Dominant Types, Honk Kong, 2011
The word ‘type’ comes from the Greek word typos which means ‘model, matrix, impression, mould, mark, figure in relief, original form’ and from the Latin word typus which means ‘figure, image, form, kind’.
The common understanding of ‘type’ refers to an object or artifact that belongs to a class or group that brings together others with similar attributes. In architecture, ‘type’ is commonly understood as buildings grouped by their use, that is schools, hospitals, prisons, churches and so on. However, this understanding is limiting as the use of a building has shown to be independent from its building and evolves in time. A warehouse can be turned into apartments, and a Georgian terrace into a school. What this means is that to understand ‘type’ via use tells us little about the shared characteristics and traits of the artifacts or objects that belong to the group in question, hence impeding against the knowledge that could have been otherwise acquired.
‘Type’ as Idea (Eidōs)
For the definition of the word ‘type’ in architectural theory we can turn to Antoine-Chrysostome Quatremère de Quincy’s1. In part, this tendency to classify group buildings according to use can be attributed to Nicholas Pevsner, in his Architectural Guides (1951-75). (1755 – 1849) masterful definition in the Dictionnaire historique d’architecture (1825) that also formally introduced the notion of ‘type’ into architectural discourse. For Quatremère de Quincy, ‘The word ‘type’ presents less the image of a thing to copy or imitate completely than the idea of an element which ought itself to serve as a rule for the model.’2. Quatremère de Quincy, “Type” in Encyclopédie Méthodique, vol. 3, trans. Samir Younés, reprinted in The Historical Dictionary of Architecture of Quatremère de Quincy (London: Papadakis Publisher, 2000). For him, ‘type’ is the idea or symbolic meaning that is embodied in an element, an object or a thing. Thus ‘type’ is abstract and conceptual rather than concrete and literal. Following a neo-platonic tradition, this idea for Quatremère de Quincy can also be understood as the ideal that an architect should strive for in the process of creative production, that is, an idea that can never be fully materialized in the process of artistic creation. Thus Quatremère’s definition touches upon and serves as a metaphysical theory of ‘type’. According to Quatremère de Quincy’s theory of Imitation,3. Ibid., p. 175. this idea is the laws that govern nature rather than the product of nature. This law or abstract principle that guides any artistic production is therefore eternal and ideal, although the models that arise from the application of these principles are infinite in its variations.
While agreeing with Quatremère de Quincy on the distinction between idea and model, Gottfried Semper (1803-79) defines ‘type’ as the idea that must be understood through the potentials of four building techniques: terracing (masonry), roofing (carpentry), the hearth (ceramics) and walling (textiles).4. Gottfried Semper, ‘London Lecture of November 11, 1853’, RES: Journal of Anthropology and Aesthetics, no.6 (Autumn 1983) p.5-31 This materialist approach of Semper displaces the idea of ‘type’ from an idealist position to a practical one.
Similarly, Giulio Carlo Argan (1909-1992), departs from Quatremère de Quincy’s insistence on deriving principles from nature as an ideal. For Argan, ‘type’ is an idea no longer residing in nature but in building precedents and therefore in the history of architecture. This value is thus relative, not an ideal nor immutable. For Argan, ‘The birth of a ‘‘type’’ is therefore dependent on the existence of a series of buildings having between them an obvious formal and functional analogy.’5. Giulio Carlo Argan, ‘On the Typology of Architecture,’ Architectural Design, 33.12 (1963), 564-65″ This assertion points to the crucial fact that new ‘types’ can be detected as much as they can be surpassed, hence enabling a design process that is syntactic and discursive in equal measure. I would argue that, seen this way, to work typologically is to analyse, reason and propose through things which are of the same type, thus considering them in series. Working in series6. Christopher C.M Lee, ‘Working in Series: Towards an Operative Theory of Type’ in Lee, Christopher C.M. & Gupta, Kapil, Working in Series (London: AA Publications, 2010) reveals the shared traits between things and to harness the embodied and cumulative intelligence of that series into architectural projections. This serial consideration emancipates the idea of type from a fixed ideal without displacing the need for an ideal.
