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The Geometry of Control in Architectural Design

The Geometry of Control in Architectural Design

Nikos Salingaros is a mathematician and architectural theorist who has developed a theory of architecture that emphasizes the importance of socially-organized housing and the geometry of control. Salingaros argues that traditional architecture, which is based on symmetrical and hierarchical designs, is inherently oppressive and creates a sense of alienation among residents. In contrast, he promotes the use of complex and adaptive designs that are based on the principles of self-organization and emergent behavior found in natural systems.

One of the key concepts in Salingaros’ theory of architecture is the idea of socially-organized housing, which refers to the use of architecture to create a sense of community and social cohesion among residents. This is achieved by designing housing units that are connected to one another through a network of shared spaces, such as courtyards, gardens, and walkways. These shared spaces serve as the “social glue” that binds residents together and creates a sense of belonging.

These shared spaces would also counter-act the psychological process of control that, according to the author, the geometry of buildings and the design of cities can exert on the human mind. Individual buildings and urban areas are shaped by a hard, mechanical geometry, but the interaction between individual structures and the layout’s geometry influence the shape of the street network. In urban and architectural terms, there are various ways to demonstrate authority, and we find them all in government-built social housing.

Bringing attention to the importance of the geometry of control in architectural design, as well, he argues that the shape and form of buildings and spaces can be used to influence the behavior and actions of those who use them. This type of architecture was embraced by governments and institutions of all political persuasions, but the military and fascist architecture from the Second World War (and much before that) is where it is most visibly exhibited (from the most progressive to the most repressive). These structures have enormous rectangular block shapes and are arranged in rigidly repeating rectangular grids. High-rise buildings convey the sense that their residents are under their control since they are compelled to live in a military/industrial typology, which is certainly the antithesis of the open urban geometry seen in favelas, or more organic architectural structures of which curved shapes and organic forms can create a sense of relaxation and calm.

To this end, Salingaros advocates for an approach to architectural design that is based on the principles of self-organization and emergent behavior found in natural systems. This approach involves designing buildings and spaces that are responsive to the needs and desires of the people who use them, and that allow for the emergence of new patterns of behavior and social interactions. Nonetheless, the natural world is yet another casualty of the geometry of control. Visually, nature and existence are “messy.” Rocks, hills, and streams, as well as trees and other vegetation, present problems for a flat, rectangular geometry and are thus often omitted. Native plant species already present are considered undesirable, and only a lawn that seems artificial is, sometimes, permitted.

A pattern language links to a form language: Pattern Language + Form Language = Adaptive Design Method © Nikos A. Salingras

The author further proposes a general theory of design, theory that supports many of Christopher Alexanders’ model presented in “A Pattern Language“: a design method that emphasizes the importance of creating spaces that are functional, beautiful, and promote a sense of community among residents. The method is based on the idea that there are certain patterns or principles that can be used to design spaces that are livable and that meet the needs of the people who use them.

Salingaros’s “A Form Language” is similar to Christopher’s pattern language but it is more focused on the geometry and form of the buildings and spaces. The form language is presented as a series of forms that can be used to guide the design of buildings and spaces, with specific focus on the geometry and form of the buildings and spaces to create a sense of relaxation, calm and well-being.

See Also

Minimalist modernism has a clearly-defined geometrical goal; i.e., its peculiar crystalline form language. It is successful on its own terms while at the same time ignoring, or not trying to accommodate, human patterns of use and the sensory response to built form and surface. This is the reason why minimalist modernism is
incompatible with Alexander’s Pattern Language

A Theory of Architecture, p. 276

A Theory of Architecture, Nikos A. Salingaros
First published: 2006

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