Archives for posts with tag: The philosophy and use of Art


In this essay I will attempt to explain how the study of psychoanalysis influenced the development of the consumer society and how we can resist its persuasions. During the Industrial Revolution manufacturers produced more goods than were needed and people had to be persuaded to become consumers to absorb them. The studies of Sigmund Freud were used to develop methods of manipulative persuasion by the advertising industry so that they could promote growth of such consumers. Because advertising is so reliant on images and words, the study of semiotics was also used to help trigger emotional responses in consumers. The main emotional targets are consumers’ anxieties and insecurities. The consumer is told that through buying commodities, they will be able to satisfy their desires. It is necessary to become a skilled reader of advertisements and to know what devices are used because they pervade modern society. Finally, Freud said that it was necessary for people’s psychic wellbeing to resist large-scale coercive powers. Advertising and the consumer culture has become that power.

The consumer society emerged from the surplus of goods manufactured during the Industrial Revolution. With the advent of machines, goods could be manufactured more than one item at a time. There was an increase in the world’s population and an expansion of prosperity among the middle classes. Mass advertising was used to appeal to the growth of these potential markets (Jawitz ,W., 1996, pp.460). The economies of modern societies came to be dominated by large scale commerce (Deborg, G., 1983, pp.40). A constant flow of new products meant that people needed to be convinced to throw away old items to keep ‘in fashion’.

Once manufacturers had convinced people to buy products or commodities that they did not need, consumer culture became intense. During the early twentieth century Euro-American societies changed from valuing work and civic responsibility to valuing leisure and self-fulfilment. The increased acquisition of goods was considered to make life better rather than security and savings. Feelings of inadequacy were enforced to make the intended consumer feel in need of improvement from the various commodities put forward. Advertising used staged imagery rather than reality to reinforce these feelings and so gave form to changing social desires (Jawitz, W. 1996, pp.227).

Before the nineteenth century most advertising was merely informative. It consisted of price lists, signs on walls, printed announcements, and even the calls of the town crier. Supply and demand were in balance and there was no need to produce new products. People bought what they needed and needed what they bought. There was limited competition among merchants (Jawitz, W.,1996, pp.463) . The late nineteenth century saw the emergence of the commodity culture in which the distinctions between objects and images eroded. The image became what people live through and consume (Sturken & Cartwright, 2001, pp.227). The huge growth in advertising showed how persuasion works when used by manufacturers. The advertising industry needed to know how people think and react and what motivates them. Therefore, they turned to the study of psychoanalysis for help.

Sigmund Freud was an Austrian neurologist who founded of the theory of psychoanalysis. Freud said that the human ego is at the beck and call of three masters: the superego, the id or seat of instinctual desire, and to the external world. Human mental life, Freud states, is the conflict between those contending authorities (Derbyshire, J., 2007, pp.36). The real source of human motivation is our unconscious desires and needs. In the United States Freud’s theories were recognised by advertising agencies and they used this research to sell the manufacturers’ products. Before the use of psychoanalysis advertisers assumed that a product was bought because it was best among its competitors or cost less. From Freud’s work it was realised that a brand may be bought because the buyers felt that it made them more powerful, more loved or more acceptable. It was shown through motivational research that women would pay many dollars for a ‘cream’ that promised to make them more ‘beautiful’. Therefore, advertisers realised, don’t sell soap- sell dreams. Don’t sell oranges- sell health and vitality. Don’t sell cars- sell power and prestige (Jawitz, W. 1996, pp.466)

Psychographics and demographics are two crucial fields of research in which advertisers invest large sums of money. Whereas demographics are the statistical study of a large group of people, psychographics gives a more specific profile of the target audience. Through marketing surveys this research reveals information on target audience’ values, lifestyles, emotional triggers, fears and dreams or aspirations. Advertisers use this information to create the language and images people in modern societies receive everyday.

Advertising is full of symbolic images and unconscious associations. Direct messages are avoided because this may contradict what the potential consumer already believes. A hidden message is given by means of a device, the signifier or word, and the signified or object (Inglis, F. 1990, pp.97). This is translated into ‘meaning’ and ‘form’. The study of semiotics involves describing how culture and language work together to produce systematic meaning. All meaning producing activities are gathered under the one conceptual framework: that of ‘signification’ or the making of meaning. Semiotics analyses signification by reducing all communication practices to their most basic unit, ‘the sign’. A sign can be a sound- any physical form which refers to something else. The practices of advertising provide a clear demonstration of the processes of signification by deploying a signifier and attaching it to a mental concept they wish to put with their product. This provides the product with that meaning (Inglis, F. 1990, pp.221) .

An example of this is an ad for health insurance found in a newspaper. The ad shows a couple, relaxing in an environment which is both a type of resort (looking at the cushions and the simple building construction, also the couple’s clothes are not of intrepid explorers) and a rainforest setting. The image has nothing to do with what the reader would normally associate with health insurance, hospitals, doctors, nurses, ambulances etc… However the appeal of this advertisement is in the picture which suggests love, beautiful people, freedom, the beauty of nature, and even a certain naturalness and youth. The emotional appeal of the advertisement is that, by having this health insurance, the reader will somehow be associated with the feeling the picture suggests. At the very least, the picture creates a good mood, so the reader will experience a pleasant feeling when seeing the product’s name (Jawitz, W. 1996,, pp. 487).

