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Introduction to architecture by james c.snyder and anthony j.

catanese

FIVE TYPES OF CONCEPTS

There are five types of concepts: analogies (looking at other things), metaphors (looking at abstractions),
essences (looking beyond the programmatic needs), programmatic concepts (looking at the stated
requirements), and ideals (looking at universal values).

Analogies
Of the five categories analogies are probably the most frequently used device to formulate concepts.
Analogies identify possible, literal relationships between things. One thing is identified as having all the
desired characteristics and thus it becomes a model for the project at hand. Until the rise of the modern
movement in the first half of the twentieth century, it was assumed by clients and architects alike that all the
great architecture of the world had already been built. The task of the architect was to figure out which
previous building was the appropriate model for the new building being designed. At one point the initial
assumption was that Gothic was the appropriate model for churches, colleges, and universities; Greek
Doric was the appropriate model for banks; and St. Peter's Basilica was the appropriate model for capitols
from Washington, D.C. to Madison, Wisconsin.
Some analogies seem to turn up more than others. One of the most frequent is the village street or a
covered shopping street like the Galleria in Milan. A recent example is Diamond and Meyers' use of both a
village street and the Galleria as an analogy for the design of a building for the University of Alberta in
Edmonton that combines a student union with married students housing. The apartments are located along the
interior street with a curved dome and daylighting similar to the Galleria in Milan. In developing this project,
the architects were concerned with the basic validity and how to develop and carry out the analogy. An
example of one refinement of the original analogy is in the use of panel windows that open onto the street. The
architects noticed that the perspective view down the street in an early version of the design did not match
the vitality and colorfulness.
St. Peter's Basilica, Rome. (George Gerster,
Rapho Photo Researchers)
Student Union Housing, University of
Alberta, Edmonton, by Diamond and
Meyers.

concept in architecture

Introduction to architecture by james c.snyder and anthony j. catanese

Section: Student Union Housing, University of Alberta.

of other streets they had seen. They remembered picturesque images of wash hanging from the windows,
but this particular scheme did not have that friendly clutter. To introduce that visual vitality, they designed
and developed special windows for the rooms overlooking the street. The windows were solid, brightly
painted panels, not glass, and were opened to provide extra cross-ventilation and views of the street activity
below. The colors of these panels and the posters attached to them provided the visual vitality the architects
were seeking.
Another example of the use of a direct analogy in which one building provides an appropriate image
for another project is Tree-top by David Glasser of Marquiss, Stoller and Glasser, on Hilton Head Island,
South Carolina. In this example, the gangway and bridge system of circulation in the warehouse area of
Savannah, Georgia, was identified as having characteristics that would solve a variety of siting and
circulation problems. The gangway system seemed applicable to the new design even though the Tree Tops
project was on a flat site and the activity was housing rather than warehousing. Analogies do not have to
relate to other specific buildings. Kahn, in discussing the concept behind the Richards Medical Research
Building at the University of Pennsylvania, made several analogies. He talked about the need for
researchers to communicate and share their ideas. Thus, he developed an analogy of the research building
as a community where people could see each other and become aware of the activities within the
building. This concept is very similar to Roche's Ford Foundation Building. Kahn observed that the medical
researchers on the University of Pennsylvania campus were inappropriately spread out all over the medical

concept in architecture

Introduction to architecture by james c.snyder and anthony j. catanese

Treetops, Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, by Glasser, Stoller, and


Marquis. (David Glasser)

school campus. His second analogy and concept


developed around an appropriate self-image for the
researchers. Kahn likened the activities and imaginative
thinking of the researchers in their laboratories to those of
artists in their studios. Kahn's conceptual image for the
medical research facility was a community of artists'
studios filled with creative researchers.
My Medical Research Building at the University of
Pennsylvania incorporates this realization that science
laboratories are essentially studios . . . . This design, the
result of consideration of the uniqueness to be made of
its spaces and their service requirements, expresses the
character of the research laboratory.12

