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The Language of Architecture by Val Warke, Andrea Simitch

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1918
The process of architectural design is much like a
voyage. At the start of this voyage, it is the development
of a coherent architectural concept that not only suggests
a possible destination, but that also supplies the traveler
with both an oar and a rudder.
A concept is rooted in simple abstractions, yet it initiates a process that usually ends with
a complex design.
2
concept
THE LANGUAGE OF ARCHITECTURE
What It Is and What It Does
A concept represents more than a solution;
it poses a way of thinking about a design
problem while proposing a set of objectives
while implying potential exclusions. It is a route
to be taken while excluding potential detours.
The concept initiates the action of design.
Versus Ideas
While a concept might originate with an idea
or set of ideas, an observation, or a prejudice
that is personal to the designer, these ideas
alone rarely motivate a production. In order
to have a productive value, an architectural
concept should eventually result in an
observation that can be shared with a larger
audience. And, while intrinsically an
abstraction, a concept also differs from an
idea in that it has an obligation to suggest an
image or a thing, since it must inevitably lead
to a constructive proposition.
For example, using light wells to bring
additional light into a building might be an
idea. However, on its own, the notion of
including light wells does little to limit a
design’s range of unique possibilities. That
the building might be like a sponge, with
light wells penetrating in an organic, irregular
manner throughout (as with Steven Holl’s
Simmons Hall at MIT), or that light wells
might simultaneously provide tubular
structural and mechanical supports for the
building (as with Toyo Itos Sendai Medi-
atheque), represent ideas elevated to the
level of architectural concepts.
And Flexibility
However, while it might be the nucleus of a
design, the concept may become gradually
refined and subtly reconsidered as a process
proceeds. Far from being a fixed idea, a
concept must remain flexible, roomy enough
to permit the inevitable adjustments as a
design evolves.
Steven Holl’s original water-
colors for Simmons Hall,
a dormitory for MIT in
Cambridge, Massachusetts
(completed in 2002), propose
that the concept of “sponge”
would give this building its
identity. The concept conveys
numerous attributes: a regular
exterior form is penetrated
by organically shaped tubes
providing light and ventilation
while linking the more public
spaces through various levels
with contrasting formal
vocabularies.
(continued on page 23)

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