Urban planning community

+ Reply to thread
Page 1 of 2 1 2 LastLast
Results 1 to 25 of 39

Thread: Opinion poll on outright traditionalism

  1. #1
    Cyburbian Luca's avatar
    Registered
    Mar 2005
    Location
    London, UK
    Posts
    1,150

    Opinion poll on outright traditionalism

    Looking at Ablarc’s commendable series of photos of Paris and reflecting on one of the losing entries for the Paternoster Square development in London, I would pose the following question to forum members.

    Building a substantial development/area using out-and-out, no-, no-irony, “authentic”, proper-materials, proper-scale classical buildings (or even “Beaux Arts” / “Art Nouveau”): I mean so ‘unoriginal’ that in a few years architecture students may get the dating wrong.

    From a purely aesthetic/ideal standpoint (commercially I can provide examples that work)
    Yes or No?
    Life and death of great pattern languages

  2. #2
    Cyburbian FueledByRamen's avatar
    Registered
    Oct 2003
    Location
    A Dog in a Hat
    Posts
    449
    I am going to say no, although from your post I couldn't tell if no meant "no, I dont like it" or "no, there is nothing wrong with it."

    To me, designing a large, new development in such a manner is too similar to a subdivision full of Colonials.

    There is a new museum going up on campus (UT-Austin). An original architect was chosen to design it, but then the UT Board of Regents (ie, satan's minions) didnt like it because it didnt "fit" with the architectural style of the rest of campus.....baroque spanish. The problem with this claim is that if you've ever been to UT, you know there are some horrendous modern and post modern buildings that stick out like a sore thumb.

    So what happened? The dean of the architecture school resigned and the board of regents hired someone to build a big box of a building and slap some red tiles on the roof.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian jordanb's avatar
    Registered
    May 2003
    Location
    City of Low Low Wages!
    Posts
    3,236
    If they faithfully reproduced the old techniques, then wouldn't it be a neo- style? Neo- styles have been around for hundreds of years. People have been building buildings that look like buildings from a previous period ever since there was a notion to differentiate them.

    There have been numerous classical revivals, gothic revivals, and romanesque revivals in history. They generally never attracted the scorn of the contemporary architectural community (that I have seen), although I do know that the University of Chicago was attacked for using Gothic architecture---not because it was neo-gothic, per se, but because the critics felt that it was bad form to use architecture reserved for churches and monasteries to design gymnasiums and student dormitories.

    It's only in the modernist era that revivals have been attacked for being "regressive."

  4. #4

    Registered
    Oct 2001
    Location
    Solano County, California
    Posts
    6,468
    I would like to say yes, but I will hedge my answer with one number: 300 million Americans, 40 million Californians, 90% of the original old growth redwoods decimated. The beautiful old bungalows and Victorians depended on cheap redwood, harvested in an "environmentally unsustainable" manner. Unless we find even more third world countries to exploit...? How would we build with "traditional" (i.e., natural) materials in a wood frame "Arts and Crafts" vernacular that was Caliofrnia's first mass style? In a world of urban sprawl, workplace safety regulations, and NIMBYism, where would the stone come from for that vernacular? (load bearing brick is problematical in a seismic zone) -and, more importantly, who would pay the craftsmen to build such while still allowing for all the financiers, govenment impact fees, lawyers, consultants, ad nauseum to siphon off their profits?

  5. #5
    Cyburbian ablarc's avatar
    Registered
    Nov 2003
    Location
    East Coast
    Posts
    713
    Quote Originally posted by jordanb
    It's only in the modernist era that revivals have been attacked for being "regressive."
    Right on, jordan; it's a completely conscious conspiracy by modernist ideology to brainwash students, the profession and the public. Intellectual theories made to run amok by avant-gardistes who don't see how retrograde their mob mentality really is. They don't believe in the marketplace of ideas or live and let live. They just want to control.

    I was personally subjected to it in school; some places architectural history was altogether expunged from the curriculum. The Bauhaus' architectural historian, Siegfried Giedion, omitted all mention of Beaux-Arts and Deco architecture from his weighty tome of propaganda, "Space, Time and Architecture." It's exactly as though Penn Station and the Empire State Building had never been built. That was non-architecture. That's why I'm so opposed to German historic determinism. They should know from experience of their famous compatriot Adolf that history is (at least partly) what you make it.

    Orwellian, Stalinist...whatever you want to call it, it has most of us brainwashed on these forums, even smart guys like Cz. And control freaks like Norman Foster are actually trying to enshrine modernism in British law as the only legal architectural style.

