Architecture is not simply building. Over 2,000 years ago, Roman architect Marcus Vitruvius Pollio defined two base realities in building: “Firmness” (Safety) and “Commodity” (Use) and then offered what turns building into architecture: “Delight” (Beauty).
“Firmness” has been recoined in this century as “Resilience”. After being unscathed in five hurricanes over thirty years, does this building have “Delight” beyond its “Firmness”? The property of “Commodity” is found in any design’s usefulness and fit: is this archive, in constant use, have “Delight” beyond its “Commodity”?
The question of context is among the most discussed issues in architecture theory, and has only become more complex and controversial as globalization has added yet another layer to the debate. In her new book "Niche Tactics: Generative Relationships Between Architecture and Site," Caroline O'Donnell takes a long look at the idea of context as it relates to a project's surroundings. In this excerpt from the book's introduction, O'Donnell looks at the history of theories related to context, from Vitruvius to Koolhaas, elaborating on the difference between working "in" the site, as opposed to merely "on" it.
The Architectural Soap-Bubble
Architecture’s unlikely yet persistent reluctance to engage fundamentally with issues of context can most notably be traced to Le Corbusier’s renowned comparison of architecture and the soap-bubble. “This bubble,” he famously postulated, “is perfect and harmonious if the breath has been evenly distributed and regulated from the inside.” This primacy of the interior was, despite their many differences, shared by modern architects, amongst whom, as contextualist Thomas Schumacher has noted, “few... would have allowed that the outside surface ought to determine the interior distribution.”
If you don't have access to an architecture library (and even if you do), sifting through shelves can take hours. Buying books can be even more painful — for your wallet, at least. Instead, why not browse this list of 25 books that are all free and easily accessible online? Some are well-known classics of architecture literature, but we hope you find a few surprises as well.