Category Archives: Theory

Remember Soviet architecture? Hmmm. All that’s coming to mind for me are massive, hybrid modern-neoclassical apartment buildings from, like, the ’30s.

Turns out there’s more to it than that, at least according to a piece in today’s Wall Street Journal:

For a brief, utopian moment in early 20th-century Russia, artists and architects together sought to forge an abstract language of form suited to the politics of the new state. Vladimir Tatlin’s famous model for a Monument to the Third International—envisioned in 1920 as a 1,300-foot-tall ziggurat-like tower rotating on three levels—embodied the visionary, futurist aesthetics and idealism of the movement. The commitment to abstraction and the sense of shared purpose between painters and architects paralleled that of the Bauhaus, and in fact some of its members traveled to Moscow. Yet while the Bauhaus is enshrined in the history of European architecture and modernism, the Russians are often sidelined, and only a few protagonists—such as Kazimir Malevich and El Lissitzky—are widely known by nonspecialists.

The piece, by Cammy Brothers, a professor at the University of Virginia, is definitely worth a read.

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AND COMING UP ON CONCRETE ASPIRATIONS: The year of 2011 in architecture.

Already, the LA Times’s Christopher Hawthorne has his take and the Chicago Tribune’s Blair Kamin has his favorite developments of the year and his least favorite. But my take is something entirely different.


Remember Soviet architecture?

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Technology and architecture

Is new technology going to eclipse the need for architects?

No. Rather, it’s going to push architects to be better. Currently, CAD consists of people programming their designs into computers. The new frontier is programs that can take functional, site and budgetary constraints and turn them into logical designs. I don’t think that there will be a program that can do that successfully in the near future, and, more importantly, I don’t think that such a program would eclipse the need for architects.

What many people don’t understand is the conceptual nature of architecture — that architecture is more than just a logical set of plans and an inconsequential set of simple artistic choices. Architecture is a physical manifestation of the ever-shifting balance between form and function given any wildly different set of constraints. Certainly computers could have the capacity to create an efficient blueprint, but they could never work with true architecture.

True architecture is as decidedly human as any other form of art — the function is just an added layer of depth.

I wrote above that new technology will even push architects to be better. I meant that architects, no longer needing to fuss over functional conundrums better left to computers anyway, will be freer to explore the more important facets of architecture. With the assistance of computers, architects will be able to think much more clearly about function. The real architecture will come when they apply that thinking to the place where form and function meet.

So is technology then going to eclipse the need for engineers?

No. Certain simple issues currently dealt with by engineers could perhaps be handled by computers, but real engineering, like real architecture, requires creative, human thinking, not just logical calculations. Engineers need to think outside the box and explore concepts. Like architects, they deal with elegance and beauty, albeit in a very different way.

On repurposing old factories

At least where I live, this has been all the craze for the last ten to twenty years. New England is full of old brick factories and mills — buildings just classical and decorated enough to be considered charming enough for renovation and yet unconventional enough to give their repurpose-rs the idea that they’re doing a wonderful and holy service to humanity be renovating an old mill.

An old factory in Boston, MA.

More after the break. Continue reading


Architectural lessons from The Office

What does the NBC comedy The Office tell us about architecture?

The answer, as it turns out, is quite a bit. More on this after the break. Continue reading

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The way(s) forward for urbanism, part V

Too often the debate about urbanism revolves only around function and not about form, as if architecture and urbanism were divorced and unrelated. That is, of course, not the case at all. Time for round five! You can find the first four parts here, here, here and here.

The new West Hollywood Library. Photo courtesy LA Times.

More about the new West Hollywood Library after the break.

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2 reviews

In the last week or so, there have been two architectural reviews in major newspapers of significant interest.

The first, the first architecture review by new New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman, I blogged about already. I stick to my initial judgement that the review is really not so great, even if it’s nicely put together. I miss Nicolai.

The second is by Ada Louise Huxtable, the nation’s first real architecture critic and practically the inventor of the profession. She now writes once every couple of months for the Wall Street Journal. Read on past the break for more. Continue reading

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What’s boring and real ideas

I’ve lost patience with Renzo Piano. A few weeks ago, walking around the Chicago Art Institute addition that he recently designed, I was bored out of my mind (regarding the architecture, not the art). I mean, it’s tasteful and classy and deferential and whatever, but it’s so boring. So predictable.

I find this terribly boring, even if I do admit that it's not necessarily a bad building.

Read on past the break for a whole spate of strong opinions. Continue reading

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Architecture and Politics

I may lose half of my readers doing this, but I’m going to go ahead and do it anyway:

Architecture and politics are inextricably linked. Buildings do not get built without many different people figuring out how to get along and working hard to create a final product; they are the products of collaboration, and where there is weak collaboration, there are generally bad buildings.

But the link is deeper than that. On a much more theoretical level, architecture and politics are one and the same. They draw upon the same reasoning and ideas, and they work to do the same fundamental thing — help people. Both require clear thinking and careful attention to all of the facts, without a loss of sight of social nuance and circumstance. Both also require a deeply held optimism about the state of people and their ability to change the world in a positive way.

So is architecture progressive or conservative? Find out after the break.

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On Deconstructivism

‘Those ‘starchitects’ are just vying for attention,’ they’ll say.

‘There’s no reason for buildings to look that crazy!’

But I disagree. Deconstructivism is one of the most important architectural movements of recent times — and for the most part, it has imbued the profession with a more creative spirit.

More after the break.

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Defining the Bounds of Form and Function

Form and function are universally considered the two elemental shaping forces of architecture. It has always been understood that the two must somehow be related. Despite that relationship, we generally consider the two to be separate. But where do we draw the boundaries?

More after the break.

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