Topic for Debate
Examining terminology: Ideas, Notions, Concepts, Metaphors, Analogies, Essences, and Ideals
In teaching and practice, designers, architects, and educators use several terms to explain their work to themselves and to others. These terms are used interchangeably and in many cases confuse the client, the user, or the student.

I am interested in raising this discussion about the following terms typically used by architects and planners:

Idea, Notion, Concept, Metaphor, Analogy, Essence, Ideal

- Are they used "intentionally" to create this confusion?
- Are they used as part of architects and educators Jargon?
- Are they used to really clarify and explain design projects?
- What are the similarities and differences between them?
- In what situations they should be used?
- Is it possible to simplify them when explaning architecture to others?

Any thoughts, philosophical positions, or generic assumptions. It would be interesting to get feedback from Archnet Members.
Ashraf Salama
Examining terminology: Ideas, Notions, Concepts, Metaphors, Analogies, Essences, and Ideals
Dear Ashraf,

Very interesting questions! Architects suffer from what I call the curse of approximation.

We tend to use these terms loosely and interchangeably, without ever worrying the confusion it causes, as you have pointed out rightly.

Then there is this particular problem of English. Local English usage is looked down by those who use English as spoken by the Britishers and they in turn are looked down by those who speak with American accent!

Then there are some people with vernacular language background who feel that they are inferior just because they have studied in their local language / mother tongue.

And there are some who feel that they are far superior to others, just because they have studied in convent/elite school, although their interllectual ability may be average or just above average!

In order to facilitate the students to develop communication skills, we have introduced a special course right in the first year at Rizvi College of Architecture, although the university syllabus does not have the course as such. The course is offered by an architect. There is a separate course for architectural theory, where these terms are defined and discussed.

This is followed by a course in the second year in architectural theory where the students are required to read, analyse, write and prepare
case-studies. This also helps them to develop their language skills.However, the students response to these courses leave a lot to be desired.

Therefore, we have parallel stream of activities, wall paper / newsletter / yearly magazine where students are encouraged to contribute. They take active part in organizing seminars and conferences. The group of students who take active part in these activities show much higher creativity in their architectural design and other subjects, apart from being better communicators.

I am looking forward to a lively discussion on the subject!

with best wishes,
Akhtar Chauhan
Examining terminology: Ideas, Notions, Concepts, Metaphors, Analogies, Essences, and Ideals
Dear Akhtar;

You opened the debate further by your posting, thank you for your continuous support.

I like the idea of having a special course that emphasizes a number of terms such as those posted--among others. As part of "Human Factors in Environmental Design" an introductory course for beginning students, that I used to teach @ MIU, I used to place emphasis on these terms and others to develop a terminology base for students that eventually foster their verbal communication skills.

One of the ideas imbedded in your posting implicitly concerns itself with the issue of "Verbal Student" and the "Visual Student". Some education theorists argue that students possess different types of learning capabilities. Some excel at dealing with the visual world, some excel further in dealing with words and the verbal world, while others become more interested in the "psycho-motor" world (doing). The development and the balance of these skills is very critical.

Now, back to the terms, I was wondering if you have your own definitions of them, do you use them very often, what terms are used more?

I am hoping that more members take part in this discussion.

My best,
Ashraf Salama
Examining terminology: Ideas, Notions, Concepts, Metaphors, Analogies, Essences, and Ideals
Dear Ashraf
I beleive you have made a really interesting topic, as well as the expresed by the proffessorpreviously. I want to beleive that we as "architects" use these terminology as a way to express ourselves to the others, a way to share with other different points of view, however sometimes I feel that many of these terminology is use more for unknow of the person (or to confuse the other in order to distract them of an object) rather than to help the otehrs understand. Right now I am afraid to use terminology, afraid to use in the wrong way, afraid that the others understand a tottaly different point that I said, but I do beleive that words are a very important instrument the comunication, no the only but one of those we already known.
Luis Medina
Examining terminology: Ideas, Notions, Concepts, Metaphors, Analogies, Essences, and Ideals
an idea is individual perception,notion is shaky or offbit perception,concept happens to be firm perception,metaphore takes help of simmilar perception to explain more,analogy has explained and quantified conent in perception,essence is condenced perception,an ideal is perception with moral and ethics explained.
Dushyant Nathwani
Examining terminology: Ideas, Notions, Concepts, Metaphors, Analogies, Essences, and Ideals
Dear Ashraf,

In order to familiarise the students with our philosophy, approach, goals and objectives, methodologies and programmes, I take a series of lectures in the early days of the first year. This also helps them understand key words and gradually learn the way architects speak, write and use their language. I also suggest that they think in their own mother tongue and learn to speak about architecture in local language.

As part of these talks / lectures I introduce them to the terms that we architects use and what they mean. I ask them to follow up with some readings but most of them dont have time for reading! We have an overload of subjects in our university syllabus!

