Architecture writing style

July 17, 2014
Architecture Writing Style

QVII apartment building by McBride Charles Ryan; image courtesy MCR.

6. Set the Scene

A carefully crafted description of a building’s context can provide a wealth of insight into the social, economic, and cultural backdrop of a project in a single sentence. Andrew Mackenzie’s introduction to McBride Charles Ryan’s QVII apartment building is a classic example:

“In a suburb of Melbourne, amid the quaint worker cottages interspersed with bulky max-lot town-houses and Regency style rip-offs, stands a small haven of sheltered accommodation, a budget job of plain, unaffected language.”

Having set the scene with a series of en pointe adjectives, Mackenzie goes on to describe the “material versatility and civic countenance” of the project, which is given extra resonance by that vivid description of the surrounding context.

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7. Kick Off With a Quote

While this “play” shouldn’t be repeated too often, opening with a quote can add real impact to an essay on an architect’s work, particularly if that architect makes an impactful statement that can provide telling context for the subsequent article. Take the case of Minsuk Cho of Mass Studies, whom Joseph Grima quotes at the outset to instantly engage readers with the plight of the youth in his home country:

“I think there is a struggle going on in the minds of the younger generation, ” Minsuk Cho observed in a recent interview, speaking of the challenges facing architects in his native Republic of Korea. “What is ‘Korean-ness’ at this moment in time? What is our relationship to this tradition, to the architectural identity of this culture?”

Grima goes on to outline Cho’s search for the answer to these questions using radical projects such as Seoul Commune 2026, a vision of the future for this fast-changing metropolis. The opening, straight from the source, instantly captures the ambitious, ‘big picture’ thinking of this groundbreaking Korean firm.

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Art Deco; image courtesy Aranda\Lasch.

8. Apply Some Dry Wit

The satirical geniuses of Design With Company have shown us that architecture can be funny, but there are also plenty of opportunities to use some dry wit to add impact to your argument and make it more memorable, to boot. Shumon Bazar’s opening gambit for his piece on Aranda\Lasch is a case in point:

“If ornament remains a crime, exactly 100 years after Adolf Loos made the accusation, then Aranda\Lasch is guilty as charged. However as everyone knows, crime pays.”

This clever commandeering of an old modernist adage takes a playful swipe at the common theoretical hangups of many architects while immediately framing Aranda\Lasch as mischievous rebels of the profession. This framing not only brings a wry smile to one’s face, it is also adds weight to the rest of Bazar’s piece on this avant-garde studio’s experimental work.

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Dancing Trees, Singing Birds, Tokyo, Japan; image courtesy Hiroshi Nakamura and NAP Architects.

9. Inject Emotion

As any architect who has worked through the night to complete a project before their deadline will tell you, architecture is an emotional business, but, beyond the travails of the studio, great buildings engender bursts of inspiration, passion, delight, even love. Architect Kengo Kuma identifies this strength of emotion in the work of Hiroshi Nakamura and NAP Architects:

“The most important part of falling in love is not to explain why, but to sing the praises of one’s beloved, and Nakamura does exactly that. When he fell in love with wood, for example, he built a gabled shape that resembles a wooden cottage on an island. This was because he knew that a love song for wood could best be expressed through shape.”

Kuma’s emotive language captures the poetic undercurrents within Nakamura’s work and succinctly describes how they become physically manifested within each project.

10. Do It Your Way

While there is clear value in understanding the benefits of an expressive vocabulary, good sentence structure, and succinct language when writing about architecture, there is also an argument in favor of creative freedom. The built landscape is so complex that each one of us perceives it differently, and this variety can make for powerful and often provocative prose. On the final page of Phaidon’s book, Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s reflection on the role of architects in relation to the 2008 Sichuan Earthquake provides a potent example:

“Architects do not cause human need; architects merely write the lyrics that make life’s song something we want to listen to. And some architects become the candlelight and sweet whispers that accompany the rape of the environment.”

Weiwei’s loaded choice of words causes us to question our preconceptions not only about language, but about architecture itself. His tone is at once poetic and confrontational, full of visceral force. While one may not agree with the artist’s viewpoint, one thing is clear: this style of writing sticks in the mind long after one closes the book.

Source: architizer.com
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