RHETORIC in DESIGN -issues for design -16

Post 653 -by Gautam Shah



Rhetoric is the ‘art of speaking or writing effectively’. (Webster’s Definition) Aristotle describes it as ‘the ability or means of persuasion’. He describes three forms of rhetoric: Ethos (distinctive spirit of a people or an era), Logos (the logic and supportive evidence behind an argument or a reasoned discourse), and Pathos (represents an appeal to the emotions of the audience, and elicits feelings that already resides in them). Rhetoric is used in literary and verbal expressions, by using things that are familiar, but less acknowledged in common usage. In literary and verbal expressions rhetoric is exploited by construction (of the language form) and reinforced through the means of delivery such as rendering diction and graphics.


Literary and verbal expressions generate instant and consistent impression over their audience or followers. Designed objects like arts, crafts, architecture, graphics, products, etc. however, do not carry an immediate or intense message of persuasion. A design has a persistent delivery, but very variable in content. It gets actualized in many different scenarios.


Emotions through rhetoric ‘have specific causes and effects’ (Aristotle -book 2.1.2–3). Such dialogues however, do not exist between designers and connoisseurs. ‘Aristotle posits that along with the pathos (an appeal to the emotions of the audience), a speaker must also deploy good ethos (distinctive spirit of a people or an era) in order to establish credibility’. Philo distinguishes between two different types of logos 1 Prophorikos (the uttered word) and 2 Endiathetos (the word remaining within). In case of design-objects, the later one is relevant, as the rhetoric of design is always latent or potential.

640px-Henri_Rousseau_(French)_-_A_Centennial_of_Independence_-_Google_Art_ProjectRhetoric is means of expression or conveyance. In Literature and utterances it gets reinforced through linkages or examples, and altered through feedback from the audience. Such immediate response is not possible for Art, craft or architecture, and if any, it arrives as feed-forward in the make up (training and experience) of the creator. The design feed-forward chiefly relies on the visual rhetoric like books, site visits, media images, etc. But, it is impossible to perceive here ‘one cause to one effect pattern’. Other sensorial inputs like touch, smell, taste, aural, etc., historically had alogical legitimacy. Once a design actualizes, the feedbacks may arrive as historical realizations, but in different time and context. So designs can ‘have traceable past, but uncertain future.


It is often claimed that visual literacy is of recent origin, when we ignore the mediums of expression and conveyance, which have been with us since primitive age. Wall murals’ images were visual rhetoric, well ‘read’ and capable of arousing Aristotelian pathos (an appeal to the emotions of the audience). Some examples of visual means are charts, graphs, diagrams, photographs, movies, printed media, etc. but though these arouse the pathos but not always as instant response.


Visual Literacy

The study of visual rhetoric is different from that of visual or graphic design, in that it emphasizes images as sensory expressions of cultural meaning, as opposed to purely aesthetic consideration. (Kress, Gunther, and Theo van Leeuwen. Reading Images: The Grammar of Visual Design. New York: Routledge, 1996.).


The Design objects like architecture poses a statement only after their making, or on being used as an ‘artifact. Vitruvius stated that a work of architecture is a matter of ‘invention, arrangement, memory, delivery, and style’, and the process was perceived to be similar, to the Aristotelian way of putting together a speech. Design creation is very circumstantial, meant for a client, functions, site, regulatory framework, financial restraints, etc. It, however, needs to be tempered by arrangement, assimilation or composition of many different elements and considerations. These, together offer a holistic character, but realizable only after the creation. Rhetoric in design, if any, is in the design feed-forward, and after its avatar through the feedback. The feed back spreads over a very long period, sometimes after the original entity is destroyed. The Aristotelian depiction of Rhetoric as ‘the ability or means of persuasion’, for designed objects like architecture remains vague or conjectural.


The ability or means of persuasion were reasonable for artefacts conceived and made by the same person. But modern designers generate designs through surrogates or representations, and transmitted to makers or assemblers as schema or specifications. The communication through a schema is an order for execution, but certainly not for persuasion or concurrence. The instructions, if, any are non-personal and distanced in time. Some designs are too involved with the clients or stake-holders, but many others are panoptic. Designers are self-absorbed to care for persuasion or confirmation of anyone. Rhetoric exists, but as statement of non-confirmation.

Deconstruction Ways by Isidro Blasco

Design disciplines are categorized in four major domains: Graphic Design (Real and abstract -symbols communication), Products Design (objects, artefacts, craft-items), Services Design (software, interaction, stake holders) and Empathetic Design (social concerns).

McKeon, Buchanan state the understanding of design, as of symbols and images1, physical artifacts2, actions and activities3, and environments or systems4.

