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.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


National Building Museum, Washington, DC

November 19, 2011 - May 28, 2012

Imagine that you are traveling into Washington, D.C., from northern Virginia. As you approach the Potomac River, you see the tall, craggy, medieval-looking towers of the Ulysses S. Grant Memorial Bridge looming in the foreground, largely blocking the view of the National Mall beyond. As you reach the end of the bridge, now you can clearly see the enormous pyramid that was built to honor Abraham Lincoln. Going around to the side of the pyramid, you note the odd, pagoda-like structure dedicated to George Washington—a design that was executed after the original obelisk had stood unfinished for decades. Surrounding these monuments are informal paths that meander through dense woods, which help to filter the noise from the two elevated highways running along either side of the Mall. Barely visible in the distance is the Capitol, a dignified but modest structure that looks rather like a classroom building at a liberal arts college, topped by a tiny cupola.
John Russell Pope, Proposal for Lincoln Memorial, 1912. National Archives.
Unbuilt Washingtonreveals the Washington that could have been by presenting architectural and urban design projects that were proposed but, for widely varied reasons, never executed. Such projects often exercised a profound influence on what was built and may offer lessons that inform ongoing debates about the design and development of Washington and other cities. What were the motives, assumptions, and cultural trends underlying such proposals? Why were these designs never realized? What was their impact on projects that were completed?
The physical character of Washington, D.C., that we take for granted today is the unique result of countless decisions, debates, successes, failures, reconsiderations, missed opportunities, and lucky breaks. To tourists and residents alike, the city’s greatest landmarks may seem so appropriate, so correct—it is hard to imagine that they could have turned out completely differently. But nothing in the built environment of Washington (or in any other city, for that matter) is predestined. J
oin the conversation

Unbuilt Washington Online

Follow @BuildingMuseum and #Unbuilt on Twitter.
Check out an interactive map of some of the Unbuilt Washington sites.
Watch curator Martin Moeller discussing some of the rare models featured in the exhibition.
Read "What Should a Capitol Look Like?" by curator Martin Moeller.

Praise for Unbuilt Washington

Unbuilt Washington on the Washington City Paper's Housing Complex blog.
Unbuilt Washington on ABC 7.
Unbuilt Washington on WETA Around Town

Michael Graves wins 2012 Driehaus Prize

Image provided by  & ASSOCIATES
By  — from ARCHDAILY

Michael Graves has been chosen as the 2012 Driehaus Laureate, honoring his lifetime contributions to classical and traditional architecture in the modern world. The jury praised Graves for his “brilliant combinations of tradition and imagination” within his architecture and product design, stating that his deep understanding and respect of the past allows him to enrich the architectural process.
“Michael Graves has enhanced not just the architecture profession with his talent and scholarship, but everyday life itself through his inspiring attention to beautiful and accessible design,” says Michael Lykoudis, Driehaus Prize Jury Chair and Francis and Kathleen Rooney Dean of the University of Notre Dame School of Architecture. “The quality and scope of his work have enhanced how people work, live, and interact in public and private realms, making a profound impact on American life.”
View ArchDaily’s interview with Michael Graves here and continue reading for more information on the Driehaus Prize.
Established in 2003 through the University of Notre Dame School of Architecture, the Richard H. Driehaus Prize represents the most significant recognition for classicism in the contemporary built environment.
“Beauty, harmony, and context are hallmarks of classical architecture, thus fostering communities, enhancing the quality of our shared environment and developing sustainable solutions through traditional materials,” says Richard H. Driehaus
Recipients receive $200,000 and a bronze miniature of the Choregic Monument of Lysikrates. Graves will be honored during a March 24 ceremony in Chicago. Past winners include Léon Krier, Allan Greenberg, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk and Andres Duany, Abdel-Wahed El-Wakil, and Robert A.M. Stern.
The Jury:
  • Adele Chatfield-Taylor (President of the American Academy in Rome)
  • Robert Davis (Developer and Founder of Seaside, Florida)
  • Richard H. Driehaus (Founder and Chairman of Driehaus Capital Management)
  • Paul Goldberger (Architecture Critic for The New Yorker), Léon Krier (Inaugural Driehaus Prize Laureate)
  • Michael Lykoudis (Francis and Kathleen Rooney Dean of the University of Notre Dame School of Architecture)
  • Witold Rybczynski (Meyerson Professor of Urbanism at the University of Pennsylvania and Architecture Critic for Slate)

