ARTICLES HOME    
V I K T O R   M A S H I N S K Y
FORM IN ARCHITECTURE: OUTLINES OF THE PHENOMENON

In the present-day Architecture, may be there is no more complicated and contradictory problem then the problem of Architectural Form - plastics of building and its elements, There is exactly the focus of breathtaking subjects, dramas, comedies, farces and striking paradoxes. In the historical epochs masters of the folk Architecture and of the professional stylistic schools used a restricted number of strictly adjusted and grinded Forms, and theorists - as a rule, the most eminent masters of the schools, assured the practical works by their exact recommendations in spears composition, proportions and Forms. Architect created not in the trance, but he knew and knowledge was guarantee of the quality of the folk Architecture, of the Architecture of professional styles and even of the eclecticism of the end of the XIX century.
Those idyllic times sunk into oblivion. Since the beginning of the XX century borders of form-building have been infinitely widened. Any Architect almost every day creates new Forms by intuition. There is no time to adjust and grind these Forms. And theory becomes more and more a descriptive genre of literature, not only standing out of practice but following in the tracks of practice. The quality of Architecture has visibly deteriorated. This situation has become subject of a sharp criticism and Architect himself has changed into almost odious figure. It is evident that a revival of the Architecture is impossible without an exact professional knowledge. However, under the conditions of plurality and mobility of Forms the knowledge of the theory of form-building must replace the traditional empirical knowledge of a certain combination of Forms of this or that stylistic school. The present article is dedicated just to some problems of the theory of form-building.


