The Oxford English Dictionary defines didactic as “Having the character or manner of a teacher or instructor; characterized by giving instruction; having the giving of instruction as its aim or object; instructive, preceptive.” Didactic comes from the Greek word διδακτικ-ός (didacticos) meaning “apt at teaching”.
If the suffix “-s-“ is added, didactics can serve as a noun, meaning “The science or art of teaching.” According to the Mirriam-Webster dictionary, didactic carries a secondary meaning: “intended to convey instruction and information as well as pleasure and entertainment”. For example, bible stories can be considered didactic, as they not only convey scripture, moral themes or religious knowledge but also have been told to entertain audiences before the emergence of television or radio.
Architecture was considered to be one of the first didactics. Churches were a physical construction that disseminated religious knowledge through their light, structure and design. The shape of the church-a cross- not only holds obvious symbolism but the long nave also directs people through the space and allows for many rows of pews. Numbers in the church also hold explicit references to the bible. For example, twelve columns would allude to the twelve apostles, three to the trinity, and four to the archangels. Even the stained glass windows of the church illustrate biblical stories. The building serves as a medium to instruct churchgoers about their own faith.
Architects have the capability to teach others about good design through the spaces they create. A carefully planned structure can teach people an appreciation for space, light, size and scale. Often didacticism occurs in architecture when the architect wants to be blatant in their main concept or intent. For example, The Centre for Native Family and Child Well Being in by Levitt Goodman Architects in Toronto is loosely designed based on traditional longhouse design. The building houses a ‘building within a building’ to serve as a space for public meetings, circle sessions and ceremonies. The structure mimics the traditional diagrid structure of longhouses, but is constructed in a more contemporary birch veneer. Inside, the traditional firepit has been replaced with light fixtures.
|The Centre for Native Family and Child Well Being by Levitt Goodman Architects|
Didacticism can also occur when the architect wants to make the construction or assembly of the building obvious. For example, the Georges Pampidou Centre in Paris reveals the ductwork very intentionally as part of the design.
In some instances, however, a didactic building can be viewed as gimmicky and contrived. Architects (and architecture students) have been criticized for being too blatant in their intention or main concept behind their structure. This is usually when buildings are too literal in their design- for example designing a coffee shop in the shape of a coffee cup.
--Ella den Elzen
"didactic, adj. and n.". Mirriam-Webster Dictionary Online. November 10, 2012. Encyclopedia Britannica. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/didactic.
"didactic, adj. and n.". OED Online. September 2012. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/52341?redirectedFrom=didactic (accessed November 21, 2012).
Hugo, Victor. "This Will Destroy That."Bartleby Books. November 12, 2012.
"The Centre for Native Family and Child Well-Being." November 12, 2012. Levitt Goodman Architects. http://levittgoodmanarchitects.com/project?p=ncfs30college&c1=cultural&c2=None