Friday, September 16, 2011



Co-Sponsored by the Schools of Architecture of the University of Notre Dame and the University of Miami

Reconsidering Postmodernism will gather leading scholars, practitioners, and critics for a rigorous round of lectures, film tributes, and panel discussions. The fully scheduled two-day conference coincides with the 30th anniversary of Tom Wolfe’s seminal publication From Bauhaus to Our House and the themes of the conference—historic significance, impact on design education and public taste, lessons learned and lessons rejected, theoretical underpinnings, and contemporary appraisal—all attempt to illuminate postmodernism’s overall cultural impact.
More Information or to REGISTER:
Institute for Classical Architecture & Art
The UNBELIEVABLE list of special guests to include:
Paul Gunther 
Gary Brewer
Richard John
Robert Adam
Michelangelo Sabatino
Charles Warren
Tom Beeby
Michael Lykoudis
Lizz Plater-Zyberk
Jaquelin Robertson

Martino Stierli
Suzanne Stephens
John Morris Dixon
Paul Goldberger
Mildred Schmertz
Michael Sorkin

Tom Wolfe
Barry Bergdoll
Michael Graves
Robert A.M. Stern
Stanley Tigerman

Paul Gunther 
Peter Pennoyer
Reinhold Martin
Ellen Dunham-Jones
Judy DiMaio
Michael Dennis
Dan Solomon
Gwendolyn Wright

Emmanuel Petit
Andres Duany
Witold Rybczynski
Thomas Gordon Smith
Sam Jacob

Léon Krier
Robert Campbell
Charles Jencks
Demetri Porphyrios
Mark Wigley 

You have to be there!

The conference takes place at the CUNY Graduate Center, 365 Fifth Avenue at 34th Street. Space is limited and reservations are required. Register online or call David Ludwig at (212) 730-9646, ext. 104.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Column: 'Triumvirate: McKim, Mead & White'

May 26, 2011 7:23 AM from Architecture Here and There by David Brussat

The photograph above shows the office of McKim, Mead & White in 1892, celebrating its victory in a competition to design the Rhode Island State House. The firm was on top of its profession in America, and rarely deigned to participate in competitions. In the case of the job in Providence, victory came through the sort of social connections set forth in Mosette Broderick's exhaustive, if not quite exhausting, 581-page book Triumvirate: McKim, Mead & White, published last year about the architects Charles Follen McKim, William Mead and Stanford White.

 Charles Follen McKim, William Rutherford Mead and Stanford White

Stanford White's sketch of Henry Hobson Richardson's Watts-Sherman House, in Newport

Norman precedent for McKim Mead & White's early work

Isaac Bell House, in Newport

Newport Casino

Boston Public Library

Library and Hall of Fame at New York University

Pennsylvania Station, in New York

"When the office won the competition for the Rhode Island State Capitol," writes Broderick, "the draftsmen decided to celebrate with a high-spirited parade led by a bevy of office men who would later be stars of the profession [in their own careers. Frank Hoppin (of Hoppin & Koen), John Mead Howells (William R. Mead's nephew) and Henry Bacon dressed up as High Commissioners of Architecture performing an architectural Mass. Hoppin played pope wearing a mitre and holding a T square as a substitute for a crosier. The acolytes followed swinging an old Venetian lamp as if incense. (Passage omitted from quote to save space.)] Henry Bacon carried a cutout of the winning design while the office sang a hymn to the tune of

'Onward Christian Soldiers':

"Onward, All ye Draughtsmen,
Marching as to War,
With our office T. Square
Going on before.
We are not divided
All our office, we,
In all competitions,
Ours the Victory . . .