THE TRUTH OF THE ARCHITECTURAL FORM

Functions of our soul are as real as the functions of the body.
Walter Groppius 

We are used to consider that Architectural Form must be determined by the objective conditions: functions of buildings, materials, constructions, economic conditions, conditions of site (climate, relief, geology, etc.). Just the correspondence to the above conditions from the times of Viollet-de-Duc, Sallivan, and F.L.Wright has given the right to a high status of "Truthful Architecture". Alas, it is truth, only truth, but far from all the truth. In all times Architectural Form has been stipulated also to its perception by man, receiving from them all information about a building. Hence, Architectural Form must be defined not only by the objective conditions, but by the conditions of perception as well. AF<-(OC+CP). But what are these conditions of perception?
As is known, the human perception is the process of comparison of the information received from outside with the "Perceptive Models" being kept in the human memory. They are a kind of informational stereotypes.. In application to Architectural Form, as I believe, they are conceptual, emotional and aesthetic stereotypes (CS, EmS, AesS) being the product of evolution of man. The most fundamental are stereotypes, stipulated by psycho-physiological nature of man (PsPh). To conceptual stereotypes belong here, for instance, conceptions of heavy and light, steady and unsteady, strong and not strong. To emotional stereotypes, for instance, the emotions provoked by these or those colors. To aesthetic ones - phenomena of symmetry and asymmetry, proportions, etc., cultivated on the images of nature and man himself. And Architectural Forms can correspond or not correspond to these stereotypes, becoming grotesque or even shocking in the latter case (Ill.1).
But stereotypes of Architectural Forms are the product of not only the biological but of the social evolution of man as well-they are part of this or that culture. They are stereotypes, as I believe, of the some cultures which are connected by the genesis, having washed away boundaries, but still quite definite: stereotypes of the cultures of regional civilizations (Sc), inside them - stereotypes of the cultures of this or that epochs (Sep), inside them - stereotypes of subcultures of this or that social groups (Ssg).
Conception stereotypes of given civilization, epoch and social group give possibility to understand the purpose of building and its elements. Emotional stereotypes of civilization, epoch and social group ensure adequate emotional reaction on given building or its parts. At last aesthetic stereotypes civilization, epoch and social group give possibility to judge about degree of beauty of building and its elements, (ill. 2).
Thus the structure of Architectural Form is as follows: AF<-OC+CS(PsPh+Sc+Sep+Ssg)+EmS(PsPh+Sc+Sep+Ssg)+AesS(PsPh+Sc+Sep+Ssg). This is a condition of full value and at last full truth of the Architectural Form.
However, Forms can be perceived by human beings inadequately. If psycho-physiological stereotypes are understandable to all people, provoke adequate feelings and aesthetic impressions in them, then stereotypes of the Architectural Forms of an alien civilization, or epoch, or social group could be obscure, can provoke inadequate emotions and aesthetic impressions - like the music of an alien civilization, epoch, social group, whereof - age group.
Here are some examples. If we speak about the stereotypes of civilizations, then for instance, the Forms of the Shintoist temples or the tea ceremony houses are bearing for a Japanese a big volume of conception information, provoke in him adequate feelings and correspond to his aesthetic norms. But they are badly understandable to, say, the Africa population, provoke in them inadequate emotions and aesthetic impressions. The same could be said about stereotypes of epoch. For example the purpose of the official buildings in Russia of the XIX century were understandable to the people of that time, their specific architecture stirred up in them certain feelings, among which fear was prevailing, and they corresponded to the aesthetic of "majestic". But our contemporary understands with difficulty the purpose of those buildings, in the emotions provoked by them nostalgia is prevailing, and the aesthetic of those buildings corresponded to the aesthetic of chamber.
And of course, the office sky-scrapers would be misunderstood to the people of the beginning of the XIX century, they would provoke unpredictable emotions, and, evidently, would seem ugly. Stereotypes of social groups are also quite isolated. For a Russian peasant of XVIII century the purpose of a barn or bathhouse and their details were clear, they probably stirred up in him a feeling of the home, and of course, they corresponded to his aesthetic ideals. On the contrary, such accessories of the court life as decorative ruins, hermitages and fountains would be obviously misunderstood to peasant, would provoke inadequate emotions and would evidently seem to him ridiculous. With a rise in the mobility of the society the boundaries of subcultures should have become indistinct, but a deepening professional specialization and age isolation maintain same on a sufficiently high level.
Thus, depending on the thesaurus of a human being (the volume and the coincidence of stereotypes of cultures) the volume of the adequately perceivable information, being born by an Architectural Form can fluctuate from the minimum - only psycho-physiological stereotypes, to the maximum - plus stereotypes of all ranks of cultures. For an Architect it is natural to strive for a complete and adequate perception of his work. But that depends also on to what extent the Forms created by him correspond to the stereotypes.
Alas, stereotypes - these conditions of possibility of existence of human being, are perceived negatively by a present-day Architect unlike the humble masters of the classic schools. He is disposed to create new Forms even if there are grotesque and shocking. And this one provoke mentioned above negative reaction of contemporary society.
But deviation from the existing and creation of new stereotypes are not only the product of subjective aspirations of Architects. They are product the objective process of the evolution of Architectural Forms as well.


