Category Archives: Architecture

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 »

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.

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 »

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.

Architecture

Precedents for the 11th Street Bridge Park

I’ve written up a post on the the 11th Street Bridge Park for Greater Greater Washington. It’s an exciting idea, but it’s important to slow down and consider what’s possible.

The Bridge Park is really more of an elevated park than a bridge. But its bridge-like form means it can be much more than just a deck with greenery. Since it’s elevated over water, it offers something special related to depth. Its section can go up into the sky and down into the water in ways that no other park can. No excavation is required, and people on the deck can interact with what’s below.

Since there is only one precedent for such a structure, the Providence Greenway, perhaps it’s worth looking a things that are typologically adjacent: bridges, linear parks, and buildings that address the water in noteworthy ways.

Bridges

The first kind of bridge that’s worth noting is one that carefully frames the intersection of the stream and a road. The Ponte Alexandre III is a well-known example. It’s a tetrapylon, a marker of the intersection of two equal routes.

Another interesting type is a bridge that’s asymmetrical along the axis of the flow. If you have a road, there typically are two directions of traffic. Each one is usually equal in value. A river, however, does have a direction: downstream, downhill. That by itself can be a source of impressive architectural effects – as how water rushes around bridge piers.

With symbolism, you get something very poetic. Otto Wagner’s Nussdorf bridge-wier seems to fight the force of the water coming down to it. Massive stone pylons, scrolling up against a sturdy truss, support columns topped by lions. The design expresses the strength of the flood protection it offered Vienna.

Linear Parks

In the article, I suggested that the High Line was an inappropriate comparison to the Bridge Park, because one is through dense neighborhoods, while the other is over a river. The level of activation influences the level of activity. The High Line has the luxury of limiting access to create a nice level of calm in the city. The Bridge Park will only ever have two entrances. 

But – James Corner: Field Operations and Diller Scofidio + Renfro, the designers of the High Line, made a few design decisions that are worth examining. For one, they distributed little spaces along the way that focus your attention on city life. Even the most jaded visitors end up gawking at the flow of traffic and people-watching.

Waterfront Buildings

At the ICA Boston, a museum on the outer harbor, DS+R turned guests’ attention to the horizon. Every space, like comfortable main porch to the disorienting research room, makes you look at the sky and the water with fresh eyes. 

ICA research room by michelvandenbogaard CC-BY-ND
There’s something surreal about water that’s as relentless as the sky. Take a look at James Turrell’s understanding of the sky. Could a basketball player understand what’s going on here:
Sure. We all know the sky and the water.
Plus, if you want to get beyond vision, steps down to the river, like at the Oslo Opera House might form an incredible amphitheater.
There are a lot of options for this park. I look forward to seeing what the designers come up with. What I think will be important, though, is looking for a designer who wants to relate the communities’ prosaic needs – like a play structure – to fundamentals that are so prosaic we’ve forgotten how wonderful they are.
Architecture

Watch the MLK Library presentations

DCPL put on a good show this Saturday, with the teams of architects presenting their designs. I always enjoy watching architects present their work to the public. It’s not exactly enthralling if you’ve read up on the three different schemes, but the nature of live discussions adds some insight into how each of the teams approached the design.

DCPL has done a great job of encouraging involvement and feedback, even if that meant reading ridiculous tweets at the presentation. They used a good competition process that begins with experience, pays for the work, and demands more than pretty pictures. It was just the level of openness that was needed. I like what Christopher Hawthorne says:

Results will be announced this Tuesday, the 18th, but that will only the beginning of design.

Architecture

Painting iconoclasm

After the reformation, the darkness of medieval churches came to symbolize pagan superstition as much as the icons. So, many churches were painted white, from the stone or from previous colored patterns. The bright, flat spaces were so cool painters, couldn’t help themselves.

 Pieter Saenredam, 1649.

 Pieter Saenredam, 1650.

Emanuel de Witte, 1661.

Emanuel de Witte, 1668.

Dirk van Delen, 1645.

Or, When the Cathedrals Were White, actually.