Kahn may have developed an inspiring and appropriate


analogy as his concept for building, but according to some
reports the buildingwhile heralded by some as the most
important structure of the 1960sis difficult for researchers
actually to use. Researchers do not appear to be
enamored of the concept of a community of scientists or of
their visual accessibility to each other; many choose to
close their blinds for privacy and to control heat gain from
the sun. Neither do they seem to be inspired by the
analogy that their research spaces are artists' studios with
two walls of windows for light. They need walls on which to
hang experimental equipment, and they do not need the
kind of light that an artist might require. Still, the building
has some important achievements.

Richards Medical Research


Building, University of Pennsylvania
by Louts I. Kahn.

Jonas Salk visited research buildings around the United States as part of the process of selecting an
architect for his new research building. He studied the Richards Building, observed it in use, talked to
the users, and learned of its problems. Despite its drawbacks, this building was the only facility he
visited that tried to include the philosophical issues of creativity, and he chose Kahn to do the Salk
Institute in San Diego.

concept in architecture

Introduction to architecture by james c.snyder and anthony j. catanese

Metaphors and Similes


Like analogies, metaphors identify relationships between things. However, the relationships are abstract
rather than literal. Similes are metaphors that, use the words like" or "as" to express a relationship.
Metaphors and similes identify possible patterns of parallel relationships while analogies identify possible
literal relationships.
Charles Moore, in a discussion of his interests, suggested that he likes buildings to be like geodes.
He develops that metaphor in a brief scenario:
At St. Simon's Island, Georgia, [the] condominiums by the beach do something in response to
this [geode-like] image. It is apparently an old Georgian plantation, but huge, on the outside;
inside it is an orgiastic, brightly colored and decoratively formed set of walls surrounding an
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interior space.

The geode is a conceptual metaphor that suggests how the building could have two simultaneous
images. When viewed from the outside the building could have an image that would match the image of the
neighborhood. It could have a different image on the inside, such as an entertaining, theatrical, and
dramatic environment appropriate to a resort. Other examples of metaphors include Gio Ponti's provocative
list of definitions and explanations of various aspects of architecture. His definition of architecture itself is a
simile: "Architecture is like a crystal." Other metaphors discussed in his book, In Praise of Architecture,
include: "The obelisk is an enigma," "The fountain is a voice," "The room is a world," "The door is an
invitation," "The colonnade is a choir," and "The house is a dream." 14

Geode-architecture analogy.

Essences
Essences distill and concentrate aspects of more complex issues into terse, explicit statements. Essence
connotes insights into the most critical and intrinsic aspects of the thing being analyzed. A statement of the
essence of something can also be the result of discovering and identifying the roots of an issue.
Stanford Anderson wrote about and quoted Kahn's interest in essences and his use of metaphors.
Kahn is concern with form, what things are, with essences, with elements and their
articulation. "I'd think of the nature of something, see the emergence of what kind of
institution it would be . .. every building ... answering to an inspiration it serves, and the
environment of spaces which express the place of one man and another. It is almost the
first duty of the architect, you might say, to take a program and to translate its areas
programs to spaces, so that the lobby becomes a place of entrance, the corridor becomes a
15
gallery, and the budget becomes an economy."

concept in architecture

Introduction to architecture by james c.snyder and anthony j. catanese

Geode-architecture analogy: St. Simon's Island, Georgia, project


by Charles Moore and Associates.