    You should read the mindless venom poured by the British architectural press onto the likes of Quinlan Terry, Leon Krier, Prince Charles and John Simpson. It's like a witch hunt; I don't see how they can tolerate the constant thrashing. I know Leon Krier finds it incomprehensible; he's just trying to do a good job, actually does a good job, and is villified for...what? making places that bring English vernacular practice into the present century.

    Some crime.

  6. #6

    Registered
    Oct 2001
    Location
    Solano County, California
    Posts
    6,468
    Quote Originally posted by ablarc
    Right on, jordan; it's a completely conscious conspiracy by modernist ideology to brainwash students, the profession and the public. Intellectual theories made to run amok by avant-gardistes who don't see how retrograde their mob mentality really is. They don't believe in the marketplace of ideas or live and let live. They just want to control.

    I was personally subjected to it in school; some places architectural history was altogether expunged from the curriculum. The Bauhaus' architectural historian, Siegfried Giedion, omitted all mention of Beaux-Arts and Deco architecture from his weighty tome of propaganda, "Space, Time and Architecture." It's exactly as though Penn Station and the Empire State Building had never been built. That was non-architecture. That's why I'm so opposed to German historic determinism. They should know from experience of their famous compatriot Adolf that history is (at least partly) what you make it.

    Orwellian, Stalinist...whatever you want to call it, it has most of us brainwashed on these forums, even smart guys like Cz. And control freaks like Norman Foster are actually trying to enshrine modernism in British law as the only legal architectural style.

    You should read the mindless venom poured by the British architectural press onto the likes of Quinlan Terry, Leon Krier, Prince Charles and John Simpson. It's like a witch hunt; I don't see how they can tolerate the constant thrashing. I know Leon Krier finds it incomprehensible; he's just trying to do a good job, actually does a good job, and is villified for...what? making places that bring English vernacular practice into the present century.

    Some crime.

    I find amusing the concept expressed by Tom Wolfe that the modernist movement has all the markings of a religious cult.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian ablarc's avatar
    Registered
    Nov 2003
    Location
    East Coast
    Posts
    713
    Quote Originally posted by BKM
    I find amusing the concept expressed by Tom Wolfe that the modernist movement has all the markings of a religious cult.
    If you'd gone to architecture school, you'd know Wolfe's not exaggerating. He's a reporter; he knows how to ferret out the facts.

    Here are some of the components of this and other cults: a specialized jargon, suppression and distortion of inconvenient facts, inculcation of herd mentality, unfounded assertions, withholding of knowledge, moralistic posturing, reference to a higher power (in this case, history), persecution of nonconformists.

    I could bore you with details...
    Last edited by ablarc; 04 Apr 2005 at 12:14 PM.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian boilerplater's avatar
    Registered
    Dec 2003
    Location
    Heaven or Las Vegas
    Posts
    916
    Here are some of the components of this and other cults: a specialized jargon, suppression and distortion of inconvenient facts, inculcation of herd mentality, unfounded assertions, withholding of knowledge, moralistic posturing, reference to a higher power (in this case, history), persecution of nonconformists.
    And of course the shared sense of visual identity with all-black outfits and Philip Johnson glasses! I once read an amusing account of Koolhaas' office, where most of the staff was male, dressed in black with shaved heads.

    Oh yeah, the poll. I say yes, with the caveat that some materials be replaced with modern ones that are less costly to install and weather better than real wood. One example I can think of is, dare I say it, "Fypon" millwork. We don't have the supplies of old growth lumber they did in the 1890's. Stone is another matter. I've read the supply is practically unlimited for most building stone, as long as people are willing to see hills flattened.
    Adrift in a sea of beige

  9. #9

    Registered
    Oct 2001
    Location
    Solano County, California
    Posts
    6,468
    Quote Originally posted by boilerplater
    And of course the shared sense of visual identity with all-black outfits and Philip Johnson glasses! I once read an amusing account of Koolhaas' office, where most of the staff was male, dressed in black with shaved heads.

    Oh yeah, the poll. I say yes, with the caveat that some materials be replaced with modern ones that are less costly to install and weather better than real wood. One example I can think of is, dare I say it, "Fypon" millwork. We don't have the supplies of old growth lumber they did in the 1890's. Stone is another matter. I've read the supply is practically unlimited for most building stone, as long as people are willing to see hills flattened.

    Hey! Today: Black Sweater. Black Cotton trousers. Black Shoes.

    Don't be dissin' the "Professional Goth" outfit, my man!

    Your last paragraph: this is where I have a problem-I'm not sure the modern materials look very good (the problem of "thin-ness" in New Urbanist cutesy architecture.) Stone: the NIMBYism against quarryng can be fierce-especially since the stone needs to be quarried reasonably close to the job site (i.e., in some exurbanite's country estate back yard)

    I've not seen Celebration in person, but the photos seem to show a little better degree of craftsmanship and certainly better than average sense of propertion and scale than most halfass attempts at traditionalism We wouldn't get that out here in Schlockifornia.

