Unified Architectural Theory: An Introduction

“People react according to their biological intuition, judging their environment for its positive or negative effect on the human body. Architects, on the other hand, are conditioned to ignore their own bodily signals and to judge the world according to abstract criteria. In many cases, such judgments lead them to build anxiety-inducing structures that are bad for people’s health and wellbeing.” Brutalist building. Image © Andy Spain

In the following months, we at will be publishing ’ book, Unified Architectural Theoryin a series of installments, making it digitally, freely available for students and architects around the world. In the following paragraphs, Salingaros explains why we’ve decided to impart on this initiative, and also introduces what his book is all about: answering “the old and very disturbing question as to why architects and common people have diametrically opposed preferences for buildings.”

ArchDaily and I are initiating a new idea in publishing, one which reflects the revolutionary trends awaiting book publishing’s future. At this moment, my book, Unified Architectural Theory, 2013, is available only in the USA. With the cooperation of ArchDaily and its sister sites in Portuguese and Spanish, it will soon be available, in a variety of languages, to anyone with internet access. Being published one chapter at a time, students and practitioners will be able to digest the material at their leisure, to print out the pages and assemble them as a “do-it-yourself” book for reference, or for use in a course. For the first time, students will have access to this material, in their own time, in their own language, and for free!

The book itself arose from a lecture course on architecture theory I taught last year. Students were presented with the latest scientific results showing how human beings respond to different types of architectural forms and spaces. At the end of the course, everyone was sufficiently knowledgeable in the new methods to be able to evaluate for themselves which buildings, urban spaces, and interior settings were better suited for human beings.

This approach is of course totally different from what is now known as “Architectural Theory.”

Image from Unified Architectural Theory, 2013. Image Courtesy of Nikos Salingaros

The “Theory” offered here is unified precisely because it describes and helps to understand all different styles of architecture. Moreover, it has predictive value. The basis for analysis is an objective one, free from philosophical, ideological, or political bias. I believe that my language (coming from a scientific background) is clear and direct. For this reason, it’s an antidote to much of today’s architectural discourse that is an intellectual game too esoteric for public understanding.

I do not exaggerate in claiming that this book (and the research upon which it is based) finally answers the old and very disturbing question as to why architects and common people have diametrically opposed preferences for buildings. People react according to their biological intuition, judging their environment for its positive or negative effect on the human body. Architects, on the other hand, are conditioned to ignore their own bodily signals and to judge the world according to abstract criteria. In many cases, such judgments lead them to build anxiety-inducing structures that are bad for people’s health and wellbeing.

Image from Unified Architectural Theory, 2013. Image Courtesy of Nikos Salingaros

There are indeed a large number of architects who are moving in the direction of this book already, trying to employ more organic forms and to break out of the glass or concrete box. But, lacking a scientific background, they proceed by visual intuition alone, with only limited results.

Here is where this book really helps: by distinguishing between (1) the superficial appearance of organic order and (2) the generation of architectural form according to the same processes that give rise to biological forms. Those are two entirely distinct mechanisms. All of this is explained in detail in the book.

Image from Unified Architectural Theory, 2013. Image Courtesy of Nikos Salingaros

The ideas in this book were developed by investigating architecture and design using the scientific method; thus, most of these results are entirely original and highly relevant to architecture, while at the same time situated strictly outside the common architectural discourse. Most of the design community would otherwise miss them, and that would be a great pity.

In conclusion, this is a goldmine for young architects who are keen to develop innovative forms, which moreover provide healthy and attractive living environments. There is a minor price to pay, however, and that is the unavoidable criticism of those (often highly-regarded) architects who pursue the opposite course of image-driven design. While I do not condemn them outright, anyone reading this book soon realizes that the image-based approach is basically defective, and should be abandoned. So this book is bound to ruffle a few feathers. In the name of architectural progress — I invite you to take up the challenge.

Chapters from Nikos Salingaros’ book, Unified Architectural Theory, will appear in installments on ArchDaily throughout the year. Stay tuned for the first chapter!

UPDATE: Find Chapter 1 here.

Order the International edition of Unified Architectural Theory here, and the US edition here

Cite: Nikos Salingaros. "Unified Architectural Theory: An Introduction" 30 Aug 2013. ArchDaily. Accessed 23 Nov 2014. <http://www.archdaily.com/?p=419892>
  • weeeh

    Thank you! Great initiative! waiting for the first chapter

  • http://flavors.me/mdvandenakker Mark V

    Sounds great, this has been on my reading list. Could I make a request? Please do not publish as a pdf. It would be far more useful as a .mobi or other proper ebook format.

  • Chaszr

    Thank Heavens…Here I was, afraid that I might die before the answer of the “good architecture” riddle was solved.
    Well, at least it promises one more brick in the Tower of Babel.

  • chaszr

    Thank Heavens…and here I was afraid I might die before the riddle of “good architecture” was solved…

    at least it promises one more brick in the Tower of Babel.

