Architectural space as a constituent of architectural character

Mulugeta Metaferia, University of Pennsylvania


Character is a primary 'virtue' in architecture. It is a central issue in the question of meaning. The analogy is drawn from the interpretation of buildings in terms of human physiognomy. The concept of character is frequently present in architectural discourses and is referred to extensively in connection with a building's formal identity, expression of purpose, and harmonious relationship to its site and surrounding. As developed in the tradition of architectural theory, the constituents of character are generated from the peculiarities of the site, the nature of the materials, the method of the construction, the use for which the building is intended, the finish, the ornament and the personal 'style' of the architect. It is essential to enrich the theory of architecture as a guide for a more responsive future practice by developing an inquiry into these constituents of character to trace, their social, cultural, emotional, psychological and aesthetic implications.^ This dissertation isolates the constituent of character that engenders these implications as ideas associated with the human action and human life situation of a particular use. The argument focuses on how the spatial setting could have an expressive identity as embodiment of the character of the particular use. The immaterial ideas attached to the use are referred to as 'the character of the use', analogous to the understanding of human character as an expression of the inherent nature of a person. A particular human institution such as house, school, church or library is evocative of spatial images and capable of suggesting an appropriate spatial setting for the particular use. As the case studies demonstrate, the volume generated and the quality of the architectural spaces embody the immaterial ideas and transform them into a formally distinct enclosure of the building, which is a vital contributor to the architectural character. A concept of character so developed will contribute to a modern understanding of character as an ingredient of the more general concern for meaning in architecture. ^

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Recommended Citation

Metaferia, Mulugeta, "Architectural space as a constituent of architectural character" (1988). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI8816205.