  10. #10
    Member Jeff_Rosenberg's avatar
    Registered
    Mar 2005
    Location
    Minneapolis, Minnesota
    Posts
    41
    I have some problems with the neo-traditional school of design.

    I think we can learn a lot of great lessons from traditional urban form, but I think we're missing the point to try to recreate them entirely. As a believer in the progressive, and in trying to stay on the cutting edge, I don't think that we should (nor do I think we can) force ourselves back to older styles and keep ourselves there.

    Nor do I think it's appropriate to dismiss all modernism as garbage that is destroying the country. Lots of modernism is garbage, granted, but that's quite a generaization. Similarly, i'm skeptical that all Art Deco, romanesque, arts and crafts, etc. is a brilliant piece of work. In most art forms, architecture included, bas examples are forgotten over time. Thus, the further away something is, the better it often appears.

    I think what we can do more importantly is to learn from traditional design. I do believe that modernism, especially in urban design, has taken a wrong turn. What I'd much rather do would be to learn our lessons and then move forward again, taking a different path.

  11. #11

    Registered
    Oct 2001
    Location
    Solano County, California
    Posts
    6,468
    You make some good points. It's easy to romanticize the past. But, the problem is very few "cutting edge" buildings are any good at creating good urban streets. I love a modern glass pavillion in an exurban setting overlooking the ocean as much as anyone-but plopping 15 Eichlers in a row doesn't create a very nice, urbane streetscape. And, fundamentally, that's what it comes down to.

    Nonethless, I don't dislike some of the new highrises as much as ablarc. There are some stunning new skyscrapers in San Francisco that I like, even if not traditional in scale or character. I even like the glass podium buildings (from photographs-and from listening to relatives who've visited) in Vancouver.

    And, fundamentally, I'm not sure I would want to live in an apartment. I know I "should" from an urbanism/environmental standpoint, but there is something to be said for the single family house (or its compromise-like my townhouse)

  12. #12
    Member
    Registered
    Aug 2004
    Location
    Mouseton, Calisota
    Posts
    50
    As an average person (i.e. someone who isn't a planner or architect), I'd say yes to a well-done development that revived traditional architectural styles. Architecture seemed to evolve fairly well through history before modernism came along, even with the constant re-use of past styles. So why would it hurt to revive Gothic, or Roman, or Victorian architecture now?

    My favorite architecture is Victorian. A wonderful time where revivial after revivial co-existed with striking originality. Perhaps the architectual community still looks down on this period, but I love how they would stick elements from virtually any past style together into something that would actually end up looking quite nice.

    Anyway, if traditional architecture is never to be revived, then I think we need to preserve what already exists at all costs, even if it isn't significant. When traditional architecture becomes taboo, then old buildings become as precious as old growth trees and Pandas.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian ablarc's avatar
    Registered
    Nov 2003
    Location
    East Coast
    Posts
    713
    Quote Originally posted by BKM
    But, the problem is very few "cutting edge" buildings are any good at creating good urban streets.
    BKM, that's no coincidence; they're not allowed to be by the very terms of their style. Trust me, I know, I was taught this style, I know it like the back of my hand, I can do it, and I can even design genuinely urban buildings in it. But it's hard as hell!!. The reason: not enough vocabulary. Could you write a play of the quality of Othello if you were only allowed to use 50 words? Shakespeare probably could, but most people aren't Shakespeare.

    Modernism says by definition, for God's sake --listen to the words-- that you can't do anything that was done in "historical times." So there goes 95% of your potential vocabulary, two thousand five hundred years of accumulated know-how. Modernism i n s i s t s on being rootless. It has severed all contact with the past. We will now live in the eternal present. It is as dogmatic, puritanical and full of prohibitions as it's possible for a discipline to be and still claim to be dedicated to getting something done.

    So mansards have to turn into curtain wall boxes, columns can't have capitals, windows have to be ganged in strips, horizontal or vertical, you're not allowed to end a building with a cornice, on and on...It's a @%#& style, with all that that implies, but it's unbelievably u n v e r s a t i l e, because it has such a pitifully small pool of elements and such a huge number of thou shalt nots. It is after all cut off from --intentionally, consciously, by defintion-- from literally thousands of years of formal devices, all of which MUST NOT BE USED.

    What's left is not quite enough to do a decent building. YOU HAVE TO BE ALMOST A GENIUS, and most people aren't.

