Monday, December 26, 2016

Architecture & Steel: Add Carbon

As discussed in the first post on glass, Architecture is one of those words that is difficult to define. It is the creation of form which evokes emotion through its composition of materials. Some of these materials are structural and some are cladding. Steel is a versatile material which can be both. I would like to explore two areas - the evolution of the material and the manner it is used today. This post addresses the former while the next post will address the latter.  

BC Pyramids at Giza, 2580
For thousands of years concrete and masonry were the materials of choice in architecture. The Egyptians, Roman, and virtually all subsequent civilizations embraced these materials. These materials were strong in compression but weak in tension, resulting in visually solid and heavy structures. In tall buildings, the distribution of the loads meant that the walls on lower floors were very thick and widows were used very sparingly.


Eiffel Tower, Gustave Eiffel, 1889

It must have been something truly extraordinary when Gustuv Eiffel's tower soared into the Paris sky. Despite its magnificent size, the wrought iron structure was so light and airy. This identifying monument of the 1889 World's Fair was many years in the making. In fact, the Tower was the last monumental structure made from wrought iron. Even as its properties were being pushed to the limits in France, they were being fundamentally changed across the ocean in America.






Willam LeBaron Jenny was a leading Chicago architect, trained as an engineer. The wrought iron frame of his ten story Home Insurance Building had already reached six stories when he learned of an amazing discovery. Carbon added to iron resulted in a much stronger material - steel. Jenny immediately made the switch to steel, even using it on the remaining four floors. The use of steel for the skeletal frame of the building had obvious benefits. It allowed for quicker construction, thinner walls and thus more efficient space planning. It allowed for the curtain wall, where virtually any material could be hung on the frame - terra cotta, masonry, granite, and glass. It permitted more light into the depths of the buildings and allowed developers to build ever taller buildings. The race to the skies was on.

Home Insurance Building, William LeBaron Jenny, 1884
Steel proved to be a very versatile building material. Not only could it be formed into shapes that mimicked wrought iron, it could be formed into new shapes or combined with other materials, taking  advantage of its unique characteristics. The mid-century architect Ludwig Meis van der Rohe viewed steel differently than his predecessors or most of his contemporaries. In his desire to boil architecture down to only its most basic components, Meis chose to use only steel and glass as the curtain wall to many of his buildings. The Seagram Building is an ideal example of his minimalist approach.

Seagram Building, Meis van der Rohe, 1958
Steel has continued to be used in building frames and facades in increasingly interesting ways. We'll continue our exploration of this versatile building material in the next post ...... The Impact of Steel.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Architecture and Politics: All Politics is Local

With a monumental presidential election just days away, I thought it would be appropriate to defer my post on steel and wade into the churning water of politics. But not too far! While we like to think of politics as something clear and distinct, that one can choose to participate in or not; I believed that politics is inescapable and saturates our very lives, whether we like it or not. Architecture and politics share this connection.



America's citizens depend on the political process to institute our values, to maintain our standard of living, and to provide for our security. While we tend to automatically associate politics with high profile politicians (witness the twenty or so politicians vying for the presidency), real political action most often occurs at the local level. Former Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill once said that "All politics is local."  That is only a slight exaggeration. How and where our children are eduacated, how much we pay in property or sales taxes, and which roads and parks get constructed, these are all handled at the local level.

Huntsville, AL
In the world of architecture, most associate architecture with the works of a few high profile architects (the so called Starchitects). While this architecture is in some ways influential, its impact on the local level is not significant. The charm and character of the place in which I practice, like a lot of places, has been formed by local architects doing good solid work. No starchitect monuments here.

Just as architecture and politics share commonalities, so too do architects and politicians. When we think of famous politicians or high profile architects, we tend to think of a single powerful individual. For example, the last two elections were won by candidate, then President, Obama. While this statement is technically true, I think that he would be the first to tell you that his accomplishments are not the work of just one man. They are the collective work of a team behind him. Candidate Obama had his campaign staff and President Obama has his cabinet. Though all of these people have roles to play, it is the president's role set the tone for his administration and to layout policy positions.

