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On Character


New Town in Marne-la-Vallée, Paris Region, France
Competition"Val d'Europe",  Commune de Chessy
by Rob Krier and Christoph Kohl

The Classical Concept of Character 

"......the prevalent consideration of the classical tradition revolves around the theory of decorum. Decorum refers to that which is 'fitting'. In its Latin use decorum had the same sense of the proper, suitable, or seemly which it still carries in English.
 In architecture, decorum came to mean the appropriateness of form to the program and to the physical or social context and ciecumstances. Hence the beauty arising from fitness. In this context, the romantic conception of style is of little use and, instead, we must turn to the classical concept of character."
Demetri Porphyrios
"Classical Architecture" 


Reconstruction of Ilot Clairfontaine, Luxembourg
by Herr & Huyberechts, Luxembourg
(Photo by Lucien Steil)

"The idea of character as a theoretical concept originally derives from Aristotle's theory of human nature. In his 'Poetics', Aristotle pointed out that all people are marked by specific physical and behavioural attributes. More importantly for Aristotle, character was an expression of moral purpose. It was only later, when Greco-Roman rhetoricians gave different literary treatment to their subjects in oratory, that character came to mean style, in the sense of personal expression. The classical idea of character, however, never stressed individual but always typical traits."
Demetri Porphyrios
"Classical Architecture"


Tasis, American School in Lugano, Switzerland
Art Studios Building
by David Mayernik

"For the classical mind, everything in the world has a character of its own in the sense that it bears distinctive features by which we can recognise it. In a manner similar to nature, therefore, those artefacts made by the craftsman and artist must also be given their own distinctive character.
Character here is not meant to facilitate the recognition of the artist's hand; it is rather an attribute that assigns proper and typical features to artefacts, so they may speak of their purpose, rank, and immediate context or distant ancestors."
Demetri Porphyrios
"Classical Architecture"
(Andreas Papadakis Publisher, 1998)


New House in I'On, Pount Pleasant, South Carolina  
by Deupi & Ekonomakis Partnership

Style and Character


Gärtnerhaus, Charlottenhof, Potsdam
by Karl Friedrich Schinkel

Style in terms of language is the highest achievable perfection and consistence of form, vocabulary, composition, elegance of phrasing and of expression, correctness of orthography, relationship of form and content, constructional logics and tectonic poetry.
Wether it is a national, regional or local language or dialect does not really matter so much, though we might acknowledge 'high styles' nd 'vernacular idioms'.
Style in terms of language means communicating ideas and ideals in the most beautiful and cultivated form..., and this can address the universal or the particular, the local or the national, the collective or the personal, the public or the domestic, the classical or the vernacular.
Character is not a substitute for style. It is not particularly linked to the regional or vernacular and should not be taken as a subordinate theory of  art psychological nature or of purely allegorical substance or of some purely local signature!
Character articulates the nature of a building, building ensemble or urban structure and it specifies their role and category, the relative importance and the essence of their purposes, their hierarchy, their functions, their class, their inhabitants, their location (in the city and countryside within a specific culture, geography, climate, history, etc.), their symbolic program and role, etc.
Style supports the articulation of character and vice-versa, but there is not a necessary direct causality between character and a particular historical style.
It is only by integrating style, character and type that it will be possible to define and evaluate an architectural or urbanistic creation. Architectural treatises have generally offered and discussed a wide range of conceptual tools to address appropriately architectural and urbanistic practice and there seem not to be any reasons not to refer to them in a contemporary situation.     


New Youth Hostel in Bornstedt, Potsdam
by The Prince of Wales's Urban Design Task Force 1996
(Drawing by Diego Montero)


  Entry Pavilion, Paul Cushman III Financial Center
Riggs Bank, Washington DC.
by John Blatteau Associates
(Photo by Tom Crane)

 Character and Architecture 


Paul Cushman III Financial Center
Riggs Bank, Washington DC.
by John Blatteau Associates
(Photo by Tom Crane)

"Character, understood as a synonym of indicative property of what the building is or what it must appear to be, cannot be developed by the artist without the concurrence of two corresponding impressions. Through the effect of the first the artist must render a faithful and true account of the qualities or special ideas with which customs endows a monument; the effect of the second, is to make known to the artist the exterior means that art could employ in order to correspond to the expression that must be manifested to the eyes."
Quatremère de Quincy
(The Historical Dictionary of Architecture)


Paul Cushman III Financial Center
Riggs Bank, Washington DC.
by John Blatteau Associates
(Photo by Tom Crane)

"Our design consisted of the restoration of the existing two story commercial structures and the addition of a new Entry Pavilion on the empty lot of the northern edge of the site. This new Pavilion is designed to complete the block and to relate to its older neighbors, reflecting the classical character of the DuPont Circle area and the Connecticut Avenue commercial corridor. On the exterior it is a restrained exercise in the Georgian Style, with its limestone and granite facades. On the interior, it is generously scaled and finished in plaster with Doric pilasters surrounding the whole of the main space."
John Blatteau Associates


 Tanner Residence, Baton Rouge, Louisiana (1985)
by Mike L. Waller
"The Charrette Design Group"

"The first, and without doubt most important condition to realize this manifestation,is the knowledge of the special purpose of the monument,
 followed by the kind of ideas that correspond it and which are capable of finding within the language of this art the proper signs to clearly express the monument's idea.
To produce this effect there is, first of all, a gradation to be observed in the extremey variable use of lines and forms, masses and materials, ornaments and wealth, which art could apply to the whole as well as to the details of buildings, with a variety of modifications.
 This kind of scale provides the architect with a very powerful means to establish differences of physionogmy that are so evident, that even the least learned eye is not mistaken."
Quatremère de Quincy
(The Historical Dictionary of Architecture)


Meyer Cottage, Rosmary Beach, Florida
by Eric Watson

"Thus, we believe that an essay on the theory of 'character', considered from this point of view, could rest on the development of three of the principal means to manifest the purpose of  buildings,
1° by the forms of the plan and of the elevation; 2° by the choice, the measure or the manner of ornament and decoration; 3° through the massing and the kind of construction and materials."
Quatremère de Quincy
"The Historical Dictionary of Architecture"
(Translated and Edited by Samir Younés)
Andreas Papadakis Publisher 

All the quotes by Quatremère de Quincy provide from:
"The True, the Fictive and the Real. The Historical Dictionary of Architecture of Quatremère de Quincy. Introductory Essays and Translation by Samir Younés" Andreas Papadakis Publications, London 1999.
For more information please refer to the book link below: 

The True, The Fictive, And The Real