I use simple diagrams to explain, I sketch on the blackboard with chalksticks and make them take these down in their sketchbooks and notebooks. These relate to the issues I mentioned human, social, environmental, technical and philosophical. To me this is the "basic humane architectural design course" though I dont use such a title. This is the seed that I plant in their minds hoping that it would grow and find its full expression with careful nurturing over the years.

What you were teaching was perhaps a more structured course touching the same issues. We still follow Bauhaus visual basic design course in the first year as part of the syllabus.The students have done some wonderful exercises under the guidance of their teachers. So good that in later years, other teachers wonder what goes wrong? Why they are not able to integrate their BD work in AD work?

It is during these early talks that I establish a direct personal links with each one of them and try my best to develop that as a life long link and relationship, in the quest for excellence in architecture
(professional goal) and a better quality of life (life goal).

This year A.Prof. Himanshu Upadhyay, we lovingly call him Hemoo,an enthusiastic and committed professor, is taking the Architectural Design course and he has focused his attention on early introduction of sustainable, appropriate and innovative architecture.

This will include a visit to Kerala later in December and meeting Architect Laurie Baker. Prof. Upadhyay is making a film on Laurie Baker and some of our students are assisting him.

The first year is the most crucial year in architectural education. I have taken Basic Design and Architectural Design course along with Prof. Masud Taj and Prof. Umesh Pacchigar for many years followed by my wife, Pradnya and her colleagues, and now it is the turn of Hemoo and his team to do their bit!

with warm regards,
Akhtar Chauhan
Examining terminology: Ideas, Notions, Concepts, Metaphors, Analogies, Essences, and Ideals
Dear Dr. Salama, this is a thought-provoking question and really makes one go over these words which we usually just take for granted.. and use them with clients.

In prctice, we use only a few of these words regularly with clients:

IDEA is the first thing in starting a design. The client gives his basic idea of what he wants and we discuss that idea with him architecturally.

CONCEPT for the design comes after that, and is decided according the requirements of the client. It is the basic design concept on which further design is built.

The word IDEAL we use when we refer to something in our design proposal that we want to connect with something in the client's requirement. For example.. The size of the kitchen is ideal for your family. Or, this corner is ideal for morning tea. So in other words it substitutes for the word 'perfect'

The rest of the words, Notion, Metaphor, Analogy, Essence are not uusually used with the client and are more common amongst fellow professionals.

I think these words are used to explain design projects and many-a-time one finds clients picking them up them and using them in discussion with architects.

As far as jargon is concerned, i feel that in addition to the words Dr. Salama has mentioned, words such as elevation (usually understood as 'height') cantilever, column (as opposed to pillar), beam, joist, parapet, skirting etc are words that fly over a layman's head and need to be toned down or explained when talking to a non-architect.

Many clients in Pakistan dont comprehend the word 'plan' and prefer to use the word 'drawing' and some even use the word 'map'

I personally try to tone down any technical jargon when talking with new clients - I always say pillar and not column, and say roof instead of slab - till the time they start getting comfortable with the terminology.

I think we can discuss all these terminologies and learn from each other. Thank you for the mind-stimulating question Dr. Salama. It is really making me go over things that I never thought of critically.

Hammad Husain
Examining terminology: Ideas, Notions, Concepts, Metaphors, Analogies, Essences, and Ideals
Dear Hammad,

I had a client who would use pillar for beam and beam for column! Though he was quite knowledgable about materials and strucuture! Why do we have use to English terms talking to each other in our own locality? Is it because we do not learn our construction and architectural language nor we develop it? May be using English gives us a sense of modernity and progress. In Japan, they use their own language for studies and in practice, I am told. Is it true?

with best wishes,
Akhtar Chauhan
Examining terminology: Ideas, Notions, Concepts, Metaphors, Analogies, Essences, and Ideals
Dear All;

Thanks for your postings. I totally agree with you Akhtar and Hammad. True, it is a paradox that we, architects, cannot differentiate between talking to each other and talking to others (non architects). It would appear that we enjoy it! Do we?

Let's discuss some of the concepts that we typically use. I have a feeling that --regardless of whom an architect is talking/communicating with-- these terms are used to skip and escape some questions, avoid or simplify some discussions or maneuver in our verbal communication with others, by insertiing words and terms so that the listener will be intimidated!!! then feel insecure, and then stop talking and communicating. Thus, we--architects--succeed in cutting non-architects off--sometimes politely and sometimes agressively!! Hope the discussants are on the same page with me.

I think these assumptions can be tested by interviewing a number of practitioners from different cultural background.. I believe one can reach interesting results.

Now, do we put enough effort to define those terms among ourselves and fellow colleagues initially, I doubt!! If so, when we--architects-- do, the discussion ends up with redundancy and more confusion, since every one has his/her own understanding of the terms and insists on using it the way he/she understands it. Perhaps because there is no common way.

Is there a dictionary of DESIGN TERMS?.. I am not sure. I realize there are dictionaries of construction terms, and terms on the machinery and equipment used in the construction processes, but I guess nothing is out there available about design terms. Hope there is something.