Architecture Confluence Lyon Deconstruction

Build-Designs are perceived at Two levels. First level consists of assembly of elements like signs, patterns, or images, and the organizational discipline. At another level, there is holistic form that is conceived without any elemental identities.

Kirtimukha_sculptures_on_shikhara_(tower)_of_Amrutesvara_temple_at_AmruthapuraThere are few characteristics common to both the congregated and totalitarian forms. Design, in part or as a whole is an allusion to something separated in time and space, and formed through analogy (comparison) or antithesis (contrast). Antiphrasis is an impressionistic expression to convey non-conventional meaning used for sarcasm. Build-forms or the constituents are given magniloquence by way of exaggerated scale, contrasts, precarious shape and intensive vibrancy.


There are few features that rhetorize composite forms due to multiplicity of constituents elements. The sub-elements occur as microcosm, recurrence, as directional move, evolution-devolution and support-contrast. These rhetoric elements manifest in scaling, sequencing or within a perceptible domain of time or spatial reference.


Design objects like architecture, fashion, products, are created for stake-holders and for personal gratification. Objects for personal gratification often result from intense desire to go out of the box as a non-conformal creative activity. This attitude, though very radical, resulting into unusual approaches and solutions, is tied to reality. All worldly creations are governed by factors like gravity, terrain and environment. Arguments of persuasion, justification or acceptance.


Out of the Box thinking: It is believed, the term for unconventional perspective in thinking, has come from British mathematician Henry Ernest Dudeney. In this, nine dots are to be interconnected by using four lines drawn without the pencil leaving the paper. The puzzle required one to go beyond the dot array boundaries that is move out of the box.

9Dot puzzle

This is the 16 th article of 20 topics series on ISSUES for DESIGN



Post 419 – by Gautam Shah 



Storage has the largest space occupation in buildings for human inhabitation. Since Industrial Revolution period this has been gradually diminishing in terms of volumes and scale of relevance. The reduced storage needs are more pronounced in highly urbanized settings, than in rural or scattered settlements. Storage needs are affected by several factors. Wherever supply and disposal systems are efficient, the need for storage becomes less intense. Similarly availability of ready to use items reduce the need to store high volume raw materials and tools-equipments of conversions.

Storage room, Palace of Knossos > Wikipedia image by Olaf Tausch

Stored things reflect affluence, discerning nature of the owner, and the skill of organization. The act of storing is very purposive, so provides an impetus to some form of organization of built spaces. That is why once it was believed that storage spaces make bare spaces worthy of living. Storage allows one to conduct life at a rational pace. A building with well-organized storage is a domesticated entity compared to very vast left out universe, whose order is unknown and is beyond control.

Kutchh Bhunga house storage from > from https://www.flickr.com/photos/nevilzaveri/3377927507/

Things are generally stored with perception that these are items of wealth and their value will be greater when retrieved. The increment in value may be due to sheer act of containment (locational massing), ageing (maturing, ripening), organization or orderliness induced through the act of storing, and art or technique of retrieval. Like all wealth, the values of stored things change with time, and this change may not add to the wealth.

Storage systems are required for domestic, commercial, administrative and industrial purposes. At all levels we also need to store means, storage mediums and containers, gadgets for conversion, tools of measurements, utilities for handling and transportation. In other words we store edibles, fuels, clothing, records, stocks, parts, components, products, wastes and effluents. Things we store include not only physical, static and non static things, but biologically live beings (pets) and non-physical things like ideas, concepts, feelings, experiences and thoughts.


Palatalized storage system Wikipedia Image by Patsy Lynch

Societies have endowed special importance to things worthy of possession and their display. These could be utensils, crockery, clothes, handicrafts, bags, containers, sanduks (trunks), pataras, gadgets, tools, armaments, trophies, prizes, certificates, photographs, paintings, sculptures, antiques, jewellery and stuffed animals. Storing is also called archiving.

Spices – condiments storage for merchandising different from stocking

Stored things are affected by external environment (atmosphere), internal constituents (such as moisture, bacterial activity) and forces like gravity, magnetic and other energies. Stored things are affected by adjacent things and overburden. Stored items change with age, which is either discouraged or supported. Stored items. Design of storage system must include these parameters.


Things to be stored are static or less mobile and can be stored without being ‘contained’, but things like gases, particulate matters, liquids, need to be contained. Very large number of small things or boxed or pelletized for easier handling and often for isolation. Design of storage items like crockery, cutlery, jewellery, toys, make-up things, handkerchiefs, socks, medicines are better if stored in containers. Office documents and papers are filed, and files placed in storage units. Containment is necessary for mass transportation, bulk handling, high density packing, and to reduce the amount of air space within the bulk. Containers’ design in terms of shape and size needs to be modulated, so that stacking, massing and handling becomes easier. ISO Modulor coordination system helps in pallet design of such systems. For example cement bags are 3×2=6 a layer cross placed stacks.


