Semiotics and theory of forms: forms of memories, forms of invention. Tribute to Martin Krampen


Martin Krampen died a few months ago, we honor here his memory. He was a leading figure in the German semiotics in the twentieth century. Martin was not only a rigorous scientist, but also a talented artist. He developed the visual semiotics in both theory and practice, He has made a decisive contribution to the articulation of semiotics to psychology of form. That is  why we want to organize a session in his memory on the contribution of theories of form to the semiotics of space. The contribution of Martin to the edification of a semiotic of space explored and formalized, innovative and methodical way, the process of industrial design and architectural project. His contributions have so brought the spirit of synthesis that was necessary for a general semiotics that was developing beyond the only linguistic field. His kindness, his smile and patience remain a life lesson as much as his research and writings.


The human space is a research field that is the object of semiotic studies for many years. An association, the International Association for Semiotic of Space, was founded in 1974 already, in Urbino, at the invitation of Professor Paioni. Since then semiotic's works have been periodically picked up and discussed by those who have come together in this Association; at the begining around Geoffrey Broadbent, Omar Calabrese, Paolo Fabbri, Manar Hammad, Martin Krampen, then around Pierre Boudon, Alexandre Ph. Lagopoulos, Albert Levy, Josep Muntañola, Pierre Pellegrino. This researches have resulted in several conferences and seminars, publications and several books. We now wish to discuss the latest developments of the researches and take stock, at the 2017 Congress of the International Association for Semiotic Studies, in Kaunas, Lithuania.

These researches study the process of production of meaning that take forms in the space of human facts. The semiotics of space is a semiotic of spacings as forms given to the artificial world in which we live. With a metric the spatial forms, forms of location, orientation and distribution, inclusion and exclusion, intersecting and overlapping, give a measure to the separation or the junction, as to the proximity or the distance, the amplitude and the density of the facts and human gestures.

In that, the space is not just a scene or a place to manifest facts of sense otherwise determined, it produces them. For semiotic of space, the space is not a thing, the relationship between form and substance is very different from the verbal semiotic. The substance is absent and the form refers to the absence. The form of the space gives it boundaries, open  or closed, those of its outer neighborhoods. Those limits have a substance; for example, the limits of an architectural structure, of a wall, of a roof, of a slab ... And this substance gives to the space within those limits its own value. As those limits have a form, they print it not only to their substance, but also to the space they confine, as they cut and shape anything that could take place in it. This form has geometrical properties (positions, orientations, ...,   axes, dimensions, ..., sizes), properties that help define and mark the relations that human  practices can have in space. If it is a constructed space, those limits and the form they print their substance are thus not univocally determined by relations of cause and effect, but they may be motivated by intentions, or deliberately chosen by convention.

Based on the structural definitions of the language of the nineteenth and early twentieth century, verbal semiotic are built around an arbitrariness, not only that one of the relationship between form of expression and form of content (Saussure), but also that of the relationship between form and substance, on the two planes of expression and content (Hjelmslev).

In nonverbal semiotics (Sebeok) it be otherwise, not only because the cuttings of a plan may be the very ones of another level, when one of the two planes is signified another; eg when a door means a door, when there is iconicity (Eco), but also, when the cuttings of a plan can be interpreted as being proportional to the cuttings of another (Peirce). In that, semiotic forms may be motivated by the substances they cut (Krampen) and their relationships depend to it.

In terms of semiotics of space, with the work of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century, including work at different scales, those focused on architecture as a founding act (Boudon), these on the topogenesis (Muntañola) and the architecture of the territory (Jeanneret), like these on architectural typology and urban morphology (Levy), semiotics of urban geography (Lagopulos) or morphogenesis (Desmarais), there are many developments that each one implement and question the concepts of form and meaning. Around and beyond these works the debates that we wish to carry out during the 2017 Congress of the IASS / AISE will focus on the latest research in the field of semiotics of space, including  these of Michael Fuchs archaeological semiotics, those of Emmanuelle Jeanneret on shape grammars and energy of bodies, those of Isabel Marcos on visual semiotics and space  media networks, those of Maxime Putchkov on perceptive profiles of urban form; and we will question the work of the teams that these colleagues were able to manage, the contributions of young researchers and the questions they ask, especially these Krishnendra Shekhawat on patterns of architectural composition, these of Nikolaos Ion Terzoglou on models in the architectural project, or these of Mathieu Vonlanthen on the logic of space.

