Printed Space: Critically Exploring the (Re)production of Meaning in Architecture
This research is an exploration of meaning in architecture, considering architectural meaning as cultural production. My thesis expands the notion of architecture from the mere design and implementation of built forms to include consideration of the cultural context in which they are produced. It considers architecture to encompass not only built forms but the interpretations and cultural representations which are assigned to them. These cultural products – images, artworks, and media discourse – contribute to the wider social meanings people use to make sense of the world around them. Meanings in architecture are social creations. They are placed on artefacts by people situated within specific social contexts, and within their frames of thought and experience. My main premise is that institutions of architectural mass media, to a certain extent, shape the frames of reference for mainstream views of architecture, playing a significant role in influencing the meanings people attribute to the various cultural products that make up the field of architecture. From this premise, this research proposes that the 'media space' of architecture – a space which people abstractly construct as they interpret architectural print media – has potential for architects interested in dealing with the cultural substance of architecture, that is, with architectural meaning. To explore this idea, this thesis uses theoretical discussions on three themes ('Meaning in Architecture', 'Architectural Media and Representation', and 'the Architecture Culture Industry') to develop a particular understanding of the production of meaning in architecture. Parts of this understanding are strengthened and further developed by case studies of particular works of three architects: the journal L'Esprit Nouveau (1920-1925) produced by Le Corbusier; the Sala O exhibit at the Exhibition of the Fascist Revolution (1933) designed by Giuseppe Terragni; and the German Pavilion at the Barcelona International Exposition (1929) designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. The way these architects engaged with architectural print media to develop the meanings of their work is used as the rationale for a series of architectural design explorations, which attempt to create an architecture open to post-structuralist understandings of meaning. This conceptual 'reconstruction' of Mies' much-publicised Barcelona Pavilion and the accompanying self-critique becomes my own contribution to the critical media discourse surrounding (or as I argue, constituting) the pavilion. This research finishes with some conclusions towards a philosophy of meaning in architecture. Its findings critique conventional understandings of the nature of architectural interpretation, and challenge the hegemony of the built form as the site of architectural meaning. Revealing the special focus of the architecture culture industry to be the stimulation of architectural meanings and the spread of particular interpretations in society, my study starts to reassess the role of the architect in contemporary, 'mediatised' culture. Through approaching architectural print media in more astute ways, architects may begin to explore new forms of architectural meaning, beyond the limits of built form and material existence, and create work within the 'media space of architecture'.