Foes may struggle vainly,
We will Vanquish all,
For they are not in it,
They will have to crawl.
Providence is with us
Thro' the darkest night;
In our blest profession
We're simply out of sight."

That passage is almost all there is about one of the firm's major works, cited but twice in the index, as "Rhode Island State Capitol, [page] 304" and "Rhode Island State House, [page] 407." [The latter mentions the project in passing.]
So, yes, a little local pique slightly affects my assessment of Triumvirate. The Ocean State capitol offered Broderick a tasty nugget: winning a commission by social connections even in a competition, in this case perhaps scandalously so. She did not bite. Too bad. Still, by the time of McKim's death, in 1909, the firm had some 940 buildings under its belt. Triage, however inexplicably achieved, was mandatory.

The book has been praised for its social tapestry and criticized for going overboard in detailing that tapestry, and also for lapses in the quality of its prose and the paucity of quotation from primary sources, and for many vague references (mostly free of sniggering) to the sexual bent of its subjects. My big problem with the book is its prejudice against the neoclassicism responsible for much of the firm's fame.

Broderick observes repeatedly that the firm relied heavily on precedent. She rarely manages to avoid looking down her nose at the architects for this supposed infraction.
Broderick puts the blame on Joseph Wells, an architect at the firm whom she nevertheless considers the office's chief genius: "He taught the partners how to find precedent in the volumes of Letarouilly and others in their growing library -- and by showing them that the pages of books contained all the answers, he removed their life force. By the end of the century, everything came out of books.
This unwarranted sneer hints at an important subsidiary bias in Broderick's assessment. The "copying" done for the firm's earlier, Shingle Style work based on the quaint vernacular styles of England and Normandy -- rambling masses of gabled roofs, turrets, porches -- is tut-tutted with less severity by Broderick until the firm embraces neoclassicism. She seems dismayed that, as the importance of their commissions increased, the architects adopted an increasingly lofty architectural vocabulary.

A lot of the book is set in Newport. The Isaac Bell House (1883) and Rosecliff (1902) are representative of the firm's earlier and later work. Broderick's ill-concealed contempt for the latter mars her book's scholarship.
Notwithstanding my regrets, Triumvirate is a monumentally fascinating catalogue of how money and social intercourse dressed the Gilded Age in beauty. We may sigh at the evaporation of the past -- so many of the buildings of McKim, Mead & White razed! But many remain to be studied for inspiration today, and we must be mindful that, however rich America was then, now, despite its current travails, it is far, far and away richer, in almost all respects except for its appreciation of beauty -- a need that architecture could easily supply.

David Brussat (dbrussat@projo.com) is a member of The Journal's editorial board. His blog at projo.com is called Architecture Here and There.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Steven Semes this Thursday in Newport

- Free lecture by Steven Semes this Thursday in Newport (Classicist New England)

May 15, 2011 by classicistne
By David Brussat

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Chapter members who missed the lecture by Steven Semes a year ago at the College Club can hear the author of The Future of the Past for free at Rosecliff, on Newport’s Bellevue Avenue, this Thursday, May 19, at 6 p.m. Mr. Semes, whose book is a must-read for architects, preservationists and planners, runs the Rome program of Notre Dame’s School of Architecture.

Again, the lecture is free but space is limited, and registration is required. Go here to register with the Preservation Society of Newport County, which is sponsoring the event along with the City of Newport. Or you can call 401/847-1000 ext. 154.

This is the society’s annual lecture honoring Noreen Stonor Drexel, one of Rhode Island’s most dedicated preservationists.

Mr. Semes’s superb book, subtitled “A Conservation Ethic for Architecture, Urbanism, and Historic Preservation,” can be purchased here. I reviewed it here about a year and a half ago.

Mr. Semes makes the case that preserving the places we love means allowing them to evolve naturally, by adding new buildings and additions that fit with their historical character – not attack it, according to the orthodox practice of preservationism, which is led by the nose into bed with the modernists. Modernists aim to lull preservationists into helping them destroy places worth saving. The modernists’ plot has been operating smoothly, alas, to the detriment of civic beauty everywhere, for at least three decades.

