Great masters of architecture throughout time have declared themselves in favour of aesthetics linked to the simplicity of volume. ‘Less is more’ is not the sole prerogative of Mies van der Rohe.
Boullée, who aspired to an ‘articulate’ architecture, said that the figure of irregular bodies escapes our understanding. Gombrich affirms that simplicity is a prerequisite for being able to learn – to learn to see and to perceive. He establishes the hypothesis that ease of perception is linked to simplicity of construction. He also thinks that preference for simple forms could well be due to the fact that they are recognizable outside the acute angle (between 1 and 2 degrees) of the eye’s sharp focus. The simplicity and regularity of a daisy delights and reassures.
Researches in psychology have, however, shown that the complexity of the stimulus arouses interest. ‘Subjects whose age is under ten seem most sensitive to an optical complexity situated somewhere between simplicity and maximal complexity.’ 45 Let us take the example of a rose at the moment of flowering. It hardly ever disappoints aesthetic sensibility. In spite of all its complexity, indescribable or at least unpredictable by mathematics or language, it is taken in at just one glance. It is capable of arousing our emotions there and then. It can perhaps elude our reason, but not our sensibility. Would it be a challenge to all logical discussion on the formal structure of a beautiful object?
It is a question of regularity without repetition. In short, it is a question of a highly organized and hierarchical totality which is fundamentally different from a random assemblage.
Moreover, the rose is, unlike buildings, sufficiently small to be perceived by the narrow angle of focus. If we were obliged to find our way inside the labyrinth of a giant rose, our sensual pleasure would perhaps be transformed into a nightmare. Geometric simplicity and complexity do not, therefore, have the same significance when it is a matter of perception of the whole or from a distance, rather than a close and fragmentary perception. We shall return in the next chapter to the themes of simplicity and complexity, or regularity and irregularity. We are as moved by the convergent complexity of Hans Scharoun’s Philharmonic Hall as by the clarity of Mies van der Rohe’s Art Gallery, both built in the same period in Berlin. But there is one thread between the sphere and the potato or between the rose and chaos.