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Saarinen, Kahn and the Use of History
The other place in Rome that opened my eyes was the spiral entry ramp of the Vatican Museum. How come no one ever acknowledges that that spiral ramp and the skylight above it is exactly what Frank Lloyd Wright copied (or should I be kind and say reenacted?) when he did the Guggenheim Museum on 5th Avenue? Wright's Guggenheim is certainly creative, but it is not all that original.
What I like best so far about investigating reenactment in architecture, it the search for origins, that which is being reenacted, because it's in the origins that true originality resides. Kahn himself said he wished he could write 'Volume 0'. I'm not going to say that I too want to write 'Volume 0', but I do have real faith in its existence.

Saarinen, Kahn and the Use of History

Wright and historical method

2000.02.03 16:43
an answer to "Now what?"
Is Decon the only thing to have run out of steam? Has the now pervasive and generally accepted way of looking at and being critical of architecture also run out of steam? For example, does moving from seeing Decon as reactionary to now (maybe) seeing the New Austerity as the latest reaction really convey a sense of meaning beyond the oscillations of fashion and trend? Has each new "critical" building become nothing more than the latest "creation" of the now global fashion show? Likewise, has the element of shock become ingrained within the (elite) architectural profession, the same way shock has become "stock-in-trade" in a good deal of high fashion? [I'm not saying there is anything wrong with the architecture that receives attention and the industry surrounding it being akin to the fashion industry, but I do think there is something wrong about not recognizing the phenomenon as such.]
Here's how I now look critically at architecture (and urban design) both currently and historically:
What architecture is extreme?
What architecture is fertile?
What architecture is pregnant?
What architecture is assimilating?
What architecture is metabolic?
What architecture is osmotic?
What architecture is electromagnetic?
What architecture manifests the highest frequencies?
What I've found so far is that some architectures fall straight into some of the categories above while some architectures are categorical hybrids. Here are some examples:
The Pyramids, Stonehenge, St. Peter's (Vatican), Bilbao(?) -- extreme, extreme architectures.
The Pantheon, Hall of Mirrors, Versailles, entry sequence of Schinkel's Altes Museum, Kimball Art Gallery -- examples of the best osmotic architecture there is.
Classical Greek and Roman Architecture -- pure architecture of fertility.
The Hindu Temple -- the ultimate transcendence from an architeture of fertility to an architecture of pregnancy, whereas the Gothic Cathedral is an architecture of pregnancy, albeit virginal.
All of 20th century Berlin -- the metabolic (create and destroy and create and destroy and ...)
To understand architecture of assimilation, look at the Renaissance, but also look to early 20th century Purism to understand assimilation in the extreme, ie, purge.
Today's architectures are by and large assimilating and/or metabolic (contextual and/or 'deconstructivist'?).
You're very lucky if you ever see pure examples of electromagnetic or frequency architectures today because they are almost entirely architectures of the far off future.
There are many more examples to offer, but that's all for now. In general, I see all architectures as reenactionary (as opposed to reactionary).
Architecture reenacts human imagination, and human imagination reenacts the way the human body is and operates. The human body and the design thereof is THE enactment. The human imagination then reenacts corporal morphology and physiology, and architecture then reenacts our reenacting imaginations.

2000.02.04 14:11
Re: [looking glass] the old masters
Randolph states:
I think he's at least partly right; I've been talking about the camera lucida for years--ever since I saw an exhibit of the astronomer Wm. Herschel's camera lucida drawings at the Ansel Adams. The Old Masters used technical aids when they could; the NYer article reprints that picture of Dürer carefully measuring. I've little doubt that if they had the camera lucida available at least some of them would have used it. And of course the example painting reprinted in the NYer(it's upstairs, I don't want to get it to cite it) does indeed look photographic.
Steve asks:
So what part of Hockney's theory do you think is right is right, and what part do you think is not right?
What I like about the article is the strong implication that the manual dexterity of the 'old masters' is not exactly what art history tells us it is. In the case of Hockney's theory, we have CLAD and COAD--Camera Lucida Aided Drafting and Camera Obscura Aided Drafting respectively--which I see very much akin to CADD -- Computer Aided Drafting and Design. In either case, manual dexterity is aided by 'technology'.
Having started using CAD well before most other architects (in 1983), the initial reaction of most of my colleagues was that I had now somehow abandoned architecture because I was now letting a computer do the drawing(and designing they assumed) for me. To me there was no doubt that my critical peerage was being purely prejudicial and biased because I knew that they knew nothing about what CAD was really about. What bothered me most, however, was that practically none of my colleagues wanted to learn more about CAD. I had to conclude that they were most afraid of facing their own ignorance, yet I also had to concede that I was perhaps the only one to see the hypocrisy that was going on. For myself, learning CAD in 1983 almost immediately made me a more creative person then I ever would have been without it.
The other thing I like about Hockney's theory and his presentation of it is that he bases his theory not just on testing the theory by using the camera lucida himself, but also on his own experience as a consummate artist. Where the camera lucida tests offer 'physical' evidence for his theory, I, like Hockney, actually feel that having the working knowledge of being an artist when theorizing how artists work provides the more sure evidence, even though it is not physical evidence.
Perhaps the real trick of the camera obscura is that it has managed to keep a lot of Western culture in the dark about how art really gets done.

