Once condemned by Modernism and compared to a 'crime' by Adolf
Loos, ornament has made a spectacular return in contemporary
architecture. This is typified by the works of well-known
architects such as Herzog & de Meuron, Sauerbruch Hutton,
Farshid Moussavi Architecture and OMA. There is no doubt that these
new ornamental tendencies are inseparable from innovations in
computer technology. The proliferation of developments in design
software has enabled architects to experiment afresh with texture,
colour, pattern and topology.Though inextricably linked with
digital tools and culture, Antoine Picon argues that some
significant traits in ornament persist from earlier Western
architectural traditions. These he defines as the 'subjective' -
the human interaction that ornament requires in both its production
and its reception - and the political. Contrary to the message
conveyed by the founding fathers of modern architecture,
traditional ornament was not meant only for pleasure. It conveyed
vital information about the designation of buildings as well as
about the rank of their owners. As such, it participated in the
expression of social values, hierarchies and order. By bringing
previous traditions in ornament under scrutiny, Picon makes us
question the political issues at stake in today's ornamental
revival. What does it tell us about present-day culture? Why are we
presently so fearful of meaning in architecture? Could it be that
by steering so vehemently away from symbolism, contemporary
architecture is evading any explicit contribution to collective
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