This is part 2 of a two-part post. Part 1 is here. In Part 2, we’re nearing the then present time of 1963 and we’re finally getting to the kind of stuff you pay a historian to write. My own architectural awareness was very limited at that time but the final pages of modern architecture books in the local library usually finished with photographs of Johnson’s Glass House or Mies’ Farnsworth House, sometimes inviting a comparison by having both. This was back in the day when minimal simply meant ‘not very much’.
The racier books on architecture might have had an image of the then TWA Terminal at New York’s then Idlewild Airport. Little did we know that this bird-like building (bird=flight=airport geddit?) was going to lead to a lot of weird shit at the end of the century. Check out this caption.
At the time though, it was nothing more than futuristic in a way more subtle than this no-less-of-its-time building at LAX that was one of my favourite childhood buildings. The New Plastics.
Playing to its retro vision of the future, it’s now the Encounter Restaurant.
The “History and FAQs” link tells us its architects were Paul R. Williams, Pereira & Luckman, and Robert Herrick Carter. I don’t know what they’re doing now. Eero Saarinen was the more famous so TWA got to be on the last page of the history books. A few years later, historians would follow it by the (still-unbuilt) Sydney Opera House and that would point the history of architecture in what seemed at the time to be the start of a thread. A decade or two later, Charles Jencks was to pick this up and run with it as A PROMISING NEW DIRECTION.
The other thing that’s forgotten about the sixties is that Ludwig Mies and Le Corbusier were still very much alive. Wright died in 1959 (NYTimes obit) but Le C wasn’t to take his swim at Roquebrune until 1965 (see Architectural Misfit No.3: Eileen Gray) and LM wasn’t to die until 1969 (NYTimes obit – quite a good one too). Architects seemed to define themselves as Wright, Mies or “Corb” afficionados. Architect’s reminiscences and often mention late-night office discussions, sometimes heated, about their relative merits and philosophies. Office radicals admired the new guys Alvar (“Finlandia!”) Aalto and Oscar (“tits-and-bums!”) Niemeyer. Given this sorry level of debate, I can almost forgive Jencks, but not quite. Ever.
This totally unnecessary feeling of “standing in the shadow of giants” was reflected in all books, not just World Architecture and which I’ll now get back to.
You can see how John Jacobs Jr follows the Hitchcock and Johnson stylebook for caption writing. I’ve put some of the questionable and unjustified bits in red.
- The use of the open plan achieves extreme lightness and movement. In the interior, materials have been juxtaposed in such a way so as to produce an effect of extreme richness and contrast.
- The ferroconcrete structure means that space can penetrate the house from beneath, above, and through the middle [!]
- A ramp connects the floors √ =)
- … it displays much of his inventiveness, for example the freeing of the building from the ground
- … Le Corbusier built upwards in zigzag blocks, leaving room for green spaces between.
- Great attention has been given to providing shade, light and air.
At the beginning when I said “this is the kind of stuff historians get paid to write”, I specifically meant this:
As for Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye, it is at once more simple and more complex as a unique statement of the new style. Full of allusions to Hellenic architecture and planning in the placing of a clean, regular form upon regularly spaced, thin steel columns, thus dramatically liberating the form from the ground, it nonetheless reveals these historical contacts through inversions, paradoxes and conceits. For instance, the Villa Savoye gains its isolated, haughty detachment through the use of an apparent void, whereas an analogous effect is produced in a Doric temple through the use of a massive stylobate.
Since JJ wrote, “an apparent void” and presumably opposed to a real void, I guess he means this.
[In classical Greek architecture, a stylobate is the top step of the crepidoma, the stepped platform on which colonnades of temple columns are placed (it is the floor of the temple). The platform was built on a leveling course that flattened out the ground immediately beneath the temple.] OK? Here’s a stylobate on a crepidoma. I love the internet.
Now we can begin to fathom this: “… the Villa Savoye gains its isolated, haughty detachment through the use of an apparent void, whereas an analogous effect is produced in a Doric temple through the use of a massive stylobate” . . . . . . . . .
The uniform envelope of the Corbusian villa encloses a complex space which includes a generous terrace or hanging garden open to the sky, as well as conventionally roofed living areas, whereas the classical temple with its regular peripteral colonnade, encloses a simple, uniform and almost invariably roofed cella. In such compositional and spatial practices, the familiar architectonic conceptions of mass, load and support are either negated or perversely modified. These incisive and forthright contradictions are characteristic of the International style idiom.
Is a courtyard the opposite of a verandah? Here’s a cella (the shaded bit) – thanks W.
And here’s a terrace. You work it out.
Crap as this interpretation is, LC would have approved. Simply juxtaposing some new and something revered is a good thing since the goodness gets transferred by association. On page 208 of Towards a New Architecture there is the following image (that we now recognise as a stylobate on a crepidoma). In the following chapter, Corby goes on to talk about his new architecture.
So what’s left in this book then?
We have Alison and Peter Smithson’s “variety of surface by exposed brick and steel contrasting with glass” Hunstanston-Secondary School, Norfolk 1954 as an example of Mies from his gas-station period. It’s a shed.
We have Charles (“philanderer; Ray who?”) Eames’ Eames House as an example of taking Corbu’s “machine for living” thing that bit further. It’s a shed. This docco looks interesting.
Taken together of course, these last three buildings have the essential ingredients of what was to become High Tech but there is no mention of it here. The winners of the competition to design the Centre Georges Pompidou weren’t to be announced until 1971. PJ’s Glass House (1947) was also be later credited as an inspiration for High-Tech along with Pierre Chareau’s Maison de Verre (1932) which history obligingly remembers in French so as not to be confused with Philip Johnsons maison de verre.
Only the more sober of Paul Rudolph’s output is included with his Yale School of Architecture building being the lovechild of Wright’s Larkin Building and Kahn’s laboratories.
And speaking of the Bauhaus, the articulation of parts of a building continued to be A GOOD THING in 1963.
Here’s an interesting article describing alterations that had to be carried out to make the Grade II* listed building compliant with fire-safety regulations or else face closure. We’re almost at the end of the book now. One page before the end, there is this double-sided colour “plate” as they were called then. In order, we have
- Niemeyer: Congress Building, Brasilia
- University Library, Mexico City [by ?]
- a red car and the rear of The Seagram Building
- Mies van der Rohe: Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago
- Civic centre, Säynätsalo, Finland
- Asplund: Forest Crematorium, Stockholm
- Le Corbusier: Notre-Dame-du-Haut, Ronchamp, France
From this evidence, it is clear that one large segment of ostensibly modernist architectural design has, by 1960 reached a stable Neo-academic level. Alternately, there are a number of visible lines of resistance and possible paths of further development. They are to be found in less spectacular, less superficially ‘stylish’ works of architects who [yes, who?] have yet to score a popular success. Equally, the lessons of Kahn and Stirling and Stirling and the continuing example of the early twentieth century remain as an inspiration, even though their forms are often too great a temptation to be resisted, even by the most independent of designers. The history of architecture of the last two centuries reveals periods of great promise or accomplishment, followed by periods of disenchantment, in which routine often stifles creativity. [This is very “Architecture vs. Building”!] However, it is these confining, enervating moments that provide the shock and challenge which is the springboard of future accomplishment.The modern period in architecture began in the eighteenth century with a thorough investigation of the past. Its most recent phase may find its subsequent path cleared and made smooth by a new investigation and re-evaluation of its own, two-hundred-year-old heritage.
These days, the dimensions and weight of this book make it an ideal rest for my laptop when I’m working on the sofa or in bed. Goodnight.