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  • Jan Gleisner

What does your house tell about you? Nonverbal cues in architecture, part I


Architecture comes with human life and it has been and will always will be carrying signs of the people connected to it. Peoples preferences and lifestyles shines through the facade, if you know where to look and how to interpret it. This article is an introduction to the subject: Reading peoples nonverbal communication in architecture.

Architecture with and without style

To figure out persons behind a structure it may be tempting to start with some simple classification, something to compare with, like architectural styles. But, as with the physical structures, the theoretical context to architecture changes over time - notions becomes redefined och new perspectives emerges of how architecture is supposed to be understood. Looking at older constructions it may seem convenient to categorize them into architectural styles. When moving closer to modern time this approach becomes more difficult to apply, as "style" becomes a strong example of diversion. There seems to be a strive among architects to be unique (like people in general perhaps?) and their work therefore hard to be categorized. This dilemma makes "style" something that can only be defined much later, by looking back at a passed period and try to categorize distinct features into major themes.

So, looking at architecture as a channel for nonverbal communication, it may not completely fair to refer to styles, especially not when looking at post-postmodern architecture, where the contemporary "style" is still a myriad of loose features. To academic one would suggest referring directly to specific architects. But already style is plenty: Have a look at an incomplete (believe it or not) list of styles at Wikipedia (scroll down to Chronology of styles).

Beauty, Strength and Usefulness

There is a need for a more simple way to go about it. And there may be. The roman architect

Vitruvius (around 50 B.C.) described architecture as a combination of three conflicting variables: Beauty, Strength and Usefulness. And even if these notions have been redefined several times over the past millenniums they still carry a lot of the original meaning. And it helps when trying to understand architecture in the sense of human preferences and lifestyle.

Reading architecture will be matter of finding nonverbal cues of personal choices and usage. And oddly as it may sound: We are not very interested in the architects here. Even if he/she is the designer, someone else probably ordered and payed for the construction. Someone had an intention to bring a specific kind of look (Beauty) and function (Usefulness) into an area, while an architect helped out to accomplish that while considering the constructing part (Strength).

Who to read from a house

The person/organisation who ordered and payed for the construction is expressed through the building. But older buildings may also have been modified over time - nonverbal cues of later considerations over Beauty, Strength and Usability. Who did those modifications? And why? Furthermore: Older buildings bare marks of usage: While human life wears and tears on the construction it leaves nonverbal cues over lifestyles. And preferences are shown by how these wearings and tearings are attended to.

In another article we'll go deeper into how architecture express preference and lifestyle through nonverbal communication in architecture. There will also be a simple how-to-guide to help you go about it. Keep a lookout for part II - will be published shortly on silentcommunication.org.

In short

On/in a building you'll find nonverbal cues of people who ordered and bought the construction, people who ordered changes (maintenance excluded) over the years and those using it now and also the actual owner. And when looking for nonverbal cues about these people you could look especially after how they have handled the variables of Beauty, Strength and Usefulness.

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#architecture #style #beauty #usefulness #strength #nonverbalcue #lifestyle #construction

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