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Pragmatism and Minimalism

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Pragmatism and minimalism can in simpler terms and two separate branches be defined and expressed as follow;


Pragmatism can be well understood when looking at its philosophical elaboration which suggests that it is an approach which is employed to evaluate the beliefs and theories in as the ability to achieve or execute their practical application. In simpler terms, pragmatism presses on the practical applications of ideas by also employing practical acts on them to evaluate their success in human experiences. Furthermore, the philosophical movement of pragmatism obeyed the structure of the following timeline.


Minimalism if we are to define it_ from the arts point of view, particularly in painting and sculpture it can be characterized by the employment of simple and somewhat big prominent forms. More often than ever it would bring itself out in the most abstract of forms as it as it was also influenced by cubism.

However, if one defines it from a style or design perspective_ one would say that it is the intentional lack of decoration. From the 1800s minimalism showed very little popularity when it came to being mentioned, and has since the 1950s to this day showed an increase in the streak of being mentioned.

Furthermore, minimalism has managed to find or make its way into the influences of architecture. How can one characterize or distinguish it in the field? It invests a lot of focus on the connection between two planes, elegant lighting and the void spaces left by the removal of three dimensional shapes in an architectural design. This movement was influenced by traditional Japanese architecture and design. Moreover, the De Stijl movement was also another example of the influencing factors.

Some of the faces and characters that one could associate with this architectural approach are Tadao Ando and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe in his project which we will also look into_ The German Pavilion in Barcelona.

“Less is more” a dictum that Mies uses to define minimalism.

Immediately when these two entities marry each other, namely_ Pragmatism and minimalism and employ them into architecture, we can deduce that it simply aims at producing and expressing a space which strives for successful and useful operational functionalities and practicality meanwhile it is not redundant, overdone, and chaotic physically or rather in its three-dimensional form.

In simpler terms; “logical ideology” marries “less to form a whole” to create space with functionality.

However, in a more architectural point of view pragmatic design can be summarized as the unintentional or accidental formation of various built forms which is often as a result of trial and error of the assemblage and use of new and/or available materials.

When the two entities are married and are at harmony with each other we get to experience the brilliant outcomes of architectural works of your modernists like Le Corbusier, Louis Kahn and Mies van der Rohe. What is evident is the following:

Bold, clear and seamless bare facades. The is minimal chaos in lines and no broken geometry. An emphasis is placed on avoiding the use of elements which serve the practical purpose.

“Less is more”, simple straight lines should be employed in both plans and elevations. “Why use two lines if one can serve the purpose”.

Order need be maintained or created in the juxtaposition of structural elements and space_ Just like Louis Kahn orders.

In the following document we will outline, evaluate, employ and analyse the characteristics or orders that these two legs call for or abide by. We will further look at two projects and study and relate them to the various findings.

The two main architectural projects which we will look at in this project are namely The Apartheid Museum and Mies van der Rohe’s German Pavilion in Barcelona. For the analytical component, the whole will become two separate branches as to allow for critical engagement and analysis.


The following tabulates and elaborate on the characteristics of the two branches.

Pragmatism and Minimalism

Pragmatism Minimalism

  1. Faith in democracy
  2. Believes in humanism which should be in line with democracyis the spirit of sharing experiencesand a way in which life pans itself out.

    Belief: man makes his won values and the change of these values is governed by time. the truth is that which works, serves a particular purpose and fulfils a use in mans life. it is not in favour of traditionalism. it is somewhere between naturalism and idealism and thus presses on actively and practicality. 1. Minimal quantity equals maximum value

    The less clutter or complexity, the better. The trait of minimalism teaches us that a barrier between a person and their interaction with and within is removed or becomes permeable when complexities are less. This also opens opportunities of plenty other visual elements.

  3. Principle of utility
  4. That which gives satisfaction is useful. This implies that only things and ideas which are true have some level of usefulness for man. 2. Creates transparency

    Bold statement and desired views can be experienced and achieved without any maximum output and employment of resources.

  5. Thought in subordinate to action
  6. Pragmatism builds a bridge which connects “thought” and “actions”. 2. Breathability

    The use of light/ subtle colours such as white allow various and some elements and spaces to “breathe” and be carved.