    Quote Originally posted by BKM
    Nonethless, I don't dislike some of the new highrises as much as ablarc.
    Putting words in my mouth again, BKM? Here, I'll tell you what I think: I l-o-v-e skyscrapers, the taller the better. My biggest complaint is that the ones that are built aren't tall enough because the idiot-nimbys have cut them down so they're short and fat.

    Transamerica is terrific because it's slender and bold, Bank of America sucks because it's corporate, boring, gloomy and fat. Pelli's Bank of America in Charlotte gets an A for slenderness and beautiful proportions. If the NIMBYs will allow Piano's shard of glass in London, it will be the best thing on that sadly nimbified skyline (BETTER than St. Paul's and better than the Gherkin, which is the current best skyline element after the Eye); Hong Kong is the second most beautiful big city I have seen, after Paris; New York needs about a dozen buildings taller than the Empire State, and so does Chicago. San Francisco needs a dozen slender seventy-story apartment towers in SoMa, with one soaring to maybe 95 stories (not blocking anyone's view in that flat, dismal part of town); Seattle ought to build higher and with even more glass, and I'd like to see Boston's Financial District with several hundred-story buildings.

    But not Paris. For God's sake, places are different from each other and that needs to be respected.

    Maybe, BKM, you attribute opinions to me that I don't have because you think opinions only run in limited packs: "he loves beaux-arts, low-rise Paris, therefore he must hate skyscrapers." I criticize modernism because it generally (g-e-n-e-r-a-l-l-y) doesn't deliver the goods, and being familiar with its workings I can see all too clearly why. I can explain it technically the way a computer technician can explain how to load software.

    Here, to establish my skyscraper-loving credentials is my wet-dream fantasy of how Boston's skyline should look in 2014 (and won't because of the NIMBYs):



    I love you dearly, BKM, but on the subject of what I like and what I don't like, I can fairly claim to be the world's greatest living expert. (That's probably the end of the list.)

    Here's what I don't like: dull, incompetent, mindless adherence to an unexamined ideology; people saying stuff like "we have to be cutting edge" or "someone needs to figure out how to get modernism to do good urban buildings", "learn from traditional design and then do modernism" without having a single insight as to what that entails. It'll be a long wait for "somebody"-- like living with the Cargo Cult.

    You see, Modernism doesn't want us to learn anything from traditional design; it hates traditional design and wishes it would go away and stop being a reproach. "Has taken a wrong turn," says Jeff Rosenberg. Exactly. That wrong turn took place on day one: the moment it was decided that accumulated know-how would be tossed upon the junkheap. Resurrect accumulated know-how and you abandon modernism. By definition! By definition!! There is no way to reform it; it has its nature; it is a leopard with spots. You can't learn to tame it by studying the past because it won't let you; by its very nature it's determined to thwart you.

    You also can't learn to put out fires with gasoline.

    Not my fault.

  14. #14
    Cyburbian Luca's avatar
    Registered
    Mar 2005
    Location
    London, UK
    Posts
    1,150

    Materials

    ...Wood is, obviously, renewable. But i was referring to mostly birck, palster adn stone, which are "semi-infinite".

    Furthermore, modern technology can produce reinforced concrete finishes of great durability and quite handsome appearance, IMHO. Indeed, I think one (secondary) source of confusion for idelogical modernists is the idea that new materials must equal new shapes, volumetries and surface treatment, which is a non-sequitur

    Someone noted the vitriol and opprobrium that has greeted architects that builkd, TODAY, in the classical tradition. I think that is indicative of a guilty conscience.

    Last thing. Let's not talk about NEO-this and NEO-that. A Palladian building is a Palladian building, if cproperlyy, built, otherwise what's the cut-off point? Arbitrary

    Las last thing. I agree that poor execution and pastiche devalue traditional forms but jsut consider that extrme modernism is poor even in what are suppsoed to be its 'ad excelsior' examples.
    Life and death of great pattern languages

  15. #15
    Cyburbian jordanb's avatar
    Registered
    May 2003
    Location
    City of Low Low Wages!
    Posts
    3,236
    The romans really dug the use of facades. Most of their buildings had concrete or some other cheap substance on the inside and granite or some other expensive substance on the outside.

    From what I've seen though, rock quarries are much less environmentally destructive than most types of mining. And much less so than clay or limestone quarries (necessary for bricks and concrete, respectively). They tend to use a fairly small surface area and go straight down, because they're digging into the bedrock rather than scraping off a surface layer of clay or soft stone.

    The end result is a very deep but not necessarily very wide hole that can be reused as a reservoir. And because rocks are inert, there are basically no pollutants.

