Posts tagged with "architectural history":

Monument, Myth, and Meaning

In light of recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia and other cities across the nation, a panel discussion on Civil War Monuments has been planned in Cooper Union’s renowned Great Hall, on the subject of their meaning, the complex histories that surround their realization, and the current socio-political conditions that are causing their very existence to be reconsidered. Should these monuments be saved? Should they be torn down? Is it possible—or even appropriate—to make thoughtful, informed interventions into these works of public art that can preserve their history, diffuse the myth and polarization that surround them and serve as teaching moments for future generations? These and other questions will be posed during the program. Panelists include:
  • 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.
 
Placeholder Alt Text

Architectural historian Brian Brace Taylor passes away

The architectural historian Brian Brace Taylor passed away on April 15, aged 73. He was a professor of architecture at The New York Institute of Technology (NYIT) and the École Nationale Supérieure d'Architecture de Paris-Belleville. He was, according to long time NYIT Dean Judith DiMaio, a beloved teacher of many generations of students and “in utter command of this subject, the history of architecture.” In addition to a distinguished academic career, Taylor was best known as a scholar of Le Corbusier and non-western architecture. The historian Mary McLeod claims that Taylor was one of the first scholars to have access to the Le Corbusier archives and closely studied the French architect's personal papers. He used these archives in 1987 to author Le Corbusier, the City of Refuge, Paris 1929/33, an important early modern text on the French master. Taylor also had a career as an architectural journalist and was a longtime senior editor at L'Architecture d'Aujourd'hui before co-founding Mimar, a magazine that focused on the architecture of the developing world. He played a significant role in introducing European and North American communities to architecture in the developing world as a professor and author of books on the architects: Geoffrey BawaSumet Jumsai (Design Excellence)Raj Rewal, and Miguel Angel Roca. A less-known part of Taylor’s career is his founding role in Les Amis de Maison de Verre and his efforts to preserve the house. Bob Rubin, the current owner of the house, claims “Brian was the midwife of our acquisition of the house back in 2004. He said to me, 'I think you should buy the maison de verre.' I thought he was kidding, and I asked him if it was even for sale. I'll never forget his answer: 'It's not, but it needs to be bought.' He vouched for me to the family, and eventually, the stars aligned. Thus he is not only one of the house's chroniclers, but an important actor in its history." He also contributed an essay with Bernard Bauchet to the Jewish Museum's recent catalogue Pierre Chareau: Modern Architecture and Design. McLeod believes that Taylor was first and foremost a teacher but also a “modest, kind, generous and self-effacing” scholar who nevertheless had a large impact on the profession and discourse of architecture during his lifetime.
Placeholder Alt Text

James Ackerman, esteemed architectural historian and scholar of Italian Renaissance, has died

The architectural historian James Ackerman has passed away. He died at the age of 97 on December 31, 2016. Ackerman was a prolific scholar of Italian Renaissance architects Michelangelo and Palladio as well as the architectural theory behind the Renaissance itself too. Born in San Francisco on November 8, 1919, he studied at the Cate School in Carpinteria, California, later going on to Yale University and the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University where he completed his Ph.D. in 1952. During this WWII, he served in the U.S. Army in Italy which allowed him to sample Italian Renaissance architecture. In 1969, Ackerman became a Slade Professor at Cambridge University; The Slade Professorship of Fine Art is the oldest professorship of art at the universities of Cambridge, Oxford, and London. Notable books include: Palladio (Architect and Society)The Architecture of MichelangeloThe Villa: Form and Ideology of Country Houses and Distance Points: Studies in Theory and Renaissance Art and Architecture. The Architect's Newspaper will follow-up with a full obituary in the near future.
Placeholder Alt Text

A brief, unofficial history of recent passive-aggressive design

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.

