Oh, I see! How inventive! You've actually stacked the boxes I am supposed to live in!

Welcome to the architectural blog discussing New Classicism, New Urbanism, modern and historical architects, their work and the continuum of Humanism in architecture. You may submit articles for inclusion in this website through email.

Friday, October 29, 2010

A Connecticut Yankee oversees the city of King Charles II.

Charleston appoints new preservation architect, Dennis Dowd

Written by Robert Behre, The Post and Courier of Charleston   
Friday, 17 September 2010 
Historic homes near Charleston's Battery Park. Photo taken in March, 2005 by Frank Buchalski. Photo licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License.Historic homes near Charleston's Battery Park. Photo taken in March, 2005 by Frank Buchalski. Photo licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License.

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) - Earlier this summer, architect Dennis Dowd, 58, gave up his private practice in Essex, Conn., to take a new job as director of Charleston's Urban Design and Preservation Division.

He will work with the city's Board of Architectural Review to consider demolition, renovation and new construction in the peninsular city, and he'll work with its Commercial Corridor Design Review Board to pass on new architecture along major thoroughfares outside the historic core.

He and his boss, City Planning Director Tim Keane, already are musing about ways to increase the design quality of what's built here.
They're aware that, generally speaking, much of Charleston's recent architecture has been met with a relative lack of enthusiasm, if not downright disappointment.

Dowd says it's great that so many of Charleston's residents are passionate about what architectural style is most appropriate for the city, even if local debates between classicists and modernists often produce more heat than light.

"I wish it happened in other cities as frequently and importantly as it happens here,'' he adds. "Ultimately, I think it results in better environments.''
Keane says Dowd was hired because of the quality of his design work.
Dowd has focused on preservation, including extensive renovations of the Forsyth Institute in Boston, a 1914 Beaux Arts gem now owned by the Museum of Fine Arts, and St. John's Episcopal Church in Stamford, Conn.

One of his most admired new architectural works is the Living Rock Church in Killingworth, Conn., a simple vernacular design inspired by the many simple meeting houses and barns found across New England.
"The congregation built the project by themselves, which was a challenge,'' Dowd adds.

"What caught our eye immediately about Dennis was his building, his design work so clearly demonstrates someone that understands how to make a building that is, on one hand, contemporary, but, on the other hand, timeless and classic, a building that 100 years from now, everyone will consider to be beautiful but will also understand that it was designed and built in the 21st century,'' Keane says. "There are a lot of challenges around accomplishing that in Charleston, and unfortunately, we haven't accomplished that often enough here.''
Dowd, who got his architect degree from Syracuse University, promises to be agnostic about style, believing both classical and contemporary buildings can fit in here - if designed correctly. But Dowd also thinks the best contemporary design flows from classical principles about context, siting, proportion, scale and materials.

Dowd is no stranger to Charleston. He's visited here several times, and his son is a junior at the College of Charleston. And he's taking the job during a relatively quiet time. The current sluggish economy means fewer big construction projects are up for review, so he and Keane can take a break from putting out regulatory fires to look at the big picture of how the city reviews architecture.
Both think it could be good if owners and architects visited them earlier for a relaxed conversation about where they hope to build. What makes the street special? What could make it even better?
"There's what a lot of places in Charleston feel like to me - very European, and I really like that,'' Dowd says. "It's something to aspire to, not because it's 18th century architecture but because of the place that is created from the design work.''

On the preservation front, Dowd says he already has had an eye-opening conversation with the owner of a building on America Street who told him that if he were to follow the BAR's guidelines, he would spend more money on the property than it's worth.
"We don't want to reduce our standards,'' Dowd says, "but we want to find a way to help people in those situations rather than just letting the building sit there and deteriorate.''

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Wednesday Book Review / Promotion

A Classical Journey: The Houses of Ken Tate
from an essay on the architect's website

Architect Ken Tate’s passage through education, internship and early employment in his chosen field, finally culminating in the establishment of his own Mississippi-based practice, can be described as a Classical journey. When he completed his Bachelor of Architecture at Auburn University, a bastion of 1970s modernism, Classicism wasn’t even on the table as a valid approach to present-day design. Unlike these architects, Tate was drawn to engage more profoundly with the Classical, archaic, and vernacular roots of architecture. These origins fed him on a spiritual level, as well as an aesthetic one, inspiring the title of his thesis: Architecture in Search of Soul.

Bringing Karl Jung’s ideas of archetypes that speak the universal language of the collective unconscious to his understanding of past architecture and his own creative process, Tate established the foundation for his future work. “To bring beauty out of ugliness, order out of chaos, and something new out of passion,” was the ambitious student’s goal, and one that still informs the mature architect’s practice.

Not long after Tate completed his formal education, the New Classicism movement arose. Advocating a faithful approach to reviving the Classical tradition, the movement’s leaders called for the study and practical application of forms, proportions, and decorative motifs from Greco-Roman, Renaissance, and Neoclassical architecture. In 1992, the Institute for Classical Architecture was founded with the goal, in the words of an early alumnus, of teaching students “to produce traditional and classical architecture in an informed and rigorous way.”