President Obama and his 2004 Cabinet
Pivoting to architecture - let's face it, very few people understand what architects do, nor do they appreciate the technical skill and sheer quantity of time required to fully design and document a project. For that reason, many still believe in the stereotypical lone architect slaving away in his ivory tower. In fact, most high profile architects employ a team of professionals. So Bjanke Ingles, for example, has 200 people in his New York office. What Ingles does is to set the tone for the type of work his firm accepts, and works with his designers and architects to edit their work until it aligns with his view of what architecture should be.

Bjarke Ingles and his New York principal architects
Architecture and politics differ is that politics is a democratic process while architecture is more egalitarian. While not everyone can leave their mark on society through the design or construction of architectural works, everyone can vote.  So, no matter who you are or what you do,  go out and cast your ballot on November eighth. And next month we'll resume our exploration of materials.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Architecture and Glass (part 2): Magical Material

"Glass is the most magical of all materials. It transmits light in a special way."
-Dale Chihuly
Chihuly Garden and Glass Exhibit
opened in 2012 at Seatle Center
Dale Chihuly is a master artist. He creates sculptural works that form glass in innovative and unusual ways. Architects have also discovered ways to use glass in innovative and unusual ways. This post continues the exploration of the connections between architecture and glass which we began last month. 

The late architect Philip Johnson, inspired by drawings of Meis' Farnsworth House, designed his own glass house in 1949. When I visited the house in person, I was impressed by its simple beauty. There are no solid walls in the house, save a core that contains the bathroom. The exterior walls run continuously around the perimeter and from floor to ceiling. While the views out are spectacular, Johnson seems to have given little consideration to the fact that the glass would also permit views in! This aspect of the design explains why Johnson would frequently have meetings in the glass house but chose to actually live in another, more traditional house, on the the estate. Interestingly, twenty five years later, Johnson's simplistic use of glass reappeared in high-rise construction. Similar glass boxes began to appear on skylines across the country.
1949 Glass House by Philip Johnson
1975 - Pennzoil Place by Johnson Burgee
London's skyline features an early 21st century building which is also sheathed in glass, but which breaks the box. The glazed exterior is shaped to deflect wind while allowing light well into the floor plates. A public street level plaza forms the base while the top contains a club room offering 360 degree views of the city.

2004 - 30 St. Mary Axe by Foster + Partners
Not to be outdone by Gehry's Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, the Health Department Headquarters is an eye-catching building that uses two layers of glass to achieve its sculptural affect. One layer is held tight against the building frame while the other is juxaposed to allow for an exterior corridor, while at the same time forming dynamic shapes that respond to the energy of the surrounding context.

2008 - Basque Health Department HQ by Coll-Barreau Arquitectos
In many ways the 2010 KAIT Workshop brings us full circle to Johnson's Glass House. The simple rectangular form has proven classic. The Workshop, designed for students to drop in and work on various projects, lacks interior walls. The thin roof is able to span the width of the building through the use of numerous thin columns, a stylized version of the grove of cherry blossom trees surrounding the building.
2010 - KAIT Workshop by Junya Ishigami
The attributes of glass - a material that protects us from the elements, allows views, provides for daylighting within, and (when used creatively) forms an interesting skin - have made it a preferred material among architects. Another preferred material, often paired with glass, is steel. That will be the subject of the next post. Join me next time for Add Carbon.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Architecture and Glass (part 1): Transparency and Translucency

Architecture is one of those words that is difficult to define. It is the creation of form which evokes emotion through its composition of materials. If one thinks of the architect as artist, then surely glass is a primary color on his palate  Glass, and its relationship to light, play an essential role in the way architecture is perceived, and the emotions it provokes. There are two areas that I wish explore further - the evolution of the material and how it is used today.  This post addresses the former while the next post will address the latter.  

Pantheon  128 AD
Architecture is the container which defines space. The manipulation of the container has evolved over time and has differed between cultures, but there are some commonalities. One aspect of architecture is the play of solids and voids, between walls and apertures. These apertures were originally simply openings, not doors or windows. One such example is the Pantheon, which was completed with a magnificent oculus and  simple apertures but not windows. There were functional reasons for the openings - to allow users to enter, to allow natural light in, and to permit views out.

