ON HENRI LABROUSTE
ARCHITECTURAL ELOQUENCE BY VIVIANE HUELSMEIER
Henri Labrouste attempted to deal with the massive communication problem between the content of a building and the rest of the world (i.e. people, the city, …) by abandoning the dogmatism and the very limited range of rhetorical forms with which classicism tried to push through complex meanings in such an involuntarily inarticulate manner.
Instead, he introduced more diversity and literality to form, seeking for more legibility. His ‘radical distinction between structural principle and decorative form’ resulted in the concept of the ‘decoration of construction’ which is an expression that, even today, makes most architects cringe. The ‘decoration of construction’ seems to be absolutely dishonest, superfluous, and non-serious. But frankly, it facilitates communication a lot and makes architecture much more eloquent and intellectually more accessible than does reduction and abstraction of form: the public ‘sees and feels before it reasons’ (Hermant).
So what is wrong about decorating a building with its content? Labrouste decorated his Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève (1838-50), which obviously contains books, with words. Herzog de Meuron decorated their library in Cottbus with words as well. They even decorated the Ricola packing and distribution building with the main ingredient of the company’s best selling product: the herb. Again, architects cringe. But that does not matter because it looks nice, it works well, and non-architects (= people) understand it.
> more about hdm’s ricola building