Understanding Architecture

Understanding architecture is akin to understanding art. It is, I suppose, similar to subscribing to a story that fits your perceptions. Consider the famous architect — Le Corbusier — who was somewhat minimalist. He desired that the houses of the future be ascetic and clean and frugal. Architecture for him was meant to be about mechanical efficiency. A home had only a few ambitions — to provide shelter, to be a receptacle for light and air, and a place to look at the stars.

Johannes Vermeer was a Dutch Baroque Period painter active during the 17th century

Now consider art by Johannes Vermeer, which is a celebration of the ordinary. His famous work of art — The Little Street — shows the attractiveness and beauty in ordinary life. The Ferrari car, Gucci shoes and Michelin Star meal is an empty and vacuous representation of modern life that is wrongly celebrated.

An architectural design by my friend, Gayan, showing that ordinary lines and curves are indeed beautiful

Maybe society needs to change the narrative towards celebrating ordinary. It is the long walks, the appreciation of the rays of sunshine streaming in through the window, and the smile of a parent that ultimately matters. There is deeper meaning in art and architecture.

Another angle of the same property crafted by my friend Gayan

I’d like to segue into the school of thought perpetuated by Andrea Palladio during the 1500s. It is this school of thought that I would subscribe to. Palladio thought how architecture’s purpose is to make us better people. Calm, harmony and dignity are the virtues promised by architecture as per Palladio.

Although Gayan De Silva, a close friend, whom I’ve known for many years is probably not aware of how his work probably takes on the same philosophy that Palladio promoted, I see similarities. There is less noise in his work. There is balance, symmetry and the focus on space, and the dislike for ostentatiousness. Palladio was all about simplicity and ensuring that everything aligned with proportion.

There’s this assumption that simplicity is easy and cheap. In actual fact it is the opposite. It’s incredibly difficult to create something that is functional and a solution to inconvenience. Grandiosity is a travesty. And such ostentatiousness only serves to be costly and not useful.

Dieter Rams who designed Braun is the epitome of simple and useful design. A quote by HoraceThe art lies in concealing the art — offers an insight into how architecture should be showcased. Considering how influencial architecture has become today, maybe we need to change the narrative we want this influential art form to have.

There’s pleasure in simplicity. Because simplicity shows a lack of anxiety about being ignored. As a modern society that is comfortably cosseted in the 21st century, we possibly need to shift our focus and indeed our ideals onto the values that matter.

Rams and Vermeer possibly have a lot in common, and could offer us all a way when it comes to understanding architecture. Rams creates designs that are for everyday use, while Vermeer did art. The majority of these individuals have in some form or the other contributed so much to architecture. It is the guiding philosophy that we need to embrace.