Thinking about collective memory as material reality
Typology in architecture gives us an apparatus to study the history of architecture, which can also be understood as a way to examine the collective memory of the city. As can be seen in canonical texts since Vitruvius, such as those by Alberti, Serlio, Palladio, during the Renaissance, to Durand during Enlightenment, Hilberseimer in the early twentieth-century, Rossi in the 1960s and others, we can view the process of architectural history unfolding, treatise to treatise, manual to manual, and manifesto to manifesto. Although not all of these works use the word typology, or type, the concept is implied because each use classification, description, and historical precedent to formulate a position. For example, in De re aedificatoria Alberti distinguished between public and private buildings in the city, assigning the Orders to certain classes of building. Serlio’s books on architecture catalogued buildings from Ancient Rome in plans, elevations and perspectives, before describing the typological-form of temples: circular, square, six-sided, eight-sided, oval and cruciform. Palladio’s Four Books organised the Orders, private buildings in rural and urban settings, then public buildings and, buildings of historical significance. In Durand’s books, the Recueil et Paralléle, and the Précis des leçons d’architecture, the former catalogued existing works of architecture from different cultures and historic periods at the same scale. While the latter was divided into three: on architectural elements, on composition, and on analysis of building types. Hilberseimer’s Groszstadt Architektur was organised into ten chapters with the first two and final describing the urban condition and proposing a response. Those inbetween address in succession the building programmes of the city from residential, commercial, high-rises, halls and theatres, transport, industrial, trade construction.
I have noted these texts because as Rossi wrote in The Architecture of the City, the concept of type became, “the very idea of architecture,” a fact attested to by both practice, he says, and by the treatise. Although in this sketch of a few texts that deal with theories about type, an emphasis is seemingly placed on type as it relates to classification. It should be made clear, however, that the idea of type is a dialectical principle, because it always reacts with, say: form, construction technique, site irregularities, means of production, cultural particularities, history, and also, the autobiography of the architect. Later in The Architecture of the City Rossi discusses the concept of collective memory, via the sociologist Maurice Halbwachs, who wrote that historical memory reaches us through written and visual records. The concept of collective memory and of type are closely interrelated, because collective memory relies on material reality. A material reality which is manifest both in built form and as images in treatise. Built form because buildings witness the evolution of the city. Images because they embody values, experience, ideas. What is important is that type constructs a link with history, and produces transmittable knowledge. Accordingly, architecture communicates its own history through typological ideas.
One of the premises of the AE Foundation is to understand the history of architecture as central to the education and practice of the architect. Undertaken within the framework of the AE Foundation Graduate Programme, the project opposite is for a school in the Lochee part of Dundee. The typological approach has been to distinguish three volumes that articulate three conditions of the site. The tower fronts the street edge and contains the entrance, administration, dining, gym hall, and a nursery. Classrooms are arranged around a courtyard which opens into the school grounds. Between the courtyard and tower is a rectangular volume which holds a library and an art studio. In order to leave and to arrive at the classrooms, children (and teachers) must always pass through the art and library spaces. The spaces of creativity and of knowledge.
For further information about the AE Foundation, an open and independent forum for the discussion and exposition of architecture, see http://aefoundation.co.uk/