The Imagist Theory of Architecture— Endowing Forms with Ideas, Perceiving Ideas through Forms. A mode of architectural creation that marries poetic composition and Eastern philosophy.
Imagery——Object image、Representation image、Mental image、Impressed image、Imagined image、Abstract image、Synaesthetic image、Artistic conception、Mood…
Object image: the source for objective items. Refers to items' objective state of being in and of themselves.
Representation image: the current, changeable form of the object image. The visual representation of objective items, i.e. how the objective items are defined or represented.
Mental image: the specific human perception of an object image via its representation. The specific form and posture of human thought or emotional activity brought about by the representations of objects. It even applies to imagined items that do not objectively exist (When the human brain processes the direct image of an existent item, it may produce new images of nonexistent items, such as ghosts, deities...)
Impressed image: a mental image stored deep in the memory of a human brain. It refers to a way mental judgement happens, an imprint left by objective items on a human brain, and the most impressive one of diverse images of an objective item.
Imagined image: a divergent impressed image formed through associations and reconstruction in the human brain. It refers to a special way mind works, and a mental process that a human brain processes a representation image stored in human memory into a new image. It can go beyond spatiotemporal restrictions and foresee the future.
Abstract image: a rational expression of the imagined image after a process of conception, analysis, and reasoning. It refers to a methodology that can reflect the nature and laws of objective items, and a mental process of abstracting common and defining features from a multitude of objective items (i.e. perceiving the essence through the phenomenon).
Synaesthetic image: a comprehensive cognitive expression of the imagined image and the abstract image. A synaesthetic form of thinking where, under certain conditions, vision, hearing, taste, touch, and smell interconnect and are transformed due to a perception of commonality or symmetry among imagery or with the use of a certain image.
Artistic conception: the spatiotemporal memory and perception of the synaesthetic image. It refers to spatiotemporal existence and movement in the mind, and tends to be captured when novel unity of form and spirit, magic fusion of feeling and rationality and perfect balance between imagination and reality happen. It can evoke a sense of epiphany that will generate countless musings but go beyond description in any specific words.
Mood: the emotional state triggered by artistic conception. It refers to the inner life of a human being, and an emotional state that is subtle, calm, lasting and infectious, which has an impact on human saying and doing, emotion, mind, lifestyle and view of life.
Origin of imagery
Imagery is spiritual image generated after mental activities of a creator. It is the basic unit of mental activity and the tool and element of thinking .
China's imagist theory originated during the Spring and Autumn and the Warring States periods. The Great Treatise II, Book of Changes (Chinese: 周易·系辞; pinyin: Zhou Yi Xi Ci) says: "In ancient times, Bao-xi came to rule all under heaven. Looking up, he contemplated the brilliant forms exhibited in the sky. Looking down, he surveyed the patterns shown on the earth. He contemplated the ornamental appearances of birds and beasts and (different) suitabilities of the soil. Near at hand, in his own person, he found things for consideration, just as at a distance, he found things in general. Upon these observations, he devised the eight trigrams, to fully exhibit the attributes of the spirit-like and intelligent (the secret operations), and to classify the qualities of the myriad things." The Great Treatise I, Book of Changes says: "The sages erected emblems to give full expression to their ideas. They appointed (all) the diagrams to fully reveal the truth and falsehood (of things). They appended explanations to give the full expression of their words. They changed (various lines) and generalized a method for doing so, to fully exhibit what was advantageous. They (thus) stimulated (the people) as by drums and dances, thereby completely developing the quality of spirit-like." The concepts of "devising the eight trigrams from observations" and "creating one's emblems to best express one's ideas" were proposed. In a narrow sense, "Xiang" refers to the trigram that describes object images across the multitude of things. Later, "Xiang" began to be used in fields such as history, philosophy, and art. It is found in Liu Xie's work Literary Mind and the Carving of Dragons (Chinese: 文心雕龙; pinyin: Wen Xin Diao Long); it was thus during the period of the Northern and Southern dynasties that the word "Yi Xiang (imagery)" was first put forward explicitly. In the chapter Spirit Thought (Chinese: 神思; pinyin: Shen Si) on artistic imagination and conception, Liu Xie says: "It is only then that he commissions the 'mysterious butcher' [who dwells within him] to write in accord with musical patterns; and it is then that he sets the incomparably brilliant 'master wheelwright' [who dwells within him] to wield the ax in harmony with his intuitive insight". The word "Yi Xiang" is suggested here for the first time, marking the proper start of imagist theory in traditional Chinese culture. Mr. Tong Qingbing defined imagery in A Course on Literary Theories that "Imagery is image loaded with artistic conception with conveying philosophical concepts as the goal and symbolicity or absurdity as basic features. It is a prime example of art."
