Decoration

In support of technology and the illusion of its absence

-written by Margot Krasojevic A.A.Dpil; M.Arch; Ph.D

Decoration has a dual role regarding technology, it is a socially acceptable presence replacing the dreaded fear of change, with recognition. When we think of decoration, we designate it the role of embellishing and beautifying an existing structure, yet it is through suggestion to a previous reference/precedent that we can accept the rapid change in social environments. The comfort that decoration and ornamentation brings to an evolving technological society is of locating oneself within that context, using recognition to achieve awareness. The antithesis to the decorative camouflage looks at the use of decoration as a result of mathematical and scientific application, whereby the relationship between society and the built environment can only exist because of technological achievements and their manifestation through decorative tiles or sculptures; tiles promoting illusion achieving a metaphysical, de-realised space whilst ornate sculptured detailing disguises the actual in the attempt to achieve acceptance through recognition.

Mimetic is the commonest type of architectural ornament present in Asian and ancient civilizations it is also found in 20th century architecture. It evolves from what seems to be a generic human response to technological change and a fear of adapting to it, hence the tendency to mimic, adapting new materials and techniques with shapes and qualities familiar from the past, regardless of appropriateness. This practice is referred to as mimesis. Most common ancient building types (e.g. tombs, pyramids, temples, towers), from both East and West began as imitations of primeval house and shrine forms. The dome is an example, which developed as a permanent wooden or stone reproduction of a revered form originally built of pliable materials. Building types evolved beyond primitive prototypes; their ornament, however, usually remained as reference to such models.  

Tiantan, The Temple of Heaven, Beijing

Ancient Indian and Chinese architecture, domical and other originally structural forms occur often and lavishly as ornament. In ancient Egypt, architectural details continued to faithfully preserve the appearance of bundled papyrus shafts and similar early building forms. In ancient Mesopotamia, brick walls imitated the effect of primitive mud-and-reed construction. In the carved-stone details of the Greco-Roman orders archaic construction in wood was always clearly an obvious precedent.

Delusional High Rise

  The prevalence of mimetic ornament in architecture influenced by forms and shapes associated with religious rites, continue to be applied even though often abstracted through geometric patterns, unrecognisably removed from their original models. Mimetic ornament can be ascribed simply to inertia or conservatism; people have generally tended to resist change; they find it reassuring to be surrounded by known and familiar forms. Reproducing ornaments on newly introduced forms is a common reaction to the vague feeling of uneasiness that rapid social and technological change induces; it provides a seamless sense of continuity between the past and the present.

        

            

                Chrysler building                                 The Osborne

-Characterstic aluminium gargoyles               -Byzantium Entrance, Romanesque    Façade.

 

 

This resistance was obvious in the 19th- and early-20th-century, disguising new techniques of construction in steel by using ornaments to imitate earlier styles; at the beginning of the century, the Skyscrapers in New York were inspired by Classical, Gothic, and Renaissance styles of previous centuries. By the early 1930’s, skyscrapers started taking on their own individual style, influenced by the Art Deco movement. Art Deco paid homage to the modern machine age by imbuing it with an original, non-traditional sense of luxury and opulence, slowly divorcing the technology of the time from the trappings of a comfortable acceptance of architectures application of technology, [this cyclic relationship to decoration refers back to Vitruvius’ definition of architecture as a pure mathematical form; comparatively Alberti stressed the importance of architecture as the art of building] most of which introduced society to perspectives and views never before imagined, some believe, responsible for the definitions and exposure of vertigo and agoraphobia. The ornamentation in most of these initial groundbreaking steel high rise frames embroidered the technology, as a result through recognition, acceptance of the then new building typology was achieved e.g. Mies Van Der Rohe, Seagram building 1954-1958, New York, The additional corner columns masked the structural expression of the buildings Technology in order to uphold the strategic criteria that of `Simplicity of construction, clarity of tectonic means, and purity of material reflecting the luminosity of original beauty’; was in itself an empty pedagogy.

 

 

                Seagram Building                    Woolworth Building

 

The nervous responses to technology’s adaptations of urbanism during the early 1900’s and its effects on the individual whereby the self, its role and relationship to spatial recognition and orientation relied less on biology or heredity and more on existential phenomenology. Abstraction marks the presence of agoraphobia as fear of the outer world, with reference to art historian Wilhelm Worringer, `agoraphobia is the by-product of a trend to abstraction inspired in man by the phenomenon of the outside world resulting in an immense spiritual dread of space’. The exposure to such thoughts in the early 1900’s propelled the beginnings of a phobia to modernism and its associated pathological effects, hence ornamentation acted as the saving grace, soothing societies frayed nerves in response to technological assertions.

