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Architectural Expression
Rajashree Kotharkar, S.A. Deshpande & Rajesh Gupta Discourse on the idea of expression in architecture with respect to other art forms.
xpression is an inherent quality of any art form. Art being a true reflection of society also reflects the aspirations, concerns, and fears of the society. Does architecture also express something? What does it express? Is architectural expression same as expression in other art forms? Is architectural expression a function of time? These are some of the queries that need to be answered to clarify certain assumptions about aesthetics in architecture. This paper tries to. Understand the idea of expression. Differentiate between the expression in architecture and other art forms.

Understand and analyze the concept of architectural expression The paper will also discuss the elements that define the architectural expression.

The subject of aesthetics is as old as philosophy. There has always been a debate about the nature of architecture in the context of art and aesthetics. Expression in architecture is one such issue concerning aesthetics in architecture. Expression in art has always raised a number of contradicting views from

Fig 1: Expression in Dance, Source: theatre/contemporarydance460.jpg

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philosophers to art critics, and it has always remained a major topic of discussion among scholars. Expression is an inherent quality of any art form and architecture being an art form also has a component of expression to it. Therefore it is very interesting to study and understand the idea of expression in the context of architecture. The study of idea of expression in the context of architecture raises a number of queries for discussion. Does architecture have anything to express? What is it? How is the concept of expression in architecture different from that of the other art forms? This paper aims at understanding the idea of expression in the context of architecture and also discussing the distinguishing character that it has. The paper also investigates the nature of architectural expression and the elements that define it.

In the beginning it becomes necessary to understand and define expression in the context of art. It is believed that Art is an expression of emotion, effected by creation of an imaginary experience or activity. (1) It is through the concept of expression that Collingwood tried to clarify the distinction between art and craft. For Collingwood expression was the primary aim of art since there could not be any craft of expression. So Collingwood uses expression as a major element to differentiate between art and craft and emphasizes on expression being an inherent quality of art. Collingwood describes expression and imagination as two equally important elements of art. It is through the imaginative construction that the artist transforms vague and uncertain emotions into an articulate expression. The process of artistic creation is not a matter of making external adapt to what already exists internally, but a process of imaginative discovery. Collingwood explains; Expression is not so much a matter of finding the symbol for a subjective feeling, as of coming to know, through the art of expression, just what feeing is. (Refer fig 1) Expression is a part of realization of the inner life, making intelligible what is otherwise ineffable and confused. (2) Expression of emotion is not arousal of emotion, since emotions must exist before they can be expressed. Expression in the art forms like painting, sculpture, drama or poetry is personal or private in nature and has the capacity to convey the feelings of the artist to the observer. (3) The expression in music conveys the feelings of the artist and enables the listener to experience the feelings without any concrete medium. This makes music an abstract art. The feeling or emotion

that is being discussed here is essentially individual oriented. It is natural to suppose that representational arts, such as painting, drama, poetry and sculpture, give rise to an interest, which is unlike the interest aroused by such abstract arts as music and architecture. It is also natural to suppose that music has expressive, sensuous and dramatic powers in common with the representational arts. The other matter of discussion concerning expression is the medium of expression. The connection between a medium and the act of expression is intrinsic. Expression needs a medium to be expressed. The type of medium in expression also changes with the type of art form. A good artist understands the medium well. It is only in the abstract art like music a concrete medium does not exist. Having discussed the notion of expression, it becomes necessary to know whether the expression as understood in other art forms is same as in architecture. To be able to throw more light on this one needs to understand where architecture stands as compared to the other art forms. Is architecture same as other arts? It becomes imperative to discuss architecture in this context and to investigate the issue of architectural expression in the right perspective. Architecture stands apart from the other arts due to its impersonal and at the same time functional qualities and it seems to require peculiar attitude, not only for its creation, but also for its enjoyment and understanding. Firstly, it would be prudent to elaborate on the peculiarities of architecture in detail to be able to define and discuss the idea of expression in architecture. It will also help in establishing the elements of expression in architecture.
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Only architecture seems to stand distinctly from the other arts by certain features that cannot fail to determine our attitude towards it. The major distinguishing features of architecture are listed below. ARCHITECTURE IS UTILITY OR FUNCTION BASED Architecture has no meaning without function or utility. The purpose to build is what makes the building complete. Painting, sculpture or music has no particular purpose to accomplish and the absence of function/purpose does not make it meaningless whereas function is the essence of a building. The value of building is determined by the extent to which it fulfils its function and not by just its aesthetic value. ARCHITECTURE IS HIGHLY LOCALIZED IN NATURE OR QUALITY The building constitutes an important feature of its environment, as its environment is an important feature of them. Architecture cant be reproduced at will without absurd and disastrous consequences. Unlike the other art forms Architecture is rooted to a place. One cant really move the building from one place another like a painting. Painting, sculpture or music has no binding of a place. It will work or look the same way whether in Paris or in Mumbai. Architecture is supposed to give a sense of place, which forces the architect to build according to the existing milieu. We dont want the architect to design the building so that it could be placed just anywhere. This quality places architecture into a totally different genre of arts. Its character as a public object provides a more important distinguishing feature of architecture. A work of architecture imposes itself come what may
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and takes away the free choice of every member of the public as to whether he is to observe or ignore it. Architecture is public. It is meant for people. People constitute an important feature of architecture. People use the building whether they like it or not. They have to see it every day. In case of other art forms people do not get directly affected. They have a choice of ignoring a painting or a sculpture or not listening to a particular piece of musical composition. ARCHITECTURE IS A FUNCTION OF TIME Architecture has to respond to the notion of time in the context of technology, socio cultural aspects, various notions or concepts of the people, which keeps, changing, with time. Pevsner thinks that architecture can be either true or honest in the appearance it presents to the world or that it can be false and deceptive. We need to know where the standard of truth in architecture is supposed to come from. The quotation from Pevsner suggests an answer: architecture is false or deceptive if it does not reflect the zeitgeist, or the spirit of the times in which it is constructed. (4) ARCHITECTURE ALLOWS THE PEOPLE TO PARTICIPATE IN THE PROCESS. It exists first and foremost as a process of arrangement in which every normal man may participate, and indeed does participate, to the extent that he builds, decorates or arranges his own rooms. This is not true with the other art forms; no man gets an opportunity to make changes in the musical composition or a painting to his liking. In other art forms people do not participate, they are mostly observers or listeners. It is very clear that the nature of architecture is quite different from the other art form and therefore expression in

