Structural rationalism

Rationalism (architecture)

The intellectual principles of Rationalism are based on architectural theory. Vitruvius had already established in his work De Architectura that architecture is a science that can be comprehended rationally. This formulation was taken up and further developed in the architectural treatises of the Renaissance. Progressive art theory of the 18th-century opposed the Baroque beauty of illusionism with the classic beauty of truth and reason.

Twentieth-century Rationalism derived less from a special, unified theoretical work than from a common belief that the most varied problems posed by the real world could be resolved by reason. In that respect it represented a reaction to historicism and a contrast to Art Nouveau and Expressionism.

Structural rationalism

Structural rationalism is a retroactively-applied name given to a movement in architecture that came about during the Enlightenment (more specifically, neoclassicism), arguing that architecture's intellectual base is primarily in science as opposed to reverence for and emulation of archaic traditions and beliefs.

The French Louis XVI style (better known as neoclassicism) emerged in the mid-18th century with its roots in the waning interest of the Baroque period. The architectural notions of the time gravitated more and more to the belief that reason and natural forms are tied closely together, and that the rationality of science should serve as the basis for where structural members should be placed. Towards the end of the 18th century, Jean-Nicolas-Louis Durand, a teacher at the influential École Polytechnique in Paris at the time, argued that architecture in its entirety was based in science.

Architects such as Henri Labrouste and Auguste Perret incorporated the virtues of structural rationalism throughout the 19th century in their buildings. By the early 20th century, architects such as Hendrik Petrus Berlage were exploring the idea that structure itself could create space without the need for decoration. This gave rise to modernism, which further explored this concept. More specifically, the Soviet Modernist group ASNOVA were known as 'the Rationalists'.

The Esposizione Universale Roma (EUR) south of Rome, Italy is an excellent example of rationalism.

See also


  • Melvin, Jeremy, ...Isms: Understanding Architectural Styles, New York: Universe Publishing, 2006
  • Frampton, Kenneth, Modern Architecture: A Critical History, New York: Thames & Hudson Inc., 1992

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