 

Harmonious Intentions

 

 `Le Corbusier" often used golden rectangles in his building designs. One of these is the United Nations building in New York. The dimensions of the upright part of the L has the exact proportions of the Golden Section -- a specific mathematical relationship of one side's length to the other, there are distinctive marks on this taller part which again divide the height of the building in a display of this mathematical relationship. The golden section produces a harmonic effect called eurythmy found in nature as well as in a wide variety of works of art and design. Artists of various periods and cultures have found that dimensions determined by this formula are aesthetically appealing.

 

                    

                   United Nations, N.Y.          Golden Section Geometry   

 

Technology is defined as the application of scientific research and knowledge to the practical objectives of human life and to the change and manipulation of human environments. Deceptive parallels between architecture and decoration exist as already mentioned, however, ornamentation as a representative of technology, mathematics and astronomy also offers an insightful alternative to decorations role within the built environment.

Misinterpreted Realities

Decoration associated with patterns, tiles, tessellations as found in Islamic architecture is the combination of the elements that as a whole can be understood, allowing for a flexibility of scale that can cover various areas and components of the building both inside and out.

Islamic decoration does not emphasise the structural mechanics of a building,  instead, It aims for a visual disassociation from the reality of weight and the necessity of support, projecting a feeling of weightlessness. The effect of unlimited space, of non-substantiality of walls, pillars, and vaults is achieved using tiles which illude to continuous, infinite space. The use of mosaic, painted and lustre tiles, painted polychrome, moulded and deeply cut stone rather than actual openwork and pierced walls, vaults and even supporting pillars, geometric and abstract shapes to full-scale floral patterns, from minutely executed inscriptions in a full variety of calligraphic styles to the monumental single words that serve as both religious images and decoration are choreographed to present the viewer with multiple perspectives and scales, blurring the edges between internal and external space whilst betraying its physical boundaries, an Illusion of infinite space within the containment of decoration.Patterns project a false physicality such as the combinations previously mentioned within the Friday Mosque “Jam’ aa” in Afghanistan. Each section has its own logic, yet there is a larger logic that relates them together. Without a comparative, it is difficult to read the scale of the building element.

This flexibility of scale combined with the inter-changeability of the designs, which, contract or expand to fit different areas alter our perceptions of the physical elements. The effect of complexity is heightened by the use of ceramic inlays, which introduce colour as a dimension. The reflecting quality of natural light on the ceramic animates the space using the surface of the building as a canvas. Despite the fact that this building surface is flat and not sculpted, its decoration, through contrasts of colour and complexity of design, has three-dimensional implications, that of projected space. The effect and function of decoration is analogous to the non-directional plan, the tendency to an infinite repetition of individual units bays, arches, columns, passages, any specific direction or any specific centre or focus, an architecture that is perceived in a multitude of ways. If a definite spatial boundary is faced, such as an uninterrupted wall, its surface is decorated with patterns that repeat themselves (fractals), visually projecting us beyond the wall, surface, vault or dome, once more implying a projected, virtual space.

The Alhambra at Granada in Spain, built in the 14th century served as the royal palace. The plan of the Alhambra includes two inner courts set at right angles to each other leading into halls, and apartments, each in turn giving way to smaller courts and baths, all richly dressed in geometric designs of stucco, ceramic and wood. This example of weightlessness and de-realisation has no centre to emphasize power, suggesting non-hierarchy and spatial freedom [the notion of architecture as comprised of `space’ rather than of built elements like walls and columns, is a modern thought. Space indeed, became one of the watchwords of modernism. Space moved; it was fluid, open, filled with air and light; space was universal and intended to flood both private and public realms. Space, emerged as the focal point for the definition of what is modern becoming an antidote to the twin phobias of late 19th early 20th century urbanism, agoraphobia and claustrophobia. The spatial anxiety as first mentioned with regards to high-rise and ornamentation has shared concepts between the effects of Islamic architecture and modernism]. It is a labyrinth of rooms, courtyards, passages, corridors, water basins and canals that link the open and covered spaces, both public and private. A metaphysical concept of the world, anchored in symbolism and mathematics, manifested through the use of ornamentation, a hyperbolic context. Mathematics is the performance of calculations involved in a process, estimate, or plan of action, using reason and a system of symbols and rules for organizing this process similar to the ones found in the tile patterns in Islamic architecture.

