Ideas in Architecture

“Ideas make architecture.” Peter Eisenman
“A bicycle shed is a building, Lincoln cathedral is architecture.” Nicolas Pevsner
“Eureka! I've got it.” Archimedes

Deconstructing “Idea”

    John Chris Jones describes a design process as an “A” to ”Z” process where it includes activities such as study, drawing, whatever activities that get a designer from A to Z including take break as well. In between A to Z, there is a period called incubation, where unconscious recombination of thought elements that were stimulated through conscious work at one point in time, resulting in novel ideas at some later point in time a thought or suggestion as to a possible course of action as described in Rachel (2003), and there is certainly a moment of ‘Eureka!’ where an idea is formulated. By reading the statements drawn by world renowned architect Peter Eisenman, scientist Archimedes and Nicolas Pevsner were enough trigger the curiosity on the ideas of the way ideas is generated in every work of architecture. 
    The definition of idea as referred to Oxford dictionary is a thought or suggestion as to a possible course of action. Plato being one of the earliest philosophers to talk about ideas considered the concept of idea in the realm of metaphysics and its implications for epistemology. He asserted that there is a realm of Forms or Ideas, which exist independently of anyone who may have thought of these ideas. As opposed to thought of Plato, John Locke defines idea as "It being that term which, I think, serves best to stand for whatsoever is the object of the understanding when a man thinks, I have used it to express whatever is meant by phantasm, notion, species, or whatever it is which the mind can be employed about in thinking; and I could not avoid frequently using it."
    In a process of architectural design, sometimes there could be one or more ideas evolving in the mind of an architect. 

Idea as image

    In Lawson (2001), no doubt perceptions of human are highly dominated by visual sensation as two-thirds of the nerve fibres that enter our central nervous system are from the eye! In the work of architecture, many designers formulated the ideas as image where it responds primarily in terms of visual sensation to the users, for instance, the use of colourful elements and lighting fixtures on buildings. To give a much affirmed idea, take the days and night scenes of the city of Las-Vegas for example.

Idea as Problem Creating

    As oppose to the idea of idea as image, Peter Eisenman has a different way of seeing architecture. Eisenman sees architecture as a problem creating instead of problem solving and his early works seek to address anxiety by developing architecture’s interiority, or its capability to operate self-referentially as a record of its own coming into existence, freeing architecture from its institutional control, thus ‘curing itself.’ For instance, a project designed by Eisenman which is highly criticized by the inhabitant, House VI consisted of a stair without railing, staircase which looks upside-down and a thin slice of window which separates the master bedroom into two, thus creating impossibility for the owner and her husband to sleep together. The idea seems provocative, triggering human’s anxiety and sense of wonder so that when people experience the work they say 'why is it like this?' They have to ask questions and these questions lead to other questions. It is not so much about syntactics or semiotics, but a concerned with how people react in an environment to architectural ideas and how they understand architectural ideas not for meaning but for what Eisenman called "affect".

Idea as Program

    In architecture school, some students use to propose a lot of spaces and programs which is not required in the brief. In presenting their architectural ideas, they usually mention that they will propose this kind of program in the building, and that kind of spaces for the occupant. For example, a group of student is asked to design an office building in a urban area and he had the idea of proposing an indoor gym for the public hoping that the office building can be ‘de-privatize’. Others would propose a workshop or a design studio in the building.

Idea as Technology

    Most often, we see ‘green building’ in magazine and internet showcasing building which incorporates huge wind turbine, large green roof, and vertical green wall, rainwater harvesting system, photovoltaic cells, movable shading devices and so on. The idea of architecture is seen as technology or the applications of sciences into the built form.

Importance of Idea in Architecture

    Idea is seen as a thought or suggestion as to a possible course of action. (Oxford Dictionary). If idea is absent in an architectural design, there could be no thought or suggestion to an action, and there will be only Nicolas Pevsner’s bicycle shed everywhere.  The way idea is obtained within designer’s brain during his design process is yet to be investigated.