Influenced by Argan’s ‘On the Typology of Architecture’, Aldo Rossi (1931-1997) defines ‘type’ as ‘… the very idea of architecture, that which is closest to its essence. In spite of changes, it has always imposed itself on the “feelings and reason” as the principle of architecture and of the city.’ 7. Aldo Rossi, The Architecture of the City, trans. by Diane Ghirardo and Joan Ockman (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1982), p.41 For Rossi, ‘type’ is the principle that can be found in the urban artifact. The urban artifact, as defined by Rossi, is not only a building, but a fragment of the city. The urban artifact should be understood as fatto urbano or faite urbaine, they are not just physical thing in the city, but all of its history, geography, structure and connection with the general life of the city as noted by Peter Eisenman.8. Ibid., p. 22. The ambiguity of the urban artifact also owes to the above definitions; that the city itself is an artifact, that it is divided into individual buildings and dwelling areas. Following this, it would mean that every physical structure in the city is potentially an urban artifact. Thus for Rossi, the differentiating factor would have to be its individuality which comes from its quality, uniqueness and definition.9. Ibid, p. 29. This individuality depends more on its form than material, its complex entity that developed over space and time, its historical richness, its certain original values and function that persist (which is for Rossi is of spiritual value), and its sum of all experiences and memories (ominous or auspicious).10. The most significant urban artifacts for Rossi are housing and monuments. This is because the changes in housing and the imprints left on them become the signs of daily life, a collective memory of the city. Urban monuments owe their singularity to the quality of permanence, and are primary elements acting as fixed point in the urban dynamics.
‘Type’ as Model (Eidolon)
When ‘type’ is understood (solely) as model, it refers to an irreducible element, object or artifact, that can be further varied (as a copy) in the process of artistic creation or design. For Quatremère de Quincy, ‘The model, understood in the sense of practical execution, is an object that should be repeated as it is; contrariwise, the ‘type’ is an object after which each artist can conceive works that bear no resemblance to each other. All is precise and given when it comes to the model, while all is more or less vague when it comes to the ‘type’.11. Samir Younés, The Historical Dictionary of Architecture of Quatremère de Quincy, p. 255 This conception of ‘type’ as model in the late 18th and early 19th century can also be traced to the way Jean-Nicolas-Louis Durand (1760-1834) treats the notion of ‘type’, and has been commonly associated to ‘typology’ as a design method. In his Recueil et parallèle des edifices de tous genres, anciens et modernes (Collection and Parallel of Edifices of All Kinds, Ancient and Modern), (1799-1801) and the Précis des leçons d’architecture données à l’École Polytechnique (Précis of the Lectures on Architecture Given at the Ecole Polytechnique), (1802-1805), Durand attempts to find a systematic method in classifying various genres of buildings and to distil them to its most typical elemental parts.12. Jean-Nicolas-Louis Durand, Préecis of the Lectures on Architecture, Trans. David Britt. (Los Angeles: Getty Trust Publications, 2000). Durand’s diagrams primarily capture the structural elements of various building ‘types’, comprising a layer of grids that denotes both structure and geometric composition. Durand proposed that new ‘types’ for the recently emerging urban condition can be created through the adaptation and recombination of these typical elements to specific sites, responding to its constraints. This notion of ‘type’ as model, represented graphically as structural axes in Durand’s case, introduces precepts that are fundamental to working typologically: precedents, classification, taxonomy, continuity, repetition, differentiation and reinvention. It must be pointed out that Durand did not use the word ‘type’ in his two books and did not explicitly set out to define the concept of ‘type’. His theoretical ambition was to systematize architectural knowledge and to set out a rational method in designing buildings. In doing so, he constructed a science of architecture that inadvertently outlined a didactic theory of ‘type’ and constitutes what we understand as ‘typology’. Although Durand utilizes ‘typology’ in a pragmatic manner, evidenced in his pedagogical approach in teaching architectural design in the École Polytechnique, his larger ambition was to arrive at a general principle of architecture that is understandable and can involve not only architects and engineers but the general public. In this light, I propose that Durand’s ‘typology’ can be seen as a common grammar, where this form of disciplinary knowledge no longer utilizes symbolic means to construct a shared value but utilizes the very material of architecture as a common grammar that unites.