Another type of appeal is the celebrity. In this advertisement a bank is selling the image of a winning racing car driver. It does not sell any facts about whether the racing car driver’s investments have increased by using this bank, but the image suggests that the bank is a winner along with the reader. Advertisers pay enormous amounts of money to famous people to endorse their products. They select according to the feeling the person communicates- a feeling the advertiser wants associated with the product; in this case, winning. The idea behind celebrity endorsements is that some of the heroics and fame of the celebrity ‘rub off’ on the product and on the users of that product (Jawitz, W. 1996, pp.487).

Nearly every advertisement attempts to give the impression that the product advertised will make the person more successful, popular, powerful, safer etc… Although this is obviously untrue, the advertiser tries to say that the user will feel loved or popular etc. if they use the product. Ads have always appealed to emotions, but researchers find that even practical, everyday products are purchased more on emotion than practical qualities (Jawitz, W. 1996, pp. 483). Advertisements increasingly speak to problems of anxiety and identity crisis, and offer harmony, vitality, and the prospect of self-realisation. Today, consumption is looked at as both a form of leisure and pleasure and as a form of therapy. It is commonly understood that commodities fulfil emotional needs. The paradox is that those needs are never truly fulfilled as the market lures people into wanting different and more commodities- the newest, the latest, and the best. This is a fundamental aspect of contemporary consumer culture- that it gives us pleasure and reassurance while tapping into our anxieties and insecurities (Sturken & Cartwright, 2001,pp. 197).


To policy-makers, people are consumers, voters, producers or unemployed, taxpayers, clients, crowds, and not much else. We are rarely citizens, users, actors, participants, democrats. To cast a society as consumers is to see its members as creatures to be fed, housed and kept quiet. It shows contempt and arrogance by the powerful to set up the politics of bribery whereby consumers are bribed with extra fat helpings of consumer goods often enough to ensure the docile stability of their vote (Inglis, F. 1990, pp.134). The shopping mall is now the consumer’s cathedral. It serves to give people a sense of place in the world, homogenised as it may be, in part through their purchase and use of commodities which seem to give meaning to their lives in the absence of meaning derived from a close-knit community. This is why, perhaps, people jokingly refer to shopping as a form of ‘retail therapy’ (Sturken & Cartwright, 2001, pp.193). But when we buy a commodity that has meaning attached to it, we are not buying to satisfy need but to satisfy desire. This is why people continue to buy, because desire can never be satisfied.

By the time we are sixty years of age we would have seen over 50 million advertising messages (Jawitz, W. 1996, pp.468). Most of these will be ignored, some will help, but others will mislead. Advertising can help to discover new products or show where to buy goods at the lowest price. However, it can also mislead by convincing people to buy what we do not want or thinking a particular brand is better than what it is. To be able to counteract these persuasions, we need to be skilled readers of advertisements. People must learn to determine facts and then recognise how an advertisement tries to make the product appealing. This may seem simple but advertising agencies spend millions to make the job difficult. Almost every advertisement makes what is called a product claim. This is simply what the advertisement says about the product. There are two basic kinds of claims- one provides useful information for making a purchase decision and the other tells little or nothing factual (Jawitz, W. 1996,pp.468).

One of the basic rules in analysing advertisements is that if any product is truly superior the advertisement will say so clearly  and will offer some kind of convincing evidence of superiority, one can suspect that it is not really superior (Jawitz, W. 1996, pp.476). Once advertisements have been evaluated so that they do not mislead there is a second important skill needed to deal with advertising. People need to understand how advertisements appeal to them through involving their feelings, wishes and dreams. Advertisements attempt to make products look luxurious, sexy, sophisticated, modern, happy, patriotic, or any of dozens of other so-called desirable qualities.

Many advertisements appeal to feelings and emotions. Studies have shown that a person’s choice of a specific product and brand is more based on feelings than a specific product’s claims. Most advertisements have both a reasonable-sounding claim and an appeal to feelings. The careful consumer should be able to see in any ad not only what claim is being made but also what emotional appeal is being used. Different types of appeal are in different advertisements, although some use a combination of appeals. In looking for the emotional appeal, always notice the setting in which the product is placed. Placing a car by a mansion with a chauffeur and people in expensive-looking clothes says that this is a car for wealthy people. (Jawitz, W. 1996, pp. 487)