Art is defined in the Modern Chinese Dictionary as "an expression form of culture in which social ideologies images to reflect a reality that is more typical than the reality itself. It contains literature, architecture, painting, sculpture, music, dance, drama, film, folk art, crafts, etc."
Ancient Chinese imagist theory falls under ancient Chinese literature and aesthetics in which "imagery" as a both old and new motif is steeped in history and culture. As an integral part of traditional Chinese culture, imagery has experienced an evolution process from a historical, philosophical and cultural concept to a literary, art and aesthetic one.
Traditional Chinese aesthetics believes that aesthetic activities are to construct a world of imageries beyond the physical world, and the world is right the object of aesthetics. "Imagery" in the field of aesthetics is characterized by fusion of feelings and scenes. It refers to not only object image and representation image in the objective world, but also mental image, impressed image, abstract image and synaesthetic image generated progressively in a human brain through mental activities and artistic conception and even mood in depth transformed therefrom at last. Aesthetic activity, not just about cognition, but also about experience, is human mental activity beyond rationality. What lies at the very core of Chinese aesthetics is not discovering laws governing the beauty of formality or discussing laws governing artistic creation, but highlighting attitudes creators take towards life . In Chinese aesthetics, therefore, man and nature are in free communication like spirit and material. There is no restriction from outside, but a natural state can be generated, which creates the ideal attitude towards life.
The main types of imageries in aesthetics:
1. Simulated image: the imagery created by a subject by imitating the form of the world of objects. The imagery and the object it imitates are similar or even alike in perceptual and concrete forms, and the subject tends to take a back seat.
2. Affective image: the imagery generated on the basis of an affective and association process inspired by a certain object image on the showcase provided by the subject for receivers to trigger feelings and activate imagination with the object image from the objective world as guidance.
3. Metaphorical image: the imagery created by the subject by selecting a certain object image from the objective world and endowing it with symbolic significance.
4. Abstract image: the imagery that can arouse the readers' aesthetic emotion with certain pure formalist symbols instead of concrete images created by the subject through refining and subliming a certain object image in his/her brain.
Literature is a type of art that visually reflects the objective reality with languages. As an important expression form of social culture, it includes poetry, novels, and dramas. The four elements of literature are: world, author, work, and reader. The world here mainly refers to the social life or social reality reflected in literary activities. Poetry is the source of human literature and the earliest literary genre. It evolved from work songs (later developed into folk songs) and prayers in ancient times. Poetry is a rhythmic and emotional linguistic form rooted in labor and production, love, primitive religion and other aspects of ancient social life. Western culture represented by the Hellenic culture regards poetry as an imitation art that reproduces the outside world, while Eastern culture represented by the Chinese culture considers poetry as an expression form of human feelings and musings.
In China, poetry is the ultimate in traditional Chinese aesthetics. As a mainstream literary form of ancient China, it embodies the essentials of Chinese culture in the oldest, most artistic form. Poetry creation is a process of reproducing life through observation, feeling, musing, and expression during which unique images will be created by poets from object images through his/her feeling activities. They are artistic images that are more subjective and disparate from the real life and can be perceived by man . Sikong Tu says: "The moment imagery presents itself, making of nature ingeniously happens." Poetry creation cannot be separated from imagery, and imagery is the source and focus of poetry creation and the soul of poetry art.
"Being compelling is the ultimate goal of poetry; compellingness tends to be achieved through ostensible challenges to convention over an underlying fidelity to poetics." Poetry is a combination of concise and vivid images created by the poet that are able to shock and resonate with an audience. A good poem must construct a perfect world of imageries which generally can be divided into two categories: natural imagery and cultural imagery.
1. Natural imagery: the images related to nature which mainly include natural existent items. For example: the sun, the moon and stars, rivers, lakes and seas, flowers and trees, birds and beasts, weathers and seasons. (The commonly seen natural imageries include the moon, wind, smoke, frost, falling flowers, running water, setting sun, willow, lotus, plantain, wintersweet, orchid, bamboo and chrysanthemum, rhododendron, crow, goose, ape, cicada, mandarin duck, partridge, . . .)
2. Cultural imagery: the images related to human activities which mainly include artificial creations. For example: figures, buildings, and behaviors. (The commonly seen cultural imageries include pavilions, terraces and towers, bridges, boats, mirrors, wine, candles, ascending a height, picking up willow branches, drinking, . . .)
