Apologies but this paper is stub insomuch that illustrations have been lost and thus not in place.

 How can parts of a building act like words in a sentence?

      (Unit: Specialism 3: CINT2008 Cultural Context)

This essay looks into classical language of architecture and aims to compare it with the language formed with words, to be more specific with poetry. The starting point for the essay was study of architecture and poetry, keeping in mind an intriguing question: how can parts of a building act like words in a sentence. Since both, the world of architecture and one of poetry are too wide to discuss in one essay, this paper will address on comparison of classical architecture and sonnet. Intention of this investigation is to find out about the similarities between the visual and written world.

Classical architecture origins from Roman and Greek antiquity. The oldest evidence survived from the time is the writings by Roman Vitruvius in 25 BC. Like classical architecture also sonnet has its roots in Mediterranean. Although there is a disagreement weather it origins from Italian Provence or from Greek epigram. According to Michael R.G. Spiller (Spiller 1992: VII), sonnet was invented in southern Italy about 1235.  Other reason to discuss on sonnet and classical architecture is that both can be seen as the longest-lived forms of the art form they represent.

In order, for building representing classical language of architecture or poem as a sonnet, to be recognized, one needs to be aware of the rules and orders guiding the creative act behind them. Also the one creating needs to know the history and “rules” to be able to transform or create something new. In classical architecture there are five standard varieties of column; Tuscan, Doric, Ionic, Corinthian and Composite (Fig. 1 The orders of architecture). There are also standard ways for applying and treating the columns and other parts of a building. In sonnet the “pattern” (Fig. 2 Pattern of a fourteen line sonnet) of the poem is a standard order in similar way than the one in classical architecture. “..it has proportion, being in eight and six, and extension, being in ten -or -eleven-syllable line, and duration, having fourteen of them.” (Spiller, 1992:3)

Amusing thing about these “orders” is that they are both based on mathematics! Meaning that visual pleasures of architecture and sounds and stories when intoning a sonnet are both based on a mathematical order. In classical architecture it appears in the proportion of the parts of a building and in relationship between all the parts.  Sonnet on the other hand has a “prescribed” or “closed” form, meaning that its duration and shape are determined, the identity is formal not thematic.

Alistair Fowler has written about support of genres in a way that is applicable also when talking about the orders, “…far from inhabiting the author, genres are a positive support. They offer room, as one might say, for him to write in – a habitation of mediated definiteness, a proportioned mental space; a literary matrix by which to order his experience during composition.” (Spiller, 1992:2)

“..it is mistake ever to think of the five orders of architecture as a sort of child’s box of bricks which architects have used to save themselves the trouble of inventing. It is much better to think of them as grammatical expressions imposing a formidable discipline, but a discipline within which personal sensibility always has a certain play- a discipline, moreover, which can sometimes be burst asunder by a flight of poetic genius.” (Summerson, 1993:13)

These quotes, although one is talking about writing and the other about architecture, could be describing either of the subjects discussed on this paper. The five orders in classical architecture and prescribed form of a sonnet are there to set the guidelines rather than confine the creativity of an artist. The reason or goal to achieve with these orders is harmony. Harmony is the essence of both, classical architecture and a sonnet. Mathematical orders and ratios are only tools, helping an artist to achieve it.

Comprehension of the harmony being an essence releases the artist from following all the orders blindly. In architecture though the harmony achieved by proportion is not enough for the building to be called classical. There has to be some allusions to the antique orders (Fig. 3 Twentieth century classical language). What comes to a sonnet, has to do with parameters agreed on. At least one of them has to remain in order to a poem to be recognized as a sonnet. Other thing essential for sonnet is that the writer has to ‘come to the point’. Usually the first eight lines ‘octave’ are developing the poem towards the ‘sestet’ the six last lines, which all together or just the very last one would sum up the statement, thus ‘coming to the point’ (Fig 4 A very early sonnet).

So far we have found some similarities between classical language of architecture and a sonnet. Let’s now see how they speak to us, how could parts of a building act like words in a sentence and vice versa. If we look closely to the orders, for example the Doric order, the whole puzzle of it, we can see that the order consists from many small parts. All the parts have a name, but the purpose or symbolic value is not revealed with the names, but seem rather difficult to understand. The truth is that all the small parts (Fig 5 Doric order) have no real function except the decorative one. Doric order is representation of a Doric order carved in timber. In the ancient world timber was the material of construction, thus first temples were also timber buildings. So representation of ancient Doric order is imitation of the material, form and spirit, but most importantly it is a representation of history and stories come along with it.

