Architecture, Language, and Meaning

Preziosi, Donald 1979. Architecture, Language, and Meaning: The Origins of the Built World and its Semiotic Organization. Hague (etc.): Mouton.

We cannot adequately understand any form of communication in vacuuo, for the various kinds of sign-systems evolved by humans have been designed from the outset to function in concert with each other in deictically-integrated ways, and it becomes increasingly clear that every code contains formative elements whose meamingfulness is ambiguous without indexical correlation to sign formations in other codes. (Preziosi 1979: 1)
Amen. This sounds very Lotmanian.
Human communication is characteristically multimodal. In the ongoing semiotic bricolage of daily life, we orchestrate and combine anything and everything at our disposal to create a significant world, or simply to get a message across. A semiotics of communicative events in their multimodal totality has yet to be born, and it will not come until we have a more profound and complete understanding of the nature, organization, and operant behaviors of sign-systems other than verbal language. (Preziosi 1979: 1)
Yet again, amen. I am on the arduous road to construct such a semiotics.
The attempt to bring this about through the scientific superimposition of design features drawn from the study of verbal language upon other sign-systems has, by and large, been a failure. (Preziosi 1979: 1-2)
Oh my god, three times an amen. This guy is so right on the money.
While research elaborated over the past few decades under the rubrics of proxemics, kinesics, environmental psychology, man-environment relations, architectural history, body language, and perceptual psychology has had significant input into architectonic analysis over the past decade, not all of what each of these has had to say has been relevant. Each has been elaborated for different purposes, and each focusses upon a selected portion of the architectonic totality.
The first and most important approximation of such a synthesis came about during the 1960s with the emergence of 'architectural semiotics' and the quest for minimal meaningful units in architecture. Much of this work consisted of plugging in architecture to currently fashionable linguistic models, in the hope of specifying the nature of architectural 'deep structure' or of classifying architectural formations into phonemic, morphemic, or 'textual' unities.
But the plunge into the muddy waters of linguistic analogy brought little in the way of real illumination, and the 'semiotics of architecture' surrefered additionally from a near-faral flaw - viz. that 'architecture', as an autonomous system of signs, does not really exist except as a lexical label for certain arbitrarily restricted artifactual portions of the built environment, a picture artificially perpetuated by obsolescent academic departmentalization. (Preziosi 1979: 2-3)
FUCK. Replace some select words and this is the story of "body language".
The architectonic code incorporates the entire set of placemaking orderings whereby individuals construct and communicate a conceptual world through the use of palpable distinctions in formation addressed to the visual channel, to be decoded spatio-kinetically over time. The proper scope of architectonics has come to be the entire range of such orderings, including all manners of space and place-making activities realized both artifactually and somatically - realized, in other words, through indirect or direct bodily instrumentality. (Preziosi 1979: 4)
And there's the magic expression! Preziosi is talking about buildings in terms of what I wish ultimately to talk about computers: that they are built for our bodies, made to accomodate out anatomy and physiology, not to mention psychology.
But it becomes clear that whether we are dealing with bamboo, concrete, ice, spotlight, lines in the sand, or positions around a lecture hall, we are dealing with geometric and material distinctions per se which, by address to the visual channel, are intended to cue the perception of distinctions in meaning, in culture-specific and code-specific ways. The architectonic code is a system of relationships manifested in material formations, and the medium of a given code is normally a mosaic of shapes, relative sizes, colors, textures, and materials - in other words, anything drawn from the entire set of material resources potentially offered by the planetary biosphere, including our own and other bodies. (Preziosi 1979: 4)
Clearheaded and exact, straight to the point.
Verbal language and built environments interact in dynamic synchrony in complementary and supplementary fashion, as differentially-sustained components in the ongoing orchestration of meaning in daily life. (Preziosi 1979: 9)
Simply beautiful.
Communicative redundancy, moreover, is achieved not only through channel-strenghtening strategies, but is also realizable multimodally. Thus, gesture or other forms of somatic signing, while themselves often semioautonomous of language systems, additionally tend to be culture-specific, and may serve to augment a speech-act in the transmission of information: the speaker will be saying the 'same' (or contextually equivalent) thing with two 'vocabularies', so to speak. If the addressee misses a given name, the identity may be supplied by the orientation of a finger toward the referent. The important point here is that verbal language is characteristically embedded in multimodal communicative complexes in daily behavior, and it is simultaneously capable of being analyzed out as a single channel where necessary, under appropriate conditions, for example in the dark or where the body or environment is invisible, or perceptually obscured. (Preziosi 1979: 24)
From the perspective of the formations and communicative signals of other species, human artifactual formations have a curiously 'blurred' identity. Whereas many nonprimates such as bird or fishes often respond to a single patch of color or bodily gesture (and virtually nothing else) (Lancaster 1975:12 f.), the primate more consistently responds to the appearance of an entire body in space, its postures and soundings, in the context of the history of previous encounters with that other individual. There is, as we have noted, a characteristic tendency to respond to information from more than one sense modality, and to manifest a simultaneous summation of complex sets of signals in interpersonal behavior. (Preziosi 1979: 33)


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