The Prophet Daniel
c. 1065
Glass was used to form various types of vessels as early as the fourth century, but it was several hundred years later that it was introduced into architecture. Art ushered in the use of translucent glass in architecture, in the form of stained glass windows. A new category of artist emerged, called glass painting.  These artists used the apertures of the old world's massive cathedrals to highlight their art. The contrast of bright and colorful windows against the dark and drab walls was spectacular, unlike anything the congregants had seen before.

The next surge in the use of glass came about in the seventeenth century, this time ushered in by technology rather than art.  The invention of translucent plate glass ushered in new opportunities to harness the power of the sun and to control the environment. Botanical societies and wealthy individuals began to build greenhouses. Glass technology combined with advances in iron and the principle of interchangeable parts to allow the advent of this new building type.

Both transparent windows and translucent glass blocks were later used in factories. The factory floor could be illuminated much better than through artificial means and could be passively heated during the cold winters, allowing longer hours and greater productivity. Soon other types of buildings were sporting glass as well. The material's versatility was highlighted in the Great Exhibition of 1851. This giant exhibition hall displayed and promoted the industrial revolution which as currently underway throughout the modern world.

Traditional architects came to understand the advantages offered with this material, but it was the modern architects that really embraced it and pushed the technology forward. An interesting example of this is the comparison of two early skyscraper designs in 1922. Howells and Hood designed a heavy neo-gothic tower. They made use of many windows, though as punched windows their impact was secondary to the mass, frame, and buttresses. The geometric building, like the classic column, contained a pronounced base, column, and capital. Meis' organic glass skyscraper, proposed for Berlin, was quite different. The skin of the building was nothing but glass. The concept of the curtain wall was evident. The glass was not inserted into openings in the facade, it was the facade, hanging like curtains on the floor plates. Light was allowed deep into the interior of the space and the views were expansive.

Chicago Tribune Building
John Mean Howell and Raymond Hood

Glass Skyscrapers
Ludwig Meis Van der Rohe





















Both prototypes were further developed by succeeding architects. Glass technology has continued to evolve and improve. Glass has remained a primary material throughout the remainder of the twentieth century and remains so today. We'll continue our exploration of this translucent and transparent building component in the next post ...... Magical Material.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Architecture & Travel: Have Sketchbook...Will Travel


All forms of art are best experienced up close and in person. This is especially true when it comes to architecture. I would argue that the feeling one gets when experiencing architectural space is at least as important as the physical form. If architecture is best experienced firsthand, it follows that there would be a connection between architecture and travel. Architects who want to hone their craft understand that there are valuable lessons to be learned from visiting significant works of architecture. To do that one must occasionally pull oneself away from the office and travel!

My recently completed vacation with my family to Oregon provides a case study. While this was a family vacation and not an architectural pilgrimage, it none the less provided me numerous opportunities to learn more about my chosen profession. In this post I'm resisting the temptation to critique the buildings I experienced. Instead I am trying to convey some lessons that became obvious to me during the vacation.

Lesson One: There is good architecture almost anywhere you go. Seek it out. Sometimes the buildings you should see is obvious. Our vacation took place in Portland, so Michael Graves' Portland Building was an obvious choice. While walking to the Portland Building we passed another interesting building, the Green-Wyatt Federal Building. I had seen this building in a journal but did not realize it was in Portland or know much about it. Then there was a classic mid-century park of which I was completely unfamiliar, and learned about only after researching it afterwards. Lesson Two: Always be on the lookout for hidden jewels.


Portland Building by Michael Graves
Edith Green-Wendell Wyatt Federal Building by Cutler Anderson Architects
Keller Fountain Park by SOM
Our vacation also included a long day trip to Seattle. Of course the space needle is the first thing one sees when approaching the city. It offers the best views of the city and is an interesting building in and of itself. Just down the street is Gehry's EMP Museum. Though not his most sculptural building from the exterior, it is vintage Gehry on the inside. Lesson Three: Architecture is not just about the envelope. Explore the spaces contained within. 

The photos you see were taken with my iPhone as an easy way to document what I experienced, and there are a lot more. Ideally I would have spent an hour or so at each of these destinations and drawn these buildings in my sketchbook. Doing so would have given me greater insights. Whether you sketch or photograph, it is nice to be able to refer back to these documents.  Fourth and Final Lesson:  Document what you see.