In a consumer culture where personal debt is towering over an economy so reliant on the results of consumer confidence figures, it is interesting to note how Freud’s studies into the human psyche have been hijacked. In 1914 Sigmund Freud published a short essay extolling the virtues of renouncing pleasure and desire in the name of something greater. In Moses and Monotheism, which was published just before Freud’s death in 1939, he used Michelangelo’s sculpture of Moses as an example of the sublimation of flesh. It is argued by the writer Edmundsen (Derbyshire J. 2007, pp.36) that Freud’s greatness lies in his recognition that psychic wellbeing consists of tolerating this conflict between desire and sublimation. Freud recognized that charismatic leaders such as Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini etc.. promise eternal peace in place of conflict, plentitude in place of lack. Such a promise is illusory but is no less powerful or alluring. Freud says that fascism and fundamentalism are where ‘humanity will go without potent efforts of resistance’. He asked humanity to ‘turn away from all large-scale coercive powers’ (Derbyshire, J. 2007, pp.36)

The production of commodities has seized total domination over the world’s economy. The consumer frenzy spoken of by environmentalist George Monbiot (Monbiot, G. 2007, pp.18), threatens the world’s ecological environment and therefore human life. It needs to be controlled and the best way of controlling it is by understanding how it works. People must resist the ‘large scale coercive power’ of advertising and ask themselves, “Do I really need this?”


Jawitz, William, 1996, Understanding Mass Media 5th Edition, National TextbookCountry,US

Debord, G.,1983, The Commodity as Spectacle, Society of the Spectacle,Michigan: Black and Red

Sturken, M. Cartwright, L., 2001, Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture,OxfordUniversityPress

Inglis, F., Media Theory: An Introduction., 1990, Basil BlackwellOxford&Cambridge

Guardian Weekly October 5-11 2007, Vol 177 No 16

Guardian Weekly October 12- 18 2007, Vol 177 No 17

Derbyshire, J. 2007, The Death of Sigmund Freud: Fascism, Psychoanalysis and the Rise of Fundamentalism  Edmundsen, M., Guardian Weekly, September 14-20, Vol 177 No 12 pp.36

Monbiot, G. 2007, ‘We should welcome a recession now’ Guardian Weekly October 12- 18 2007, Vol 177 No 17 pp. 18


The Media inAustralia: Industries, Texts, Audiences, Edited by Cunningham, S. & Turner, G. 1993: Allen & Unwin Pty Ltd,Australia

Key Ideas in Consumption, Bocock, Robert: Routledge, NewYork 1993

Ways of Seeing, Berger, John 1972: BBC and Penguin BooksUnited Kingdom


‘The house as a machine to live in’ and the ‘living sculpture’ are two Modernist architectural concepts which can be adapted to twenty-first century use. While global urbanization has invariably led to environmental depredation in the twentieth century, it is through well-considered architectural practice that human habitation can adapt to the changing natural environment and help to improve the high-density built environment that will be necessary in the future. This essay will look at various architectural philosophies as well as a biological example of high density living to research how these concepts can achieve a new context.


    Termite mound -Cape York,Australia

Termites engineer their environment to high level yet completely utilise renewable resources, and are an architectural inspiration for passive ventilated structures both as working machines and sculptural forms. To enhance the survival of the termite in a harsh environment, evolution has seen fit to create a social organisation of these insects that enable them to achieve feats that would be impossible for an individual insect. Their complex nests are cooperatively built, well-insulated and sustain suitable humid micro-climates in harsh, dry conditions. Different species build different types of nests to coincide with differing environments, however they generally use mud and saliva to produce a regular array of interior pillars which are transformed into walls or galleries or chambers connected by walkways. These walkways create air convection channels which rise in ventilator chimneys within the above ground mounds; allowing thermoregulation of a narrow temperature range. This temperature control is essential for the maintenance of the termites’ broods, as well as helping to maintain atmospheric control for the species that cultivate underground fungal gardens. The ducts within the mound act much like the vessels and the respiratory channels of the human body, functioning as effectively as well. Their sculptured nests have elaborate and distinctive forms, with some tall wedge-shaped mounds being oriented north-south, some are amorphous domes and some are buttressed cones covered in grass that can be up to seven metres high. All these building variations helping to adjust temperature control in differing locations.



To expand on the concept of sculptural buildings that effectively adapt to their environment one can look at the prototype of Arcosanti, an experimental town being built in thedesertofArizona. It will eventually house 5000 people and demonstrate ways in which society can improve urban conditions and lessen destructive impact on the environment. It is based on the concept of arcology, a combination of architecture and ecology, and was developed by the Italian architect Paolo Soleri(1919-  ). Arcology, like termite mounds, attempts to have the living and built environment interact as organs would in a highly-evolved being (, using systems such as multi-use buildings, solar orientation for lighting, heating and cooling and large-scale greenhouses that provide winter-heating as well as garden space for public and private use. Soleri’s work considers the economic and social impact of design decisions (Johnson, B., 1999). City sprawl is concentrated into an independent system containing all the functions required by urban life: housing, recreational centres, agricultural and educational facilities. Frugality is encouraged, along with craft production, as an alternative to consumer society. Strange concrete forms with giant open vaults, painted half-domes with peculiar crests, an amphitheatre ringed by buildings with giant circular openings, little houses sunk into the hillsides, the buildings of Arcosanti are structured so that their function changes along with the day, thus following the sunlight. Patios act as the core of the functional distribution with each boxlike dwelling revolving around an outdoor amphitheatre with the patio giving access to each unit (Piccardo, Romano, 2008). Moulded with earth-casting construction methods, exposed concrete is painted using craft techniques, the same colour as the earth. The challenge for arcology is to find ways for large groups of people to be able to tolerate living in such close proximity. By integrating working and living spaces, along with the transportation to connect it together, emphasises the effective use of high-rise habitation, urban agriculture and the collection and reprocessing of waste byproducts. Whereas Arcosanti is a prototype, the concept of arcology is now being proposed in population dense Asia, with the Chinese government showing a keen interest (  

