The Language of Architecture



I'm an under graduate student of architecture and my task is to make a presentation on the Language of Architecture only through pictures and photographs.

Before that I would like to have a better understanding of the subject itself. For me this 'language' is more of an expression of the architect and it is expressed in terms of its alphabets (the elements) and its grammar(principles). 

What do you think? What works, projects or designs express language in its highest order in your opinion? Please enlighten me!

Nov 3, 12 9:26 am


from the PAST !!

Nov 3, 12 10:36 am
chatter of clouds


the notion of an architectural language is, in my opinion, debatable in the sense that the conventional purpose of langage is challenged. i don't sense that architecture's purpose is to direct/carry a message or even a meaning although it might seem to   (for instance "gravity", "seamlessness"..) and although it might have been engendered by way of meaning. i think, unlike non-poetic language, architectural design intentions and, thereafter, architectural experience are not placed relative each other in such a direct consequential manner as issuing and receiving non-poetic language is. however, the usage  expresses your tutor's stance and introduction of sorts...which is all good and fine, after all, beyond sheltering and accomodating functions pragmatically, architecture is a layering and association of assumptions. i'm saying this just so the notion of architecture as language isn't encouraged as a religion.

 you mention grammar - i.e. how the elements are strung together. then the elements that make up words i.e. morphology. one of the interesting things here is what you consider to be the element and thereafter the compound structure. for instance, you can look at the overall arch structure as a unit(element) of a building or as a compound structure within itself (haunches, keystone/crown, abutments...etc) that . different types of arches are treated differently and each element is moulded and positions itself pursuant to its neighbours. similarly, other architectural elements surrounding the arch structure conform stylistically (and therefor in surface and depth) to the arch structure. you could therefore start by an analysis of a building that you like (does there need be a better reason for your choice?) in whichever style in whatever period. you can start with any small small unit...elevation wise, plan wise, section wise, all wise. then show how the neighbouring elements react to it in context of gravity, in context of the underlying sensibilities of horiontality, verticality, diagnonality..etc. this will give you a window, a door way, a barrel vault...whatever. then extend beyond that to syntactically relate the other elements around and beyond. or, perhaps better yet, you could start with two distinct and distant elements within the same building that are not physically related. then trace the architectonic journey between those two element to show how they are related syntactically. of course, there are many architectonic journeys between one and the other...many ways of filling the blanks between i -------- you ( i love you, i hate you, i am going to slap you).

Nov 3, 12 11:35 am

the notion of an architectural language is, in my opinion, debatable in the sense that the conventional purpose of lang<u>age is challenged. . .

I see.  my initial thought was that he was looking for a building that looked like an 'A,' then a 'B,' etc.

this isn't a direct answer to your question, but as you are developing your own unique architectural language, please remember that the basic intent of language is to communicate.  so if you have to go and change the definition of a word or make up new words, you are probably not succeeding.

Nov 3, 12 12:33 pm

Hmm I'm also starting to think there must be a distinction between the language of architecture itself ("talking" to human beings) and the language for a discussion about architecture. What do you think?

But what is this language of architecture? What is the importance of a language of architecture?


1. Don't you think the architect's diagrams form a sense of 'language' because they a means of communication? They are a mysterious representation of the designer's inner thoughts.


2. Language at a larger sense, like a larger site. For example a big institute, there needs to be a certain "language" established for the project. For example, the Salk Institute or IIM Ahmendabad by Kahn.


3. What would be the language of interior design? Colour? Texture? Space?


4.Co-existence with the environment


But most importantly, what is the need and the importance of this 'language'?

Could you please elaborate with examples of works by architects?

Nov 3, 12 1:28 pm

hmmm... Seems like an over arching question, but I personally don't think there is one language for all architects.  Its something we can come up with ourselves.  However, there are some tangents that most architects should be familiar with (ie: public vs private, the inbetween/threshold, individual vs collective space)  All of these tie into questions about an individual's social dimension, and it is how you use ARCHITECTONIC motifs, their articulation, form and material to achieve architecture that encourage that.  Architecture in the 'language' sense is not about boxes that hold people, containers where people live in.  You as an architect are concerned with more than just that.

Its like you learn the english alphabets and words, but that doesn't make you a good writer unless you understand more.  Similarly, architecture has building order, materials, tectonics, but that won't make you a good architect if you don't know how to craft a good language with it.

Nov 3, 12 6:16 pm

language of architecture is like the essay on how to grade a poem in the dead pets society.  the age of reason turned the concept of genius from an external muse to an internal one and we no longer quite trust people who say they have an answer that applies to anyone else.  never used any language in my own practice but know it is helpful for some.

if you want ideas about language from those who are into it, anything by steven holl is cool.  or look at alberti if you want to get historical.  a pattern language by chris alexander is despicable but inspires lots of people as well.

Nov 3, 12 7:17 pm

imo [ < important distinction], the language of architecture has nothing to do with the alphabet, or even communication via words.

it's more about how architecture communicates entry/welcome, security/defensiveness, uplift, hierarchy, connection, solitary/group activity, touch/don't touch. in other words, the sensory and phenomenal things that we often make fun of as archi-speak...