Although Tate was later to become associated with this movement, his early work revealed a fascination with outsider architecture and the vernacular. Having interned with Bruce Goff, famed for his creative free association and use of borrowed materials, Tate later joined fellow Auburn graduate, architect Sam Mockbee, in Jackson, Mississippi. Describing Mockbee as “a wild, creative person,” Tate served as his head designer many years before Mockbee went on to form the Rural Studio. From these two mentors, Tate learned the practical, architectural applications of unrestrained imagination.

Before starting his own firm in 1984, Tate practiced briefly with Texas architect Richard Davis, whose philosophy celebrated the pluralism of historical architecture. Tate describes his work with Davis, during which he participated in the design of large residences drawing from a range of styles, as an important turning point in his career. “Richard’s work expressed an inclusive approach to the language of traditional architecture, which was very inspirational to me when I started my own practice,” says Tate. During his tenure with Davis, who worked extensively in the early-twentieth-century neighborhood of Highland Park, Tate also discovered another source of inspiration: Colonial Revival architecture.

Twenty-five years later, when Tate is asked to name his favorite period or style of architecture, he invariably points to the rich eclecticism of early-twentieth century America. Whether discussing the Colonial Revival houses in America’s first suburbs or Addison Mizner’s exuberant Mediterranean fantasies in Palm Beach, he praises the fluid[ity] of style and sense of ease exhibited by these dwellings.

By the time he formed his own firm, Tate was ready to put all these lessons into practice, creating an intuitive, open-ended approach that draws upon a wide range of influences, from ancient to modern, and high style to vernacular. “I don’t know if I’m doing anything differently from what’s been done before,” says Tate, “but there aren’t a lot of people doing it this way. I follow intuition, and I’m not afraid to do something that is needed for a project, even though it may have nothing to do with authenticity.”

    While New Classicist architects were approaching antique prototypes in a purist fashion, Tate was asking, “What is authentic? If you have the whole history of classical architecture to choose from, it’s up to the architect to make it work.” This inquiry has informed a wide variety of residential projects, from near faithful interpretations of Federal and Georgian styles to unapologetically eclectic dwellings that marry the Classical and with the vernacular.

According to Robert A.M. Stern, an advocate of New Classicism: “the past is a rich terrain that can be reoccupied, but with that reoccupation comes an obligation to give back, that is to interpret and reinterpret.” Tate’s open-minded approach to employing the wealth of historic styles fulfills this mandate, revealing the vitality, versatility, and beauty with which they can be employed.

Hardcover: 450 pages
Publisher: Images Publishing Group Pty. Ltd. (due: February 16, 2011) 
Retail: $90.00 Amazon: $56.70

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Sheepish Farmhouse

 Vernacular and Classical

This is a photo of a farmhouse in Lyme, Connecticut. Beaver Brook Farm is a sheep farm. I don't know who the architect was, but he had a terrific sense of humor. It also got me wondering about nature's many types of curved structures and what they have to do with architecture...

Friday, October 22, 2010

A Look Back at ... Duncan Galleries

Building as Small Village

 The Duncan Galleries in Lincoln Nebraska by Dr. Demitri Porphyrios remains as one of my favorite buildings. Finished in 2002, this art and furniture gallery with a residential feel has an "additive massing ...clustered around a central atrium" as described by the architect.

Modern and Classical: the building has as much to say today.

photos: Porphyrios Associates

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Leon Krier's Architecture Center, Miami with Video

A New Sensibility
from Traditional Building 
April 2006

Project: Jorge M. Perez Architecture Center, University of Miami, Coral Gables, FL
Architect: Léon Krier with Merrill, Pastor & Colgan, Vero Beach, FL
Architect of Record: Ferguson, Glasgow, Schuster & Soto, Coral Gables, FL
Reviewed By Steven W. Semes

The new Jorge M. Perez Architecture Center at the University of Miami – designed by a team led by the architect, urbanist and theorist Léon Krier – gives one of America's preeminent schools of architecture and urban design something it has never had before: a home. Since 1984, the School of Architecture has been housed in a cluster of former dormitories renovated to accommodate studios and offices, but had to borrow classroom and auditorium space elsewhere on campus. The Perez Center, containing a 145-seat lecture hall, an exhibition gallery and a 40-seat multi-media classroom, creates a new centerpiece and sense of identity for the school, but also brings to the campus an entirely new architectural and urbanistic point of view.
The University of Miami was founded in 1925 by George Merrick, the visionary founder and planner of Coral Gables, the planned suburb of Miami that, more than anything else, established the Mediterranean Revival as the most important architectural style in South Florida during the years before the Depression and World War II. The original vision of Coral Gables is one of the best examples of integrated traditional architecture and town planning to be found in 20th-century America.

For the new university campus in the heart of his new city, Merrick's architects designed a suitably romantic main building on the edge of a lake, as if a Spanish Colonial Mission had appeared magically on the shores of the Venetian lagoon. Construction began and a concrete frame was erected, but the devastating September 1926 hurricane brought the vision to a halt, along with the whole economy of South Florida. Construction on the concrete skeleton of the Merrick Building – as the university's administration building was now named – was restarted in 1950, but with a new design in the International Style. Overnight, post-war Modernism replaced the Mediterranean ideal on campus and throughout Merrick's new city.

