NAMING ARCHITECTURE


introduction
Blur Building. Blossom House. The Gherkin. Names greet, introduce, define and differentiate architectural works. This literature review locates a discussion on the connection between building name and building meaning in relation to established knowledge. In this paper, name refers to the title given to a building by the architect or a title which becomes common to social discourse, and which does not refer solely to the ownership of the building. To ensure that the name remains embedded in its larger context of signification I conceptualise a relationship between myth (narratives that supply frameworks of meaning) and symbol (visual abbreviations of those narratives) in conjunction with which name can be defined as a visual metaphor in which meaning can reside. Literature is sourced from linguistics, semiology and architectural theory. The paper identifies and critically reviews relevant literature surrounding major architectural concepts of language, representation, sign, and metaphor in order to determine a position for future comment on the act of naming buildings, and to suggest a framework for theorising the name.

on the language-architecture foundation
The theoretic development of the built environment has often considered architecture as language. (Summerson 7) Engagement with this paradigm from the divergent post-critical paradigm we are currently situated in requires a tentative return to a moment in history when architecture still had philosophical ambitions and held language up to itself as a mirror. Fundamentally, the language-architecture association examines how architecture meets and knows itself. The literary gaze of architecture traces two pathways. The first aims to understand language’s laws of operation as a scientific system and guide architectural production. It is exemplified by Derrida’s Grammatology. (Derrida, On Grammatology 27) The second explores the premise that all social practice can be understood as meanings, significations, and systems of exchange between objects and is manifest in architectural evaluation. (Coward and Ellis 1)

The extended decade of the 1970’s saw this search for self through language, text and literary device translate to a search for basic units of architecture and deal with the ensuing problematic of how they might combine. (Hays, Architecture's Desire: Reading the Late Avant-Garde 2) It was a self-conscious search, architecture had a renewed desire to be aware of its own critical perspective; socially, historically and, to borrow Edward Soja’s trialectic, spatially. (Soja, Thirdspace: Expanding the Scope of the Geographical Imagination 14) During this era, text written by architects was reduced to a tool for such thinking. The implications of rooting a discussion in 1970’s post-structuralist, linguistic and semantic thought today must realise that the era was not without criticism. Those that argued against the linguistic turn posed the problematic of the attempt to ‘read’ or draw ‘significance’ from a language, an architectural language, which had been so disparaged by modernism that it was forgotten. (Hays, Architecture's Desire: Reading the Late Avant-Garde 8) In a strange commonality of philosophical roots, Marxism also upheld the interfusion of form and word. (Hays, Architecture's Desire: Reading the Late Avant-Garde 5)
Any reading of the language currently used by post-critical theorists prompts awareness of the current emphasis on the effect in/of the projective, real object, rather than representation, ideas, or the relation between architecture and language. (Saunders xvii) Through this call to efficiency, the activity of architects between design and evaluation has become irrelevant, unspoken territory. In the midst of this unspoken territory sits the most widely visible and understood connection between architecture and the written word: the fact that buildings – perhaps especially ‘blob’ buildings - have names. (Toorn 56,67,74) This disregard of naming practice is remarkable, for one factor claimed by post-critical theorists to have contributed to the crisis of the critical was a postulated loss, and lack of, necessity for meaning. Where meaning may be theorised in situated use, any situating of a building by giving it a name may in turn situate meaning, undermining such a lack. (Luntley 59)
The divergence of positions on the place of language in architecture opens up the possibility of reflection and comparative evaluation. Where the deconstructive reading of literature in relation to architecture will inevitably remain locked in a process of demystification, efforts to reveal the dominating forms and exploitations of history, through Structuralist, Marxist, and typological thought, are more concerned with the role that texts play and will continue to be relevant in that they must continually “take sides” with an entities outside themselves. (Burger and Shaw xxvi)
An examination of the specifics of the language-architecture-meaning relation must also include a discussion of what text constitutes.   According to Burger, text is ‘an order of signifiers preordained by the given historical situation’ which writing engraves on us. (Burger and Shaw xxvii) Such a reading refuses to acknowledge the possibility of a material organisation of reality which exists outside or in addition to language, embedded in material and cultural reproductions. The position taken by Burger on material meaning is that the textually-organised prevailing ideology of a historical situation is designed to misinterpret the physical-psychic effects that the material world in which cultural reproduction occurs has on human beings. The effort text makes to stabilize existing ideological and economic systems of reproduction creates an illusion of satisfaction – satisfaction which undermines the potential of material experience contradicting and changing prevalent ideology. Structuralism for one failed to produce a materialist theory of language, choosing instead to rest on idealised ideology. Restraining the play of signifiers only allows individuals to understand their material experiences in select realms of consciousness. Conversely, in Sur Racine Barthes sees text as a ‘formal structure which is activated by the languages which the reader reads in it.’ (Coward and Ellis 42) Language is the material of the text, the material of that which the texts discusses might not be undermined. This is important to a discussion centred on the relation between built object (material) and name (text).
Representation of architecture is also typical to a discussion of language in architectural discourse. This relation resides in a former desire for the architectural object to be theoretic and critical; a desire which necessarily opens up a Pandora’s box of architectural thinking ranging from discourse on ornament, aesthetic theory, image, and the nature of the subject/object relation. (Archer 28; Bell 3) Representation conjures the translation of an object’s essence into another mode of knowledge. It is often argued that architecture exists only through representation. (Agrest 45) In this case, the name might be the way in which architecture is brought into being, a representation without which we cannot conceive of the architectural object. In direct opposition to this idea, Bernard Tschumi’s cinegrammatic segments are envisaged as such fundamental units of architecture that they cannot be either reduced nor translated to another mode of knowledge. (K. M. Hays 2)

