Posts Tagged ‘modernist’

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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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Vertical Siding Makes a House Look “Modern”

August 3, 2016

If I told you that these two houses were essentially the same house, what would you think?  Would you say “no way!”  They don’t look anything alike.  One is quite pretty and contemporary.  The other is dated and very ordinary.  Anyone can see that they are very different.

Are they not stick built boxes with low pitched roofs and asymmetrical street elevations?  Do they not have two stories with horizontal siding on the upper level and garrison style colonial shapes?  Are they not about the same size and maybe even construction quality?  Are they not basically the same?

What makes them look so different? Why does the green house appear modern and relevant and the blue one look like a 1965 colonial tract house that has seen better days.  The answer is more simple than one might think, which is encouraging because it means that there is a fix.  It is about the finishes.  Before going there, let me say that I have no idea about the origin or remodeling history of these two houses.  Whether the finishes are newly added or original matters not at all, as it is about the materials that were used and how they were applied.

If we make a single list of materials that are different on the  street elevation of both of these houses we end up with some vertical siding, white shutters and paint.  Really, that’s all!  Can such a small kit of parts be applied with such divergent results?  The answer, of course, is yes.  Consider, for the sake of discussion, what would happen to the blue house if we threw out the shutters, added a contrasting color to the “pop out” dormer and  and reversed the first floor siding so that it was vertical instead of horizontal.  Anyone brave enough to undertake it, could end up with an amazing update.

Oversimplification?  Perhaps! It does, though, drive home the main reason for this discussion, which is that vertical siding makes a house look modern.  Most architects will say, when used with care, it confers a stylistically modern persona and reinforces an up to date image.

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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: Making Function Follow Form?

February 24, 2015
passive solar house

Passive Solar House A

I am a big fan of passive house design.  I buy books about it, read blogs about it, go to trade shows about it,  watch other architects design about it, go to open houses about it, and mostly dream about it.  Somehow my architectural visions always ends up looking more like house B than house A .  Reality, on the other hand, usually ends up looking the other way around.  Why, I ask myself,  is this?  As I am fond of mentioning, did not Louis Sullivan, after all, poetically state.

“Whether it be the sweeping eagle in his flight, or the open apple-blossom, the toiling work-horse, the blithe swan, the branching oak, the winding stream at its base, the drifting clouds, over all the coursing sun,  form ever follows function, and this is the law. Where function does not change, form does not change. The granite rocks, the ever-brooding hills, remain for ages; the lightning lives, comes into shape, and dies, in a twinkling.  It is the pervading law of all things organic and inorganic, of all things physical and metaphysical, of all things human and all things superhuman, of all true manifestations of the head, of the heart, of the soul, that the life is recognizable in its expression, that form ever follows function. This is the law.”

In theory, and in reality too, there can be no doubt that form does, indeed, follow function.  For architects, a problem only presents itself when we don’t like the way said form ends up looking.  In this case there is really only one real choice.  Modify the form.  That can be done legally by changing the function, usually by making it more complex.  We see that the South facing sun room in house B also serves as an entry with architecturally agreeable results.  Pure function, as demonstrated in the green house attached to house A, can be a bit hard to take.  What is an architect to do?  I say, change the way it looks, legal or not.

passive solar house

Passive Solar House B

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Architecture: Realism; Metabolism; Idealism & the Laundry

November 17, 2014
3016726186_bc6b0968d7_o

Realism

Presume

Hong Kong is known for high density living, usually in the form of “Modern” apartment blocks like the one here, and trust me, it is surreal for a Westerner to wake up expecting to see the morning sky only to discover an intimate view of a couple of hundred neighbors looking back at you from the same exactly measured boxes only made different by colorful laundry strung helter-skelter like banners in all directions.  Add the noise and smell of rush hour boat traffic on the Aberdeen channel below, and you have a picture of middle class life in Ap Lei Chau.  But I digress, this is not a travel blog.  Finally, I end up smitten with the sheer visual mass;  rigid, regular, homogenous structural framework completely animated by the chaos of life.  One without the other is unthinkable.  Such was the vision packed happily away in my photos file until I was forced, by a recent article about sustainably built apartments, to to dust it off.

Metabolism

Metabolism

Postulate

During the late 50’s and early 60’s; and keeping in mind that architectural academics love anything that can be defined by the attachment of an “ism” to the end of a word, a Japanese mega thinker and luminary by the name of Kiyonori Kikutake along with 3 others came up with a philosophy that has come to be known in architectural circles as “Metabolism.”  Motivated, at its core, by the quest for more versatile solutions to the ever expanding post war urban environments, Metabolism had some interesting manifestations.  Kikutake, for example, proposed supporting apparently floating floor planes in multistory buildings with structural mesh; think structural columns that look like Chinese finger traps.  Floor planes, as it turns out, were not the only thing he floated.  In response to the scarcity of urban real estate he actually designed an entire floating city.

Not to be overlooked was Kisho Kurokawa, another perhaps more pragmatic member of the group, who contributed to the architectural notions of Metabolism by the introduction off organic structural flexiblity in the form of capsule architecture, a real live example being the Nakagin Capsule Tower shown in the photo.  Removable pods were actually made in a shipping container factory.

realism

Idealism

Proclaim

Sustainability being the current architectural mantra, the image in the article (India Art n Design:  Mongkok Residence – Sustainability & the Skyline) is, nevertheless, mostly remarkable because the apartment is nestled between two modern towers.  Dialectically speaking, what could more completely summarize the issue.  Funny thing about opposites; they cannot be opposite unless they are somehow alike.  No matter how they are skewed, upon what type of rigid or flexible structural frame they rest, whether the boxes are fabricated in a container factory or simply real containers, boxes piled one on top of another end up looking like piled up boxes.  Quite possibly, they only become something else by introduction of the infinitely chaotic laundry.

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Modern Architecture: Free in Freetown

August 3, 2014

 

Christina House

modern house

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This place in “Freetown Christiana” looks like it would fit in Venice Beach, even though it is made out of stuff that can be found in the local dump – and there could have been a pun hiding in there if weren’t for the fact that stuff from the dump is probably not free.  I put it here because it reinforces a few ideas about art/architecture as follows:

  • There is a style to it.
  • It is not restricted by economic boundaries.
  • It may be influenced by them though, i.e. the first Modern Architecture, was probably built by the rich.
  • It follows function, as both of these places appear to be after the view.
  • If there is a difference between art and architecture, then the image on the top is art and the one on the bottom is architecture.
  • The house on the top wins the prize for sustainability.
  • The world is the best museum there is.
  • It can be a whole lot of fun and improve your life, no matter who or where you are.

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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 ..