    NIMBYs might not like the idea of having a 400 foot deep lake but honestly, a kid can drown in 10 feet of water from in the subdivision's retaining pond just as easily as he can drown in a 400 foot deep reservoir.

  16. #16

    Registered
    Oct 2001
    Location
    Solano County, California
    Posts
    6,468
    Sorry, ablarc, I wasn't implying that because you love Paris, you hate skyscrapers. I was merely responding to what I thought was a dismissal of Vancouver (and San Francisco) skyscrapers in some posts ("at other times and on other places"). I promise to try and try to stop making attributions

    Can I confess to LIKING bank of America because it is so dour, looming, and ....EVIL. Sometimes buildings should reflect the reality of their owners.

    On a serious note, BofA bothers me less than the myriad bland filing cabinets littering the San Francisco Financial District. Embarcadero Center, anyone? Blech. Utterly banal, with a shopping center that cowers under low concrete ceilings.

  17. #17
    Member Jeff_Rosenberg's avatar
    Registered
    Mar 2005
    Location
    Minneapolis, Minnesota
    Posts
    41
    Quote Originally posted by ablarc
    Modernism says by definition, for God's sake --listen to the words-- that you can't do anything that was done in "historical times." So there goes 95% of your potential vocabulary, two thousand five hundred years of accumulated know-how. Modernism i n s i s t s on being rootless.

    . . .

    Here's what I don't like: dull, incompetent, mindless adherence to an unexamined ideology; people saying stuff like "we have to be cutting edge" or "someone needs to figure out how to get modernism to do good urban buildings", "learn from traditional design and then do modernism" without having a single insight as to what that entails.

    . . .

    You see, Modernism doesn't want us to learn anything from traditional design; it hates traditional design and wishes it would go away and stop being a reproach. "Has taken a wrong turn," says Jeff Rosenberg. Exactly. That wrong turn took place on day one: the moment it was decided that accumulated know-how would be tossed upon the junkheap. Resurrect accumulated know-how and you abandon modernism. By definition!
    Alright, then . . .

    Not knowing too much about architecture, I admit, I understood stylistically what modernism looks like but not the theories behind it. I stand corrected on that account.

    What about simply "modern" buildings, without necessarily adhering to modernist principles? Isn't there a way to learn from both traditional and modern forms of architecture and create something that's a bit more contextual?

    As far as learning from traditional design and then doing modernism, I stand by that. What I meant was that we should learn from those things we like about traditional urban design, at the neighborhood level. Nobody's saying that we should slap a bunch of cornices on a modern building and it's good to go. But modernism should not be exempt from addressing the street, from being a part of the streetwall, from providing ground-level retail in appropriate places, etc. Or is turning against all of those elements a part of modernism as well?

    I don't say things like "we have to be cutting edge just for the hell of it." In the arts, I favor the contemporary over the traditional; I think we have a natural tendency to move forward. That said, it's not mindless adherence to an ideology, saying "it's good because it's new." If it's bad, it's bad. A lot of modernism is bad. But given a very good traditional piece of architecture and a piece of modern architecture that I find the be as aesthetically pleasing, I prefer the modern.

  18. #18
    Cyburbian ablarc's avatar
    Registered
    Nov 2003
    Location
    East Coast
    Posts
    713
    Quote Originally posted by BKM
    Can I confess to LIKING bank of America because it is so dour, looming, and ....EVIL. Sometimes buildings should reflect the reality of their owners. .
    Yikes, you too? I couldn't own up to it, like admitting you like Limburger cheese (I dig that, too). And furthermore I appreciate it for the same reasons as you. I also like the ground-level plaza, particularly clanking by on a cable car; that makes a delicious contrast.

    Quote Originally posted by BKM
    On a serious note, BofA bothers me less than the myriad bland filing cabinets littering the San Francisco Financial District. Embarcadero Center, anyone? Blech. Utterly banal, with a shopping center that cowers under low concrete ceilings.
    Yeah, me too.
    Last edited by ablarc; 05 Apr 2005 at 11:52 AM.

  19. #19

    Registered
    Oct 2001
    Location
    Solano County, California
    Posts
    6,468
    Quote Originally posted by ablarc
    I also like the ground-level plaza, particularly clanking by on a cable car; that makes a delicious contrast
    Ah, the Bankers' Heart! That reflects my liking for dour sword and sorcery novels, too

    As for Limberger-I have been "talked to" by my boss for my unfortunate habit of bringing "washed rind" cheeses to the office.


    I also really, really like the Cesar Pelli-designed tower on Mission Street tenanted by one of the big New York banks (Can't remember which one). It looks like Chicago, not SF, but what elegant detailing and a cool plaza.

