Posts Tagged ‘dead architects’

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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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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.

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Praising the sum of the parts.

May 7, 2014

To see more photos check out the link here: India Art n Design – Home in the Wild

To see more photos check out the link here: India Art n Design – Home in the Wild

Since site cast concrete buildings can be engineered and built with primitive methods, hand labor and local materials, it is not surprising that social, economic and very real physical conditions have provided a home for Modern Architecture in virtually every tropical climate zone on the planet.  Also, mid century pioneering projects like Le Corbusier’s complex in Chandigarh, India;  Lucio Costa and Oscar Niemeyer’s  Brasília;  and Lou Kahn’s National Assembly Buildings in Bangladesh, had the far reaching effect of validating modernist efforts in tropical locations until today, when it might even appear, to those of us who live in the world of tortured steel, glass, plastic, engineered wood and stone building, that time has stood still.

In India the case could be made that this is doubly true because of the national tendency to decorate all things modern with temple motifs.  We are left with a sense of parallel worlds, existing side by side but somehow never quite assimilating.  It is occurs here, to the bungalow in the photos, with actually quite pleasing results.  Maybe it is time we stop expecting the whole to materialize, and be happy with the sum of the parts.

 

 

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Le Corbusier Fancy

January 4, 2014

2157559108_953bbcb4a0_oHouse of the Day #7: 409 W. 120th StreetThere is a type of chair often referred to in design school as a “Sheraton Fancy” and if one is inclined to look further into it, they would find that Thomas Sheraton was prone to pillage his predecessors to the extent that not a little of some history of architecture reference book shows up in his very elegant furniture designs, published in his book, The Cabinet Maker’s and Upholsterer’s Drawing Book, and then not only copied but frivolously embellished forever after.    These houses somehow brought Sheraton to mind, as if they might first have been conceived in a chronology of 20th century architectural styles that were finally reassembled in a silly but nevertheless pleasing way.  I like these houses.  They are modest little jewels in a sea of…. well you know ..

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India, Part I: Architecture of Independence

November 20, 2012
Architecture school

Architecture School by Le Corbusier, Chandigarh, India, Photo courtesy of Arnout Fonck

Architecture school

Architecture School by Le Corbusier, Chandigarh, India, Photo courtesy of Arnout Fonck

Place of assembly Chandigarh 2007, Photo used under Creative Commons

Chandigarh High Court, Photo used under Creative Commons

As a a sometimes student of all things architectural educated in the “Western Tradition” I am prone to assign historical styles as a way of valuing architecture.    Modernism arrived in India, along with independence,  in 1947 at a time when there were about 300 trained Indian architects in a country with a population of 330 million.  As a result, architecturally  the new way forward was destined to be lead by European architects and students of the “European Modernists Movement in Architecture,” not the least being Le Corbusier who realized his vision in the city of Chandigarh.  The impact of Modernism was immediate, pervasive and very real.  Architecture in India since Independence has been not only exclusively Modern in Style but further, in the tradition of Le Corbusier, site cast concrete has been/is the prevailing  building material.  Anyone traveling around India today will find a Modernist building-scape imbued with remnants of “High Colonialism” juxtaposed against the ever present and essential “hut” of the rural village and the tarp and stick maize of the urban slum.  Close inspection reveals that concluding that only the last two are native is probably a mistake, for today Indian offices, apartments, schools, public buildings and private houses are clearly, for good or ill, where new flesh is being put on the structural bones of “Modern Architecture.”  To be continued…..India Part II:  New Flesh on Old Bones.

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Newtons 3rd Law of Tiny Houses?

September 27, 2012

Primitive Hut, from Marc Antoine Laugier’s Essai sur l’Architecture Frontispiece, by Charles-Dominique-Joseph Eisen

Is this tiny house a modern day version of Marc Antione Laugier’s Primitive Hut?

Château de Maisons near Paris by François Mansart (1642)

McMansion

Attention:   unemployed students, overworked homemakers, empty “nesters,” outdoor enthusiasts, and all economically challenged humans with/without pets and extended family!  According to numerous posts buzzing across the “blogisphere”  the answer to your housing “whoas” has arrived in the form of a tiny house;  leading me to wonder, are we returning to the Primitive Hut of Marc-Antoine Laugier’s Essay on Architecture(1753), an important work read by architecture students, and a plea for rational thought amidst late renaissance architectural excess?

I would guess that the operative word is excess, as in the ever present 4000 square foot mansions populating the the US sprawl-scape and attending my conclusion that in this case Newton’s Third Law may be the one to watch.  All photos used under Creative Commons.

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