an architect’s lineage

For a while now I have been interested in how architectural ideas and attitudes are formed and passed down from one generation of architect to another.  So I have put together a very rough chart that shows how the two major institutions of Western architectural education, the Ecole des Beaux Arts and mostly European polytechnical architectural schools, have combined and filtered down through many of the twentieth centuries most well-known and accomplished architects.

As you can see this is pretty rough and if anyone has more connections or people to include, let me know and I will see if I can work it in.  The idea here is not to show links of ideas or influences, but actual physical connections – attended, worked for, colleagues in the same office, etc.  The chart runs vaguely chronological, left to right, starting with the first generation of Modernists and proceeding to about 1980 or so on the far right with still much more to add.

Some thoughts:

It is the combination of the two education models that really established Modernism.  The work of Le Corbusier and Louis Sullivan, representing the European Modernism and Chicago School is a comingling of influences.  In the case of Le Corbusier, he worked for architects who come from both traditions, Josef Hoffmann and Auguste Perret.  For Sullivan, he worked for Furness who was educated in the studio of Richard Morris Hunt of Ecole des Beaux Arts lineage.  Sullivan also worked for and with Dankmar Adler and William LeBaron Jenney, both more engineers than architects.

For as much as a champion of small state university architecture schools as I am, I must admit to the central position of Harvard and Yale and the other East Coast architecture schools as focal points in this chart.  Harvard brought in first generation Modernists, Gropius and Breuer and extended the Bauhaus tradition.  Much of Yale’s campus was designed by James Gamble Rogers and Albers and Rudolph’s influence there is unmistakable and profound through students like Foster and Rogers and buildings by Kahn, Rudolph, Saarinen.

Imagine the heady times at the office of Peter Behrens with LeCorbusier, Mies and Gropius all working away.

Or the camaraderie and competition in William LeBaron Jenney’s office between John Wellborn Root, Daniel Burnham, Louis Sullivan and William Holabird and Martin Roche.

More in a later post including the strange lineage of California Modernism (Otto Wagner via Adolf Loos meets Louis Sullivan via Frank Lloyd Wright) and the confluence of Kahn, Piano, Rudolph, Foster and Rogers.

If you have more connections please drop me a note.  I have not yet included the AA in London or the importance and influence of the Texas Rangers (Rowe, Harris, Hoesli, etc. ) and the Institute for Architecture and Urbanism in NYC in the ’60s and ’70s (Eisenman, Frampton, Tafuri, Koolhaas, Vidler, Gandelsonas) and ETH Zurich (Berlage, Calatrava, Herzon & de Meuron, Rossi, Semper, Tschumi).

Part 2  in an upcoming post in about a week.

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an architect's lineage

For a while now I have been interested in how architectural ideas and attitudes are formed and passed down from one generation of architect to another.  So I have put together a very rough chart that shows how the two major institutions of Western architectural education, the Ecole des Beaux Arts and mostly European polytechnical architectural schools, have combined and filtered down through many of the twentieth centuries most well-known and accomplished architects.

As you can see this is pretty rough and if anyone has more connections or people to include, let me know and I will see if I can work it in.  The idea here is not to show links of ideas or influences, but actual physical connections – attended, worked for, colleagues in the same office, etc.  The chart runs vaguely chronological, left to right, starting with the first generation of Modernists and proceeding to about 1980 or so on the far right with still much more to add.

Some thoughts:

It is the combination of the two education models that really established Modernism.  The work of Le Corbusier and Louis Sullivan, representing the European Modernism and Chicago School is a comingling of influences.  In the case of Le Corbusier, he worked for architects who come from both traditions, Josef Hoffmann and Auguste Perret.  For Sullivan, he worked for Furness who was educated in the studio of Richard Morris Hunt of Ecole des Beaux Arts lineage.  Sullivan also worked for and with Dankmar Adler and William LeBaron Jenney, both more engineers than architects.

For as much as a champion of small state university architecture schools as I am, I must admit to the central position of Harvard and Yale and the other East Coast architecture schools as focal points in this chart.  Harvard brought in first generation Modernists, Gropius and Breuer and extended the Bauhaus tradition.  Much of Yale’s campus was designed by James Gamble Rogers and Albers and Rudolph’s influence there is unmistakable and profound through students like Foster and Rogers and buildings by Kahn, Rudolph, Saarinen.

Imagine the heady times at the office of Peter Behrens with LeCorbusier, Mies and Gropius all working away.

