November 08, 2011

The Residential Scope

          Le Corbusier, Alvar Aalto, and Mies Van der Rohe each definied the realm of modern architecture through the various residential designs developed throughout their individual careers. Le Corbusier's most iconic contribution to modern architecture would start with the Domino Frame.


In his design, the concrete frame is conceived as being independent of the spatial planning, rather than an embellished linguistic element. This independence frees the form from its traditional structural restrictions and is presented as an industrial item. He exmplifies this well in one of his first major works, the Citrohan House. This house is a pure geometric form. Corbusier's notion was that the architecture would become an expression of volume rather than mass, allowing the exterior to wrap around the structural skeleton as a thin membrane. 

Citro Han House - Le Corbusier

          Corbusier's later work seems to follow a similar pattern as the Citrohan House, yet exemplifies the progress Corbusier was having with his design style. In the Villa Savoye Corbusier seems to capitalize on his notions of Plan Domino. The house is raised on pilotis and appears a sa pure white prism floating above its landscape. Like the Citrohan house, the wall is but a thin membrane, cut by a continuous horizontal window. Corbusier was pulling away from the traditional notion that structure was something that defined the ascetics of a building. His long, horizontal windows were pushing the limits of his interior skeletal structure, suggesting that the modern structure was not limited to load-bearing walls. Moreover, the facade and plan in both his Citrohan House and Villa Savoye are exceedingly simple and free. 

Villa Savoye - Le Corbusier

          In his work later on in the century, Le Corbusier seemed to conceive his notions in a more vernacular form. However, the natural materials used by Corbusier are still interpreted in a modern asetic context. Unlike the Villa Savoye, projects such as the Villa de Mandrot intermix Corbusier's clean, geometric forms with rural overtones. Materials, such as stone, were now used to create Corbusier's geometric language and emphasized the intermixing of his modern architectural language with an emphasis on its relationship to the surrounding context.

Villa de Mandrot - Le Corbusier

          Mies Van der Rohe and Corbusier both played with the idea of plane, and pureness of form. However, in Mies' early work with neoclassical housing, he represents a vernacular ideal. The Riehl House exmplifies this vernacular thinking through the gabled roofs and choice of materials. The structure borrowed deavily from the illustrations of eighteeth-century vernacular-classical housing.
Wolf House - Mies Van der Rohe

As Mies continued to develop his style, he began to explore more into Constructivism. Here, projects such as the Wolf House allowed Mies to explore some of the fundamental problems posed by new techniques and materials. In the Wolf House, Mies is still using a vernacular medium, but in a very modern language. He is begining to understand the system of interlocking forms and planes to form spatial quality. His material selection and sturctural system, however, still remains attached to a vernacular tendency; load-bearing walls. 
Wolf House - Mies Van der Rohe

          In his later work, Mies begins to adopt similar ideals as Corbusier in structural configuration and general asthetic. His Tugendhat House begins to construct these revolutionary notions. Like the Riehl House, the residence is wedge into the sloping site. However, like Corbusier, Mies utilizes a long horizontal window that wraps around the entire lower level of the structure and encloses the living room. This element celebrates the house's internal structural system that allows the facade to be a free, malleable decision in the design. Moreover, Mies begins to simplify the overall ascetics, using simply polished materials for interior ornament and unembellished white planes to create the membrane. This simplicity in both exterior and interior decision began to advance modern architecture into a more contemporary era and allowed for a more dynamic architectural language.
Tugendhat House (Interior)

Tugendhat House (Exterior)

          In the late 1930's, Finnish Modernist architects, such as Alvar Aalto, began to question the mechanistic premises of the New Objectivity, returning to natural materials and traditional details. Aalto believed in creating unique metaphors for the movement. This notion is evident in his Villa Mairea where taut, curved walls faced with wood sidings are contrasted with sharp-edged brick walls painted white. Similar to Mies, Aalto combines different living zones within a single space; allowing for an almost interoperability within the interior. Screens of wooden poles in random clusters become metaphors for the pine forest extending beyond the wall-to-wall plate glass.
Villa Mairea (Exterior)

