design language etc.

design practice and theory 




the sacred temple of Ise

created:  September 3rd 1999

click to see the image of the affiliated similar shrine Aramatsu-No-Miya at Ise 
The Jingu Shrine, first time built in the late fourth century, and since then reconstructed identically every twenty years, is the most honored of the many Shinto Shrines in Japan. It is a splendid example of traditional joinery in wooden structures. These kigumi, (there are at least 400 different types of them still in common use today), are seen best in the traditional verandah's with its balusters and rails, and in the construction of roof trusses and frames. 
The Jingu Shrines are still challenging today's carpenters. * They must take special care with joints where members come together from three directions, such as the corners of the eaves of the Japanese style hipped-and-gabled roof. The rules of the art of construction and joining in wood, or kiwari were handed down from one generation of carpenters to the next and were among the most carefully guarded secrets. (note 1) 
The joint of Rietveld's chair is by far not so sophisticated as the japanese kigumi, but it shows a probable influence of japanese architectural design and; more in general of oriental philosophy. Because we must ask ourselves what meaning can be  signed to the extension of the wooden sticks beyond the joints. Rietveld explained it himself to us, as students, as signifying the continuum of straight lines into endlessness. The same could be said of the japanese kigumi, but this is by no means sure. But meanings tend to get lost in time; one has to think only of the word Monday, used by everybody without ever connecting it to the moon.

Peirce distinguishes a whole category, the upper one, in his classification of signs as symbols. A symbol is the general name of a description which signifies its object by means of an association of ideas or habitual connection between the name and the character signified.;  (C.P.1.369) A symbol is a representamen * regardless of any similarity with its object and simply because it will be presented to be a representamen. Such as, for example, is any general word, sentence or book. * (C.P. 5.73) Unlike icons and indices, symbols require no semiotically real or presumed natural connection with their material quality to be signs of the objects they represent. (note 2) 

The symbol, which is at least partly arbitrary, permits disengagement of the sign from its semiotic object such that it can veer away from customary pathways and begin referring to itself, which in turn frees it up to communicate about communication and actions. Hence it can lead the interpreter toward knowing that explicit inferential process and communication about those processes. It also presents a relatively vast, even well-nigh unique set of possibilities of signification. This characteristic of the symbol reveals, at the outer reaches of semiosis, a trend toward successive abstraction. (note 3)

This symbol is called Binah or Understanding. * The Understanding here indicated is more a higher kind of Faith *. (note .4): it is also said to contain the archetype of the initiated adept, the esoteric grade of which is Master of the Temple, implying a vehicle of the Spirit in manifestation. It is the Sephirot of the Mother of Form. As a geometrical form it can be a potent symbol of the innermost structures of one's being upon which all the rest is built. (note 5) 



The ten types of signs, or levels in peircean semiotics are present as symbols in all design. It is not uncommon to talk about symbols in design products but rarely this observation is based upon analytic research. Superficiality is actually also probable in my own observations. But Peirce can eventually help us out as his sign categories reveal their pertinence also in our field. In his writings he stresses again and again that all signs can be transmuted in other signs on other levels. For Peirce talking about symbols means recognizing symbolic character to all signs on all levels, symbolical, iconic and indexical. This makes it possible to abandon the generalizing attitude of just recognizing a certain symbol in a certain form for a more interesting discussion about levels of symbols. 
Generating symbols on all levels in design products is perhaps the kernel of our profession. Many of these symbols have lost their original meaning in the process of degeneration lamented by Baudrillard. If however we want to talk about esthetics it will be unavoidable to assert that even these symbols have a meaning albeit on an unconscious level. Actually I feel that our esthetic sensibility results from accumulated human history, especially, since the outset of modern civilization, the Neolithic age

The next page is about final intentions of design
back to the analysis of design language in Rietveld's chair
note 1 Kiyosi Seike and Rebecca M.Davis, , The Art of Japanese Joinery, Weatherhill/Tankosha, New York, Tokyo, 1981(1977), p.21
note 2 Floyd Merrell, Semiosis in the Postmodern Age, p.95 
note 3 Floyd, op.cit., p.146
note 4 Gareth Knight, A practical Guide to Quabalistic Symbolism, Samuel Weiser, York Beach, Maine, USA, 1993 (1965), p.89
note 5 Gareth, op.cit. , p.95
   andries van onck