The concept of a building or house as a ‘living sculpture’ can be attributed to the late work of Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959). As architects such as Le Corbusier and Gerrit Reitveld were influenced by the Cubists, it may be possible to see in Wright’s philosophy the influences of such organic sculptures as that of Constantin Brancusi’s and Henry Moore’s. In his 1928 essay ‘Architectural Record’ Wright says ‘in the stony bonework of the Earth…there sleeps forms and styles enough for all the ages of Man’ (Conners, 1979:397), which supports an organic, natural interpretation of his Fallingwater (1934).


                                                  Fallingwater, 1934, Pennysylvania

Fallingwater was built amongst the dramatic rock ledges and boulders in the forest of Bear Run, Pennysylvania. Wright was commissioned to build a weekender for the Kaufmann family yet subsequently built a monument to nature. Understanding that people are creatures of nature, he thought that what conformed to nature would conform to the basic needs of people ( and according to the writer Donald Hoffmann, Fallingwater is the “Natural House’ (Conners, 1979:397). Every major feature of the house symbolises the site: the central chimney reflects the geological strata of the region, while the jutting concrete terraces echo the rock ledges that line the waterfall. It was designed to grow naturally out of its setting, as an extension to the landscape rather than an intrusion (Hitchcock, 1968:331). The broad bands of horizontal windows, along with the low ceilings, direct attention outside to the differing textures of the forest. The concrete and stone structural materials blend with the colours of the surrounding rocks and trees, while accents are created with bright furnishings that echo the wildflowers and birds outside. Within the house, passages and stairs meander without formality with the house having no main entrance ( By building the house over the waterfall, Wright wished to force the inhabitants to be part of the presence and power of the waterfall (Kleiner, Mamiya, 2005:1017). Fallingwater is a synthesis of organic architecture, integrating such environmental factors as function, native materials, construction process and humans.


Villa Savoye, 1928, Paris

 Villa Savoye (1928) was the first building to realise the ‘five-point plan’ of Le Corbusier (1887-1965) that he wrote about in his essay of 1923 ‘Vers une Architecture’. Built on the outskirts of Paris as a weekend retreat for a client, it is a masterpiece of Purist design and one of the best examples of Le Corbusier’s goal to create a house that would be ‘a machine to live in’, both beautiful and functional ( The five-point plan encompasses a mathematically modular design using the ‘golden section’ of architecture, ‘pilotis’ where the house is raised on stilts to separate it from the earth, horizontal strip windows, abstract sculptural design along with pure colour, and an open interior plan with dynamic transitions between floors such as ramps and a spiral staircase leading to a roof garden. Sitting conspicuously in its site, the house was Le Corbusier’s imagined idea of a house built like a car using standardized production ( and innovative structural systems such as structural steel and reinforced concrete. The architect believed that the house should serve the basic physical and psychological needs of the inhabitants through access to the sun, space, vegetation, good ventilation, controlled temperature and insulation against unwanted noise (Kleiner, Mamiya, 2005:1013). Therefore, it was through these attributes that Le Corbusier made his ‘machine a habiter’. The ‘pilotis’ also freed space underneath the building, its structural steel frame construction freed the house plan from needing load-bearing walls and allowed the flow of function and aesthetics. Light is used as a powerful element in the house to draw people up the ramps becoming an architectural promenade (Korzilus, 1999:16). The use of the horizontal or ‘ribbon windows’ let vast amounts of light, while the roof garden allows the landscape to become part of the house. The forms of the house, with repetitive cylindrical columns and strong geometric shapes have echoes of classical Hellenistic architecture (Korzilus, 1999:8), and it is this rhythmical aspect that makes the house have a neutral balance and proportion that appeals to the human need for aesthetics or, in Le Corbusier’s words, ‘to touch one’s heart’.


