Elements of Elements

CONTEMPORARY ARCHITECTURE in the last decade has experienced drastic shifts in form, content, and stylistic concerns. Architectural design has changed in such a way that has left many confused as to what the current trends in architecture are. Until recently design values have shifted over decades and not years the trends shifting from Modernism to Post-Modernism, Deconstruction and Phenomenology. There have been many trends between them but the landscape of design has started to change faster than it ever has before. Icons in architecture are a great marker for this shift in architecture.

The Project I am proposing, “Icon Elements: a study on the contemporary icon and its parts,” will systematically analyze contemporary design trends to gain an understanding of how to design in contemporary architecture. Architecture Schools historically focus on a single trend or unique style that allows the school to distinguish itself from any other, however, how does one begin to approach design when there is no longer a single distinct style or direction within the practice? I will demonstrate how one might approach design through cataloging architectural Icons and use graphic analysis to understand the elements that make up particular styles.

The icon first applied to art and architecture in the early 1900s through the introduction of semiotics. This study, although based in linguistics, is applied to architecture in much the same way as a word or sentence implies meaning. Semiotics is a study of the signifier and the signified, where in the signifier is a direct correlation or implied correlation between a sign and its meaning. These signs can be represented in different ways. The sign as defined by Charles Saunders Pierce, can be broken down into three categories, the symbol the icon and the index. The symbol is an agreed upon meaning that implies a relationship to something else, such as the crucifix is a symbol for Christianity. The icon has a direct relationship between its representation and its meaning, such as a photograph of your face is an icon of you. The index is a pointer, where A points to B, such as paw prints in the sand are an index for an animal that has just passed through there. These symbols were identified and used until the 1980s when a realization that the semantic method was not necessarily the best device for finding meaning in architecture. The icon became a word taken on by the general public as well. Consumer culture began to use the term to define famous buildings, culturally significant buildings and more generally as building I like. It is through this lens that we will be looking at this shift in design styles. The movement away from semiotic culture and towards a consumer culture that defines architectural needs in its own terms.

The initial stage of research will approach the project from a semantic point of view. Looking at the elements of architecture and its general loss of meaning. This will give way to the emergence of consumer culture and the proliferation of rapidly changing style requirements. Using the basic elements of architecture as defined through a lens of semiotics for comparison between older styles of architecture and more contemporary notions. The focus on contemporary architecture will be within the last six years the shift from Affect and Sensation towards a few new idealistic fields including Objects, Figure and Projection.

The second stage of the project will consider how these elements can be applied to design. These elements will be culminate in either a singular architectural project or a series of design charrettes within the distinct styles discussed in the catalog.

The goal of the project is to better understand current trends through the analysis of architectural elements and outline the patterns found within emerging styles of architecture. The project will add to the existing scope of what is available on current architectural trends and serve as a reference point for students and peers to have a clear and concise over view of what the current landscape of design is in architecture.