EVOLUTION OF ARCHITECTURAL FORM

We are changing, they are abiding.
Fridrich Shiller 

Creation of new Architectural Forms has always been initiated by a new functions, structures, methods of constructions, - i.e. by the most mobile objective conditions, by that locomotive of the form-building, and also by fundamental for the given new culture conceptions, by new emotional and aesthetic norms. But an artistic perfection of Forms, i.e. stereotypes is a long process, and stereotypes themselves as information system demands stability. Therefore, there is the inevitability of divergence of Architectural Form with the objective conditions engendered it. In the rigid rural environment of the Folk Architecture such divergence has been always minimum. On the contrary, in a more and more mobile, mainly urban, environment of the professional architecture, that divergence, being insignificant in the early period of life of the style, has been increasing gradually. At the end of the life of the style, in the period of mannerism, the Forms were existed, but the objective conditions, the ideas, the emotional and aesthetic norms which engendered it, have already gone. Using the images of L. Carrol, that was a materialized smile of the cat which has already gone. Then this break reached its critical point and the existence of the style came to the end. After the period of eclecticism - of a free manipulation with undetermined Forms of the former styles, a new organic style appeared and a new cycle began. That scheme acquired many particularities in life. But it is important that a break, a certain independency of Architectural Form from any time new aggregate of objective conditions, conceptions, emotional and aesthetic norms is not only inevitable, but is necessary.
From those positions all illegitimacy of angry philippics of the adherents of the "truthful architecture" against a break of the Form from the objective conditions is clear. In that sense there has been no truth in any mature style, whereof - in the antiquity as well, which has always seemed as ideal. The comprehension of an independent role, that is a self-value of Architectural Form saves an Architect from the complex of a narrow understanding of the "truthful architecture". It gives the grounds for a more exact understanding of the nature of architectural masterpieces and on the whole-for the exact estimate of the rightfulness of Architectural Forms, (ill. 3).
It is natural, that the degree of the self-value of a Form depends on the importance of the edifice and the rank of stereotypes themselves, from the highest - psycho-physiological, to the lowest - stereotypes of the social group - including the aesthetic ones - i.e. "fashion". Therefore, when an Architect in the Forms of public buildings, bearing informative responsibility, sacrifices the truth of expression of the objective conditions (of structures, functional spaces, etc.) to please psycho-physiological stereotypes or stereotypes of the civilization - he does the necessary thing. Sacrificing this truth in utilitarian edifices to please the stereotypes of subculture and in the first place-the stereotypes of the "fashion", an Architect plays himself a ridiculous role of a victim to the fashion, (ill. 4).
With the degree of .the self-value there is also connected the degree of the implantation and the spreading of Forms. Prevailing in the form-building of the objective conditions, in particular - conditions of site, defines the high degree of the implantation of such Architecture, but its small spreading in space, and in the changeable conditions of the present-day life - also in time. That is the way of the Architecture of F.L.Wright which can live only by the life of the method.
The prevailing in form-building of stereotypes epoch and sub-cultures in the conditions of dynamic life and developed communications is the guarantee of their quick spreading in space, but a short life in time. Such is the destiny of the XX century styles - from modernism and functionalism to postmodernism.
At last, the prevailing in form-building of fundamental psycho-physiological stereotypes despite an insufficient implantation of such Forms, ensures to them an area of spreading, which space is the whole of the world, and time is the eternity. Such exactly is the Antique Order. The most important concepts, feelings and aesthetic norms of man are expressed in this Order: the tectonics of the bearing and the born, the state of peace, the aesthetic principles of structure of natural organisms and man himself. Besides-it has turned to be an extremely precise scale module - measuring instrument of the correlation of man and edifice. Therefore, in the past and henceforth, however wide the amplitude of fluctuation of Architectural Form can be, that perpetual motion will be effected from a kind of some point of equilibrium - from the Antique Order. And that unfailing recurrence to the Order, its perpetual renascence will last till the moment when in the Architecture will be found the Forms reflecting more fully such phenomena as tectonics, peace and beauty.
The process itself of the evolution of Architectural Forms in the history is the disappearance of less stable stereotypes of sub-cultures and cultures epochs, but the unification of more strong and general stereotypes of sub-cultures in the fund of stereotypes of cultures of epoch, and the most stable and general out of those - in the fund of culture of a given civilization. It is exactly like that the genetic-fund of culture is formed. Closely connected with the dynamic phenomenon - technical progress, the Architecture is the most van-guard kind of art. However, the necessity of stability of the Architecture as the information system of the habitat is more important than of other, less connected with the habitat kinds of art. This one demands a certain regulation of the speed of mutations of Architectural Forms. Arisen in the epochs of a high stability of traditions, of driving on the progress and all kinds of changes, now, in the epoch of superfluous mobility of stereotypes of cultures in general and the Architectural Forms - in particular, changing of the Architectural Forms must be restrained.
That determines the strategy of Architecture in whole. The most dynamic functions, technologies in industry and in the public service should be incarnated, to my mind, in buildings of short life. And methods of projecting these buildings may be close to methods of industrial design. The basis of the environment, counter-balancing that mobile layer of environment, should be formed by the dwelling and public buildings with universal and transforming inner spaces and with stable outer Forms, in which leading role will play Forms determined by the most stable psycho-physiological stereotypes and stereotypes of a given civilization.