on the sign
Traditional representational discourse depends on the built object having an essence; or carrying meaning, which may first understood and then re-presented. All representations call for lexis. (Barthes, Myth Today 95) Some writers even postulate that buildings invariably carry meaning – even though this meaning might not be easily accessible or able to be articulated. (Medway 256)This inability to be articulated is characteristic of Langerian ‘non-discursive symbols’ which express ideas that resist verbal projection. (Murray 22) Such a resistance prompts further widely discussed questions of whether understanding can exist beyond the realm of language, whether meaning is intrinsic or attributed, and if buildings can mean different things to different societal moments. (Portzamparc 24) These questions point to Michael Hays’s description of architecture as a way ‘of negotiating the real.’ (M. K. Hays, Architecture's Desire: Reading the Late Avant-Garde 1) Such a definition requires that architecture both impresses upon and grows within a realm of symbols and signification systems which form ‘the real’. To answer the proposed questions, Architecture is explored as a specific symbolic production – a social symbol – which constructs subjects, positions and concepts rather than things, contra the Post-Critical position. The problem underlying this system is meaning, and the problem of meaning, Barthes writes, is Semiology. (Barthes, Myth Today 95)
Signified, signifier and sign make up semiology’s canonical triad. (Barthes, The Imagination of the Sign 211) The signifier permits comprehension of the signified through the medium of the sign. Onians draws a parallel through the semiotic system between making a physical mark on the ground and naming a concept, as both mark and name are signs which permit the concept, the signified, to be shared. (Onians 194) Where for Ferdinand de Saussure this triad was purely linguistic, Roland Barthes was concerned with broader study of significations apart from content which is more relevant to architectural thinking. Yet Barthes does not shy away from discussion on the limits of semiology as a formalist science determining structure and form as inseparable. The Barthean reading results firstly in need for all criticism to ‘consent to...the artifice of analysis,’ and secondly in a necessary discussion of the consciousnesses which fold structure and form together. (Barthes, Myth Today 96) While the triad is paramount, it is also relies on the reader being conscious of it. Of semiology, Diana Agrest writes of the importance of clarifying the distinction between the ‘notion of communication and the notion of signification, and their particular relevance for architecture.’ (Agrest, Semiotics and Architecture: Ideological Consumption or Theoretical Work 115) The Barthean symbolic, paradigmatic and syntagmatic consciousnesses deal with this distinction, presenting ways in which, depending on our consciousness, significations can also communicate to us. The name is not only a signifier of a building, but also communicates the building, and thus these consciousnesses are important.
A built example of the semiotic triad is considered in the work of Venturi and Scott Brown. Their analysis finds high-architecture in a position at once hidden and exposed by a sign which is simultanetously physical(form) and textual(structure). Although unlikely, the Tan with Tanya sign is highly Barthean. (Venturi and Scott Brown 42)  Through Venturi’s work, the very nature of the signified-signifier relationship and the relation to the other is opened to scrutiny. As architecture becomes a ‘way of perceiving and constructing identities and differences,’ the signified and signifier are folded into discourse on representation. (K. M. Hays 2) In Learning from Las Vegas, the predominant ideology becomes a strategy of textual domination, a term Burger uses in his Theory of the Avant-Garde. (Burger and Shaw xxvii) This domination suppresses the expression of other signs, robbing the dominated of the necessary language to interpret their situation. The billboards proclaim the dominant, acceptable textual language which becomes the sole method for understanding the material world. The paradigmatic and syntagmatic consciousnesses are disallowed. In Learning from Las Vegas, the public sphere is completely quantified by the culture industry. Such mass mediatisation of text, according to Adorno, blocks our somatic experiences through dominating the system with images, spectacles, and representations. (Burger and Shaw xviii)