Placeholder Alt Text

Society of Architectural Historians announces 2016 SAH Awards

The Society of Architectural Historians (SAH) has named its 2016 SAH/Mellon Awards Recipients. This year’s winners are Peter Christensen, Itohan I. Osayimese, and Robin Schuldenfrei. The award is specifically designed to provide financial support for scholars in the process of publishing their first monographs related to the history of the built environment. Often scholars are responsible for paying for the rights and permissions for images, as well as commissioning new maps, charts, and line drawings. Peter Christensen’s forthcoming book, Germany and the Ottoman Railways: Art, Empire, and Infrastructure (Yale University Press) covers his research on the politics surrounding the construction of train stations, settlements, and other infrastructure in the context of the Ottoman railway network. Christensen is assistant professor of art history at the University of Rochester Itohan I. Osayimese’s Colonialism and the Archive of Modern Architecture in Germany (University of Pittsburgh Press) explores the relationship between colonialism and German modernist architecture from the 1850s to the 1930s. Osayimese’s ties the forms of German modernism to the country’s colonial endeavors in Africa, Asia, and the Pacific. Osayimese is an assistant professor of the history of art and architecture at Brown University. Luxury and Modernism: Architecture and the Object in Germany 1900–1933 (Princeton University Press) by Robin Schuldenfrei examines the divide between modernism’s democratic and utopian ideals and existing design and production structures. Schuldenfrei is the Katja and Nicolai Tangen Lecturer in 20th-century Modernism at The Courtauld Institute of Art. Founded in 1940 at Harvard University, the Society of Architectural Historians works with scholars and professionals. The SAH provides historical services and guidance to its 3,000 members and 800 institutional members in 56 countries. Architecture, urbanism, and landscape history are all covered by the SAH. The SAH also maintains the Archipedia online encyclopedia of American architecture.
Placeholder Alt Text

Kenneth Frampton tracks the evolution of modern architecture in his new book

At his book launch at New York’s Center for Architecture, Kenneth Frampton admitted that he had not visited all of the 14 pairs of building analyzed in A Genealogy of Modern Architecture: Comparative Critical Analysis of Built Form. This distance to some of the buildings by the author makes even more pertinent the rigor of the analytical method presented as a way to read buildings as a cultural construct deep in meanings and references as in literature or painting. The index of the comparative analysis: First, the dialogue between type and context referring to the site and the programmatic type of the built form. Second, the coding of the space according to the variable degree of public, semi-public, and service space is indebted to his close reading of Hannah Arendt’s book The Human Condition rather than as a reference to Louis Kahn’s famous served-service spaces. Third, the dialogue of structure and membrane is indebted to his previous book on tectonics and of course, The Four Elements of Architecture by Gottfried Semper. And fourth, the connotational summation is the synthesis of these categories as they refer to larger cultural values. With this book Frampton gives teachers and students an important pedagogical tool as an alternative to the schematic reductionism prevalent in the contemporary architectural practice and education. Frampton writes, “Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception, first published in 1945, augments the ontological implications of The Human Condition by introducing the concept of the ‘body-being’ as the prime agency through which we experience the world. This recognition is intimately linked to our motility through which we experience space.” The public-private and goal-route analysis conjoins a structuralist-phenomenological point of view established by the close reading of the body’s movement through space in the plan and section drawings and then corroborated by the archival photographs. The articulation of built form in terms of typology, tectonic expressivity and referential detailing allows us to experience the architecture through its representation guided by the belief in the “body-being” as if touching, hearing, seeing, and smelling while actively moving-reading the represented spatial sequence. The historical frame of 1923–1980 is marked by a “post- 1945 denouement of the myth of progress (that) first permeates our late modern consciousness through the successive traumas of Stalinism, Auschwitz, and Hiroshima.” The modern project is thus divided into two distinct periods: The period between WWI and WWII 1918–1939 and the period post WWII 1945 until the Venice Biennale of 1980, organized by Paolo Portoghesi, that acknowledged the advent of a postmodern condition, both aesthetically and politically. Frampton believes the three main factors at play in the evolution of the modern movement being are the classical tradition and its tendency towards the abstract, the technological and the vernacular. Each of these categories is present in different proportions as we travel throughout Europe as Le Corbusier noted in his annotated map of his Voyage d’Orient of 1912 and published in L'art décoratif d'aujourd'hui of 1925. Frampton notes “The contrast between the latent classism of Le Corbusier’s Purist paradigm in his entry for the Société des Nations competition was more capable of achieving a rational solution” than Hannes Meyer’s reductive functionalism “insisting on using the same module irrespective of the egg shaped auditorium and leading to an unresolved juxtaposition between the inclined supports of the auditorium shell and the surrounding orthogonal structure.” Yet Frampton ends his introduction with a return to Arendt’s “space of public appearance”: “Today, however, we may still assume an ideologically progressive approach to postmodern architectonic form via a sensitive response to context, climate, topography, and material, combined with the self-conscious generation of place-form as a political-cum-cultural space of appearance.” In his comparison of Louis Kahn’s Kimbell Museum and Aalvar Aalto’s Nordjyllands Kunstmuseum, Frampton writes “Aalto’s organic planning within the orthogonal re-enforced concrete frame enabled him to provide appropriately dimensioned ancillary spaces as found in the lecture halls…This in contrast to Kahn’s dependence of the width of a single vault, irrespective of the function. The comparative analysis pointing to the limitation of Kahn’s insistence on the vault and at the same illuminating how structural invention as large curved beams (not vaults) allowed Kahn to achieve a free plan. The book is lucid not only in the literary content but as a graphic document where each illustration re-enforces the text and analysis. This is the result of a long process of design undertaken by Frampton and his editor Ashley Simone to achieve a coherent graphic design that works a handbook in the tradition of Serlio. It is the ethical content of this book that is rare today. Frampton insists, “architecture is a singular material culture that by its very nature it has the potential to resist the current pervasive drive to commodify the entire word.” Frampton, the architect, historian, and critical thinker, makes clear in this extraordinary book of curated comparative analysis what architecture can achieve.
Placeholder Alt Text