Each author called to contribute to the session that we want to organize in the next congress of the IASS / AIS is invited to provide a presentation on a semiotics of the principle of emergence, construction or deconstruction of forms carrying meaning in  space-time,  focusing on one or more of the following articulations, recalled here briefly:



Each author called to contribute to this Special Issue is invited to write a text on an epistemology of the principle of  emergence,  construction  or  deconstruction  (  , architecture, archaeology) of the subjacent form of his work, by puting the emphasis on one or the other of the following articulations, pointed out here in a brief way:

Form - function: For some the form “follows” the function; for others “form and function are the same”, the form makes possible the function; or for others the form escapes the function, is arbitrary, relatively to its use, cultivates its arbitrariety. From the modern functionalism to the traditional formalism, the variation is large and reveals deep differences of epoch, differences in the design of memory and invention, differences due to cultural codes, to the language of architecture as well as to its transformations. For the modern one, the function gives meaning and rationality to the form, in an economy of standards; for the traditional one the form allows to escape the loss of flavor in the uses, the monotony of the practices, the less of meaning.

Form - fiction: Either the fiction is illusion, and its form misleads the eye, leaving in place, behind appearances, an unchanged reality; or the fiction is vector of creation, generating a narrative process in which the population of the actors of this creation finds a direction for her action, a process in which helpers succeed in involving the indifferent ones and put aside the opponents. Either the function is itself only fiction, registered in a design of the world where, to justify a generalized order of utility, it has the aim to produce an effect of reality; or the constraints of the function articulate the world of the fiction to make it operational in the transformation of a real world.

Form - measurement: Either the form gives measurement to reality, according to a contour, a pattern, a model, a measurement to be followed, not only it gives take on reality but contributes to produce it. Or the dimensions of reality which are seized in the form give him it measurements, one or multiple scales, proportions, rhythms, symmetry, antisymetry,… one or several singularities in a multiplicity of features which compose the partitions and the unit of a whole. The passage from the simple to the complex depends on the combinative in which the form is made up, on the repetition or not of its elements according to a metric, and on the possible conversion, or not, of their particular occurrences in scansions of the whole  of the generated building, and on the general work of its author, his “style” or his “language”.

Form - force: For some the form would be the resultant of forces, its changes would be generated in a dynamics where in their interactions forces would produce conformations of the world, or, in a genesis, would be producing singularities registered in meaning discontinuities. For others, formal forces would be opposed to the material forces, the form would not be that only the reflection or the manifestation of a set of forces, but would be able to produce forces, to inflect them or to make them fork, diverge, burst, by opposing to their dynamics not only by its inertia, but also by the power of retention and extension of its edges.

Form - structure: For some, by its edges the form allows a capture of reality and its limits (in exclusions, but also in inclusions or multiple junctions) structure the substance they capture; the seizure of the matter that it makes possible is done by limits, by more or less porous membranes. For others, form is not reducible to its edges; it contains not only internal tensions between elements in interactions (it constrains them) but it is a structure which equips these interactions with an architecture where the elements are not only assembled as multiple components, but also organized in a whole following principles of composition.

Form - grammar: For the ones, grammars of forms regulate the assembly of the elements of a building according to a geometry and only according to the geometrical operations which they admit, with invariants and variants allowing the stability and the adaptability of the elements with the others in their assembly. For the others, the integration of the various elements in a whole and their organization carry out operations equipped with meaning, such as to support, to cover, to close, to open, to implant,… in a regulated sequence of components such as column, beam, cover, envelope, door, base, …, whose assembly is not only geometrical, nor even physics or esthetics, but answers to uses, meanings, values.