    Modernism can occasionally create at a minimum exciting cityscapes? I confess to liking some of the Mission Street and Second Street blocks because because it's an interesting melange of old and new-and much of the new isn't bad at all.

  20. #20
    Cyburbian ablarc's avatar
    Registered
    Nov 2003
    Location
    East Coast
    Posts
    713
    Quote Originally posted by Jeff_Rosenberg
    Alright, then . . .

    What about simply "modern" buildings, without necessarily adhering to modernist principles?
    That’s the idea, Jeff; we need to distinguish “modern” from “modernist.” The latter is a codified style, a way of doing things; the former is either:

    1. something new, fresh and unfamiliar, or:

    2. anything and everything that’s presently being done.

    By the second definition of modern, classical architecture by Quinlan Terry is every bit as modern as Thom Mayne’s collapsing walls; they’re both being done right now, in 2005. This is the definition that eventually wins out; an art historian will tell you Richardson was modern in his time, because the historian understands in hindsight (as Richardson did because he was cultured) the built form’s meaningful relationship to the context of its period. Even if that architecture was Romanesque Revival, or some other Revival.

    By most people’s take on Definition 1, Mayne is modern and Terry isn’t.

    But that, I hate to say, is because most people these days aren’t nearly well enough acquainted with the tradition of classical architecture to tell what’s genuinely novel and original about Quinlan Terry’s architecture (future thread?). Leon Krier can tell you, and an art historian can tell you, and Robert Stern can tell you, and (yes!) Frank Gehry can tell you. Chances are, even Norman Foster can tell you, but he doesn’t want you to know that classical architecture can be original at all; he’d rather you stayed in the dark, so you can’t expect him to enlighten you.

    It’s like wine-tasting. An oenophile can tell, blindfolded, if he’s drinking a Chateau Lafitte or a Petrus, and he might even be able to tell you the year, but to most people it’s just two pretty good red wines (maybe some people could tell you they’re both Bordeaux).

    Thom Mayne and Zaha Hadid: buildings that look like they’re collapsing are a fairly recent trend because they’re not part of a long tradition of collapsing-looking buildings. If we keep building them for fifty years, you can imagine they won’t seem nearly so modern; but don’t worry: long before that happens the Modernists will have cooked up a new theme. Endless novelty. But you have to lay it on with a broad stroke; we’re not attuned to subtlety.

    Modernism as a style’s been broached before. It is characterized by a desire to produce either sculptural massing or the illusion of sculptural massing (its artistic roots lie in constructivist sculptors, Naum Gabo and Antoine Pevsner); and by the playing off of perpendicular or angled thrusts (vertical vs. horizontal, in the simplest form). This must be accomplished without resort to symmetry, an evil which a true Modernist building avoids. (Exception: Mies, a classicizing modernist.)

    As for the process for producing the sculptural form-- in an almost perverse twist of artistic theory that derives from the words (not the actions) of Louis Sullivan—the form is supposed to ooze primevally from the program (the function), via something called a bubble diagram, which eventually hardens into the building form. Form follows function, and functional considerations can be relied on to generate a sculptural form that is not symmetrical. (If you start with a symmetrical form –as say, Palladio did—that’s called “stuffing the functions” and is a sure sign of moral turpitude.)

    Modernism has a preference for flat roofs. This eliminates specific reference to up vs. down and to building technology (the need to shed water), and therefore yields a form both more abstract and more sculptural.

    There’s an approved spectrum of building materials, including glass, concrete, brick, stucco and metal (but stone only as fieldstone or flooring).

    Structurally there’s a preference for long spans to avoid columns and express the technological success of steel. This goes along with a partiality to the cantilever over simple support.

    Most obvious is the omission of ornament (“Ornament is crime” –Adolf Loos, one of Modernism’s founders), except that utilitarian building elements may be used in a limited ornamental fashion (such as exaggerating the size of a mullion or making it of glass, or leaving ductwork exposed, or even gluing I-Beams to a box, as Mies did in Chicago).

    Modernism’s spatial theory celebrates the free-standing building as sculptural object. You have to be able to walk all around it to appreciate its composition, and to see how big it is. Is it any wonder that Modernism espoused a suburban planning model, in which the building was entirely surrounded by space (like the suburban house) and avoided cooperation with its neighbors to define space. Thus the example of Paris (buildings define space of street) is neatly reversed (space flows endlessly around free-standing objects). In the suburban condition the building’s the figure, the surroundings the ground, while in the city the space is the figure defined by the buildings, which are the ground. Think Plan Voisin.

    Finally, Modernism insists on the reality or pretense of innovation and originality--even at the expense of the rational-- and an attendant exhibitionism. This is the gee-whiz factor.

