Last updated: July 25, 2019
Topic: ArtDesign
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‘City and region, agricultural land and forest
become human works because they are an immense repository of the labour of our
hands. But to the extent that they are our ‘artificial homeland’ and objects
have been constructed, they also testify to values; they constitute memory and
permanence. The city is in its history.’ 1 The quote by Aldo Rossi, is used as a starting point to develop ideas
and theoretic positions presented in this study and is developed in conjunction
with the collective artefacts which are used as a tool to explore ideas about
the development of the contemporary city informed by the urban theory outlined
in the Architecture of the City2. The evolution
of the urban environment has been and still is broadly discoursed by theorists
and architectural practitioners today. The post-modern era has sought to
develop new ideas of how the city should evolve and regenerate a greater sense
of value and meaning through typological and historical references. Lavish new
forms decorate the twenty first century city with notions of new technologies
and prosperous economies and as a result the ideologies proposed by Rossi for
an architecture of permanence and continuity within the city are not fully realised.
The research studies the urban theory of Aldo Rossi, In the context of place, memory,
permanence and typology and further investigates the work of Caruso St John and
Sergison Bates as contemporary practitioners in search of a new kind of
urbanism particularly influenced by traditional use of material and construction
techniques. Finally, the work of furniture maker Tim Stead and traditional
Scottish vernacular furniture is researched, as a basis for forming the
thinking machine.  This project seeks to question
the influences of tradition as a signifier of meaning and value in society. As society
conforms to a constant demand of newness and a throwaway based culture as a result
of planned obsolesces, the evolution of the contemporary city raises the
question of what does constitute value and meaning and can this generate artefacts
of permanence?  The architecture of the city was written by the Italian architect and
theorist Aldo Rossi in his early thirties. The text was considered radical for
its time as it proposed ideas of a new form of urbanism in opposition to the
modernist era. In rejection of this style, Rossi sought an architecture that
was concerned with the history, geography and structure of the city and based
on the values of traditional European cities. Aldo Rossi depicts the city as a
man-made object, constantly under construction, it is in its construction that
the city imbues its value in time. As the city evolves its gains greater
significance and meaning through the collective and cultural activities that
evolve within it.  The city can be
observed as an individual whole, but can also be seen as an ensemble of objects
or as Rossi refers urban artefacts. The ‘Urban Artefact’ is recognised or symbolised elements of culture and history of the city. It is considered a work of
art, that expresses the symbolic representation of the individuality within the
collective. Considering the importance of the artefact, how does it become
manifest in place? Since it is
most probable that men first lived in isolation and later seeing that there
were advantages in getting help from other men to obtain those things which
might make him happy, he naturally came to desire and like the company of other
men. So, groups of houses became villages, towns, and in them there were built
the public places and buildings.’ 3Individuals seeing that there were advantages in
the skills of others joined to form collective settlements. Architecture and
culture are synonymous of each other. Although architecture can be defined
independent of culture, culture can be seen as manifest through architecture.
It is in the coming together of society the realisation of public and private
space emerged. Within these public domains societies form and as a result the
individuals become aware of their own responsibility, referred to as the ‘collective consciousness’.4 Based on Durkheim’s theory, Quintus Miller
describes the city as ‘an expression of a collective structure based on
cooperation within the community. In constant transformation, it grows out of
what is present and existent and adjusts to the circumstances of the time.’ 5 Suggesting
that the collective forms an identity in the city through its communal
versatility, further creating a sense of pride and investment in belonging to
place.Rossi addresses the manifestation of collective communities, responsible
for the formation of the city; through the definition of locus he alludes to the connection between place, material and the
process of construction, that the city is a product of the ‘physical and mental labour’ of its
inhabitants.6 Urban artefacts have been considered and
designed at one point in time and each owe to the identity of place or ‘locus’.7 The locus is the relationship between
buildings and place, read as both individual and whole. 8 Through
this definition he suggests that the location of building, can have a profound
effect greater than just a physical presence. The key importance of
architecture and place is also emphasised by Patrick Geddes, in his drawing of
the ‘Valley Section’.9 He
depicts key connections between Work – Place – Folk, derived from French sociologist Frederick Le Plays theory “Lieu, Travail,
Famille.” Does direct reference or relationship to a place evoke a greater
sense of value and meaning to the artefact? “One can say
that the city itself is the collective memory of its people and like memory it
is associated with objects and places.” 10 Rossi suggests that the architecture of the city becomes independent of
its physical matter, as it is perceived through memories and experiences of the
collective. Collective memory is the shared memory between people and place,
passed between generations it is the fragments of histories that become the
most valuable through their passing in time, it represents the most meaningful
elements of the collective. As a memory, it is reconstructed perceptions of
collective society that can change over time and is not necessarily accurate
depictions of reality.  The association