Space Needle by John Graham Architect
Experience Music Program Museum by Frank Gehry
While in Portland we also visited Chihuly Gardens. This spectacular place features the creative use of glass in art. I've since been thinking about the use of glass in architecture. I will address this topic in my next post.....Transparency and Translucency. Join me.
SaveSaveSaveSave
SaveSave

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Architecture & Medicine: What's Up Doc?


Lloyd Wright Home & Studio in West Hollywood
Frank Lloyd Wright once quipped, "The physician can bury his mistakes, the architect can only advise his clients to plant vines." (I don't know whether it was Frank or Lloyd who suggested the planting of vines at Lloyd Wright's home and studio! - see photo.) In truth, there are  connections between architecture and medicine, and between architects and physicians. This post explores some of these.

Both architects and physicians undergo rigorous education and training before they can lay claim to their professional title. Physicians typically acquire an undergraduate degree, followed by three or more years of medical school, followed by a residency of three to five years, after which they can become licensed physicians. Architects must successfully complete a professional degree program of five to six years, followed by an internship of three or more years, and then are required to pass a difficult registration exam before becoming licensed architects. Both paths are long and difficult, with participants often racking up huge debts. The debts for architects are typically less, but so is the eventual pay. Due to the rigors of education and internships/residencies, most architects and physicians typically do not obtain licensure before they reach their late 20s or early 30s. On the flip side, many will practice their crafts long after those in other vocations and professions retire.

Let's talk a little about perception and practice. In a simpler time the mention of a medical doctor conjured up the image of a wise old man with his black bag of equipment and ointments moving from house to house, treating a variety of needy patients. The architect was perceived as slaving away at his drawing board, tucked away in his Ivory Tower. While these perceptions might be romanticized, one aspect that remains true of both is that they are initially trained as generalists. A comprehensive overview is crucial to their training. As time has advanced, the well of knowledge required in both fields has deepened and broadened. The diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions has grown exponentially, as have building materials, construction methods, and codes. This has led to specialization. Physicians undergo additional formal education and residency requirements, while architects tend to obtain their specialized training "on the job." A few months ago one of my former classmates visited with me. We had the same educational background but we took different paths in the profession. I remained a generalist while he become a specialists. He now focuses on technical codes and specifications for hospitals, but not just any hospitals, only neonatal and pediatric hospitals. At the time he was explaining this, I was working on a custom residential project, a nail salon fit-out, an addition to a church, and a small garden house. The difference between generalist and specialist was stark. Likewise there are many family doctors, but also physicians that specialize in exceptionally rare areas of medicine.
Architect in his Ivory Tower
(Gropius' Chicago Tribune submission)
Rural doctor making house calls















Another similarity between architects and doctors is that neither can hone their crafts alone. They must engage with clients or patients, who have come to them, sometimes in desperation, for the problem solving skills they practice. The success of these professionals is measured by their ability to improve the life and well-being of those who engage them. The term "practice" is one that I avoided as a young architect. It seemed to me as if we were telling our clients that we really weren't very good at this architecture thing, and that we needed to practice. I've since grown to embrace the term. I think it conveys more about the profession that the professional. Architecture, like medicine, is in a constant state of development. Because of this, architecture and medicine are nearly impossible to master. To practice well is about all that one can do.

It is curious then that architects and doctors, who practice their crafts, are often characterized as arrogant. The reasons for this are bountiful and may be the subject of a future post. Perhaps this joke (in which the word "architect" could be inserted where "doctor" is mentioned) relays the popular perception:

What is the difference between God and a doctor?... God does not think he's a doctor! 

So, what can we say about the future of architecture and medicine? There is one certainty. Both are changing at a rapid pace with no foreseeable deceleration. One day architects will be planning civilizations on other planets. Perhaps medicines will be formulated which will eradicate entire classes of diseases. One of both of the scenarios will likely play out, but there is much to be accomplished between now and then. Architects must solve immediate problems of providing affordable housing and designing durable buildings able to withstand increasingly erratic weather patterns. Physicians must continue their exploration of the human body and devise methods and medications to help save lives and improve well being.

