Archive for the ‘Architectural Criticism’ Category

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Association: a Fundamental Element of Design.

March 1, 2018

Is the message in the image?
Sometimes words can add nothing.  The entire message is actually in the image.  At first, I thought that this was one of those times, and if I am brutally honest, I was literally dumbfound by the strangeness of the designs.  Who does this kind of thing, and why? I could even find some functional value in the house with the solar collectors on the roof but the other building leaves me clueless.  Maybe they were trying to send some light in through the little transom window at the back of the funnel?  If so, it is not clear why this would not also be true of the pair of main windows with the built in awning, which produces the exact opposite effect.

When I found out that there was actually a whole row of these funnel houses – they are really funnel entries in some type of commercial building, but you get the idea – I was compelled to comment.  Somehow the repetition and implied association started to lead to other images, none of them have much to do with what is typically thought of as aesthetically pleasing.

Or is it in the association?
So if not for the aesthetic value then why bring this silly place up at all?  Why not just call it an anomaly and move on?  It’s because anomalies often invoke clear associations which manifest in very realistic images of events, places, and things.  As most any design student could tell you, this can be instructive and reveal what people really think about the buildings in their world.  It is a fundamental part of design.  If a designer understands the visual prompts or associations that are part of the psychology of his or her client, then he or she is better able to provide a pleasing design.  It is why many of my projects start with what I call an “image dump.”  The client is encouraged to put pictures that they like in one pile and ones they don’t in another.  There is no constraint on what images they use, puppies, food, roofing materials, all are good.  We then discuss them together one by one.  The results are usually enlightening, often surprising, and mostly useful.

Find the images used in this post here and here.

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Accidentally Modern

January 19, 2018

Fun opportunity to add color!

These are real and work too keep out sun and weather.

Difficult to say how important these are for protection from the elements but at least they are real and work.

These shutters are a design elements, act as awnings, and keep out the weather. Triple duty!

A while ago I wrote a post called “De-shuttering Our World.”  I’m afraid it was not completely flattering to the application of most shutters,  my biggest complaint(s) being that most are ill used, and don’t actually work.

All of the shutters in this post, on the other hand, actually work and serve, often multiple, and very real purposes. This may qualify them for my definition of classic,  which brings me to the last photo on the bottom and the reason for this post, which is to  inquire,about what shutters have to do with classic design?”  The answer:  a lot when they work!

Does this mean that classic design is a product of function?  Well yes I suppose it does.  Certainly if one scours the architecture history books long treatises moralizing on the subject will quickly appear.  Likewise function is seen as the classical root of many products, cars, software, even business systems.  It would appear that form follows function is a classical standard.  One that nicely applies to the little manufactured home in the bottom image.

The need to justify having thus been satisfied, I am now allowed to say that I picked the place because I like it.  If I were looking for a sunny place to hang my hat I would take it in a heartbeat.

Classic manufactured home. I had to draw a picture because the photos of the house were copyrighted. Follow the link to see how it actually looks.

Why?  It is all about function, i.e., metal siding, hurricane shutters, carport, porch enclosure, and fence, all are there for a reason, even its overall size and roof angle has clearly been designed to fit on the back of a delivery truck.

Nothing more is included.  The construction materials look, manufactured, otherwise it is  without decoration.  Only the skirt around the base of the building, because of its color, hints at a bit of amplification.  The house is austere, un-contrived, accidentally modern and therefore pretty special.

 

 

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The feel good factor of unbridled color.

October 10, 2017

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Basic town house found in any town USA

Better than a tiny house? – This is the face of many pseudo urban commuter suburbs in the US.  Not such bad places really, especially if one seeks the untroubled reverie of commonality, the refuge of normalcy in uncertain times.  By many standards the place is actually a pillar of luxury.  Who, with jobs, kids, grandkids, and stuff, could argue with 3 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, a big kitchen, actual dining room, “whatever” room, off street parking and a security system too.  Why then, in the face of such naked functionality, does this place leave some of us feeling mildly depressed?  I don’t think that I really want to know why, or more likely want to face it.

Admitting that color feels good!  Rather than subject the reader to more dreary investigations, I thought it would be a lot more fun to look at what makes many of us feel good! That, of course, would be bold, bright, primary, unapologetic  color.

Colorful historic downtown mixed use.

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Colorful townhouses.

