The Language of Architecture and the Narrative of the Architect: An Essay on Spatial Orientation and Cultural Meaning in Architecture

Reference work entry


This essay analyzes whether architecture is a language in the sense of being capable of telling its own story and how to assess the communicative value of the architects’ guiding story that inspired their architecture. The chapter argues that architecture’s “language of forms” is like a language insofar as architecture consists of traceable but in themselves meaningless unities that are built into recognizable patterns and insofar as it has a syntax of rules and conventions that prevent form combinations from becoming arbitrary. It is unlike a language insofar as its patterns and structure lack the semantic quality of making referential statements on the outside world. The same goes for music. The essay suggests that three basic relationships between humans and their world open up three distinctively orientated spaces: being-part, being-initiating, and being-at-a-distance. These correlate to mood space, movement space, and open space, respectively. The language of architectural forms, then, appeals to the tactile-emotional, mobile-goal-oriented, and visual-contemplative sensitivities of humans instead of translating narratives into architecture. The only story at the architects’ disposal is the story of their own taste and style. Architecture can do without the personal story of the architect’s taste and style, but this story has the added value of making explicit what is already visible, thus functioning like the decoration that illustrates the point. The larger frameworks of reference of cultural traditions that left their mark on architecture tend to be equally or more helpful as “guiding stories,” in cueing and experiencing architectural spaces as meaningful, as the “dry landscape garden” of Ryoan-ji in Kyoto can exemplify.


Language of architecture Guiding story of the architect Architectural space Architecture as art form Meaning of architecture 


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of the Comparative Study of Religion, Faculty of Religion and TheologyVrije UniversiteitAmsterdamThe Netherlands

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