INDIVIDUAL AND TYPICAL, REGIONAL AND UNIVERSAL, TRADITION AND INNOVATION

Trade caravans have not yet trampled down the local originality.
Washington Irving 

An Architectural Form is always the product of an individual creative work (it does not matter - whether of one or several authors). The creation of individual Forms, the unification of the similar ones in typical, the springing-up on that basis of stereotypes of social group and the epoch, and inclusion the most steady of them in the fund of stereotypes of given civilization - that is the way of evolution of Forms in Architecture. This evolution realized step by step Only in the times of origin of new styles these steps became resolute. And those were the steps of the geniuses. But only the elite could foresee stereotypes of the future. Like this Leonardo-de-Vinci and Sent-Elia foresaw many-leveled roads, and C.Ledu - the aesthetic of the XX century.
Thus, in the Forms of any edifice and environment on the whole are incarnated the typical and the individual elements of them. But a very important thing is their correlation. Edifice and environment consisting only in typical Forms and hence - in familiar stereotypes, have the maximum informative efficiency, but they are dull, because of the minimum of the nervous energy is required to percept them. On the contrary, edifice and environment made of individual Forms only, which have not become stereotypes for man, would be like a rebus for him, and more-would provoke stress, excepting for them the possibility to be his habitat.
The specific weight of individual has always depended on the type of society. In the rigid sphere of the Folk Architecture it was a minimum. It was more considerable in the sphere of the Professional Architecture. But in the past even the great Architects have always worked within a limited number of the adjusted stereotypes of the schools, including in them only little elements of the innovation. That was the guarantee of a high quality of the classical Architecture. With the end of the historical schools in the XIX century and the transition to the creative work within the numbers of the short life unsteady trends, the share of the individual Forms increase sharply. Innovations, which had been prerogative of the great Architects, became inalienable prerogative of everybody. The quality of the Architecture has been reduced sharply, and the share of familiar stereotypes dropped.. The society replied by a sharp criticism of the Architecture. It is evident that the way of increasing the quality of Architecture and restoration of the necessary correlation of the typical and the individual is the recreation of Architectural Schools on the new basis. But it is special topic and a subject of a special consideration.
Regional and universal, traditions and innovations. Those pairs of phenomena are close, they reflect two sides of culture-its progress and maintenance of the bases. Rut only the understanding of the mechanism of the form-building gives the key to those eternal themes of discussions.
The base of innovation and universal are the most dynamic and general things for all countries
. There are - objective conditions: structures, materials, equipment, methods of construction, and also functions in the industries and public buildings. The function of dwelling buildings is more stable. The local conditions (climate, relief, geology, etc) are the base of traditions and regional originality.. Psycho-physiological stereotypes are the base of traditions, but, at the same time, they are the base of the universality in Architecture. Stable stereotypes of civilization - the base of traditions and regional originality. Less stable stereotypes of epochs and social groups. They are the base also of innovations, and at the present time, because of incredible development of the global connections, they also the base of universal character of Forms.
In different epochs the correlations of those factors were different. In the past centuries small mobility of objective conditions and stereotypes of epochs and social groups, and also the lack of development of connections, determined the predominance of the traditional and the regional, which created all the richness and variety of Regional Architectures. They were ideally and like creations of nature-with minimum expense of energy, corresponding to the conditions of the locality, national psychology and forms of life.
Now the situation has changed. The mobility of objective conditions - structures, materials, technologies, highest developed global connections, washing out of the cultures of civilizations, universal character of epoch and sub-cultures (for instance - the youth one) have determined the predominance of the innovatory and the universal in the contemporary Architecture. Even such strongholds of the traditional and regional as conditions of site are crashing down. Artificial climate, polarized glass, vacuum windows allow to build similar houses in the North and in the South. Relief is being leveled for housing unit areas. The Architecture is being relieved of the influence of geology by constructive measures. Global styles, not having time to assimilate with the national cultures, destroy the local traditions, forms of life, and with them - aesthetic norms as well. And that has turned to be destructive not only for the cultures of the underdeveloped countries, but for the exporting highly developed cultures as well. Universality made more primitive those cultures assimilating them to the average standard, in particular- Architecture too. All that in its essence barbarian techno-logism, which replaced traditionally accurate taking into account and harmonization of the conditions of form-building, has led to the degradation of the profession of Architect itself.
The sad achievements of the unification, the energy crisis, which compelled to remember the fundamental law of nature - the low of economy of energy, and also the growing disappointment in multistory buildings, industrial methods and new materials (which are called now the myths of the XX century), all that necessitated (as well as in other spheres of culture) revival of the traditional and the regional in the Architecture.
The situation compels to move accents in the mechanism of form-building, putting in the forefront - conditions of site and traditional methods of their taking into account in the Regional Architecture. But that is not all. In the forefront should be put, which is no less importance, also traditional stereotypes of cultures of regional civilizations, with their complex of concepts -symbols, emotional and aesthetic norms, which are so closely connected with all national culture, psychology and forms of life. It is evident, that on that basis should be effected "collection of stones", should be revived every regional culture and, of course every Regional Architecture.


