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From Composition to Composure; A search for the essence

Part 1 Dissertation 1999
Stuart Bertie
University of Portsmouth Portsmouth UK
To the architectural mind, there seem to be certain ‘images’, whether they be drawn, photographed, or a work of art, that are instantly capable of attracting attention, simply, or not so simply because they ‘look right’. They appear to be resolved, immutable in fact. Being able to pinpoint this idea of resolution is, perhaps, rather intriguing.

There is something tangible yet elusive, that gives this resolution. There may be one or several mechanisms being employed in order to achieve a balance in any one image. I believe that these mechanisms or devices reflect the need for classification and order in the human race.

This is an investigation into the quality of composure, not about the workings of the human mind, a subject which has been covered in countless other publications. The paths that could be taken in this piece of work are wide and varied, indeed there are far too many avenues that would warrant a valid investigation. Therefore there has to be a particular field within all of these categories to create an order simply to allow this study to proceed. In order to limit this study I have made a conscious decision to investigate purely two dimensional characteristics of architectural composition in orthoganal projection. In order to place the emphasis on the two dimensional characteristic that I am interested in the use of plans, sections and elevations, there needs to be a further controlling of the field of study. With each example a conscious decision has been made to consider only the representation shown on the page. There is a great temptation to write about the building itself rather than its two dimensional representation. For this reason the categories involve the use of three building types and three recognised means of representing a building, ie plan section and elevation.

The examples given and analysed in this dissertation are seminal works and each investigation will attempt to reveal some of the processes involved in creating such a harmony and balance.

This is the search for the essence.

Stuart Bertie


This dissertation bravely addresses the difficult and perhaps subjective question of why it is some plans, sections and elevations, in the abstract, two dimensional image, just seem so damned right. Perfect in fact.

All architects seem to recognise such resolution on the page, yet what is it that is so right?

This work adopts a technique of drawing out and abstracting the orthogonal projection in a process of subtraction, to attempt to get to the fundamental composition. In doing so the work not only analyses some paradigms of Twentieth Century architecture, discovering the value of asymmetry along the way for example, but also makes a journey from the composition to the composure.

Some rather beautiful new images emerge that are neither the original architecture nor an imaginary construct, but a truly perceptive interpretation on mature hallmarks of quality.

1999
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