Advocating for reinstatement.  I often wonder why we have removed it from our visual life, demoted it to a position of the unsophisticated, even crass.  I for one would like to see it reinstated.  I wonder what the home owners association would say if the home owner in the photo above were to apply for approval to repaint the house as per below?  Approval or not, it definitely makes me feel a lot better about the house.

Defying the HOA

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Making a Case for Anomalies

July 18, 2017

Holy Cow! This looks a like the concept house in the header, begging the question;  “do I own it or change it?”

Artistic Logic – Where do I start with this one?  The temptation is to say what makes a home owner do things like this, until I think, “maybe the homeowner didn’t do it.”  Maybe it was a builder?  Probably not.  Those guys are all about conformity and resale value.  What/wherever the idea came from doesn’t matter.  I looks pretty strange to most of us.  Yet, I hesitate to criticize, because I somehow find artistic logic in what was done.  Honestly, I see things like this in modern art museums all the time.  There has been a kind of purists pursuit of geometry while totally ignoring everything else.  The effect is humorous.  It makes me smile which is not such a bad thing for a house to do.

Typical Vernacular House.

Vernacular Building – It also points to another interesting question.  Is the split level house a form of “new” vernacular?  What does that word mean?  Wikipedia says it is “an architectural style that is designed based on local needs, availability of construction materials and reflecting local traditions..,” without the use of “…formally-schooled architects.”  There are text books written on the subject, but I like this definition.  It sums up how I think about vernacular building (notice that I did not call it architecture, but that is a subject for another day).  The definition  almost, but not quite, fits the split level place.  There is a utilitarian and historical implication associated with vernacular buildings that often manifest as a foundation for some future style, or expression of a recognizable over riding unity.  The split level house meets the utilitarian criteria but hardy the historical one.  The log cabin meets them both.

Noteworthy? – Psychologist define many different ways of learning.  I suppose that perception is particular to each individual and that mine is visual.  Often, I see something noteworthy without any idea why.  Only after some time and conscious analysis does the meaning reveal itself.  For me the split level house is like that.  It sent a message that read;  ” I may be an anomaly but I am also an individual who is unconscious of, and therefore uninfluenced by, architectural and stylistic mores.”  The message is totally unsophisticated.  It redefines how we think about building and points toward a fresh approach to design, the pursuit of which being the reason for this this blog.

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Simple Architecture: a place for the eye to rest?

May 10, 2017

Hi Hugh! This Hugh Newell Jacobsen.

 Hugh Newell Jacobsen

is a semi famous, and as it happens, local architect; the kind that mostly architecture students and the “arts and croissants” crowd know about.  As first year architecture students, way back in the 1990’s, we were once given the name of an important “architectural luminary” and told to copy his style.  I remember having thought that I lucked out because I got Frank Lloyd Wright.  My friend, on the other hand, got Hugh.  Now I think that he was the lucky one.

If you look up Hugh Newell Jacobsen, Wikipedia will tell you that his architecture is simple.  If you then decide to do a search on the term “simple architecture” you will find all manner of modern, very un-simple houses.    You may even ask yourself, “what is simple?  Is it definable?”

This is the house that Hugh built. Sorry you need to google him for images. I couldn’t find any that were labeled for reuse,  so a drew a picture.

Good Question

One I will explore a bit here.  The most important thing to know about simple architecture is that the architect is a decision maker, and I didn’t read this anywhere.  I just know it.  Architecture, like language is semiotic.  Think of it as “logo-centric,” meaning just about every person who has ever lived in a house has some notion of how one should/does look.  If there are 248 million adults living in the US, then it follows that an equal number of mirages make up the collective dictionary of residential architecture.  Likewise, if you think of them as words, then it is not too difficult to see that Jacobsen decided to use only vowels to write his.  He ended up with “Snoopy’s Dog House.”  Of course, the decision forced him to use every sophisticated architectural trick in the book, i.e. scale, proportion, repetition, texture…, to design an ethereal dog house, simple to recognize, not simple to achieve.

Common Simplicity

Is it possible to find simplicity in our real low budget, often crowded, every day world?  Is it possible to make these places ethereal?  Us everyday, “non luminary” architects ask ourselves these questions all the time.

Take a look at these houses.  What would it take to make them “ethereal?”  Can a 3′ ribbon of grass fit between the raw yard and the house?  Can the roof vents be moved to the back where they don’t show?  Can the window frame be made to disappear into the building?  Can the stair landing become a low deck extending the full width of the house?  Can the railing become a panel type element to match the house? Can the siding be made from something besides vinyl?