The new campus, growing rapidly in response to surging post-war enrollment, took on the character of a sprawling Modernist office park. In Between Two Towers: Drawings of the School of Miami, renowned architectural historian and current faculty member Vincent Scully describes the postwar Modernism typified by the University of Miami campus as "possibly representing the nadir of human architecture of all time." The buildings now occupied by the School of Architecture were among the 20 or so designed as student dormitories by Robert Law Weed and Marion Manley (Florida's first woman architect) in the late 1940s as part of their Modernist master plan for the university. While Manley's buildings seem to me deadeningly banal, her intimately-scaled, low-rise structures have never looked better than they do now, benefiting from the lush landscaping that has transformed the formerly desert-like campus over the last two decades. The buildings have also been painted in Bauhaus primary colors – yellow metal window frames, red pipe railings and blue doors punctuating a neutral cream for the concrete structure. The grouping of School of Architecture buildings, the only structures by Manley slated to remain permanently in the university's current master plan, form the irregular site into which the new Krier building has been inserted.

While the campus' buildings reflect changing fashions in modern design since 1950, it is no overstatement to say that the new Perez Center is the first building of any architectural significance to be completed there, and it brings a fresh new sensibility to its setting. "They already had their minimalist buildings," says Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, Dean of the School of Architecture, "so this was their chance for something grand and elaborate." Indeed, surrounded by structures resembling abstract sculptural objects, the Perez Center is clearly a building whose architectural lineage can be traced back centuries. The new building is a major departure from the pre-existing context and asserts itself with a bold expression of "difference."

The genesis of the new building was unconventional. An earlier proposal for the project by the Italian designer Aldo Rossi was shelved following his untimely death in 1997. Starting over in 2000, the university selected Krier – an international practitioner originally from Luxembourg who worked for decades in London and is now based in France – from a short list compiled by the school's faculty. Krier, a key theorist of New Urbanism and new traditional architecture, had been a mentor to many on the faculty and so was an appropriate choice to design a building that would house a curriculum significantly impacted by his own ideas.
Ultimately, Plater-Zyberk acted as the facilitator for a collaborative process involving three firms. Krier was joined by Merrill & Pastor of Vero Beach, FL (now Merrill, Pastor & Colgan), a leading firm in the field of new traditional design with whom he had worked previously on the Town Hall at Windsor, FL. Krier faxed "hundreds" of hand-drawn sketches, which Scott Merrill and his associates Cory Padesky and Chris Janson translated into computer-drafted schematic presentation drawings.

The third component was the Coral Gables firm of Ferguson, Glasgow, Schuster & Soto, which was the architect of record. The estate of Stanley Glasgow, an original principal of the firm and a University of Miami alumnus, made the founding gift that allowed the project to proceed, stipulating the firm's participation. Natividad ("Nati") Soto – the sole survivor of the firm's original partners and herself a University of Miami alumna – and her firm translated the schematic drawings into construction documents, navigated the project through the extensive review and building permitting process, and administered the construction phase. In practice, all three firms were involved in the project throughout.
Important challenges for the architectural team included guiding Krier's conceptual designs through the university facilities department's review, cost estimating and value engineering, and the close coordination through construction typical for any institutional project. In addition, South Florida's strict building codes for hurricane performance impacted the entire structure and exterior envelope, and the design was also subject to architectural review by the Coral Gables Board of Architects. Plater-Zyberk diplomatically describes the university's review process as "demanding," but the Miami Herald reported that the administration "at first resisted Krier's ideas because they violated the campus design code, which requires flat rooflines and prohibits traditional elements like arches and tiled roofs." Eventually, the project was accepted and construction started in 2003.

In the end, the project took five years for a building of 8,600 sq.ft. and a budget of $6 million. The finished product attests to the combination of stubbornness, patience and diplomacy shown by all members of the team – and in particular by the main "client," Plater-Zyberk and her associates at the School of Architecture, whose dedication and commitment to the project assured its realization. While the building was "heavily value-engineered," and despite the limited building craftsmanship typically available in South Florida (where "big ideas are more important than details," according to the Dean) the final result "didn't lose much in translation" from renderings to completion, Plater-Zyberk said. Krier himself has expressed a considerably less sanguine view of the process, citing numerous difficulties and frustrations along the way (although praising Plater-Zyberk and Merrill). Still, the building is now completed and can be evaluated on its own terms.

The difficult site drove the design of the building from the beginning. Krier, who is known for proposals to re-urbanize our cities and suburbs, studied the pre-existing irregular assemblage of structures and worked to create an ensemble of buildings defining figural outdoor spaces and view corridors. Seeing the campus as an urban fabric of streets and squares rather than an amorphous collection of objects, Krier defined new relationships among all the surrounding buildings and, for the first time, introduced the kind of intimate exterior public spaces so characteristic of Merrick's vision for Coral Gables.
Scale was another important issue. The "pavilionizing" of a large program into smaller building components has been a consistent theme in Krier's designs. If the lecture hall, for example, had been embedded in a single building, the overall scale would not have been so accommodating to the adjacent buildings. As built, the width of the long, low gallery wing nicely mirrors the dimensions of the neighboring structures.