The Venus Project
Star Trek's Dr. McCoy
There is one last connection I'd like to suggest. Both physicians and architects tend to be well-traveled, although their motivations may be different. Next month, after I return from vacation, we'll look into the connection between architecture and travel in a post titled Have Sketchbook...Will Travel. 

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Architecture & Form: Shattering Glass

Zaha Hadid
Zaha Hadid's recent passing took the profession of architecture completely by surprise. Hadid was only 65 years, a mere babe for an architect of her stature. I recently posted an article on this blog, entitled Me and She, which featured Hadid. The post discussed how she scattered the glass ceiling of the male dominated architectural profession. As an Iranian and a muslim, she also strove to overcome discrimination within the western countries in which she often practiced. Her strength and perseverence will always be considered legendary. For me, however, there was so much more to Hadid. I believe that Hadid shattered glass in other areas as well. She should be rememberd as one of the great form-makers in architectural history - a visionary who shunned the rectangular box and redefined the form of her buildings.

My brief tribute to Hadid is a re-evaluation of four of the built works she left behind, my favorites.  My descriptions will be brief. There is not much to say, the forms are far more elegant that my words. 
1994, Vitra Fire Station, Weil am Rhein, Germany
Hadid began to gain notary as a theoretical architect but was launched into the architectural lexicon when she won a commission for a fire station in Germany. She designed an exciting and angular building. She also began to build a practice that would eventually employ hundreds and would design beautiful yet formally complex buildings all over the world.

2011, Riverside Museum of Transport, Glasgow
In Glasgow, Hadid designed a jagged and flowing form connecting the city to the river. The work features huge expanses of glass in column free space. It is both an exciting space and a highly functional one.

2012, Olympic Aquatic Center, London
One of her best known works is an aquatic center she designed for the London Olympics. Its bookends of angular seating is connected by soft and elegant curves. The use of curves became more pervasive in her work. Hadid used curves more often, and to a greater effect, that anyone else. One cannot help but admire the sculptural mastery of the Heyday Aliyev Center.

2013, Heydar Aliyev Center, Azerbaijan
We will never know what other forms this immensely talented architect would have produced. Her studio remains with commissions for stadiums and opera hall and museums - clay, never to be formed by the hands of a master.

Next month we'll take a detour and explore the connection between architecture and medicine. Join me for What's Up Doc?

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Architecture & the Human Body: The Measure of Man

Building Systems
The human figure does much more that provide scale to architectural photography. The human figure occupies architectural space, a space that is, in many ways, a reflection of the human body, both in terms of proportion and in terms of systems. This post explores these connections, between architecture and the human body.
Body Systems

DeVinci's Vitruvian Man

Leonardo DaVinci's Vitruvian man was imagined in the formative years of the renaissance artist’s apprenticeship, a course of study that included the study of art and architecture. DeVinci observed and documented the scale, proportion, and order of the human body. These early observations remained as influential in his architecture as in his art, and even influenced his view of the universe.

 

The renowned early modern architect LeCorbusier, a lifelong student of mathematics, philosophy, and biology, developed a system of guidelines for the integration of man with physical space. He called this system the Modular, and the center of this system was the Modular Man. LeCorbusier’s attitude, as stated by Anthony Flint in his biography Modern Man, is described this way: “Everything designed by man should serve man, so that people could walk through doorways without bumping their heads, reach a sink to wash their hands, and recline without their legs and feet overrunning settees.”
LeCorbusier's Modular Man
 
Dryfess' Measure of Man
During the influential midcentury reign of the industrial designer, Henry Dreyfuss compiled reams of anthropomorphic information amassed during the war and documented them in the first thorough reference book of its kind. The influential Measure of Man provided mean and median measures of Joe and Josephine, hypothetical figures representing the typical man and woman. This information is a valuable aid in design and, when applied, makes products and spaces more functional and efficient and can even help in the reduction of fatigue or injury.
 
 
These measures and proportions are fundamental to humanizing the spaces within buildings, but there is also a more literal connection between architecture and the human body. Both buildings and the human body are comprised of systems. Structural or skeletal systems allow the building or body to stand. Buildings, like bodies, circulate electricity, water, and waste through their various systems. And buildings and bodies are held together with skin. It is the skin that relays the most information to the observer and is the primary factor by which a building or human figure are evaluated. 
 
