Tag Archives: art appreciation

Architectural Modernism

Rejecting ornament and embracing minimalism, Modernism became the dominant global movement in 20th-century architecture and design.

Modernism is the single most important new style or philosophy of architecture and design of the 20th century, associated with an analytical approach to the function of buildings, a strictly rational use of (often new) materials, an openness to structural innovation and the elimination of ornament. Continue reading

Lovell Health House: Architectural Masterwork

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Lovell House, in context, from the Griffith Observatory.
© 2013 DMSA all rights reserved.

During the Thanksgiving break while in the course of visiting our L.A. relatives my wife and I made a side trip to the Lovell Health House, in the Hollywood Hills above Griffith Park. Constructed 1929 by architect Richard Neutra, the house is widely regarded as amongst the seminal works in the history of the modern movement in American architecture.

Neutra, recently emigrated to the U.S from his native Austria, brought with him the cutting edge theories and practices of the burgeoning International Modernism Movement in Europe.

Entry approach and East Facade of Lovell House, during our visit.

Entry approach and East Facade of Lovell House, during our visit.
© 2013 DMSA all rights reserved.

His client, Philip Lovell, was a physician, naturopath, and hugely popular radio host. Neutra’s approach to his clients was to think of himself as a therapist and the client as his patient, in practice submitting them to detailed questionnaires examining their needs in oft-times surprising detail. One can surmise that from the perspective of professional interpersonal approach the two men discovered a natural affinity almost from the start.

On Lovell’s site perched on a hill commanding unparalleled views Neutra designed the house in answer to Lovell’s needs and the geometry and orientation of the site. To preserve the views, maximize window areas, and create a compelling architectural statement Neutra chose steel frame construction as the primary structural system. Consistent with this he chose a factory-made, industrial style window system, deploying it in 2336411628_ea80310a58broad, unbroken expanses. He contrasted these with linear swaths of white cement plaster.

Philip Lovell was immediately taken to the house and praised his architect publicly. Included in the 1932 famous exhibition on the International Style at the Museum of Art in New York curated by Phillip Johnson it immediately garnered the esteemed, international admiration and renown it enjoys to this very day.

A Sculpture in the Form of a Garden Aspiring to be Art: Robert Irwin, Richard Meier, and the Getty Center

gardenAny visitor to the Getty Center can only experience its remarkable assemblage of buildings, site design, and landscape architecture as whole, a unified masterwork.

Yet there is more to this assemblage than meets the eye, for in fact this seemingly seamless whole came about through a remarkable altercation between two titans, the architect Richard Meier and the fine artist turned landscape artist, Robert Irwin. Their differing approaches and its resolution is captured in an amazing article “When Fountainheads Collide” by critic Lawrence Weschler in the New Yorker Magazine article of December 8th, 1997.

The Getty is situated at the convergence of two ridges. The natural landform thus forms a sort of Y consisting of two divergent legs separated by a canyon more or less aimed at Santa Monica Bay.

The buildings of the Getty are deployed on these two ridges as per Meier’s original design intent. aerial_obliqueThus they are deployed in either side of the valley, for which Meier envisioned (as Weschler eloquently phrases it):

“an Aristotelian spine, the prime meridian unifying (Meier’s) entire conception” the focal element of which, “wouldn’t be a garden exactly, but, rather, a staircase progression of grand rectangular terraces, with a narrow concrete-girdled watercourse slicing straight down the middle.”

The Museum’s review committee, although generally pleased with the magnificence of Meier’s grand vision, were not quite “on board” with this part of the design. Where Meier seems to have envisioned an axis framed by the buildings and terrain aimed at the Bay, the committee seems to have favored a lushly verdant garden.

Weschler is very careful to describe the process by which the committee gradually and by degrees disassociated from Meier’s vision for the central axis, and gradually commissioned an outside consultant to work in collaboration with Meier. They eventually retained the artist Robert Irwin for that purpose.

Irwin apparently began his commission by systematically analyzing the context within which he found himself designing, namely a valley closed to the north, open to the view shed of Santa Monica Bay to the south, and edged by masses of buildings east and west.

