Ornamentation is the addition of any element of decoration or embellishment to a structure. It has been a matter of debate between designers across centuries questioning the validity of ornamentation regarding architecture. While some designers argue the necessity of the elaborate detailing as a means of architectural expression, others swear by its redundancy. There’s only one way to settle the feud between “Less is more” and “Less is bore”, i.e. to properly analyse the advantages and disadvantages of practising the use of ornamentation. Here is a list of some of the pros and cons of ornament in architecture:

PROS:

1. Visually appealing

The fantastic crockets, grotesque gargoyles and trefoils not only account for ornamentation on most gothic architectural buildings but also add a sense of drama to the simple old stone structures that would have otherwise been burly and unpossessing. There is no wonder that the presence of ornamentation makes a design look visually attractive and exciting. However, in buildings such as the gothic cathedrals, their ornamentation forms an integral part of the facade treatment and is vital as any other function to dictate its purpose. With the breathtaking, detailed mouldings and trellises, the structure beholds The onlookers in their first gaze, dazzling them with its external treatment. 

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2. Detailed Expressions

It is unexacting to find oneself lost in the details of structures such as the Casa Batllo, Barcelona or the Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. With the statement “God is in the details”, one can associate divinity with detailed architecture endeavours. 

Throughout antiquity and into the Renaissance, and later for religious buildings, the applied ornament was significant, often having symbolic meaning. While some of the ornamentations were symbolic, the other like the pediments of the Parthenon are mimetic. However, in case of buildings like the Chrysler building, the detailing is pretty much structural. 

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Casa Batllo ©idesignArch.com
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Note Dame ©Brittanica

3. Sense of individuality

Be it the Pantheon of Rome or the Victorian churches, and each structure has its sense of identification owing to the presence of characteristic ornamentation on each. These ornaments make an establishment stand out and establish its individuality and uniqueness concerning other structures. As for distinguishing features, the Mason Carree cornices (a temple of Roman order) serve their purpose of creating a footprint that is extraordinary and unique to its own-self.

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Cornice ©Romanartlover.it

4. Engagement

When it takes longer to perceive the complexity of particular creations, it proves to be engaging. Owing to their heavy ornamentation, they can hold the attention of curious onlookers for quite long due to their perplexity and association. Ever looked at the gorgeous detailing of the carving and miniature sculptures of Indian Temples and wondered the stories that each one narrated? So is the bewitching impact of detailed ornamentation in architecture. Through such engagement, the architect attempts to create lasting effects allowing the visitors/ users to engage in an architectural conversation with the structure. 

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Carvings on Hindu Temples reditt.com

5. Appreciation of craft

The capitals of the orders, each differing based on the kind of ornamentation in each, indicate its rich Greek art practice. The ornamentation of structures like relics of Sainte-Chapelle or The Caryatid Porch of the Erechtheion, Athens, wouldn’t have been possible, had it not been for the availability of skilled artisans and sculptors that added their touch of extraordinaire to the project. It is only through ornamental structures like these that such a skilled workforce can be celebrated and acknowledged. Artists like Michelangelo and Bernini could freely express themselves architecturally through ornamentation. Their works stand today as a testament of art, time and architecture itself.

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Workmanship ©Varada Phadkay

CONS

6. Time-consuming

Any detailing project takes time and-and so does ornamentation in architecture. In fact, by Antonio Gaudi, Sagrada Familia took nearly a century to complete after the death of its architect and is still deemed unfinished. Ornamentation indeed accentuates the facade, however, crafting details, elaborate sculptures and embellishments consumes time and therefore finances. 

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La Sagrada Familia ©Expiatory Temple of the Sagradia Family

7. Non-functional

No matter how much the ‘For Ornamentation’ side pleads, but other than the purpose of enhancing the visual appeal of a structure, most ornamentation does not serve any other function. The elaborate cornices, motifs to form an architectural vocabulary indicative of the style prevalent in their construction era but do not contribute to the building’s internal functions. A structure devoid of ornamentation, for example, the Egyptian pyramids are a testament to the above-mentioned statement. 

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Motifs architeturaldigest.com

8. Lack of Modesty

Minimalists would state that the presence of ornamentation is an abomination to the inherent function of any structure as they construed the principles of minimalism and functionality. Embellishments like keystones, fretwork, moulding, scrollwork and overall patterns of small repeated shapes are exorbitant in their creation and display and strip the structure of its ability to be modest. Extravagance comes as an added material to the design of these magnificent and classic monuments. According to modernist Architects, visual beauty is an added feature defying ornamentation, only due to its inability to serve beyond what is visually perceived. 

9. Skill- an essential requisite

It requires highly skilled artistry to craft straight out of references provided by the creators of the structure. To impart the sense of reality needed to such heavily ornamented designs, the workman endured against the pressures of time and constraint to produce such marvellous ornamental features. In the absence of such skill, the procurement of such structures is hard to imagine. 

Siddhi Hindalkar
Author

Siddhi Hindalkar, currently an architecture student, is a sci-fi junkie. Believing the unbelievable is her secret forte. Not much of a talker, she considers reading and listening to stories as her only means of escape. She likes to believe that a place can narrate a million tales and all one has to do- is lend an ear!

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