Thursday, 25 February 2010


"Not another architecture student"'s very first book review.

For several weeks now, I've been reading an interesting book, recommended and included by INTBAU on their literature list. The book dealing with very important issues, written by Nikos A. Salingaros with friends. Salingaros is a mathematician and scientist who some years ago got tired of nonsensical "scientific" and "philosophical" gibberish (rather similar to the products of the brilliant and funny "Post-modernism generator") used by architects to promote their work, without really using scientific principles in their architecture.

In this book, composed of articles and essays, the author argues against what he calls the "virus" of modernism, post-modernism and deconstructivism, and its lack of organized complexity. He draws interesting parallels between the "new sciences", dealing with fractals, complexity, neural networks emergent processes and self-organization, among others. His view is that a lot of contemporary architecture just projects an image of the results of these processes onto its buildings, without really understanding or following these principles. He also argues that a lot of architects are creating "anti-architecture", because they deliberately break with the patterns of traditional knowledge in building and design, based on human sensibilities. As a replacement for anti-architecture and deconstruction, he suggests an architecture of "Reconstructivism", based on scientific research, traditional teachings and environmental psychology. He is a friend and admirer of Christopher Alexander (another scientist-gone-architectural theorist, made famous by the classic "A Pattern Language"), and elaborates on themes from Alexander, such as hierarchical complexity, human scale and connectivity. He also proposes some characteristics of an "architecture of life", and "an "architecture of death". (Guess which one Deconstructivism is.)

The book is a bit heavy, but fun to read, and would probably be rather provoking to many practising architects and architecture students, at least those who believe in an architecture completely disconnected from the past. It's also rather funny, with headlines such as "DECONSTRUCTIVE ARCHITECTURE", "EMERGENCE VERSUS DECONSTRUCTION" and "EXPLAINING THE UNLIKELY SUCCESS OF MODERNISM", followed by sentences like "Anybody who's seen "Night of the Living Dead" has seen deconstruction in action." and "I was puzzled to read an entire chapter in Jenck's book (2002b) entitled "Fractal architecture" without hardly seeing a fractal (the possible exceptions being decorative tiles).".

I miss pictures, but as I understood, the book was published on a rather small budget. I hope his next publication will have images. I'm also a bit disappointed that this kind of important literature can't be found in the bookshops, but it can be bought on Amazon for next to nothing.

I recommend this book to all architects and architecture student, as it deals with very important matters, and though the chapters sometimes seem a bit unconnected (rather ironic), it's well worth picking up on the way if you plan to at some point make a building which is to be used by people.


  1. so what about classicism vs modernism? we want to hear your opinion;)

  2. Classicism, of course. It's not mainly about the style and evoking the past,though, but because of its use of ornaments, defining a human scale, and its balance between complexity and organization. Modernist architecture, on the other hand, is either terribly boring, like "a poetry without words", to quote Salingaros, or just an image of pure chaos. And that's simply not good enough.

  3. i agree with you;), but i will give modernism and contemporary architecture a chance because they definitely gave us some masterpieces. The problem with modernism, as i see it, is that it started as something avantguard. Once it became accepted and used by majority of architects we got tons of copy-paste sterile architecture. On the other hand, classicism, by its rules, gives an oportunity for everyone to create a sensibile space. The worst thing is that there is no answer (classicim, or modernism) - you recognize it when you see it.

    do they support you at bergen school?

  4. Hasn't modernism already had its chance? Isn't it time to start sensible buildings again?

    BAS is alternative school and doesn't represent the hegemony of Norwegian architecture, so I'm not really bothering to fight the classicist fight there. Had I been a student at AHO in Oslo, however, I would probably have made alot more noise.

    I haven't done any classicist projects yet, but if I did, I think I could have gotten away with it without much ado. Still, as they don't teach classicism at BAS, I don't think I'll be doing alot of it either.

    And if there is an answer, I think that C. Alexander and Salingaros' theories of organized complexity and a scientific approach to architecture might be onto something.

  5. Yes, it is definitley time to start building sensible again!
    But modernism doesn't have to decease, it can be reduced. You can never absolutely dismiss something. Also, the interesting part is how to apply Salingaros' rules to a modern vocabulary.

    I visited the Bergen Opera Choir web site: to few Bach an Handel :(, ;);)

  6. I completely agree. Modernism has taught some important lessons, and must be studied to understand the nature of contemporary architecture.

    Maybe. There'll be Handel on Palm Sunday, though, and Bernstein in april.

  7. wish you a prolific studying at the bas school;)

  8. Thanks! Do you have a blog as well?

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  10. Modern architecture, 100 years later and with the same basic designs, is till called "contemporary". This is strange. I do not consider, for example, a 100 year old Model-T design to be a contemporary car.

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  13. Hei!
    I found your blog through a link at Nikos A. Salingaros home page. I write in English even I live in Gjøvik, Norway. (Gjøvik is a town that unlikely to Bergen is complitely destroyed by modernistic planning structures.)

    I'm a big fan of Christopher Alexander and Bill Mollison. My favourite blog is the blog of PRI Australia, where I've been allowed to post some articles of mine:

    Even I'm an autodidact my articles must still have some value, as I was contacted by one of Nikos A. Salingaros partners. Through him I've been allowed to publish an awesome essay of Nikos at PRIs blog. Look up for this essay, this will be awesome stuff, loaded with pictures from the editors huge bunch of photos and illustrations.

    Happy to see there are more fellowers of Christopher Alexander and Nikos A. Salingaros even in Norway.

    Kind regards,
    Øyvind Holmstad

  14. NB! I see you are clever in writing and has a bright mind. Craig (editor of PRIs blog) loves this kind of constructive critisalism as you shows here. If you have a message you want to publis at one of the world's most widely read blogs, I'm sure you are welcome to post your contribution!


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