Architecture Program


Date of this Version



Published in Design Studies 20:4 (July 1999), pp. 363–380. Copyright © 1999 Elsevier Science Ltd. Used by permission.


The theory of arbitrary signification, predominant during the last half century, considers architecture’s intrinsic properties as having little to do with its meaning. Consequently, architecture’s significance is not based on itself but assigned externally. In the age of globalization, such an assignment is often ineffective. This paper will: (1) examine the post-WWII debates between the theories of arbitrary and natural signification; (2) relate these theories to more philosophical, historicist vs. normative positions; (3) discuss the implications concerning conservation of culture, legitimacy of interpretation, and fake authenticity in construction; (4) and examine some architectural works that have brought forth natural signification in conventional forms.

Included in

Architecture Commons