Posts Tagged ‘Le Corbusier’

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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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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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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 IV: Moderninism in a Guilded Cage

December 13, 2012

IMG_0061-op IMG_0062-opThe Modern Architecture that I studied was void of ornament to the extent that only mass produced furniture expressing the industrial aesthetic was allowed, a rule that has been ignored by Indian designers ever since Modernism arrived on home shores, and resulting in the decoration of everyday homes with ethnic abandon.  The affect is fascinating and there are often happy accidents, like the fact that Eastern Style furniture arrangements, where the seating is place symmetrically around a table in the middle of the room, fit perfectly into a modernist box, or how concrete floors provide a perfect base for local marble, or how window and door penetrations require decorative grill work to keep the monkeys  out and allow the air to flow in, or how site cast concrete moldings and plaster walls demand colored paint and gilding like a bride at her wedding.

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Inida, Part II: New Flesh on Old Bones

November 23, 2012

Even in India where wood is scarce, small trees are are used and reused for concrete formwork.

Until recently, the pay as you go building environment has meant that exposed rebar at the top of the columns may be left for years awaiting the installation of an additional story.

Intricate plastic features like visually unsupported stairs, cantilevered awnings and elaborate moldings are created with primitive forms and tools.

Even for tall buildings concrete is mixed on site hand poured in small batches.

Before speaking about new architectural “flesh” on structural “bones,” old or new, it may be worth  first taking a look at the bones, which may best be described by the Hindi saying, chalta hai, meaning in English, “it works” or “it will do.”

The thing about structure, especially concrete, is that in order for it “to work,” it must be fairly well built.  The posts must be plumb, the beam sizes and structural spacing must be true, and the amount and spacing of rebar must be right.  If any of these are seriously off, the building will fail, a fact that has forced builders to learn their craft and allowed the burgeoning of Indian Modernism, which at its utterly ironic core, is a handicraft.  I am pretty sure this is not exactly what Le Corbusier had in mind when he called the house “a machine for living.”  To be continued”……India, Part III:  Architecture Wears a Sari.

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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.