Title: Sign, Language, Building: Eco, Broabent, Bofill
Work: Master’s Dissertation
Date: 2019

Details: The paper resumes an interdisciplinary research into the theory of architecture in relation to semiotics and linguistics, as it was developed during the ‘60s and since, as well as the way in which this context enriches the analysis of works of architecture.

It approaches the connection of the communicative side of architecture, the form, to the way it is being perceived through codes, and the process of categorizing architectural signs.

The topic was perceived as an investigation on the analogy between language and architecture, and the role of linguistic structures in the architectural design process.

The paper begins with tracing historical parallels between language and architecture, in various fields and times. Later, the dipole is focused on texts by Geoffrey Broadbent and Umberto Eco, discussing architecture in the context of semiotics. In the last chapter, a semiotic model deriving from the previous theoretical analysis, is applied on the early works of Catalan architect Ricardo Bofill.

The approach of architecture as a language is not a new idea: the ‘archeology’ of the relationship starts from antiquity, continues during the Renaissance, and later in Romanticism. This theory was not transformed into a crystallized architectural language (if that were possible), but into the creation of an examination of architectural design based on linguistic analysis. The object of examination is the body of architecture, as an infinite field of ideas, which includes a set of basic elements, interrelated on the basis of a system of rules (syntax) and capable of carrying a meaning (semiotic).

However, the phrase "architecture is a language", as commonplace as it may sound, requires effort to establish. It is also obvious that the epistemological approach in which this parallel is included presupposes its sharp documentation for any theoretical formulation. Two main currents of application of linguistic analogy are clearly identified, referring to the two basic levels of analysis of natural language: syntax and semantics.

Geoffrey Broadbent is an architectural theorist, originally best known for his book Design in Architecture (1973), an attempt to correlate the way people perceive and experience architecture through other sciences. His interdisciplinary approach and his involvement with the communicative dimension of the built space turns his interest to the relationship between architecture and semiotics.

Umberto Eco in his text "Function and sign: the Semiotics of Architecture", which is an excerpt from his book The absent structure (1968), studies architecture in the light of semiotics, as a point system that functions as a means of communication. The basis of the theory is the definition of the point in architecture, as the presence of a means of expression that characterizes its possible function. 

Ricardo Bofill, in 1963 brought together a group of architects, sociologists, writers, directors and philosophers, called Taller de Arquitectura. During this period Spain was facing a critical housing situation due to insufficient housing, and in the early years the team designed housing estates that met the needs of the growing size of cities, characterized by a strong social consciousness and the search for new affordable lifestyles that would be reflected in the design. The notion of symbolism is an integral part of their work, knowing a great change in the way of approach during the 1970s. The design philosophy of Taller de arquitectura, based on this search for architectural structure from its inception, is transformed after the completion of the first residential complexes and apartment buildings that they implement, in a complete proposal of urban housing on a larger scale. Through the construction experience and the realization of their ideology in the space, an ambitious design emerges that envisions a new society.


︎ Marianna Tsapepa, 2020