Architecture Drawing Good Architects

Mr. Rudolph goes to Washington

rudolph-dc-capitol-hills

Paul Rudolph, master of a beguilingly baroque brutalism, had a few ideas to fix up what he thought was DC’s unrelenting dullness. Riffing off of President Kennedy’s dismay at Pennsylvania Avenue, the fervor for urban renewal, and a widespread disdain for the newest batch of public buildings, Architecture Forum magazine dedicated its entire January 1963 issue to the problem of Washington. It’s a neat time capsule.

Anyway, you, me, and your mother all have ideas to fix up this city, and thankfully nobody asks us. So why did Rudolph get to publish what are basically a few sketches and a rant? Well, he was killing it in 1963. He was published widely, the Yale Art and Architecture Building was nearing completion, he’d just secured the Boston Government Services Center, and no one else seemed to have a way out of Modernism’s increasing malaise.

So, what he proposed was a way of shaping cities straight out of the book The American Vitruvius: An Architect’s Handbook of Civic Art, which was a strong influence on city planning in the 1920s, and eventually New Urbanism. That book and Rudolph’s show the influence of a Viennese theorist named Camillo Sitte.

Sitte thought that public areas needed to be shaped aesthetically into coherent fabric for public life. He favored curving roads that were as pleasant to the eye as hard on the brakes. He also belief that large open spaces were hostile to life, an unpopular idea when Le Corbusier’s violent reaction to Sitte dominated the profession.

So, Rudolph is rebelling when he proposes taming the vast expanses of the McMillan Plan and the Olmsted landscapes. He even takes a moment to lash out against the Robert Taft Carillon’s expansive space, a which must have been deliberate diss to its designer, the then-Commission of Fine Arts vice chair Douglas Orr.

Rudolph’s design surrounds the tower with another building, to plug the grassy areas near Union Station, which he thought was particularly vacant. He proposed two columnar entries on Maryland and Pennsylvania Avenues as memorials to Madison and FDR. Elsewhere bar buildings span roadways to divvy up the leftover spaces into public rooms.

Yes, he wanted to block some viewsheds, but he also wanted to restore the proportions of L’Enfant’s vision for the east plaza. Like anyone trying to make big moves in DC, Paul Rudolph swore that it was his design, and no other that would realize L’Enfant’s vision.

Rudolph’s full article after the break.

read more »

planning

Metro between stations

metro lengths-system

How far apart are Metro’s stations? I think one of the reasons people assume Metro should have express tracks is because the distance between stops varies so much. If you’re a suburban commuter coming in from Franconia-Springfield to Federal Triangle, the long-short-long-short distance must be disorienting. So, even though Metro’s shortest distances barely come close to the New York Subway’s usual local distances.

Matt Johnson has pointed out that Washington’s Metro is a hybrid commuter rail-subway system, most similar to Paris’s RER. With the Silver line opening and the very long gap between Spring Hill Road and Weihle-Reston East, that hybrid nature is only going to get more apparent. The stations in Tysons are fairly close together, but bookended by two of the longest stretches of track.

I wanted to see how this broke down, so with an hour to spare, measured the distances (line-of-sight) between stations. Then I calculated the quartiles and represented them using my base map.

For those railfans out there who will take me to task for erring by inches that I’m less interested in track length than distance between stations. I wanted to look at this from a land-use perspective, not an operations. But, I don’t have ArcGIS, so I don’t have the level of precision Metro’s planning staff has.

Above is what I found visually. Obviously most of the distance is between the longer segments:

  • Longest Quartile: 66mi, 28 segments, 52% (Red)
  • Upper Quartile: 29mi, 22 segments, 23% (Yellow)
  • Lower Quartile: 20mi, 23 segments, 16% (Green)
  • Shortest Quartile: 11mi, 27 segments, 9% (Blue)

Nothing really groundbreaking, but fun to look at.

length sequence

Since redundancy is so important to transportation design, here is another chart showing how much walkability overlap, in increments of ≤.5mi, ≤1.mi, and too damn far:

metro walkshed overlaps

And below, I’ve broken it down line-by-line.

read more »

Architecture

Ruskin’s Abstract Lines

I don't think Ruskin would have liked Zaha

Even in 1853, John Ruskin was already through with digital exuberance. A drawing showing that natural lines are more pleasing than ordered ones. Fractalicious.

From the Stones of Venice.

Local Reno Park Project

The Giant Circle at Fort Reno

tenleytown parks 1902

I found the 1910 Parks Commission Plan earlier. Now I’ve been able to find a higher resolution version of the plan, albeit a little different. This one is from the original, famous McMillan Commission report. Click the images to see the whole city.

This is the first time a park at Fort Reno was proposed. Here, it’s imagined as a much bigger circular park centered around the now obliterated, high point of DC. The Black-populated town at Fort Reno was still pretty small; the streetcar had only arrived a few years before. Similarly, you can see that the Chevy Chase Land Company had only begun to make forays into the District. 

The Nebraska Ave and Yuma street parkways are visible. You can see how large they wanted Soapstone Valley park to be, extending up to 38th Street. They also wanted to acquire the slopes of Broad Branch Valley. That would have linked up with Fort Reno, as part of the first iteration of Fort Drive.  Below is a map showing the rights-of-way for the 1897 Permanent Highway Plan and existing roads.  

