Posts Tagged ‘timeless standards’


Architects in Crisis

November 2, 2013

It is common knowledge that the practice of architecture is, these days, a less than stellar performer in the career tack department.  Why this is cannot, I think, be  more succinctly described than Iwan Baan has done here.  Building things cost; mostly a lot, sometimes less, never nothing.  In order to get paid architects must find work in an environment where their services are needed, as in the necessities of life, least.  Value is demonstrated by either torturing bricks and mortar into beautiful oddities intended to glorify, institutions, governments, and just plan rich individuals, or by big developers rolling out not so beautiful tracks of monotone buildings for absorption by the already burden and fast shrinking middle class.  This is often the world of the gainfully employed architect.  The soul, though, longs for the imperative of necessity, and nowhere is that more evident than in the way of poverty where the skill and training that has been drilled into the DNA of most architects could, should and would be of the most real use.  Indeed, it is a crisis that only architects seem to know about.


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.


“Real” Appeal

April 20, 2013

The ‘real” appeal of being house proud.

Three in a row.

Places like this are mostly excluded from the intellectualized world of architecture and design, except for – dare I say it -on  HGTV.  Those people understand that people don’t live in architecture.  They live in houses.  Whoever lives here is house proud, a term not often heard these days and in my mind somehow attached to the “American Dream.”  It means that even the most modest abode becomes alluring when it is obviously cared for.  Here the meticulously manicured yard, the fence, the porch, even the matching up and downstairs air conditioners deliver a strong subliminal message that says, “we like our house a lot and you should too.”  The thing about subliminal messages is that they are the stuff of art.  Art museums are full of ordinary objects arranged by artists against carefully chosen contexts in an effort to deliver some message often much less penetrating than the one that happens organically here.

Lest one think that there is a great deal of humanity, but really no architecture here, a closer look may be in order.  Consider how the bit of light foundation contrasts with the grass, forming a  visual perimeter around the house which doubles as a sill for the ample basement windows.  Consider how it repeats under the fist floor windows, capping the rusticated brick work and defining the top of a visual base for the entire building. Consider how the rusticated corners add substance to the structure.  Consider how the brick diapering and decorative pattern balances the heavy base and add interest to a plain facade.  Consider how repeating the house three times in a row in different colors adds humor. Perhaps this is architecture after all.


So Bad it’s Good

August 8, 2012

A-Frame House
MLS/Web ID: 2954874

A-Frame House Interior
MLS/Web ID: 2954874

This circa 1966 Gelleresque vision is so bad it’s good.  In case you are not a history buff, Andrew  Geller was an architect and real working icon of  the mid century “age of optimism,” characterized by capitalization, industrialization, and modernization.  The “Windows of the World” complex on top of the World Trade Center was among the many projects he designed, including numerous summer houses along the East Coast.  He spent much of his career looking for inexpensive ways of providing modern conveniences to lots of people;  and he seems to have succeeded because it wasn’t long before cheap A-frames, like the one in the photo, were popping up all over the country.  These were actually considered a little ugly at the time, and probably still are.  It is  the overwhelming effect of my architectural nemesis, the point, that causes the problem.

Redemption comes along, though, in the complex and interesting interior space created by the A-frame structure.  It appears in the kitchen above and in an original Geller sketch below.  It soon becomes clear how one might both love and hate these little houses.  For myself, the most beautiful house I have ever entered was actually an A-frame, which is a story for another post.

Design Sketch by Andrew Geller


Channeling Leoanardo

July 6, 2012

Ćlos Luce – Entrance

I thought I had exhausted discussion about how to finish this house (lower right), now under construction (upper right).  Then, as often happens to those of us who carry images around in our heads, I happened upon a reference to Clos-Lucé, final home in Amboise, France, of Leonardo da Vinci.  Suddenly the “French Chateau” I was envisioning jump out of the pages of history to express my idea about this design problem.  The brick volumes of the Chateau are framed by  smooth tufa stone rustication that has been installed in an elaborate crenelated pattern.  If there is any change in material, it is only to define and entire volume, as the rectangular box of the entryway.

