With three centuries of advances in industrial printing and weaving processes and the late 20th century move from analog to digital graphic technology, pattern design has asserted a dominance unmatched at any previous time in human history. Nevertheless, the fundamental basis for pattern design has remained unchanged: the articulation of space. By space I mean to imply that which is free, unbounded, infinite, spiritual, heavenly...Space.
The point: in concept, location without dimension. By extension from the source, the origin we have emanation, expansion. The germinating seed, an all encompassing unity. In ornamental design, this has been traditionally represented in imitation of nature: the flower, the star, the all seeing eye.
The line introduces concepts of dimension, direction, polarity, duality, separation. Left/right, above/below, inside and out. With the line comes the potentiality of repetition, whereas carried to an extreme results in monotony. Much commercial architecture today takes on this graphically linear aspect not unlike ruled paper, horizontal lines suspended in space, unbounded and framing nothing, the eye seeking in vain for resolution.
With surface comes the ability to manifest texture, interlace and interlock becomes most evident and a second dimension allows the formation of webs and nets. The plane is the bread and butter of graphic design: wallcoverings, rugs, textiles, tiles, wrapping papers to name a few. For decades we were subjected to the most boring, unrelenting glass boxes of government and commerce. We didn't know how good we had it. Today's buildings are typically "jazzed up", pushing windows in and out, switching up sizes and orientations, or spacing them randomly. The façade is viewed as nothing more than a canvas for various decontextualized textures constrained within a rectilinear grid wallpapered onto the same old boxes.
For all of the faux pas' of the recent past, I would contend that pattern design is both compatible with architectural design and has much to contribute. To do so we should consider how architectural design differs and how pattern design has and can continue to perform a very successful supporting role.
The tectonic or constructive aspect of architectural design has been for millennia and ought to remain primarily about gravity. Secondarily, limits are set while possibilities encouraged by climate (temperature), weather (humidity and precipitation) and terroir (local soil and materials). Granted we're crisscrossing the globe with materials nowadays so perhaps we can temporarily ignore the use of local materials (to our increasing peril). Yet gravity is unrelenting, she imposes and restricts form and structure so that architecture must be grounded in the material and quite literally in the Earth. Attempts to circumvent this are only an affected style, one that is incongruent with reality and thus disturbing. Pattern design ought always be subordinate, not in extreme and defiant aesthetic conflict with the gravitational, earthbound nature of architectural design.
The Lincoln Memorial is a Classic example of the mastery of linear pattern applied to architecture. The repetition of vertical lines of the columns gives a clear indication of stability and support. The incised flutes only serve to bolster the feeling. Between stylobate and the capitals the lines of the columns are clearly bounded. Richly ornamented, the horzontal bands of the entablature and attic hold visual interest; however, they are also contained within a series of bounded frames that permit the eyes to rest and once again establish a unified composition.
Drawing on long established vernacular traditions, Arts & Crafts homes such as the Red House designed by Philip Webb for William Morris avoid rationalizing the exterior and naturally arrive at a façade filled with variety and visual interest. The surface is not reliant on any jarring tricks to stimulate the senses. Rather the restrained aesthetic is filled with similar details at a range of scales. Even the materials selected are textured and lively, notably the bricks laid in common bond with English corners.
|Saint Petersburg Mosque
Despite having a great love for pattern design and using it extensively in my own work, I believe architectural design taught essentially as a rationalized discipline of the articulation of space has been very damaging. We don't live in space, an abstract concept of nothingness. Rather, we inhabit a rich material reality. Even the air we breathe engages the senses with texture and scent, is a medium for light, warmth and sound. Our collective architectural heritage is clear evidence that pattern and architectural design are not necessarily antagonistic. Quite to the contrary, we need architectural design to reassert its position at the forefront of design in our built environment. An architecture rooted in nature and the earth that pattern loving craftsmen like myself can support with our hands and our hearts.
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Contributed by Patrick Webb