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Unified Architectural Theory: The Latest Architecture and News

Unified Architectural Theory, Chapter 14

We have been publishing Nikos Salingaros’ book, Unified Architectural Theory, in a series of installments, making it digitally, freely available for students and architects around the world. In Chapter 14, the final chapter of the online version of the book, Salingaros concludes by recounting the effect that the teachings included in his book had on students in a class he taught at the University of Texas at San Antonio, during the Fall Semester of 2012. If you missed them, make sure to read the previous installments here.

Conclusion

At the conclusion of this course, the students told me that they had learned a great many things that are crucial to an understanding of architecture, but which are hardly ever taught in other architecture courses. To be precise, students had previously been told about the importance of various factors to the success of a design—site, surrounding architecture, regional adaptation, ornament (or rather excluding it), the relationship among distinct structural scales, proportions, trees and green areas—but were never taught exactly how to manage them. Now, those factors were taken into account by learning why they arise out of our own biology and natural processes.

Unified Architectural Theory, Chapter 13

We will be publishing Nikos Salingaros’ book, Unified Architectural Theory, in a series of installments, making it digitally, freely available for students and architects around the world. In Chapter 13, Salingaros begins to conclude his argument by discussing its counterpart, explaining how post-modern theorists such as Peter Eisenman came to eclipse the ideas of Christopher Alexander – and why Eisenman’s theoretical hegemony is not based upon sound architectural thinking. If you missed them, make sure to read the previous installments here.

Natural and Unnatural Form Languages

The concept of living structure, and the support for the theory offered by both direct experience and science, offers a basis for designing and understanding architecture. This platform is a sensible way of approaching design and building, because it is beholden neither to ideology, nor to individual agendas. Moreover, it should be contrasted to the irrationality of other schemes that currently appear in and seem to drive architectural discourse.

Unified Architectural Theory, Chapter 12

We will be publishing Nikos Salingaros’ book, Unified Architectural Theory, in a series of installments, making it digitally, freely available for students and architects around the world. In Chapter 12, Salingaros concludes his discussion of the physiological and psychological effects of architecture, demonstrating how ornament can lead to an enriching human environment. If you missed them, make sure to read the previous installments here.

Ornament and Human Intelligence

Ornament and function go together. There is no structure in nature that can be classified as pure ornament without function. In traditional architecture, which was more tied to nature, such a separation never existed. The breakdown of the human adaptation of architecture can be traced to the forced conceptual separation of ornament from function, a relatively recent occurrence in human history. It is only in 20th-century architectural discourse that people began to think of ornament as separate from function: see “How Modernism Got Square” (Mehaffy & Salingaros, 2013).

Unified Architectural Theory: Chapter 11

We will be publishing Nikos Salingaros’ book, Unified Architectural Theory, in a series of installments, making it digitally, freely available for students and architects around the world. In Chapter 11, Salingaros introduces and explains a list of 15 properties theorized by Christopher Alexander which give rise to the phenomenon of “life” in architectural designs. If you missed them, make sure to read the previous installments here.

Alexander’s Fifteen Fundamental Properties

We have come to the point in this course when we need to present the geometric properties responsible for the deep connectivity that I have discussed in previous chapters. Christopher Alexander has derived a set of 15 properties that all structures that we perceive to have “life” possess (Alexander, 2001).

Unified Architectural Theory: Chapter 10

here.

Biophilia: Our Evolved Kinship To Biological Forms

The organized complexity in artifacts and buildings, as I have described it, leads to a positive response from users. This is the perception of “life” which we sense in certain structures and places in the built environment. The physical structure of the world has a massive effect on human beings. A crucial task of architectural theory is to explain and predict the impact that living structure — or its absence — has on us.

Unified Architectural Theory: Chapter 9B

We will be publishing Nikos Salingaros’ book, Unified Architectural Theory, in a series of installments, making it digitally, freely available for students and architects around the world. In the following chapter, Salingaros continues his discussion of Christopher Alexander's “Mirror of the Self” test introduced in Chapter 9A, and revealing how it can be used to provide all-important feedback to enable evidence-based design. If you missed them, make sure to read the previous installments here.

Evidence-based design is now fast becoming a standard tool used in school design. (See Peter C. Lippman: “Evidence-Based Design of Elementary and Secondary Schools”, 2010). And yet its current application, while laudable, is missing the other key components necessary for adaptive design: Biophilia, Intelligence in the environment (two topics discussed in this book), and Pattern Language. All of these have to work together to give optimal design results.

Evidence-based design permits an architect to evaluate a design, and variations of that design, to see if they contribute to human wellbeing. This makes possible informed choices that push and guide a design towards a more adaptive final form. We know the result is going to be more adaptive since we check each intermediate stage of an evolving design.