of memory with objects and places embody its value and meaning, influenced by
sensual and atmospheric experiences that are more resonant if they make us feel a certain way through their
association with past experiences. The collective memory of the city is
different to the memory of the individual, and through this can be perceived in
different ways. The individual memory is inherently more related to personal sensual
experiences. Whereas the collective memory is more engaged with the overall
effect of the experience, and therefore could be considered less personal. Quintus
Miller, on writing about collective memory suggests ‘building is a vehicle of memory in human culture’.11
Through this explanation he deduces that the culture and way of life of
inhabitants of a place can be read through the spatial arrangement of its
architecture. He further makes the connection of sensual experiences and their
associations to past experiences, as a result of this Miller, questions whether
the material or the idea should take priority in the conception of a design.   ‘Architecture obtains its memoria, its spatial
power and its character from it’s material.’ 12
 The quote by Deplazes
suggests that material has considerable impact on the atmospheric experience of
space and is there for the most important association in memory and
architecture. To an extent Deplazes depicts the image of material as a physical
living thing, with its own character and power, drawing on Louis Kahn’s view on
truth to material. Rossi’s reference to the construction of the city alludes to
the value that can be obtained through the experience of space, formed and
enclosed by material. The power and experience of material has significant
effect on its users, evoking feeling and associations with past experience.
These associations determine the positive or negative effect and can evoke
different reactions from individuals. Can material, that in itself belongs to place
and has evidence of history and life, evoke a greater sense of value in its
use?  Rossi
suggests that architecture of meaning is the beholder to architecture of
permanence.13  Although our memories associate spaces with
functions, it is the adaptability of these functions and character or
‘experience’ which can ensure its permanence within the city.   ‘The past is partly being experienced now.’ 14 As a method of analogy to understand the
urban structure of the city, Rossi deciphers its history as its greatest form
of research. The definition of ‘permanence’ is traditionally viewed as the
quality of lasting or remaining unchanged. Commenting on Poete’s theory of ‘persistence’s’,
Rossi determines key connections between monuments of permanence and the layout
and plans of the city. These artefacts of permanence are linked to the original
and historic plans of the city, entwined in its fabric. Permanence can be
considered as either ‘pathological’ a monument that although is no longer used
for its original function, is representative of the city and contains a meaning
deeper than purely its function and is therefore inherent in its character to
maintain its place in the city, or secondly, a ‘propelling’ permanence, that
adapts to new functions of the city but still remains representative of past
forms, instilling a greater sense of value in place. Permanence’s differentiate
the past from the present but can also inform the growth of the city by building
in relation to existing artefacts. John Tuomey, makes reference to the idea of
permanence in line with Rossi’s view describing that ‘Permanence
and change are closely connected.’ 15
The connotations of the
permanence of artefacts is linked to its ability to represent the experience of
the city, to this extent the artefact of permanence has its place in
architecture as a representational piece and is not necessarily applicable to
every building ‘type’.  Does historical reference of form and relation to place constitute an
architecture of permanence and can the adaptability of function further ensure
this idea? ‘The acceptance of tradition, in some form, is the
condition of architectural meaning’.16 The question of typology, is Rossi’s most controversial ideology of the
city, as he uses the basis of type to raise issues about form and function.
Rossi proposes the conception of type as being manifest in the construction of
the first civilisations, these buildings were formed through both functional
and aesthetic aspirations. The first vernacular settlements were rooted in
place and relied upon the nature of the land. Therefor in constructing the
first types of building, with the available resources of the time, naturally
the constructions that follow would bear similar qualities and form a basis of
type influenced by place and culture. In Rafael Moneo’s text ‘On Typology’ the
definition of type is described as a group of objects with common
characteristics. In his study, he conceives the architecture of the building
from two viewpoints, the first as a unique object, characterised by its site
and place and consequently unrepeatable and alternatively, type, as a series of
elements assembled to create a whole and as a result repeatable.17  The question of type and typology, raises the
question of authenticity, if a form can simply be repeated, why is the
architect required? In this argument, Rossi’s stance is not promoting of a
repetitious architecture, rather it is derived from the idea of collective
memory and the notion of type as a way of conceiving architecture of greater
meaning or value. Ernesto Rogers touches on this idea by describing the issue
of typology as a constant comment on the past and based on the prior knowledge
and experience of built work.18
Suggesting that rather the image of type is a basis for interpretation of an
existing working model, or a lesson to be learnt from one that has not worked. Type
is a basis of past forms and inherently interpreted through past traditions of
place and memory that can give works of architecture value. Durand’s
development of typology opposed the notion of traditional forms associated with
use and proposed typology as the formation of elements based on a grid,
influenced by geometry and axis. This type is independent of function,
adaptable and continuous. 19Moneo
concludes that if each work of art can be assembled of the typological
different elements, these can be suggestive of use but not necessarily singular
