Meaning Communicated by Architectural Means


Image selected by Steven Holl for Edge Cities, late 1990s

A proper English couple (representing Western Civilization) sits on their manicured lawn as closely as possible to a meadow with grazing herds of sheep and cows.  A boundary is made meaningful by the difference a) in the texture and performance spec of the grass, b) the sharp definition of the line, and c) the species and behavior of the mammals on each side.


President Bush at Fort Bragg

The buildings at the paratrooper training ground are located in the only place where they are out of the way of the falling parachutes.  The clear boundary between open field and the dense overlap of the structural steel tower and humble pre-war building creates an unintended poetic charge.  The added irony of George Bush looking on like an intimidated little boy is courtesy of the (unknown) photographer who took the image for the New York Times.

Too often, the representations of contemporary architecture that are featured in journals (in the guise of futuristic factories that recycle carbon dioxide and the like) are mostly architectural renderings of non-architectural inventions and concepts and are more analogous to the futuristic King’s Views of New York of the early twentieth century and the illustrations of space travel from issues of Scientific American, than any significant example of avant-garde architecture of the twentieth century.  But rather than see progressive architecture only as a rendering service for the champions of radical environmental action, it will be important to understand what architecture itself can do (as a distinct discipline), to communicate meaning and clarify relationships.

These examples point to a role that on the one hand is more humble, and the other, more powerful.  Perhaps architecture is mostly about demarking and given specific qualities to boundaries.  When the differences between the boundary are amped up as a poetically-charged dichotomy, then a pregnant architectural opportunity is created.


2 thoughts on “Meaning Communicated by Architectural Means

  1. I really appreciate your blog, Tim, and read it rather regularly. The topic of this blog is rather relative to what Common Boston is in the beginning stages of planning as a theme for the 2010 festival next summer: programs on a topic of Boundaries and Connections/Intersections in Boston (As background, more about CB can be found here: As Boston is defined by many in terms of places that you can’t go, we are hoping to address this issue through active programming that examines how design factors into this equation of margins, delineations, and placemaking. We would welcome any ideas you may have on these topics as they relate to Boston if you may have the time to spare some. Thanks again for the great read!

  2. Alyson – thanks for reading. I am very supportive of the mission of Common Boston; the programs are always very well conceived. I would be happy to offer some suggestions as you put together the 2010 event.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s