Unified Architectural Theory: Chapter 9A

We will be publishing Nikos Salingaros’ book, Unified Architectural Theory, in a series of installments, making it digitally, freely available for students and architects around the world. The following chapter expands on the phenomenon of “life” in buildings introduced in Chapter 3, and also introduces a simple test which can be used to determine the degree of “life” in a structure. If you missed them, make sure to read the previous installments here.

Approaching architecture from the entirely new perspective of organized coherence — what Christopher Alexander calls “wholeness” — unifies many phenomena. The traditional distinctions between ornament and function, between buildings and ecology, and between beauty and utilitarian structure are blurred. We can look for the “life” in artifacts and structures, which explains our experience of them.

Later in this course we are going to count features, and measure parameters that contribute to our impression of “life” in an object. These measures will show that the phenomenon of life is not idiosyncratic, but is, to a very large degree, shared among all people.

Unified Architectural Theory: Chapter 8

We will be publishing Nikos Salingaros’ book, Unified Architectural Theory, in a series of installments, making it digitally, freely available for students and architects around the world. The following chapter outlines architecture’s connection to biology, and how biology influences our perception of form. If you missed them, make sure to read the previous installments here.

The idea of a biological connection to architecture has been used in turn by traditional architects, modernists, postmodernists, deconstructivists, and naturally, the “organic form” architects. One might say that architecture’s proposed link to biology is used to support any architectural style whatsoever. When it is applied so generally, then the biological connection loses its value, or at least becomes so confused as to be meaningless. Is there a way to clear up the resulting contradiction and confusion?

Unified Architectural Theory: Chapter 7

We will be publishing Nikos Salingaros’ book, Unified Architectural Theory, in a series of installments, making it digitally, freely available for students and architects around the world. The following chapter, written by Salingaros and Kenneth G. Masden II, delves deeper into the limitations of current architectural philosophies, including “Critical Regionalism,” and justifies the creation of Intelligence-Based Design. If you missed them, make sure to read the previous installments here.

As the architects of tomorrow, today’s students must come to understand the role and responsibility of their profession as something intrinsically tied to human existence and the lived experience. A new suggested educational system provides a direct means to design adaptive environments, in response to growing needs of the marketplace (client demand). Nevertheless, most architectural institutions continue to propagate a curricular model that has sustained an image-based method and its peculiar ideology for decades. We can trace this support to early twentieth-century anti-traditional movements. Reform is impossible without addressing the system’s long-forgotten ideological roots. 

Unified Architectural Theory: Chapter 6

We will be publishing Nikos Salingaros’ book, Unified Architectural Theory, in a series of installments, making it digitally, freely available for students and architects around the world. The following chapter discusses the extent to which architecture can be considered successful, i.e. adaptive to its specific locality. Although recognizing the merits of “Critical Regionalism,” Salingaros here explains why that framework is not enough to analyze architecture in terms of its environmental, cultural and emotional impact. If you missed them, make sure to read the previous installments here.

Suppose that we have successfully documented and catalogued all form languages, including those from vernacular traditions, past times, and contemporary practice. A scientific approach requires the next step, which comprises both analysis and classification. A catalogue is a useful store of information, but it is only the beginning of a systematic study.

What do some form languages have in common, and on what qualities do some of them differ? One measure is their degree of complexity, as documented by the length of description of the form language. Another is adaptation to locality. How far does a form language justify itself as being regional? Here, regional is the opposite of universal. 

It is therefore useful to classify form languages by how much they adapt to a certain locality. If it does adapt, each language will, of course, adapt to its own specific locality: what we measure is how good that adaptation is. Success of adaptation is measured if buildings are energy efficient in the low-tech sense, so that the majority population can profit from them. By contrast, high-tech energy efficiency may be very useful, but it usually relies upon imported technology and materials, and is thus global, not regional. 

Unified Architectural Theory: Chapter 5

We will be publishing Nikos Salingaros’ book, Unified Architectural Theory, in a series of installments, making it digitally, freely available for students and architects around the world. The following chapter discusses our society’s phobia against natural, local forms - our “ecophobia” - and the need for the architecture discipline to counter this fear by adopting a more scientifically-rigorous, intellectual structure. If you missed them, make sure to read the previous installments here.

The 21st century has begun with a continuation, and perhaps intensification, of the worst prejudices seen in the twentieth. Those prejudices include a disdain of traditional cultures, and all that links a human being to his/her local history. 

