Posts Tagged ‘architectural theory’

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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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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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De-Shuttering Our World

March 21, 2016
I can't look!

I can’t look!

I really wonder if I missed some important rule of architecture when I was in school, or maybe there is something in the building code, some new requirement, or could it be something in the culture, or maybe technology?  That’s it, they must be functional?  I doubt it though.  Not anymore.

No and no!

No and no!

What does that leave?  Is it honestly possible that consumer preference has demanded that every mediocre house built in the US since 1950 must have at least one set of shutters, functional or mostly not, on a window that is visible from the street?  Sometimes it seems that way.

Do you want to know something about shutters, about function, types, sizes, history?  It is stuff I am not going to talk about here because it has already been done, many, many times, so check out the Old House Guy.  Shutters, we are told, are a great way to beautify a home because they provide lots of visual impact for not much cost.  They can also, he continues, very easily ruin (and usually do) its entire appearance, a point with which I wholeheartedly agree.

Yup

Yup

 

Not so you say?  Look at this cute little house.  Think how it would look without the bright shutters and notice how nicely they are tied in by the use of equally bright accents at the door.  Bye the way, the variegated roof doesn’t hurt either.

Could be a yes!

This is a yes!

 

What about this house?  These shutters are adding design to an otherwise very ordinary house.  They set up visual rhythm, add order and interest.  I want to go inside and find all of the windows equally spaced and lined up in the same room.

 

The problem is that for every thoughtful application of shutters there are 50 that miss, or never attempt to hit, the design mark.  The materials of Mid-American single family housing, stick built in mass after the WW II, and continuing today in miles of new urbanest town houses, have remained the same.  Only the planning has changed.  There is a very unpleasant visual tension between the very old fashioned, historic kit of parts and the contemporary form of the whole.  Nowhere is that tension more evident than in the application of decoration, the most obvious being shutters.  The pervasive wood clapboarding, shingles, brick, pre-manufactured windows, doors, architectural elements and trim used everywhere today might better fit on a wing of Monticello than on a new apartment in a builder development.

This appears of little concern to much of the purchasing public, who are perhaps too uniformed to ask for better.  I would suggest that visually pleasing results may be achieved when the parts support the whole,  when the clapboarding becomes a horizontal element reinforcing the shape of a wide low ranch, when the a decorative element completes one side of a partially open gable, when a change of finish material turns a short window into a vertical element, maybe even when a shutter signals a message.  Here are a few ideas offered as inspiration in my effort to de-shutter our world.

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Images in bottom gallery are from http://www.flickr.com and used under creative commons.  Please contact us for 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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Lesson in Aesthetics

October 5, 2013
Blue House

MLS/Web ID is 3050993

I am neutral on Steve Jobs, mostly because I have never looked very closely at him or his work.  Recently, driven by my need to absorb anything to do with “Pop” culture,  I read something that piqued my interest.  It seems the Steve Jobs thought that aesthetics could be taught, implying that there exists some standard of aesthetic correctness, and almost always culminating in the philosophical dichotomy between the absolute and relative.  Beauty, some say, is subjective and in the “eye of the beholder;” not, others say, universal and defined only by elites.  Perhaps the opposition has become more important than the truth, and judging by the house in the photo;  the truth is, whoever designed this remodel would have been well served by a few of those lessons.

I guess the camp in which I reside is revealed.  Clearly there was a lot of work put into the exterior refinishing of this house, but the designer treated the stone like a set of matching accessories added to some fashion layout in a misguided effort to make a statement.  The result is utterly contrived, removing all hope of visual unity and curb appeal.  Architects, who might have supplied and improvement here, are not so much elites as they are eternal students.