Topic for Debate
Rhetoric in architecture
Architecture is not just 'the built'. It is that and more; the 'more' being the meaning injected into it by the architect and that being derived by the user.

The architect "embodies a curious mix of impotence and power," if we keep in mind that the architect does not really create buildings, but issues instructions for creating them.

It is through his power of persuasion that he is able to express the 'meaning' and hence, 'make' architecture. In this regard, the architect is the true heir of the ancient Greek Sophists, with the ability to sway public opinion with rhetoric.

Be it in the form of text (Ten Books on Architecture, Vers une architecture, Delirious New York); images (photography,exhibitions..the Archigram super-hero, the futurist sketches of Sant'Elia); philosophy (Derrida, Nietzsche); schools (Bauhaus,Delft and traditonalism); be it the modernist times when Mies was shouting "Build, don't talk!" through his concepts and manifestoes, or be it the post-modernist times when architects just can't stop talking about their "rhetoric of suffering"; architects have effectively made the world see it their way.

What do you think?

Swati Janu
Rhetoric in architecture
Very true, the passage of time and the role of the architect in society has been dictated by the forces demanding, a particular stratagy to be adopted producing the rhetoric described by you.
Dushyant Nathwani
Rhetoric in architecture
Pure Rhetoric is the ability to make nonsense of commonsense. Question is, do humans need or want rhetoric?

Any architect who talks about a "rhetoric of suffering" must have been out in the Sunshine for too long.
Frank John Snelling
Rhetoric in architecture
In an actual architecture project, the rhetoric or the verbal discussion of what idea the project should be based on, is maybe 2% of the project. The rest is all about HOW to enbody that idea in the physical fabric of the building.

So the need for the rhetoric is maybe necessary for assessing its own evils or goods.
Sheherbano Mehboob
Rhetoric in architecture
Once again the issue is obfuscated by the misapplication of very precise terminology to very vague philosophic queries. I suggest that there is no rhetoric to architecture, there is terminology when buildings stand on their own.

What architects discover, along with designers in all disciplines - is the difference between 'hexis' and 'prexis' a la Camus et Sartre. This becomes more troubling for architects as their finished 'art' in all cases contributes to 'practice' societies over analogy, requiring a truly professional detachment from emotionalism.

Mies' exhortation, to build not talk sounds great at the outset - but when buildings become idiotic, do not positively serve their function and community, we should not feel bound to perpetuate errors as they become recognized. This in no way should be misconstrued as an argument for 'international styles' over vernacular - there is always a cultural factor tied to regional identities beneficial to communities in general.
Anthony Stewart
Rhetoric in architecture

I believe that it is the word 'rhetoric' that leads to spontaneous apprehension. Unfortunately, what was once an "art" which was considered essential to the discovery of truths through discourse and argumentation, has today been reduced to a mere "word", used in a dismissive sense to refer to inflated language and pomposity.

Deprecation of the term can be attributed to the modern linguistic "Puritanism", which holds that language used in legitimate persuasion should be plain and free of artifice. A reflection of the same is apparent in its architectural counterpart, Modernist Architecture.

Architecture is a powerful form of expression, and what equips an architect to shape the course of history is his ability to influence the masses to share his vision of the future; this becomes his rhetoric. Many a times even if this vision fails to materialize; the architect's rhetoric lives on to influence the future generations manifesting itself through the work of other architects.

It is true though, that many architects indulge in 'empty' rhetoric and tend to over-explain their designs in a desperate attempt to 'sell' them.


Could you please elaborate a little more. I could not grasp all that you seem to be saying.

But, I think that one cannot totally deny rhetoric to architecture; for to do so is to deny an essential aspect of art to architecture.
Swati Janu
Rhetoric in architecture
Swati -

By your post, you have already grasped what I was stating. I can only hope to articulate more fully how 'rhetoric' stands apart from 'terminology:'

For designers, the language we use to define or describe methodologies, constructs or differences must remain discrete from the language we use to describe 'thy why' of what we do. This should not be misconstrued as a protection of 'techno-jargon' but merely that there exists real differences in how languages may be used effectively.