I hope we get engaged in a process of debating those terms and it would be nice to share a common language and a common undersntanding, at least here in this small screen!

My best,
Ashraf Salama
Examining terminology: Ideas, Notions, Concepts, Metaphors, Analogies, Essences, and Ideals
Professor Chauhan, you are right about Japan that they use their own language in all drawings and discussions and have complete technical Japanese language, which unfortunately we lack in both Pakistan and India. In Turkey also, Turkish is the language used by all architects, even when words are borrowed from foreign languages.

The column/beam confusion that you mentioned is very typical in clients in Pakistan as well. But then all the good books on architecture are in English and that is a big advantage for architects in the two countries. I remember architects in Turkey who studied in Turkish didnt have as much material on architecture in their language as there was in Engish.

So I guess its debatable. English gives the architects an advantage but it becomes a drawback when communicating with those in our country who dont speak English (the majority).
Hammad Husain
Examining terminology: Ideas, Notions, Concepts, Metaphors, Analogies, Essences, and Ideals
Dear Hammad,

Thanks Hammad for providing us greater details about use of Japanese language in day to day personal and social communication as well as in education, profession.

But then you made a statement that would make every English architect proud. " All the good books on architecture are in English". Generally speaking you may be right, in our context of living and working in English speaking world. But then world is much bigger and much more enriched with so many languages.

We have a term "Kupamandukta" - the frog mentality. A frog thinks that the well is the world. But we know it is not. Let us not be like frogs.

Perhaps, we should be like birds who fly high and fly far away to different regions and continents in different seasons and see the other parts of the world. But they have their own limitations too, so it is better to be human and humane!

So let us accept limitations of our knowledge, and keep doors of remote possibilities open. Perhaps,.. there are good books in Latin, German, French, Chinese, Japanese, Italian,Arabic,Urdu,Sanskrit, Hindi, Gujarati, Marathi,.. who knows?

Yes, I agree with you that due to English language we have access to tremendous resource of knowledge in the english speaking world.

As Ashraf has pointed out rightly, it is a great advantage but in a way limitation too. We could not develop our own languages and we find it difficult to speak in our own mother tongue at times when we try to speak about architecture.

I tried this exercise once,when I was delivering inaugural address at the opening of Saurashtra Centre of the Indian Institute of Architects. I spoke in Gujarati throughout! But I had to speak slowly, allowing my mind time to quickly seek the right words! It was great fun!

I speak to my students frequently on this issue of langauge limiting our knowledge and suggest that they learn some other languages too. It may open up a whole new world.

My penfriendship with friends in Austria, Germany, Italy, Japan and USA opened up a whole new world for me in high school. My pen-friendship with Frau Monika Steiner of Graz made it possible for us to have an agreement for academic collaboration with Technical University of Graz, Austria.

We get exchange students from Austria, Germany and France and that gives our students some ideas about that part of the world. Most importantly it enables us to add different people and cultures to our world-wide family. It enhances the knowledge-base and widens our vision. We would surely like to have exchange programmes with other countries as well, particularly the Third World. We signed agreements with Nepal and Kazakstan but we did not succeed much. This discussion on ArchNet might lead us to developing more active exchange progrmmes and networking among ArchNet community.

with best wishes,
Akhtar Chauhan
Examining terminology: Ideas, Notions, Concepts, Metaphors, Analogies, Essences, and Ideals
Professor Chauhan,

You are right about the frog example. In Pakistan we say "Kuain ka maindak" which essentially means the same as what you described (frog of the well) The language issue is a very major issue in our country as it draws a very thick line between the English-speakers andn non-English speakers. It is bad for communication, like you said, its difficult to find words in our local languages for technical words that we use freely in our professional life. But what I believe is that we do not necessarily need to 'invent' words. We can simply import foreign words and absorb them in our languages. This is how languages get enriched. The word 'telephone' is used all over the world as it was first used. So now, for example, the word telephone is as much a part of Urdu or Turkish as it is of English. I would use the word 'Concrete' in Urdu too. It is a part of Urdu language now.

About the books, well i believe English is fast becomeing a global language and is not restricted to UK or USA alone. Internet is mostly in Enlish, and most probably English books outnumber books in other major international languages such as French, Spanish or German, for the simple fact that thenumber of English speakers in the world is far greater than all the above-mentioned languages, and more wide-spread too. (Otherwise there are more Mandarin speakers - but only in China)

When you meet a Spanish person or a German, what language do you communicate in? Not German or Spanish. I am interacting with Italians, Germans and Japanese here andn our common language is English, despite the fact that all the foreigners are trying to learn Japanese, yet they would communicate in English. So whether we like it or not, English is a part of our lifestyle now, speccially in Pakistan and India and all those countries which had British rule.

