Metaphor, Architectural Design, and Environmental Response


Vol. 4 No. 1 (2007)
Research Articles
April 5, 2007


Value-laden articulations of the task of the architect guide manners of working - the concerns, inspirations and procedures given priority. Architectural practices in turn determine the nature of the physical constructs that result. If architects are contributing to environmental degradation by designing buildings that are inefficient and unhealthy, and a pressing need exists to advance more life enhancing, sustaining practices, then perhaps environmentally concerned architects ought not only work towards the creation of better performing, more resourceful building assemblies, but also to engage in basic reflection as to how design problems are expressed and the environmental receptivity such expressions reveal. By tracing the lineage binding utterance to practice to making, we might come to recognize that even subtle shifts in articulation can alter outcomes dramatically. Through such newfound awareness, we are open and encouraged to reexamine the architect's role, to new descriptions of architecture, and to the possibility of deeper attunement and constructive engagement with our world. In their recent edited anthology on sustainable architectures, Simon Guy and Steven Moore suggest "while we might support and even encourage critical engagement with abstract theory about environmentalism, we are not interested in simply playing language games.” Although word play should not be the sole focus of our efforts, in a profession so reliant on effective communication, we should not underestimate the facility of language as constitutive of meaning. This paper explores metaphors as one potentially transformative means by which designers come to understand and describe the works they undertake. It examines the role of metaphors as agents of innovation, capable of heightening awareness of attributes often overlooked or undervalued, yet perhaps of critical significance given the particularities of a design problem seeking explication. This paper summarizes research into the process by which architects "respatialize” metaphors, how novel metaphorical insights have affected thought and practice in the past, and in our era of environmental crises how new categories of metaphor are reshaping and expanding our visions. The paper concludes with a consideration of what makes "green” metaphors effective and how awareness of such characteristics provides the impetus for future research in identifying and utilizing new metaphorical schemas in architectural design.