What at first glance appears to be an axial composition reveals itself as a subtle and picturesque arrangement. Since the new building would be seen from several different directions, Krier wisely chose an octagon for the main volume as the shape best suited to respond to this condition. The octagon, its two towers and the arched porch terminate a vista down the main access road from the center of the campus to the east, which is now continued as a narrow street between the Perez Center and its neighbor to the south. The short end of the gallery wing is seen prominently from a vehicular drop-off circle to the west. An axial view corridor looking south from the lake at the center of campus ends with an oblique view of the arched porch, and a view not yet available but proposed in the university's master plan will capture the building from the Metrorail station to the south. Typically for Krier, oblique views of the building are emphasized – almost no direct axial views are possible. His clever composition sets the octagon, its attached porch, corner "bell tower" and central cupola all spinning so that ever-changing views of the building engage the observer as one moves around the site.

This spinning continues inside, where Krier rotates the inner lecture theater 45 deg. with respect to the centerline of the building. The lecture seating is contained, amphitheater-style, within a smaller concentric octagon defined by partial-height partitions separated from the exterior walls by a continuous ambulatory at ground level, eliminating the need for a separate lobby. Restrooms and support spaces are tucked off this ambulatory below the raked seating. At the front of the hall these walls swoop down toward the open "stage" against the external wall, ending in graceful volutes – one of a number of Baroque gestures in the building.
Below, the oversize curvilinear lectern, designed by Krier and executed in mahogany by students in the school's own shop, is another Baroque grace-note. Throughout the interior, the meticulously-detailed steel roof structure, metal decking, air-conditioning ducts, sprinkler lines and electrical/plumbing services are all exposed and painted a uniform metallic gray, in contrast to the predominantly white interior wall surfaces. This surprisingly industrial look for the interiors was a central design concept from the beginning, according to Merrill; the exposed systems were seen as having instructional value to the students.

The exterior of the octagonal main volume features white stuccoed walls with wide buttresses in the center of each facet and semicircular windows above. This window shape is repeated in numerous places, as in the cupola above the standing-seam metal roof. The massiveness of the masonry walls is underscored by the use of deeply-set windows and repeated rows of bold string-course moldings. The proportions of the main volume are insistently horizontal and weighty, and the walls are strongly modeled to produce a lively play of light and shadow across the otherwise plain surfaces. The long, thin gallery wing balances the larger mass of the octagon. The street elevation of the short end of this wing resembles the sort of curious Greek vernacular building often illustrated by Demetri Porphyrios, and includes an implied pediment formed by a robust ovolo molding, punctuated by abstracted antefixes at the corners.

While all of the building's exterior features recall traditional architecture, they are stubbornly idiosyncratic in their execution, underscoring the enigmatic quality of the building, as if it had been based on a painting by de Chirico. For example, on the north side of the gallery wing is a freestanding arcade wall with corresponding piers and blind arches on the main building and criss-crossed cables spanning between the two walls to support vines. (This curious feature evidently resulted from a cost-saving exercise that eliminated the originally-proposed roofed cloister arcade, as shown in early schematic design drawings.) The arches of the entry porch and the arcade wall are squat in their proportions and spring from "pulvinated" imposts above flaring square piers. The applied moldings are uniformly abstract, rendered in flat bands or bull-noses. The massive buttresses around the octagon occur directly below the windows, exactly where they would seem to be structurally unnecessary. This curious mannerism is surprising from an architect who has championed a rational, tectonic basis for design, but it clearly contributes to the aura of mystery surrounding the building.
The absence of decoration, inside and out, may be due to budget constraints, but the Miami Herald reported that the university "disallowed overhanging eaves and the 'highly seductive' color and decoration [Krier] wanted to give the building." Perhaps Krier's original ideas can be realized in the future. Maybe a donor will commission Carl Laubin to paint a mural inside the building similar to the dramatic paintings he has made of Krier's "Atlantis" and other architectural subjects. And might we imagine that, in deference to the Latin sensibility so prevalent in Miami, the gray exposed structure overhead might someday be repainted in a more vivid color – say, Tuscan red?

Perhaps the most puzzling thing about the new building is the way its urbanistic intentions seem not to have been carried out in the landscaping of the spaces it defines with its neighbors. In particular, the triangular space overlooked by the north arcade is now simply a lawn with a lone tree. This might have been an intimate, paved square with a grove of shade trees and equipped with tables and chairs and a coffee kiosk. Such a "piazza" could be the school's outdoor living room and main entry, and a campus analogue to the courtyard at Books & Books, the popular bookstore-cum-outdoor-café in downtown Coral Gables, which is where one must go to enjoy this kind of urbanity now. It would also provide a model of the kind of intimate, pedestrian-scaled, neighborhood public space that is a hallmark of other Krier designs – such as his master plan for the new town of Poundbury in England – and reflected in the school's architecture and urban design teaching. For the moment, entry into the space from the west has been blocked by the fire standpipe, but one might still enter from the arcade, the breezeway or the pedestrian pathways to the north and east. Viewed from the east, the piazza would be a welcoming gathering place, tantalizingly glimpsed through the arches of the entry porch of the Perez Center. Not animating the school's focal exterior space in this way seems a lost opportunity, both socially and architecturally, but one that could be taken up in the future, perhaps with the help of another donor.

