This chapter examines architecture as a general application domain in which values have been of central concern throughout its history. It departs from the supposition that values are by necessity part of the project of architecture and unravel aspects of these values. These aspects include the distinction between implicit and explicit values, the unexpected effects of design intentions, the distinction between general values and their particular historical readings, and perhaps most importantly the life-span of buildings, which often outlasts the value systems they arose from.
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Ornament: The Politics of Architecture and Subjectivity - Harvard Graduate School of Design
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This is why, in radicalizing criticism in the early 20 th century, Adolf Loos and Le Corbusier would put ornament back in the cupboard, because they thought it ill-suited to industrialized and democratic society. In fact, if ornament no longer expressed any political and collective value, this was because it had above all become the expression of an individual subjectivity, shared between the commissioning party, the architect and the user. This capacity of ornament to express a subjectivity is not new, and Antoine Picon also retraces its history.
He starts it with the issue of the licence in the theory of orders in the 16 th century: it displays the play in the rules which great architects like Michelangelo 6 authorized themselves. In the 19 th century, ornament broached subjectivity in a new form, that of interior decoration, while middle-class society imposed individual freedom, the spirit of distinction, and the gratuitous style as higher values.
Art Nouveau was the dazzling manifestation of this, but opposed by modernist theoreticians of architecture, preferring equality, the collective, and functionalism. Ornament is no longer a relative value. It is no longer enshrined by the rules of an ethics: it becomes radically criminal, incarnates Evil, and henceforward becomes the object of a moral rejection. That, needless to add, of architecture which, through its works, alters a landscape by setting up a landmark in it, like the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao designed by Frank Gehry; that, obviously enough, of the commissioning body, involved in overbidding with their competitors, like the princes of baroque Rome in the age of all-out capitalism.
Ornament : the politics of architecture and subjectivity / [electronic resource]
The subjectivity of the user, for his part, is usually abandoned, except in certain cases, analyzed by Antoine Picon, where it is implicated in a sort of dialogue with the edifice, whose ornamentation, akin to the skin of a living organism, encompasses it to produce affects on it—the affect being, in the Deleuzian terminology followed by Antoine Picon, the effect produced by the ornamental sign when this latter is no longer communicating anything comprehensible.
And the author quotes several noteworthy examples, such as the M.
This vital function of ornament is an idea originally formulated by Gottfried Semper, a selection of whose writings has been translated by Jacques Soulillou, and who is regarded with great interest by a large number of contemporary architects. Choosing very bright colours and geometric shapes, he transformed the streets into compositions worthy of the Bauhaus painters. The Function of Ornament , Barcelona : Actar, , p. The Alhambra , London: Penguin Books, Soulillou, Jacques. Soulillou, N. Thibault, Estelle. Contents - Previous document. Translated by Simon Pleasance.
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