Based on these imageries, all genres of poems on a variety of themes are created. Some are narrative and some lyric. Some are about farewell, frontiers and landscapes, and some nostalgia, chanting, mourning and allegory .
Architecture developed from shelters built by primitive people to avoid wind, rain and beasts, and into a visual art with symbolic significance that adapts to changing human activities and social forms and meets functional needs. Therefore, it demonstrates the perfect combination of functionality and aesthetics and technology and art.
Vitruvius, an ancient Roman architect, first put forward the concepts of making buildings "practical, sturdy and beautiful" in the Ten Books on Architecture, from which the three elements of the architectural composition are derived: architectural function, architectural technology and architectural artistic art.
Architectural function, the first fundamental element of architecture, refers to the functionality. It reflects the needs of building occupants or the purposes of buildings. Each building serves a certain function. Architectural function develops with changing social forms and flourishing material culture, so it varies from time to time, from region to region and from stratum of society to stratum of society. As a result, different types of buildings are designed.
Architectural technology is the means to make construction possible. It includes construction materials, structural design, construction equipment and construction techniques, providing a guarantee of safety, solidity and durability. It has been improving and innovating as productivity and science and technology advance, bringing more possibilities for construction.
Architectural artistic image refers to the specific expression of what a building feels like internally and externally. It includes architectural shape, spatial organization, facade composition, material texture and color, processing of details, and the application of light and shadow. People of different times, nationalities, regions, and cultures have different understandings of architectural images. Architectural artistic image is the comprehensive manifestation of architectural function, architectural technology, and aesthetics. For excellent architectural design, the artistic image should be able to mirror regional and contemporary production level, cultural tradition and social zeitgeist.
Every building, either present or past, at home or abroad, is created with specific purpose and use need. It should not only satisfy the living needs of individuals or groups, but also, in many cases, other needs of the entire society. Providing people with a certain physical space is the basic function of architecture. Given that people cannot live isolated from the society, the connection between architecture and society is complicated. As man possesses the unique ability of thinking and mental activity, the tremendous impact of architecture on human feelings must be taken into consideration. Excellent architecture should meet both physical and the spiritual needs, so as to affect and resonate with people emotionally, make architecture infectious artistically and reach a certain height of artistic creation.
Each building has different features and artistic images given its specificity to times and regions, purposes, and technologies. Other things such as times, regions and architectural purposes and technologies being equal, architectural artistic images embodied in architecture works will still differ sharply as different architects would use different architectural imageries, have different architectural purposes and follow different architectural ideas.
All forms of artistic creation must put conception first. Architectural creation shares great similarity with literary and poetry creation, so a touching architectural space, like a good poem, should have a good source of imageries.
The world today is undergoing major changes with globalization, which has become a main trend in the human society, like it or not. The boundaries in culture, economy, and politics across the world are being blurred. In the process of globalization, the flow of material and cultural products has broken down constraints between regions and national borders, and exerted influence on every corner of the world . Cultural globalization is a process in which respect for differences is gradually realized. It promotes equal exchange and dialogue, builds consensus through communication, finds common ground among different cultures, thereby realizing "harmony in diversity". However, globalization comes as a double-edged sword for some local cultures, for it may nibble away at some weak local cultures' inner strength and self-renewal ability. As the world becomes more and more globalized, more and more common ground will be found between worldwide civilizations.
In the field of architecture, information is highly accessible and shareable with information globalization. By sharing information, people are undergoing changes in terms of world outlook, view of life and values according to mainstream ideologies. As a result, different lifestyles all over the world tend to be harmonized, hence great similarity in architectural functional needs worldwide. As globalization bridges the differences between worldwide countries in architectural technologies, architectural means has been diversified on the one hand and harmonized on the other hand. Against the backdrop, differences are narrowing all over the world, and even disappearing in some regions. As architectural function and architectural technology become harmonized, architectural images have grown anonymous, and more and more architects are trying to figure out a fix.
Most regions has seen the end of material deprivation as globalization goes on. Mental needs have become the principal contradiction in the society in place of material needs. Advances in science and technology have greatly improved the physical living environment and enriched the mental life of mankind. Yet as science and technology grow in leaps and bounds, people's spiritual needs have been severely ignored, leaving many people all over the world mentally empty. Most of today's architectural theories in the world are from the West. In the era when mental needs are valued, these excessively rational theories are becoming more and more restrictive as they become increasingly unable to satisfy people's mental needs although they can well meet people's material needs. It's all the more so in China, a country steeped in history and culture and embracing perceptual thinking.
