The Distinction of Ornament and Decoration in Architecture

Fatemeh Ahani, Iraj Etessam, Seyed Gholamreza Islami


Ornament has been present throughout the recorded history, revealing human's aspirations, reflections and imaginations. Correspondingly, the discussion of ornament has almost uninterruptedly been a major topic for architectural discourses; one which has led to the publication of several significant texts in which ornamental practices has been addressed from a variety of perspectives. An investigation into the key architectural texts however, reveals that the absence of a certain definition of ornament and its functions in architecture as well as the interchangeable use of the terms 'decoration' and ornament as synonyms, have always been a serious obstacle to reach a clear conception of ornament nature . In this regard, the present paper attempted to distinguish between 'ornament' and 'decoration' based on a comparative analysis of the scholars’ accounts and the way the terms were employed in the architectural texts. Results indicated that the aforementioned concepts can be distinguished by means of seven criteria including components, connection, reference source, role, field of application and reference mode. According to the most referred criteria, ornament is an essential part of architecture which creates a firm bonding with its carrier and often fulfills functions more than aesthetic one .It is mostly made up of transformed motifs and evokes natural forces that originate deeply beyond or within the body of building. Decoration on the other hand, is a pleasing arrangement of real things; a suggestion of the decorous which does not have a permanent connection with its carrier. It is also purely representational, due to its reference to external matters such as mythology, religion, history, or cultural practice.  


Architecture, Criteria, Decoration, Distinction, Ornament.

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