In terms of overall character, the new building is decidedly ambiguous. Its intimate scale and odd details give it the air of a garden folly, as if a protégé of the 19th-century German Neoclassical architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel had designed a pavilion for an English gentleman on a Greek island. Shapes hinting at the Baroque suggest a whimsical character in a setting otherwise bound by Modernist functionalism. A funereal note is struck by the black stripe around the building where it meets the ground and the repeated semicircular arched openings recall Piranesi's etchings of ancient Roman columbaria along the Appian Way.

The building's expression might even be described as "tragic," to use a term Scully has used to describe certain works of Louis Kahn and Aldo Rossi, both of whose sensibilities seem to hover ghostlike around the Perez Center. The building embraces simultaneously the pleasure of architectural form in strong sunlight and a more sobering suggestion – so untypical of South Florida – of universal, if less upbeat, truths about the limits of human striving. We might just think of the building, paradoxically, as a tragic folly.
Many will look at the new building and ask "Is it Classical?" Krier was, after all, architect to the Prince of Wales and the first recipient of the Driehaus Prize in 2003, and his collaborator, Merrill's firm, received the Arthur Ross Award from The Institute of Classical Architecture & Classical America in 2004. While Krier has written eloquently about Classical architecture and often includes abstracted Classical details in his designs, I would have to say that the Perez Center is not a Classical building, although it is undoubtedly classicizing.
No one will mistake it for a work by John Blatteau or John Simpson. Certainly, there are no indications of the orders, even as implied regulators of proportion. The building's cupola, arcade, cornice and eaves, string courses and moldings, door surrounds, pediments and structural elements all might have been further articulated with Classical profiles and ornament, but instead they merely refer to Classical architecture without exemplifying it. This postmodern penchant for allusion will satisfy some and leave others hungry for reality rather than reference. By the same token, some have already criticized the building for being too traditional. Ironically, these observers will decry the "difference" the building establishes between its own formal language and that of its Modernist neighbors.

To be accurate, the building is eclectic in style, incorporating nuances from a variety of sources, including Neoclassical, Byzantine, Spanish Mission and Moorish – some have even seen allusions to Miami Beach Art Deco – but forming them into a fabric from which the constituent threads are difficult to unravel. If anything, Krier's design resumes what Henry-Russell Hitchcock called in 1929 the "New Tradition," the historically informed yet non-academic and inventively eclectic mode prevalent from the 1890s into the 1930s and associated with Louis Sullivan, Otto Wagner, Peter Behrens and the early Gunnar Asplund, among others. Had the International Style not overthrown it, the New Tradition would probably have remained a powerful force in 20th-century architecture and its proponents today would likely be designing buildings very much like the Perez Center.

The building, then, offers itself not as a rebuke to the Modernist buildings around it, but as a mediator. If the building sacrifices too much on the Classical side in the eyes of some of us, (and too much on the Modernist side in the eyes of others) it is a sacrifice the designers have been willing to make for the sake of an attempt at synthesis. Like Krier's Town Hall at Windsor, the mediation does not result in a characterless building – as is often the case in such instances – but one with a strong sense of identity, though not an obvious or easily categorized one. Personally, I find attempts at reconciling the Classical and the Modernist problematic, and I cannot help wondering what might have resulted had the building pushed a little harder in the Classical direction. Perhaps it could have done more to reconnect with the founding visions of Merrick and his architects, leap-frogging in time over the postwar period and re-establishing a new, albeit edited, Mediterranean Classicism for the university. This option, while not necessarily cost-prohibitive, might have provoked the varied constituencies to which the building had to respond, some of whom were not supporters of new traditional design. The faculty of the School of Architecture itself represents a diversity of viewpoints about architecture and stylistic traditions, and the new building reflects that. In the end, we must give credit to the University of Miami, to the School of Architecture, to Léon Krier and to the entire project team for their departure from previous campus norms, and celebrate the new sensibility the building brings to a physical setting where urbanity or connection with architectural traditions more than a few decades old was mostly nonexistent.

As Krier himself has pointed out, architects should only build in such a manner that, if imitated, the resulting buildings would compose a beautiful city. That is, every building should be exemplary. We can hope that the Perez Center will prompt sympathetic new construction elsewhere on the campus and inspire the students using it to look deeper into the mysteries of architecture and the way new and old buildings relate to one another across time and space. Maybe one of these students, someday hired to alter or add to the Perez Center itself, will direct the future evolution of the building, probing deeper still into those same mysteries. TB

Steven W. Semes is an architect in practice in New York, NY; Francis J. Rooney Chair in Design and Theory, School of Architecture, Notre Dame University; Fellow, The Institute of Classical Architecture & Classical America; and co-author of the forthcoming book, The Future of the Past: A Conservation Ethic for Architecture, Urbanism, and Historic Preservation.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Brad Pitt’s Houses: Good Intentions Gone Astray

 from Traditional Building
 April 27th, 2010

ALIEN FORM #1: This angular Modernist house, designed by Graft, a Los Angeles architecture firm, is one of the new homes built by Brad Pitt’s Make It Right Foundation. The house is raised on piers to protect against the possibility of future flooding. The design, however, intentionally sets it apart from New Orleans’s architectural tradition. Photo: Virginia Miller for Make It Right Foundation 

The Brad Pitt Houses in New Orleans’s devastated Ninth Ward are a frustrating example of what happens when buildings are considered as individual sculptural objects rather than as part of an urban ensemble. Brad Pitt has been extremely generous with his time and money in attempting to provide new homes for victims of Hurricane Katrina. And the houses resulting from his foundation’s well-intentioned efforts so far have made eye-catching photos for the design magazines.

