Copycat, Eclecticism in Architecture

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Charles Maduka

The three fundamental necessities of life are food (with water), shelter and clothing. However modern list of the basic needs of man for survival and sustenance are sanitation, education, healthcare and internet. The word ‘eclectic’ in Merriam Webster Dictionary means, ‘selecting what appears to be the best in various methods or styles’. On the other hand, a shelter is basically any structure that covers or protects people or things. However a building differs from mere shelter because it has a predetermined purpose.

It can also be defined as a structure with walls covered by a roof. A building becomes a piece of Architecture when it is viewed and described in relationship with the surrounding physical and environmental factors such as the sun location, vegetation, topography, wind directions among other forces that affect its level of comfort.

Furthermore, a building is also part of the built environments. The built environment is described by Wikipedia as constructed surroundings that provide the settings for human activity, ranging from the large scale civic surroundings to the personal places. On the other hand, eclecticism in Architecture is simply the selective borrowing of ideas and elements considered as aesthetic elements during the processes of designing and erection of building projects.

Aesthetic refers to how humans perceive and judge objects according to their attractiveness. It is also the philosophy of arts as the study of beauty and taste. A building can rightly be said to be an emotional possession. Possession and ownership a building is a considered a status symbol in some societies and cultures.

Man by nature is attracted to beautiful objects and buildings are not left out in this regard. All perceptual objects have aesthetic properties. Moreover, objects and people appear more attractive when the mind can process their looks faster. Some of the characteristic of aesthetics in a building include texture, harmony, rhythm, symmetry, colour and the interaction of sunlight and shadows among others.

Copying and reproduction of a building design meant for one person to another is not eclecticism. It is actually ‘plagiarism’ in Architecture. Come to think of it, no two buildings are exactly the same. When two buildings look exactly the same as in symmetry, the buildings in most cases differ in the activities taking place in them. Copying kills creativity and hardly can a copied building function successfully as a piece of Architecture.

Furthermore a building designed and constructed for use by a medical doctor can hardly fit as one for musician. If peradventure a building is remodelled or reconstructed to suit a new need and function, that building must have lost a great deal of its Architectural value and can best be described as an abused structure and by extension a failed Architecture. According to one of the patriarchs of Architecture, Alvar Aalto; ‘ Beauty is the harmony of purpose and form’.

However there are contrary views by various schools of thought on the principles concerning aesthetics and functions of a building, but the school of thoughts on the dictum that form should follow the functions which was pioneered by Louis Sullivan have had the most significant impact on the value of the buildings and architecture in the built environments. ‘The architect should strive continually to simplify the ensemble of the rooms, should then be considered that comfort and utility may go hand in hand with beauty’ – Frank Lloyd Wright

Maduka, an Architect, writes from Lagos