I cannot think about building systems without thinking about the Centre Pompidou in Paris, which opened in 1977. The commission was won by a couple of young architects who are now among the world’s most respected architects – Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano. The building was designed to show off its systems, without the cover of skin. In this building it is the structure and the systems that are prominent. Plumbing pipes were painted green, ducts blue, circulation elements red, and electrical conduits yellow. One can see deep within the building and observe the occupants moving horizontally on the floor plates and vertically in escalator tubes. Loved by some and loathed by others, the Centre Pompidou has been a wildly successful museum. It handles five times the number of visitors originally anticipated. In the architectural world, the unconventional approach to design and construction launched what is referred to as the “high tech” movement.
Centre Pompidou by Rogers and Piano

More recently there has been a renewed interest in exposing and expressing a building’s skin. A fine example of this is Jun Aoki’s Louis Vuitton building in Ginza, Japan. Rather than selecting a hard skin such as brick or marble cladding, the architect chose a delicate scrim, which looks almost organic.  Its stylized pattern weaves in and out and seems to breath. At night it is not simply illuminated from the outside, but is lit from within, the result is dramatic and inspiring.
Louis Vuitton Ginza by Jun Aoki
Louis Vuitton Ginza by Jun Aoki
 
 
 
 
 


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Buildings such as the Centre Pompidou or Louis Vuitton Ginza capture our imagination because they break convention. On rare occasions, it is the architect as well as the architect’s buildings that break convention. While finishing this post my wife informed me that Zaha Hadid died unexpectedly earlier today. This is a great loss both for the profession and for those who were and are enriched by experiencing her architecture. My next post will pay tribute to Zaha Hadid.  Join me for Shattering Glass.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Architecture and Photography: Cheese

EPFL Quartier Nord
byRichter Dahl Rocha & Associes
Earlier this month the British Journal of Photography posted an interesting article on their blog. It was entitled Constructing Vision, and it introduced the opening of an exhibit that explores the connection between architecture and photography. Photography presents a fixed moment in time, represented in flat, two dimensional form. Architecture can be visited at any time and is expressed through three dimensional constructs. To quote Charlotte Harding, the article's author, "Since the photographer's conception, the two have been inseparable." This connection, between architecture and photography, deserves more exposure!

View from the Window at Le Gras
by Nicephore Niece
Interestingly, the oldest known camera photograph is also the oldest know architectural photograph. It depicts a view of the buildings and countryside of the photographer's estate. All would concede that viewing this photograph is not the same as actually being in the space and looking out the actual window. But, if one cannot be there, viewing this photograph may be the next best thing. Photography has long been established as a method of documentation, different and arguably better that written documention. At some point however, photography became more than just a method of documentation.

At some point the person behind the camera went from being a documenter to being an artist. By extension, the photographs went from being simply documents to being works of art. An early example is Bill Hendrich's photograph of Fallingwater. The composition, the vantage point, the time of day, were all carefully planned. The shutter speed, the focal length of the lens, and the developing techniques likewise contributed to the outcome of the photograph. The result conveys the photographer's interpretation of the building on the site. The effect is dramatic.
Fallingwater (Frank Lloyd Wright)
by Bill Hedrick
Any post addressing architectural photography must include a mention of two pioneering architectural photographers. The first is Julius Schulman, whose client list reads like a who's who of prominent 20th century architects: Frank Lloyd Wright, Rudolph Schindler, Richard Neutra, John Lautner, Meis van der Rohe, and Frank Gehry. Schulman was the go-to photographer for decades among prominent west coast architects. His photographs illustate how architects' delicate modern glass houses are planted in enchanting landscapes. His photographs are often devoid of users, except as required for scale. Despite this, his images managed to convey a sense of sophisticated humanity.

 Kauffman House (Richard Neutra)
by Julius Schulman
The second noteworthy photographer is Ezra Stoller. His client list is at least as impressive as Schulman's: Alvar Aalto, LeCorbusier, Eero Saarinen, Paul Rudolph, and Philip Johnson. Where Schulman carried the west coast, Stoller carried the east coast. He studied architecture at New York University before eventually deciding to focus on photography. This training served him well throughout his long and storied career.  He strove to not only capture structure and materials, but also to portray space. And like the architects whose works he photographed, Stoller became a master of manipulating light.

