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Scott Rimmer

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The Symbolic Form of Architecture: An investigation into its philosophical foundations and a discussion on the development of the perception of architectural form by modern theoreticians and symbolist architects

Date of defense:
April 28, 1997

Document Type:
Master's Thesis

Master of Architecture

Architecture & Urban Studies


This thesis investigates the concept of the symbolic form of architecture. It first focuses on the philosophical foundations for this concept in the works of Ernst Cassirer, Immanuel Kant, Conrad Fiedler, and Theodor Adorno. Then, the development of the modern perception of form in architectural theoreticians, where “modern” architectural theory evolved from an analogical state into a symbolic state, is examined: Karl Bötticher’s concept of a Junktur and his attempt to transcend the presumed dichotomy in architecture between ornamentation and form is discussed; Gottfried Semper’s concept of style and Alois Riegl’s concept of motif are presented as reactions against what they saw as the mechanistic reliance on structure as definitive of form in architecture; Louis Sullivan’s ornamentation is discussed as an attempt to integrate structure and ornamentation into a morphological whole; Otto Wagner’s attempt to purge architecture from analogical responses through a strictly constructional basis for ornamentation is presented; and Adolf Loos’ dismissal of decorative ornamentation, since it is an impediment towards true aesthetic judgment, is examined. Finally, a critical review of the symbolist movement in architecture, art, and literature is presented as a movement diametric to the symbolic development in architecture, since it glorified the analogical, and frequently the mimetic. The origins for how the symbolist movement became a denial of clarity center on Emanuel Swedenborg’s concept of symbols, and how it was misinterpreted by the symbolists.

symbolic form, architetcure, philosophy

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etd.pdf181,248 Bytes

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