Farnsworth House, 1951,Illinois

A masterpiece of modern architecture which could be described as ‘a sculpture to live in’ is Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe’s (1886-1969) Farnsworth House (1951). Also built as weekender near Plano, Illinois, this simple single-storey house sits on a secluded site on the Fox River. The design of the house celebrates nature in a unique way. By carefully planning the house around its specific location, Mies takes advantage of the natural surroundings. The house sits far from the main road and south of its 58 acre site. It has no driveway or walkway which leads to the house but is approached on foot so as to allow the inhabitants to interact with the natural environment along the way (  The house also faces the river which flows a short distance away and, although the site is vulnerable to flooding, Mies chose to elevate the house off the ground rather than position it further away. It is this floating effect which is also complemented by the buildings structure of eight white steel columns that support a flat floor and a flat roof. In between is floor to ceiling single panes of ¼ inch glass. Mies eliminated the idea of rooms and created one open space of 2,156 square feet. The central core of the house is constructed of primavera plywood and contains the kitchen, bathroom and fireplace (Leber, Webster, With this central core being the only interior wall, Mies designed and arranged the furniture so it is grouped in small clusters away from the exterior walls; allowing the boundaries between outside and inside to become almost invisible, and it is its prismatic composition which gives the house its temple-like quality. The windows and the intermittent partitioning, work together to force the inhabitants’ awareness of the raw elements of nature, as well as the comforting shelter of the architecture ( In 1938 Mies advocated the study of ‘primitive constructions, materials, the functional and the spiritual’ (Cohen, 1996:81), quoting the philosophy of St. Augustine ‘Beauty is the Splendour of Truth’ and it is with these thoughts that one can see that Mies intended that Farnsworth House to be an embodiment of his Purist views. Although the house has been criticised as being difficult to live in (Cohen, 1996:9), one can appreciate it’s almost Buddhist philosophy and disregard for the normal clutter of daily living. Mies’ adage that ‘less is more’ is certainly a potent message for sustainability in the 21st century.


Case Study House, 1949,California

 To keep housing sustainable it is also important to keep the costs low. Both Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye and Mies’ Farnsworth House were unsustainable due to their cost. Charles Eames (1907-1978) was as American designer who wanted to use the expertise developed during the Second World War to produce low-cost veteran’s housing that would be both aesthetic and democratic. His Case Study House (1949) built in Santa Monica consisted of a design which used standardised parts already in production. It represented a particular refinement of ‘the machine for living’ that could become the ideal industrialised house (Copplestone, 1968:337). It was said by Dennis Sharp to be comprised of an unconventional use of standard components, which, when assembled, ‘became an artwork as unique as a Duchamp ready-made’ (Sharp, 2004: 170). The house, which was built for Eames and his partner Ray, was a double-storey unit divided into a house and a design studio by an open court. The living room was the full two stories in height with the bedrooms being set on a mezzanine level opening onto the living room. The house featured factory-produced steel windows frames filled with transparent and translucent glass and panelling made of wood, aluminum and fibreboard. The couple lived in the house till the end of their lives with it serving as a background offering them ‘a space where work, play, life and nature coexisted’ ( Charles and Ray Eames also used this design to propose a ‘do-it –yourself’ house for the Kwikset Lock Company. It was a house that would have been a low-cost prefabricated kit home designed to be assembled by the home’s owner. Similar to the Eames’ own house, it allowed the residents to customize the design to their own needs- a fundamental premise of the Eames’ philosophy.

A major architectural challenge of the 20th century, and now the 21st century, is to check the spread of dense masses of housing. Due to the exponential growth in human population since the Industrial Revolution, the natural environment has suffered much from an expanding human footprint. After the First World War, Le Corbusier turned his research to counteracting this problem with his ‘Voisin’ plan of Paris (1925) in which he built upwards in zigzag blocks, leaving room for green spaces beneath (Copplestone, 1968:328). His aim was to reconcile man with nature by his concept of the Green City as a necessary counterpart to the human social environment (Fishman, R., 1982: 204). Le Corbusier also believed that human habitation should be amenable to meditation; that after work, family life could exist to create individual fulfillment and creation. In his mass housing projects, each apartment was designed to be as private as a monk’s cell. Defining the ideal human environment, he recalled a trip to Italy, “I saw a modern City, crowning the hillside in the harmonious landscape of Tuscany’ (Fishman, R., 1982: 203). It was the monastery of Ema and he relished the structural combination of private and communal life there. The realm of the individual monk was a two room apartment overlooking the valley, connected with the community through the cloisters. At La Tourette (1955), near Lyons, he designed a monastery comprising a U-shaped building and a rectangular chapel set around a central court built on a hillside. The cells were cantilevered out over the storeys below with great attention being given to providing shade, air and light. However, it was in designing Unite d’Habitation (1947) that allowed Le Corbusier to realize his proposals for mass housing.