Or the camaraderie and competition in William LeBaron Jenney’s office between John Wellborn Root, Daniel Burnham, Louis Sullivan and William Holabird and Martin Roche.

More in a later post including the strange lineage of California Modernism (Otto Wagner via Adolf Loos meets Louis Sullivan via Frank Lloyd Wright) and the confluence of Kahn, Piano, Rudolph, Foster and Rogers.

If you have more connections please drop me a note.  I have not yet included the AA in London or the importance and influence of the Texas Rangers (Rowe, Harris, Hoesli, etc. ) and the Institute for Architecture and Urbanism in NYC in the ’60s and ’70s (Eisenman, Frampton, Tafuri, Koolhaas, Vidler, Gandelsonas) and ETH Zurich (Berlage, Calatrava, Herzon & de Meuron, Rossi, Semper, Tschumi).

Part 2  in an upcoming post in about a week.

NCAR, by I. M. Pei, part 1

This is the first post on NCAR, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, designed by I. M. Pei in the mid-1960s, located on a mesa above Boulder, Colorado.

NCAR is probably Boulder, Colorado’s most well-known Modern building.  Perched alone atop a prominent mesa, the complex sits well above the surrounding town and suburbs and has as a backdrop the stunning flatirons and  peaks of the Front Range. (NCAR is part of UCAR, the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, with buildings all over Boulder, but the building of interest here is I. M. Pei’s NCAR building at the top western end of Table Mesa Road.)

Along with being the motherload of geeky weather information, NCAR is one of the last purely Modernist buildings, a Brutalist design, that marked the end of the supremacy of Modernism as the only acceptable and official “style” of architecture for American corporate and government buildings.

Unlike the original design,  Pei designed a complex of similarly scaled and proportioned buildings, each providing space for different research groups of the institution and gathered in an intellectual community of shared courtyards.  By breaking the building down into smaller units, NCAR avoided the monumentality and thugishness of many of its Brutalist cousins.  The frankly, and intentionally maze-like design was meant to engender chance encounters between often-isolated researchers.

“You just cannot compete with the scale of the Rockies. So we tried to make a building that was without the conventional scale you get from recognizable floor heights – as in those monolithic structures that still survive fromt he cliff-dwelling Indians.”

I. M. Pei, from Paul Heyer’s American Architecture: Ideas and Ideologies in the Late Twentieth Century, (extracted from the Great Buildings Online website)

“I recalled the places I had seen with my mother when I was a little boy—the mountaintop Buddhist retreats. There in the Colorado mountains, I tried to listen to the silence again—just as my mother had taught me. The investigation of the place became a kind of religious experience for me.”

I. M. Pei, from Gero von Boehm’s Conversations with I. M. Pei: Light is the Key

Unlike most of its Brutalist cousins, this building does make some accommodations to its site and context.  The sources of inspiration that Pei mentions are certainly abstractly apparent, but it is the inclusion of local red sandstone aggregates to the bush-hammered concrete that most closely connects the building to the surrounding environment.

And at a distance, and it is hard to avoid a view of NCAR from almost anywhere in Boulder, the buildings certainly do sit with sensitivity on the mesa.  The scalelessness that Pei speaks about works very well in the view of the larger environment as the buildings, although quite large, are dwarfed by the neighboring flatirons.

I spent a couple of mornings and afternoons at NCAR recently, taking photos and spending time with a building that although I see it everyday, I have come to ignore as a piece of architecture.  I toured the building again, like I did ten years ago when we first moved to Boulder, and tried to understand its intentions and execution, its successes and failures.

Pei was the same age I am now when he designed this building and he often described it as his breakthrough design.  As has so often been said, architecture is an old man’s game, and Pei, like myself at 45 years old, could look back at some 20 – 25 years of buildings, drawings, thoughts and frustrations.  To synthesize this all in a single building is a fool’s errand, but an inevitable attempt for any architect.  After this building, Pei’s work shifted from largely developer-driven, single-structure works, to a more complex and subtle mingling of spatial intentions and object-like buildings.  It may be that only 20 years of fighting the Modernist battle between the desire to craft meaningful spaces and the love of frankly sculptural forms, can generate a building where these opposing forces can join and reinforce each other.

