Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

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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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Very Frank Lloyd Wright?

November 1, 2016

Recently a reader ask for my opinion on a project.  We shared numerous images, had email discussions and a phone call.  I think we opened several design possibilities worth a discussion here.  Follow along with the discussion and add your “two cents” in the comments section.  Maybe someone out there has even better ideas than those offered here.

Existing House – The reader was planning a complete remodel of an existing “Mid Century Modern” house.  He sent me images of the existing house, some renderings of what he was planning to do, as well as a really great original booklet with plans of similar house designs from the same historic period which can be found here.

Reader’s Question – His initial question was about the windows.  He sent me the proposed design shown above and asked me, in particular, what I thought about the sash windows, including decorative glass and  external shutters, that are between the garage door and the chimney in the image.    He also asked me for comments on the use of color.   I sometimes think that clients need a hook; a way of tacitly enjoining  a larger critique.  Clearly, I couldn’t begin to think about details like window styles without first examining their context, which in this case involved a two part observation.  I thought, “this design is very Frank Lloyd Wright, and it is actually quite nicely done.”

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Frank Lloyd Wright:  Mid Century Modernist? – The crux of my observation about Wright is in the question about whether or not he can be grouped with the “Mid Century Modernists.”  The answer is that it is done all the time, but Wright was more.  He was an influencer with deep roots in the historic transition from the Victorian to Modern world.  Evidence of this transition can be seen especially in his early work and it is important to this discussion because the design proposed by the reader evokes this link which, I think, justifies the design and provides an answer to his question about the windows.

The Design Process – Before I go into examples, (if you are bored by theories just skip this paragraph) I should offer a disclaimer about the design process in general.  Most, if not all, design is a product of selected influences found in the greater environment in which it appears.  In short, ideas do not occur in a vacuum.  This is not to imply that we remember the source of these inclinations.  It only means that we somehow carry various visual impressions around in our psyche and pull them out when needed.  This is true with large stylistic movements that show up in the built environment, and especially when considering an architect as well thought of, and with such far reaching influence as had Frank Lloyd Wright.  I am pretty sure the reader who designed this remodel gave little thought to the source of his ideas, and, when he finally decide to look, came up with the previously mentioned booklet;  providing an example of how the “Modern Movement in Architecture,” which had originated with Wright and others, manifested in commercial track housing looking exactly like the house that the reader was proposing to fix.  This was interesting for sure, but of little relevance in view of the proposed design which was good on it’s own merit not a little because it was specifically suggestive of Wright’s early work, whether the reader knew it or not.

Citing the Evidence – I did some research and came up with these examples.  They go a long way towards explaining why I thought the readers design was “very” Frank Lloyd Wright.  I picked them because they contained elements in common with the proposed design as noted below each image.

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suggestion

Suggested Revision

Possible Solution – Just to restate the problem – in case you forgot already – the reader asked me to comment on the two sets of sash windows with the decorative glass and  external shutters that are shown in his proposed design.  Based on the research, and assuming the reader intended to install in the existing openings, I recommended that casement windows be used instead of sash, which are almost never used by Wright and generally not strongly evident in “Mid Century Modern” houses from this era.  I further suggested that a simple geometric muntin pattern offset from the mullions like those in the last research example above would work.  The reader did not ask me about the garage door, nevertheless I suggested he change it to a simple door with horizontal divisions which I thought worked better than the existing which had fielded panels and “colonial” references.

artwork by reader

Artwork by Reader

Let’s Not Forget the Color – Finally the reader sent me this fun bit of artwork and ask me what I thought of the color.  The greenish color of the existing tile roof seems unique to this house and, I think, adds personality.  The rest of the natural colored materials are working and support the new design.  Trim and the garage door are best colored to disappear.  Check out Wright’s Studio above.  Continuing a bit of green might be used to attract attention to the front door but it is not really necessary.

Special thanks to Angelo Corriea, a builder from our Northern neighbor, who sent me this project, but really didn’t need my help as he created a nice design on his own.  Also, for you serious students of design,  it might be worth checking out the connections between Frank Lloyd Wright, Henry Hobson Richardson, and Louis Sullivan.

Bridget Gaddis, is a Licensed Architect and LEED-accredited Professional practicing nationally, and locally in the Washington DC area. She holds professional degrees in both Architecture and Interior Design, and with a comprehensive background in commercial retail design, planning and construction has completed projects for such for such well known brands as Chloe, Zegna, and Bvlgari. Her career began in tenant coordination and site planning for two well-known Cleveland developers, followed by six years in store planning for a national retailer. After a move to New York City in 1997, she spent the next years working for architecture firms specializing in retail projects. In 2011 she started her own practice in Alexandria, VA. Ms. Gaddis is the author of two blogs dealing with architectural subjects.

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Who cares if architecture has a soul or not?