Unite d’Habitation, 1947, Marseille

The Marseille Unite d Habitation brought together Le Corbusier’s vision for communal living. He designed it under the constraints of post-war France, introducing the world to raw concrete because of the lack of steel and skilled workers for steel construction. Making a virtue of this necessity, he defined the building’s texture by the wooden plank formwork into which the concrete was poured. It is a ‘vertical village’ for 1600 people with an internal shopping centre on the middle floors, a recreation ground and children’s nursery on the roof, and a large surrounding area of parkland. It stands on strong, sculptural pilotis which give circulatory space beneath the building, has a pattern of single and double height balconies forming the façade, and contains fifteen different types of apartments. The partition walls are load-bearing and provide sound-proofing between apartments, but it is in the use of inter-locking two-storey apartments that the design shows its ingenious use of space (Glynn, S., 2001: It was because of the severe housing shortage after the Second World War that allowed Le Corbusier to make use of new industrialized management practices and orientate his construction technique to be based upon the modular. This made the processing and assembling of the new materials easier. Also, by attempting to provide the perfect residence for a family, he found technical solutions to control sound, light and ventilation, and to create new uses for living space. The apartments could face the sun and surrounding environment in silence and solitude, whilst the architecture was a work of elegant rigor (Sbriglio, 2008:


Roofdeck- Unite d’Habitation, 1947, Marseille

Another architect who spent much of his career contemplating sustainable habitation was Alvar Aalto (1898-1976). He admired the traditional architecture of Finland in which wood dominates as the main material and joining method, writing in 1941: ‘The Karelian house is in a way a building that begins with a modest cell…, shelter for a man and animals, and which figuratively speaking grows year by year’(Alvar Aalto, Architecture in Karelia, 1941). He had expanded this idea in 1932 when his association with a large Finnish timber and paper company opened his practice to industrial production. The patronage of the Finnish timber industry led Aalto to reappraise the value of timber over concrete as a primary expressive material. An organic approach to design led him to have a life-long concern for the overall ambience of space and how it could be modified through responsive filtration of heat, light and sound. Moreover, it was his later work that gave him an anti-mechanistic attitude and led him to believe that ‘to make architecture more human means better architecture’ (Frampton, K, 1997:199). In 1938 he designed Villa Mairea which featured a sculptural fireplace, mixed brickwork, rendered masonry and timber siding. The living rooms bordered a sheltered garden courtyard, set within a circular forest clearing. The house is roofed with sod and built according to the canons of the Finnish timber vernacular. Aalto connected architecture with biology and worked to create ‘a more sensitive structure to living’ (Frampton, K. 1997:201). After completing many municipal buildings, Aalto adapted an atrium concept to the design of a multi-storey apartment block built for the Berlin Hansvartal Interbau Exhibition in 1955. An ingenious design which has become one of the most significant post-war apartment types, its primary virtue was that it provided the benefits of the single-family home within the confines of a small flat. Through a U-shaped design, a large atrium terrace is flanked by living and dining rooms while the whole is surrounded on two sides by private spaces such as bedrooms. This grouping created an intimate and private atmosphere. Aalto always concentrated his attention on the creation of environments that would be conducive to human well-being, ascribing to the Northern European Expressionist architects’ philosophy that was ‘concerned that building should be life-giving rather than repressive’ (Frampton, K., 1997:202).


Interbau Exhibition, Hansaviertel, 1955, Berlin

The Australian architect Glen Murcutt (1936- ) developed a preference for simple primitive architecture from his early life in New Guinea; his main influences being Mies Van Der Rohe and philosopher Henry David Thoreau. Being regional in nature, Murcutt’s houses resemble verandahs and have become a synonymous part of domestic Australian architecture ( His overriding design aim is to unify nature and inhabited space by having architecture respond to human need whilst retaining a consciousness of the natural world: ‘It is trees, it is climate, it is the earth, the water, the rocks and the landscape which is real’ ( His designs transpose the idea of a building to an organism which can adapt to changes such as humidity, temperature and light. Built in 1975 the Marie Short House is located in the marshy farmlands of Kempsey, NSW and it is the bodies of water that surround the house which make ventilation a top priority of the design. The house is composed of two pavilions connected by a corridor that also connects the two verandahs at each end of the pavilions. In 1980 Murcutt purchased the house for himself and added two additional spaces to the west of the building. The house was able to be pulled apart and reassembled with flexibility and ease without compromising the original buildings integrity. The humidity of the site was counteracted by positioning the house to receive the prevailing north-east breeze. The floor is raised on stilts 0.8 metres from ground level which prevents humidity being absorbed from the marshy soil and also prevents wildlife such as snakes from entering. The house uses solar heating and roof overhangs to maintain interior temperature control and light. The living room’s skylight has a shutter system to prevent excessive heat and light entering the room. Louvered windows have a detachable blind system to prevent heat loss in winter. In order to maintain a low building cost, Murcutt followed a minimalist building approach by emphasising only the essential and using manufactured construction elements rather than custom-made parts. Passive solar design and natural ventilation are the key elements of Murcutt’s design, allowing the architecture to benefit from the surroundings as well as respecting the natural site.


