When decorations have a function. Technology and aesthetics in contemporary façades

This paper, starting from a reflection on the role of decoration and ornament in history, their evolution in the cultural debate, and some significant case studies, discusses the relation between function and decoration in the artistic and architectural discussion from the 20th century until nowadays. The representational function of architecture has always been based on the ornamental and decorative elements, which allow the readability of the building and the transmission of meanings and information. This function is even paradoxically performed in works conceived as manifestos of anti-decorativism. In light of the most recent trends, architecture reclaims this communicative function, manifesting the tendency to be an image, primarily through the design of the external surfaces and envelopes on which the semantics and iconicity of the new languages of contemporary architecture are based. The architectural object becomes an image – an image of itself, its designer, the context and the culture that generated it – precisely thanks to its ornamental and decorative dimension, which is discussed and analysed in this article.