October 24, 2016
goldern-mural

You guys all recognize these don’t you? Ok, maybe not!

Architecture with a Capital A:  Some would say that these images demonstrate the foundation of Architecture, with a capital A.  Whatever your opinion, they are proportioning systems with academic roots in the ancient world.  They are all based on a thing called the “Golden Ratio” and, like it or not, they work.  The temptation, which I will resist, is to go into a discussion of what they are and where they are used.  A one minute google search will inform any unacquainted reader and spare me the trouble of saying again what others have said often and better.

The golden ratio appears in nature.

Numerous examples  of the golden ratio demonstrate that proportion appears everywhere in nature.

Proportion, based on the golden ratio, can be thought of as an infinitely expanding and contracting telescope of repeating pattern: rectangle exactly divide by a square, another rectangle divided by square, another rec…

Proportion is Indigenous:  So, if not to explain, then why bring it up?  Because proportion, as defined by the “Golden Ratio” is indigenous.  It is part of nature, and when used in the built world, proceeds from the human condition; meaning that many, if not most, of us recognize, relate, find comfort, inspiration, and just plain beauty in an entity displaying proportional properties;  those being, the parts relate to the whole and they do so in an organized way.

Has Proportion Disappeared?  Sadly, proportion, at least in the classical sense discussed here, is mostly gone from our everyday built environment, and based on recent pursuits of everything green, it would seem like it is threatened in nature as well.  Proportion, after all, depends on rules, on absolutes.  They don’t do very well in a world where everything is relative.

 

Large and Lovely

Are classical proportions the soul of aesthetics?

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Consider this old house, built somewhere around 1900.  I know this place well because my grandmother lived down the street.  If style is the meter, it appears that some history of architecture book exploded onto its facade, typical Victorian, except for the 1960’s aluminum awnings and the 1990 standing seam metal roof.  Somehow classical proportions, along with the historic references, crept into the design with happy results. It took very little effort to impose golden rectangles onto the picture, in spite of the perspective for which no attempt at correction was made.  The whole is a harmony of parts, even suggesting that if the proportion is right, then the mismatched and mixed styles don’t matter.

Big and Bad!

Are aesthetics without a soul?

The exercise was much more difficult with this “house” and the one below.  Indeed, I couldn’t make it work.  No mater how many ways I scaled, rotated, moved, repeated, assembled, disassembled and reassemble the golden rectangle and its various parts, I could torture only a hint of classical proportions out of the image on the top and nothing from the one on the bottom.

not-golden-rec

Are aesthetics even necessary?

It is only fair for me to reveal that, for me, the two places above qualify for “McMansion” status, which is nicely itemized here:  McMansion Hell.  Does this disqualify me?  Maybe not, since if my analysis is correct, carefully worked out proportions could save even a “McMansion!”  If someone sends me additional examples, I am happy to try the exercise again.  I’d rather, though, evoke a positive, if fleeting, response.

Maybe it is the other way around. Could classical proportions proceed from the soul?

This little building should have come first in this discussion, as it is what made me examine the composition of beauty that I found residing there.  Like some parti for elegance, not only does it appear to be returning to nature, but from the standpoint of proportion, it just might be.

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What’s in a name?

May 18, 2016

Name Dropping – Did you ever notice that real estate people like to insert the names of house styles into their conversations with potential buyers?  “…nice to meet you.  I have a move in ready Center Hall Colonial to show tomorrow.” or “…there is a Mid-Century Modern neighborhood that generates a lot of interest.”  The local historical committee, of course, has raised name dropping to an art form.  Here in Old Town they are the designated authority, champion and voice of all things Georgian and very present at all meetings of the local architectural review board.

Name Listing – There is a list of house styles on Wikipedia with which, truth be told, I have a lot of fun.  I can’t wait to tell some realtor that I would like to see a Dingbat house?  No kidding.  It really exists!  It is also possible to get creative and customize these terms.  I actually thought of this a few years ago when a potential client brought a fist full of photos to a meeting.  She repeatedly told me how much she like Regency style design.  The photos were of mirrored replicas made into furniture and finishes of what appeared to be every decorative cliche ever invented by Thomas Sheraton, all of it originating from some shop like Pier One.  What, I thought, would one call these?  We could say Meta Modern or Pseudo Modern ( I will let you look those up) which seem to be buzz words that include all things previous.  How about Post Modern Revival of Regency Revival?  That ought to cover it.  I think putting things into categories gives us a feeling of control.  Although not much in the way of actual control.

Name Cancelling – Does not even the lowest budget shopper have a vision or image relating to his or her expectations about where they hope to live?   Think cottage and white picket fence a là now deceased American Dream.  What guides this?  I don’t think it has anything to do with style, named or real, unless that style somehow fits into the larger world of the individual’s past residential experience, turned into a dream or not.  Anyone looking to define a future stylistic paradigm might do well to flush out what is common in places we have lived in the recent past.  No easy task in an increasingly small and populated world and further complicated by the manipulations of large scale planners defining a built environment according to their particular terms.