in its use, allowing for greater adaptability of space. If these associations
with place, memory and experiences are inherent in the different elements of a
‘type’, does this give the artefact greater value? Caruso St John uses the
theory of Rossi as a basis for interpretation of traditional forms to which he
describes ‘The promise of Rossi is to put to good use in work that uses typology to
rediscover a purpose and a place for architecture in the city: buildings that
employ ‘normal’ construction techniques to extraordinary artistic end.’ 20 ‘Vernacular
buildings are much less self-conscious about technique, they use the techniques
that are available, they have enormous power because of the ingenuity with
which they apply a restricted technology, a technology that is very deeply
understood. These structures can also be profoundly engaged with the culture
from which they emerge.’ 21Traditionally vernacular architecture, relied on natural resources and
the labour of the collective to build, as depicted in both Violet Le Duc and
Laugier’s drawings on the ‘Primitive Hut’.22 The
drawings emphasise man’s relationship to earth and instinctive nature to build.
The natural resources of earth, stone, metal and timber are still primary
construction materials in architecture today, despite the emergence of new
technologies. Material
and construction are closely considered and discoursed in the work of Caruso St
John; they believe it has poetical language that can offer greater meaning into
the atmosphere of spaces.23 Similar
to the ideologies of Aldo Rossi, they believe the ingenuity and compositional
elements of a space can equate to a profoundly more engaged and meaningful
experience.  It is this experience of
space, that leaves its impression on our memory. Caruso St John’s design
methodologies consider traditional forms and processes of construction as a way
of creating architecture with a ‘formal and material presence.’ 24 They
further describe their work as showing physical evidence of its construction as
a way of evoking atmosphere. Suggesting that it is the process of construction
and not necessarily the technique that holds value and meaning in space. ‘Impressions emerge as a reaction to atmosphere… Such impressions are
recorded as part of a process of associated thought and subsequently given
value and meaning…This understanding has led in our work to a persistent
preoccupation with place and an acknowledgment of the significance of memory
and the familiar.’ 25 Similarly, the work of Sergison and Bates is also interested
in the conception of atmospheric spaces as a result of material and
constructional experiences influenced by associations to place. Their text discusses
the ‘wall effect’, structure and ornamentation as an imbue of meaning to
Suggesting that meaning is transposed through reference to history and cultural
memory. ‘Expression is given precedence over technique and materials are
transformed through their configurations to intensify meaning.’ 27 Analysing Semper’s writing who deciphers that
ornamentation traditionally is not engaged with structure but is vital to the
instil of meaning. They believe that it is the composition of structure,
materials and surface that portray meaningful effects in the experience of space.
An architectural peer who has influenced both Caruso St John and
Sergison Bates’s work is Sigurd Lewrentz. It is said that in his design of the
St Klippan church he purposely made evident the nature of its construction
through the expression of craftsmanship and as a result, has become a part of
its context with deeper meaning and value than other new additions of the same
material.28 The
brickwork was intentionally left rough and the mortar joints thicker than
usual, this ‘imperfect’ finish of the material, enhances and emphasises its
hand-crafted nature and process of making. The composition of the brick as an
individual object multiplied into a weaving fabric of a whole, signifies the
parts and exemplifies the individual nature of each brick. Zumthor enforces
this idea describing ‘Construction is the making of a meaningful whole out
of many parts.’29 Every
material has a set of inherent properties of which can be expressed or
suppressed by the maker. It takes a skilled and experienced craftsperson to understand
the material and how best to work it and it capabilities. The later work of
Sigurd Lewrentz is considered to be his greatest suggesting that his
accumulated experience of construction and lessons learnt from previous
projects had enhanced his knowledge of the process.  ‘Tradition cannot be inherited and if you want it you must obtain it by
great labour.’ 30 Rossi’s image of the city made by man refers to the work and ‘labour of our hands’ acknowledging the
individual work of man; he alludes to the contribution and value of the
individual craftsman in the forming of the city.31
Similarly TS Elliot, alludes to the sense of self-worth and value that can be
achieved through working. Frampton’s research discusses the dignity of labour
and loss of value as a result to the demoralisation of the maker.32 Based
on Hannah Arendt’s text ‘The Human Condition’ Frampton makes the distinction
between Labour and Work.33 Determining Labour as processual, private,
impermanent and
Work as static, public, permanent. 34  The distinctions between these draws parallels with Durkheim’s theory of
collective consciousness. Arendt further defines the work of the homo faber,
the concept of human beings able to control their fate and their environment
through tools, and animal laboron a species that sets itself apart from the animals
not by its thinking, but by its labour. What Arendt and Frampton enforces, is
the lost value to the craftsmen through industrial production. As a consumer
society, quality has lost priority to quantity, or rather, in Frampton’s words ‘The modern age has sacrificed the ideas of
permanence and durability to the abundance ideal of animal laboron.’ The essay draws connections between a loss of
identity through industrial production, suggesting that the lack of identity
within the collective has caused a loss of value and a throwaway culture that
has resulted in a lack of meaning.  The labour
of man has become a ‘means to an end’ rather than the proposed appreciation of the making of the city by man
as suggested by Rossi in the formation of the city.

