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From Idea to Building: Issues in Architecture.

'I never design buildings, I only study them,' said Bernard Maybeck, the Californian architect, to Michael Brawne in 1955. This comment, and Maybeck's seminal Berkeley Church, is the start of an account of the design process that comes closer than many another to conveying how architecture. Informed by Brawne's considerable erudition and building experience, the survey of attempts to provide architecture with a rational basis, in the first part of the book, is a brilliant crystallisation of the arguments.

In this, Semper is a key figure but Karl Popper's 'Conjectures and Refutations' form the core of Brawne's explanatory model; the repeated proposing of hypotheses which are then modified under successive critical refutations. In architectural design this happens at many levels until a building emerges. No surprise to architects perhaps for, as he points out, it is a process that has been used in architecture for centuries; however, the now widespread use of electronic technologies has made the design process an accepted model in a broader sense than ever before, giving architecture a 'new relevance'.

Brawne accepts the obvious main objection to the neat, Popper view, that a whole building cannot be falsified in the manner of a scientific hypotheses, but believes it tobe 'possible to isolate certain elements within architecture and, having done so, to assume that these are falsifiable'. Structure is one of these, whereas use often cannot be so falsified because of the variability of evidence. Somewhat surprisingly he does not see Thomas Kuhn's view, that a new paradigm 'cannot be made logically' but only by a paradigm shift, as contradicting this process.

Three examples then illustrate how designs have evolved; Kahn's Kimbell Museum, Geoff reyBawa's work and Brawne's own Museum in Amman. The continuity and testing of ideas is taken further with examples from his own and the work of others, right down to the effects of different types of drawings on design thinking. Using a wide, and well-illustrated range of sources he shows lucidly how culture, precedent, climate, technology and detail influence design.

While stressing the importance of visual concepts those powerful visual, even visceral, images that often drive the form of a design -- and may come from anywhere, a painting, a tree, the body, the nature of the organic, the mechanical -- are given little attention. For example the paintings of Aalto and Le Corbusier offer rich formal notions to the designs, just as the metaphor of skeletalstructure underpins some recent work. Ineffable, perhaps, and as Brawne observes: 'only that which could be tested and was potentially refutable should be called scientific'.

In an account that aims to ascribe a rational lineage to each part of the process, aesthetics is subsumed and rarely mentioned. There is no overt discussion of the crucial issue of composition, although that is what the author is dealing with when discussion, for example, his use of Scharoun's Berlin Library and Pietila's Student Centre at Otaniemi as models for his Amman building.

Brawne is located within that tradition which, perhaps, is not comfortable with too explicit a discussion of such matters, seeing them more as determined by a series of logical determinants, emerging organically from within the exploration itself. Nevertheless his sensibility to such issues imbues every page and every example, highlighting the continuing creative tension between the definable and the world of feeling. Such is the clarity of his argument, the richness of his sources, the quality and accessibility of the writing, that this volume should commend itself to a wide audience within and without architecture. It is a book for anyone curious about how architecture happens.
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Author:Russell, Barry
Publication:The Architectural Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jul 1, 1994
Previous Article:A History of Architectural Theory From Vitruvius to the Present.
Next Article:Organicism in Nineteenth-century Architecture: An Enquiry Into Its Theoretical and Philosophical Background.

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