As mentioned above, poetry creation and architectural creation have a lot in common. Poetry creation is an art of language and writing. By using imageries loaded with feelings, poets can treat the same words in different ways, bringing out artistic conception in its myriad forms. The direct imageries of a poet for poetry creation come from his/her perceptual life since childhood, and the indirect imageries derive from his/her reading. Imagery is the basic element of poetry which tends to use highly condensed artistic images to evoke imagination and produce magical aesthetic effects. But in ancient poems, many imageries have well-established meaning, and are more than object images, but affective symbols pregnant with cultural connotation. Ancient poets often used their symbolic meaning to express their musings and feelings. With the architectural function and the architectural technology basically the same, architects can meet the functional requirements and create various artistic images following different ideas and concepts on architectural creation. In this regard, "endowing forms with ideas and perceiving ideas through forms" is a cyclical process. Architects conduct architectural creation with associated architectural image according to the architectural purpose and architectural technology to generate ultimate architectural artistic images so as to express the symbolic meaning and guiding principle of architecture and the ideas and concepts of architects; architecture experiencers integrate their own emotions, imagination and cognition for the reinterpretation of the architectural image, thus a new architectural image can be formed other than that constructed by the architect. The original image and the new image can serve as the source of future creation . . .
There are tremendous differences in aesthetic concepts between the East and the West. Westerners emphasize the formal and logical thinking based on conception, reasoning, and analysis, and believe that beauty is scrutable with analytical inferences based on a set of theories. Therefore, the "beauty of mathematical sciences" and similar concepts are acceptable in Western society . Easterners focus on holistic and associative thinking based on perception, intuition, and experience. In the Oriental thinking, beauty is invisible throughout daily life and is a type of imagery that "cannot be explained linguistically but can only be perceived insightfully." Beauty is the path through which people can return to the origin of life. As different people approach life differently, beauty is related to different imageries. An architect's creation is based on his/her past experience and subjective imageries to reconstruct his/her inner imageries. Field visit, onsite investigation, collection of materials, and construction of prototypes have strengthened these imageries. But as different creators choose different imageries, the final results will vary sharply. The architectural image in the mind of experiencers is closely related to their ideology. It is the reorganization and reproduction of past perception and memory in the mind. Such reproduction is inspired by the concrete architectural image created by the architect, and contributes to a collective awareness through the media.
While highlighting individuality, architectural imagery should be selected in a rational manner based on architectural purpose, regional culture and natural science. For many architectural designers, architectural imagery is not forethought, but afterthought. Such a way is not convincing enough, and will cause a meaningless jumble of architectural imageries as there is no unified thought. To choose a proper imagery means that the work should boast the functional imagery it represents or accommodates, and fully demonstrate its architectural purpose. The most fascinating thing about architectural imagery is on the cusp between similarity and dissimilarity, like the blank space in traditional Chinese paintings. Such ambiguity will stimulate the unconscious from people with different experiences, which is processed and turned into the collective awareness. An architectural imagery that suits both refined and popular tastes can arouse sympathy and provoke thoughts from experiencers.
Imagery is the medium through which man and nature communicate. Nature is the source of imagery and wisdom, and architecture combines the two. Human thought comes from human cognition and interpretation of the world, i.e. imagery, and decides human attitudes towards nature and thus the relationship between architecture and nature. The Oriental philosophical thought represented by Chinese philosophy that seeks "harmony between man and nature" fully embodies the aspiration for the harmonic coexistence between man and nature.
The word "hermit" in "Archermit" comes from the imagery of "harmony between man and nature" and is the abstract expression of Chinese philosophy of seeking "harmony between man and nature". Based on a proven track record in imagist architectural creation and a sound combination of the Western architectural theories established around reason and the Eastern imagery aesthetics, Archermit proposes the poetic architectural creation method for "imagist architecture". By doing so, Archermit tries to blaze a new trail that can deal with current mental emptiness crisis, sustain architectural practice and application and develop the "imagist theory of architecture" into a universally applicable Eastern architectural theory.
Imagist architecture is an abstract form of architectural expression rooted in ancient Chinese philosophy that seeks harmony between man and nature. Out of longing for a poetic lifestyle and the reproduction of scenes, it is a process of architectural creation that starts with feeling but ends with rationality. Proceeding from the regional culture, natural sciences, and architectural purposes, imagist architecture will start with advance imagination of overall artistic conception, conduct abstract construction of architectural imageries and use them for the core spirit and thought of architecture, and further as the guidance on the architectural function, architecture form and design of construction materials. Finally, proper technology will be chosen so as to satisfy the material and mental needs of man, nature and architecture.
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