The Life of Pope Silvester
This centuries old text on the life of St. Silvester, selected from the Liber Pontificalis, for the most part contains one of the only records that describes ancient Rome's first Christian basilicas as erected during the reign of Constantine the Great, and most likely designed under the architectural supervision of Constantine's mother, the Empress Helena, otherwise known as St. Helena.

blob and box
...about Corbu's Olivetti Headquarters design as the first manifetation of blob and box, and Stirling's Olivetti Headquarters as the second manifestation of the blob and box.

2000.09.08 13:12
thanks, I
I like the notion of Quondam being a virtual place in architectural history because that's exactly what it is, and, more than likely, always will be.

2000.10.16 19:10
baroque (cyber?) theater
The following is a passage I first read over 23 years ago. It comes from Timothy K. Kitao, Circle and Oval in the Square of Saint Peter's: Bernini's Art of Planning (New York: New York University Press, 1974), pp.22-23. I was reminded of this passage after some reflection upon the recent bit of cyber theater that occurred here a month and a half ago.
"In the well know production of the Due Teatri, first given in 1637, Bernini developed a simulated amphitheater of a very elaborate kind. This is, of course, the best known of Bernini's theatrical works, but a recapitulation is in order.
According to Massimiliano Montecuculi, who witnessed the performance, the stage was prepared with "a flock of people partly real and partly feigned" so arranged that, when the curtain had fallen for the opening of the play, the audience saw on the stage another large audience who had come to see the comedy. Two braggarts, played by Bernini himself and his brother Luigi, then appeared on the stage, one facing the real audience and the other the fictitious; and recognizing each other in no time, they went on to claim, each in turn, that what the other saw as real was actually illusory, each firmly convinced that there was no more than one theater with its audience in that half he was facing. The confusions of realities in mirror image thus heightened, the two firmly decided "that they would pull the curtain across the scene and arrange a performance each for his own audience alone." Then the play was performed to the real audience, that is, the main act to which that preceded was only a present prelude. But through the play another performance was supposed to be taking place simultaneously on the second stage introduced by Luigi; the play was, in fact, interrupted at times by the laughter from those on the other side, as if something very pleasant had been seen or heard.
At the end of the play, the two braggarts reappeared on the stage together to reaffirm the "reality" of the illusion. Having asked each other how they fared, the impresario of the fictitious performance answered nonchalantly that he had not really shown anything but the audience getting up to leave "with their carriages and horses accompanied by a great number of lights and torches." Then, drawing the curtain, he displayed the scene he had just said he had shown to his audience, thus rendering complete the incredible reversal of reality and illusion to the confused amazement of the real spectators, who were now finding themselves ready to leave and caught in the enchanting act of feigning the feigned spectators."

2000.10.24 16:50
brown (lauf 2)
I too am working on a "theory" of architecture (style) that relates architecture to a "process" larger than architecture itself, that is, the notions that 1) human imaginations reenact corporal morphology and physiology, and 2) architecture (style) reenacts human imaginations. The main theory is called chronosomatics (meaning literally time + the body), and the primary text on chronosomatics is entitled The Timepiece of Humanity.
You ask: "What has 'metabolic process' have to do with it?" The metabolic process within humanity, and, more or less in all (animal?) life, is a creative-destructive duality wherein the corporal destruction of matter releases energy thus providing creative impetus. I theorize that the metabolic process is (just) one of the human physiologies reflected in human imagination, and, subsequently, the metabolic process becomes reflected in human activities and events. (Note: the other corporal physiologies like fertility, assimilation, osmosis, etc. also play key roles within human imagination, but the theory of chronosomatics suggests the metabolic process as being one particularly dominant in our times.)

2000.11.07 10:20
Re: two for the road
I like what you say about not recalling "another film that, structurally, collages space and time in that particular way." Two for the Road does indeed collage space and time, but I was never sure how unique its particular method of cinematically doing so might be. In any case, it's worth noting that the collage here very effectively relates a narrative, specifically a 'modern' life narrative. Is the film's "collage of space and time" a (romantic) reflection (i.e., mirror) of modern life itself?
Could it be that the age old narrative journey motif's (Homeric epic) modern replacement is the narrative 'vehicle' motif?

Paul wrote:
How does evolution work? My understanding is that it requires a mutant, an individual who diverges from the norm, who may adapt more advantageously to conditions and producing progeny with new characteristics. This is evolutionary change. The system doesn't mutate. It is INDIVIDUALS who are mutants.
Steve adds:
This is very interesting, and I like the conciseness. Germane to the ('beginnings' of) the Baroque, it makes me think of Martin Luther as very much a mutant/mutinous Roman Catholic. Besides his 95 theses, Luther also thereafter translated the New Testament and then the Old Testament into German for the first time--the Bible linguistically mutated, if you will.

