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Opinion - Meaningful Decoration

Meaningful decoration is more than just complicated wallpaper, says Patrick Lynch.

Most work claiming to be ornamental is actually crude pattern-making based on logarithms rather than metaphor. Ornament is one aspect of decoration, and is designed to tell us things. Decoration is closely associated with decorum, the appropriate manner of representation suited to the task at hand. Which usually means, in the abstracted language of modern architecture, the character of a building.
What guides character? Is it programme? Is it site? Or is it the character of the clients? Well, much of what passes for ‘ornament’ today has nothing to do with any of the above problems and is simply another version of the introverted discourse of architects copying each other. We are mostly not even aware that we are repeating the same old arguments between craft and mechanical means of fabrication (for steam presses think CAD and CAM), except without all of the cultural and political associations that these terms held for our great-grandparents. The ‘digital design revolution’ is a rehashing of the Victorian argument between William Morris and John Ruskin on the one hand and Owen Jones on the other, without any of the social rhetoric. Morris’ patterns are visual, symbolic, habitual, linguistic, spatial, vernacular; Jones’ patterns involve simple geometry repeated to appear complex, possess no true pictorial quality, have no depth and thus depict no spaces. They are
field-like, entopic, and in sum, analytical. Entopic means seeing with your eyes closed. I’m sure that we can all think of modern equivalents.

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