Villa Mairea (Interior)

Aalto's use of metaphors to bring his architecture into a modern context is also evident in his design for the Baker House Dormitory. This building was the first building of Aalto's redbrick period and was used to signify the Ivy League university tradition. The building uses curvilinear forms, but with naturalistic aesthetic overtones.
Baker House Dormitory - Alvar Aalto

          As Aalto developed his design methodologies, he began to be more sumptuous in his work. Refined materials such as marble facings began to replace the rustic brickwork he traditionally worked with. Moreover, the forms began to be more geometrically complex. In his Vuoksenniska Church, one can see his use of a more curvilinear facade and simplicity in material choice. Moreover, his expression of a more "membrane-like" and "blank" facade relates to the notions emerging from Corbusier and Mies Van der Rohe at this time. Aalto's work, however seems to appreciate the naturalistic language of materials. His work centered around university and education facilities, which could also be seen as a motivation in his infatuation with material choice.
Vuoksenniska Church - Alvar Aalto

          All in all, these three architects began to develop a similar advancement in modern ideals. Breakthroughs in structural systems and fluidity of design allowed for an endless experimentation of architectural design. However, some of the key points remain that of an open, operable plan, a free facade, unembellished material choice, and internal structural systems.

September 29, 2011

The Modern House

        Our concept of a modern dwelling stems in large part from 20th century ideas about living. One of the largest contributors and architectural questioners of the time was Adolf Loos. Loos began to stem away from the previous notions of architecture as an embellishment of social responsibility and began to privatize spatial experience. His designs centered around the idea that public and private should be separate, stating that "the building should be dumb outside and only reveal wealth inside." This idea suggested that the private and public realms should convey their own distinct architectural language. At the same point in time when Frank Lloyd Wright was attempting to seamlessly join exterior and interior, Loos was doing the exact opposite and sanctioning off the two realms. For Loos the exterior was the public side of the house. His designs, such as the Steiner House attest to the simplicity and "plain-ness" the exterior was given. The exterior would almost seem neglected to designers of the previous century; having no ornamentation of any sort. Nevertheless, the stripped façade was rapidly assimilated into the formal purism of the 1920's and was the major reason for the success of the building.
        During the same time, the Wessenhofsiedlung Exhibition was taking place in Germany.   The exhibition included 17 of the greatest architects of the time. The purpose was for the designers to demonstrate their ideas and interpretations of the new image of the home. This event marked one of the defining moments of modern housing. House 13, for instance, was designed and constructed by Le Corbusier. Like Loos, Corbusier saw the simplicity and unembellished exterior facade as a testament to his notion of a free facade. This notion is evident in his design at the Wessenhofsiedlung Exhibition where simple planar surfaces create a shell for the structural systems of the dwelling. This idea of simplicity was a stepping stone in the modern movement and is still evident today. Houses began to be simple dwelling alcoves that did not need adorned ornamentation. Instead of embellished villas and estates, dwellings now became modulated units that could maintain a sense of individuality inside, yet maintain a uniformity on the exterior.

 Le Corbusier's Wessenhofsiedlung House (Left) and Loo's Steiner House (Right) both felt the modern house exterior should be an unembellished expression.

        Similarly, both Corbusier and Loo's saw the interior of the modern home as an expression of the user. Whereas previous notions articulated and sanctioned a strict order of the interior, modernism suggested that the interior be specific to the one living there. This expression of freedom and individuality in a house was executed in two ways. Loos does this in his Steiner House by converting the central hall into an open staircase and using diagonal views and vertical alignment to expand spatial volumes. Although many of his designs still have wall partitions to define the key realms of the dwelling, the spaces themselves allow for endless operable arrangements and develop an open spatial continuity throughout the plan.

