The most cherished guide books have a voice that allows readers to feel like they are being ushered by an empathetic expert. What comes across in Toker’s writing is an understanding of the urban structure of the city paired with his insight into multiple aspects of buildings that we think we know, or that we have somehow overlooked. He is alert to minor as well as major works, and open to obscure as well as famous architects.Pittsburgh’s wealth of landmark architecture makes it a rich and somewhat unsung city to explore by foot with the express purpose of gawking at buildings—admirers of Gothic revival are in for a real treat—no matter what Frank Lloyd Wright may have once said. Above is a handful of sites featured in Pittsburgh: An Urban Portrait to be revisited and photographed by Ryan during his COVID-era constitutionals around the Steel City. You’ll find more of Ryan’s photos, accompanied by snippets of critical commentary pulled from Toker’s book, at the Storyboard website.
Posts tagged with "Architectural History":
I lament having left my own copy of A Field Guide to American Houses at my home in Brooklyn. Last month, I relocated to suburban Baltimore County to ride out the pandemic and, as part of my socially distant fresh air/quarantine constitutional ritual, I’ve been documenting the homes in the immediate and surrounding neighborhoods of where I'm temporarily living. This past weekend, on a particularly sunny Saturday, I decamped from my ranch-heavy, semi-rural neighborhood to Baltimore’s historic Guilford nabe, which was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. in the early 1900s and features a riot of different revival styles—Tudor, Colonial, Classical, Spanish Colonial, Jacobean, Italian Renaissance, and more—alongside Art Deco, English Arts and Crafts, and others. If there ever were a neighborhood where A Field Guide to American Houses would come in handy, Guilford is it. Born in Dallas to Dorothy and Wallace Savage, an attorney who served as the city’s mayor from 1949 to 1951, McAlester attended Radcliffe College and the Harvard Graduate School of Design, where she studied architecture. Settling back in Dallas to care for her aging parents, McAlester became active in local preservation efforts beginning in the early 1970s and was integral in the founding of the Historic Dallas Fund, the Dallas Historic Preservation League, later renamed Preservation Dallas, Friends of Fair Park, and other preservation initiatives. She also led the charge to designate Swiss Avenue, the neighborhood she grew up in and later resettled in as an adult, as Dallas’s first historic landmark district. As Lamster noted, fellow architectural historian Stephen Fox once bestowed McAlester with the most-fitting moniker, the “Queen of Dallas Preservation.” As the late historian and author Wiliam Seale told the New York Times of McAlester in a 2013 profile: “When she started broadening her preservation efforts, “few, if any, in Dallas had the slightest interest in historic preservation, thinking their history too new to be worthwhile.” McAlester, who credited her mother for sparking her interest in preservation, co-authored several other books on architectural history and preservation. However, A Field Guide to American Houses, which she co-wrote with her second husband Lee McAlester, a geology professor at Southern Methodist University, remains by far her most widely read. As Lamster wrote, at the time of her death, McAlester was at work on a sequel to the Field Guide that focused on commercial architecture. McAlester spoke openly about her battle with myelofibrosis, with that fight playing heavily into the aforementioned 2013 Times profile. It's worth a read.
Raise your hand 🖐 if you own one of Virginia’s field guides to American Houses! Her passing is a tremendous loss for architectural historians and preservationists around the nation. #savingplaces #preservemd https://t.co/mB8kVjw1sk— PreservationMaryland (@PreservationMD) April 10, 2020
- Stony Brook University Professor Michele H. Bogart, whose teaching areas include the social history of public art and urban design and commercial culture in the United States;
- Executive Director of the American Historical Association James Grossman whose work has focused on various aspects of American urban history, African American history, the place of history in public culture, and more;
- Julian LaVerdiere, a 1993 graduate of The Cooper Union School of Art and co-creator of the Tribute in Light Memorial;
- Visual journalist and former CNN correspondent Brian Palmer, who has photographed Virginia's neglected African American cemeteries and more;
- Columbia University Professor of Architecture, Planning and Preservation Mabel O. Wilson, whose design and scholarly research investigates space, politics and cultural memory in black America and race and modern architecture;
- Mya Dosch, faculty member of The Cooper Union’s Humanities and Social Sciences who is teaching the fall 2017 course “Take ‘em down: Monuments, Artist Interventions, and the Struggle for Memory in the Americas,” will moderate.
This article is part of The Architect’s Newspaper’s “Passive Aggressive” feature on passive design strategies. Not to be confused with “Passivhaus” or “Passive House” certification, passive design strategies such as solar chimneys, trombe walls, solar orientation, and overhangs, rely on scheme rather than technology to respond to their environmental contexts. Today, architects are more concerned with sustainability than ever, and new takes on old passive techniques are not only responsible, but can produce architecture that expresses sustainable features through formal exuberance. We call it “passive-aggressive.” In this feature, we examine three components—diagram, envelope, and material—where designers are marrying form and performance. We also look back at the unexpected history of passive-aggressive architecture, talk with passive-aggressive architects, and check out a passive-aggressive house. More “Passive Aggressive” articles are listed at the bottom of the page!
Is it possible to look to the past to see the future of passive-aggressive architectures?
The answer is yes. The roles of architectural form and technological advancement dance across the eras, with passive design moving from being fundamental in pre- and early modern architecture to being subverted by mechanical ventilation and artificial climate control. That does not mean, however, that passivity ever disappeared completely. Though called by different names and evoked for a variety of reasons, environmental contextualism remained a hallmark of design throughout the 20th century and we would be ill-advised to consider it only as something ancient and ideal or new and novel.