Having said that, one should try to enrich one's own language as much as one can, and not let it get overshadowed by English. Both languages can co-exist in a society, side-by-side.
Hammad Husain
Examining terminology: Ideas, Notions, Concepts, Metaphors, Analogies, Essences, and Ideals
Dear Akhtar and Hammad;

The situation on the issue of English and the use of the terms in Egypt is similar to that of Pakistan and India. and I believe it is the same throughout the Middle East and the Eastern World.

On the English books, I wanted to introduce a little thought. Books on architecture are always a result of many processes that include enlightment, awareness, research,.....etc. One of the critical reasons for not finding books in other langauges is basically because of the lack of funding for these processes. I am sure in Iran, India, Pakistan, All the Arab countried, there is tremendous effort, there are unpublished reports, technical documents, Master Theses, Ph.D. Dissertations, unpublished manuscripts in the national language, but they did not find channels for reaching a wider audience. I believe many of the authors who write in their own language are equivalent (in many cases better intellectually) to their fellow colleagues who write in English, or originally from the English speaking world. A Look at many of the philosophical wirtings might corroborate my argument.

Yes, English will continue to be universal, but the other option should be available; that is finding access to good books written in other local or regional languages. For the Middle East, there have been great efforts by Lebanese, Iraqi, and Syrian publishers to disseminate architectural publications in Arabic throughout the region either originally written in Arabic or translated from English.

I believe our discussion is moving a bit out of the subject, I ask you to kindly go back to my original posting and to my posting of November 5, I really need to get your feedback.

Ashraf Salama
Examining terminology: Ideas, Notions, Concepts, Metaphors, Analogies, Essences, and Ideals
Quoting from Dr. Salama's posting:

"Now, do we put enough effort to define those terms among ourselves and fellow colleagues initially, I doubt!! If so, when we--architects-- do, the discussion ends up with redundancy and more confusion, since every one has his/her own understanding of the terms and insists on using it the way he/she understands it. Perhaps because there is no common way."

I am not sure if there is any confusion between architects when using these terms. I am talking as a practising professional and i have no idea about academicians and students. But in meetings of architectural bodies or in professional discussions, i have never encountered any confusion or misunderstanding of words.

However, when talking to a client or a non-architect, sometimes one has to explain the meaning of a particular word.

I'm sure educators use the above-mentioned terms more than practising architects as in practice we use Urdu with technical English jargon. The terms that you have mentioned Dr. Salama, we dont use frequently in daily-life professional conversation.

Academics should be different I am sure, as teachers lecture in English and the words they use in any context have to be clearly defined so as not to create any confusion amongst the students. Professor Chauhan is in a better position to reflect on this.
Hammad Husain
Examining terminology: Ideas, Notions, Concepts, Metaphors, Analogies, Essences, and Ideals
Many thanks Mr. Husain for your posting; In many architectural offices the terms are used on daily practices especially if these offices place emphasis on the early stages of the design process.

I tend to disagree with you on the issue of confusion. Let me try to state my point: if we asked a number of archnet members representing different specialties within the profession about the meaning of the word "Concept" or "Essence" or how they use these terms to explain their designs. I doubt there will be consensus, and the lack of consensus on the use of words and how to use them is what creates confusion.

I have seen and talked with Native English Speakers, they are architects and graduates of great Western universities, One was asking about the meaning of "metaphor" she did not know meaning at all!, another was asking about the meaning of "In-situ" and when I was writing this term in one of the reports he was saying "is this a word? Man you are coming up with your own words!"

Here are some other thoughts that were posted under one of the topics last year and did not find listening ears, hope they do this time:

Now, I am beginning to realize the danger of overusing some "architecture or design related terms". I see here on the ArchNet Discussion Forum several terms that attempt to emphasize one single aspect of architecture over others.

For example, the following terms do exist and all are used in many cases interchangeably: - Contextual Architecture - Appropriate Architecture - Socially Responsive Architecture - Environmentally Conscious Architecture - Intelligent Architecture - Humane Architecture. and lately virtual architecture. However, some of these are more inclusive of critical issues than others.

I am wondering if there is "Socially Resposnvie Medicine" or Virtual Medicine???? I am sure by now you are laughing! It would appear that word architecture was not enough or satisfying architects so they started to add other words and terms beside it.

If we re-call "Form Follows Function" ...becuase it was over used, another term emerged as a title of a book: Form Follows Fiasco"...? Fiasco referred to by the author as (anything, or nothing). It gets more bothering when we look at the issue of sustainability and its associated terminology.

Tracing back the trends on issues related to sustainability one can find that architects and planners are in a continuous process of recycling terminology.

In the fifties, the trend was "GOOD DESIGN" while in the late sixties and early seventies the term was replaced by "ENERGY CONSCIOUS DESIGN". In the seventies, the oil crises led to an increased concern for energy, but the attitude of being CONSCIOUS was not enough, thus the term was replaced by "ENERGY EFFICIENT DESIGN". In the late eighties and early nineties SUSTAINABILITY, SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT and GREEN DESIGN emerged replacing all the old terms. In the years 2001 and 2002...03, one notices a new term: HIGH PERFORMANCE BUILDINGS.
Those who advocate the term claim that it covers more issues and it is more inclusive.

