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Assorted Architecture Myths

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1) The Chicago School architects invented Modern Architecture by “expressing” the steel frame and by “getting rid” of ornament.

Fair Store, Chicago, 1890

NOT TRUE! The Chicago School architects were designing department stores and office buildings – both new types of buildings for new types of commercially-driven clients. By that time, steel frame construction had become cheaper and quicker. Carved stone ornament had become expensive and time-consuming. The Chicago School architects were following the money by keeping their new, commercially-minded clients happy. Stranger things have been known to happen. 

4) Mies van der Rohe invented “space” that flows around walls and blurs the distinction between inside and outside.

project for a brick country house, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, 1923

NOT TRUE! This painting, done by Theo van Doesburg in 1918 is often seen in history books next to the plan above. Notice the white space in the middle? See how it “flows” around the coloured lines? See how some of the coloured lines pass beyond this white space? Was Mies clever or what? It only took him five years to work out that this painting could be a plan.

By the way, there’s no known site or client for  “Project for a Brick Country House” so the safe bet is that it was a speculative project, designed to catch a rich client who thought he knew a bit about art. Having external full-height glass walls made the inside seem larger than it was. Getting rid of some internal walls made the house seem larger still. Although this house never found a client, clients generally like buildings that seem larger than they can afford. 

3) The Grand Corbster invented concrete columns and slabs in 1914.

Domino House, 1914


In 1853, François Coignet (1814-1888) built the first iron reinforced concrete structure anywhere, a four story house at 72 rue Charles Michels


François Coignet’s son Edmond (1856-1915) was the inventor of agglomerated concrete, the first to use reinforced concrete piles and also made important contributions to the theory of reinforced concrete. (Thanks Aurélien, for letting me know about Coignet.)

Francois Coignet house. First house in reinfor...
Francois Coignet house. First house in reinforced concrete, built in 1853. Historic monument since 1998. In a state of slow deterioration due to lack of maintenance. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

William Wilkinson built a house with reinforced concrete floors in 1854.

Wilkinson’s concrete system, 1854

François Hennebique patented a reinforced concrete construction system in 1870

Auguste Perret used columns, beams and slabs in a Paris apartment building in 1903.

Inside, columns were hidden and outside, everything was covered in decorative cladding that showed where the structural frame was.

The Ingalls Building was the world’s first concrete slab skyscraper. Cincinatti, 1903.

Corby had his Domino House idea in 1914.

Domino House, Le Corbusier, 1914

August Perret’s Notre-Dame du Raincy church was the world’s first ever use of unclad concrete in 1922.

In 1928, L-C presented his Domino House to the world once again as the supposed basis for his new architecture as illustrated by the Villa Savoye. It was now 25 years after Perret’s apartments and the Cincinatti skyscraper and seven years after Perret’s church. It was now cheaper to construct the shell quickly with rough concrete and cheap blocks and to cover it all with render later. Stranger things have been known to happen.

the Villa Savoye being constructed

Even if The Big C looked at his 14-year old drawing and independently deduced that columns and slabs were the way forward (as they obviously had been for a while) that still doesn’t explain the beams. Oh well.

columns, slabs AND BEAMS! in the Villa Savoye
columns and walls, beams and slabs

4) The dynamiting of Pruitt Igoe represented a public yearning for a more meaningful type of architecture, thus paving the way for Post Modernism.

FALSE! The occupants of social housing have never influenced architectural theory.

5) The gap between architecture and engineering is the result of each having to deal with different aspects of buildings.

The gap between architecture and engineering IN PLAN:

BECOMING MORE TRUE!The gap between architecture and engineering is the result of the insides of buildings having to do different things from the outsides of buildings. Spaces for the performance of music require internal environments where lighting, acoustic and thermal criteria (to name a few) are cleverly controlled, but the outsides of these buildings tell the city/country/world/universe that a new architectural event is now in town. With performance spaces, this gap between architecture and engineering is a very physical one and can conveniently be filled with stairs and lobbies that are a necessary part of the opera-going experience anyway, but can also be architectural events in themselves. Charles Garnier knew this when he designed the Paris Opera House in 1857.  More than half the building is given over to seeing and being seen.
semi-public space at the Paris Opera, Charles Garnier, 1856

Comparing the following two sections gives an idea of how this perhaps inevitable gap between architecture and engineering has shrunk. This first section is the wonderful cutaway model of the Paris Opera House. The auditorium, central staircase and grand hall exist as architectural events within an architectural envelope. You can see a large gap between the roof and the ceilings of these three spaces. This is the gap that is now being exploited.

Contrast the Guangzhou Opera House where the gap between the engineered performance space and the inside of the (no less engineered) architectural shell is put to work as the only interior architectural event other than the auditorium itself.

It’s the buildings that became small.

the gap between architecture and engineering IN SECTION
pay per view: gap filled with stuff to extract money from people admiring the gap



    • Well Wiku, a long time has passed and it’s anyone’s guess. My guess is that department store owners and office building owners wanted maximum lettable space for their money and to have it built as quickly as possible. Those needs were best met by buildings with less ornament and less stuff hiding the structure. I don’t think it was a matter of some artistic “need” to “express” a structure at all. It’s impossible to tell. All I mean to suggest is that my explanation in terms of architects’ constant drive to secure new clients and thus ensure their business cashflow, is entirely possible. I believe most phenomena in architecture can be explained in these terms.

    • Thanks Aurélien. I never knew about François Coignet. He was definitely first! I’ve amended the post to include his important work.


  • I appreciate the Cincinnati reference. We tend to be overshadowed in history by Chicago and New York (Roebling Bridge before Brooklyn, Music Hall before the Auditorium, Ingalls Building and Shilito Dept. Store before Root and the Chicago School, etc..)

    • You’re welcome Matthew. I’m pleased to do my bit. Thanks for mentioning the Shillito Department Store – I hadn’t known about it. For 1878 it’s looking good.

  • I like your social observation and commentary. You are right to say many of the ‘arty’ set are privelaged and aloof from common concern. Furthermore, many of them make extravagent claims to confiscate all that is good and intelligent; like magpies stealing compliments.