The Things Architects Do #6: Things They Regret

Frank Lloyd Wright famously advised young architects to build their first one well out of town. His own first was the Unity Chapel (MK I) in Spring Green, Wisconsin in 1886. As it was only 34km from Richland Center were he was born, he left town instead. To be fair, he was 19.

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This house is one of many in Chicago he designed over the next seven years.

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It’s said that doctors bury their mistakes and architects cover theirs with ivy. This isn’t true. Architects bury theirs too – only just not literally. Historians erase history and complete the job.

FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Moore Houses v.1 and v.2 are rarely remembered. This is a shot of the 1895 original.

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It’s a dog. Wright remodelled it after it was severely damaged by fire on December 23, 1922 at 2:24am. History does not record where Mr. Wright was at the time.

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“A porch on a half-timbered English Tudor – that never happened before”

Or since.  Adding some Imperial Hotel ornament to the mix didn’t help. This next one’s the Peter GRoan House of 1893. (Check here for more.)

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You can see it trying to be the Winslow House of 1894 that kicks off the official FLW trek to stardom. 1893 Peter Groan House 1894 Winslow House 1895 Moore House

LE CORBUSIER

LC’s Villa Fallet is well known, as was the man himself in 1927 when this next one was built. Not one for the portfolio. We can see pilotis, free façade, simple geometric solids. Pre-empting corporate globalism, decorated sheds and the information society, why is this gem ignored? Time for a rediscovery.

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Admirably, the Fondation Le Corbusier has an excellent website listing all PJ’s built works and all projects, including this. The site is one of those rare things on the internet – a genuinely informative resource.

LUDWIG MIES VAN DER ROHE

MvdR’s Lemke House is here not because it’s not known but because it doesn’t get enough airtime. (ArchDaily thought so too, but it’s hardly a “classic”.) The Lemke House dates from 1933 when LMR should have been giving those Bauhaus kids their money’s worth instead of moonlighting.

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It doesn’t look all that bad. It looks like it’ll be authentically and Mieserly cold inside though.

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I see basement stairs so there must be underfloor.

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My usual searches for boiler were unsuccessful but there is a chimney next to the door linking the kitchen and living room. A curious plan overall. This house is generally disregarded as Mr. Mies stopped being Mr. Brick and became Mr. Steel. At least in public. With Mies hedging his bets in 1933, his career could have gone either way. Steel won.

REMMENT KOOLHAAS

Here’s an intruiging blog by some Dutch students giving some information on the early life and career of Remment Koolhaas. Many of the images have been removed. Here’s Two Patio Houses, in Rotterdam, from 1984. Tidy enough. A bit ArchDaily.

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The only thing RK must have been embarrassed about is its ordinariness – as he would quickly rectify with his over-egged 1985 Villa dall’Ava in Paris. This house and its promotional materials are a media management masterclass by someone already famous. I remember reading an interview in which Remmy claimed he felt the pressure was on him “to create a masterpiece”. Was it, I wonder? Anyone remember who from?

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The building allows this lifestyle advertisement, what with The Eiffel Tower, the bathers and that window. Photographically, it’s well timed. Any more daylight and we wouldn’t notice The Eiffel Tower, and our attention wouldn’t be drawn to the multiple levels and that window. All the graphic and photographic tricks are here. The bather’s hands direct your eye to The Eiffel Tower. Colourwise, there’s the balance of muted primaries that always makes a frame seductive and satisfying. In the top half of the image, we have the yellow of The Eiffel Tower, the blue of the evening clouds, the red of the fence and the green of the grass, these last two balanced in hue and intensity by the cool luminous blue of the pool and the warm comforting yellow of that window.

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Tricks of the trade, I’m afraid. All that aside, there was something about the structure, like the forest of inclined columns on the right actually being in tension, stopping the entire building from see-sawing left. Even in 1984 he was into the big fame gesture. Regrets? 
The following text, re-quoted from here, describes Villa Dall’Ava as a piece of art. Which, as history has proven, is sufficient [necessary?] to make it so. It’s a bit OTT all the same, appropriating the language of art review.

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But don’t let me drift. This post is about architectural embarrassments. Things that architects regret, not journalists. In the world of media regrets, the only difference built or unbuilt makes is that the unbuilt ones are easier to disappear. Most architects have something to hide, some misplaced enthusiasm that, were it not for the 2007~8 Credit Crunch, would be around now. Here’s OMA’s Dubai Renaissance. Another building the world didn’t really need.

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Conceived as an “anti-icon”, the competition entry proposed a slim, monolithic revolving slab; the idea of rotation was added, Koolhaas admitted at the International Design Forum last week, since he guessed he would not win the competition without a novelty of some sort.

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Wrong. Anyway, here’s the competition text.

