Extended interest in architecture

Post written by Paul de Vries and Simon Droog.

Fig 1. Laon Cathedral - The towers of the west facade.

In our series Architectural means we’re trying to find answers to the questions: Which architectural means do we have to create specific atmospheres that can elicit specific emotions? In this post we’ll talk about the aspect Complex Order as one of the architectural mean we have to create specific architectural atmospheres.

The Laon cathedral in northern France is a very good example of a building with an intuitive appeal and with a level of sophistication. The enormous towers of the west facade of the cathedral are overwhelming and have an immediately appeal. The more we try to unravel the structure of the towers and its ornaments, the more we discover of its level of sophistication. It takes an amount of cognition, whether conscious or subconscious, to be able to understand this level of sophistication. At first sight the plan of each ascending story is plainly not that of the story below. Although each story repeats established themes they are of radically different sizes. There are also unexpected animals in the upper porches, oxen whose heads seem turned every which way. But if we take a closer look to the plan through the various sections we will discover its ordered complexity.

Fig. 2 Laon. Composite plan of the tower. Clockwise from lower right: buttress story; penultimate story; ultimate story (with oxen); roof (1)

Hildebrand explains the composite plan of the tower (fig. 2) as follows: ”The primary plan figure is the square formed by the imaginary centerlines of the buttresses. The plan of the story above the buttresses, the penultimate story, is determined by assigning one-third of the side of that buttress-centerline square as half the diagonal of smaller squares perched diagonally at the four corners; these are the empty porches at the corner of figure [2]. Above, the octagonal porches of the ultimate story result from nipping off the corners of the porch geometries below;  the oxen look out from the resultant octagons. And to bring everything to a nice closure, the centerlines of these oxen fall, as they must, on the buttress centerlines that started everything, while a closer look reveals that all the heads of the oxen are turned at forty-five degrees, the rotation that generated the porches at both levels. There are other such relationships in these towers, in elevation as well as plan: the height of the penultimate story, for example, is equal to the side of the original generating square. But perhaps enough has been cited to make the point that an understanding of some elements of these towers may depend on cognitive consideration. The enjoyment of the order and complexity remains innate — so much so that it is difficult to understand how it could be otherwise—but a full awareness that such order and complexity exist may depend on cognitive intervention.” (1)

The Laon Cathedral has since its completion moved many people with its enormous appeal and its ordered complexity till the present day. So buildings with immediate appeal and a cognitive explication have the change of garnering many audiences and extended interest.

Complex order

Intuitive appeal (immediately affective) + Cognitive explication (sophisticated cognitive level) = Building with extended interest


  1. HILDEBRAND, G. (1999) Origins of Architectural Pleasure (p. 133)

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