The Absurdity of Beauty, Rebalancing the Modernist narrative: POETRY


We are delighted to post an extract from the Architectural Review (AR) Monograph “The Absurdity of Beauty, Rebalancing the Modernist narrative – Form4 Architecture”.  Edited by Catherine Slessor, the monograph has been a year-long collaboration between the AR and Form4 Architecture. It has been very much a work of advocacy for the practice, thinking critically on the legacy of Modernism. Something the Magazine does on a monthly basis as it seeks to define a humane, inclusive and contextual approach to contemporary architecture.  Themes touched earlier on this blog by Form4, like emotional meaning, shared purpose and vibrancy, have also played an important part in shaping the editorial content of the new monograph.

About The Architectural Review
AR was founded in 1896 and by the 1930s it was one of the most influential platforms for architecture steering the direction of Modernism with Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier and Alvar Aalto first published in the magazine.  After the Second World War, AR played an important role in raising awareness of “Townscape” (the art of urban design), a subject that has remained close to the magazine.  More recently, “Townscape” was spearheaded by Editor Christine Murray in her bold and effective “Notopia” campaign that was the actual catalyst leading Form4 Architecture to work with AR to produce their latest monograph which tackles many of the issues around the notion of a deteriorating sense of place from a historic, cultural and also Californian perspective.


Here now a taster of the “The Absurdity of Beauty, Rebalancing the Modernist narrative – Form4 Architecture” with an excerpt from an essay by London-based architect and Royal Academician, Ian Ritchie: The Architect as Calligrapher. Ritchie’s beautiful words go to the very essence of Form4 Architecture’s urge to publish the monograph as they remind us of one the very things that is too often forgotten when discussing or, in fact, conceiving architecture: poetry.

Excerpt from The Architect as Calligrapher by Ian Ritchie

“I love words. They lie at the root of human communication and the shared understanding we call culture. As an architect, I also use words as an investigative tool to discover what I am trying to express. This usually takes the form of poetry. I enjoy removing the superficial – the reductive process. The need to critically examine each word and its relationship to the whole poem allows me to convey meaning, significance and emotional qualities with an economy of means similar to the precision needed in architecture.

Notes begin, texts follow and these become the sources for a poem. But why poetry? Why not an essay? The creative act is always personal so I can only conjecture, although the intuitive connections between architecture and poetry are widely recognized.

Structure is fundamental to both, as are other elements of design. We even use the same words to describe the ways we create architectural and poetic pleasure and meaning out of formalized elements: scale, rhythm, balance, proportion, syntax.

Both buildings and poems are essentially compositions of separate elements used to create a whole which exists in both the rational and emotional realms. The poet uses silences and the rhythm of words to create a poem tying the mind’s interior to the outside world. The architect uses light and the rhythm between material and empty space to create a building that mediates between our senses, the spaces we live in and the outside environment.

Poetry is also a means by which I discover the emotional and essential context/idea of a particular architectural project.

The beauty of poems is their capacity to absorb and express emotion, essential to artistic creativity. The design process for me always begins with an idea, and ideas can come from many sources. But they exist as ideas without a clear representation.

My process of thinking accepts that there is a boundary-free flow between my brain and the outside world. This is the essential self through which we respond to internal and external challenges and is derived from the concepts acquired through interaction with our environment and those inherited through our particular DNA. The first preconceptual response consists of melding cognitive knowledge with one’s psychological predilection and imagination, conflating inspiration and creativity, to produce percepts – words and images. Then comes a synthesis and distillation for which process language – ideally poems – is my initial preference. This stage of the design process is personal research.

I then try to capture this distillation visually in the simplest possible way, using

a few brush strokes – a sort of architectural calligraphy. This begins the conceptual stage of the design process, embracing both an aesthetic assessment and a pragmatic analysis. It is also the beginning of the collective architectural process, during which the concept is repeatedly refined and balanced, pragmatically and aesthetically, until the concept’s loose edges are exhausted.”

Leipzig Glass Hall etching 1

The full essay will be available as of 24 May 2018 when the AR – Form4 monograph is launched in Venice as part of this year’s Architecture Biennale preview events. For details please follow this blog or follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

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