“The styles are notional, signs of status and historical roots – but signs meant to remind you of the past, not convince you that the building is living in the present.” (Jenkins, 1978:58)

This could mean that the classical language of architecture can really talk to us. We just have to have patience to study and read the history to be able to understand the language. Orders and classical forms can tell us stories. They bring together centuries, but also cultural styles and finally the personal perspective of an artist. They talk about the time and location, influences and personal tastes.

If parts of a building can tell us stories and thus act like words, should be possible to see words acting as parts of a building as well. When looking at the pattern of a familiar fourteen-line sonnet    (Fig 2 Pattern of a fourteen line sonnet, Fig 4 A very early sonnet) and the parts it has been constructed of we can see that the sestet in the bottom part of a poem could be corresponding to a purpose of pedestal in a column. More likely it could be corresponding to a base, since not all the columns have a pedestal at all. If we look even more closely or rather in to the point made in sestet it would relate best to entablature. The reason for this relation is that the order of a sonnet requests a writer to ‘come to the point’ in sestet, on the other words in the end of a poem.

The point is what has to follow the development of a poem, which happened in octave. The function of a entablature is similar. It is there supported by a column, which is developing the construction from base (and pedestal), which is a foundation. Entablature is there between the column and something, it is there to point out what is to come.

It was there to support the roof of a temple (Fig 6 The temple), then the upper floors of a Colosseum Fig 7 Order upon order), and after that all the other buildings. Sometimes it’s there just for the eaves or a sculptor, but nevertheless it is there as a highest point of classical language of architecture. It brings a column the classical order to a point where from an architecture can take it further if that is the wish. In a same way when a writer comes to a point in sestet, it’s the point of that particular poem, but there is a possibility to continue the statement started in first fourteen lines, by starting a new sonnet on same theme.

The classical language of architecture is speaking to us with words of orders of classical architecture. It is not giving the answers easily. It takes lots of time of study to learn to see behind all the different applications of the orders, all the variations and combinations of styles. But when learning about the orders and their history we can achieve a tool that helps us to understand the world we live in better.

When classical language of architecture talks about the world we live in, the language of a sonnet talks about living, being a human being. Both subjects are essential for our surviving. We need to know about the history and presence in order to adapt with it or to enhance it. We also need to express our feelings and understand those around us. Whit the tools of language of architecture and poetry we can enrich our world and communicate better with it.

“Words, expressions, grammatical constructions have all at the same time had to be invented to meet particular needs of communication. Those immediate needs are long since forgotten, but the words and their patterns still form the language we use for a thousand purposes’ – including poetry. That is how it is with the five orders of architecture.” (Summerson, 1993:14)

List of illustrations

Figure 1. Serlio, Sebastiano (1540) The orders of architecture [Woodcut] In: Summerson, John (1993) The classical language of architecture. Frontispiece. Thames

Figure 2. Kujala, Tiina-Liisa (2009) Pattern of a fourteen line sonnet [Diagram]

(picture and text: “Proportioned mental-space” or a pattern of a familiar 14 line-sonnet, with 11 syllables (or 10, depending on the vernacular) to line, dividing into eight and six and using in the octave two rhymes arranged either ABAB ABAB or ABBA ABBA; and two or three rhymes rhyming CDCDCD or CDECDE or almost any possible arrangement of these, in the sestet).

Figure 3. Roland Liot. Twentieth century classical language [Photograph] In: Summerson, John (1993) The classical language of architecture. Plate 117. Thames

Figure 4. Re Enzo (1224-72) A very early sonnet [Sonnet] In: Spiller, Michael R.G (1992) The Development of the Sonnet: An Introduction. Page 12-13. Routledge

Figure 5. Doric order. In: Summerson, John (1993) The classical language of architecture. Plate 126. Thames

Figure 6. Giraudon. The temple [Photograph] In: Summerson, John (1993) The classical language of architecture. Plate 8. Thames

Figure 7. Kersting, A. F. Order upon order [Photograph] In: Summerson, John (1993) The classical language of architecture. Plate 12. Thames

Books – bibliography

Forty, Adrian. (2000) Words and Buildings A Vocabulary of Modern Architecture.

Thames & Hudson Ltd.

Jencks, Charles. (1978) The Language of Post-Modern Architecture. (2nd ed.) Academy Editions

Norberg-Schulz, Christian. (2000) Architecture: Presence, Language and Place. Skira

Sharp, William. (1887) Sonnets of This Century: The Sonnet Its Characteristics and History. http://www.sonnets.org/sharp.htm (Accessed on 28.11.09)

Spiller, Michael R.G. (1992) The Development of the Sonnet: An Introduction. Routledge

Summerson, John. (1993) The Classical Language of Architecture. (3rd ed.) Thames & Hudson Ltd.