We can look to early American skyscraper designs for a precedent that formally translated competing programmatic functional considerations and without an overwhelming reliance on forced air or artificial light. Structures like the 1891 Wainwright Building by Adler & Sullivan in St. Louis, Missouri, the 1913 Woolworth Building by Cass Gilbert in New York City, and the 1892 Bradbury Building by George Wyman and Sumner Hunt in Los Angeles were shaped most directly by considerations of light and air. Because air conditioning and electric lighting were nonexistent, structures during this era were drawn with U-, E-, and H-shaped plans to facilitate comfortable use. The resulting narrow floor plates, large, operable openings, and tall ceilings necessary to accommodate the physical properties of these considerations define this era’s architecture directly.
A generation later, structures like Richard Neutra’s 1929 Lovell Health House in Los Angeles and Frank Lloyd Wright’s 1939 Johnson Wax Headquarters in Racine, Wisconsin, also considered climate and light in regionally conscious configurations. Neutra’s Lovell House used innovative insulation and construction materials to comply with its seismically active, semi-arid environment, while Wright’s Headquarters made pioneering use of glass blocks, pairing transparent glass cubes with opaque thermal mass to arrive at new forms of daylit office space in a much colder region.
As air conditioning eliminated the requirements for natural ventilation and daylighting, fewer architects continued to design examples of climactically conscious buildings. Neutra’s 1946 Kaufmann Desert House in Palm Springs, California, however, is an exception to the rule: The designer utilized deep overhangs and pivoting louver assemblies to control the desert-bound building’s solar exposure. In 1953, Paul Rudolph’s Walker Beach House tackled a beachside locale, duplicating the home’s wooden structural frame beyond its exterior walls and creating an armature for retractable shading devices. In 1954, Charles Colbert designed the Phillis Wheatley School in New Orleans, a modernist box lifted on stilts and capped with a large overhanging roof.
By the 1960s, regional modernism had given way to corporate modernism as a complete reliance on mechanical ventilation had become a fundamental orthodoxy in architectural discourse. Artificial technologies proliferated, causing formal considerations of local climate to go underground, as they were replaced by the lure of high technology.
The development of Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic domes—contextual structures that were designed and outfitted to operate as self-sustaining worlds—married sustainable technology with nihilistic self-determination. Publications like The Dome Cookbook compelled recalcitrant youth of the 1960s to stake a claim in the countryside, where they built communes composed of geodesic domes and attempted to live off the land. The mostly amateur, counterculture movement was integral to establishing contextual and environmentally guided design as a legitimate architectural concern during the deeply entrenched corporatism and artificiality of the atomic and Cold War eras. As corporate modernism and its attendant ideologies coursed through the academy, hippie-led contextualism took root and blossomed, feeding off rising environmental and social awareness. As a result, contextually conscious architectural experiments sought to reinvent architectural formal expression literally from the ground up.
These concerns were institutionalized as key figures as these new movements gained prominence and authority.
For example, Sim Van der Ryn’s work as California State Architect in the 1970s was marked by an emphasis on solar design. Plans for his state office building in Sacramento, California, utilized two 600-ton subterranean sunlit rock beds to heat and cool incoming air received by a courtyard capped with a saw-toothed roof and north-facing skylights. The building’s articulated, béton brut exposures feature treatments appropriate for mitigating solar heat gain along the envelope that results in substantially lower levels of energy use for the overall building. Paolo Soleri’s proposals for an experimental, ecologically driven “arcology” in the Arizona desert also pioneered solar design, but at the urban scale. His designs for a utopian, self-sustaining desert acropolis took the form of massive landships that would use a huge, terraced, and south-facing greenhouse as an agricultural, thermal, and social engine for each settlement. Soleri’s super-scaled structures utilize natural phenomena like the chimney and greenhouse effects to drive their formal attributes.
Simultaneously, New Mexico–based architect Michael Reynolds utilized the principles of solar design in his Earthship prototypes, developing contextual, experimental approaches to self-sufficiency at the scale of the single-family house. Designs for Earthship houses use thermal mass to store and repel heat. Trombe walls frame openings calibrated to the local sun path, and when combined with the masonry walls, keep Earthships at roughly 70 degrees, year-round. And on the East Coast, New Jersey architect Douglas Kelbaugh utilized the principles of solar design to design in a cold, snowy climate. Kelbaugh’s Solar House of 1973 is oriented in concert with the sun: A wide, glass-sheathed enclosure along the southern wall illuminates a heavy masonry Trombe wall that moderates the home’s seasonally variable temperature.
While not considered high architecture at the time, the gradual adoption of sustainable design principles and emphasis on high-tech solutions through the 1980s and 1990s—when coupled with the formal promiscuity and emphasis on human, cultural, and experiential scale of the 1960s and 1970s—ultimately provided a firm foundation for contemporary passive-aggressive experiments. As the principles of overt sustainable design have become more firmly grounded in scientific analysis and computer modeling, sustainable features like thermally efficient and glare-reducing glazing, energy-efficient structural materials, and renewable energy generation have become common aspects of architectural design. But these measures are only part of the story.
As the effects of climate change become ever more apparent and our society moves closer toward collective action, architects will naturally be required to incorporate local climate considerations into their designs. The wide use of digital technologies like parametric climate modeling have integrated sustainable design into the overall design process, raising another question: Are architects finally properly positioned, in terms of technological capabilities, cultural awareness, and popular opinion, to fully hybridize technology and climate through architectural form?
The answer, again, is yes.
For more “Passive Aggressive” articles, explore: our feature article that features projects from across the world, Bjarke Ingels Group’s own tech-driven think tank, how WORKac’s Arizona House revives the super sustainable Earthship typology, and MOS Architects' Michael Meredith on sustainability.