Architecture as “Pattern Interruption”

The psychologist Pavel Somov, in the Huffington Post, is calling for an architecture of “pattern-interruption.”   He cites the present trend in architecture away from conspicuous consumption, away from radical form “because we can,” away from “extravagant, eye-popping trophy buildings.”  But Somov also admonishes the merely functional or only green, calling for a synthesis of  functional architecture and one that is intellectually and emotionally more demanding.

Somov advocates something that is “both-and,” something that is “clean and green” as well as provocative, so that it is “functional” on both the physical as well as emotional and psychological plane.   This more challenging architecture, he claims, should be a “pattern-interruption architecture, i.e. an architecture of awakening.”  He claims the mind naturally seeks out, and falls back on, “clichés, patterns, stereotypes and schemas…  So, when the mind stumbles upon the unfamiliar, it chokes and wakes up.  Intentional pattern-interruption, as a method of therapy or architecture, surprises the mind-curmudgeon, and, in so doing, leverages presence and mindfulness.”

In a series of analogies to meditation, Somov goes on to analogize challenging architecture to a Zen Koan (a Koan is a story, the meaning of which cannot be understood by rational thinking, yet it may be accessible by intuition.  One widely known kōan is “Two hands clap and there is a sound; what is the sound of one hand?”).

The question remains, what does this “pattern interruption” architecture look like, and how “disruptive” it needs to be in order to be effective?  Do we need to be hit over the head with blinding novelty and architectural pandemonium?  Or might it be that this “disruption” is most powerful when it is most subtle, like a Zen Koan?

(All images of work by SANAA)

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