architecture will have to be understood considering its peculiarities.

It is pertinent to return at this point to the elusive but fundamental idea of expression and understand the notion of expression in the context of architecture. Expression in every art form depends on the nature of the art form itself. Since architecture as an art form has distinctly different character (as discussed above), the nature of expression will be different and can not remain same as in the representational art forms. The specialized nature of architecture leads to the understanding of the concept of expression in architecture. The private art such as music, painting, literature, sculpture, etc acquire much of its expressive character from the personal manner in which we may approach them, from the ability of such arts to address themselves to a specific, and perhaps highly specialized audience. Architecture is not a private art and therefore expression cannot have the same significance in public arts as architecture as it may have in the private arts of poetry, painting and music. The expressive features of architecture are not, and cannot be of this private nature. They consist rather in the objective representation of style and manner, in impersonal and unspecific meanings that speak to us as though from far away and with public voice. It would be a great mistake on our part to consider architecture as an expressive medium in just the way that sculpture might be. Considering expression as a major prerequisite for the definition of art the expression in architecture will have to be understood in the context of the distinguishing features that architecture possesses than the other art forms.

Fig 2: MOSQUE, NEW GOURNA, 1948, Source: Hassan Fathy by James Steele

First thing to notice is that expression can be and in case of architecture usually is impersonal. That is to say, it need not involve the expression of any personal feeling or any other state of mind (whether real or imagined) on the part of an architect or even the observer. The architect is not creating the building to convey his personal feelings to the observer. A building is essentially a public object, to be looked at, lived in and walked past at all times, in all conditions. The observer is not normally putting himself in a special frame of mind when he passes or even when he enters the building, nor does he regard it, as he might a book, a painting or a sculpture, as an object of private and personal attention. There is surely, therefore, something inherently anti-architectural about the view which sees architecture as the medium in the process of passing emotion (that is to say, imagined emotion) from artist to public. (5) All the same, it cannot be concluded that architecture, even as commonly understood, has no expressive character.

All that we are entitled to conclude is that the expressive character of architecture is not subjective it does not lie in the imaginative rendering of individual feeing. Buildings have expression and their individuality is not that of a particular feeling, which they express, but their public aspect. Having understood the peculiar nature of architecture and the difference between the expression in architecture and other art forms, it would be important to define what architecture needs to express and what are the elements that affect the architectural expression. To elaborate further it is necessary to refer to the distinguishing features of architecture listed in the beginning, as it is this peculiarity or the distinct features of architecture that shapes the notion of expression of architecture. The major aspects that shapes the expression in architecture are: 1. Architecture is considered to be meaningless without a purpose. The function also affects the expression of a building to a great extent. (Refer Fig 2) A temple needs to look like a

temple and cannot afford to look like a railway station. 2. Architecture is highly localized in nature or quality. The place is defined through its geography, culture and time as well. Architecture unlike other art forms is rooted to the place. The expression in architecture has a lot to do with the place as it builds to weave itself with the surrounding. How does this affect architectural expression? Surrounding can understood as the natural setting, the climate, the existing regional setting, etc. Wind Tower or other ventilating tools which evolved as a response to climate, contributes the most to the architectural expression. (Ref Fig 3) 3. The public aspect or public nature of architecture can be further elaborated in many ways. We need to understand the meaning of public aspects in the context of architectural expression. What public aspects of a building is, what the building trying to express? Rather what are the public aspects of building? Architecture is a strong means of communication for the peoMarch 2009 ARCHITECTURE - Time Space & People 23