on the nature of the sign
Connecting spatial order and linguistic order, a building name is a specific type of signifier: a metaphor which is produced by transferring the name of one thing to another thing with a different name. (Ruggeri 104) Walter Benjamin presents an early theoretic interest in the power of the act of naming with regard to human language as well as pictures. The act of naming is for Benjamin the connection between the picture and the word, or, in artistic schools, the composition. (Benjamin 224)  To name, then, is to concern oneself with the action of combining, with orientation, and with resulting relations. Applying names to things can then be described as metaphorical; and for many philosophers including Rousseau, metaphor is the origin of language. (Derrida, Writing and Difference 382) In architecture, metaphors have been noted to travel back and forth between theoretical writing and practice. (Ruggeri 105) Metaphor not only arises in both modes of thinking (theoretical and practiced) but is also shared and shifted between the two. (Caballero 101) It speaks of the transferred while encouraging new transference.
Although metaphoric language pervades architectural linguistic interaction, there is little discussion of how and why it this pervasion occurs. (Caballero 2)  Rosario Callabero, in Re-Viewing Space, writes that the prolific architectural use of metaphor is more than advertorial – it is both a productive rhetoric device towards achieving end goals, and a convention of building evaluation. This view of metaphor, though relatively silent, is not new - Early Christian buildings are recorded as ‘embodiments of metaphor rather than the other way round.’ (Onians 199) The comment on metaphor as productive device echoes Derrida’s note that metaphors are ‘never innocent: the orient research and fix results. (Derrida, Writing and Difference 17) In the case of naming, then, we are dealing with an explicit metaphor which is superimposed on a perceived term which is itself the product of an underlying metaphor. (Ruggeri 105) This further complicates the nature of the signifier and the sign. If it is possible that the nature of the signifier is metaphorical, we might then be dealing with a second-order semiological system such as that of Myth.
Mythology is the combination of semiology and ideology, studying what Barthes terms ideas-in-form. (Barthes, Myth Today 97) This combination is produced by the staggering of a secondary semiological system, the metalanguage, in relation to the primary semiological system, the language-object. (Barthes, Myth Today 100) The sign of language is the signifier of myth. The resulting re-terming of signifier, signifier and sign is important. On the plane of language the signifier is meaning, and on the plane of myth it is form. The signified is always the concept. The sign of language is the signification of myth.  The terms meaning, form, and concept are all pertinent to the earlier discussion of architecture in the post-critical age, and if the name is a myth and thus incorporates these terms, make a case for the current importance of its consideration.

on communication
Perhaps what Barthes establishes most clearly is myth as a system of communication, answering Agrest’s call for clarification. (Barthes, Myth Today 93; Agrest in Nesbitt 115.) Myth is not defined by the object of its message, but by its method of delivery. Following this, a myth ‘cannot possibly be an object, a concept or an idea; it is a mode of signification, a form’. (Barthes, Myth Today 93) Endowing forms with substance turns us toward superficial judgement and away from critical analysis. In this presentation of myth as system of communication Barthes presents a ruler against which we can measure other systems of communication, and a framework through which we can understand relationships inside that system.
System of communication also implies the ability of the audience to decipher the myth. Barthes proposes that the insistent repetition of the concept through different forms reveals its intention. (Barthes, Myth Today 106) Against this, Edward Soja argues that meaning is drawn from buildings through a critical perspective, which may be social, historical or spatial. (E. W. Soja, Thirdspace: journeys to Los Angeles and other real-and-imagined places 5)  We return again to the question of whether meaning is intrinsic or attributed. Burger proposes that instead of being a master of an objective world, consciousness – which I use here as a term to denote the cognition and processing of the sign –might be conceptualised as an ‘effect of social and unconscious processes which it could never “know”’. (Burger and Shaw xvii)  The extrapolation of this model is that any myth which might express a general meaning of the world is a theoretic fiction – a meaning composed by the social, historic and spatial consciousnesses of the audience. In this case, meaning is not an intrinsic property of an isolated sign, but is defined by the differences of values that are established between signs within a formal system of relations – what Saussure terms the langue (Holdcroft 108). Aligned with this is Seligmann’s proposal that metaphors are culturally validated, if ‘parasitic’. (Seligmann, 24)
In light of this discussion on meaning and value, emphasis on the epistemological questions grounding this proposal should not overshadow consideration of architecture’s role in the public sphere of cultural production. Metaphors  Bachelard writes that semiology covers the ‘sciences dealing with values,’ and according to Barthes, myth is a value, but ‘truth is no guarantee for it.’ (Barthes, Myth Today 95, 109). While socially, literature’s place beside architecture can be said to allow individuals to understand their material experiences as ‘consciously as they can’, Ruggeri argues that signifiers are always arbitrary and metaphor pushes this arbitrariness to the limit.  (Burger and Shaw xvii; Ruggeri 106) To this conversation, Harries adds that as a response to Post-Criticism, architecture is currently expressing a passionate desire to escape arbitrariness. (Harries, 17) If the signifiers are arbitrary, but society values them regardless, the role of the sign in the public sphere might be more aligned to Foucault’s analysis of buildings not ‘as instruments of consciousness or as a prescriptive of social relations, but rather as capable of deploying power,’ negating the arbitrary in a more holistic manner. (Archer 430) Such a discussion will guide a further exploration on the value – and effect - of naming to the public realm.

This literature review has contextualised the proposed research on the relation between the act of naming architecture and meaningful architecture.  A historic overview of the linguistic turn provided a seat for the discussion, which then categorised its territory in terms of sign, metaphor, myth and value.   Name, while aligned with many well documented discussions, is not once discussion in relation to the architectural object specifically. The literature review is therefore most useful in its provision of concepts for conceptualising the name and its bringing together of disparate systems for understanding the act of naming.   
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