Post 649 -by Gautam Shah
Buildings are nominally referenced by way of orientation, alignment, linkages, front-back placement, ground-line (gravity) or datum, framing, etc. Such references site a building location, set a direction, form relationships with surrounding elements, confirm the flow of energies like gravity, magnetism etc. and with it generate the sense of horizontal (parallel to the flow of energy) and vertical (towards-against the flow of energy). In this sense Referencing achieves a sense of balance, stability, steadfastness, belonging, scale, proportion and comparison.
Referencing is recognition of relationship between objects and persons in the context of the environment or the surroundings. Such recognition is a basal instinct. We mainly visually discern the size, direction, distance of objects and comparative details of objects, but these experiences are reinforced through other sensorial references like hearing, smell, touch, tastes etc. We also experience referential effects of energy like gravity, magnetism, electricity, etc.
Reference, derives from Middle English referren, from Middle French référer, from Latin referre, formed from the prefix ‘re and ferre’. Other derived words carry the sense of link-to, connect to, to carry back, to deliver, consult, an allusion, signs, indication, mention.
References can take on many forms, including: real and measurable, ephemeral like a thought, metaphysical like an allegory, sensory experience, manifestation of energy, a geometrical pattern, crypto-graphical conversions, or a part of a sequence or order.
In architecture references occur explicitly, subtly and metaphorically. Explicit references are superfluous or add-ons like enrichments, embellishments, stylized forms, with little relevance to functionality. Explicit references denote an overwhelming urge to make the ‘form follows the function’. Subtle references in built forms are innate, with deep rooted cultural connections like customs. The logic is integral in the social fabric, and no justifications are offered or expected. Subtle references in architecture have restricted relevance, available only connoisseurs, experts or practicing colleagues in the field. Subtle references require perception of a whole entity, as available in abstracted orthographic presentations such as plans, sections, elevations. Subtle references often connect to things or incidences that are in different time and space. Metaphoric references relate to abstracted representations. The layers of abstractions or coding are many and their trace complicated, so a metaphor seems to stand alone. Metaphoric references become a language of variegated forms. It is a pattern in its own entirety, like an alphabet where original phones or images have very remote connections.
References have hierarchical structure where parts and components of the entity itself mutually relate, and also associate with other objects in the same or different time and space. Metaphoric expressions in architecture link expressions in other fields, or allude to such thoughts and concepts.
Architectural references are formed intentionally, accidentally or unknowingly. Intentional references are part of the design creation process, so could be as justification for something that is uncommon. Accidental references are realization on a hind site. These actualize after drawing documentation, graphical representation, scaled-model making or through actual execution. Architectural references unknowingly become relevant, in some other context, because such effects were not perceived, or some unknown connection emerges through other media.
Architectural references are explored to reinforce or dilute a concept, and focus or divert from a composition. References are used to enforce or negate the essential elements of a style or theme. Just as enforcement occurs through repetition, highlight, scaling or linkages, negation needs occlusion, elimination of details and restraint. Holistic compositions though have singular but very emphatic expression, whereas assemblies formed by single person or organization have some basic consistency, with noticeable reference.
Reference in architecture is often literal, and so easily perceptible, like representation of birds, animals, objects, etc. The process of revelation however is made little more complex due to several layers of conversion or negotiations. Grotesque forms, humanoids, demons, devils, beasts, monsters are such conversions, where each representation becomes more complex with age and graphics making technologies. Yet robots remained replicas of humans or animals with head, eyes, hand and legs for several decades. Martians or aliens are still humanoids.
For architectural forms, the domineering factor has been the gravity, and the related sense of horizontality versus verticality. Gravity is part of our being conditioning all our creations, and it has taken years to move away from the gravity related prevalence, in conception of outer space modules. Gravity refers to stability, and anything wider at the base is safer and permanent and so monumental. Similarly, any reverse position is challenging and so celestial. For the same reason Ground-line or Horizon becomes very important base line for a building to relate to. Real or notional reference to ground-line is always assuring.
This is the 15 th article of 20 topics series on ISSUES for DESIGN