Marie Short House, 1975,New South Wales 

This sustainable design philosophy is also seen in Murcott’s design for the Educational Centre at Riversdale on theShoalhavenRiver. Again two main buildings connect with each other, their roofs sloping to form a ‘valley’ in which the rainwater is collected. One of the buildings is the meeting room and the other houses the sleeping quarters. Murcutt likened the experience of staying at Riversdale to camping, there being no heating system and the corridor between the two buildings being a covered verandah which is open at the sides. The sleeping quarters are outfitted like a ship’s cabin with each bed nestling in an alcove with a low ceiling and long, low window that gives a panoramic view of the river (Muller, B. 2001). Murcutt’s construction methods are carefully considered as to their environmental impact, and this led him to being awarded the 2002 Pritzker Prize  for sustainable architecture (


Educational Centre, Riversdale,1998, New South Wales 

The fundamental principles for sustainable architecture in the 21st century seem to be based upon the design principles of the Modernist architects of the 20th century. The principles are passive solar design, natural ventilation, insulation, waste reprocessing and collection of rainwater and solar heat, along with an awareness and respect for the natural site making the building an extension of the landscape. Also, the monastery being a good example of frugal, cooperative living, mass housing should include educational and recreational centres, markets, and agricultural facilities such as greenhouses. Finally, low-cost standardized production and parts based upon the concept of the module could allow for customized design and the integration of working and living spaces. Many of these principles are the basis of the termite mound from which can be construed that a more biological approach to architecture could be taken in the future. The ‘machine to live in’ could become an organic machine which allows the natural environment to cope with such a mass of humanity, and the ‘living sculpture’ could act to inspire humanity within the confines of their daily lives.

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“Art as a Weapon”-The Enlightenment of Francisco de Goya.


Francisco Goya, “The Sleep of Reason Breeds Monsters” Los Caprichos

Goya’s prints and paintings survive with terrifying force because they castigate not merely the superstitions of eighteenth century Spaniards but all the malevolent powers of bigotry…’ (Tomory, P.A., p.80). The imagery and imagination that pervades Goya’s work in the first phase of his career was deeply influenced by the cultural and social events of his contemporary world. The eighteenth century was a period of great social change in Europe and Goya was one of the primary artists to depict this time. In this essay I will focus on the cultural influences in his tapestry designs and paintings of the 1790s, and the social influences in his etching series Los Caprichos.

The eighteenth century ushered in a new period of thinking in the Western world which was to bring marked political, social and economic changes. This period was called the Enlightenment and encouraged critical thinking independent of religious or superstitious doctrines. Artists entered into the dialogue about the state and direction of society and played an important role in encouraging public consideration of these momentous changes. Denis Diderot (1713- 1784), a writer and philosopher of the time, wrote, ‘Every work of sculpture or painting must be an expression of a great principle, a lesson for the spectator- otherwise it remains mute’ (Diderot, D. p.64). The personality of Francisco de Goya (1746- 1928) was vividly drawn to this new social framework.

Goya was born in the village of Fuentelodos in 1746. His father was a master gilder. After being apprenticed to the painter Jose Luzan, in 1763 he went to Madrid to study with Francisco Bayeu (1734-1795), a court painter. He then studied in Italy in 1770 and upon his return to Madrid was associated with the painter Anton Rafael Mengs (1728-1779), who ruled the Madrid painters under Carlos III. This king is credited with bringing the Enlightenment to Spain. However, in Spain there was still a belief in the divine rule of kings, in which constitutional government played no part.

Even though Madrid had a thin veneer of ‘ilustrados’, (enlightened aristocrats), the ‘pueblo’, (common people), was far more conservative. There was a huge difference between popular and elite culture in eighteenth century Spain. To the ‘majo’, (man of the people), the ‘ilustrado’ was a virtual foreigner. The street culture of Madrid was full of superstitions, bullfights, flamenco singers and popular theatre. At forty-six, Goya painted himself as a ‘majo’. He stands in his studio with a white light from the window behind, dressed in the red-braided jacket of a ‘torreador’. Goya’s imagination in the last half of the eighteenth century was planted firmly within this world. He loved popular culture, the life of tavern keepers, gambling houses and rag sellers.

Robert Hughes writes in his biography “Goya” that in 1775 Goya was set to work turning out paintings as cartoon designs for the Royal Tapestry Factory of Santa Barbara. Between 1775 and 1792 he completed more than sixty cartoons. They were full size and in full colour, some being as large as four metres wide. These cartoon designs would become tapestries to cover the walls of the Palace Real in Madrid. The subject matter of the designs was essentially narrative and popular in tone; light-hearted stories about contemporary events and manners in the modern Spain of Carlos III. These were Goya’s ‘saintes’ or scenes from popular culture cleaned up for royal consumption (Hughes, R. p.83).


Hughes goes on to tell us that in the culture of eighteenth century Spain it was a man’s world and so the collective hero of the tapestries is mainly the ‘majo’. This is shown clearly in his tapestry cartoon Picnic on the Banks of the Manzaneras (1776). Five young men are having a picnic. The food and wine make a small, beautifully rendered still-life within the painting. An orange seller is coquettishly inviting the ‘majos’ to buy. She is a figure straight from the popular theatre of the times, as are the young men. All belong together in this ‘proletarian paradise’ (Hughes, R. p.88).