Form - contents: Either, for the ones, equipping the form with an interior consistency the contents is a substance placed in a container whose form envelopes it, imposes its constraints and prints its contours, its closing to it. Or, for the others, the content has itself a form, and is coiled inside the container or expanded outside; the relation of internality and externality of this form to the form of the container produces meaning, the opening of the space, or its closing, taking meaning. The meaning can be not retained inside, but projected from the interior towards the exterior, either by its impression on the external face of the building, or by the opening of the architectural space on its context. And that is not uninteresting that the content (the meaning) is strictly contained (or retained…) inside or expanded (expressed) outside. To be contained inside or projected outside is thus the architectural meaning of the contents (of the utility), the form of a value of position; and this form answers (or not) a cultural code (a habitus) which gives a value to the being inside, a value different of being outside (for example female vs male). There is then interpretation of the architectural form by means of a social form.

Form - tool: Either the instrument is an opening of possible, it allows operations which would not be, or not easily carried out without it, but does not involve them necessarily, and some are not envisaged before its manufacturing. Or the instrument is taken as mean determined in a causal determination of operations aiming at an aim and only one; the user of the instrument becoming himself as one of the parts which compose a machine, a machine whose instrument is a tool whose utility is implied in a set of necessary relations of causes to effects. If lived space is the space of the utilities of life and of the instruments which make that certain praxis and certain existential interactions are possible, one will wonder how utilities such as they are conceived by the users are referable to the utilities conceived by the architects, and up to what point the architectural connotations (monumental) of the instruments are to the source of the layouts of the premises of life for the inhabitants.

Form - expression: Either the form is equipped with a transparency which lets its contents be expressed, or it is equipped with an appearance which gives meaning to its contents, a meaning connoted in its expression. Either the expression, its surface, its textures and its modénatures are regarded as an added decoration, whose one can make the economy without removing the utility of the projected building, or the expression gives meaning for the use of the instrument, increasing by as much its utility. The meaning of the expression, connotation of the meaning in its expression, asks the question of knowing if the manner is more important than the result or if the means are justified by a finality.

Form - sign: As sign, the form is the sign of another thing that of itself, a present or absent value. Either the form is the mark of a current practical value, indicating a primary utility, where primariness reduces the use to the satisfaction of present needs. Or it is the monument of an absence, connoting a virtual practical value, passed or future, whose secondarity transforms the current value of the present uses by bringing them back or forth  to absent uses. In this the form can be arbitrary, of one arbitrariety which, while respecting constraints of substance, returns to an expression of sign, a style, esthetics or rhetoric, with a pragmatic practical value.

Form - figure: Either the figure reveals the contents on the shape of the object, and obliges the subject to a posture [modernity], or it veils the contents, filters and expresses it by deforming it [classicism]. The figure interposes between the expression and the contents, so that the form of the contents can be not cut out according to same contour as the form of the container while being expressed on it. The principal process according to which the figure acts on the form is the transport, of a whole on another (metaphor) or of a part on the whole of which she belongs (synecdoche) or on another whole (metonymy), in order to amplify, condense or oppose the meaning on an aspect with which it equips the form which accommodates to it.

Form - icon: Either the form reproduces the object to the identical, as the object of a series, a multiple, and shows in this series a manufactoring process that was to remain hidden (blasphemes). Or the form brings closer the things and causes an all the more  strong emotion that they are initially more distant between them (irony). For some, the reproduction in an image is the object of interdicts, a little like if, represented, the form of the subject was to be betrayed, and lost its devoted character (iconoclasts). For others, for which the form is supposed to give a presence alive to the subject, the reproduction is the object of a figurative code which devotes this presence (iconophiles). Rejected or seized, the icon establishes an equivalence, or an equality, between the object and its representation; in this it can be monotonous.

Form - symbol: Either the symbol is what goes with the instrument, accompanies it as a singular, instructive element of its code of handling; or, refering to a program of actions, it condenses the totality of the meaning of it and not only its technical dimensions. Either the symbol is a form which is seized in the act which it implements, like a variable can take meaning in a calculation, or it is a form codified apart from the act which it implements, a disconnected form of the current processes, of their successive moments, so that it can be operative here or elsewhere, currently or virtually. In a current process, if the symbol announces something which goes with data, without depending in its form, in a formula offering a virtual computing power, indices are coupled with it which refer to possible instances.

