“The new architecture, the true architecture should be the result of a close association between logic and rationality.” – Gruppo 7, Italian Modernist Collaborative

Rationalism Defined

Rationalism in architecture and urbanism refers to the idea that architectural and urban design is and should be driven by a set of idealized, principles. Rationalism has long constituted an important influence in both Asian and European architectural and urban theory. Rationalism is often seen as related to an identifiable aesthetic, structural or spatial logic within a building. Urban planning has also been influenced by the belief that a city should appear ordered, organized, and rational.

Rationalism in Modern Architecture and Urbanism

During the 20th century, rationalism became used as a justification for organizing urban spaces in particular ways through zoning and height ordinances. Architects also began to incorporate these ideas into their buildings, producing a kind of architectural expression increasingly driven by spatial efficiency, structural clarity, and material ingenuity. In this new, modern architecture, elaborate decorative and ornamental details gave way to unadorned surfaces. Attention was increasingly placed on a building’s structural system. Focus also shifted from the building to the space contained within the building. It was through these qualities that a building was believed to possess a certain technological rationalism and thus could be defined as representing modern architecture.

Rationalism, Modern Architecture, and Hong Kong

In Hong Kong, interest in rationalism began to be reflected in the growing use of iron and steel in building construction, the production of new kinds of buildings, and the incorporation of new economic and social uses for architecture. Rationalism became a means of justifying certain design approaches that standardized building activity within the city and imposed certain standards upon the construction industry. These developments also helped link Hong Kong’s building culture to other, broader architectural and urban trends around the world.


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