A single monolithic volume constructed, like an elevator core, in one continuous operation – 200 meters wide and 300 meters tall comprising of offices and business forums, hotel and residential suites, retail, art and urban spaces. The ambition of this project is to end the current phase of architectural idolatry – the age of the icon – where obsession with individual genius far exceeds commitment to the collective effort that is needed to construct the city…

Instead of an architecture of form and image, we have created a reintegration of architecture and engineering, where intelligence is not invested in effect, but in a structural and conceptual logic that offers a new kind of performance and functionality. So far, the 21st century trend in city building leads to a mad and meaningless overdose of themes, extremes, egos and extravagance. What is needed is a new beginning, a Renaissance… Dubai is confronted by its most important choice: Does it join so many others in this mad, futile race or does it become the first 21st century metropolis to offer a new credibility? The design of the building wastes no energy on useless invention. It proposes a single monolithic volume constructed, like an elevator core, in one continuous operation – 200 meters wide and 300 meters tall. Instead of competing with the Burj Dubai merely in terms of height, it overshadows it in terms of presence and substance…

Let’s ignore the truth or mistruth of any of that for, just as the building is an embarrassment of excess whilst claiming otherwise, so is its description. But to single out RK/OMA for special scrutiny is unfair. There’s plenty worse.

ANDREW BROMBERG

Andrew Bromberg is AEDAS’ house architect responsible for this shocker you’ll remember from the last post. WE MUST NEVER FORGET!

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Here’s another from the Bromberg conveyor, cringingly titled “The Legs”.

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He’s embarrased? I’M EMBARRASSED. When times are good, projects like this tell the world a client has too much money. When times are bad, they tell the world that architects have no sense of economic reality. The site for this building was the same site as Dubai Renaissance above. It’s also the same site as ZHA’s Signature Towers proposal from back in the day.

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The site for these proposals is just one of those sites that’s designed to attract over-exuberant (= manic?) architecture. This was why the site was created but now, with its history of projects that went nowhere, the site itself is an embarrassment.

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It may yet have a reason for existing when the new canal that will link Dubai Creek back to the Arabian Gulf is completed in two years from now, they say. Names have been concealed.

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This next image is an old one but is currently doing the rounds again with the announcement of the canal project. If no-one’s objecting, then I wouldn’t be surprised if the site itself is about to become just a embarrassing memory.

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I see how this image is attractive. Geometrically, a circle already has a centrepiece – and how many centrepieces does a city need anyway? I like to think the memory of the former site will become a monument to lowered expectations. If we wanted to get all Deconstructivist about it, we’d say it’s a presence signalling an absence, an anti-monument forcing us to remember and reflect upon the fact that “Something terrible never happened here!” Sounds good to me.

5 thoughts on “The Things Architects Do #6: Things They Regret

  1. Koff

    http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/OldShame
    New section for architecture?
    I must confess I rather like the FLW bootleg houses; they show some sensibility toward geometry, proportioning + composition. A real estate agent selling one of these properties referred to them as “FLW’s most liveable homes” – presumably because they represent a more open version of Victorian houses at the time but predate those wacky modular hexagon plans.

    1. Graham McKay Post author

      Koff – that’s interesting! I’d love to see a plan of the 1893 Peter Goan House and see how it compares to the 1895 Winslow House.

      My guess is that sometime in-between the bootleg houses and the hexagon plans, ol’ Frankie-boy realised that he was FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT and began to design as people would expect a living legend to design. (These days, we can recognise the symptoms and diagnose the disease.)

      His 1894 Moore House shows him trying to be too famous too soon. It’s a hard lesson to learn but a lesson that a precocious 28-year old probably needed. The world of architecture craves novelty and simply putting a porch on a half-timbered pastiche was never going to cut it.

      Apart from his personal life in the 1910s and his cashflow during the 1920s, I don’t think he made a wrong move after that. Time, of course, caught up with him. In the end, like Philip Johnson, he became increasingly desperate trying to convince everyone he was still relevant. I think that this might just be the fate of famous architects who outlive their peers.

      1. Koff

        Take a look at “FLW to 1910: The First Golden Age” (Carpenter, G) if you haven’t already; it provides a comprehensive look at his early influences, first works and his Prairie period – complete with plans, diagrams and photographs, including some of rarely-discussed buildings.

        Funnily enough, the relationship between the “major” modern architects (FLW, Corb, Mies) and Classicism and how it was manifest in their life’s work was the subject of a paper I started while at arch. school but never finished. Perhaps I’ll pick it up again one day…

    1. Graham McKay Post author

      Ahh, well remembered! I wonder how they phrased it? “Mr. Koolhaas, for a fee like the one you are proposing, we expect a masterpiece!” There’s no denying the magic that this house worked for RKs career, but I wonder if the clients actually got a masterpiece? Apart from that one rooftop image and the quirky section, I’ve never been interested in knowing if there is anything more to this house. Am I alone?

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