Why Does Irony In Architecture Matter?

It is extremely easy for viewers of architecture to become desensitized to a structure once it has become a formulaic space, which ultimately makes it invisible as a work of art. A literary critic Fredric Jameson says “...by comparison with the other arts, architecture is the most repressible: all other arts demand some minimal effort of reading…Even a painting demands a glance; whereas architecture can be lived in, be moved around in, and simultaneously ignored” (Leach, 1997, p.259). The Russian Formalist, Viktor Shklovsky points out the risk of our habitual perceptions in Art as Technique (1917). As perception becomes habitual, it becomes automatic and no longer appears in our cognition. He offers breaking the habitual perception by defamiliarization. He argues that making things more complex and less coherent increases our consciousness and forces us to notice. The defamiliarization is a means to the recovery of the “sensation of life” (Samberger, 2004, p.132).


If the whole complex lives of many people go on unconsciously, then such lives are as if they had never been...The technique of art is to make objects 'unfamiliar', to make forms difficult, to increase the difficulty and length of perception because the process of perception is an aesthetic end in itself and must be prolonged. Art is a way of experiencing the artfulness of an object; the object is not important. (Lemon & Reis, 1965, p.12)


Postmodernism saw the danger of the homogeneity of modern architecture and offered a series of ironic responses, which championed eclecticism. Irony challenges our preconceptions and expectations and increases our awareness of our surroundings, allowing architecture to act not only in a functional capacity but also as a medium of thought exchange.



Leach, N. (1997). Rethinking architecture: a reader in cultural theory. New York: Routledge.

Lemon, L. T., & Reis, M. J. (1965). 1. Russian formalist criticism: four essays (pp. 3-24). Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Samberger, S. (2004). Artistic outlaws: the modernist poetics of Edith Sitwell, Amy Lowell, Gertrude Stein and H.D.. Munster: Lit-Verlag.