Book Review – Function & Sign: The Semiotics of Architecture. Umberto Eco

Sign vehicles, objects communicate there possible function through a recognised symbolism. The symbolic function of the home denotes shelter , but over time has begun to connote family, group, security and familiar surroundings. These relate to ‘primary functions’ and ‘secondary functions’. How can we advance these functions, to include work, food production etc. In the 19th century these functions or codes created an ideology that the ‘Gothic style = religiosity’, can this precedent be used to promote high density = diversity. Architectural codes can create ideologies for different types of urban fabric such as garden cities and new towns, but these codes offer ready made solutions which removes the field of freedom. Prescriptive codes in architecture only allow slight differences from the standardised message leading to a system of rules for giving society what it expects in the way of architecture, ‘ mass architecture’. But ‘architecture may also move in the direction of innovation and higher information content, going against existing rhetorical and ideological expectations’, however it can not move away from the codes entirely. To remove type out of its accepted typology, such as le Corbusier elevated streets, requires the examination of new social demands, existing needs, behavioral patterns of lifestyles and the modern city. This would inform the production of a meaningful system of future needs on the basis of which new functions and new architectural forms could be produced. To facilitate this the following would need to be identified:

  1. Series of social demands, considered as a system,
  2. System of functions that would satisfy the demands and that would become sign vehicles for demands,
  3. System of forms that would correspond to the functions that would become sign vehicles for functions.

The third point only relates to architectural form, to become a code they have to be coupled with systems outside architectural realm. The architect should be designing for variable primary functions (main meaning) and open secondary functions (suggestive meaning).

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