I believe this professional attitude of recycling terminology has tremendous negative impact, where the public do not understand the language we use, and also young professionals and students are confused about the terminology we use in our daily and professional discussions!! Also, this contributes dramatically to how the public value what we do, the reliability of the knowledge we develop, the credibility of the visions we introduce, and the validity of the methods we employ.

My best regards;
Ashraf Salama
Examining terminology: Ideas, Notions, Concepts, Metaphors, Analogies, Essences, and Ideals
I am agree with your last comment (Nov. 6, 2003) I am following this discussion by the side of the road and I do beleive that is almost impossible to get same responce (mean) from different architect about a single term. Probably to be in different part of the world (please understand this as cultural, political, economicall etc.)make us use different terms for the same purpose, however mostly of the times I found myself in tottaly disagree with "collegues" of my same country.
I probably do not have much experience as you as I have seen in this discussion, however I found that we "architects" use this terms between us, as I way to explain our ideas and thoughs and in mostly of the cases to explain the ideas and thoughs of others (a few years ago I had the oportunity to expose my work in the museum of the school for fun I had asked a person "non architect" what did he think about the work of the person he was seeing - happened that person was myself but he did not that - and I got I WONDERFULL explanation totally different that I had thought. The comments I received from my "collegues were confusing, using terms intentionally to confuse), instead when I aproch the clients I try not to use confusing terms, not because the client happend to be a "dumme" in mostly of the cases for not say all the cases I could learn more from them than them from me, it's just I see more emphaty with them tnat with my collegues at the end if that idea happend to be real I would apprecite more the words (terms) of the common one rather the famous and intellectual arch.............. but I must say I still have this atraction for the variarity of ideas, even if the come from arch. or the common one. I like the idea that 2 + 2 = (anything)
Luis Medina
Examining terminology: Ideas, Notions, Concepts, Metaphors, Analogies, Essences, and Ideals
Thank you Mr. Medina for your nice posting.

It is always good to have self dialogue, but in this case I would call it "mono-logue" becuase it is very difficult to isolate yourself from the context and look at it in a different manner later, it is possible though; a person does not have two different souls communicating with each other.

I agree with you on the variety of ideas, There is nothing wrong with multiplicity and plurality of interpretations. My concern here is that if the multiplicity is endless and if there is no consensus on some of the basic terms and words that we use, confusion emerges, and the enduring values of architecture are oversimplified or even forgotten.

I am glad that you attempt to use simple language and terms when dealing with your clients, and I hope all of us do, or at least willing to do.

I would say you are right about 2+2 can be anything, but not in everything.

My best,
Ashraf Salama
Examining terminology: Ideas, Notions, Concepts, Metaphors, Analogies, Essences, and Ideals
Dear Ashraf,
I think we are in a way judging the architecture language or at least trying to find answer for a dilemma.

There is the problem of communicating to non architects or students and another of communicting with each other.

If it is vocabulary that can be found in a dicitionary it would have been easy. But such a word like "Green design" is not a word it is an ongoing research that needs to be continually updated. For some of us it is taken for granted even if some of us does not fully understand it. I think this is the origin of our problem. Some of the words we use are subjects more than words. This is a dilemma because our terminology needs people who researched the subjects, understanding how small words may lead to a variaiety of meanings. Thus creating the frustration of not getting your point to everyone (confusion).
Shall we use more simple words? Is it possible? And why nobody is trying to understand (I mean making more effort educating themselves))?

In Our university they always told us that drawing is the language of the architect. After graduation I found that this is not entirely true. We will always need the language.
Ahmed Sabry
Examining terminology: Ideas, Notions, Concepts, Metaphors, Analogies, Essences, and Ideals

Use of Words as tools in developing a Language for Communicating Design

I recall viewing a Russian cartoon film on origin of music. It all began with one cave man throwing things at the other. Different kinds of stones and other objects were thrown and the pain and shock produced different exclamations, shouts and other sounds. They noted the sounds and co-related with the stones and sticks, which became musical notes, they kept on experimenting. . in the process they invented music! .!! .. !!!

Lot of creative and some not so creative activities must have led to inventing vowels and consonants and using these stones and pebbles they must have experimented in building blocks, such as words; and the walls, such as sentences; and paragraphs as rooms; and poems and prose as designs; in the process they evolved our languages. Writers, authors and poets have mastered the language and created literature.

So how did English language evolve? How a small island country far away from the civilizations of Rome, Greece, Egypt, India and China became a modern nation and developed such powerful economy? How could they create such a rich literature and culture, and express it so distinctively in all its forms? How did they organize their governance and develop democracy? The common thread that binds all this is their language, English.

The British have felt free to incorporate words from other languages and in the process have enriched their own language. This openness has helped their trade, commerce, industry and politics. The English language has played a very important and creative role in shaping of the world, including architecture.