But viewed in their context, unfortunately, many of the new homes are bad urbanism. The majority of the structures are alien forms plopped down into a city that already has a well-established look and a rich history of vernacular architecture. Many of the Brad Pitt houses built so far detract from the character of the place they are meant to help.

ALIEN FORM #2: Also designed by Graft, this house has the same basic footprint as a Shotgun House – but has purposely been given hard-edged styling to make it distinctly different from its historic progenitor. Photo: Wayne Troyer

The aim of Brad Pitt’s Make It Right Foundation is to design affordable, earth-friendly, flood-resistant houses for residents returning to the Lower Ninth Ward. Pitt has commissioned 13 well-known architecture firms to design prototypes for what is hoped to eventually be 150 new homes. Not unexpectedly, the design firms engaged by Pitt’s foundation were anxious to show off “cutting-edge” designs. The results so far are primarily brightly colored Modernist alternatives to the traditional New Orleans Shotgun House.

GOOD NEIGHBOR: The Lagniappe House by New Orleans-based Concordia Architects has been designed with many green features – but its reassuring visual connection to New Orleans architectural tradition has made it the most popular of the Brad Pitt prototypes. Photo: Concordia Architects

Also not terribly surprising are the reactions to the prototypes. Design mavens have in general been lavish in their praise of the designs. However, people with deep connections and affection for New Orleans’s tradition, while praising Mr. Pitt’s intentions, have been less enthusiastic. For example, James Dart, an architect who was born and raised in New Orleans, told the New York Times he found the houses “alien, sometimes even insulting,” adding, “the biggest problem is that they are not grounded in the history of New Orleans architecture.

HISTORIC PRECEDENT: This vernacular Shotgun House is typical of the historic architecture that gives New Orleans its style and flavor. It is puzzling why so many of the prototypes for the Lower Ninth Ward sponsored by the Make It Right Foundation have purposely distanced themselves from the city’s unique architectural character. Photo: Katherine Slingluff 

Brad Pitt’s Make It Right Foundation is a synthesis of his generous impulses combined with his enthusiastic interest in design. He is well-known for liking to pal around with “starchitects” (not that there’s anything wrong with that!). One can only praise Brad Pitt for his spirit of generosity and caring. But we can also hope that he’ll soon add some New Urbanist planners to his circle of friends.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Bridges That Babble On: 15 Amazing Roman Aqueducts

[ By Steve in Abandoned Places, Architecture & Design, History & Factoids. ]

Aqueducts, those most triumphal examples of Roman arched architecture, have been displaying the engineering genius of the ancients for tens of centuries. These spectacular monuments not only spanned rivers and valleys to provide Roman cities with precious drinking water, aqueducts also spanned the length and breadth of Rome‘s far-flung empire. Here are 15 of the most noteworthy survivors.

The Park of the Aqueducts, Rome, Italy

(images via: University of St.Thomas, Insane, Montalbon and LA Times)

It’s been said that “all roads lead to Rome” but the same might be said abo
ut aqueducts. Ancient Rome had a population of just over 1 million and on hot summer days, it takes more than bread and circuses to cool off a public inflamed by a gladiatorial doubleheader at the Colosseum. During the Middle Ages, Rome’s population dropped to around 30,000 – due in no small part to water shortages caused by the decay of the Eternal City’s life-giving aqueducts. The remains of several of Rome’s largest aqueducts can be seen, up close and personal, at The Park of The Aqueducts.

(image via: Wikimedia)

A common theme of art’s Romantic Age was the decline and fall of Ancient Rome. Painters such as Thomas Cole sought to express the weight of history and the loss of wisdom embodied in the fall of Rome by painting the remnants of the Empire’s largest and most visible examples of monumental architecture, the aqueducts. Above is “Roman Campagna (Ruins of Aqueducts in the Campagna di Roma)”, painted by Cole in 1843.

Aqueduct of Segovia, Spain

(image via: Cinque Terre Liguria)

The Aqueduct of Segovia is one of the best-preserved Roman aqueducts in Spain. So well-built was the aqueduct and so studious its maintenance through the Middle Ages that it functioned as a viable water delivery system well into the 20th century.

(images via: Fotografias and Wikimedia)

The aqueduct features a total of 167 arches and the granite blocks used in its construction were assembled without the use of mortar.

(image via: Sacred Destinations)

The aqueduct was repaired in the year 1072 and again in the late 15th century on the orders of Spain’s ruling couple, Ferdinand and Isabella. At that time it was specified that the original visual style and construction techniques be followed to the letter. Currently undergoing repair and restoration, the Aqueduct of Segovia is a valued city and state cultural landmark that showcases the vast skill of Roman engineers nearly 2,000 years ago.

Eifel Aqueduct, Koln, Germany

(images via: D.E.A and Wikipedia)

The Eifel Aqueduct was built in 80 AD to provide the Roman city of Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium (today’s Cologne) with fresh water. The entire system stretched across 95 kilometers (59 miles) to tap springs in Germany’s Eifel region. Most of the aqueduct was built underground to minimize damage, vandalism (perhaps from actual Vandals) and freezing in winter.