Rossi, A. (1984). The Architecture of the City.
New York: MIT Press. p.34

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Rossi, A. (1984). The Architecture of the City.
New York: MIT Press.

Palladio quoted in Feilden Clegg Bradley.
(2009). Dwelling Accordia. London: Black Dog Publishing Ltd.

Durkheim’s theory of collective consciousness; discussed in the essay City
Thinking and Collective Memory. Sik, M. (2012).
And Now the Ensemble. Lars Muiller Publishers.

Durkheim’s theory of collective consciousness; discussed in the essay City
Thinking and Collective Memory. Sik, M. (2012).
And Now the Ensemble. Lars Muiller Publishers.

Rossi, A. (1984). The Architecture of the City. New York: MIT Press. Discussed
 by Cameron McEwan online

Rossi, A. (1984). The Architecture of the City. New York: MIT Press.

Rossi, A. (1984). The Architecture of the City. New York: MIT Press.  p.103

Geddes, P. (1949). Cities in Evolution. Edinburgh:
The Outlook Tower Association.

Rossi, A. (1984). The Architecture of the City. New York: MIT Press.

City Thinking and Collective Memory. Sik, M.
(2012). And Now the Ensemble. Lars Muiller Publishers.

Deplazes, A. (2005). Constructing Architecture:
Materials Processes Structures (Second ed.). Berlin, Germany: Birkhauser.


Rossi, A. (1984). The Architecture of the City. New York: MIT Press.

Rossi, A. (1984). The Architecture of the City. New York: MIT Press.

Tuomey, J. (2008). Architecture, Craft and
Culture. Belfast: Gandon Editions.

Alan Colquhoun: Theorizing a new agenda for architecture

Moneo, R. (1978). Oppositions: On
Typology. MIT Press.

Moneo, R. (1978). Oppositions: On
Typology. MIT Press.

Durand quoted in Moneo, R. (1978). Oppositions: On Typology. MIT Press.

Adam Caruso – The Alchemy of the Everyday Sik, M. (2012). And Now the Ensemble. Lars Muiller

Halfliger, T. (2002). Caruso St John Architects: Knitting Weaving Wrapping
Pressing. Birkhauser.

Weston, R. (2008). Materials, Form and Architecture (Paperback edition
ed.). London: Laurence King Publishing.

Caruso, A. (2008). The Feeling Of Things.
Barcelona, Spain: Ediciones Poligrafa.

Traditions Caruso, A. (2008). The Feeling Of Things.
Barcelona, Spain: Ediciones Poligrafa.

Making Impressions Stephen Bates, J. S. (2007).
Papers 2.

Bates, S. (2007). Wickerwork, Weaving and the
Wall Effect. London: Sergison and Bates.

Bates, S. (2007). Wickerwork, Weaving and the
Wall Effect. London: Sergison and Bates.

Commented by Adam Caruso in his essay Sigurd Lewrentz: A material basis for
form. Refer to – Caruso, A. (2008). The Feeling Of   Things. Barcelona, Spain: Ediciones

Zumthor, P. (2006). Thinking Architecture. Birkhauser.

TS Elliot quoted in Caruso, A. (2008). The
Feeling Of Things. Barcelona, Spain: Ediciones Poligrafa.

Rossi, A. (1984). The Architecture of the City. New York: MIT Press.

32  The Status of Man and the Status of his
Objects written in Frampton, K. (2002). Labour,
Work and Architecture. London: Phiadon Press Ltd.

Hannah Ardent quoted in The Status of Man and the Status of his Objects written
in Frampton, K. (2002). Labour, Work and
Architecture. London: Phiadon Press Ltd.

Hannah Ardent quoted in The Status of Man and the Status of his Objects written
in Frampton, K. (2002). Labour, Work and
Architecture. London: Phiadon Press Ltd.