    You’ll recognize that all of these elements are visible, in fact form the essence of the architecture of Frank Gehry, Norman Foster, Santiago Calatrava, Thom Mayne, Zaha Hadid, Rem Koolhas and all the other superstars. They’re all modernists, they have all advanced the style by taking it into new realms, they’re all good at producing monuments, which are supposed to be attention-grabbing; but they’re not inclined to do background buildings, which are not.

    Truth is, these superstars could do background buildings, and good ones at that; most of them are more than smart enough to accomplish this feat honorably, even with the handicap that the modernist vocabulary provides in the arena of plain-budget buildings. But you won’t find them actually doing background buildings, because they don’t have to; they have better things to do with their time. There’s oodles more money, prestige and fun to be had doing monuments.

    That leaves the average-joe architects, who are of course the great majority. These are the guys who can’t really work in their handcuffs. So: what you see is what you get.

    If they were allowed to do ornament, they’d slap some on and you’d say it looked ok; but they’re not allowed. Not allowed by their training, not allowed by their ideology, not allowed by their self-respect (remember: it’s immoral!).

    Belle Epoque Paris architects were allowed ornament, and they were trained to provide it. No problem.

    Deco architects in Miami Beach, ditto. But their ornament was overlaid on basically a modernist building form (go back and look at the list of approved characteristics).

    And yet…and yet if you tried to do Miami Beach Deco…you can just hear the derision from the modernists (maybe evn on this forum): Revivalist! Couldn’t he think of anything original? Look at him, devoid of inspiration, working in a historic style! Bloody pastiche!

    So it’s no ornament. That’s how you can tell it’s modern. It’s part and parcel of the style. If you apply ornament, it ceases to be modern. Come on, you knew that. Clean and pure.

    If you’re Richard Meier with his uncanny knack for composition, you can pull off a building that’s beautiful just because of its disposition of solid and void. Pure sculpture, transcendently beautiful. But best to stay out of cities, Richard; your buildings need to stand free. It's ok, he knows this.

    Or it’s utilitarian ornament; we’ve already covered this. Mies was best at this; he used tiny little I-beams for ornament, and hoped you’d think they were structural (the real structure was hidden under the code's mandatory fireproofing). The pretense is that this isn’t ornament at all. Just utilitarian stuff you need to have anyway. Form follows function.

    Or it’s really bad ornament with lousy proportions and clumsy application (lousy when made up from scratch by an average-joe, kind of interesting if done by Venturi or Graves). Look to Venturi for a catalog of options; he, being a borderline genius, was able to pull this off in a kind of camp, jokey way. It was so bad it was good. The right word for this is not Modernism, but Post-Modernism. The joke is: you’re putting down traditional architecture. Joke’s now worn thin; architecture’s not a good vehicle for humor, anyway; how many times can you be amused by the same joke?

    You can also see that Post-Modernism is a branch of Modernism. It hates traditional architecture almost as much; it allows ornament, but only as a put-down of the original. That’s why the stuff is so thin and cartoony, BKM, like a caricature. (The exception is often Robert A.M. Stern, who nowadays does his traditional architecture without irony. Hopefully he’s not too boring; he does always do right by his context.)

    Or it’s Wright’s way. Wright used ornament, but he was always a big liar and claimed he didn’t. Because he had so many admirers, he was believed, even when the evidence to the contrary was in plain sight. Cagily, he cribbed his ornament (and sometimes even building form) from obscure sources like Mayan tombs or Kandinsky’s paintings, and hoped people didn’t know enough art history to notice. To make sure, he actually struck architectural history from his school’s curriculum, while those of his followers who became professors made similar efforts in schools around the country.

    Finally, you can make the whole building an ornament. Modernism allows this because it produces gigantic constructivist sculpture, like Boston City Hall, or all works of Paul Rudolph and Eero Saarinen. Such buildings make great urban monuments; you just can’t make them interact communally to make a street wall. Their exhibitionism makes them fine on plazas, however, as in the case of Boston’s Christian Science Center.

    Quote Originally posted by Jeff_Rosenberg
    Isn't there a way to learn from both traditional and modern forms of architecture and create something that's a bit more contextual?
    There sure is. Anything from glancing reference to outright copying. If it works, it’s ok in my book--and in most other people’s, I bet. I sure don’t believe in being a moralist about it. Whose moralism is it, anyway? Corbus’s? Foster’s?