  7. Metaphysical
  8. Regards the material world as true, at which is a combination of different elements. Truth is man-made. It emphasizes on action and its consequences and considers reality as a process towards a task completion. 4. Consistency

    Promotion of clean plans and spatial layouts. Employ elements which are similar in nature.

  9. Axiology
  10. Does not rely on external values, but creates its own consequences are the governing criteria for the selection of these values. Intelligence is employed in finding solutions to the problem. 5. Sustainability

    This is a major contributory factor of a building qualifying to be timeless. It is often modest but highly emotionally provocative.

  11. Epistemology
  12. Uses experience as a source of attaining knowledge, likewise with humans it is acquired through interaction with an environment.


Now that we have managed to get into grips with the two branches and their characteristics it’s now time to see the finding a and conclusions that I was able to deduce for the two projects_ Apartheid Museum and Barcelona Pavilion as previously stated.


South Africa’s Apartheid Museum is a linear narrative museum which is semi-buried in the landscape. The project was a result of the works of Mashabane Rose Architects in collaboration with other architects. The project has plenty narratives through its spatial arrangements, use of colour and a play of light in various spaces to achieve a rather provoke certain emotions which will allow one the experience of personally engage with the depth of the rich history.

Although the museum is not of clean modern architecture, but rather contemporary_ its spatial disciplines and formations still conform to principles and characteristics of pragmatism and minimalism.

How so? Well it is evident that;

Like mentioned in the above introductory paragraph the museum conforms to linearity and thus the facades are clean, consist of ordered lines to produce the three-dimensional form of the whole.

Spatial layout and order is almost somewhat self-elaborate and thus human interaction with the space is just about intuitive.

It instinctively achieves consistency as a result of the employment of the various materials which gel well with each other. The external facades employed the use of natural plaster, stone as well as gabion baskets in attempts of achieving this.

No physical solid brick walls were employed in some instances, rather the use of space defining planes in the forms of steel frames and fencing were used. Each space no matter how bare or poorly furnished served a purpose. Each idea was well executed, thoroughly thought through and is of utility in man’s interaction with the space.

The different sources of light really capture the emotion intended for the dedicated spaces. Poetically (as per design intentions) it is said that the narrative becomes lighter as we proceed into the new South Africa.

The museum can really stand the test of time. Why? It is without any major doubt that this building_ although contemporary_ the employment of green roofs, hard wearing choice of materials and careful choice of colour. The building is pretty sustainable and sits very well in its context. The facades express geometric harmony and clear visual lines.


Now on the more international note, we will have a look at the German Pavilion in Barcelona.

This modern piece of architecture by Mies van der Rohe was initially intended to be the face of the German section which would host King Alphonso XIII of Spain. It was not to house artworks nor sculptures but would be a place of escape from the exposition and thus making the pavilion an inhabitable sculpture.

The geometry and lines of this “sculpture” create and give the building its clean and bare facades. Furthermore, the spatial layout is free flowing, consists of points and planes to define the spaces. The aid of glass as one of the building materials, it allows the eye to penetrate through certain planes, movement through the pavilion is somewhat natural. The narrow passages allow and direct into larger spaces which are like an oasis of natural light. The stature of the sculpture narrows mans visual lines thus focusing or channeling them to witness the various framed views.

The choice of materials used in the assemblage of the pavilion work together and create such harmony in how they work together. These are namely glass, stone and concrete. This is further accentuating itself as its physical composition of the three-dimensional form with an emphasis on the floating roof.

One can easily experience the building in such a fashion where the outside is invited inside and vice versa. The pavilion is further juxtaposed to two reflecting pools which allow light to seep into the interior and illuminate the marble and travertine pavers. This too establishes and creates a place of reflection and solitude.

The choice of gentle and light colours, generous openings and the collaboration of the inside and outside spaces, the pavilion can breathe


In a nutshell we can conclude that pragmatism calls for spatial order which its main governing criteria is human ease of interaction and some level of functionality where minimalism calls for free flowing spaces and movement, breathable, space defining components, articulated choice of materials, stereometrics and less complexities in both the three-dimensional form and building process requirements. When these to marry each other harmonious, sustainable and timeless architecture which houses mans psychological and experiential needs is inevitably evident.

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