Name Hunting – I have a friend, raised in an urban apartment block, these days sporting a million plus house budget in a quaint suburban neighborhood and hard pressed to find an acceptable house.  She has been conditioned to think of  a house as a commodity, with stylistic taste leaning towards the McMansion, she will consider only new construction and is completely put off by a yard of any size.  Her ideas about security and building in general are still involved with her roots in the apartment block.  As a member of a larger similarly inclined shopping group, she is influencing the look of a neighborhood because developers do very good market research.  They understand and deliver the absolute minimum that must be provided in order to satisfy this customer.  Expanding a customer’s  horizons is only part of the program to the extent necessary to sell a newly built home.  More complex, better assimilated options are never offered and existing housing is mostly ignored.

Name Finding – The word “finding” may be a little misleading (it fit in the text).  It is more as if a new style, rather than directly resulting from the search, just appears, although the looking is still required, and I might add, is considered to be a high intellectual activity in the world of architectural scholars. It is the result of a dialectical process, where the tension between the dominant old style and the emerging newer style become so great that the whole conflict collapses into something else.  It is like the invisible whole, which is greater than the sum of the parts, suddenly becomes visible and Voila, a new style is there.  This line of thinking, of course, comes from the German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, a favorite of mine, distained by many, and begging the question, what is the emerging new style?  Is it already implemented?  Will it be defined by the spatial needs of an expanding population or the desire to be “green?”  Will it return to nature like a Hogan, or the earth like a Sod House.  Maybe it will look like my favorite Parkitecture!  Could we see a Modern Farmhouse, or how about a Star Wars version of the Rumah Gadang?  That might work.  Whatever the new name, I am pretty sure that some combination of its elements will be easy to locate in the afore mentioned list of house styles!

Images are used under Creative Commons from Flickr and Wikipedia or owned by the author.  Please contact us for the links.

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Architecture: Density by Idea or Ideal

May 28, 2015

https://www.flickr.com/photos/jsorbie/2605651701/in/photolist-4Y

Recently the AIA launched a national campaign entitledLook Up.”

Without going deep into the pros and cons of how successful the add is at raising awareness about what architects really do – REAL being the operative word – I would suggest that the ad is most inspiring to those who authored it; the rest of us, not so much.  In the name of fairness, though, I decided to try it, looking up that is.  As it turned out, it was not necessary to look very high.  I found the perfect parti for high density green housing sitting on top of a back yard pole happily posted to flickr.  This mini neighborhood of individuals suggests a happy counterpoint to the uniformity of developer housing.  It makes me want to turn it into an apartment building.

Architecture is kind of an “old man’s” profession, or old woman’s as the case may be.  This is not an accident.  It is a necessity resulting from the years of experience required for a practitioner to develop the skill and knowledge base that enables him or her to actualize a successful project, a fact that is becoming ever more true as the information base steadily increases.  Since, for “old men” looking back is unavoidable, long memories come with the territory and probably influence a design idea.  Younger architects, unencumbered by memories, are more apt to look forward toward some design ideal.  Somehow the advertising executives have pick up on the subtle difference between the idea and the ideal and come down decidedly in favor of the latter.  The bird houses in the photo, on the other hand,  sends us in pursuit of the former.

I wonder if  Villa Savoye, completed by Le Corbusier at the beginning of his career when he was 41, is the result of and idea or an ideal?  Either way, “Towards a New Architecture”  clearly outlines a plan of  action.

a. transcendent entity that is a real pattern of which existing things are imperfect representations: idea
b. a standard of perfection : ideal
c. a plan for action : design
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Church Living: evolution or devolution?

December 29, 2014
church house

Church converted to a house.

For centuries architects have borrowed design ideas and details from religious buildings.  If we were brutally honest, we might find that 75% of the designs found in a typical architectural history book first appeared on some religious building.  That said, the elements were rearranged into some new form or use or usually both.  For example we see the plan and form of an ancient Roman basilica evolved over time into high architecture as it combines with a myriad of other motifs to become the standard form used in the design of a Christian church.

Check out the garage.  Can it be original?

Check out the garage. Can it be original?

These days we forgo the rearrange and reassemble part and jump directly to the reuse.  How would you like to live here?  First glance tells us that things could get a bit crowded, as one could never be sure that the good Lord deigned to move out.  Also, what does one tell the parishioners who unwittingly show up for service on Sunday morning?  No one thought to change the commercial entry to something with more residential appeal.  There was, though, a salute to the all important automobile.  Looks like someone added a two car garage.  Maybe it is time to let some architect come up with a little devolution.