(image via: Stephanie Klocke)

The few above-ground sections of the Eifel Aqueduct that remain show complex and skillful construction methods using brick and stone masonry that would not be matched in central Europe for many centuries. Curiously, medieval craftsmen would remove the calcium carbonate scale that accumulated in the inner walls of the aqueduct and reuse it as a sort of faux marble called Eifel Stone.

Pont d’Aël, Cogne, Italy

(images via: Postecode and Aymavilles)

The Pont d’Aël is a practical combination of an aqueduct and a bridge. Located near Aosta in northern Italy, the Pont d’Aël was part of a 6 km (3.7 mile) long aqueduct that brought water to the newly founded Roman farming colony of Augusta Prætoria Salassorum; today’s Aosta. The original structure dates from the year 3 BC and rises 66 meters (216.5 ft) above the Aosta Valley.

(image via: Dilia Splinder)

Unusually, the Pont d’Aël and its associated waterworks were not financed by the state; instead the venture was privately planned and funded by Caius Avillius Caimus, a wealthy citizen from the city of Patavium (Padua).

Plovdiv Aqueduct, Bulgaria

(image via: Structurae)

Founded by the ancient Macedonians and named Philippopolis, today’s Plovdiv, Bulgaria was renamed Trimontium by the Romans as a nod to the three main hills that dominate the city. The Balkans as a whole were a critically important part of the Roman Empire and the regions towns and cities often hosted garrisons of legionaries to ensure invaders would be rebuffed. Trimontium was no different, and aqueducts were used to provide a secure flow of fresh water that would not be disrupted should the city fall under siege. Little is left of Trimontium’s aqueduct but the short section that still stands displays a quite modern beauty highlighted by the pleasing use of red brick and white local stone.

Aqueduct of the Gier, Lyon, France

(images via: France-Voyage, Virtual Globetrotting and Giorgio Temporelli)

The Aqueduct of the Gier is one of the longest and most complex Roman aqueducts. Utilizing tunnels, covered concrete culverts and classic raised sections over a sinuous path that stretches over 85 km (52 miles). The aqueduct was built over a period of several years at least in the first century AD and brought water to the Roman city of Lugdunum; now Lyon in eastern France.

(image via: Wilke Schram)

The Romans were brilliant hydrological engineers and investigation of the inner workings of the Aqueduct of the Gier reveals the extensive use of soldered and pressurized lead pipes, holding tanks, siphons and manholes provided for maintenance.

Aqüeducte de les Ferreres, Tarragonna, Catalonia (Spain)

(image via: Xtec)

The Aqüeducte de les Ferreres (also known as Pont del Diable in Catalan and Devil’s Bridge in English) is a spectacular, 249 meter (817 ft) long aqueduct built around the year 0 in the reign of the first Roman emperor Augustus.
(images via: Academic.ru and Serrallenc)

The 27 meter (88.5 ft) high structure was built to bring fresh water to the Roman city of Tarraco, today Tarragona in Spain’s autonomous region of Catalonia. In the year 2000, UNESCO added the Aqüeducte de les Ferreres to its listing of World Heritage sites.

(image via: Cinque Terre Liguria)

Here’s a short video featuring the Aqüeducte de les Ferreres in all its glory:
Aqüeducte de les Ferreres (Tarraco), via Capellamarga

Valens Aqueduct (Bozdogan Kemeri), Istanbul, Turkey

(images via: New Istanbul Times and Guides of Istanbul)

The Valens Aqueduct, or Bozdogan in Turkish, was one of the main aqueducts supplying water to the capital of Byzantium, Constantinople. Such was the importance (and structural integrity) of this aqueduct that after the great city fell to Ottoman invaders in 1453, the occupiers repaired and maintained the aqueduct which today is a prominent part of Istanbul’s infrastructure. The aqueduct was built during the reign of Emperor Valens (364–378 AD) and was still functioning, albeit at a much-reduced capacity, into the early 18th century.

(image via: Achudinov)

During the 1940s, Istanbul city planners were faced with a conundrum when designing the route of Ataturk Boulevard, which would intersect with an existing segment of the Valens Aqueduct. Thankfully, a solution was found by which the boulevard passed under the aqueduct’s arches without disturbing its foundations. Subsequent repairs, cleaning and strengthening have ensured the underpass is safe for both citizenry and history.

Herod’s Aqueduct, Caesarea, Israel

(images via: Works For Christ, Inner Faith Travel, Teach All Nations and Vintage Posters)

The Roman port of Caesarea on Israel’s Mediterranean coast was a major center of administration during the early years of the 1st millennium – the only problem was it did not have a constant and reliable source of fresh water. The solution was to construct an aqueduct that brought fresh spring water from the slopes of Mount Carmel, 16 k (about 10 miles) away.

(image via: Corbis)

Called Herod’s Aqueduct after the Judean king who commissioned it, the structure features arched pillars typical of Roman-era construction but hugs the ground as the area’s terrain was mainly flat. The aqueduct also may appear somewhat squat; this is due to an expansion performed in the 2nd century AD that widened Herod’s original design to carry two parallel water channels and thus increase the aqueduct’s capacity.

