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Image of some folks standing 
around holding cups

One of the greatest problems of designing today is the fact that engineers can solve ANY problem. Anything can be built. Structural "realities" are perceived as no longer imposing limitations upon the design architect. Form does not have to be dictated by structure or even follow a function. Many of the seemingly undeniable "truths" of architectural design have been rendered meaningless. Yet, gravity persists despite this incredible freedom of choice. Buildings must stand up at the end of a real or virtual working day.

Architectural design cannot be based soley upon one of the many aspects that make up the profession. It surely should never be based on architectonics alone. Yet, structure is the very raw material of building. To use structure without understanding its implications is irresponsible and results in meaningless formalism. An architect is supposed to be a specialist in building, not just a creator of arbitrary form. The word structure can be used alone or in conjunction with many other descriptive words. Dictionaries can be consulted to find the following definitions:

manner of construction

the arrangement of particles or parts in a substance or body

arrangement or interrelation of parts as dominated by the general character of the whole

the aggregate of elements of an entity in their relationships to each other

the composition of conscious experience with its elements and their combinations

something that is constructed

something that is arranged in a definate pattern of organization

the action of building

image of green bamboo with one brown dried bamboo that has been split open to reveal the interior structure of the plant

There are multitudes of different scales at which one should perceive structures. Each scale reveals beauty and provides an amazing amount of information at the same time. Seeing the information at each level of perception is critical. Learning to see the structure of the world around us is an important part of life and of this course. It is critical to the success of an architect that she/he be able to see beyond the skin of a building; beyond the surfaces of a space and into the load-bearing structure. This is the fabric from which space is molded. Understanding the nature of the fabric enables one to create the seams between spaces. Understanding the load-bearing structure of a building is to understand the space that is being created.

image of the dense urban fabric of Wan Chai in Hong Kong

There is a fundamental rightness in a structurally correct concept. It leads to an economy of means that can be understood by all. Designs which are inherently structurally correct are often perceived as objects of great beauty, even if only truely comprehended by few. One can find structure in everything. Look at landscapes, cities, roofs, walls, and at the veins in a leaf from both afar and as close as you can. Record what you see. What are the similarities? What is unique about each? Look at the:

interstitial truss in Hong Kong between two fire walls of a small plot in Wan Chai
This is an image of a stucture found in an empty lot in Hong Kong in 1996. Examine it in light of the the list of thoughts above. The wood truss clearly articulates the relative magnitude of the forces. There are many structures to be seen in this image. Here is a larger JPEG if you want to look at it in more detail.


Some Questions for Thought

What other structures do you see in these images? What would be the most appropriate materials to utilize build these structures in different parts of the world? How would that change if the site was located in Borneo? or in Sweden? or in New York? Can you find a similar type of situation around you?




Lecture Image Summary

1997 Images

Additional Reading

Mainstone, Rowland. Developments in Structural Form. 1975. Chapter 1

Copyright © 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998 by Chris H. Luebkeman