*   *   *

Such are some aspects of the form-building theory in Architecture. As a designing Architect I hope that understanding of its appropriateness will be of useful to every Architect in his designing practice. Exactly pragmatic orientation of the theory, to my mind, can help it to recover the place inside the creative process which always belonged by right to Architectural Theory.


LEGENDS TO ILLUSTRATIONS

Ill. 1. Information stereotypes, based on psycho-physiological nature of human being.
1.1.
Conceptual stereotypes: a - steadiness; b - bearing and being a1, bl - adequate stereotypes; a2, b2 - grotesque; аЗ, bЗ - shocking.
1.2. Emotional stereotypes: al-sorrow; a2- triumph; a3-exultation; bl-peace; b2- catastrophe; ЬЗ-ecstasy, In case of inadequacy of use there can arise an effect of grotesque and even shock. For example, if forms al and b2 will express triumph and form a3 -sorrow.
1.3. Aesthetic stereotypes: expression by proportions of correlations of high and low. al and bl - adequate stereotypes; a2, b2 - shocking "scale trap".

Ill. 2. Information stereotypes of various cultures.
2.1. Stereotypes of civilizations: a - European. b - Central Asian.
Habitation - symbol of home and religious edifices.
2.2.
Stereotypes of epochs - forms administrative edifices in Russia of the epochs: Empire of the XIX century, art-nuveau, functionalism, neo-classicism of the fifties- sixties of the XX century, anonymous style of the seventies-eighties.
2.3.
Stereotypes of subcultures of different social groups in Russia: a - ruins and barn - stereotypes of the forms of the subculture of the court and the village life of the XVIII century; b- stereotypes of the forms of dwelling house in city and village of the XX century; c- stereotypes of the forms in professional subcultures of the XX century.

Ill. 3. Problem of "truthfulness" of Forms in Architecture.
3.1.
Antique Orders of the classic epoch, that generally-recognized ideal of Form in Architecture - is nothing but "false" Architecture - expression in Stone of archaic wooden structures. Doric Order - expression of structures of big wooden elements, typical of the woody continental Greece, Ionic Order -of small elements, typical of the woodless Asia Minor. .Structure of Central Asia shed of the XIX century is similar.
3.2.
. Constructive arcade and superimposed on it a decorative and, hence, as would seem, unnecessary Order: the Coliseum, monastic court of Palladio and Palace Ruchellai of Alberty. "Truthful" arcade of the Palace of Civilization of M.Piacentini - paraphrase of the Coliseum theme. What size of edifice is true?Arcade without Order does not set a scale. "Decorative" Order, as it turns out is necessary to arcade as a measuring instrument of the scale.
3.3.
"False" Forms. The Moscow University of the XIX century and typical church - "false" cupolas. The Preobrajensky Cathedral in Kiji, Russia-here almost all volume of the Cathedral is "false". The Cupola of St Peter's Cathedral in Rome tied up by chains at the base to reduce thrust forces. In opinion of F.L,Wright it is not a work of an Architect but a sculptor. However, it is evident that the information being born by those expressive Forms is more important for the inner world of a human being than a "truthful" reflection outside the inner spaces and thrust forces of the cupola.