The meaning of the terms that Dr. Ashraf Salama has listed can be easily found in dictionaries, but that is not what he is looking for.

Do I have my own definitions? Yes, at the back of my mind till now, and when in doubt I refer to a good dictionary.

How do I use these terms in architecture? In an explorative manner i.e. not only to refer to its literal and dictionary meaning, but to explore its creative use.

From my father Mohammedbhai Chauhan, who is a retired government officer, lawyer, social worker, community leader, philosopher and Islamic scholar, I have learnt my early lessons in use of words and language to promote self-development, human and social development and communicate to friends and reach out to the community.

And then my teachers developed my communication skills further: particularly Chandrikaben Desai and Khodidas Mehta in high school;Prof. Yatindra Chandawarkar, Prof. Mukta Nair and Prof. Shiraz Doctor, in Dept.of Architecture; Prof. Balkrishna Doshi and Prof. Christopher Benninger in School of Planning; Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius, Louis Kahn, Christopher Alexander and Charles Correa, whom I admire and have learnt from, and my numerous friends and family members, who have shaped me through their criticism.

To me words are creative entities, full of energy, containing the seeds of creativity within and capable of generating an action when connected in an expression. Words are powerful tools for that can be applied in creation as well as destruction, conservation and development, or they can be used to clarify or confuse. Words can be used in furthering understanding heritage, commenting on the contemporary and projecting future of architecture and communicating to people to who are involved in the process of creation of architecture.

Before I sat down to write, like a typical architect, I drew a couple of diagrams. Like a series of concentric circles, growing from small to the large, from a unit of idea to the universe. Concept would have several ideas within linked to each other. Notions would be perception from outside which is not complete or full. Idealism as a philosophy contains several concepts, ideas and principles. Universe of thought; knowledge; which contains all philosophies. And beyond: the Cosmic Universe known and unknown.

I wanted to explore and test the other set. So I drew a circle, idea. Then relate it to another circle with a line with arrow heads on each end, analogy and then one circle relating to may be two or more aspects with two or more lines with arrow heads, metaphor.
Does it make sense?

It is still lingering in my mind! Then I decided to write down my response to Ashraf's query.

Ideals, adj.,
- answering to one's highest conception; perfect.
- existing only in idea, visionary.
As a noun,
- perfect type, thing, concept, principle, etc.

Ideals: The abstract, the ultimate, best and perfect goals and the highest aims of our thoughts, activities, endeavour, education, creativity, building, construction, conservation, design, development, planning, programmes, policies; understanding architecture and any other aspect of life, guided by our philosophy.

- the action or process of acting according to one's ideals of what ought to be regardless
of what happens or of what people may think,
- cherishing of fine ideals
- the act of neglecting practical matters in following ideals
- philosophic belief that reality is made up of ideas only and not of material objects.
- Idealism as opposed to Materialism holds that objects do not really exist apart from
our ideas.
- The representation in art and literature of imagined types rather than exact likeness of
people, instances, or situations. Idealism is opposed to realism.
- forming or pursuing ideals especially unrealistically
- representation of things in ideal form
- system of thought in which objects are held to be in some way dependent on the mind.

Idealism: philosophy and a way of life which many people or whole world may find it unrealistic and impossible, but in which a student, an architect, a designer, a planner, a builder, a worker, a thinker and doer believes in. It is an abstract construct of the perfect goals and highest aims in architecture, design, construction; and development and within the realm of possibility, where mind conceives the spirit and generates an idea, a concept, a design, articulates a process, solves the problems of realizing and attains the final expression, and enjoys the whole process that includes creation of form, space, structure, environment, for the highest qualitative experience in architecture. This is how the majestic Taj Mahal and the simple huts of Gandhi Ashram were realized in India.

Idea, n,
- a picture of a notion of anything in mind; mental image,
- any result of mental activity or understanding;
- a thought, fancy, or opinion, view; a belief, a thought, a governing principle
- an understanding about what is to be aimed at or what is desirable or what ought to be
- a notion of something to be done, plan of action; intention
- theme, phrase, or figure ( in Music)
- In Platonic philosophy, one of the patterns of which things are imperfect copies and
from which they derive their existence.
- Immediate object of thought or mental perception according to Rene Descartes.
It is derived from Greek, idea; Latin, idea
Ideas are abstract units, subject matter, content of thoughts about anything that can be imagined, conceived, designed, constructed, conserved, built, developed, recycled, regenerated and projected as a diagram, pattern, picture. Ideas are the building blocks that can be used to develop concepts by establishing linkages in particular context, ideas could be construed as parts of a process that can be generated as an action, plan or programme;

concept, n, a general notion or idea, thought.
It is derived from Latin conceptus
It is wholistic abstract framework of thoughts and the soul of design, consists of abstract ideas, linkages and their context. It is like a seed that contains the design, plan and strategy of the process of growth of a tree. It contains all the information; wisdom, knowledge, expertise and technology invested by architects and related people, required for evolving architecture. If carefully nurtured and developed, concept can find its full expression as a wholistic design; or sustainable development..or ..any goals and objectives of design that have been identified.

