PennDesign Theory 1.2 - Type

When Carl Linnaeus set forth in the 1750’s to classify all living life into kingdoms, phylums, classes, orders, families, genuses, and species he was setting a scientific precedent for the future of all zoology, botany, and biological sciences.  Boldly taking on the task- God’s first biblical task to mankind- that of naming all living life on Earth, Linnaeus nevertheless proceded undaunted, taking his best guess at the development of species and their relative relationship to one another.  Prior to Linnaeus, the study of nature was left to an elite class of educated gentry whose naming system and theories on biological classification differed as widely as the animal kingdom itself. Linnaeus’s classifications may have been naive (and perhaps even nostalgic), but they have lasted 250 years, with refinements along the way, to help us navigate the web of life with a common language and reference system-- allowing for a more refined and specific dialogue of inquiry, development, and discovery.

Carl Linnaeus and the relationality of types

Texts by Moneo, Vidler, and Corbusier delve into the concept of type and what it means to practice an art of subjectivity, customization, and delight in an age of scientific  enumeration.
Vidler walks the reader down a path of archaeological and anthropological discovery, beginning with an analysis of the earliest works of architecture- the pre-renaissance Temple of Solomon and other rustic houses of worship- contrasting their god-given proportions with those derived from piecemeal, organic development - namely Laugier’s primitive hut, constructed from the basest materials - the earth (foundation), trees (vertical structure), and branches (horizontal protection from the elements).  Vidler then addresses the term type, attaching the word in its earliest form to the works of Ribard de Chamoust, who defined type in regard to architecture as “the first attempts of man to master nature, render its propitious to his needs, suitable to his uses, and favorable to his pleasures,” (Vidler, 98) different from Chamoust’s concept of archetypes - those being the “fundamental elements of architecture” (99) - such as trees (vertical elements of the Primitive Hut’s architecture) which are merely types.  Pursuant of a better definition for type, Vidler takes the word back to its original Greek roots, where it meant “impression” or “figure” from the verb “to beat.”  Breaking from the theological inclinations of type, Vidler traces the development of type through the works of Blondel, Boulee, Ledoux, Durand, Pugin, and eventually to Qatremere who made the most scientific classification of type - “relative” type, he argues is non-classifiable, “as opposed to essential [type], in the uses to which it is intended” (Vidler, 105).  Perhaps taking a cue from the scientific enumeration that brought Carl Linnaeus to his scientific naming system 70 years prior, Qatremere states, “classification, as a fundamental and constituent problem of natural history, took up its position historically, and in a necessary fashion, between a theory of the mark and a theory of the organism.” (Vidler, 105). In this vein of historical progress, type becomes increasingly more scientific, and from Qatremere onward the style of classicism is seen as only one of many possible styles for architecture- its types are seen as a limited typology that grows as other styles are discovered, but all of whose archetypes remain those first and most foundational elements of construction - the earth (foundation), trees (vertical structure), and branches (horizontal protection from the elements).

The evolution of the ideal type:
from Paestum to the Parthenon, from the Humber to the Delage.
Le Corbusier, 1923

Le Corbusier takes a far more specific prose on type, organizing his thoughts on “man, a constant, the fixed point that in truth is the only object of our concern (Le Corbusier, Type Needs Type Furniture, pg 3). He stresses the need to see objects - indeed all objects - in relation to the human body, maintaining, “we must therefore always seek to rediscover the human scale, the human function” (p 3).  Though he stops short of defaming non-human-scale objects as objects unworthy of typology and use, he maintains the sacred nature of the human-scaled object.

Cold and brutal = right and true?

Moneo takes the reader on a pleasant stroll down architecture-typology-lane qualifying the developments of architecture to be seen best as “objects in their own right - as with paintings, but having elements made to evolve” (Moneo, 1).  Seen in this light, as well as the light of Durand’s infinite variation (a method of composition based on a generic geometry of axis superimposed on the grid) “the connection between type and form disappears” (29) as infinite variety merges with infinite variety - evolution within evolution - type stands in humble acquiescence, aware that dichotomy and categorization are futile devices in the face of myriad variety and customization.”

When nature is in control, the classification process yields a reading of life - to analyze the objective and genetic bifurcations of plants and animals alike.  When humans - and artfully inclined humans at that - are in control, the classification of various types and forms becomes nearly impossible - to analyze the subjective choices of stylistically-inclined individuals in the context of innumerable typologies, classification simply breaks down and yields to broad categorization of architectural tropes -  classicism, modernism, post-modernism, and the like - or a narrow analysis of objects within architecturally defined spaces - tables, chairs, windows, doors, etc.  In summary, I think that Moneo captures the immense task and opportunity that an architect faces when challenged to design a building in light of four millennia of architectural thought and creation: “the design process is a way of bringing the elements of a typology - the idea of a formal structure - into the precise state that characterizes the single work.” (Moneo, 3).

Works Cited:
Vidler, Anthony. The Idea of Type: The Transformation of the Academic Ideal. pp. 95-115

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