The answer of course is yes to all.  Do these changes make the places “ethereal?”  Probably not.   Maybe though, in today’s complex built environment, common simplicity is not a bad place for the eye to rest.

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“… three, two, one, lift off house.”

February 27, 2017

Authors note:  Original article is written for and posted in  Aspire Design and Home.  You might want to check them out, or just read it here.

houserocketfarm-townstreet-facade

Rocket Launch – Since I am already on the subject of houses on hilltops, I might as well take a look at this one.  Something strange happens to ones perception of space when approaching a tall house, up a hill, with pointy gables.   It starts to feel like one is approaching a rocket launch.  The flat facade of the building adds to the effect because there is no intervening element to catch the viewers attention and stop the upward motion.  This is reinforced by the driveway wall which also points, behaving like a one point perspective, drawing the viewer’s eye toward some infinite point on the horizon.

Single Visual Element – A bit of academic analysis clearly gives us to understand that, from a design standpoint, the house in the photo really starts at the street.  It is one with the driveway; a single visual element, dominated by an extremely strong profile, defined by vertical lines which terminate in arrows pointing skyward.  Have you ever driven through a farm town and seen the silos next to a railway?  The only thing missing from the photo of the house under consideration is the train.

Transformation by Decoration – Also worth considering is that rows of tall flat facades, springing directly up from sidewalks, show up in residential buildings in places like Paris, Vienna and New York.  These buildings are transformed, by dint of decoration.  Variations in the size, placement and celebration of openings, add complexity to the extent that one barely realizes they are tall, which begins to suggest that height might be something to cultivate rather than disdain, as I was at first inclined to do.

Why so Awkward – Likewise I am led to ask, if not the height, then why so awkward.  The answer, of course, is that on some level most of us understand that the unity of form and purpose evident in the row house, the silo, and even the rocket is missing in the suburban residence.  We end up with what I call a “fusion tract house,” sporting a garage door, a couple of gables, and the arched part of a “Palladian” window,  all forced into a shape that does not suit.

Architectural Form – If this home owner were my client I would, without going too far into value judgements, simply ask if this tall silhouette is one that he/she would choose to put in a typical suburban neighborhood in “any-town” USA.   If the answer was yes, then I would advise that the homeowner embrace the concept by loosing the “home depot” doors, windows, and finishes in favor of a stark functional version, organized to reinforce the architecture.  If, on the other hand, the answer was “not so much,” I would recommend either a different site or a different architectural form.

Bridget Gaddis, is a Licensed Architect and LEED Accredited Professionnal practicing nationally, and locally in the Washington DC area. She holds professional degrees in both Architecture and Interior Design and has a comprehensive background in commercial retail design, planning and construction.  She has many years experience working for well known architects, developers and retailers.  In 2011 she started Gaddis Architect an independent practice in Alexandria, VA.  In addition, Ms. Gaddis has an interest in residential projects and is the author of “Real People Don’t Hire Architects,” a blog about houses.

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The seen can also see.

February 13, 2017

Land for Sale

House for Sale

Which is better, house or the hilltop?

Strip Mine

German Castle

Anyone who has driven down an interstate through a hilly or mountainous area in the US has seen these places.  I often wonder what piece of psychology makes a home owner want to live on top of a mountain enough to cut off said mountain top?

Strip mining  for example – I think I just compared a house to a strip mine – is understandable.  Miners must cut off the mountain to get the coal, which makes them a lot of money.  It is what they value.  Big box retailers like Walmart do this too, which is also understandable.  They want to be seen from the freeway.  It brings them more customers.

Historically, people went to considerable trouble to build on promontories as an act of defense, because the locations were hard to attack.  They were very visible, and of course, the seen can also see.  Which may be key to my question.  Maybe the mountain top home owner likes the view.  For a second this is believable, certainly it is what he or she would tell anyone inclined to listen.  Then one realizes that the little house half way down the hillside most likely has an equally breathtaking view, until a “Pile-A-House” was plunked into the main site line, that is!

Romantically – Has the mountain top home owner romanticized the historic castle?  Does he or she think the pile of bricks, mortar, wood panels and asphalt shingles is somehow it’s equal, or perhaps better.  Is there a place for the natural mountain top in this line of thinking?

Unfortunately, I don’t know the answer.  I do wish they would stop it, though!  One thing I know is that a good architect could fit a house up there without making the neighbor want to move.  More population must mean less nature.  Careful consideration of where not to build leads to challenges about how we actually do.  Challenges best met by an architect.

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