The suffix –ology of ‘typology’ comes from the Greek logos, which means ‘a discourse, treatise, theory or science’. Thus ‘‘typology’ is the discourse, theory, treatise (method) or science of ‘type’. ‘Typology’ is not the opposite of topology. This false opposition is often made to contrast the processes of formal differentiation in architecture. The former is characterised as a combinatory process resulting in discontinuous differentiated forms whilst the latter produces a continuously differentiated form. ‘Type’ and ‘typology’ as defined above is not concerned with the smoothness or continuities of formal differentiation and thus to pose it as the opposite of topology is a folly.
‘Typicality’13. Carl, Peter, ‘Type, Field, Culture, Praxis’ in Architectural Design, 81.1, (2011). This distinction between type and typicality was first drawn by Dalibor Vesley 30 years ago according to Carl and appears now as the role ‘paradigmatic situation’ in Architecture in the Age of Divided Representation: The Question of Creativity in the Shadow of Production (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2004). as put forth by Peter Carl refers to ‘conventions’ or ‘frameworks of understanding’ that relies on common situations and typical elements. For Carl, ‘type’ is a subset to ‘typicalities’. This is because Carl understands ‘type’ as formal variations (or model). He draws a clear distinction between ‘type’ and ‘typicality’; and to illustrate this point, Carl uses the example of the type ‘bedroom’ versus the ‘typical situation’ associated with the bedroom. The former refers to a medium size room with a bed, side table, window, closet and an access to a WC. Whereas the latter refers to a richer and more profound interpretation that can include sleep, sex, illness, death and so on. Thus for Carl, ‘types’ are isolated fragments of a deeper and richer structure of ‘typicalities’ and ‘The principle difference between typology and typicality is that the former concentrates upon (architectural) objects, the latter upon situations.’14. Ibid., p.40 ‘Typicalities’ for instance operate in language as a framework of understanding, for mutual understanding requires the element of recognition, otherwise we will be compelled to invent language a fresh at every meeting. Carl argues that this ‘language’ should not be understood as the structuralism of French linguistics that attempts to translate all language into a grammar of messages or codes. Instead this language as framework of understanding disposes typicalities in strata. The most immediate are common meanings, followed by accents or sounds, then bodily gestures. As such, recognition is only possible through the common elements carried by ‘typicalities’.
The word ‘dominant’ means ruling, governing or having an influence over something; it also means something that is prevailing. Thus, for a ‘type’ to be dominant, it has to prevail. What is the most prevailing is also the most typical and what is the most typical is also common to all. And no other sphere is more common to all than the city. Thus, a ‘dominant type’ can be understood as the typical element that constitute the city and are the embodiment of the common. It oscillates between both ends of typicalities – common situations and typical elements – and serves as both a framework of understanding and as a reified typical architectural object that figures forth the idea of the city.
The idea of the city is historically constituted and concerns itself with the civic and symbolic function of human settlements and coexistence. As cities owe their main characteristic to geographical and topographical condition and that cities are always linked to other cities for trade and resources, they tend to specialize and form a distinctive character.15. Cities founded on river banks, sea ports, railways, highlands (hill towns) and so on. We see today, cities that position themselves as ‘knowledge cities’, financial cities, medical cities, sport cities etc. It is this distinctive character coupled with the need to accommodate differences that gives rise to the possibility of a collective meaning for the city. This meaning changes with time, in response to its ever changing inhabitants (or citizens) and external circumstance and is often formalized, historically, in the construction of civic buildings as landmarks for common identity and as elements of permanence in the city, exemplified by town halls, libraries, museums and archives.16. For further discussion on the ‘dominant type’ and the city, see Christopher C.M. Lee, ‘Projective Series’ in Christopher C.M. Lee & Sam Jacoby, eds. Typological Formations: Renewable Building Types and the City (London: AA Publications, 2007) and Christopher C.M. Lee & Sam Jacoby, ‘Typological Urbanism: Projective Cities,’ Architectural Design, 209 (2011) It is through this understanding that I am proposing that the Idea of the City can be embodied in these ‘dominant types’. The ‘dominant type’ here carries not only the idea of the city but also the irreducible typal imprints of the history and construction of the city. Thus, to understand the ‘dominant type’ is to understand the city itself.