Is there anything else you see?

tenleytown highway 1902

After the break, a GIF, a GIF, a GIF, I say, a comparative GIF! read more »

Architecture Russia

Soviet Brutalism: Centipede House

Brutalism’s proclivity for ostentatious grimness evokes something “Soviet” for Americans. But the movement never caught on in the USSR. Whatever it looks like, it didn’t square with the Party. British brutalism was bourgeois in its affected craftsmanship. Once America got to it, Brutalism was dangerously individualistic.

But, Soviet architects did flirt with the aesthetic when they were trying to show off before the 1980 Olympics. That’s when they gave their answer to the Unité D’Habitation.

The House of the Aviators on Begovaya Street, also known as the the House on Legs or the Centipede House, is absolutely Soviet and it’s absolutely inspired by Le Corbusier housing units. It’s built to very specific standards in different climate with a different construction industry from those buildings. They found a lot in the translation. read more »

Local planning

The 1970 study that said DC’s zoning is obsolete

In a post today on Greater Greater Washington, about the third delay of the Zoning Update, David Alpert and I mentioned a report from 1970 that called the 1958 zoning code outdated. 

That was in response to Mayor Gray’s announcement that the Zoning Commission would not close its records until September 2014, so we weren’t able to share as much as I wanted. Here’s more:

Barton-Aschman were hired by the pre-home-rule Walter Washington administration to examine the code after the MLK assassination riots, Urban Renewal, the Metro, and freeway revolt. Not all of their comments were negative, but the technocratic, autocentric attitude that ran through the 1958 process was nowhere to be found. 

These events had big impacts in the ideologies of the planning community. So, just 12 years after the code was passed, they saw a code that was plagued by assumptions that no longer applied and solutions that only seemed to make things worse:

A considerable number of provisions are archaic or substandard and need to be systematically reviewed and modernized. New techniques should be developed to accommodate changing market demand, technological advances, and new social conditions and programs.

Some things changed after this report was published. Parking minimums got lower. Much of the city was downzoned. Overlays were used to make custom tweaks. A more general PUD was introduced. And certain downtown zones became more open to residential uses, making it less of a nighttime wasteland.

Still, some of the ideas these planners found outdated in the Nixon years are still are at the root of the problems the city faces today.  read more »

Architecture Local

The Misfortune of Commodore Barry

The Commodore Barry monument in Franklin Square gets lost among the many dead generals of Washington. A timid notation of historical personage, it presents no case for relevance. It’s particularly sad because of what we could have had:

BarryMonument_sm

In 1906, an alliance of Irish-American groups decided they wanted a monument that would assert their participation in the founding myth of the United States. This had been denied; before 1700, the principal means of Irish immigration was through indentured servitude. The Irish, upwardly mobile and increasingly tired of their second-class ethnic status, were making a bid to become White.

The Ancient Order of Hibernians, a friendly society, saw the Revolutionary War naval hero John Barry as precisely the man to plug into the American foundation myth. The French had done it with Rochambeau and Lafayette. The Poles would do the same with Kościuszko, and the Germans with von Steuben

The Hibernians wanted the best, so they courted the judgement of stars: Daniel Burnham, Frank Millet, and Herbert Adams, among others. They had no idea what they were getting. read more »

Architecture

CFA Transcripts for the Eisenhower Memorial

I wrote an article on Medium dissecting the deceptive misquotations used by certain opponents of Frank Gehry’s design for the Eisenhower Memorial in order to discredit the Commission. What I particularly dislike is how they quote hard-to-find sources out of context.

So, I wanted to share a few of the key documents from the Commission of Fine Arts, sunshine being, I’m told, a good cleanser.

The Commission of Fine Arts consists of seven experts in art, design, and culture. Currently the composition is (in order of seniority) Earl Powell (art historian), Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk (architect and urban planner), Edwin Schlossberg (exhibit designer), Teresita Fernández (sculptor), Phil Freelon (architect), Alex Krieger (architect), Elizabeth Meyer (landscape architect).

Because the project has dragged on for so long, the composition of the Commission has changed significantly. In the course of the project, these people have also served on it: Pamela Nelson (artist), Diana Balmori (landscape architect), Michael McKinnell (architect), Witold Rybczynski (architecture critic),  and John Belle (preservation architect).

The Commission was created in 1910, but operates under a later law, the Shipstead-Luce act, which mandates its review of projects that would have an impact on Washington’s public spaces. Also coins. Generally speaking, they review design and have no constituencies. Unlike the NCPC, the meetings are unpredictable.

The Commission has approved the memorial concept twice, in 2011 and 2013. In 2011, a unanimous vote picked the preferred alternative. In 2013, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, Phil Freelon, and Alex Krieger voted to approve the revised concept. Elizabeth Meyer dissented on the grounds that the landscape elements were insufficiently developed.

The CFA never formally asked Gehry to revise tapestry configuration. In fact Meyer criticized the public comments in February for being off-topic. The November and February reviews of the project were called specifically required to deal with the landscape elements Meyer identified. Powell, Fernández, and Schlossberg were absent.

So, here are the comments that have added so much fuel to the fire.

read more »

Architecture Drawing Russia

It’s full of stars…

redarmytheater_plan

Main floor plan, Central Academic Theater of the Red Army.

Moscow. Karo Alyabin and Vasiliy Simbirtsev, 1940.

Built specifically for propaganda spectacles, the theater included a ramp (top point of the star) for tanks and other military vehicles to join in the fun.

In Stalinist Architecture, one could never be too clear about the message.

Photos and text in Russian, here.

 

Architecture Local

Fort McNair – McKim, Mead & White, 1907

From Collected Works

 

Charles McKim really loved those boxy trees, didn’t he? Otherwise, a hidden gem.