                      

Alhambra Mosaic Wall Panel

The four plane symmetries exist within the Alhambra [rotation, translation, reflection and glide reflection] creating patterns, which organise the environment conceptually. Proportions need to be understood in order to represent nature without distortion, to appreciate critical mathematics working with visual art the importance of regular, irregular shapes and forms must be considered, in being able to draw, paint, or sculpt them, mathematical formulae and procedures need to be used to calculate and measure their dimensions, area, or volume.

 

Perceptual Dynamics of Pattern:

Some illusions are related to perceive characteristics such as brain function. When an observer is confronted with a visual assortment of dots, for example, the brain may appear to group the dots that “belong together.” These groupings are made on the basis of observed similarity, proximity, perceptual set (the way one expects to see things grouped), and extrapolation (one's estimate of what will happen based on an extension of what is now happening   and what has already happened). The psychology behind the tessellation of patterns has a more varied influence on the viewer, not only encompassing tradition, identity and the politics of the time but also addressing an inherent symbolic interpretation. Perceiving the subjective illusion.

          

            Microsoft Photo Editor 3.0 Picture

The Mathematics of Deception

Hyperbolic geometry is applied to unite landscape and building; using patterns as stimulus distortion illusions, whether they are part of the decorative façade or the ground plane; the nature of Illusions, then as perceptual experiences in which information arising from “real” external stimuli leads to an incorrect perception, or false impression, of that object or event. Our desire to understand and make connections with our surroundings, adapts and evolves when faced with new situations questioning the relevance and subjectivity of reality, comparatively pattern recognition defines computer programming and digital realities, reading plans and structures made up of analogue binary codes, this information completes the image and in turn allows you to relate to that condition; an automatic response. We continuously scan environments creating and forming links to define our realities be they shared experiences or completely isolated through perception.

The following is a lexicon of tile patterns, each with a particular function, that make up the entire physical world, natural and human-made, at all scales:

Fractals, possess the property of self-similarity. A self-similar object is one whose parts resemble the whole. This reiteration of details or patterns occurs at progressively smaller scales and can continue indefinitely, so that each element of each part, when magnified, will look like a fixed part of the entire object. A self-similar object remains invariant under scale changes i.e., it has scaling symmetry. This fractal phenomenon is present within the alahambra tile surfaces.

 

"All around us are facts that are related to one another. Of course, they can be regarded as separate entities and learned that way. But what a difference it makes when we see them as a pattern! . They begin to make sense. The world becomes a more comprehensible place."
Murray Gell-Mann (1929-), American physicist.

 

Acrylic Representations of Decoration

 

Decoration [as embellishment] is not merely a passport to an identity, or a consumer brand, placing you in an envied financial bracket, advertising a lifestyle divorced from individuality. Ikea, Habitat and Pottery Barn all offer prepackaged and cloned detailed existences heralding semi-intellectual product names teasing the consumer into pledging allegiance to that social hierarchy, welcoming you to the travels and tastes of the accessible elite. What was once considered a symbolic gesture [Mexico, day of the dead; Victorian mourning albums sculptures of the dead] has been replaced with superficial emotionless meanderings, present day compartmentalised definitions of decoration and ornamentation, however, reassuringly after more detailed research and reference, decoration emerges with a closer relationship to architectural design process’, no longer considered an afterthought, an indulgent addition strengthening the individuals presence within society but understood as the bridge between space and physicality that provides us with option to claim that architecture through appropriation as a result of its perception.

 

 

                                               

                                Times Square, The window to the world

 

 

 

Glossary:

 

Mimesis: Plato and Aristotle spoke of mimesis as the re-presentation of nature

Pattern - The repetition of any thing -- shapes, lines, or colors -- also called a motif, in a design; as such it is one of the principles of design.

Tessellation - A collection of shapes that fit together to cover a surface without overlapping or leaving gaps. Often a repeating geometric pattern, many of which may also be referred to as tiling. Types of tessellations include translation, rotation, and reflection. They can be regular or irregular (a regular tessellation is made up of congruent regular polygons -- triangles, squares or hexagons), periodic and non-periodic, two- and three-dimensional, and their motifs can be fractals (self-replicating).

Eurythmy: a system of harmonious body movement to the rhythm of spoken words.

Hyperbolic geometry: two parallel lines are taken to converge in one direction and diverge in the other unlike that of Euclidean geometry.

Decoration: Something that adorns, enriches, embellishes or beautifies.

Ornamentation: Something that lends grace or beauty.