The History and Future of the Los Angeles Dingbat

“Dingbat” is a word with many meanings. It’s a synonym for nitwit. In typography, it’s a symbol used in place of a letter. And in Los Angeles, it’s a particular type of multi-family housing, dominant in the 1950s and 1960s and alternately maligned and embraced over the decades. Dingbat 2.0, an upcoming publication from the Los Angeles Forum for Architecture and Urban Design (LA Forum), explores the history and future of dingbat apartments. The subject of a current Kickstarter campaign, Dingbat 2.0 brings together essays on the origins of the Los Angeles dingbat with highlights from the LA Forum’s 2010 Dingbat 2.0 competition, in which participants were asked to reconfigure the dingbat for today’s urban reality. The dingbat is a “really interesting architectural type that can be looked at in a lot of different ways,” said Thurman Grant, co-editor with Joshua G. Stein of Dingbat 2.0. A subset of what John Chase and John Beach called “the stucco box,” the dingbat is unornamented except on its street-facing facade, where applied texture, rear-lit sconces, and pressed-wood script bearing the building’s (often fanciful) name differentiate one structure from the next. In obeisance to postwar cultural norms, dingbat developers built a separate entrance for each apartment, and made room for the automobile in a ground-floor carport. “In one way [the dingbat is] kind of sticky, in that you can apply a lot of things to it,” Grant said. “But it’s also kind of slippery, because you have these apartment buildings that are very clearly dingbats, and others that could be dingbats.” Part of the Dingbat 2.0 project is to better define the dingbat apartment typology. But the dingbat is more than just a historic artifact: it’s also a contemporary problem. The dingbat began as a waystation for upwardly-mobile immigrants from the Midwest. Today’s urban nomads have a different set of needs, which aren’t necessarily addressed by the car-centric stucco box. “That’s what the LA Forum initially identified [in the Dingbat 2.0 competition],” Stein said. “Something’s changed...We want to figure out what would better serve those kinds of populations.” The 2010 competition began a conversation that continues in the Dingbat 2.0 publication, many of whose contributors served on the competition jury. Whether the topic is the dingbat’s historical backstory, the appropriation of the dingbat aesthetic by 1970s avant-garde artists, or a speculative reimagining of small-lot development, Stein sees Dingbat 2.0 as a vehicle to better understanding the Los Angeles of today. “The book becomes a handbook to describe the life of the common Angeleno,” he said. Dingbat 2.0 includes essays by Barbara Bestor, Aaron Betsky, James Black, Dana Cuff, John Kaliski, John Southern, Steven Treffers, and Wim de Wit, plus a photo essay by Judy Fiskin. Click here to contribute to the Dingbat 2.0 Kickstarter campaign.
Placeholder Alt Text

Frank Lloyd Wright to open balcony for home studio tours

Frank Lloyd Wright fans have had plenty to celebrate lately. In December the Prairie School architect's first independent commission, the William Winslow House, went up for sale. Now there’s more good news, reports Blair Kamin for the Chicago Tribune: the balcony over Wright’s studio in Oak Park, Ill. will be open to the public during tours for the first time in 40 years. The Frank Lloyd Wright Trust will give two guided home and studio tours each day starting March 21, at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. An installation on the balcony at 951 Chicago Ave. in Oak Park will celebrate Wright’s work and that of his colleagues Marion Mahony Griffin, Walter Burley Griffin, and William Drummond. Wright, 22 at the time, designed the home studio for his family in 1889.