Stacked  Parking New York Wikipedia image by Jerome

There are many exclusive storage structures such as Petroleum tanks, Reservoirs, Septic tanks, Granaries or silos, Settling ponds, Jails, Auditoriums, Concentration camps, Detention camps, Sheep yards, and Balloons. Ships, Trucks, Railway wagons, Aeroplanes are storage transport systems.

Rip Rap stack

Particulate building materials in loose form need to be stored at angles lower then their angle of repose (angle of slide). Things uniform in size and shape can be stored in stacks. Stacking and heaping system of storing, both have size limitations. In stacked things, items placed at the bottom are not only difficult to retrieve, but there is an overloading burden on them. Such a burden may cause changes in stored things.

storage box or Patara

Interior designers need to be aware that Shirts or clothes, when overburdened, show unwanted creases. Woollen pullovers and suits, when overburdened, loose their fluffy character and look flat or dead. Silk fabric items miss their tenderness, while rayons get a permanent press. Over heaped cement bags get a false set. Overburdened soils over a period turn into a rock like structure. Overburdening affects retrieval, and can be avoided by good design. Things stored in a library book shelf pattern can be retrieved, irrespective of order of storage, but heaped or stacked things can be retrieved as ‘first stored – removable last’.


Conditioning of Environment of storage areas is very important. Integrated storage areas with toilets allow breeding of mosquitoes due to presence of moisture. Similarly in dry edible items like food grains, condiments are best stored at low humidity and at slightly lower temperature than average. Wet or moist foods and cooked foods need a temperature lower than one that discourages bacterial growth that below 4° C.




Post 230 – by Gautam Shah 





Corridors or Passages, for one person passage, in one direction, require a discipline enforcing width of 630mm (such as queue space at a bus stop), for less acute needs (such as at Airport check-in 800mm. Enclosed corridors as suggested in most residential building bye-laws, should be minimum 900mm wide, for short length runs of 5mts. For greater lengths a width 1200mm is advisable. For wheelchair traffic minimum 1000mm width in straight sections, and more in angles or curvatures, is required. Where movement is likely to be intense, bidirectional and with hand carried luggage, a width of 1500mm should be provided. Where corridors are likely to be 1500mm or less in width the doors should be placed in a recess, and must open away from the corridor space. Preferably doors should not open out into the corridors, unless a recess equal to the full swing of a door shutter is provided. On a corridor opposite doors should be staggered. In hospitals facing doors, however, are of help in turning in stretchers and Fowler beds. At the end, start or junctions, corridors should be plain, there should be no opening for a length equal to the width of the corridor. Cross corridor junctions, if any must happen in a wider lobby or foyer. Corridors should have a secondary escape point for every length section beyond 15mts. Longer corridors tend to be boring so should intermittently terminate into a hall or foyer, before being continued.


streets-2480304_640There should not be any projections, or fixed or loose furniture in the functional width of the corridor. Where visually impaired people are going to transit, the projection off the wall must not be more than 100mm, and furniture including the space for knee or leg of the user must be accommodated in alcove or niche.




Illumination in corridors requires careful planning. Windows at the end of a corridor, or doors on corridors opening out to an exterior, create a glare. Artificial compensative illumination is very necessary to counter the glare. Side openings in a corridor provide a visual distraction, but unless fairly intermittent or properly designed, create very patchy lighting. Illumination fixtures on wall and ceiling fail to provide the desired effect when corridor height is low and traffics density high. Illuminated ceilings provide very poor modelling and social recognition. In such situations a lighter colour scheme and indirect glow not only on the ceiling but upper section of the side walls helps. Illuminated steps and side hand rails provide a functional definition. Illumination level in corridors should never be consistent as it creates boredom, It should be high enough near openings to counter the glare and in some situations (drama auditoriums) even feeble in contrast to the interior. Illumination fixtures that are visible like shaded lamps, diffusers, chandeliers etc. create a visible physical dimension.




Paintings on corridor side walls must be smaller and with details that can be enjoyed at a closer distance (often less then 450mm) such as miniature paintings or photographs. Large paintings with very extensive colour or form patches are hardly visible in a corridor like narrow space. Artefacts in corridors must not encroach upon the functional passage width, so have to be in niches. Such niches have to be arc form to increase visibility from sides. Artefacts at the end of corridors are perceptible, if the traffic in the corridor is thin or intermittent. Cut out or double height section in the roof or ceiling section, are great relievers in straight jacketed spaces.