Moria Aqueduct, Lesbos, Greece

(images via: Harald Voglhuber and Agni Travel)

The remains of the Roman aqueduct near Moria on the Greek island of Lesbos are striking in their combination of delicacy and strength. Architectural masters of the ancient world, the Romans perfected the structural arch to the point that many of their grandest monuments required no mortar to hold the stones together. The Moria Aqueduct was constructed mainly of locally quarried marble.

(image via: Los Chu-Chus)

The Moria Aqueduct supplied approximately 127,000 cubic meters (33,528,000 gallons) of fresh spring water per day to the Roman city of Mytilene. Precise inclination of the aqueduct’s water course over its original 22 km (13.7 mile) length ensured that water arrived at a slow and steady rate – as with all Roman aqueducts, an exceptional feat of hydrological engineering!

Aqueduct of Tyre, Lebanon

(images via: Virtual Tourist and Worship Excellence)

Tyre was founded by the Phoenicians in the 9th century BC on an island just off the coast of today’s Lebanon. The city’s claim to fame in the ancient world was Tyrian Purple, a brilliant violet dye made from a certain species of snail. Long invulnerable to attack, the city was finally conquered by Alexander the Great and revived by the Romans. Most of the monumental architecture visible at Tyre today dates from the Roman period (2nd to 6th century AD).

(image via: Virtual Tourist)

An island city in the sea requires fresh water to support its population, and the remains of Tyre’s aqueduct can be seen running along its former main avenue which leads to a massive triumphal arch.

Diocletian’s Aqueduct, Split, Croatia

(images via: Skyscraper City, Andrew Petcher and All Empires)

Diocletian’s Aqueduct in what is the modern city of Split, Croatia, was one of the last large aqueducts built in the Roman Empire. Estimated to have been completed in the first few years of the 4th century AD, the aqueduct was 9 km (5.6 miles) long and brought fresh water from the Jaso river directly to the massive palatial complex in the center of the city of Spalatum where the Roman Emperor Diocletian lived after his retirement.

(image via: Snjezana Novak)

The best-preserved portion of Diocletian’s Aqueduct can be found near Dujmova?a where a 180 meter (590.5 ft) section stands 16.5 meters (54 feet) high. Not too shabby for a guy who lived out the remaining few years of his life gardening and growing vegetables.

Zaghouan-Carthage Aqueduct, Tunisia

(images via: Corbis and Corbis)

One of the longest aqueducts ever built anywhere in the Roman Empire marched across the arid plains of Tunisia, bringing life-giving water to the refounded city of Carthage. Some of the Zaghouan-Carthage Aqueduct‘s 132 km (82 mile) course has succumbed to the ravages of time, leaving only a line of pillars reminiscent of those at Stonehenge.

(image via: Corbis)

The Carthage of Hannibal lost a hard-fought, bitter war to the Roman Republic early in the second century BC that ended with the city being completely destroyed. It wasn’t long, however, before Rome realized the advantages of re-establishing Carthage as a Roman city and upon doing so, its population swelled to an estimated 500,000. Building the Zaghouan-Carthage Aqueduct was essential to provide the colonists with water for domestic and agricultural use.

Acueducto de los Milagros, Mérida, Spain

(images via: Fotopedia)

Of the three main aqueducts built by the Roman’s to supply the city of Emerita Augusta (Mérida, today) with water, Los Milagros (The Miracles) is the largest and best preserved. It is thought that the aqueduct was constructed in the 1st century AD with further work performed at the beginning of the 4th century AD.

(image via: Urbanity)

Los Milagros drew water from an artificial lake formed by the damming of several small rivers. The aqueduct itself utilized a double-arcade format and the stonework was mainly granite blocks interspersed with stripe-like layers or contrasting red brick. Only 38 of the aqueduct’s 25 meter (82 ft) high pillars remain but the ruins still evoke a powerful sense of ethereal beauty and wonder.

Pont du Gard, Nimes, France

(image via: Wallpaper Web)

Perhaps the most beautiful and most complete large Roman aqueduct is not found in Rome, nor the whole of Italy – it’s in the neighboring country of France. The ancient Roman Aqueduct of Le Pont du Gard is 2,000 years old (more or less; experts can’t agree) and was built to bring water to the Roman city of Nemausus (today’s Nîmes) from the Fontaines d’Eure springs near the town of Uzès.

(images via: Le Clus des Romarins, Travelpod and Globus Journeys)

What is known today as the Pont du Gard is actually only a portion of a much longer system of aqueducts stretching nearly 50 km (31 miles) in length. In its prime the aqueduct delivered as much as 20,000 cubic meters (5 million gallons) of water to the Castellum of Nemausus daily.

(image via: Real Daily Photo)

The Pont du Gard was made a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1985, and this worn relic of an ancient empire is more than deserving of the honor. You’ve got to hand it to the Romans: without the aid of computers, motors, electricity or even paper they managed to construct large-scale, precisely engineered “machines” that functioned perfectly precisely for centuries. Just like your Mom’s Buick… not.

(image via: Riding Brazil)

Outwardly lacy and delicate yet designed with inward strength, the survival of so many Roman aqueducts built up to 2,000 years ago – and in many cases, built without mortar to hold their stones together – seems almost miraculous. Not so much, really: the more you learn about the Romans, the more their profound skill, knowledge and insight can be appreciated. One wonders how many of OUR civilization’s monumental architectural works will still be around two thousand years hence.

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