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Architectural Theories


What is referred to as an architectural theory is the act of thinking, discussing or even writing about architecture. Most modern architectural theories take the form of lecture, dialogue or even architecture books. During the early 20th century, there was a major increase in written works by modern architecture as a result of publishing becoming more common. As a result of this, there was an unprecedented formation of architectural styles and movements than the previous years. The technological development of modern times has also led to the further development in the field of architecture.


During this period, there were little or no developments in the architectural field. Not much is known with respect to the developments in architecture during this period. Historians have also found out that not many architectural works were able to survive the antiquity and this discovery is strengthened by the burning of the Alexandria Library. During this period, one of the most prominent architecture and theorist was Vitruvius. He was involved in the writing of the De architectura currently known as the Ten Books of Architecture. This published book is one of the few published works in architecture to have survived the classical antiquity. This published works covers almost all aspects of Roman Empire architecture such as town planning, materials, decorations, supplies etc. This book also led to the establishment and development of the three main fundamentals in architecture that are firmness, commodity and delight.

Middle Ages

During the middle Ages, architectural knowledge was generally passed though word of mouth or through modern architectural works such as buildings and modern time planning. There are a few architectural theories that were developed during this period as a result of the laborious nature of transcriptions.


This period did not experience much development in terms of architecture but the first great works of architectural theory commenced during this period. This was coupled by the placing of Vitruvius at the core of the most profound theoretical architectural tradition of modern age.


This period is one of the periods in history that experienced significant development in term of architectural theories. There were the new archeological discoveries that drove the new found interest in classical art and architecture. Enlightenment period led to the development of the term Neoclassicism that mainly designated the 18th century architecture. Some major architectural theorists during this period are such as Julien-David Leroy, Abbé Marc-Antoine Laugier and Nicholas Revett.

Nineteenth century

One of the most influential architecture theorists during the Neoclassicism was Marc-Antoine Laugier. His inspiration led to the publishing of similar works such as the American Architecture by The American sculptor Horatio Greenough. According to The Horatio Greenough, it was not appropriate for modern architectural works to continue bearing the imitations of old architectural forms. He therefore outlined the functional relationship between architecture and decoration. The end of the 19th century was characterized by extensive development in terms of theoretical activities. A practical example of this is in England where Ruskin’s ideals led to the emergence of the Arts and Crafts movement. This is one of the key factors that led to the existence of the Art Nouveau in modern time UK.

Twentieth century

During the 20th century, the first major development in architecture was the publishing of the City Planning According to Artistic Principles by Cammilo Sitte. Despite the approach taken by most modern theorist in architecture, this book was not a direct critic of architecture during the 20th century but rather an aesthetic criticism of the urbanization process during the 19th century. This book has had significant influence in modern day architecture and has been edited for up to five times. However, the book has come under sharp criticism particularly from Le Corbusier the main reason being that Le Corbusier is often cited as a critic of modernist architectural movements and the post modernist’s architectural movements.


This is one of the approaches taken by most learning institutions with respect to architecture. In a more ancient approach to architecture, there has been a frequent resurgence of the old organic design. However in a modern scientific setting, modern architectural methodologies are being developed to enhance the process. One of the contemporary from is architecture is Biomimicry which is the explicit copying of biological forms in modern day architectural works such as buildings. There is also another contemporary development in the architectural field that is organic architecture. This can be used to refer to the design of more organic looking structures with an aim of enhancing the attractive nature of the structure or architectural work.

Some other contemporary developments in architecture are such as computational creativity which is the successful use of technological advancement in architecture. Technology is perhaps one of the best things to have happen in the field of architecture as it has led to the development of even faster and efficient architectural processes. However, there has existed a controversy as to whether design computing is appropriate for modern day buildings.

Bruno Taut

Bruno Taut was born in the year 1880 in a small town of Konigsberg in East Prussia. During his early life, he became a renowned painter and pastel artist. His career in painting did not last long since he decided to pursue a career in architecture. Taut's career as an architect took place in three phases at the time in history. The first phase was characterized by the experimentation of modern materials and techniques in architecture. The second phase was characterized by war and revolution that caused great damages to structures and infrastructure while the third period was marked by severe realism.

Bruno acquired his first architectural contract in 1933 which marked the end of his career in professional painting. He was later tasked to create a design which would oversee the refurbishment of a peasant church. He embarked on this task by using colors previously applied in his landscape. The use of colored stencils created an overall effect of creating a peasant landscape on the church. Taut’s color scheme was described as covering up the construction coherency.

Bruno’s approach to architecture was that the use of color brought about the aspect of social spiritual effect on structures (Taut, 1994). Bruno’s works also exhibited a lot of color to apply environmental friendly means of building and maintaining architectural structures. This was through the use of Expressionist architecture which is a form of architecture that uses fragmentation or communication of violent or overstressed emotion in structures.

Some of the common characteristics that Expressionist architectures like Taut applied in structures were; distortion of form for an emotional effect, subordination of realism with an intent of invoking stylistic expression of inner circle, achieving a new original and visionary effect, structures utilized the creative potential of artisan craftsmanship and conception of architecture as a work of art(Whyte, 1998). According to Bruno, architecture should pose some sort of emotional effect either through colors or distortion and fragmentation effects.

According Bruno, architecture should respond to modern life in such a way that color should be used to physically and psychologically create a fascination of modern architecture. In the world today, many contemporary architects now regarded as great modernists have extended the use of color unlike in previous years where architectural photographs were published in monochrome. Bruno’s perception is that architects can change and reflect the society by combining architecture and artistic use of color.