Nov 4, 12 9:22 am

For the most part, spoken languages still relate to quite specific geographic locations. Up until roughly 100 years ago, specific geographic locations, too, had their distinct architectures. Colonialism began to usurp ‘native’ architectures with European architectures. In the mid-20th century the ‘International Style’ became an architectural Esperanto.

Is architecture today composed mostly of many, many personal languages?

Are most of architecture’s languages now lost?

What present architectures still relate to specific geographic locations?

What architectures are bilingual?

What architectures are multilingual?

What architectures exist also in translation?

What architectures now exist only in translation ?

What architectures are lost in translation?

Who speaks slang architecture? And is slang architecture ever appropriate?

Does anyone ever order language-salad architecture? Maybe that tastes best on Pentecost.


“I love my architect[ure]s because they often manage to say something I haven’t heard before.”

Nov 4, 12 11:42 am

Suggested reading:
The Language of Post-Modern Architecture (1977)
language of the plans” (1996-2005)
“innuendo” (2000)
The Metropolis Dictionary of Advanced Architecture (2003)
Index Architecture (2003)
Atlas of Novel Tectonics (2006)



innuendo 1 : veiled, oblique, or covert allusion to something not directly named : HINT, INSINUATION esp : veiled or equivocal allusion reflecting upon the character, ability or other trait of the person referred to

...the solid/void issue, which leads directly to the intercourse building and its acute reenactment of outside/inside, figure/ground, penis/vagina, male/female, Mars/Rhea Silvia.

...the tiny intercourse building opens up a huge potential source regarding the planimetric symbolism of the multitudinous [other] building plans.

Is this where the divine rape of a Vestal Virgin occurred?

The plan of the [Martian] temple self-evidently represents a penis and two testicles--a fitting evocation of the male god of war.

...back to Daddy's balls, architecture halls. "speaking architecture"

...a "display [that generally] deals with the 'language' and meaning of architectural planimetric forms, while specifically [displaying] the 'master key' that unlocks the long held mysteriousness of Piranesi's Ichnographia Campus Martius. see a 'building' [Aedicula Intercourse] that is both literally and figuratively conception. This tiny building is indeed one of the few plans within the Ichnographia that Piranesi does not provide with a Latin label, and that is because the building, through its plan, already speaks for itself, and, moreover, it speaks of all the 'concepts' there involved, namely, Piranesi's conception of architectural language, and the very conception of Rome [Romulus] itself. Piranesi's architectural intensification here is so tight to the point that indeed the medium is the message.

Essentially, Piranesi designed a building deliniating conception, which also represents Piranesi's conception of the large Campo Marzio plan, which also represents the beginning/conception of Rome itself.

Nov 5, 12 1:01 pm

OP: Three things you need to read:

"Archetypes in Architecture" by Thomas Thiis-Evensen - Norwegian University Press 1987

"Elements of Architecture" by Rob Krier - Architectural Design Magazine Vol. 53 No. 9/10, 1983

"Architectonics - A System of Exploring Architectural Forms in Spatial Categories" by Andrzej M. Niezabitowski - International Journal of Architectural Research (Archnet-IJAR), Vol. 3 Issue 2, July 2009

Nov 5, 12 1:55 pm

I second A Pattern Language but the language of architecture ​is the separation between urban planning and urban design.

Nov 5, 12 1:58 pm

In looking to see if I still own Architypes in Architecture (I don't), I found Bruno Zevi's The Modern Language of Architecture (1978), a book I didn't even know I had. I don't remember ever reading it (there's an old bookmark between pages 14 and 15), but I might give it a try now. Judging from the table of contents, reading the chapters in reverse order might be the most interesting.


Nov 5, 12 3:00 pm

There is a thoughtful essay about this topic in Encounters 1:  Architectural Essays, by Juhani Pallasmaa.  I believe it's entitled "The Two Languages of Architecture."  It's about twenty pages long.

Nov 7, 12 9:22 am
Erik Evens (EKE)


Despicable is a pretty strong word.  Why would you call "A Pattern Language" despicable?

Nov 7, 12 8:28 pm
Erik Evens (EKE)

I've thought a lot about this subject over the years.  I think that most of us want our buildings to have meaning and relevance, to somehow reflect our values, to say something about us and our society, to have a purpose beyond the pragmatic.

These desires say a lot about what we expect from our buildings.  In order for our built environment to achieve these goals, architects must be able to encode meaning into their creations, and then those who experience the buildings must be able to extract that meaning.  What I'm describing - the mapping of meaning into the built environment, and then the subsequent reading of that map - is an act of communication.  Communication is a transfer of information, and that transfer requires a medium of exchange.  I absolutely believe that an articulate architecture therefore requires a language.

I think that buildings communicate with us, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not.  Architects can either consciously, actively engage and craft that communication, or they can pretend that no communication is taking place, in which case they are usually talking random gibberish, often with unintended readings taking place.

I look at the specific architectural elements of a building (the "style", if you want to use that word) as the syntax of a language.  But the language is NOT the message of our architecture.  It is a higher-order abstraction.  It is a way of communicating a deeper meaning. 

style : the deep meaning of architecture

medium : message

map : territory

Nov 7, 12 8:58 pm

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