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Forms in Architecture

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Philosophical arguments for classification system

There are many ways to study architecture and the forms that are created by architects. Two classification systems emerged out of the debate between Modernism and Postmodernism. On one hand is the idea of the Archetype: walls, doors, columns, etc. The other theory was put forth as an extension of Kant and Heidegger's theory of Relative Homelessness, or the idea of relative values and icons in the world. Both theories serve architecture well as a construct of discourse. Yet both theories taken to extremes tend to muddy the picture for classifying and categorizing architecture. A discussion of the two theories and their ramifications need to be put forth as a sort of disclaimer, and to further the architectural discourse at Wikipedia.

In the theory of Archetypes, small elements that are universal truths are combined and arranged in a coherent, holistic building. This tradition extends from the Platonic/Pythagorean tradition of primary elements. A recent champion of this notion was Frank Lloyd Wright. His designs relied on the punning notion that ?Home is where the Hearth is?, with the hearth as the symbolic and literal center of the house and family. The archetype relies on the notion of universal truths or building forms. Many architectural treatises from Vitruvius, to Claude Perrault[?], to Gottfried Semper, to John Welborn Root[?], to even Le Corbusier rely on the idea of archetypes to some degree.

At the other end of the spectrum lies a concept entirely foreign to archetype. A simple, unofficial title could be Relative Homelessness. The logical ideas are complex and very convoluted. A short, and very simplified explanation follows. Disclaimer: I am not a philosophy student; therefore this synopsis might have some small errors. I have studied this extensively in school and on my own, but a true student of philosophy could explain these ideas better.

This idea has roots in the work of Martin Heidegger, who was very interested in language and its effect on human beings, and his protégé Derrida, and the idea of relative truth. A synopsis of the logical chain goes like this. Heidegger is interested in the idea of Hermeneutics, or the study of the methodological principles of interpretation. Everyone is Hermeneutic; therefore everyone is interpreting life/world as he/she encounters it. Therefore there is no final truth, everything is relative and nothing is absolute. To be human is to interpret. Along with this logical chain goes the idea of context. Heidegger states that you cannot discover anything without using your predetermined context: social, place, area, age, etc. You cannot decide upon an issue without using your already existing content. Therefore the idea of the universal, and the idea of Archetype are void. Another assault on Archetype states that since human beings value systems are based on context, therefore are relative voids Archetype. The final assault also comes from context: the idea that physical forms somehow have intrinsic values. Values that somehow transcend space, time, and physical location are voided by Heidegger's idea of context.


Contemporary architect Peter Eisenman[?] champions this theory. If Frank Lloyd Wright would say, "You can always go home", Peter would say, "Oh no you can't". This distinction of absolute to relative distinguishes the two philosophies. Current philosophical and architectural discourse oscillates between these two diametric entities. Movements such as Regionalism and the so-called ?New Urbanists? [who are neither urban nor new, but that is another debate] rely heavily on the Archetype as a design element. Then there are architects such as the aforementioned Eisenman, Thom Mayne lead Morphosis, and a host of others who view the world as relative, interchangeable space. In actual practice architecture and architects generally fall within one camp or the other, with many distributed between two poles. It is helpful to think of this diagram a segment with two points and ideas, views and people as a continuum between the two views. For Wikipedia we will classify architecture using a modified Archetype. This makes sense because Wikipedia as a dictionary likes elemental ideas and classifications. We will break the elements of architecture down into archetypical elements, so as to understand architecture as a whole. The argument of whether or not these elements have basic intrinsic values that are universal to all can be set-aside in the quest to understand architecture.

Archetypical Elements of Buildings



Grouped by Geometry



Domestic Space
Public Space

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