    Quote Originally posted by Jeff_Rosenberg
    As far as learning from traditional design and then doing modernism, I stand by that. What I meant was that we should learn from those things we like about traditional urban design, at the neighborhood level. Nobody's saying that we should slap a bunch of cornices on a modern building and it's good to go. But modernism should not be exempt from addressing the street, from being a part of the streetwall, from providing ground-level retail in appropriate places, etc. Or is turning against all of those elements a part of modernism as well?
    Less now than it used to be. A building like Lever House was interested in the streetwall principally as something to thumb its nose at. These days, architects are being forced to comply with traditional urban street treatments. But the surfaces are still often bland and the forms too complex and sculptural. Plus the treatment of ground floors is often dreadful.

    Quote Originally posted by Jeff_Rosenberg
    I don't say things like "we have to be cutting edge just for the hell of it." In the arts, I favor the contemporary over the traditional; I think we have a natural tendency to move forward.
    You can’t help going forward, even when the way you do it is to try to go backwards. Historians will tell you (and it’s obvious} that the Renaissance, the Reformation and the Gothic Revival all pushed history forward while looking back. Sometimes it’s back to the future.

    There have only been five basic styles in Western architecture, the last three in a recent flurry: classical, medieval, Art Nouveau, Deco and Modernist. Classical has been cycled through several times and is by far the longevity champion. Maybe that's why it's called classical.

    Quote Originally posted by Jeff Rosenberg
    That said, it's not mindless adherence to an ideology, saying "it's good because it's new." If it's bad, it's bad. A lot of modernism is bad. But given a very good traditional piece of architecture and a piece of modern architecture that I find the be as aesthetically pleasing, I prefer the modern.
    I think you wish somebody would come up with a new style. So do I. Meantime, we’ll just have to make do with Robert Stern.

    Or can I interest you, perhaps, in the fine points of Quinlan Terry?

    .
    Last edited by ablarc; 05 Apr 2005 at 8:32 PM.

  21. #21

    Registered
    Oct 2001
    Location
    Solano County, California
    Posts
    6,468
    Fascinating mini-lecture, ablarc.

    Serious question: Have you ever thought of going into education, say at Notre Dame?


    Quote Originally posted by ablarc
    You can also see that Post-Modernism is a branch of Modernism. It hates traditional architecture almost as much; it allows ornament, but only as a put-down of the original. That’s why the stuff is so thin and cartoony, BKM, like a caricature. (The exception is often Robert A.M. Stern, who nowadays does his traditional architecture without irony. Hopefully he’s not too boring; he does always do right by his context.)
    Sadly, though, even Stern can fail badly-and in a highly visible place. What is your opinion of the Gap building on The Embarcadero in San Francisco?

    I hate it. I've found Stern's other published work much more convincing somehow. Maybe he should stick to mansions, private university campuses, and traditionalist shoppinbg centers for the better classes?

  22. #22
    Cyburbian jordanb's avatar
    Registered
    May 2003
    Location
    City of Low Low Wages!
    Posts
    3,236
    Why Notre Dame?

    Also, excellent post, ablarc.
    Last edited by jordanb; 05 Apr 2005 at 11:16 PM.

  23. #23

    Registered
    Oct 2001
    Location
    Solano County, California
    Posts
    6,468
    Quote Originally posted by jordanb
    Why Notre Dame?

    Also, excellent post, ablarc.
    They teach classical architecture (one of the few schools).

    If ablarc dislikes Charlotte, he would LOVE South Bend

  24. #24
    Cyburbian jordanb's avatar
    Registered
    May 2003
    Location
    City of Low Low Wages!
    Posts
    3,236
    Heh. He could live in Chicago and take the South Shore, if he'd be willing to put up with a two hour commute that costs $10 one way.

  25. #25
    Member Jeff_Rosenberg's avatar
    Registered
    Mar 2005
    Location
    Minneapolis, Minnesota
    Posts
    41
    Thank you, ablarc, I appreciated the post. Very interesting stuff.

    You're entirely right -- I would like to see a new style. I don't like a lot of what has been produced by modernism, but I do enjoy forward progress and new ideas. Like I said before, maybe what we need to do is go backwards, learn our lessons, and move forwards along a different path.

+ Reply to thread
Page 1 of 2 1 2 LastLast

More at Cyburbia

  1. Need an opinion on my situation
    Career Development and Advice
    Replies: 3
    Last post: 11 Dec 2007, 9:01 PM
  2. Whaling- what is your opinion?
    Friday Afternoon Club
    Replies: 18
    Last post: 29 May 2007, 7:48 PM
  3. Opinion on APA election?
    Make No Small Plans
    Replies: 1
    Last post: 17 Mar 2006, 9:59 PM
  4. Your opinion of Milwaukee
    Cities and Places
    Replies: 32
    Last post: 08 May 2005, 10:28 AM
  5. Replies: 28
    Last post: 17 Feb 2004, 6:51 PM