  Loos uses a series of "open" spaces in plan to allow for interoperability for the user

        Le Corbusier was similar in his thinking. However, instead of using vertical expanses, Corbusier used the open floor plan. His internal structural system of columns allowed for an endless arrangement of spaces in his plan of House 13. Wall partitions are only used to sanction off bathroom, kitchen, stairs, exterior, and utility purposes. This was an abstraction from Loos' sanctioned, yet operable spaces, into a holistic operable structure. Nevertheless, both designers saw the interior spaces of a modern dwelling to be open and operable. Loos and Corbusier believed that the architect's job was to inspire the creativity in the user to design their own living space. In a way, this is how modernism began to evolve. Architect's began to define their spaces by the users of the space.

  Corbusier allowed a dynamic and operable spatial quality in all his floor plans. [yellow marks open spaces]

        At first glance, the two architects seemed to have a similar style to their architectural design. However, in closer examination one understands the vast amount of differences the two had in spatial quality, structural systems, and proportioning systems. Corbusier's House is simple in structural design: using ten structural columns to support and define his structure. The columns are divided into two rows, running the span of the structure. However, interestingly, the rows are placed asymmetrically when looking at the holistic design plan. This allowed for utilitarian purposes to be placed on the right side of the plan, while more functional living and operable uses could be accommodated on the larger right side.

  Corbusier's structural system allowed him to have large open floor plans that could be spatially defined by non-load bearing partitions.

  Loos structural system allowed him to have sanction off spaces in a vertical pattern throughout his house and define a more "open" space in the horizontal plane.

        Contrastingly, Loos chose to define his modern dwelling with an externally loaded structure. His load bearing walls of his Steinhouse are thick and allow for a limited amount of openness in plan. This structural choice is also a defining element in his sections of the dwelling. Because the walls serve as structural support for his multi-story building, the spatial sanctioning is continued vertically throughout the structure. In a way, however, this may serve as a complimentary idea that Loos had from Corbusier: that spatial openness must be limited to allow for a series of more and less private spaces within the interior realm.

        Loo's designs are thus determinant on his structural choice in both plan and elevation. However, because Corbusier was only partially limited in his open-floor plan design; it left the facade and spaces to be defined more deliberately. Corbusier was a believer in the golden section; that everything developed around a specific and reoccurring proportioning system. This "golden ratio" is embellished in his placement of spaces, as well as glazing placements in his Wessenhofsiedlung House. Both Loos and Corbusier had strong ideas about glazing placement and proportion. 
 Corbusier utilized the golden ratio in a multitude of scales to define proportion, spatial quality, and functional use

        However, whereas Corbuiser embellished his loved for the golden ratio and alignment in his design, Loos used the spatial experience in the individual interior spaces to proportion his glazings. The combinationQA of both of these comes to define windows in a modern context. No longer were apertures symmetrical references to an exterior facade, but rather were an element of their own and a lens into the spatial experience of the interior. 

All in all, these architects explored three major ideas surrounding the modern dwelling: 
  • Exterior "plainness"
  • Interior Operability
  • Structural/Glazing Proportioning. 
These ideas are still evident in modern house today and revolutionized the time period in which they were explored. They simultaneously linked uniformity and individuality into architectural design and ultimately allowed the user to become the architect.

Colquhoun, Alan. Modern Architecture. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2002. Print.
Curtis, William J. R. Modern Architecture Since 1900. 3rd ed. New York: Phaidon, 2011. Print.

 Great Buildings Steiner House

House 13 Image

September 14, 2011

Art Nouveau

Buvette Cachat - Evian, France

           Art Nouveau explored the philosophy that embellishment of certain components effectively link ornament and object, animating it with new life. Objects began to be thought of as a comprehensive organic system, rather than separate, individual parts. On the same hand, ornament became a fabric that coincided with the form of the structure, rather than a thoughtless space filler.  Van der Velde believed in "recognizing the meaning and justification of ornament in its function." This idea became the underlying idea in the Art Nouveau movement; that ornament seemed to determine the form. Van de Velde established the ideologue of the movement in 1894 in a series of lectures defining art as the expression of joy in work. The necessity of machine production became key in his thinking. This connection between artistic expression and the mechanical, working properties of an object is an idea used even today in many architectural designs. Just as the Romans with the arch, modern architecture began to understand and celebrate the raw functional characteristics in modern structural systems (joists, columns, steel).