Even considering the stylistically eclectic macrocosm comprising today’s building, this is a historically strong image that is likely to, on some level,  attach itself to the house under construction.   Any design, therefore, that involves horizontally breaking the volumes is bound to look contrived.  Likewise, matching horizontal elements, i.e. foundation and roof, might appear puerile in the context of a potentially sophisticated project.

To  follow the entire thread see:
 “The Last Resort”
“Taming the Tower”
Clos Lucé – Entrance | Flickr – Photo Sharing!

Escapee from the remodeler’s un-improvement.

June 14, 2012

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Is there such a thing as an “Endangered Species Act” for houses?  If so, this place should be put on it now.  How rare?  A 1950’s vintage retro house that has miraculously escaped the home remodeler’s un-improvement.  A family of 5 could move into this house “as is” and live comfortably by all of today’s standards.  Whoever buys the place might want to meet with an architect to see about returning some of the finishes to their original design.  Check out the ceiling light in the kitchen.  It has to be original.  Here are some ideas for furnishings.

House photos courtesy of Weichert.

Taming the Tower

June 13, 2012

Comment on “The Last Resort”

This post is a continuation of a discussion entitled “The Last Resort” started on another blog.  I am posting it here in order to show the sketch.  The discussion is about possible finishes for this house which is under construction.  The home owner was trying to  reduce the “rocket” affect of the turret.  I thought that the house design was all about an assembly of volumes, not the least being the turret, and that adding a fake chimney in the empty space on the end gable elevation would detract from the design intent.

The sketch was to help show what I was trying to point out.  When you take the gable end elevation by itself the empty space implies that something should be there.  I actually wrote a blog post on exactly this subject:  “Something is Missing“.  In this case, though, if the trim boards frame the elevation so that it appears to be an additional large volume, then not only do the angled window support the overall shape of the elevation, but also the size and prominence of the turret is reduced by dint of the fact that now there are two large volumes instead of one.  Even the little windows angled up the elevation above the porch now contribute to the overall composition.

Further, if the foundation is finished so that it matches the color of the ground and if the basement windows are trimmed to match, the house settles down.  Also, another visual trick is to use a light color trim where the house meets the foundation.  Since our eyes are always drawn to elements of high contrast, visually we tend to see the base of the house at the top rather than the bottom of the foundation.  Sorry for the bad sketch.  Also, if I was working with this home owner I would do a number of sketches in different configurations to help them see what they like.


Which came first, McDonald’s or “McMansions?”

May 20, 2012

Belmont Mansion, Order of the Eastern Star Headquarters, Washington DC

Long before anyone ever heard of McDonald’s there were “McMansions,” and it might be a good idea to tour one such place before tending too much  towards criticism.  It soon becomes apparent that today’s McMansion could be tomorrow’s historic place.  The Palatial Belmont Mansion and current home of the Order of the Eastern Star, in Washington, DC is such a place.  Built by a Washington dignitary to host lavish parties used to wheedle his way back in to society after a scandalous marriage, the Beaux-Arts style mansion was completed in 1909 and is now considered a high example of Washington’s turn of the century domestic architecture.


Moderation lost?

May 10, 2012

MLS/Web ID: 2870780

Not so long ago, home builders of every elk understood that employing a few fool proof tricks of the design trade could actually create enduring architecture,  serving both resident and neighbor for many, many years to come.  Symmetrical elevations and plans work, even if the individual elements are anything but classical.  Vestibules work, especially when a graceful visual presence is provided by a single story gable, glass panel walls, and matching double doors.  Arts & Crafts shed type dormers work when reinforcing a symmetrical elevation.  Multiple windows in a row work when mirrored side to side and up and down.

These elements can be read like a book.  They say this house has a living room on one side and a formal dining room with kitchen behind on the other.  Upstairs there are likely 3 bedrooms, two of them being the same in width.  The main rooms in the house are light, all having at least one wall of windows.  The house is modest, its perception grand.   I am left wondering how we have come to prefer suburban mansions, or rows and rows of urban density?  Has moderation been forever lost?


Real people can’t hire dead architects.

October 24, 2011

MLS #/Web ID LO7517101

It is clear from the proportion and perfect symmetry that this is a example of what an architect can bring to a project, albeit a dead one.  I don’t know if a live architect designed this actual house, but somewhere in ancient Rome and Greece dead architects have left timeless standards of beauty and grace that were successfully applied here.