Symbolism in Architecture

Visual Communication in Architecture | The Study of Semiotics and Signifiers

Symbolism in architecture is a way for designers to convey higher language through the use of visual elements, motifs, and a better understanding of ontological architectural anatomy. It is a powerful tool that can help to create buildings that are meaningful and reflective of their cultural context and inner connotations.

Symbolic imagery – Icons, figures, ideograms, totems etc. can all be used to represent recognizable ideas within a new discourse – new composition. However, as the complexity of our civilization has evolved, all of these “concrete” images have evolved into more abstract ones. As we developed microscopes and telescopes and looked into the micro and macro world, we are evolving back towards Plato’s original forms and geometrical shapes – the world of Ideas. As we progressed with Carl Jung, all of these Temples, houses and towers, are denoted as archetypal representations of our internal collective conscience. Singularity manifests as multiplicity.

Colours can have varying significance across cultures – context matters. For example, red is often associated with good fortune in Chinese culture, while in Western cultures it is often associated with love and passion, or sometimes even intellect. By incorporating colours with specific symbolic meanings, architects can convey emotional impulses that can enrich the aesthetic experience. Colours, as enhancers of distinctions between concepts, teach us to mark terminology precisely. As Jung stated, “distinction is creation”.

Geometric shapes possess the capability of carrying symbolic meanings in various ways. The use of circles often symbolizes unity and completeness, while the use of squares represents stability and balance. These are just examples of generic implementations. Mandalas, complex visual symbols that are made up of simpler geometric forms, have gained popularity as a way of understanding and explaining reality, as they represent the interconnectedness and unity of all things. As a higher level of Syntax, Mandala has found its way into the artistic canon.

The materials used in a building’s design can play a significant role in conveying symbolic meaning and adding depth to its overall aesthetic. For example, in Japanese architecture, the use of wood is often associated with a connection to nature and a sense of simplicity. This use of wood, which has been recognized as a key principle of Japanese aesthetics, has been embraced by modern architects and can be seen in many contemporary buildings. However, the symbolic significance of materials extends beyond just cultural associations. Different materials can also convey different emotions and moods, such as the warmth and comfort of wood, or the cool and sleek sophistication of steel. The interplay between different materials can also add layers of complexity and meaning to a building’s design. For example, the use of contrasting materials, such as the combination of rough, textured stone with smooth, polished glass, can create a sense of tension and dynamism in a structure.

By utilizing various forms of symbolism, architects can create designs that serve as meaningful expressions of the spirit of a people. These structures will not only reflect but also challenge the significance of given culture, encouraging individuals to engage with and consider their own cultural heritage in a more critical light.

Signup for our Newsletter