Vitebskij Railway Terminal - St. Petersburg
          Similarly, Van der Velde was seeking the artistic expression within these simple functional components, and embellishing them. The rapid industrialization happening in Van der Velde's time helped bring architectural expression in terms of machine production, an idea which would become the focus of many modern designers. Previous designers had the intimacy to embellish individual elements; hand crafted details, ornamented stone carvings, embellished metal doodads. However, the rise of industry also gave rise to productivity, and the fabrication of similar elements in a short span of time. Van der Velde recognized this efficient advancement and discovered the artistic expression behind an otherwise mundane mechanical system.

Casa Pratsjusà - Barcelona, Spain

          The Art Nouveau movement also translated in more holistic architectural construct, such as plans. Victor Horta is most noted as exploring the Art Nouveau idea in his plans of hotels and various dwellings. His designs focused heavily on the fluidity of movement and function throughout the structure. The staircase served as the center point of each design, with a piano nobile and various conservatories branching off from it. Horta, like Van der Velde, saw the ultimate goal as "dissolving structure into ornament." However, Horta became more focused on the architectural, rather than the artistic, implications of Art Nouveau. He took Van der Velde's new decorative principles and developed them into a coherent architectural style.

Stair view and Floor Plan of Hôtel Van Eetvelde - Brussels, Belgium

          The use of artistic symmetry linked with the asymmetrical programmatic elements are evident in his floor plan designs such as his Hôtel Van Eetvelde. His explorations began to discover the relationship programmatic needs and [floor plan] design had with one another. Symmetry began to be dismantled by the new needs of society in the modern era, evident in his hotel designs. This became a key issue in modernist design: developing a form that alleviates the overall function. 
          Hector Guimard took a similar route as Horta. By taking the principles outlined by Van der Velde, he developed a architectural language. His work was more heavily influenced by Viollet-le-Duc than Horta, but nevertheless contributed to Art Nouveau movement in a similar way. His embellishment of organic plant forms in metal became a signature effect in his constructs. Although he is believed to have followed Horta in attempting to take this artistic form and bring it into the realm of architectural design, I believe that many of his designs are based in art, rather than architecture. During his final design for the Castel Béranger in Paris, Guimard visited Horta's dwellings in Brussels. After seeing them, Guimard was quick to rework the stone and metal detailing in the Castel Béranger. Does this not make one think that his designs were less architectural and more afterthought embellishments of individual ornaments?

Hôtel Paul Mezzara - Paris, France
          Although Guimard took great consideration in the overall structure of his designs, I believe he cannot be entirely compared with Horta. The organic forms for which he is notorious seem to be less of an architectural language and more of an artistic expression similar to Van der Velde's interior embellishments. Whatever the case, Guimard began to, like Horta, seek a link between the art and architecture of the Art Nouveau movement. His ideas would questions the realm of previous architectural forms such as symmetry, scale, and proportion. His designs contained an element which Horta lacked: the freedom of asymmetry. In this way, Guidmard gave modern architecture the freedom to express in a non-uniform, yet controlled form.

Hotel Guimard - Paris, France

September 05, 2011

Comparing Semper, Ruskin, and Viollet-le-Duc




               n. the return of something to a former condition.


               n. to maintain in safety from injury, peril, or harm; protect.

               n. the careful utilization of something in order to prevent injury, decay, waste, or loss

There is no doubt that architecture is and has been used as a historic lens of the past. However, as time lingers on the interpretation of how this architecture, and the historic significance it holds, should be dealt with.

To restore. To preserve. To conserve. 

Each idea sparks controversy in this debate. Viollet-le-Duc, Ruskin, and Semper outline specific yet differing views, but nonetheless were dealing with a common issue: the existence of a architectural past in a rapidly modernizing world. 

 Viollet-le-Duc believed the answer to be a collaboration of modern and historic language. His belief is best discerned in his restoration projects such as Pierrefonds.