Form - myth: Word pronounced in a devoted form, the myth is a variable combined in articulations between variants and invariants. Either the myth is the memory of the  foundation of a tradition, is pronounced in a ritual practised periodically to reproduce the cohesion of a whole, and the form is the object of a repetition; or the myth is in formation, is registered in the liquidation of a lack of current meaning, in a singular fact to come, and the form in its value is the object of a change. Remaining the secrecy of a foundation, shared locally by some, the myth is combined with the past; to be too much pronounced, it looses its power of foundation. Opened to all, it calls a singular actor coming from elsewhere to carry out a change of state of the involved actors.

Form - space: Either space is continuous, homogeneous and open, or space is  discontinuous and dislocated into partitions according to successive closings or which imbricate themselves in the others. Or gradually, from the close relationship until the far,  from the present to the absent, space underlies forms of interaction, prolongs them here, there and elsewhere. Or discontinuities between over there and there (fort-da) enter the construction of the subject, a subject which, separating himself from the other and distinguishing himself in the space, recognizes and affirms to be himself as only being him. The distances introduce tensions between one and the other, and spacings produce appeasing. Closings and openings control interactions with an energetics where an economy of space, between scarcity and abundance, installs forms of singularity vs multiplicity [numeric] by crossing them with forms of identity vs difference [specific]; it gives forms to the places, in an architecture of the territory which directs and centers the space towards one or the other of the subjects excluding the others [center vs periphery].

Form - time: Lived, semiotic time, is opposed to physical, cosmic time. On the human scale, physical time is continuous, from the beginning to the end of the world, running out in a permanent flow where everything changes unceasingly, whereas only the form, including the form of the change, remains permanent. Lived time, on the contrary, can be discontinuous, stopped by ruptures, or continuous, extended by extension of the meaning to be still. Human time, lived, is of a paradoxical extension, it is the relation with what was but already is not more, as with what will be but is not yet. It is also tension towards what will be as towards what was. Aporetic, it is the moment of a passed relation, in a transitory genesis, discontinuous, as it is also the persistent relation with what was and exists still, in a continuous duration. It passes and looses itself in the infinite, or it settles itself and flows in the permanence of an epoch.


Space - time, semiotic : traces, vestiges, symptoms

Cosmic time, metric time, chronic time, historical time are as many temporal forms which contribute to the development of the spatial form of human reality. If space and objects who insert on it are offered to us as index, instrument or sign, time is articulated to in a meaning each time different. But always, the meaning of time is measured in space. Whatever is its surface of emergence in space, time is a relation, it is seized in an inference, like a semiotics between two states of the being. The being in the world finds its meaning in the time of a permanence or thru a rupture, a finitude or an infinite; and its time is read in a space, present at the present, presence of one past, presence of one future in a form, a model, or it implies destruction of the matter and guaranties permanence of the form in an abstract scheme relevant in other present forms; it can also be destruction of the form, remain of one of its previous shape, trace of another in its material, symptom of the causes of its decrepitude.



To grasp the relationship between the invention of contemporary forms of human space and past forms of its production, all the expected topics will review the progress of research on forms, in interdisciplinary works where semiotics hangs a large share. To help develop the semiotics of space, to seize how between present spaces and absent objects are invented the forms that articulate forces and produce meaning, topics will show how, in the space, emergence processes of forms that produce meaning can articulate sensation , possibility of consciousness, cutting of the substantial continuum and formation of traces, comparison and recognition of objects. They will notably question the relationship between schemes and diagrams, they will treat their relations in the various of intuition and their unification in forms. Thus they will show how the semiotic process is made by decomposing, extracting, layering and nesting, emoving and adding forms, some of expecting, asking or announcing others. To make it, and record the results in a general theory of semiotic forms, presentations with epistemological character will draw upon disciplines such as mathematics, artificial science, cognitive science, ontologies and logic of space and time.

Termin: – 
Kategorie:Call for Papers
Ort:Kaunas, Lithuania
Veranstalter:International Association for Semiotics Studies (IASS/AIS)
International Association for Semiotic of Space (IASS/AISE)
Kontakt:Pierre Pellegrino

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