In Fight at the New Inn (1777), coachmen and muleteers in the dress of the Spanish provinces are depicted outside an old country inn. Two of the men are dressed in ‘majo’ style and the others as peasants. They are gambling; the table on the right shows the innkeeper scooping up the winnings. They begin to fight until they are rolling on the ground with sticks. A dog barks as a man on horseback draws a pistol, while another tries to restrain the horse. It was a design that possibly would have reminded the Royals and their guests of the ‘picturesque’ poverty of places that they would never visit.

IN 1786, Goya began painting for the Osuna family. The Duke and Duchess of Osuna were socially ‘enlightened’ aristocrats who played a major role in Madrid public life through the Madrid Economic Society. The subject of the painting was a Rococo themed pastoral, complete with Fragonard-inspired foliage, into which he has introduced Spanish reality. Highwaymen Attacking a Coach (1787) probably represented what the Osuna family, being wealthy aristocrats, feared most. In the Spain of the 1780s brigandry was common, as outside Madrid little was policed. The outlaws were a violent and nasty lot which Goya would portray in later paintings and drawings.

Goya was a lover of the bullfight and earlier, in 1780, he had done a series of children’s games, one of which was a mock bullfight. Three boys play; one under a wickerwork bull and the other an infant picador on the shoulders of the third boy, his horse. While he was convalescing from a severe illness in 1793, he returned to the subject. On small metal supports, he painted a series of paintings following the story of the bullfight; the preparation, struggle and death of the fighting bull. One of the series, Death of a Picador 1793, is a painting of agony and death. This is expected as part of the entertainment, or as Robert Hughes describes, ‘this is Spain’ (Hughes, R., p.133).

In the eighteenth century the prison was an isolator. It was a place where people were locked up and left to fend for themselves with nobody to help or treat them. The madhouse was a place of degradation where the inmates were looked upon as a form of entertainment. Both places served as subject matter for Goya. In Yard with Lunatics (1794), Goya writes ‘…a courtyard of lunatics, in which two naked men fight with their warden, who beats them and others with sacks ( a scene I saw first hand in Zaragoza)’ (Hughes p.139). They are all there, each imprisoned by his neighbour, fighting, crouching, struggling, glaring, snarling and crawling like animals on the grey stone. This painting is also similar to Interior of Prison (1793), which shows a scene of abject despair in a contemporary prison of the eighteenth century.

In the 1790s Goya produced a series of etchings called Los Caprichos (1799). They parallel a sudden mood of reaction that swept the Spanish government. In 1790 French writings were banned and in 1791, most Spanish newspapers. Hughes writes in his review of a Goya exhibition that the etchings were meant as social satires on reaction, privilege, stupidity, exploitation and social vulgarity; a manifesto of liberal dislikes (Hughes, Nothing if not Critical p.62). In his advertisements for Los Caprichos, Goya says that ‘…from amongst the innumerable foibles to be found in any civilized society, and from the common prejudices and deceitful practices which custom, ignorance and self-interest have hallowed’ he has selected ‘those subjects which he feels to be more suitable for satire, and which, at the same time, stimulate the artist’s imagination’ (Hofmann, W. p.15).

Werner Hofmann in his discussion on Goya, writes that man lives falling:

This destiny with all its constraints, forms the metaphorical content of Goya’s art. When he depicts the social conventions and pressures which force human beings into precarious situations that descend into misery, crime or madness, his view is not confined to criticism of these realities. He draws and paints parables that illustrate the inescapable entanglement, the incurable sickness of the human condition. (Hofmann, p.40)

He goes on to describe that in Los Caprichos Goya was lashing out at contemporary Spanish uses and abuses, making fun of vices, ignorance and self-seeking. Goya transcends the specific contexts of the society scenes and turns them into paradigms and generalisations (Hofmann, p.104).

In the series of eighty etchings, Goya depicts a spoilt child stubbornly defying the authority of his nanny, the viciousness of child abuse, a chained couple that cannot escape each other; seduction and deception, exaggerated pain, and some comical misdeeds: someone getting robbed, beaten with a broom or being shaved or fleeced by a very experienced young lady. All over the chessboard of society, the pawns are watched, bullied and patronised. Pseudo partnerships are depicted in which trickery and hocus-pocus imposes brutal authority on the victim. Children are terrified by monsters and monks pray to a parrot on a pulpit. In All Will Fall the huge monster shrinks into a manipulated puppet. Here Goya is striking at the heart of those who abuse their political power, and at a weakling’s empty rhetoric. Hofmann interprets Los Caprichos as beginning by signalling the disintegration of the social body, parading the role play of the corrupted world, and ending with its descent into apocalyptic nightmare (Hofmann, p.118)


The culture of eighteenth century Spain and the social principles of the Enlightenment were integral to Goya and his creativity. In this twenty-five year period he moved from the depictions of contemporary Spanish life in his tapestries, to the fine paintings and portraits he created of his ilustrado patrons, to the satirical criticisms of Los Caprichos. Goya’s mission was to sharpen the minds of society by holding the mirror of his work to them.




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