The professor is on to their game. What he says is unlike anything you’ve ever heard before (if you missed last year’s lecture), and it behooves rank-and-file preservationists to listen, learn and challenge the professional preservationists who’ve turned preservationism on its head. However novel, much of it will seem intuitively self-evident to us classicists, but how enlightening, indeed enchanting, to hear it from the author himself. And we can bring a friend for whom it might be a revelation.

Friday, April 1, 2011

New Beaux-Arts Atelier Announced

via Programs — Institute of Classical Architecture & Classical America.
March 18, 2011

The Beaux-Arts Atelier is a non-accredited, one-year intensive program in the study of architectural design following in the method of the École des Beaux-Arts. Students will receive in-depth instruction in an atelier setting while also pursuing coursework in observational drawing, architectural drafting, systematic design methodology, the classical orders, geometry and proportion, traditional methods of architectural wash rendering and drawing, the history and theory of classical architecture, and modeling and sculpting. Students will also conduct detailed studies of New York City’s architectural masterpieces through on-site observation and field drawing. In addition, field trips will be conducted to leading architecture, decorating, and craftsman studios during each term.

The school year runs from September to June, and is divided into 5 six-week terms and a 2-week travel term in Rome.

Applications due May 15, 2011. Any application received after the deadline will be reviewed and processed within 2-3 weeks.

Click here to download the application.


The Design Studio is the heart of the program, where students integrate what they learn in other courses into a series of architectural compositions of increasing complexity. All coursework is related directly to the Design Studio, which meets 3 times per week. Crucial to the Design Studio’s approach is the imposition of time constraint in learning to design. This was a central precept of the École des Beaux-Arts method. Each six-week term begins with a new design problem followed by an intensive one-week exercise in establishing a ‘parti’ or preliminary design. The subsequent five weeks are dedicated to working with the studio instructors to develop the student’s design in detail and render it for presentation to an invited jury of distinguished practitioners. At the discretion of the jury, prizes are awarded at the end of each session to the top projects.

The curriculum is based on the following areas of study:

Students must complete a series of courses in the above areas of study, each building upon the last in range and difficulty. Students will be expected to complete a specific set of drawings, models and sketchbooks for each of the courses. Certificate completion will rely upon the instructors’ evaluation of all required student work.

Each term also includes field trips and tours to local museums, traditional craft workshops, the city’s principal monuments, and local offices.

All students are guaranteed a spot on the ICA&CA annual Rome Drawing Tour. This trip provides an invaluable completion to the students’ year of study. The experience of Rome is central to understanding the history of classical architecture as well as the inspiration for the great buildings of America, and will be a vital part of the students’ artistic and intellectual development.

All Atelier students are eligible for Rome program scholarships in addition to their existing scholarships. These scholarships will be awarded to students during the spring study term.

 Interested students will be assisted by the Registrar and the Atelier’s instructors in obtaining an internship in one of ICA&CA’s professional member firms. The internship will provide students with professional experience in firms that practice traditional and classical architecture.

Housing is not provided by the ICA&CA. The registrar’s office is available to help with inquiries and will assist students in finding appropriate housing.

Tuition for the program is $15,000 for one year.

Scholarships and financial aid are available to all students and are decided on the basis of merit and need. Please inquire for additional information.

 Institute of Classical Architecture & Classical America
20 W 44th Street 3rd Fl
Attention: Beaux-Arts Atelier
New York, NY 10036
212-730-9646, http://www.classicist.org/
Questions about the Beaux-Arts Atelier may be directed to Anne Wolff Lawson,