Weschler quotes Irwin as saying, “I began with a set of circumstances. As such, every decision had to make sense within the context of a set of clues. In this case, of course, the surrounding architecture was key. This was not going to be a garden off in a field someplace. I accepted its architectural setting – which was all but overpowering – but that, in turn, raised other questions. For how do you go from such a surround – from buildings like that – down to a flower? So that you can see this petal, that stalk? I began to think in terms of starting from geometry, compounding the geometry to pattern and the pattern to texture. And doing so in both directions – from the flower out to the buildings, and from the buildings back out to the flower.”

Where Meier saw an axis, Irwin (and the committee) saw a point of arrival. Thus Meier’s vision to create an axis and Irwin’s instinct to create a distinct place in direct response and answering to its context came into conflict. Things apparently came to a head in a progress meeting at the Meier office in May 1993. As Weschler writes,

“From Irwin’s point of view, Meier’s office seemed intent on sabotaging efforts at every turn, and, clearly, things couldn’t go on this way.”

“Apparently, the loss of the panorama was at issue, and John Walsh, the museum’s director, recalls trying to assuage Meier’s fury on the subject by asking if he could really object if a visitor who had already been amply exposed to the view lost it for a while, especially if he was going to recover it again on the far side – to which Meier said yes, he could and did. Harry Wolf, an associate of Meier’s, now rose and laid out an elegant, thoughtfully reasoned restatement of Meier’s argument, systematically eviscerating Irwin’s core positions. Irwin smiled beatifically the entire time, waiting for Wolf to finish. Eventually, still smiling, he asked, ‘Do you want a response?’ Wolf said yes, he did. Still smiling, Irwin pronounced, ‘BULL . . . SHIT’.”

‘There followed the longest silence I think I’ve ever endured at a meeting,’ Walsh says. ‘And it was at about that time that we realized that these two guys were simply not going to be able to work together.’

Weschler continues, “In the days that followed, a boundary line – referred to immediately as the DMZ – was established and ground rules were laid down…”

From that date forward the design of the Getty Center including its central garden proceeded on two aerial_closeparallel but separate tracks, with Meier attending to the overall commission including site design, and Irwin attending to the design of the Garden.

Meier’s intent is readily apparent in every aspect of the assemblage: its buildings, grounds, landscape, every intimate detail corresponds to the brilliance of Richard Meier’s overarching vision.

So too, does every element, every single stroke of the painter’s brush – plantings, stonework, even the color of the soil – reflect Irwin’s unique vision of the reality of the Garden.

‘You’ve got to understand, this isn’t an ordinary garden. It’s more like…’, Weschler faithfully records Irwin’s sub-consultant Jim Duggan as saying, ‘It’s more like a sculpture in the form of a garden aspiring to be art.’

In Weschler’s essay, this is key. As Weschler notes, in designing the garden Irwin, “planted his standard resolutely in the soil of Becoming, as opposed to that of Being.”

As it turns out, both men were called upon to plant their own respective standards deep into the fertile soil of Becoming. For Irwin could only have designed a living, breathing place in response to the context he encountered, just as Richard Meier could only have designed fully cognizant of the context of the Getty in the history of architecture.

Buckminster Fuller: Roam Home to a Dome

The inventor and architect R. Buckminster Fuller was the subject of a recent NPR (National Public Radio) article. That interview centered upon one of his very first projects, a restaurant in Woods Hole, Mass. bucky's+woods+hole+dome

As a biology student in 1975 or so I recall (even before I was remotely associated with architecture) my art professor at that time extolling the incredible designs and the brilliance of R. Buckminster Fuller. To me, he (Fuller) became “Bucky”.

My professor at Cal State Northridge had a penchant for exposing his art students (even those majoring in environmental biology!) to the leading thinkers in creativity and the design of things, be they buildings, industrial products, or whatever. And to him “Bucky” topped the list.

That professor exposed us as young art students to the concepts Bucky espoused, concepts including the economy of means, the results that raw creativity can induce, the power of channeling personal creativity into something called “design process”. That exposure, early on, held me in good stead years later when I went on to graduate school and entered into formal instruction regarding those very concepts in the context of architectural design. That was ten years later, after 1985.

Today, now in 2013 interestingly while listening to the NPR article I could not help but analyze the shortcomings of the building at Woods Hole, Mass. and begin to imagine ways to rectify the problems identified within the article. They seem to be identified as water intrusion issues at the frame joints and excessive solar heat gain.

That same instinct to resolve those reported problems, of course, is a natural consequence of having become an architect. Architects are trained to solve (or re-solve) problems: it is in our nature to do so.

