What is Irony in Architecture?

To provide a common baseline of evaluation, the following are examples of irony in architecture.


The Glass Farm in Schijndel, Netherlands, by MVRDV appears to be a brick farmhouse in the market square of a small Dutch town, however, it is actually a glass building with images of farmhouses printed on each surface of the façade. “This concept can be seen as a contemporary response to retro-architecture whilst respecting the public's wish for vernacular authenticity” (Frearson, 2013).  Moreover, the images are printed in a larger scale representing the continued growth of the town.  "When adults interact with the building, they can experience toddler size again, possibly adding an element of nostalgic remembrance to their reception of the building” (Frearson, 2013).  To make the building more engaging, the actual windows and doors do not line up with the printed images. When people pass through the entrances, it looks like they pass through brick walls and windows appear as semi-transparent blobs.

Exterior of Kalkin Residence (Photo Credit: Peter Aaron/Esto)

Interior of Kalkin Residence (Photo Credit: Peter Aaron/Esto)

Another example is Kalkin Residence by architect Adam Kalkin. He bought an 1880s country house, built an industrial shed around it and cut out the form of a gable on one façade with glazing. The original house became the interior. Many of the functional elements of the original house have become decorative under the new perspective.  For example, the roof no longer provides the shelter. Architect and writer Sam Jacob commented that this project explores the relationship between interior and exterior from an alternative angle. He pointed out the irony of Kalkin’s use of containers, “Kalkin sees the containers as narrative device, as well as simple and effective means of enclosure…You can look at them both as junk or as something special” (Long, 2008, p.32).



Long, K. (2008). Hatch: the new architectural generation. London: Laurence King.


Unexpecting the Expected: Irony in Architecture

I have been working on my Capstone Research Project this quarter. Here is an abstract of my research.


This thesis explores how irony in architecture activates a space to create a dialog between the space and its occupants by breaking rules, incorporating culture, and creating ambiguity. With orthodox modernism, much of architecture has become formulaic and merely functional. Users of architecture become desensitized to a space once it has become formulaic. Irony refers to the incongruity between what is expected and what actually happens. This incongruity not only challenges our preconception and expectations but is also thought provoking, reestablishing a dialog between the space and its occupants that was lost among much of the orthodox modernist architecture. Through literature review and case studies of irony in various disciplines including art, architecture, product design, interior design, and branding, the findings reveal that irony engages users, provides them experiences that go beyond the everyday, and allows them to formulate their own story based on their repertoire of experiences.