We are not talking here about classical ‘order’ in the sense of a code for architectural composition in antiquity or from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries. The Doric, Corinthian, Ionic, Tuscan orders, if we sometimes refer to them, do not interest us for their value as a cultural code, but for the geometrical structure. Fundamental and permanent rules seem to govern the interdependence of the elements of architectural form. Buildings and urban groupings are always more or less structured.
What is this order? Order only has meaning in relation to disorder and chaos. It has no value in itself except at its limits. Perfect order and total chaos are equally difficult situations to bear for a long period. The works we construct are situated somewhere between the two.
Nature: order or disorder? And then again, what nature? Wild untouched nature, because it is too vast, does not give an impression of chaos. Cycles, tides and waves give visible order. Rocks, rivers, plants or insects allow their structure to be observed. But, taken together, they represent an order which, at the visual level with which we are concerned, becomes unmeasurable. We accept the variety. We also admire it and yet man has traditionally imposed the measurable, the city, upon nature.
We have to live ‘against nature’ and therefore we build by ordering. ‘In order that nature can be considered as landscape, it must cease to be too wild; because to be a spectator, one must not feel threatened. The world is more beautiful since it has been explored’ (Hellpach). Man imposes the mark of his control on the earth, water and the vegetable kingdom to the furthest corners of the world. He must assume the enormous responsibility that such a desire involves.
To build we must use fairly simple geometry. It is first of all a necessity for design and above all for building. We have always sought to economize our efforts by using the repetition of elements that can be assembled. Regularity is thus the very essence of building.
Repetition, alignment and juxtaposition of identical elements and similar methods of construction impose order on our buildings and our towns. The order which arises from construction finally educates the eye and influences our sense of the beautiful. This taste for regularity, once it has been established, acts on architectural design by transcending, on this occasion, purely constructional requirements. Order acquires its own autonomy. That does not mean that one ignores the demands of construction, but that one superimposes other criteria. Each period and, to a certain extent, each architect, establishes its or his own ethics relative to the degree of autonomy permitted.
Our search for order is not simply that of knowing in what way things have been made, what purpose they serve or what they represent. Objects also act on our senses as forms having their own intrinsic and geometric logic.
The discussion of perceptive phenomena in the previous chapter gave a glimpse of the fact that regularity is necessary to man. The more complex the environment, the more we need to simplify and summarize to understand and get our bearings. Since we operate by making analogies to perfect our knowledge of the environment, we do not want order to change completely from one day to the next. We need to accustom ourselves. Gombrich reverses this idea by saying: ‘The power of habit comes from our sense of order. It comes from our resistance to change and from our search for continuity.’ Just as the sense of balance is innate, developing from the inner ear, it seems possible that our sense of order runs very deep. Even if it is not entirely innate, this sense of order has already developed by early childhood.
On this innate sense of order is superimposed a learning process varying according to the environment and culture, which helps us to orientate ourselves. There will, therefore, never be just one order, one measure or one ideal balance. However we can, by taking discoveries of psychology and the history of architecture, clarify the principal means at our disposal. We work with them implicitly every day. We still need to make them more explicit in order to be able to teach and develop criticism.