During the time in history, German architects had limited opportunities to build. This led to Bruno concentrating more on unrealized architectural designs. The result of this was the creation of extremely fantastic designs to recapitalize and transform the country which had suffered massive destruction from the war. Some of the most famous architectural works of Bruno include the Monument des Eisens (monument of iron) which was built in 1913 with a primary objective of being an advert of the iron industry. The Glasshaus (Glass Pavilion) is the other famous work of Bruno and was opened at the Cologne Wekbund exhibition in the year 1914.

Le Corbusier

Le Corbusier was born in the year 1887 is a small Swiss town of La Chux de Fonds. Corbusier at first preferred a career in painting but like Bruno took up architecture. Corbusier held a critic point of view concerning his teacher’s theories on the revival of ancient arts and crafts. He opted to develop ideas about the aesthetic of functionalism and the positive approach of the modern age. Corbusier saw the beginning of a new era of progress as a result of the war ending.

The motivation behind Crobusier’s new ideology was after his initial encounter with the large and complex city of Paris (Baker, 1996).This hence created a need for a modern housing system and modern cities. The initial situation in most cities as he observed was chaotic with unplanned traffic system and disorderly industrial workers houses. Corbusier developed the Dom-ino housing concept which was purported to be a cost effective way of housing workers.

Corbusier developed the uplift theory of architecture under the assumption that improving the housing systems for workers would help elevate the problem of poverty amongst them. According to Corbusier, the modern age could not be realized without first clearing the old and ancient structures. His theories attempted to relate proper planning of cities and the success of the business sector of the city. During this period, the capitalists were described to be too immature to realize the validity of this theory by Corbusier.

The impression of Corbusier radiant city is a reflection of the appreciation of for individual rights and freedom of workers. This impression of the city indicates rebuilding utilizing modern methods of production. The impression of the radiant city with regards to modern world is that it emphasizes on services available to residents. However, this impression limits Corbusier’s individuals having a voice in governance. If applied today, the Radiant City would limit people from acting rationally hence people are compelled to behave rather than to act.

During the time in history, the world was experiencing massive growth in terms of urbanization and industrial progression. The theories of Le Corbusier focused on seeking efficient means of housing a large number of people in response to the escalating urban housing crisis (Moos, 2009).His believe was that eventually, modern architectural forms will provide an organizational system in urban and industrial centers hence improving the living standards of the lower class.

Some of the famous works by Le Corbusier is that attempt to realize his impression of the Radiant City through a small scale construction of a series of small units around France. The most famous of these units is the Unite d’ Habitation in Marseille. The idea of the Radiant City was actualized through the construction of the Union Territory Chandirgh which was to be the new capital for the Indian states. Le Corbusier designed most of the buildings in this city including administrative buildings, parliament and courthouses.

Robert Venturi

Robert Venturi was born in the year 1925 in Philadelphia. He studied at Princetown University and is regarded as the father of postmodern architecture. One of the most profound characteristics of his architectural structures is that they exhibit ironic humor. Venturi wrote a book displaying his theory of how modern architects should approach the profession. Venturi described his liking of elements that are hybrid rather than pure, elements that are distorted rather than being clean and his overall conclusive statement is that he liked things that had messy vitality rather than having obvious unity (Venturi, 1998).

This introduced the aspect of complexity and contradiction in architecture. Venturi’s earliest buildings exhibited this characteristic most notably the Guild House in Philadelphia. In this structure, Venturi created an impression of artistic tension by blending both the high art aesthetics with the motifs drawn from the popular culture. These were skillfully composed of a symmetrical façade with a primary objective of being seen as high art objects (Venturi, 1977).

Venturi’s approach and theory to modern architecture is using his famous ‘less is more’ architectural theory. Venturi’s works combines a wide variety of electric miscellany of styles that comprise of both the historical artistic forms and modern contemporary popular culture. Some of the most famous works of Venturi are the Ecletric House Series which was constructed in 1977, the extension of the London National Gallery and the Art Museum in Seattle.

Role of architecture

According to Bruno Taut, Le Corbusier, and Robert Venturi, architecture is basically constituted of three phases that is the aesthetics, the engineering and the social aspect. A more designed environment will undoubtedly lead to a more social-interactive environment. The three architects agree on the importance of an organized flow of structures and the way buildings are designed in order to fulfill the social aspect of architecture. The compliance of architecture with these social-interactive requirements with regards to architecture would ease the disorganized nature of many systems in the world today.

Despite this, the three have different approaches with regards to architecture; they aimed at introducing of a more organized system to architecture. Bruno Taut introduced the use of colors in architecture as a method of expressing architectural structures and their principles in a given society. Le Corbusier on the other hand sought to organize the architectural approach with regards to urban centers. This was a time that the world was experiencing massive growth in terms of urbanization and industrialization. According to him, organizing the housing system in urban centers would elevate the problem of a disorderly system in these rapidly growing urban centers.

Robert Venturi’s approach to architecture was that architecture should contain complexity and contradiction. This was contrary to the previous architectural structures that exhibited plainness and vainness. According to Venturi, architecture should strike some sort of fascination or display mixed social perspectives and appearance. The overall goal of architecture should be to strike some sort of uniqueness and not be too obvious.

According to Bruno Taut, Le Corbusier, and Robert Venturi, modern architectures can change and reflect the society in architecture. This can only be achieved by modern architects changing the approach on architecture and bringing in the factor of complexity and contradiction. The works of all the three exhibited these two characteristics indication that architecture should not be just about physical appearance but also the sociological impacts to the society

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