212-730-9646 × 108, alawson@classicist.org

This program does not lead to a degree, academic credits that can be counted towards an academic program, and is not registered as a higher education institution by the state of New York.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Is Landscape Urbanism the new New Urbanism? The RPA continues the debate

from Veritas & Venustas by John Massengale  
The winning design for Horticultural City in Xi'an China, from the AALU website
THE LATEST E-LETTER FROM THE RPA (New York's Regional Plan Association) has an interesting contribution from the RPA's Vice President for Environmental Programs called When a Park Is More Than A Park, and a Building more than a Building. He looks at Landscape Urbanism, and seems to agree that it's "the next big thing."
"Academics at the Harvard Graduate School of Design are attempting to capture these [environmental] practices under the label 'Landscape Urbanism,'" the VP writes, "and are saying it's the new 'New Urbanism' or 'Smart Growth.' As theory, it's an appreciation of city form that relies less on traditional notions of mass and density and aesthetics as it does on process." But if you study Landscape Urbanism, you discover that it was actually an aesthetic long before it found what could be called its marketing theory. The process the VP refers to is only a secondary or tertiary part of the theory, and it grows naturally from the philosophy of the aesthetic.
A little background helps explain why. New Urbanism advocates the preservation and creation of a strong public realm (in America, that usually means "streets" and "parks"). The form of NU is an update of the time-tested city, town and neighborhood, indistinguishable from what the RPA advocates in our region. That's antithetical to the philosophy of Harvard's GSD, which is ideologically (one might even say "rabidly") Modernist, and therefore opposed to the traditional form of the city. As the sustainable, walkable model of New Urbanism gained ground across the country, Harvard needed to fight back. Professors in the school came up with the theory of Landscape Urbanism to support their aesthetic, which was essentially the straight-out-of-the-box 20th century Modernism taught at Harvard since Gropius arrived there in 1937, heightened by the latest CAD drawing fashion. It favored auto-based planning over the more sustainable walkable planning of NU, preferring the model of Atlanta or Houston to New York's.
Modernism was a materialistic philosophy that substituted ideas like Form Follows Function for traditional concepts of design, which balanced function, construction and beauty. Ancient Romans called those UtilitasFirmitas and Venustas, and they were considered the three legs of all architectural and urban design until Modernism banished history and said that function equals beauty. The RPA VP seems to be at least partially agreeing when he explicitly endorses LU's sound environmental ideas and process and implicitly endorses their aesthetic. But there are three problems with that: LU's sound environmentalism is everyone's sound environmentalism; much of it has been used for centuries without determing or being mistaken for being beauty; and the LU process has little to do with making places that people enjoy. (An academic friend who slogged through the entire reader-hostile Landscape Urbanism Reader points out that people are not shown or discussed in the book.)
The details of New Urbanism come from observation of what works and what doesn't work, including the details and dimensions that produce spaces where people want to be. The details of Landscape Urbanism often come from more intellectual parts of the design process. In a famous example (because there is a limited amount of LU built so far), a leading Landscape Urbanist designing a park used the location of dead tree trunks to determine some of the fundamental geometry of the park's plan. Someday those trunks will all be gone, and the conceptual meaning of the geometry will be gone. But that is typical of the way that LU designers favor intellectual concepts over the experiential placemaking New Urbanists use, and it is consistent with the Modernist desire to generate design details from the process rather than fromverboten concepts of beauty.
Looking at the history of Modernism, we can see that form rarely follows function.* And the form of auto-dependent Modernism is simultaneously environmentally unsound and bad for the making of walkable places. Add to that that before Modern engineers told us they could rebuild the world, we often had to build environmentally soundly, because our cities had poor stormwater systems, for example, or we didn't have modern fertilizers and biogenetics to sustain unsoundly planted trees or crops. Of course we had many unhealthy practices, many of them introduced by the Industrial Revolution and agribusiness, but before Modernism gave us the means to re-engineer the world, we often had to live more closely with the consequences of our actions.
One result of our actions is that we can all agree on the need to be more environmentally responsible to preserve future life on Earth. The first built New Urban works were Seaside, Florida and Manhattan's Battery Park City, both started in 1981 and both proposed community and walkability as a way of reducing our carbon footprint. But it's a little known fact that Seaside was also one of the first planned xeriscape developments. The term was actually coined in the same year, although not well known outside very small circles of Western environmentalists.

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