Salk Institute (Louis Kahn)
by Ezra Stoller
Despite the many changes in technology that have occurred since the days of Schulman and Stoller, architecture today is still shot in much the same ways that thy pioneered. In addition to the obvious change from black and white to color, there is another deviation which seems noteworthy. I first noticed this in Dwell magazine. The staging is more casual and the buildings occupants are now at home, splashing in the pool of preparing dinner in the kitchen. Depending on your perspective, the image conveyed is either that architecture is more relatable or architecture has lost some of its sophistication.

Although visiting a building will always be the best way to truly experience it, the truth is that sometimes a good photograph is as close as many of us will get come. The connection of architecture and photography will remain forever strong, whether they are populated with human figures or not. This segways to the the next post, which explores the connection between architecture and the human body. Join me next month for The Measure of Man.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Architecture & Writing: Short Letter


There are many connections one can make between architecture and writing. In this post, we'll look at some of these. Perhaps the most obvious is that they are both creative outlets, both begin with a seed. That may be a notion of how to design a house to fulfill the great american dream or it may be an idea for the next great american novel. These notions and ideas may germinate and grow in the head but they must eventually end up in tangible form if they are to be shared with others - clients or readers.

Both writers and architects utilize specialized tools to help them through the creative process. Writers use word processors and architects use computer aided design and modeling; however, the most intuitive tools writers and architects use are shared - the simple pen and paper.

Sometimes the creative process comes easily and sometimes it can be grueling. Though it is unnamed, there is definitely an architectural equivalent to writer's block. Sometimes the pieces don't seem to fit together. Most of the time there is a solution to this problem.  We call it a deadline! The editor is demanding to have the story on his desk first thing in the morning. The client has just called and wants to meet while she is in town tomorrow. I'm not sure why the deadline is such an effective devise. My guess is that it has something to do with being forced to forgo the perfect solution and simply make do with the best ideas rattling around. (This blog serves as an example. I have a self imposed commitment to blog at least once every month. With only a few exceptions I post late in the evening on the last day of each month.) While many connections between writing and architecture are obvious, others are more nuanced. Following are a couple of examples.

Formula writing is common to most forms of writing expression. Take the short story for example. Perhaps the author will choose a story map to flesh out his writing. This allows him to quickly develop the characters, establish the setting, and advance the plot. The story map can be as rigid or as flexible as desired. The variations are endless, yet the reader has a general sense of how the story is moving along and perhaps even how it might end. Designing by patterns is a common practice in architecture as well. Take the design of a house for example. The architect may use a pattern book to assist in the design of a house. The book guides the architect in what may be appropriate for the chosen style, such as the proper massing, materials, proportion, and the like. Despite the restrictions, the architect has a fair amount of design freedom within the pattern format. None the less, the client and the public have a pretty good idea of what the house will look like and the messages it will convey.
Pattern book houses at Celebration Florida
Detailed Wall Section
In a letter to a friend, the 17th century French mathematician and theologian, Blaise Pascal stated: "I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time." At first this seems counter-intuitive, but it makes perfect sense when one considers the role of editing in writing and architecture. If the writer simple sits at his desk and pens his thoughts as quickly as they come to mind, he risks superfluous and disordered writing. Proper editing serves to purge and organize, resulting in a more refined and polished product, with one byproduct being a shorter document. Architects edit as well. Successful works of architecture withstand numerous rounds of criticism and refinement. A great example of this is Mies van der Rohe's Farnsworth House. This project, from the architect that declared "God is in the details", has been edited more than any other building I have ever visited. Every space has been well thought out, each material selection has been carefully selected, with no extra components to conceal poor workmanship. I suggest that this building is the architectural equivalent of a "short letter".

Farnsworth House, Mies van der Rohe
The writer need not possess architectural skill, but the architect can benefit greatly from becoming an accomplished wordsmith. Hopefully this post has helped explain the strong and numerous connections between architecture and writing. The connections between architecture and photography are similarly strong and numerous.  We'll explore that topic in the next post ..... Cheese!