Affectation in Architecture: Combining Two Approaches

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Infinity pool at Amandari Resort. Photo credit: TripAdvisor

The greater digital availability of visual material and other sources of architectural information has greatly increased the audience for building projects, whilst allowing those audiences to experience, react and reflect on the works in real time. This challenges a bias in traditional written discourse towards singular narratives by reintroducing the notions ‘seeing’ and ‘sensing’ in architectural criticism.

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Excerpt from Moussavi’s The Function of Style (2014)

Architectural theorists Farshid Moussavi and Juhani Pallasmaa respond to this shift differently in their respective works. In The Function of Style, Moussavi reintroduces the notion of ‘style’ through an updated set of architectural typologies. 20th century architect Le Corbusier famously declared that ‘the styles are a lie’; weighed down by history, ‘style’ had been reduced to ‘-isms’ that were overly prescriptive, and detached from critically engaging with the building itself.

Instead, Moussavi categorises parts of buildings by affect – a description of how each contributes to the experience of a space – which are then strung together to create a profile of the building. A systematic way of understanding the building is maintained but with a degree of flexibility; new ‘affects’ can be added without historicising older entries. Although the building is broken down as a combination of architectural parts, there is an implicit understanding that they recombine into distinct ‘affects’ that capture the actual experience of the space. Far from being a stilted, superficial quality, evaluating the ‘style’ of a building is then a comprehensive, comparative evaluation of the meaning of the space as experienced. However, the categories of ‘affects’ are too broad and generic, making it difficult to capture nuanced interpretations of space as intended. 

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“The door handle is the handshake of the building”- Door Handle Detail at Chandigarh. Photo Credit: Julian Weyer

Pallasmaa’s descriptions, in contrast retain an evocative quality, capturing concepts such as Acoustic Intimacy; Bodily Identification; Space of Scent, The Shape of Touch. The key to these notions is their open ended-ness and the freedom to associate with a wider range of human senses through analogy. Whereas Moussavi offers the viewers a framework to work from, Pallasmaa’s methodology works as a set of heuristics, leaving room for the references and associations each user brings into a subjective interpretation of these sensations. However, in emphasising the poetics of the lived experience, the descriptions become inconsistent and difficult to communicate.

One way of combining the lucid quality of Pallasmaa’s methods and the consistency of Moussavi’s comparative framework could be to think of affectations, rather than affects. The distinguishing characteristics of one work are described comparatively to similar features, forming a series of affectations around emerging spatial themes. The methodological difference may be subtle, but may go some way towards analysing in-between typologies that go unrecognized in standard architectural criticism: the Bali Resort is one such typology.

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Infinity pool at Amandari Resort. Photo credit: TripAdvisor

The Function of Style doesn’t cover hotels in general as a typology, let alone something as specific as the Bali Resort. Yet, the ubiquitousness of the Bali Resort is hard to deny, in light of countless imitations and cliché elements – it brings to mind clear associations to even the most casual audience, and open enclosures, palm trees and ‘infinity’ pools appear in resorts and suburban backyards alike. In many ways, the original itself has been dismissed for being derivative of other canonised forms, while having a certain uniformity of appearance within the type that makes it hard to distinguish key projects. Differences do exist however, and can be identified on a level assessable experientially that may not be apparent typologically.

There are at least three different types of ‘Bali Resorts’, all of which can be seen/dismissed as subsets of the typologies they borrow from – equal parts ‘tropical’ modernist architecture and adaptation of traditional ‘Balinese’ elements. Moving on from historical categorizations, the Bali resorts are arguably best understood as a series of variations on standard spatial tropes: a visual treatment of the surrounding landscape and how the resort ‘blends’ into that landscape, and a series of abstractions on the materiality, differing in how they borrow from the surrounding landscape.

Screen Shot 2016-08-02 at 9.15.55 pmLobby of the Bali Oberoi. Photo credit: Peter Muller

As a larger audience is granted access to an increasingly comprehensive picture of architecture, it may very well lead to a democratisation of architectural criticism; the subsequent blurring of architectural boundaries – in hotels, resorts and beyond – will leave the discipline all the richer for it.

– Tin Do

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