Designers have developed several methods for searching for the ess en c e of a p rojec t a nd for
tran sforming it into concept statements. The search is to identify ideas that tie together the various parts of the
building and, as Kahn has suggested, that allow the designer to overcome the circumstances of each
project and to accomplish what is really important to accomplish. A pragmatic method of identifying the
essence of s project is to analyze the program and identify the hierarchy of issues for the project. The
assumption is that the most important Things are the most essential. This search can be an analysis of the
program or it can be a graphic analysis in which the project is diagramed in different ways.
Placing emphasis on essences and roots runs contrary to the one other major philosophical
approach to creativity and architecture popular in this century. This philosophy is based upon the idea that
each individual architect has a unique, innovative contribution to make. Architects from Frank Lloyd Wright
to Eero Saarinen have valued this belief, as did Walter Gropius, one of the founders of the Bauhaus.
The general willingness to use precedentwhether historical or recentother than vernacular
sources has only regained respectability since Kahn's emergence as a form-giver in the 1960s. Kahn
unabashedly identified the architecture of ancient Rome and the work of Le Corbusier as his major
inspirations. While not always candid about his contemporary sources, Kahn did modestly suggest, in the
middle of designing the library at Phillips Exeter Academy, that Hugh Stubbins' Medical School Library at
Harvard was a "very good library." A comparison between the plans and interior spaces shows a remarkable
similarity.
The work of John Portman of Atlanta illustrates another
version of the search for essences. Portman's most famous
buildings are hotels with dramatic, innovative interior spaces. As
concepts they integrate image, interest, function, andwhenever
possiblean urban-design plan for the city in which they are built.
The proof that they capture the essence of a hotel is their
popularity. The main multistory lobbies, especially in San
Francisco, are essentially public places belonging to the city as
well as to the hotel. Portman's understanding of what interests
and excites people is developed in his detailing, especially in his
elevators, which are decorated with tiny light bulbs and pierced
by windows for a view of the dramatic space. Another insight is
his willingness to build architecture that includes decoration,
something that has been missing from almost all twentieth-century
structures. Judging from its role in the success of these buildings,
decoration is essential elements in an architecture admired by
the general public.

Hyatt Regency Hotel, San Francisco, by John Portman.


(Alexandre Georges)

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Introduction to architecture by james c.snyder and anthony j. catanese

Another kind of essence architects look for is the essence that they can express in the design of the
building. Eero Saarinen interpreted the conceptual challenge at the TWA Terminal at International
Airport to be the expression of movement and travelas the key idea that could hold the whole project
together. According to Saarinen:
The challenge of the Trans World Airways Terminal was twofold. One, to create, within the
complex of terminals that makes up Idlewild [now Kennedy International], a building for
T.W.A. which would be distinctive and memorable.... Two, to design a building in which
the architecture itself would express the drama and specialness and excitement of travel.
Thus, we wanted the architecture to reveal the terminal, not as a static, enclosed place, but
as a place of movement and of transition.... The fact that to some people it looked like a bird
in flight was really coincidental. That was the last thing we ever thought about. Now, that
does not mean that one does not have the right to see it that way or to explain it to laymen in
those terms, especially because laymen are usually more literally than visually inclined. 16
Trans World Airlines Terminal Building, John F.
Kennedy International Airport, New York, by
Eero Saarinen. (Ezra Stoller/ESTO).

In contrast to the philosophical musings about essences and expression, another pragmatic and
diagrammatic method of discovering essences has been suggested by Lars Lerup. His technique combines
analogies and essences. Given a particular design problem to solve, he begins by identifying famous places
that have characteristics matching aspects of his design problem. Pictures of several famous places are
chosen, and each is expected to have at least one aspect that would be highly desirable in his own solution.
Next, Lerup analyzes each picture in a series of steps. First, he redraws the image, then he edits to bring out
its salient characteristics. The characteristics are further abstracted into a hypothesis about the important
design lesson to be learned from the original setting. That hypothesis is combined with others distilled from
the other photographs. The collection of hypotheses is then used to focus and direct the synthesis and
design of the actual proposal.
Symbols are a subset of the essences category. Symbols imply that the essences can be
characterized in specific forms and images that the public can understand. Why, after all, would anyone try
to manipulate the design of a building to symbolize that which was not important, critical, or essential?
Symbols in architecture are images that evoke automatic responses to a set of stimuli, usually visual.

