05/23: After Amnesia (cont.)

Petruccioli outlines a number of definitions in an effort to further frame his argument. He differentiates between the linguistic terms langue and parole (the former being all the collective rules of language codified, while the latter is one individual’s use of language) to explain the evolution of building types. “A [building] type may be a part of a shared heritage, but the way it is used depends on the individual’s grasp of it.” As individuals tweak and experiment with the definition of a building type, the collective definition of that type will shift over time. These definitions make up a society’s ‘collective memory.’ One person seeking to build a home uses his or her definition (parole) of ‘home’ (defined collectively via its langue) to decide what and how to build. Thus the building type ‘house’ is an a-priori type, being defined and understood before the individual house is designed and constructed. These a-priori types are rooted in history and therefore avoid the abstract and subjective nature of Christian Norberg-Schulz’s phenomenology. “Norberg-Schulz believes that beyond the pragmatic and the experiential aspects of architecture there is a specific need for a metaphysical belief in architecture…a spiritual dimension that cannot be measured in pragmatic or scientific terms, but that can be perceived…” This suggests that architects should search first and foremost for a spiritual connection with a place, and reject preconceived notions. For Petruccioli, however, preconceived notions (a-priori types) interpreted through historical lenses serve a pivotal role in successful growth and development. The a-priori type “is the body of customs and norms acquired over the course of the building experience, which forms the framework for previewing the proposed building.” Rather than being rejected or suppressed, these preconceived notions of custom and norm must be reexamined and relearned.

Petruccioli also differentiates between ‘type’ and ‘standard.’ The difference lies in scope and rigidity. Standards are, in the world of construction, rigid codes that dictate limits or guidelines such as building height, “moreover, it is indifferent to place and therefore easy to export, unlike type, which is anchored in the experience of the constructed object and modified in time and place.” This preference for flexibility (and therefore ‘type’ rather than ‘standard’) is mirrored in Bianca’s Urban Form. “The bureaucratically controlled planning processes of modern cities” Bianca writes “oscillates between a sterile uniformity (if its prescriptions are strictly followed) and sheer chaos (if the formal rules cannot be enforced).” This warning comes as an explanation for why urban planning “needs to engage internal social control mechanisms and responsibilities, instead of imposing rigid constraints derived from alien cultural models.” These comments accurately illustrate the limitations of cross cultural influence, however they fail to explain where standard becomes type and vice versa. At what point does a standard become site specific enough or engaging of internal control mechanisms to void the ‘standard’ moniker? While this question is never explicitly addressed, this omission does not significantly hinder the arguments of either work.

After Amnesia does make reference to Islamic law and their influence over building practices in the Middle East. Geoffrey Broadbent discusses the topic of Islamic law and urban fabric briefly in Emerging Concepts in Urban Space Design. “Nor should doors or windows face each other directly across the Fina [cul-de-sac] into someone else’s doorway or windows. Above all, visual corridors of any kind had to be avoided, which of course led inevitably to irregularities in facade design.” Whether these rule fit Petruccioli’s definition of ‘standard’ seems unlikely, as “there were regional variations depending on local climate, not to mention indigenous ways of building which would have been established before the Arabs arrived.” Petruccioli agrees, noting that “we can infer that the law adapted to the idea of already existing space, not vice versa.” That being said, “it is evident that the legal codes condition social behaviour and preserve ancient customs, thus contributing to the evolution of building types.” This relationship seems to have struck the balance that Bianca was alluding to, between engaging a community and incorporating foreign values. This success is most likely due to the assimilation of Arab and indigenous cultures which occurred (for the most part) over 1,200 years ago.

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