Corridor floors are visible in low traffic corridors such as hotel lobbies. These can be treated with long direction patterns. Corridors often have floor-finishes with running stripes on both the edges. The method extends the length aspect while reducing visual width. Stripes or flow of motifs in the shorter direction is unnerving, due to repetition and visual compression in perspective.

Perspective Arches Arcade Corridor Passagewooden-72863_640



Passage and corridors cut across spaces in a very logical manner and often as the most economic route. Compared to room spaces corridors require lesser height provision, so carry services such as ducts, wires, etc. in the ceiling plenum. The ceiling space of the corridor is easily accessible for servicing the utilities. The ceiling surface is designed to absorb the locally generated sounds, and also mask the sounds that leak out from the rooms, through the joints and crevices along the installed services.




Passages, (as unbounded corridors) require side edge definitions. Such definitions could be in terms change in flooring colour, texture or pattern. Alternatively definitions could be through change in the floor level, or side barricading of 600mm to 1200mm height level. The barricades could be ceremonial or representative only. The barricade may not be continuous but could be intermittent like planters, boxes, ash-posts, poles etc. Passages need floor and other definitions to indicate the direction of the flow or movement, destination, and nearness to a point of change. These are formed by flooring colour, pattern, gradient, illumination, lamp posts, and visual axises or connections.





An opening primarily connects two distinct worlds of outside and inside. Openings through their own presence assume many different guises or architectural character. An internal opening is very important medium of investing the nature of relationship between spatial domains. External openings have in their nominal form, have often diffused the distinction between the interior and exterior spaces. Openings have been stretched inward and outwards to transgress the architectural domain.


Design considerations


Basic design considerations for an opening system are: width, height, depth, form (shape, configurations) and position (in the surroundings, angles, orientation).


Key issues for openings in buildings


Openings occur in consonance with other openings, in reference to the exteriors or surroundings, positioned for the functional value in the interior space, maintaining the structural integrity of load-bearing walls or following the regimen of structural framing, and while balancing the punctured surface versus the opaque surface.


The openings also take care of nominal transit needs, emergency egress requirements, environmental facilitations, ergonomics needs, and view requirements such as eye level, angle of sight, framing, etc.


The openings in buildings are placed for the pattern, compositions, for scaling and proportioning, endowing graphical character, for reflecting styles, cultural ethos, religion and such other affinities and identities.


Openings are devices for allowing or restricting the sunlight, air, sounds, privacy and for framing the view of the outside. As a device openings have inbuilt systems to modify the elements transiting through it, such as air, moisture, dust particles, ion charge etc.




Post -by Gautam Shah


Designing Treatments of Openings


● Location: Openings’ treatments are dependent on the location of the opening. These factors are: ground floor, upper floor levels, attic, cellar, etc., road touch faces, side and back side faces, public or private spaces, open vista or cut out spaces.

● Orientation: Openings’ treatments are orientation specific. The variables are: directions like North, South, East, West, sun’s angel of incidence, breeze direction, degree of privacy, orientation value in terms of landmarks, natural features, etc.


● Environmental conditions: Environmental effects are very directional, diurnal and seasonal. The environmental constituents are: time of the day or night, seasons, solar incidences, and breeze directions.

● Functional units: Openings’ treatments serve the interior functions of the space units such as the bedroom, drawing room, kitchen, toilets, offices, store rooms, etc.

● Utilitarian purposes: Openings serve utilitarian purposes such as: ventilation, illumination, breeze catching, vision or vista, security, identification, emergency egress delivery of goods, communication, restricted animal or bird access.


● Height situations: Openings are placed at various height positions such as ground floors, upper floors, cellars, roofs and in terms of height positions such as low, middle, high, etc. For each such reference, the opening’s treatments vary.

● Profile positions: Openings are profiled as horizontal, vertical, inclined, skyward, downward, etc. The nature of exposure to various elements determines the type of treatment that are required.


● User abilities: Some openings are designed to serve specific physiological needs of the users such as: young, adults, infirm, aged, senile, prisoners, mentally retarded etc. Openings’ treatments are designed to suit their abilities, ergonomic and anthropometric requirements.

● Cultural and Social relevance: Openings’ treatments at exterior as well as interior level reflect the personality of the user, which emerges from the religion, customs and nature of privacy or social interaction desired.


● Users’ personality: It is a cumulative effect showing interests and involvement of many people. Individually a user continuously evolves and varies the choices, and one of the crucial aspect of it is subjective need for change with reference to past colonnades.

● Choices and Variations: Need for a change is one of the key determinant for openings’ treatments. A user wants something different from the current state, which may not necessarily be a new theme or entity. Historical styling is one such mode for a change. The change is also caused by alteration of key elements forming the openings’ treatment, such as colour, texture, size, form, illumination, etc.