(I should talk - being often being one of the most verbose, pedantic and inarticulate punctiliator of professional language!)|:)|

The difference between "terminology" and "rhetoric" also has a time contextual basis: A definition referrs to what is accepted "in the now,' whereas rhetoric seeks to provide more expansive framework over time which by nature is not as precise being malleable by connotation.

What might this mean to an architect whose language exists perforce in 'real time,' 'real material construction' of material artifacts which will last over a long time while fulfilling (or not) the needs of people in the present?

Language, whether written in words or cement does not 'fit all,' for the designer who must present/ pursue the creation/manifestation of combined esthetic and utilitarian constructs must work with this 'double-edged sword' or be hamstrung by temporal, political expedience. In short, we are what we do, not what we say we do.

Finally, our language is in fact be secondary to communication across all cultures and belief systems - what is truly wonderful is that buildings will and do make their statements long after the designers have passed on and serve to communciate the true values of civilisation.

ma salemah!
Anthony Stewart
Rhetoric in architecture
A little late on this discussion. But I thought I'd clear it up for anyone else who types "rhetoric of architecture" into google.

I believe the subject here is architecture AS rhetoric, not the rhetoric used to describe architecture, although the connection is no doubt something to be explored as well.

Rhetoric is used to affect meaning, which is to say affects minds. How does architecture influence emotions, knowledge, meaning? Essentially how does architecture make us think, act, feel, and thus influence us to accept or reject certain ideas.
Richard Treadwell
Rhetoric in architecture
Swati, Yes, I agree with you, mention of the word rectoric raises hackles and that cause problems.

Anthony, as always you write sense.

For myself, from personal experience, my father used to able to "Talk the hind leg off a donkey." He voiced this informally by saying he used to engage political arguements and so confuse his opponent he could move around to his opponents point of view and effectively turn the tables.

Much later I came across the information that "Rhetoric" was an ancient discipline taught with logic and philisophy in universities.
Frank John Snelling
Rhetoric in architecture
@ frank: wondering if you learnt about rhetoric from the book, zen and the art of motorcycle maintainence? thats when i got interested in it.I didnt understand it when i first read it and just moved on. I came back to it after i read some texts by koolhaas and i realised that he employs rhetoric to a great effect in all his writings. He sets up all the situations and confrontations, just like one would do in a story or a book or a play and i am still not sure if he is using it to merely sell his schemes or if he is actually trying to improve architecture by using rhetoric as a means.

@ swati: u can definitely understand rhetoric better from the zen book. another book "What is OMA?" has a chapter which shows how koolhaas sets all of his situations up and makes u question whether there are really worth believing in or if we just have to follow suit and invent our own situations and rules for selling architecture. There is another chapter where koolhaas acknowledges that what the world sees of him is not him but his "ghost" which he has created. he says-" i have never used "I" in anything i ve ever written. The only time i used it was to write "i am a ghost writer"
Shravan Vaidyanath
Rhetoric in architecture
@ frank: i am trying to figure out and understand what the rhetorics of architecture are and what would be the best way to learn them, with out falling into the trap of immitation as cautioned in ZAMM. any thoughts on tat?
Shravan Vaidyanath
Rhetoric in architecture
Shravan, I have not read "Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance" because of the patronising title which implies that it is a book upon the discipline of Zen, but written so as to to be understood by working class people.

To me, Zen is the eastern form of existentialism and most probably predates western existentialism. But western existentialism appears to be psychological "smoke and mirrors" used both to manipulate people and imply intellectual superiority, but to me western existentialism is the modern and corrupt manifestation of the ancient discipline of rhetoric. Corrupt in the sense that the essential emptyness and amorality of rhetoric (the ability to argue two differing points of view) becomes the agenda itself (as nihilism) and not as it should be used as an impartial technique to exercise the mind.

Zen on the other hand remains true to the principle of being an impartial technique to develop and exercise the mind, if only for the wonderful conundrum "The sound of one hand clapping".

Whereas, Rem Koolhass and his "i am a ghost writer" is typical of avante garde rhetoric used to camouflage an enormous ego because what he is really saying is "You cannot see me and you cannot ever know me, because `I am the God in the machine` and therefore beyond the comprehension of mere mortals".
Frank John Snelling


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