the conditions, according to your judgement.
Attitudes, consciously or unselfconsciously adopted, are manifest in the character of the work of architecture which is produced. If an attitude of domination is adopted, it will be there in the work; if submission, it too will be there.
Attitudes may be personally asserted by architects, or inherited by them from their culture, in which case their works manifest not just their personal attitudes but those of their culture or sub-culture.
The representation of attitude in works of architecture is also open to manipulation: by those who wish to use architecture as a means of poetic expression; or by those who wish to use it as a medium of propaganda, or symbol of national, personal, commercial status. When architects of the Third Reich in Germany during the 1930s wanted to use architecture to symbolise the power the Reich asserted, they used a style of architecture (based on Classical architecture and its 'temples') which evokes an attitude of control. When the Nazis wanted to suggest that their politics were of those 'of the people' they insisted on a folk style (based on 'cottages') which seemed to suggest acceptance and celebration of national traditions with roots deep in history. Neither the Classical style of architecture, nor the traditional, was, in these instances, born of an attitude of acceptance; both were imbued with a spirit of control.
Manipulation of the appearance of works of architecture to suggest that they are born of particular attitudes is not always associated with dark or political propaganda. It is also a facet of the poetic potential of architecture. The other face of propaganda, in this regard, is romance; whether it is the romance of the heroism of ancient Rome, or of idyllic rural life, or of high technology, or of ecological harmony, works of architecture can be made to appear to have been born of the appropriate attitudes.
It may seem cynical to say so, but sometimes the attitude superficially suggested by the appearance of a work of architecture may not be the same as the one which actually underlay its conception and realisation.
One attitude which is not compatible with being an architect is abdication. As an architect one may accept, respond to, or change (the lie of the land for example), but if one abdicates from decision, or tries to suggest that the driving attitude lies elsewhere (in nature, nation, history, climate), then, in the fine grain of things, one is no longer an architect. It is not nature, society, or history, nor climate, gravity, or human scale, that determines the way a work of architecture comes about, but an architect's attitude to them and to other aspects of conditions which appear to prevail.
'Cottage' and 'temple' as ideas
'Cottage' and 'temple' are architectural ideas that are not restricted to cottages and temples.
Confusingly, it is quite easy to find cottages (i.e. small dwellings) that are to some degree 'temples' (architecturally, that is), and temples (i.e. religious buildings, loosely speaking) that architecturally are 'cottages'. The architectural ideas are not restricted to their nominal roles as 'grand shrine for a god' and 'humble home of man'. Architectural ideas are not necessarily specific to purpose.
In its irregular composition of forms this church on Corfu (bottom of page), though functionally a temple, is architecturally a 'cottage'.
.while this cottage (right), with its geometric order and axial symmetry, standing on as mall plinth is architecturally a 'temple'.
The 'cottage' and 'temple' ideas can equally well be applied to garden design. In the traditional English cottage, and 'cottage', garden (right) plants in irregular groups are apparently allowed to grow in their innate ways, with no formal organisation.
.whereas in the ornamental garden of a French chateau, for example, the plants are arranged in geometric patterns and clipped into unnatural shapes.
The English cottage garden implies acceptance of the providence of nature, appreciation of the innate characters of the different species of plant,
and enjoyment of an aesthetic effect which appears independent of human decision and control. By contrast, the geometric garden of the French chateau celebrates human control over nature; the plants do not grow into their natural shapes, but are clipped into regular forms.
Many products of architecture are neither pure 'cottage' nor pure 'temple', but a mixture of both. Parts of a rambling house may be little 'temples': such as the porch, the fireplace, the four-poster bed, the door-case, the bay-window, and the dormer window, in this cutaway drawing.
symmetry and regular geometry associated with the architectural idea of 'temple'.
While the irregularity and absence of strictly orthogonal geometry in the plan of this Welsh farmhouse
The architectural ideas of 'temple' and 'cottage' are evident in the plans of works of architecture, as well as in their outward appearances.
This is the plan of the ancient Greek temple of Aphaia at Aegina. It illustrates abstract characteristics of axial
While the irregularity and absence of strictly orthogonal geometry in the plan of this Welsh farmhouse
(Llanddewi Castle Farm, Glamorgan) is typical of the 'cottage' idea: its plan is not complete within itself; some of its walls enclose patches of outside space, and others stretch out into the landscape; the rooms are not laid out formally, but more as an accretion of places for different purposes.
Where the 'temple' plan imposes, the 'cottage' plan responds.
The Erectheion, a temple on the acropolis in Athens, has an irregular asymmetrical plan.
The Erectheion is composed of parts of three 'temples' put together, but in its relation to the ground, it also has some 'cottage' characteristics.
This Welsh farmhouse, by contrast, exhibits some of the architectural characteristics of a
even ground on a level platform.
So far in this discussion of the 'temple' and the 'cottage' as architectural ideas we have even ground on a level platform.
So far in this discussion of the 'temple' and the 'cottage' as architectural ideas we have
In some of its characteristics, this Welsh cottage is, architecturally, a 'temple'. It is symmetrical in plan and section, and stands on a platform, separated from the natural lie of the ground.
looked only at examples from the distant past. These ideas are ancient in the production of architecture, but they have been used in the twentieth century too.
Scharoun, of 1939, with its irregular plan which directly responds to the accommodation of different purposes, appears to be architecturally a 'cottage'.
The Einstein Tower (1919) by Erich Mendelsohn is, even with its curved forms, a 'temple'.
This is the Nationalgalerie in Berlin, built to the designs of Mies van der Rohe in the 1960s. This is the entrance level of the building; the majority of the galleries are within the plinth on which it stands. The structure of this large pavilion is steel, and its walls are almost completely of glass. By its plan and overall form it is clearly a 'temple': it stands on a platform clear of the natural ground level; its plan is a perfect square; and it is axially symmetrical. It is a reinterpretation in steel of the architecture of ancient Greek stone temples.
This house by Hans
Whereas the civic centre at Saynatsalo, Finland (right), designed by Alvar Aalto (1952), with its careful but irregular planning, response to changing ground levels, and incorporation of external places, tends more towards the architectural 'cottage'.
Philip Johnson and John Burgee's AT&T Building in New York, built in 1982 (below), is a tall 'temple'.
And the Inmos Research Centre near Newport, Gwent, designed by Richard Rogers is a wide 'temple'.
There are also twentieth-century buildings that combine 'temple' with 'cottage' characteristics.
From the outside, Le Corbusier's Villa Savoye (1929) appears to be a 'temple' (though it is a house). Its main living spaces are lifted clear of the natural ground, not on a solid platform, but on a series of columns. Its outer form is generally symmetrical but with small deviations; and it is ordered according to geometric proportions. But its plans, though
And the Inmos Research Centre near Newport, Gwent, designed by Richard Rogers is a wide 'temple'.
Reference for 'exclusive' and 'selective' modes of environmental design:
Dean Hawkes—The Environmental Tradition, 1996.
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