The Landscape Guide

9.2 Language and Architecture

Contents list

Although I have a personal curiosity about the messages that architects send to one another, I can sympathize with any member of the public who does not share my interest. What matters to the public is the environmental code. As well as speaking to the public and to fellow architects, buildings converse with the environment. Too often, modern architecture has been environment-unfriendly. "Form follows function' was the battle-cry of the heroic pioneers. Their dream was of glory, of a bright new age in which external form was exclusively the consequence of internal function. Victorian architects, they said, had been corrupted by stylistic considerations. Modern architecture would be pure, clean and white. Like conquerors down the ages, they focused on their own objectives, thinking little of older civilizations. Rectangular slabs and towers were marched through the cities of the world. Microclimate was ignored, along with local building materials, traditions, pedestrians, religion, art, cyclists and vegetation. For half a century, as the International Style marched on, the environment lost and the people suffered. Jencks gives the following account of a conversation between buildings that front the River Thames in London (Figure 9.1):

If peace is to dawn, between architecture and environment, new channels of communication must be opened. "Jaw Jaw is better than War War', said Churchill. Both parties must be ready to talk. Both must be ready to listen. A common language is a necessity. As in any conversation, both sides will have things to say. Sometimes, it will be an exchange of pleasantries. At other times, it will be a lively debate. Sometimes, the environment will tell the building what to do. At other times, the building will have the louder voice and the more important message. City buildings should be more urbane. Urbanism could serve as name for the art of making them so. Jencks' notion of a "language of architecture' is a step on the road to peace and harmony. Buildings do speak and can listen.