Similarly, most building and planning today follow unwritten rules that have no empirical foundation, being based strictly upon visual/ideological constructs from the early twentieth century. Contemporary design avoids any criterion of quality that draws upon evolved precedent and tradition from a prior era, and thinks that this refusal is a great virtue. In this way, architects and urbanists end up obeying simplistic criteria for design, rejecting any sense of beauty that links human beings with their land, tradition, and culture. 

The term “ecophobia” refers to an unreasonable but deeply conditioned reaction against natural forms. It has also been used in clinical psychology to denote a phobia against one’s dwelling, but that specific use now appears to be antiquated. However, we believe that these two terms “ecophobia” and “oikophobia” may in many cases be used interchangeably. (Linguistically, the common Greek root for “house” can be written either as ecos or oikos). 

Unified Architectural Theory: Chapter 4

We will be publishing Nikos Salingaros’ book, Unified Architectural Theory, in a series of installments, making it digitally, freely available for students and architects around the world. The following chapter discusses the complexity of form languages and describes how to use the form language checklist to measure these complexities. If you missed them, make sure to read the introduction, Chapter One, Chapters 2A and Chapter 2B, and Chapter 3 first.

There exists a volume of writings by architects in the early 20th century, and we can look through them for the form languages of Modernism. Unfortunately, the useful material turns out to be very little, most of it describing not a form language but rather marketing and declarations of a political nature. Moreover, those pieces of very personal form languages are presented as normative theories: a prescription of what to do and what not to do, with the weight of universal ethics, even though they are based solely on opinion, not empirical observations or systematic study. 

Here are some practical lists of rules I have found by Naum Gabo and Antoine Pevsner, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and Le Corbusier.

A Theory of Architecture Part 3: Why Primitive Form Languages Spread

As you may have seen, ArchDaily has been publishing UNIFIED ARCHITECTURAL THEORY, by the urbanist and controversial theorist Nikos A. Salingaros, in serial form. However, in order to explain certain concepts in greater detail, we have decided to pause this serialization and publish three excerpts from another of Salingaros’ books: A THEORY OF ARCHITECTURE. The first excerpt explained the difference between “Pattern Language” and “Form Language,” while the second established how these languages can combine to form the “Adaptive Design Method.” The following, final, excerpt distinguishes between viable, complex form languages that have evolved over time and primitive, “non-languages” that have come to dominate the 20th century due to their iconic simplicity (and despite their non-adaptive characteristics).

Independently of their technological achievements, all groups of human beings have developed a richly complex spoken language. Differences arise in specificities, in the breadth of vocabulary for concepts important to that culture, and in their transition to a written language, but those do not affect the general richness of the language. Every language’s internal structure has to obey general principles that are common to all languages. A primitive language or non-language, by contrast, is characterized by the reduction or absence of such internal complexity and structure. The complexity of human thought sets a rather high threshold for the complexity that any language has to be able to express through combinatoric groupings. 

Turning now to architecture, a viable form language is also characterized by its high degree of internal complexity. Furthermore, the complexity of different form languages has to be comparable, because each form language shares a commonality with other form languages on a general meta-linguistic level. A primitive form language severely limits architectonic expression to crude or inarticulate statements. 

A Theory of Architecture Part 2: The Adaptive Design Method

As you may have seen, ArchDaily has been publishing UNIFIED ARCHITECTURAL THEORY, by the urbanist and controversial theorist Nikos A. Salingaros, in serial form. However, in order to explain certain concepts in greater detail, we have decided to pause this serialization and publish three excerpts from another of Salingaros’ books: A THEORY OF ARCHITECTURE. The previous excerpt explained the difference between “Pattern Language” and “Form Language.” The following excerpt will establish how these languages can combine to form the “Adaptive Design Method.”

Proposition: An adaptive design method arises out of a complementary pair consisting of a pattern language and a form language.

I have indicated very briefly what a pattern language and a form language are; we still need to understand what an adaptive design method refers to. Out of many contemporary approaches to design, there are very few that result in structures and environments that are adapted both to physical human use, as well as to human sensibilities. In the past, the opposite was true. Human use is straightforward to understand: the physical dimensions and geometry have to accommodate the human body and its movement.

By accommodating human sensibilities, I mean that environments should make human beings feel at ease; make them feel psychologically comfortable so that persons can carry out whatever functions they have to unselfconsciously, without being disturbed by the built environment in any way. This imposes a strong constraint on the design process to adapt to the many factors (both known and unknown) that will influence the user on many levels, including emotion. An adaptive design method should accommodate all these criteria, and this Chapter shows how this may be accomplished.

