Complexity without Contradiction

This journal entry is a repost of the original July 2, 2012 entry.


In the under-appreciated, time squeezed, and chaotic situation most architects work in it is a welcome blessing to have sets of rules to help guide and lead oneself through the design process. Architects align themselves with particular rule sets which become like camps with names like Brutalism, Deconstructionism, Post Modernism, Mediterranean, Green Architecture, etcetera.  Rote following of the “isms” can lead to boredom and minor modifications. When handled skillfully, they are often viewed as welcome and refreshing relief, although they seldom stray too far from camp.

When architects vehemently adhere to a specific style, movement, look, or trend it can be a bit like using a kind of cheat sheet – allowing focus on just one set of rules or viewpoint.  The good news is that over time this can refine both one’s thinking and work product – the bad news is that this pretty much shuts out all the rest of reality.  Consistency is gained by working with a diminished pallet but the results all too often fall short of its potential. The successful mixing of different styles, ideas, eras, and technologies is more challenging and requires a greater skill level than working with a predetermined set of rules, but the resulting experience can possess a depth of richness unachievable with simpler approaches.  Is this modernism working outside the box?   Traditionalism embracing contemporary technology?  Might it be easier to get the Donkeys and Elephants to agree? Is it anything more than eclecticism?  It’s obviously post-modern (but then what isn’t?).  I applaud being inclusive, encompassing, embracing, and responsive to the given circumstances.  Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture comes to mind – although not the vapid, mundane work that later claimed homage to it.

This kind of thinking requires the willingness to orchestrate disparate elements, each with integrity and grace, into a composition with a unique life of its own.  Perhaps it is a matter of making the best choices available – beyond the constraints of this and that “ism.”  This would support inclusive rather than exclusive decision making: perhaps the technical efficiency of a contemporary construction system, the richness of a site crafted element, the historical connectedness of a family heirloom, and more.



Quality work comes from quality architects and is not related to which camp they align with or historians place them in.   I respond to work which incorporates as much as possible in a manner that resonates with both the setting and the knowledgeable observer.  I am humbled by such multivalent compositions – often creating an overall sense of order just short of chaos. Examples include some architect’s own houses: Frank Gehry’s in Santa Monica (1) and Charles Moore’s in Orinda, New Haven, and Austin (2).  Tom Kundig approaches multi-valence with his gizmos (3) and Bill Turnbull did it by incorporating the landscape into the very soul of his work (4).  These are wonderful works of quality architecture and celebrate complexity without contradiction.