Fig 3: Air Inlets in Egypt, Source: Hassan Fathy by James Steele

Fig 4: Ghats of Ganga, Source: Architecture of the Indian Desert by Kulbhushan and Meenakshi Jain

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ple. The fundamental queries concerning the architectural expression are firstly what we understand by the public aspect of architectural expression and how does architecture expresses itself. I would like to elaborate on the first query and discuss the public aspects of architecture. Architecture has a strong relation with people like no other art. The building is a manifestation of peoples beliefs, their method of operating, their concerns, their life style, which is a collective or public representation of socio cultural values of the community. These values get manifested in the expression that the building has. In short, architectural expression needs to speak / communicate on behalf of people, place, and utility. (Refer Fig 4)


The other query concerning architectural expression is how does it express itself or what are the elements of expression or what is the medium of expression in architecture. The medium of architectural expression is the Fig 5: Built Form, Source: Architecture of the Indian Desert by Kulbhushan and Meenakshi Jain
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Fig 6: Walled City of Jodhpur, Source: Architecture of the Indian Desert by Kulbhushan and Minakshi Jain

most misunderstood aspect as a lot of emphasis is given to the form only. Form has always been visually the most vocal element of architecture. So architectural expression is mostly defined in the context of form. (Refer fig 5) It becomes important to deliberate on this form oriented understanding of architectural expression. If Architecture cant be defined only in terms of form how can architectural expression be understood and communicated through only form. Understanding expression in architecture in the context of form could be disastrous to the basic understanding of architecture itself. Form though very strong or vocal is just one of the elements of expression and it is through a number of such elements that architecture expresses itself. What could be the other elements defining the expression in architecture?
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Along with the visual pleasure architecture is also an experience. Space, spatial relations and play of interlocking voids are essential for any architectural experience. Architecture is a collective representation of socio cultural fabric of the community. Space helps express the intangible notions of the community like hierarchy, privacy, security, spirituality, etc very well. The narrow streets and guarded courtyards helps us to understand the strong notion of privacy in the housing patterns of Gujrat and Rajasthan in India. (Refer Fig 6) Many such aspects can only be expressed through the space only. The other important element that defines expression in architecture is sense of detailing. (Refer Fig 7) Sense of detailing here includes facades, other exterior and interior detailing. Architectural detailing accentuates the

impact of the elements like the concept of privacy being translated into the faade treatment. Architectural detailing helps in strengthening the expression. The architectural expression can be understood or read through the effect of all the elements. Each element has a strong contribution in defining the architectural expression.

Only architecture seems to stand wholly apart, being distinguished from the other arts by certain features that cannot fail to determine our attitude towards it. The architectural expression is different from that of the expression in other art forms. Unlike the private arts, the expression in architecture has nothing to do with the personal feelings but is impersonal in nature.

Fig 7: Zharookhas as a part of faade detail in Rajasthan, Source: Architecture of the Indian Desert by Kulbhushan and Meenakshi Jain

Expression in architecture is a manifestation of a number of aspects like, function, place or surrounding, the public component of architecture, etc. While discussing the medium of expression in architecture form alone fails to define it. Expression in architecture can be experienced through FORM, SPACE and ARCHITECTURAL DETAILING.

OPHY OF ARTS AN INTRODUCTION TO AESTHETICS; Routledge, page no. 138 5. Scruton, Roger (1979). THE AESTHETICS OF ARCHITECTURE; Menthuen and Co. Ltd., page no. 189

Jain, Kulbhushan and Meenakshi, (2000). ARCHITECTURE OF THE INDIAN DESERT; Aadi Centre, Ahmedabad, India Steele, James, (1988). HASSAN FATHY; ACADEMY EDITIONS, LONDON


1. Collingwood, R.G. (1938). PRINCIPLES OF ARTS, Oxford University Press, 2. Scruton, Roger (1979).THE AESTHETICS OF ARCHITECTURE, Menthuen and Co. Ltd., page no. 07 3. Scruton, Roger (1979).THE AESTHETICS OF ARCHITECTURE; Menthuen and Co. Ltd., page no. 06 4. Graham, Gordon, (1997). THE PHILOS

Ed. By Hofstadter, Albert and Kuhns, Richard, (1964). PHILOSOPHY OF ART AND BEAUTY; The Modern Library, New York, Langer, Susanne, (1953). FORM AND FEELING A THEORY OF ART DEVELOPED FROM PHILOSOPHY IN A NEW KEY; Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd, Hale, Jonathan, (2000). BUILDING IDEAS AN INTRODUCTION TO ARCHITECTURAL THEORY; Wiley, England

Rajashree Kotharkar is a Assistant Professor, Department of Archite c ture and Planning, Visvesvaraya National Institute of Technology, Nagpur, S.A. Deshpande is a Former Professor & Head, Department Of Architecture & Planning, VNIT (Formerly VRCE), Nagpur and Rajesh Gupta is a Professor, Department of Civil Engineering, Visvesvaraya National Institute of Technology, NAGPUR. Photographs: Courtesy the Author.
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