Transparency in Architecture



“Ideas concerning transparency are on of the most relevant features of our time.” – T.Mayne, 1991, 79


(extracts from words and Buildings , A Vocabulary of Modern Architecture ) 

pg 286 – ‘Transparency’ is a wholly modernist term, unknown in architecture before the 20th century. this is not merely to do with the developments in the architectural use of glass, for to think of ‘transparency’ as limited to a description for the properties of glass would be to miss much of its significance. There are three sense in which the word exists in architecture: the distinction between the first two. ‘literal’ and ‘phenomenal’, was first made explicit in two articles by Colin Rowe and Robert Slutsky. The third sense, ‘transparency of meaning’, is more diffused and has never been codifies so precisely 

**Im going to concentrate on the third point**

3. (pg 288). Transparency of meaning. This sense, and its significance within modernist aesthetics, is best explained by the American critic Susan Sontag in Against Interpretation (1964) (

‘Transparence is the highest, most liberating value in art – and in criticism – today. Transparence means experiencing the luminousness of the thing in itself, of things being what they are’ (13)


This ideal, that there should be no distinction between form and content, between object and meaning , lies at the very heart of modernist aesthetics, in all the arts, and not just architecture, The ideal of modernist art was that it should need no interpretation, because whatever meaning it had was immanent in the sensory experience of the work; it was, to quot Sontag again. 


“by making works of art whose surface is so unified and clear, whose momentum is so rapid, whose address is so direct that the work can be… just what it is” (11) .




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