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Finding a Foothold: Architectural Meaning in the Post-war Period

Part 1 Dissertation 2004
Chris Foges
London Metropolitan University UK
This dissertation is concerned with what and how architecture might Œmean¹.
While many early modernists asserted that architecture could and should only
ever talk about itself, in the post-war period calls grew for a redefinition
of the terms of modernism, to include a wider role for Œmeaning¹ as a
function. In this context, Le Corbusier¹s chapel at Ronchamp, itself
described by James Stirling as evidence of a Œcrisis of rationalism¹,
epitomises the central concern of the age. Here, it is used as a case study
through which contemporary ideas on meaning and architecture, drawn from
linguistics and philosophy, are assessed.

In the second part of the dissertation, post-war British modernism is
considered. Here again, it is arguable that concerns over how and, more
important, why architecture might carry Œmeaning¹ is the focus of dispute in
an architectural landscape Charles Jencks has described as a Œscarred
battlefield¹. Pitted against one another are, on one hand, an architecture
so committed to the avoidance of monumentality, or the possibility of
Œembalmed¹ meanings, that it aims for complete dematerialisation, and on the
other, a new commitment to fixedness, place, and identity.

Both positions were informed and underpinned by an understanding of
architecture and society that was intensely political and specific to a
particular period in time. In conclusion, therefore, the dissertation
explores the relevance of such a debate to contemporary architectural
practice, and considers the possibility of an architecture that is
responsive to changing needs while acting as a support for both an
individual and a collective sense of identity - an architecture that
responds to the human experience of being in place and time.

Chris Foges

This dissertation’s sense of its own form is subtle and self-assured. Seen retrospectively, the sequence of subjects is not surprising, but as they happen the individual moves all contain the unexpected. None of the regular players, Reyner Banham, say, or Cedric Price, plays quite the role we are used to. The student knits together projects and contemporary statements about them in an effortless way; anyone who has tried to do this knows how difficult it is. There is much more to say about meaning in architecture, of course, but he is consistently provocative in his forays into the territory and sets a large number of interesting ideas in motion in the short space.

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