The Language of Architecture

Every building is not architecture, just as everything written is not poetry. Like art, architecture is a form of communication, and the extent to which its communication is enriched by aesthetic principles is what separates the constructed world into what in written language would be gibberish, journalism, prose or poetry.

Gibberish is created when the imagery, context, forms and rhythms of architecture are used without sensitivity, as when the artist simply is not fluent in the language, or when the constructed world is responding to purely personal needs. What is communicated is either incomprehensible, or understood only by “insiders”.

Journalism’s message is the story of the moment. The buildings may speak well for the time being, but lack the aesthetic depth to have relevance tomorrow. They pay little attention to the honoring of such social concerns as history, tradition and innovation, and are not part of the conversation about either the past or the future.

There are examples in the built environment where the individual elements or buildings are not special, but by common or repeated use, their silhouette against the sky, the sound of the activity within or some other unique feature, they communicate something special. This is the equivalent of prose, and may be deliberate or accidental, but almost always the result of common use. Imagine the communicative power the phrase “Forward, Upward, Onward, Together” has developed for this community, despite the ordinariness of the words.

Architecture, like poetry, must communicate at many different levels, and it is the architect’s job to enhance that communication. The purpose of the work must be clear – not just its immediate utilitarian purpose, but its social and historical purpose. It must communicate respect for its context, since it will always be “read” by human senses in the context of its surroundings. It must communicate its adherence to aesthetic principles – principles of scale, form, texture etc. And it must tell the story of its creators. Like poetry, architecture must both inspire and excite. That is, architecture is built poetry.

Patrick Rahming

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