A Theory of Architecture Part 1: Pattern Language vs. Form Language

As you may have seen, ArchDaily has been publishing UNIFIED ARCHITECTURAL THEORY, by the urbanist and controversial theorist Nikos A. Salingaros, in serial form. However, in order to explain certain concepts in greater detail, we have decided to pause this serialization and publish three excerpts from another of Salingaros’ books: A THEORY OF ARCHITECTURE. The following excerpt, the first, explains the terms “Pattern Language” (as well as“antipatterns") and “Form Language.”

Design in architecture and urbanism is guided by two distinct complementary languages: a pattern language, and a form language

The pattern language contains rules for how human beings interact with built forms — a pattern language codifies practical solutions developed over millennia, which are appropriate to local customs, society, and climate. 

A form language, on the other hand, consists of geometrical rules for putting matter together. It is visual and tectonic, traditionally arising from available materials and their human uses rather than from images. Different form languages correspond to different architectural traditions, or styles. The problem is that not all form languages are adaptive to human sensibilities. Those that are not adaptive can never connect to a pattern language. Every adaptive design method combines a pattern language with a viable form language, otherwise it inevitably creates alien environments.

Architectural design is a highly complex undertaking. Heretofore, the processes at its base have not been made clear. There have been many attempts to clarify the design process, yet we still don’t have a design method that can be used by students and novices to achieve practical, meaningful, nourishing, human results. 

In the absence of a design method and accompanying criteria for judging a design, things have become very subjective, and therefore what is built today appears to be influenced largely by fashion, forced tastes, and an individual’s desire to garner attention through novel and sometimes shocking expressions.

This Chapter puts forward a theory of architecture and urbanism based on two distinct languages: the pattern language, and the form language

Unified Architectural Theory: Chapter 3

We will be publishing Nikos Salingaros’ book, Unified Architectural Theory, in a series of installments, making it digitally, freely available for students and architects around the world. The following chapter posits that architecture's geometric structure determines its "vitality," a quality that should be the basis of architectural critique; it also explains If you missed them, make sure to read the introduction, Chapter One, Chapter 2A, and Chapter 2B first.

The perceived quality of life in buildings and urban spaces comes from the geometry (the form of structures on all scales, and their coherence), and how that geometry connects to the individual. It also catalyzes interactions among people — if it is done successfully.

The easiest way to perceive this quality of “life” is to compare pairs of objects or settings and judge intuitively which one has more “life”. After a series of such experiments, it becomes obvious that degree of “life” in architecture arises from geometrical structure.

Unified Architectural Theory: Chapter 2B

We will be publishing Nikos Salingaros’ book, Unified Architectural Theory, in a series of installments, making it digitally, freely available for students and architects around the world. Part one of Chapter Two outlined the scientific approach to architectural theory; the following, part two of Chapter Two, explains why Salingaros considers this approach to be superior to that taken by deconstructivists. If you missed them, make sure to catch up on the introduction, Chapter 1, and Chapter 2A.

Some traditions are anachronistic and misguided, but as reservoirs of traditional solutions against which to check new proposals they are of immense importance. A new solution may at some point replace a traditional solution, but it must succeed in reestablishing the connections to the rest of knowledge. In the context of social patterns, architecture, and urbanism, new solutions are useful if they connect to traditional social, architectural, and urban patterns (i.e., all those before the 1920s). If there is an obvious gap where nothing in a discipline refers to anything outside, then there could be a serious problem.

Recently, Edward Wilson has introduced the notion of “consilience” as “the interlocking of causal explanations across disciplines” (Wilson, 1998a). Consilience claims that all explanations in nature are connected; there are no totally isolated phenomena. Wilson focuses on incomplete pieces of knowledge: the wide region separating the sciences from the humanities. He is happy to see it being slowly filled in by evolutionary biologists, cognitive neuroscientists, and researchers in artificial intelligence. At the same time, he is alarmed by people in the humanities who are erasing parts of the existing body of knowledge. These include deconstructive philosophers. Wilson characterizes their efforts as based on ignorance. 

Unified Architectural Theory: Chapter 2A

We will be publishing Nikos Salingaros’ book, Unified Architectural Theory, in a series of installments, making it digitally, freely available for students and architects around the world. The following chapter, part one of Chapter Two, outlines the scientific approach to architectural theory. If you missed them, make sure to read the introduction and Chapter One first.

In order to discuss any supposed contributions to architectural theory, it is necessary to define what architectural theory is. A theory in any discipline is a general framework that:

(1) explains observed phenomena; 

(2) predicts effects that appear under specific circumstances; and 

(3) enables one to create new situations that perform in a way predicted by the theory. 

In architecture, a theoretical framework ought to explain why buildings affect human beings in certain ways, and why some buildings are more successful than others, both in practical as well as in psychological and aesthetic terms.