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The concern of ethics is our relation to ourselves, others and to the world, and these relations are articulated through architecture. To understand the ethics of architecture we must consider various factors such as culture, structure, material and means of construction. Truth in architecture can be understood in terms of correctness and authenticity.
In ‘The Seven Lamps of Architecture’ Ruskin argues that architecture should not just be honest but also reflect current society and culture. He states that truth in architecture is expressed through structure, material and labor or means of construction. He states that the architectural form should express and relate to the true qualities of the building’s structure. Ruskin looked at nature as inspiration for structural design and admired how function is expressed in various forms of nature. Like a skeleton is hidden under flesh and bone, an architect need not directly exhibit the means of support but imply the structure through its form and construction. A trained eye could identify the build’s greatest structural secrets which a casual visitor could miss. Architectural truth is also held in material which is used appropriately and when its nature is not hidden in order to deceive its observer. An example of material deceit would be if plastic is made to look like wood or if vinyl is made to look like tile. An honest building would be a one that does not hide its flaws under any decorative features and expresses its structural functions.
Ornament is seen as agreeable as an abstract representation of form but its valued differently if made from hand or machine. Architecture is often seen as an organic interpretation of its environment. Since topology and culture are expressed through architecture one can state that truth is a matter of correctness between a representation and what it represents. The primary means in which architectural spaces present themselves is in terms of vision. The idea that a building is declarative of its nature is sense of truth. There is an apparent tendency to prioritize the visual in architecture. The ubiquitous use of glass in contemporary buildings comes with a language of reflection, opacity and transparency.
In the mid-twentieth century the ‘International Syle’ developed which focused on the visual effects of light and glass. Alison and Peter Smithsonian stated “Glass and metal faced buildings give the maximum light reflection into the street and this in itself is a contribution to the city. And there are, moreover, magical distortions when two straight up-and-down buildings are opposite one another. A blue glass city, no matter how organizationally banal, is never optically boring”. This indicates a focus on light as a visual tool as it is reflected and refracted through glass.
Truth can be seen in a way that connects that connects the visual to wider modes of engagement and perception. The Guaranty Building by Adler and Sullivan was one of the first buildings that emphasized the skyscraper’s verticality. The technological advancements of the time were represented through the innovations used in the construction of the building. The building uses ornament to draw a visitor’s eye upward through the piers between the windows and up to the dominant cornice. The opening up of space in the Guaranty Building by Adler and Sullivan also embodies a sense of truth. The assertion of freeing up space is implicated by its appearance and is made available. It is a sense in which truth as it operates in a building, for instance, is not only potentially about the correctness of content or the authenticity of appearance, but also about the extent to which the building opens-up relations and possibilities of action.
Similarly, the Gothic cathedral embodies truth as it spans large spaces with vaulted arches and uses columns to express structure. The Gothic cathedral, for instance, not only provides a spectacular visual experience, but also works to enhance functions of ritual, to a certain orientation, and experience of acoustics. A Gothic cathedral can be defined by its character as a space for sound as well as for light and shadow. The way that space sounds is dependent, not only on its shape, but also the materials from which it is constructed, and materials not only have an impact on sight and sound, but also on the sense of touch, and even to some extent of smell. These relations are necessary and apparent in the building as it is perceived as whole and true to itself.
Arguably, it remains truthful as it concedes to Ruskin’s ideas of honesty in structure and material. Truth in architecture refers to a building’s design in relation to structure, material, construction and culture. Visual and representational aspects of architecture contain meaning that represent certain values in culture.
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