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Architecture is a hoodie June 19, 2012

Posted by jennibarrett in Uncategorized.
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Continuing from the previous post “The Architectural Roman Nose“……

2  Architecture is a hoodie………

The previous post looked at how we might think about design as a version of the process of natural selection – a process of modification and selection subject to the pressures of the cultural environment.

In “The Architectural Roman Nose,” it was possible to see how aesthetic traits were naturally selected and reappeared through generations of buildings.  Here, the evolutionary analogy is developed to explore how the cultural environment shapes this process of selection.

Think about any social grouping – institutional or otherwise – from the Royal Institute of British Architects to a group of teenagers hanging out down the Trafford Centre.  What’s the difference, you might ask?!!  Well, actually, not a lot.  According to Social Darwinist, Herbert Spencer, in his “Principles of Sociology,” he describes social forms and institutions as organisms, evolving in competition with other social groups and in response to the physical environment around it.  The teenagers will dress to compete with other groups of teenagers and to appropriate their position in the context of the shopping centre.

Fashion as a result of the socio-cultural environment (from the film, Kidulthood).

So, fashions in design, are a direct result of the wider socio-cultural environment.  Think the emergence of Modernism after the chaos of war.

Steadman develops this idea to say that differences in architectural style and form are not due to the inventiveness or creativity of the designer, but a simple response to the social conditions and utilitarian needs imposed by the environment around them.  Selection criteria are established during the design process are a direct result of the needs and conditions of the users, critics and clients.

An example of this process might be the architectural student who selects and discards design ideas in anticipation of reviewer requirements to ensure a positive experience in the crit.

Source:  The Big Idea

This echoes Simonton (Origins of Genius) who observes that art would be a much simpler pastime if only artists needed to produce “aesthetic variants on a particular style” suggesting that selection criteria exist and are imposed by the cultural environment – in this case, the readers, audiences and patrons.

The cultural environment operates on a micro level too.  Selection pressures are also exerted by the collective attributes of the design team – its personalities, skills and roles.  How these collective attributes influence design decision-making is yet to be explored fully in research – one for the to do list…….

P.S. For the record, I am in no way advocating the Trafford Centre as a piece of exemplary architecture.


The Architectural Roman Nose May 25, 2012

Posted by jennibarrett in Uncategorized.
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The next few blog posts will be snippets of a study I did a few years ago looking at the evolution of ideas……

1  The Architectural Roman Nose………

The use of Darwin’s theory to describe apparent patterns of replication, variation and selection is a perennial theme in design, especially in the fields of architecture and the applied arts.  The analogy has been applied to the evolution of artefacts and more specifically to traditional craftsmanship where generations of learning has inevitably incurred some random variation by nature of accidental misrepresentation or the trial and error involved in replicating a technique employed for long periods of time without the requirement for inventiveness.

However, in modern societies which adopt a more self-concious design process, a process of ‘heredity with copying’ is at work as new buildings and solutions are copied from preceding ones (see Philip Steadman’s book – The Evolution of Designs).  This process is recorded not only in the more purposeful development of craft-based artefacts, as shown in this labour of love documenting the historical evolution of helmet designs……..

……but also in engineering solutions such as the motor car (c/o Le Corbusier).


We can look at building form in the same way.  A particularly fecund idea (“I know, let’s stick it on pilottis!!”) breeds a whole family of buildings which transcend architectural ‘isms’ but fundamentally retain the genetically powerful characteristics.  Hence, the pilotti becomes the architectural Roman nose.



(Source:  Archidialog)