Architecture and the built environment
Buildings reflect the values and ideas of society within periods. The role of architecture in shaping society and vice versa largely depends on the period in question and who or what affects first. The Enlightenment, and the subsequent period the Post-Enlightenment, reflect the biggest change for current ideas regarding architecture and society and current theories. At the same time, individual identities and understanding of society, progress and truth all follow a similar evolving path. It is during this dramatic shift in thinking that the role of architecture to society and the idea of progress and truth becomes a more complex relationship. How this relationship works and its implications is based on the theory that there is a direct link between the two. One cannot develop without the other. Who leads whom and to what extent they influence each other is evident in architectural trends and pioneering works by architects such as Robert Venturi, Frank Gehry amongst others.
To understand if and how architecture has had an influence on the way people think and act in the past is an important aspect of questioning architecture’s influence today. Bentham’s Panopticon, and his ideas of surveillance, power, and discipline, have been examined and discussed by a wide variety of people including Foucault. Foucault’s main focus was on the exercise of power in its different forms and the control exercised through its architecture. An interesting view raised by Foucault in his study of the Panopticon is that liberation or oppression is not manifested in architecture by itself. This does not mean that they cannot be made part of it. ‘Positive effects’ could occur when the ‘liberating intentions of the architecture’ are aligned with ‘the real practice of people in the exercise of their freedom.’ Likewise, negative effects could equally result. It is through this example that architecture is seen to influence ideas in society about certain values. It was from using architecture that Bentham was able to incorporate his ideas of surveillance. Drawing similar analogies from today is a complex and intricating problem largely due to the changes in society that reflect a wide array of ideas as written by Lyotard and Foucault.
“A Post-modern building is, if a short definition is needed, one which speaks on at least two levels at once: to other architects and a concerned minority who care about specifically architectural meanings, and to the public at large, or the local inhabitants, who care about other issues concerned with comfort, traditional building and a way of life.” This was stated by architect and writer Charles Jencks who advocated the idea of postmodern architecture. In his above quote Jencks draws a distinction between those who have the knowledge to understand deeper, more philosophical intents behind a design and are concerned with broader implications as well as those in society who are more...