is a vague view and incomplete opinion or belief, is formed out of inadequate observation or seeing or much thinking.

is conceived though ideation and imagination
are formed by and are results of thinking.
Analogy, n,
-a likeness in some ways, between things that are otherwise unlike,
-comparison, correspondence, equivalence,
-comparison of such things
- the inference that thing alike in some respect will be alike in others (in logic)
- proportion, agreement of ratios
- find a similarity of pattern between words
- a way of forming new word by referring to similar word
A way of comparing or describing, similarities of some respect in designs. Identifying similar patterns, shapes, elements, and components between two similar, analogous, objects.

No one buys an idea by itself or is convinced by a statement, we need proofs and evidence in the form of precedents. So we give an analogy, we refer to another project, design, statement or quotation and use it as a reference to some aspect. We identify similar patterns or structure and refer to it in our communication to clarify and convey our designs. E.g. humane architecture of Hasan Fathy or Geoffrey Bawa or Laurie Baker is referred to while explaining one's design.

Like Balkrishna Doshi's famous project of Sangath, his own architectural studio refers to Wisa Wasef's project at Harania with reference to the use of vaults. (This I discovered only after Ahmed Sabry brought the genius of Wasef to our notice, thanks Ahmed.)

Metaphor, n,
- an implied comparison between two different things,
- a figure of speech in which a word or phrase that ordinarily means one thing is applied
to another thing in order to suggest a likeness between the two.
- application of a name or description to something to which it is not literally applicable
- instance of this.

It is derived from Latin and Greek,
Metaphors and similes both make comparisons, but in metaphor comparison is implied and in a simile it is indicate by a likeness.
Comparison of two designs, concepts, ideas or thoughts. While making comparison a reference is taken from a context and transposed in another context to make a meaning more eloquent or memorable or exciting.
E.g. Le Corbusier's use of forms inspired by thermal power station silos in Assembly building to denote the Assembly as a power house of democracy.
Louis Kahn's reference to harbours where boats are parked and comparing his proposal of car parking garage silos as harbour for cars in Philadelphia project or the
references to heaven in designing of gardens as Charbaghs in Persian and Mughal gardens in Iran, India and Pakistan.

I have seen Charles Correa writing and editing his writings. He is sharp, brilliant and critical.

I appreciate the need to bring clarity and meaning to our writings so that people understand us, and our designs, clearly and correctly.

With best wishes,

After writing the above I went to Pune. I took a small book to read, which my friend Prof. Akhil Dadkar gave me the other day. It is on Tukaram, (1608-1650) a saint, farmer, grocer, poet, philosopher and a great social reformer. Here is a relevant quotation from one of his poems(Abhangs)on words:

We possess the wealth of words,

With weapons of words we will fight;

Words are breath of our life,

We will distribute the wealth of words among the people;

Tuka ( Tukaram) says, look!
The meaning of the word is God,

With the word will extol and worship.
Akhtar Chauhan
Examining terminology: Ideas, Notions, Concepts, Metaphors, Analogies, Essences, and Ideals
Dear Akhtar:

Many thanks for giving your energy and taking the time to elaborate on the concepts and classify them in your own terms. What is fabulous here is that your "in-depth writing" is not free of trying to amuse the reader; something that is missing in most of our writings. It is amazing how this cartoon movie shows in a very simple way how the music was invented or originated.

I like your interesting "structuralist analogy" of Literature and Architecture. I would add one more thing: The relationship between sentences and paragraphs is governed by a clearly defined and identified Grammar in any given language. But, when it comes to architecture the relationship between walls, surfaces, rooms...etc. that Grammar is more flexible which gives more room for creativity and innovation. However, it may limit the possibility of establishing commonalities. I believe that many similarities between the "language of a culture" and the architecture of that culture can be examined.

As Akhtar indicated and rightly so, how the Brits incorporated words of other languages into English, another simliarity between architecture and language/literature can be seen in this context in terms of how certain shapes and forms are borrowed from one "culture" then are adopted and adapted to fit the context of another culture. This is similar to the "Comparative Literature"

By having a closer look at your definitions, I do not see a departure from my stream, and perhaps what we are doing here can be partially named "Knowledge Building" where the accumulation of personal thoughts and epxeriences of a number of individuals takes place.

I believe this discussion can conclude by a small publication using the title that you introduced; this would address all of these and other terms. Collecting views of local architects on the use of these words/terms would be an advantage. The idea of having a glossary of essential design terms is really marvelous and deserves attention.

