Rasmussen and Architecture

A painter’s sketch is a purely personal document; his brush stroke is as individual as his handwriting; an imitation of it is a forgery. This is not true of architecture. The architect remains anonymously in the background. Here again he resembles the theatrical producer. His drawings are not an end in themselves, a work of art, but simple a set of instructions, an aid to the craftsmen who construct his buildings. He delivers a number of completely impersonal plan drawings and typewritten specifications. They must be so unequivocal that there will be no doubt about the construction  he composes the music which others will play. Furthermore, in order to understand architecture fully, it must be remembered that the people who play it are not sensitive musicians interpreting another’s score–giving it special phrasing, accentuating one thing or another in the work. On the contrary, they are a multitude of ordinary people who, like ants toiling together to build an ant-hill, quite impersonally contribute their particular skills to the whole, often without understanding that which they are helping to create. Behind them is the architect who organizes the work, and architecture might well be called an art of organization. The building is produced like a motion picture without star performers, a sort of documentary film with ordinary people playing all the parts.

Compared with other branches of art, all this may seem quite negative; architecture is incapable of communicating an intimate, personal message from one person to another; it entirely lacks emotional sensitivity. But this very fact leads to something positive. The architect is forced to seek a form which is more explicit and finished than a sketch or personal study. Therefore, architecture has a special quality of its own and great clarity. The fact that rhythm and harmony have appeared at all in architecture–whether a medieval cathedral or the most modern steel-frame building–must be attributed to the organization which is the underlying idea of the art.

– Steen Eiler Rasmussen, Experiencing Architecture pps. 12-14

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5 Responses to Rasmussen and Architecture

  1. I don’t mean to be overly negative, but what is your point? Since this book was written in the 1950s architects have had to relinquish only more control, and it is left to the so-called forces of the market to ‘organize’ architecture. In addition only 90% of buildings is done by architects. In light of both these facts the question for me would be how Rasmussen can still be relevant. To refer to Rasmussen is to refer to a romanticized notion of what the role of an architect used to be. Any thoughts?

    • kunzelman says:

      I don’t know why you’re so aggressive on this, but I’m interested in the quotation (and the book) precisely because of how much control is relinquished by the architect.

      • I did not intend to be aggressive but I tried to raise a serious point with respect to the current validity of the text, which you partially answered. When I was asked to teach a class with this book of Rasmussen as required reading I noticed how the text did not appeal to my students at all. If you take all this effort of quoting I am curious as to what you think, and whether you agree, disagree or where you think we should go next. I intended my comment to be an open question to you, or anybody, instead of offering the usual ‘like’ – thumbs up, this is awesome comment.
        If I had the answer I would not have asked the question, but I think the validity of our profession is a real issue to be debated.

        • kunzelman says:

          I don’t have an answer for you. I’m not in the business of defending architecture scholars, and pretty obviously you are reading something into my intent that doesn’t exist. I’m not in the profession of architecture, and amazingly, I can read a appreciate something that has very little pragmatic use to me. I think Rasmussen is providing a really interesting model for how buildings, as structures, constantly escape the grasp of their creators. That’s it.

          • Okidoki. Thanks for taking the time to answer Kunzelman. In case you’re interested, a writer like Juhani Pallasmaa (the thinking hand) takes the discourse of Rasmussen further. It’s a good read. You may want to look into it, in spite of the fact that it is coming from a overly pragmatic and belligerent individual!

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