  • Donatello Anconcia

    It will be nice to finally see scientific validation for the theories Mr. Salingaros has been preaching about. I wonder why he is so concerned with answering the question of what is good architecture, surely someone of his stature must know this is a subjective question. Will he reveal that we are all a system of synapses that operate on the same rules, denying our individuality but providing for a universal architecture? Maybe he will enlighten us about the mechanics of the intuition, which will be explained as a scientific system. Finally something to fill the parameters of Parametricism. Thanks, my friend Schumacher has been waiting for this bro ;)

  • elliot

    LOL, aaaaand that’s why people come to archdaily for the photos and not the intellectual commentary. Nikos for your first publication? LOL. Sounds about right.

  • James MD

    Snakeoil salesmen. A grand unified theory of architecture?… so naive. The idea that someone would publish such nonsense much less waste time trying to spread it online is just so intellectually naive, it’s almost adorable.

  • jkop

    19th century german psychologists believed they could make private sensations available for empirical study, which inspired historians such as Wölfflin, or Schmarsow to approach art and architecture “scientifically”. However, they were probably wrong, and if the test for such studies is one’s own verbal reports of sensations, then the study is not empirical but conceptual (regardless of whether one also observes the body’s external behavior). Sensations can be evoked or corrupted by the report or its surrounding preconceptions. Anyway, Salingaros might have an entirely different approach, so let’s read it.

  • Bálint Marosi

    Well… not a very promising beginning, it seems to me. “I am the best, I will tell it finally, follow me!”. To make it worse, from the very small portions of “content” it seems that it will be only a very formal level: “trying to employ more organic forms and to break out of the glass or concrete box.”

    Are we in the seventies?… “this is a goldmine for young architects” – wouuahh…

  • Ben Slee

    We will be able to design buildings free from political or ideological meaning. This may be difficult for all those buildings whose purpose is political and ideological. Fortunately science will arrive as our savior!

    “Common People” will finally appreciate the work of Architects. I am sure “Common People” will be eternally grateful.

  • C. Speiss

    I can only applaud the initiative of a teacher finally understanding that sharing knowledge on the web will not reduce his book sales and that he will actually touch a lot more people with this medium. Why all teachers in the world aren’t doing the same is a mystery to me.

    Now, as an architect adept of the scientific method, I will see these articles as theories (without the quotation marks). The introduction seem to imply pompously that this is the one and only answer to the schism between architects and the public, hence a few sarcastic remarks in the comments; as long as the future articles avoid this mental pitfall, and stay humble by accepting that this work is a theory based on scientific trials and not a dogma based on the personal beliefs of the author, we should learn a few things. Otherwise, I still salute the initiative, and will enjoy the reading in any case.

  • Kyle Rogler

    Glad to hear that the lessons will be on ArchDaily, it might even be worthwhile to redo the lectures created with TextPotential. As much as everyone is yelling snakeoil salesman, I encourage everyone to keep an open mind as Nikos Salingaros does an incredible job of connecting the dots between biology, psychology, mathematics, and design (just finished reading the chapter about the relative size of a trout’s brain to its environment). I do have a fundamental problem with Nikos’s ideas on construction science and the said structural expression in contemporary design with curtain wall construction, but that will be for another day.

  • Øyvind Holmstad

    @Kyle, there has just been conducted a Norwegian study on salmon giving the same results: http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/280/1767/20131331.abstract?sid=34f9aa78-a8fb-4462-ba9f-c10463f2fa15

    Article on the study in Norwegian here: http://www.forskning.no/artikler/2013/august/363561

  • Ross Wolfe

    Does no one remember the critique of positivism? The “objectivity” posited here is nothing other than reification, the “phantom objectivity” of bourgeois society in repetitive flux.

  • Øyvind Holmstad

    Wolf, you are too occupied with the past. Biophilia, as this book is about, is the future. But not alone. Biophilia has to be linked with the new in-group society: http://blog.p2pfoundation.net/terje-bongards-democratic-ingroup-model-as-specific-form-of-p2p-democracy/2013/07/04

    Actually I’ve just finished an article on this subject, but as I write for the Norwegian deep ecology blog Kulturverk.com now, you cannot follow my thoughts anymore: http://naturkonservativ.blogspot.no/2013/08/kapitalist-modernismen-det-siste-aket.html

    With this unification Zahavism (from Amotz Zahavi), not Darwinism, will be the basic for democracy and production, which will be unified and given to the people.

    I think I’ve managed to convince Salingaros` best man in Norway to join Bongard’s research group, but I’m not sure yet. Anyway, Bongard was very enthusiastic when I showed him the Alexandrine pattern 37, HOUSE CLUSTER: http://www.patternlanguage.com/apl/aplsample/apl37/apl37.htm

    I will work hard to unify biophilia with this new in-group society, as I’m sure this is essential to its success, and this way we can transform to a new resilient civilisation.

    You, and the rest of the world, will be stunned to see this transformation to a new civilization will start in Norway.

  • Zaheer Allam

    Glad to see the work of perhaps one of the most eloquent and impressive personalities of the 21st century architecture available freely on the web. Will definitely be awaiting further enlightenment from his works!

  • Ramon

    I really fear that we’ll find out that the “public” likes Cinderella’s castle, Pedimented and Corinthian ordered façades in their homes, tacky Arabian skyscrapers, Walmart art rather than Picasso, and LaZboy seating instead of Mies’ Barcelona chair. The “I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like” syndrome. I’ll read on and hopefully de contradicted.

  • luther blissett

    Nikos, such an arrogant…