Alex wrote:
Where is this 'immaterial' realm where the circle exists? I would like to make contact with it…….. It is worth noting that these 'perfect' shapes: circle (sphere) or cube or pyramid, etc. do not exist in nature. (The Earth, for instance is an oblate spheroid in other words, a sphere fattened at the equator). I am reminded here in Paul's thinking of Ptolemaic and Renaissance astronomies. They thought planets revolved in pure Pythagorean spheres (with musical accompaniment.) It took Kepler and Newton to show them they were wrong: the ellipse was the answer. Anyway, these perfect shapes do not exist other than as idealizations in peoples minds.
Steve comments:
While I agree with Alex about there really being no 'perfect' shapes in actual existence, I nonetheless can't help but believe that the real 'inspiration' for the perfect circle comes from the pupils of our very own eyes. Who knows, it might even be the physical 'perfection' of our sight perception organ that somehow makes our brains/minds think ideals exist in the first place. Kind of like the medium being the message.

aesthetics and imagination
"It is common place to say that the eighteenth-century marks a turning point in the history of aesthetics. M. H. Abrams (1953) has shown how this was the period when the predominant metaphor of the mind as a mirror reflecting external reality began to give way to that of the mind as a lamp which radiates its own inner light onto the object it perceives. The artist is no longer seen as a craftsman-like imitator of nature, but as an inspired genius who brings new worlds into being, spontaneously generating original creations out of the depth of his own mind."
from the editor's introduction to Cocking's Imagination, p. vii.
As we begin the 21st century, is the "predominant metaphor of the [artistic] mind" still a "lamp which radiates its own inner light onto the object it perceives?"

Architectural Education Again
...list of architectural references: The Life of Pope Sylvester, from the Liber Pontificalis, translated and notated by Louise Ropes Loomis, Ph. D, 1916.
Earliest copies of the Liber Pontificalis date from the 8th century. It is through this text that we now know the spiral columns of San Pietro Vaticano came originally from Greece. It was during the life of Sylvester that Rome went through a tremendous church 'building boom' during the reign of Constantine. All the first basilicas of Rome are listed, along with their precious metal furniture schedule and lighting fixture schedule, and the list of properties endowed to each individual church in order to keep the churches sustainable. (Normally it is accepted that the properties given to the churches were originally Imperial properties, but lately I've been wondering whether many of the properties may have actually first belonged to Pagan temples, i.e., properties that sustained the Pagan temples as well.)
Overall, the Life of Pope Sylvester gives a fairly concise glimpse into a moment in architectural history that for the most part no longer actually exists, however, a moment that for well over a millennium and a half dominated Western culture/architecture.

More Tedious Stuff (Design Process Type)
Paul states:
This is where the "function" enters the genesis of the parti. Kahn spoke of "served" and "servant" spaces, of course. The secondary spaces are not "celebrated," but become embedded in "conceptual poché," which the parti diagrams as solid, leaving only the celebrated, or publicly experienced, spaces as "spatial figure." The figure-ground gestalt is fundamental to this basic design strategy, applied to urban design by Colin Rowe and his school, but derived from Beaux Arts practice.
Steve replies:
I don't see Paul's capsulation of Kahn's notion of "served" and "servant" spaces as altogether correct. Rather, it is more of a (convenient) pedagogical interpolation based on a hybridization of "served and servant" (Kahn) with "figure/ground" (Rowe). Two of Kahn's buildings that most manifest the "served" and "servant" notions are the Richards Medical Research Building (Philadelphia, 1957-60) and the Salk Institute (La Jolla, 1959-65). In both designs the "served" and the "servant" are each clearly articulated, and one could go so far as to say that it is more the articulation of the "servant" spaces that manifest the "served" spaces. Neither of these two buildings employs what might be described as poché.
I now wonder whether Paul's interpolation exemplifies a wider ranging interpolation throughout architectural academia since Kahn's practice, hence a not necessarily true interpretation /proliferation of Kahn's message /meaning vis-à-vis "served" and "servant". The notions of "served" and servant" are first to be applied to the program, i.e., the building program is divided into those spaces that serve and those spaces that are served. The form of the building then arises out of the articulation of both the "served" and the "servant", and the ultimate design is the integration and/or inter-relation of the two types of "spaces".
Perhaps the only slanted aspect of Kahn's notion of "served" and "servant" spaces is the underlying notion that some spaces are privileged while the other spaces are not privileged. And perhaps this is precisely where the misinterpretation of "served" and "servant" actually comes from. In reality, however, Kahn somehow managed to "privilege" virtually all the spaces of his buildings. [And perhaps it can be said that Kahn was therefore very good at working the mediocre.]
Just now I'm wondering whether the grammatical terms of "active" and "passive" might be an interesting extension of the served and servant notions, i.e., with served being the passive and the servant being the active. It might be interesting to sometimes analyze buildings by identifying those parts/spaces that are active (doing the acting) and those parts that are passive (being acted upon). This point of view might help alleviate the "privilege" factor.



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