concept in architecture

Introduction to architecture by james c.snyder and anthony j. catanese

Thus, symbols have to do with expectations. Many building types can be designed to match expectations.
The building can be both the place for an activity and the image that symbolizes that activity.
Direct Responses and Problem Solving
Not all concepts capture the essence of a project, nor do they all symbolize the function of all the activities in
a building. Concepts can be developed around more pragmatic issues often explicitly identified in the
building program. While many architects take pride in their ability to solve a c l i e n t s problems, only a few
actually make a pragmatic approach sound inspiring and many designers inadvertently avoid working on the
problem at hand while trying to be creative.
Gyo Obata, in discussing his proposal for the A ir and Space Museum in Washington, D.C, identified
the importance of knowing what kinds of problems to attack in large projects. This is especially important
when economics are crucial and cost increases due to inflation alone can kill a project if it is not designed
quickly enough. The major problem area that was identified in the A i r and Space Museum was circulation
and orientation for a very large number of visitors. The concept developed in response was a two-level
street that connects a series of enclosed theme exhibit rooms. Three open multistory hall are located at interval along
the street, both to display the prime attraction and to entertain the viewer moving from one theme exhibit room to
another. Visitors to the building have a choice of viewing order, because the collection is simply too large
to be taken in at one time. The concept of a double-level, street like circulation pattern that would disperse
people to all the various theme rooms was tested in the first few months of use. In fact, more than twice the
projected number of visitors visited the museum in its first year. Without a clear concept of circulation as a
prime issue, the whole building would have been less useful and would have created unnecessary frustrations to its millions of users.

Ideals
In contrast to the previous categories of concepts, which suggest that the architect look inside the problem
or at a similar problem to discover appropriate concepts, ideal concepts are those that architects bring
to the problem. If architects bring the right concept to the project, they are praised for their genius. If their
choice is inappropriate, it becomes a preconception and their basic competence is questioned. Ideal
concepts represent the highest aspirations and goals of the architect.
For example, an architect can bring to each project a series of ideal concepts about how to conserve
energy in buildings. These concepts might include compartmentalizing, zoning according to need for heat,
developing windowless backs of buildings that can be turned toward cold winds, angling surfaces for heat
collectors, and designing for self-sufficiency of the whole system.
Another example of the potential for ideals to influence concepts is illustrated by the work of Mies
van der Rohe. Mies developed the concept of an ideal building based upon large, open, unpartitioned
spaces he called "universal space." Mies thought it was basically appropriate .for each project he designed.
Student unions, libraries, classroom buildings, and offices were expected to work best as versions of a
universal space.
Ideals can have positive effects and if architects did not have them to refer to and use in
conceptualizing and developing their designs their task would be more difficult. Their previous
experiences and insights would be useless, and each project would have to begin from scratch. This would
aid neither the client nor the architects who are flexible and comfortable in emphasizing different ideals for
different projects have an advantage in providing services to their clients.

concept in architecture

Introduction to architecture by james c.snyder and anthony j. catanese

SUMMARY

Notion, ideas, concepts, and scenarios form a continuum (of increasing complexity, appropriateness, and
depth of thought) that can become an important basis for architectural design. Concepts integrate the
various elements of a design into a coherent whole and allow the architect to direct his or her resources to the
most important aspects of design. Conceptual scenarios integrate a number of applicable concepts and are
used for communicating ideas to one's self and to clients. Of course, the appropriateness of a concept or
scenario is pivotal and it comes from a process of self-criticism.
There are five types of concepts: analogies or literal relationship, metaphor or abstract
relationships, essences or intrinsic aspects, programmatic or pragmatic responses, and ideals or external
values.
Most importantly, the search for appropriate concepts and their application in architectural design
helps make good architecture.

National Gallery, Berlin, by


Mies van der Rohe. (Balthazar
Korab).

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