PRECONCEPTION ANALYSIS written by A. J. Lumsden

Traditional architecture achieved built environments unmatched today. Compare the drawings of Florence depicting its remarkable collection of buildings and spaces with the photo of a new section of Paris taken from atop the Arc de Triomphe. This comparison is not unique; it applies to all old and new urban environments. Limited by reductavist attitudes, our cities are distinguished by the paucity of their spatial concepts. The freestanding box building bounded by an urban grid street pattern allows little potential for developing buildings and spaces that will satisfy man's psychological needs.

This is not an article for historical reproduction, nor for attachment of buildings in a historical way, although modifications of the vehicular street grid that isolates buildings and pedestrians are essential. It is about reorienting the single-mindedness of art and minimalist aesthetics so that buildings are not controlled by biases that exclude important performance criteria. Museum art is generally based on the dominance of style and visual consistency, viewed as small objects seen instantaneously without relationship and adjacency concerns. Architecture is a sequential experience with important environmental and contextual prerequisites.

It is an observation of contemporary omissions, partly due to the dominance of the two aesthetic poles of architecture: reductionist "form follows function" and individual expressions of "architecture is art". Dogma such as "the outside is the result of the inside" and "the building is all one thing," and the assumed necessary consistent-aesthetic vocabulary dictate, when followed, that buildings are designed without regard for adjacent structures. By intent the architects visual system disassociates the project from adjacent structures.

The answer is that these dogmas are only sometimes and partly correct. It is necessary to develop an aesthetic methodology and organizational system that will allow the parts of the building that have important adjacency and environmental requirements to be modified so that buildings act collectively.

St. Mark's square is a wonderful urban space. Napoleon is said to have remarked "The most wonderful drawing room in Europe." Illusion is made to the homogeneity of the buildings constructed over 500 years in styles ranging from Byzantine to Renaissance. What is not noted is that all the buildings use the same organizational system. The pattern of voids in St. Mark's facade facing the square is

A A C A A
B B D B B

The pattern of voids at the library is

F F F F F
E E E E E


The walls of the Doge palace follow a

J J J
HH HH HH
G G G

pattern of voids. The commonalty of the ordering system secures the homogeneity of the buildings. Historical buildings are not compositional, nor are they art in a modern sense. Historical buildings used a system of order that is generally repetitive and serial. Patterns of elements such as

AAA, ABAB, ABABCABAB, AAA BBB, etc.

are common. Gothic cathedrals and Japanese temples or houses are not compositional as art in a contemporary sense. Order is systematic and relates to symbol, material, surface, structure, function, etc.

Nature embodies a system of development opposite to preconception of any kind. Birds have, in architectural terms, similar programs: beaks, wings, eyes, skeleton, heart, lungs, stomach, etc. The whole species are internally programmatically similar. The diversity of the species, including penguins, is related to environmental conditions. The exterior conditions cause the selection of a type that has adopted a mutation that fits.

The exterior can be quite diverse based on the same interior functions. In nature the same internal functions similarly placed but proportionally modified allows for a whole multiplicity of creatures from man to giraffe, mouse to camel, and elephant to whale. All vertebrates use a modification of the same skeletal system. Solutions are achieved through a system of non-logically caused variations. Mutations are random, and in some cases change precedes established or desired need. The analogy coincides with a creative method using systematic analysis and testing combined with intuition -- equal to the mutation effect -- to develop architectural solutions. Evolution in nature relates to survival of those that fit rather than survival of the fittest. The ability to adapt is critical. At the various evolutionary phases, an adoption of form can occur before function (although the adapted surviving species is always functional). This is a fundamental reinterpretation of the design process and exposes the narrowness of the conceptual process dictated by pseudo-functional minimalism. Form does not follow internal programmatic functional analysis.

Many physical entities fundamental to man develop without concern for art. Many developed without concern for man and human vision. Nature itself, trees, water, the sun, the Universe, stars, the seasons, have no concern for art, beauty, or man. The question is whether esoteric art is inhibiting the development of a more important architecture that responds to the whole range of construction, function, social, psychological, and contextual issues. It is probable that stimuli more diverse and prolific than art images will produce architecture of greater creativity that will positively contribute to the built environment.

The two extremes of architecture today are repetitive boxes and radical art concepts. The problem, as propagated and practiced by these two polarities, is that architectural functionalism does not assess function in anything but reductionist, minimal terms and "architecture is art" has become the direct translation of art images. The Procrustean application of the reductivist bias, ironically concealed behind a misinterpretation of form follows function, reduces characterful functional expression to minimalist boxes. At the other extreme, imposition of a priori aesthetic preferences potentially exclude a whole variety of necessary performance criteria. These attitudes, if continued, will disassociate architecture from society.

Modern architecture has focuses on the plan at the ground plane as the aesthetic and spatial organizer of buildings. Few have investigated the potential of sectional variation in ways equivalent to historical architecture. The advent of modern structural systems and mechanical means of changing level have introduced the opportunity for new kinds of inhabitable spaces. Le Corbusier's realizations at Villa Savoye, the Assembly Building at Chandigah and La Tourette where trabeated structure is secondary to the three dimensional disposition of function, mass and space are examples of non-gravitational organization.

New multi-leveled spaces as varied as those depicted in Nolli's map of Rome, where exterior and interior spaces were integrated into a continuous experience, are possible as a substitution for ground planes bisected by pedestrian inhibiting vehicular grids.

In this office, work is based on the inclusion of all necessary and useful non-aesthetic systems for each building type. This method is the basis of the extended analogy to the process of natural evolution that accepts the given and necessarily changes that proportion which allows the species to adapt. The idea of accepting systems which work together with the modification of parts that should and can be adjusted is fundamental.

The analogy also extends to the examination and illustration of the independence and inter-related uses of components. The idea of combining, incorporating, and accepting systems, methodologies and organizational patterns that are proven with vocabularies and spatial dispositions that are innovative is supported by historical, natural and architectural evolution. In architecture, virtually all cultures have used the same organizational patterns to develop their plans and elevations for over 5000 years. Egyptian, Assyrian, Greek, Roman, Islamic, Japanese, Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance civilizations used the same systems of order to achieve the extraordinary variety of buildings each of these cultures produced.

Minimalism and architecture as art is Procrustean in opposite ways. Both exclude dispositions and organizational systems that work because of aesthetic preferences.

My work does not profess to be better than other work. Rather, it focuses on developing productive responses to the useful complex realities of the world, to question unnecessarily limiting dogma, and contributing to the general knowledge of the 20th-21st century architecture by incremental insights into the relationship of existing systems to a developing design methodology. The most important aspect of a building is its contribution to the next of its kind. An important part of the work is a' posteriori in method, resolving conditions that cannot be excluded and relating aesthetic systems to productive massing and organizational dispositions.