Ill. 4. Self-value of Form in Architecture.
4.1.
Forms of edifices important for spiritual life of human being were dictated by psycho-physiological information stereotypes to the detriment of function and structure logic. Emotionally strong Form of a typically Russian church. Functionally more expedient there would have been spacious and low volume. Emotionally strong correlation of lateral and main naves of a Gothic cathed ral, which forced to use external supports. Constructively more expedient there would have been similar height of the lateral and main naves. That was done in cathedrals of the Renaissance, when the faith became not so ecstatic. High level of self-value of the Form is justified.
4.2.
Forms of portals - culmination of dramatic transition from external to inter nal space, dictated by psycho-physiological information stereotypes and by stereotypes of the culture of the given civilization and not by a narrow functions. The portal and the door of the Parthenon are set by the scale of the fafade. They are too big for premises. The portal of the cathedral in Reims is also set by the scale of the fa9ade, and comparatively small doors intensify the effect of transition to the immense space of the cathedral. The small portal and, above all - a very low door prepare the effect of perception of the vast space of the tsar reception hall of the XVI century in Kremlin, Russia. AH three doors are determined also by the scale and hence - the role of a human being in the context of the given culture. The high level of self- value of the Form is justified.
4.3.
Forms of the utilitarian buildings are determined by aesthetic stereotypes of sub-cultures - by fashion to the detriment of function, stereotypes of the civilization and even psycho-physiological stereotypes. Glass hairdresser s in the USSR of 60s and entrance "key-hole" - function is sacrificed to fashion. Semi-arc and portico - stereotypes of the culture of the civilization are sacrificed to fashion. Shocking effect of the windows - "scale trap". Here psycho-physiological stereotypes are sacrificed to fashion. High degree of self-value of the Form is not justified. Architecture is turned into a theater of absurd.

Ill. 5. Traditional and innovation, regional and universal in Architecture.
5.1.
Correlation of those qualities in different epochs.
"ОС"- objective conditions: 1 - structures, materials, construction technology, etc 2 - functions in industrial and public buildings; 3 - function in dwelling; 4 - site conditions (climate, relief, geology, etc.);
"CP" - conditions of perception: PP-psycho-physiological stereotypes; Cl - stereotypes of the culture of civilization; СП - stereotypes of the culture epoch; CIII - stereotypes of the culture of social groups.
Forms: I-universal; II-regional; III-innovatory; IV-traditional.
A - Historical epochs. Predominance of regional and traditional as a result of stability of objective conditions and weakness of connections between regions. On that basis there were formed in historical epochs various Regional Architectures.
В - The present. Predominance of the universal and innovatory as result of high mobility and development of connections between regions. On that basis there was formed universal cosmopolitan Architecture with very scanty collection of Forms.
С - Expedient ways of change of the present situation. Revival of the Forms traditional for the given regions, first of all - in the sphere of habitation, realized by re-creation of a part of traditional methods of taking into account of site conditions in Architecture, as well as of deeply implanted in their culture of stereotype Forms - Symbols.
5.2.
Examples of traditional stereotype Forms - Symbols of different civilizations.
Casing - a constructively necessary element of Russian folk wooden -dwelling and its representation as a stereotype Form-symbol in edifices of the Russian classicism of the XVIII-XIX centuries, which became an element of Regional Architecture. Capitals - tribal totems in the Caucasus civilization. Rosette - symbol of the sun, wheel, motion of life, and life itself in different civilizations.
Bay in the wall of temple or dwelling - an important stereotype Form in the Asian civilizations.
Cupola - symbol of the sky and peace in the European and Asian civilizations, passed to the most important public edifices.

_______________________________________________

Some of the statements formulated in this article were formerly discussed in several other publications of the same author.
1. On the Relationship Between Form and Contents in Architecture. "Mosproektovets" weekly, #30 p.3-4; #31, p.3-4; #33, p.2-4. Moscow, 1980.
2. Architectural Form as an Integral Category and Cultural Stereotype. Digest of the paper presented at the International Architecture Exhibition in Sofia, Bulgaria.
The "Biennale-85" bulletin., p.52-53. 1985

VIKTOR MASHINSKY
ARCHITECT
© Copyright:  Viktor Mashinsky. No parts of this work covered by the copyright hereon may be reproduced in any form or by any means without written permission of the author
Programming and web-design by Oleg Woolf