Resolving the issues within the building, of course is quite interesting to me.

Just as interesting, metaphysically to me at least, has been to explore the internal loop which led me from the creation of art, to Bucky Fuller, to architecture, to blogging in the context of professional practice, and back to Bucky again.

Architecture of the Wynwood Art District

During the holiday break while in south Florida my wife and I made a very deliberate visit to the Wynwood Art District neighborhood of Miami. The District is quite unique, a smash-up of decrepit industrial-type building stock, ubiquitous concertina barbed wire fencing, and fervid artistic expressionism.

According to Wikipedia, Wynwood Art District is a district on the outskirts of Miami FL “home to over 70 galleries, museums and collections roughly bounded by North 36th Street, North 20th Street, I-95, and Northeast First Avenue…The Wynwood Art District is an established destination for an international and affluent art community. It is a cosmopolitan hub with a huge influx of people in the winter months (October-May) from all over the world.”

Here are a few photographs of the District from one architect’s perspective…

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Lovell Beach House: Architectural Masterwork

During the Thanksgiving break, between visits with our families in Los Angeles, my wife and I took the opportunity to visit Lovell Beach House in Newport Beach designed by Rudolph Schindler. The Beach House, designed over the period 1922-26, is considered to be among the important contributions to the Modern Movement of architecture in the United States.

The summer residence of the successful physician and naturopath Philip Lovell and his family, the house is situated on the Balboa Peninsula on a residential cul-de-sac bounded to the northeast by W. Balboa Blvd. and to the southwest by the waves and the open beach. Erected on concrete piloti high above the mundane chatter of the maddening crowd of beach houses below, it speaks with the singular and lucid voice of elegance and clarity.

Formally, it’s street elevation composes into two lines of force consisting of the upward thrust and determined stoicism of the massive pilotis juxtaposed against the dramatic horizontal movement of the living quarters poised on their able shoulders.

This upper mass, wafer-thin in it’s relative proportions, can be seen in its composition of dark ribbon windows (“figure”) sandwiched alternating bands of white concrete (“ground”) to prefigure the sublime eloquence of Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoy, his “machine for living”, only conceived two years after Schindler’s masterpiece was already speaking the clarion call of the Modern Movement right here on the far west shore of North America.

In the book “Icons of Architecture: The 20th Century” (Prestel Press 1998, Sabine Thiel-Siling, Editor) states, “In this masterpiece, Schindler was able to realize his spatial concepts of architecture and living. In the beach house, Schindler also expressed his theoretical ideas on the “Care of the Body”, which he was to formulate in 1926 in six articles in the Los Angeles Times. With this new and unconventional approach, Schindler implemented his own architectural and social ideas, which may be seen as an undogmatic interpretation of the main axioms of modern architecture.”

I made my first pilgrimage to the house in 1984 or so. At that time I had only just begun my architectural career, working in an entry-level position with a Los Angeles architectural practice by day and just beginning my architectural studies by night. My co-worker Mark Burkhardt, third-generation architect from Zurich, Switzerland and I were in the habit of weekend jaunts around LA to see what wonders of architecture awaited us.

I must confess I wasn’t entirely taken by the building during that first visit. Although I was keenly aware that the house was famous by virtue of being in our architectural tour book, my inexperienced eyes just couldn’t get past the thick mass of the concrete pilotis, or the mundane presence of the immediate neighborhood.

Seasoned by few additional years of education and experience, the house obviously had very different impression on me during THIS visit. Located at 1242 West Ocean Front in Newport Beach, if you’re in the area it’s well worth a visit.

The Aesthetics of ‘Green’ in Architectural Expression

Please join us for an informative and evocative discussion about creative principals, buildings, and sustainability. The presentation is entitled The Aesthetics of ‘Green’ in Architectural Expression”.

The Aesthetics of ‘Green’ in Architectural Expression
Thursday, July 19th: 05:30 PM – 08:00 PM.
NextSpace,101 Cooper Street, Santa Cruz
Doors open 5:30pm.
Presentation 6-7:30pm.
Admission: $5

This is the first of a series of public presentations to be hosted by The Creative Collaborative. The intent of The Creative Collaborative is to investigate, explore, and disseminate theories and practical knowledge in various disciplines of the creative arts including but not limited to architecture, interior design, graphic design, dance, and the healing arts.