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Ornament is a characteristic of one of two broad categories of design. These categories are elemental and object oriented design.
Elemental architecture is composed of expressed components, arranged according to a convention and with a gravitational logic, and typically these components are human scaled. In classicism, for instance, the elements are the entablature, the column, the cornice, and so on. These elements are arranged with the visually heaviest at the base, the visually lighter above. Arguably, Art Deco is the last dominant instance of elementalism.
Ornament is a component of elemental architecture. It is important in highlighting elements, providing visual coherence and enhancing proportions, providing light and shade to surfaces.
Post war, architectural design has become object oriented. The building is regarded primarily as a three dimensional object, a singular or ‘sculptural’ form, intended to stand in isolation, or to contrast with its setting. The constituent elements of the building are repressed in favour of the coherence of the singular object. Ornament has no part in this form of architecture, because the enhancement of a hierarchical composition is not relevant to this style. Texture is antithetical to object oriented design, large planes of simple materials, ideally with all jointing and evidence of fabrication repressed, is favoured.
Elemental architecture is the building block of coherent urban form. It is suitable for creating urban walls. A row of elemental buildings creates a textured and rich urban streetscape with a commonality of proportion and composition. The streetscape becomes more than the sum of its parts. A row of object buildings rarely delivers urban coherence.
I suggest, therefore, that a starting point for recovering a more adaptable and resilient form of architecture may be found in re-evaluation of the point at which the elemental was superceded by the object oriented. We need reinvigorated elementalism. - MJEFFRESON