It occured to me to refer to "Pink Floyd", a rock group, in one of their songs, the lyrics say "for millions of years mankind lived just like the animals, then something happened which unleashed the power of imagination, we learned to talk....." The enormous power lies in the meaning of the words, what they mean to the person who says them and the other who hears them. More than the simple interpretation, and the infinite shades between them, words have the power to manipulate other people's thinking and behavior, and future attitudes. These powers have been defined by many as "fallacious arguments." In this respect, this might lead to discussing many problems in education and how we introduce words/terms to the architects of the future.

Back to some of the terms and relfecting on Prof. Chuchan's definitions and based on introducng some of these terms in a text book I have developed in 1998 "Human Factors in Environemntal Design: An Introductory Approach to Architecture" I would define those terms as follows:

Analogies Looking at Other Things
Analogy is a rich source for creative ideas. Many theorists agree that the predominant analogical sources of building forms have been other buildings or other forms of nature. However, Boradbent argues that analogies do not have to relate to other specific buildings, they can relate to conceptual ideas.

Metaphors and Simlies Looking at Abstractions
Metaphors like analogies, identify relationships between things, but these relationships are abstract rather than literal. In his book "In Praise of Architecture" Gio Ponti stated some metaphors like:
- Architecture is a Crystal
- The Fountain is a Voice
- The Door is an Invitation
- The House is a Dream
- The Colonnade is a Choir
Metahors and Simlies identify possible patterns of relationships between things.

Essences Looking Beyond Programmatic Needs
Essences concentrate and consolidate aspects of more complex issues into explicit statements. They provide insights into the most critical aspects of a "thing" under analysis. Below are some quotations:

- Paul Frankl (1914):
....As purpose is the essence of architecture, architecture is its material manifestation....
- Sir Denys Lasdun (1977):
Space is the most difficult aspect of architecture, but it is its essence and the ultimate destination to which architecture has to address itself...
- Roger Scruton (1983):
...When talking of the essence of design, we are not talking of something lying behind appearances, but of the appearances themselves...
- Gavin Gibson (1985):
...Buildings are abstracted essences...

Ideals Looking at Universal Values
An ideal is a conception of something in its absolute perfection. Ideals are universal values brought by the architect to the design problem.

Since we agree on the meanings of these terms, it seems that some of my initial assumption were not compeltely valid. However, the value is in externalizing our thoughts in this forum.

I think it would be interesting too, to look at the meanings of these words in other languages, do they have the same meanings, do they contradict,are they used in the daily practices of designers in English or in the local language, do they have the same power and influence as they do in English? These and many other questions need to be taken seriously! I am not sure who should or could do so, but it is needed, I believe!

My best,
Ashraf Salama
Examining terminology: Ideas, Notions, Concepts, Metaphors, Analogies, Essences, and Ideals
Dr. Salama,

You have introduced three sets of words. While the words idea, notion, and concept are more or less interchangeably used and these three words denote (with minor variations depending on the context) some mental pictures or description about something or emotion or entity. The words metaphor, analogy, are figures of speach or could be described as rhetorical tropes ( by semioticians). Essence and ideal refers to quality of some entity real or imaginary. Ideal is also projection. It is said that all rhetorical tropes, like metaphor, simili, analogy etc can be finally brought down to three categorie: metaphors, metanyms and irony.
B. Shashi Bhooshan
Examining terminology: Ideas, Notions, Concepts, Metaphors, Analogies, Essences, and Ideals
Yes true Dr. Bhooshan. However, in the process of looking at other things or abstractions mental images are established to draw similarities between the current situation and another situation.
Ashraf Salama
Examining terminology: Ideas, Notions, Concepts, Metaphors, Analogies, Essences, and Ideals
dear Ashraf,

More and more I think of it, I get convinced that it is difficult to have a mental picture/image of a building other than a metaphor. We even refer to buildings as monsteres or fort. To prove my point let us have a mental eperiment. Think of any building and try to explain it to a stranger who have not seen it. You will find it difficult to describe any building which cannot fit a metaphor. Dont you think so? If a building is nondescript, it may ahve no special metaphor. But to say that some building is a very average , nondescript, banal or ordinary is also to refer as a metaphor.
Archtecture becomes lively/beautiful or have other qualities when metaphors it alludes to are lively or similar qualities.

Metanyms are tropes when a part refers to the whole or a token refers to a type such as a cop termed as law or a journalist refered as press. Such tropes are not ordinarily used in architecture. But post modernists use elements of a period such as columns or entablature etc. to refer to that period. Similarly, irony where a statement usually means the oposit of its usual meaning, is hard to find in architecture except in post modernist or destructuralist architecture. Usually, distorted scales are used to creatte a sense of irony.

I understand your metaphor in this thread that our architecture is influenced by the english language as much as we are. I do agree. But I am of the opinion that we can only resist and distort a global trend and the global language to suite and serve our point and in the process we creat our own language of the region. But it is largely impossible today to totally escape the global.

I am sure I have stuck my neck out in making the above statements. I would welcome comments.

I will contribute more on concepts later. I invite all to a topic I posted on design methodology.
B. Shashi Bhooshan


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