Viollet-le-Duc believed in the free interpretation of restoring the architectural past, an idea thoroughly ridiculed by Ruskin. I believe Viollet-le-Duc was correct in this modest claim, but his idea that to restore a building "is to recreate it in a Complete form, indeed a form which might never have existed," seems counterproductive. The goal of restoration is to return something to a former condition. Viollet-le-Duc's "recreation" discredits the concept of returning to a former condition; for if it truly never had exisited, it cannot be considered restored. Although Viollet-le-Duc's ideas seemed outlandish, they explored one extreme of a historic and modern relationship. Ruskin would argue that this extreme relationship, which allowed the modern architect complete freedom in interpretation and implementation on the architectural past, was a dangerous, fake, and undisciplined practice. 

Ruskin believed restoration, such as Viollet-le-Duc's restoration of Pierrefonds, erased the accumulate history in the structure. The castle was no longer a element of the historic past, it lacked the true meaning of the style for which it was intended; defense, society, and the feudal community. I believe Ruskin feared that restoration embellished architectural forms and did not consider the actual functionality behind the structure; both culturally and chronologically. Artful expression preceded the actual functional significance. For this reason, Ruskin wanted to preserve the historic past, not restore it by expressing it in a modern context. The beauty in architectural past was the history accumulated in its form, science, culture, society, and purpose. Without these, the structure had a false description, lacking the sacrifice, truth, power, life, obedience, and memory it once held. This is true, for facts without meaning are lifeless. It is for this reason why Ruskin is known for ridiculing the Crystal Palace as a modern form of Gothic architecture. Although it attempted to "modernize" a classic form, it did not respect the true nature and purpose the "gothic form" ensued. Ruskin's fight to keep the architectural past a truthful historic lens inspired many later architects such as Corbusier, Wright, and Sullivan. His ideas shook the idea of restoration and seemingly steered it as a means of preservation. Semper seems to come in and bridge the gap Ruskin and Viollet-le-Duc created between themselves. Whereas Ruskin was about preserving the past and Viollet-le-Duc was about translating the past into a modern context, Semper attempted to consider the history Ruskin longed to preserve and brought it into Viollet-le-Duc's modern context. 
Semper is known for his logical, almost systematic approach to historic conservation. He understood the socio-political context of the architectural constructs, but also attempted to classify the architectural forms specific to the time period. This coupling of form and function made for a deliberate and disciplined manner into revealing historic architecture into the modern world. His formula for interpreting the past consisted of two main components: the function must equal the artifact. In this case, the artifact was a compilation of materials, techniques, religion, climate, politics, patrons, and personal expression. Furthermore, he believed architecture borrowed its types from pre-architectural conditions of the human settlement. Style was a composition of symmetry, eurythmy, proportion, and direction. All these elements are evident in Semper's work, including Semper Opera House.
The construction itself is a prime example of the basic geometric and functional principles Semper followed: symmetry of the entry, proportion of the terraces, circling direction of the facade, selection of materials, and integration of structure and form. Furthermore, he believed in the principle that each construct consisted of 4 main elements: the hearth, the structure, the roof, and the enclosure. Again, this was a basic relation to pre-architecture habitats. This idea would be adopted by modern architects like F.L. Wright to create hearth-centered residences. Although Ruskin would argue against Semper's embellishment of artistic form, he would appreciate the more delicate execution in which Semper approached historical context. He chose a disciplinary formula and introduced the architectural past in a consistent manner which accounted for the context and function of the architecture. This systematic and almost moral approach conflicted with Viollet-le-Duc's ultimate freedom of modern expression. Conservation became a disciplined expression that began to fill the gap between  preservation and restoration.

Semper, Tuskin, and Viollet-le-Duc were confronting an issue that had never been dealt with before: the relationship between modern and historic. Although they compiled vastly different views, they discovered the extremes this relationship could undertake. I believe that the architectural past must be a complete consideration of the context, function, and purpose behind the original structure. Architecture of this sort needs to be a lens to the past, and we must try to suspend the implications of modern expression to ensure truth in the form and function.

September 01, 2011


Welcome to my Arch 329: History of Architecture II. This blog is a reflection of the impact architectural design has had from the 1830 - present day. I will be posting my various responses to the readings throughout the semester.