In a future post, I will post my impressions of the building, some more photos, and some thoughts on Pei, Brutalism, Modernism and the sources of inspiration.

programmatic determinism

I’m afraid this is a bit long but it takes me some warming up first:

The relative position of one room or space with regards to others can often establish a kind of meaning for a project.  For single-family houses, the growth and centralization of the kitchen as a part of the house has been steadily increasing for the last four decades is probably associated with the increasing number of families with two working parents or single-parent households.  If a home office holds a large and central position in a house, the nature of that work, and the sense of privacy for that work, is framed by its relatively public and dominant location.

kitchen as central point of control and organization

Whenever we start a project, the first steps involve talking with the client and trying to understand not just their functional needs and wants, but most especially the nature of the use of these spaces and the potential relationships between spaces.  Simple designations of public or private become greatly enriched by nuances of size and position, hierarchy and proportion.

All of that said, allowing the form of a building to be largely determined by its function is a fairly recent, 100 years or so, (brief in architectural history) design strategy for architects.  So while this forum does not lend itself to a more lengthy historical analysis of this problem, it can talk about some brief guideposts along the way.  In re-reading Vitruvius’ Ten Books on Architecture, there is a long and exhaustive discussion on function and use for buildings.  However, that is often secondary to two other principles:  first, the proper seasonal exposures of rooms and second, the importance of privacy with regard to an owner’s social status. The functionalism that is espoused by Vitruvius is based not so much on the internal workings of the rooms, but the proximity of each room to each other and each room’s need for light and warmth.  As this is seasonal, there is a likely and “natural” assumption that the functions of a house may move into different rooms throughout the year.  Having not then determined the form of the house because of the necessity for seasonal shifting, the house is free to assume a form more related to “beneficial light and air” and providential geometry.

Villa Rotunda, plan, Palladio

So, this is a rather long-winded way of getting at a huge contradiction in being a modernist trained architect – we are trained to optimize the function and use of the room to an extreme and absurd degree, from legislating where the owner’s bed must be to determining exactly what the homeowner will look at when they awake.  However, in my own life with various houses and apartments, I have regularly and often moved not only the furniture around rooms, but changed the use of the rooms as well.  Bedrooms have become studios, living rooms have become dining rooms, in one case a dining room became a rather public bedroom.  This might be a cheap and easy way of adapting a given, existing condition to my needs and wants, but I suspect it has more to do with a desire for change, both seasonally and for merely experimental whims.  As a good friend of mine reminds me (as he has been engaged to help many times), my wife and I, and now our daughters, have always found a reason to move, averaging a new residence every 2 years of so, and sometimes moving as little as to the neighboring house.

How to reconcile both a desire for specificity and a need for change?  Well, I guess I will continue to look to Vitruvius and design spaces with great light, beautiful proportions and intriguing relationships to other rooms, but maybe not with so much specificity as to the micro-functionality of the rooms themselves.  I don’t think this lessening of functionality’s dominant position means we throw the baby out with the bathwater and let a purely formalist approach to design substitute itself.  Rather it is a recognition of change, and even fallibility, as an intrinsic part not only of the design process, but the lives of people.  A perfectly functionally-designed kitchen will not help you make better food over a kitchen, slightly awkward, but with warming morning sun streaming in and a view to the garden.  A London rowhouse, with fairly generic rooms of varying sizes, can change from the main floor of a grand house, to a professional office and back to small apartment, because the relationships of the rooms have a clear hierarchy of sizes and proportions.

The Dakota, converted from large residence to smaller apartments

Rooms, like ourselves, are not defined by their use, but by their relationships.

Church of the Autostrada, Michelucci, outside Florence, Italy; 1988

michelucci01.jpg

Outside of Florence is an amazing church, San Giovanni Battista all’ Autostrada del Sole built in 1960-64 by Giovanni Michelucci. The building make a strong contrast between its tensile roof and heavy stone base, an allusion to heaven and earth. Michelucci wanted the church to feel tent-like – as the earth is a precarious existence under heaven.

Michelucci’s career spanned early Italian rationalism through to this expressive, poetic later work. What holds consistent throughout that is clear and articulated use of the building’s structure to define the spatial experience.

Michelucci was a strong influence and part-time collaborator with Leonardo Ricci, an instructor of mine, for whom I worked for an all-too-short period in Venice. Hosts of students from all the various places Leo taught, hold him and his wife, Maria Dallerba Ricci, as abiding influences and inspiration for how to be an architect and how to live.

More on the work of Leonardo and Maria Dallerba Ricci soon to come.

Photo by Mark Gerwing, 1988.