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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Semiotics of structural frames in modern architecture Chan, Danny Cheong-Yin


Structural semiotics often plays an important role in contributing to the overall architectural expression of a building. Semiotics is defined as the meaning behind or expression of an object. A structure having a semiotic message is one that communicates beyond its functional purposes. It has in itself extraordinary inspirational and expressive values. These values are rooted in the historical, cultural and social contexts, and reflect a sensibility to the built environment and human ways of living. With careful observation of structural semiotics, these values can be elicited. Structural semiotics is also the common language of architecture and structure. Its proper execution prevents a structure from becoming merely subordinate to the architecture. Rather, the structural design can be integrated with the architectural principles of form, space and order, so that structure and architecture truly become one and constitute to a unified theme of design. In this thesis, the structural semiotics of skeletal frame construction is dwelled upon. The structural frame is the most common yet most representative of all types of construction in modern architecture. It emancipates the facade and partitions from their structural responsibilities, thus promoting greater freedom in shaping forms and organizing space. It also utilizes the structural potentials of steel and reinforced concrete, and allows buildings to be constructed economically by means of repetition and pattern. In the interior of the building, the frame often supplies in three dimensions a neutral grid of space, one that not only accommodates but also reshapes human activities of contemporary life. These unique qualities of structural frames and their corresponding semiotics will be examined in this thesis from both architectural and engineering perspectives. They are illustrated through a series of case studies of Modernist architecture. It can be shown that, by a sensible choice of structural system, materials and construction method, by proper proportioning and detailing, and by careful observation to the contextual and programmatic requirements, even the most commonplace structural frames can become architecture.

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