Excerpted from Vol. 1, No. 2: WINTER 2017/2018


When it comes to promoting architectural discussion, architects are often even less successful than the general public. Where the pubic resorts to aggressive, visceral, emotional language, the profession falls back on alienating intellectuality. Here are a few examples:

a vibrant typological experiment, transforming the intellectual/social agitator.

– World Architecture News

The experience of the park will change not only relative to environmental or seasonal doctrines, but also relative to economic or industrial doctrines.

– A competition entry

This speculative section anticipates necessary organizational strategies based on prior analysis, hybridization and successional anticipations.”

– A competition entry

These are extreme examples of professional and academic language that seems designed to obscure, rather than explain. In the worst cases, architectural language can be counter-persuasive. Does a “a vibrant typological experiment” sound like something you want to live across the street from? Examples like this appear in publications and public presentations all the time.

The danger in using architectural language goes slightly further than merely excluding the public from architectural discussion. It also sometimes reveals that the very process of design can be alienating. Words intended to advertise a building’s virtues may instead make it sound unsettling.

Even worse, fanciful architectural jargon can sometimes lull designers into believing that they are producing something quite marvellous, which in the context of the language being used, it may well be. But to the layman, without the big words, and without the architectural theory behind those words, it’s just another ugly building.

There is therefore an onus on architecture to communicate in a way that, while it may be appreciated on many levels, is accessible, rather than conceived in a private language that only the cognoscenti can appreciate.

– Christian Illies and Nicholas Ray, in “An Aesthetic Deontology,” Architecture Philosophy, Vol. 2, no. 1

Portrait of Jean Mielot
Artist: Jean Le Tavernier (after 1456)
Collection: Bibliotheque nationale de France