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Rejection or Reinvention - The Decriminalisation of Ornament

Part 2 Dissertation 2007
Emma Fairhurst
Emma Fairhurst
Newcastle University | UK
Ornament became a major issue of debate during the Modern Movement in architecture. Traditional ornament came to be regarded as a superfluous element, as the drive toward reduction and simplicity altered the way in which architecture was considered. It was claimed that ornament had been rejected. However, the Modernists actually dramatically altered the concept what ornament could be, transforming it from a three-dimensional, literal ornament that took inspiration from history and nature, to a mainly two-dimensional ornament inspired by the nature of materials and the capabilities of the machine. The emergence of Postmodernism called for a move toward diversity, complexity and contradiction, with representation, image and communication often seen as the basis of ornamentation.

Contemporary architecture is now witnessing the emergence of a new form of ornamentation that is the inheritor of this longstanding debate about the role of ornament in architecture. Recent publications have signalled a distinct shift in attitudes toward ornamentation in architecture. It is now being supported and encouraged. Under the influence of Postmodernism surface has become central to this new debate, with the use of images to decorate facades again being advocated. However this is now being united with modernist principles to create an ornament that is altogether more suble, honest and responsive. Applied ornament was the most vehemently rejected form of ornament in the modern era. Although it is now embraced, in a bid to avoid the label, 'superfluous', it is often justified as a functional element.

The thesis follows a chronological structure in the history of ornament: Rejection, Reinvention and Reintroduction. In order to identify the roots of the rejection of ornament by the Modernists Chapter One looks to the ideas of nineteenth century architects that were their sources. Chapter Two questions the contradictions in Modern architectural theory and practice regarding ornamentation and the impact this has had on the ideas emerging today. Chapter Three demonstrates how this led to the reintroduction of recognisable contemporary ornament, which is only possible because of the radical transformations instigated by Modernism and Postmodernism.

Emma Fairhurst
Emma Fairhurst

This student's basic approach of questioning typical assumptions about the role of ornament in architectural theory, convincingly argues for the continued necessity of positioning contemporary design against the background of modernist and post-modernist historical developments. This fascinating topic is pursued here with intelligence and boldness, visually very well presented, using a judicious choice of examples. On the whole, the student shows a high degree of original thinking and a good grasp of the source materials.

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